You know how automation is displacing many American jobs? This is what I wanted to write about, but at the time, I needed a good jolt of coffee to kickstart the first draft. 365 Tomorrows published this short story in December 2016. How do you like your science fiction, black?
The Box Adjacent
by DL Shirey
I pound shots of espresso until my vision tinges brown as a sepia tint. The tip of my fat finger barely touches the skin of my thumb through the hole in the handle of the tiny cup, small and fragile like half an eggshell, yet it nests another stiff dose of caffeine. I need more. I won’t be ready to work until my teeth are coated with gritty film, that welcome friction between enamel and lips to help me force a smile.
The cup clatters a return to the pygmy saucer, and finally, muscle control yields to caffeine tremors. In wide-eyed meditation I wait until seismic activity in my brainpan achieves the same Richter rate as my shaky hands. Now I’m ready. I must not fall asleep on the job.
There used to be other people to help me, to tie my light-blue gown from behind. They made sure the soap container was filled and small, aseptic brushes available to scrub my fingernails. Now it’s a one-man job with a light-blue jumpsuit that zips up the front. I pull a sanitary hair cap from the dispenser and matching latex gloves from the box adjacent.
I press controls with my elbow and the door to the sterile room puffs inward. A cool, filtered atmosphere mixes momentarily with the warmth around me. The fine mist is not unlike what happens when two weather fronts meet, however, this result is not rain, but a liquid chlorine compound used for final decontamination. One last breath of good, old American air and I pull the mask up over my face.
Behind me the door closes and its seal engages with resolute pressure I feel in my ears. My small but comfortable chair awaits, the clock on the factory floor visible through the viewing window. Three. Two. One. The only tool available to me is pressed; an indicator turns green from red.
Hands drop to my lap. I see parts compound, components build and modules become machinery. Mostly I watch the clock: one hand sweeps, the other two creep for twelve hours.
Ironic, the only job our robot overlords allow is someone to press the on/off button.