AFFECTION TO DYE FOR
by Terry Sanville
By mid-afternoon I reached the rickety barn-like building that Grandpop called “the factory.” Thirsty from my hour-long walk in the August heat, I wrapped my mouth around a water faucet in the yard – the iron taste of it satisfying even though the water was warm and rusty.
Grandpop was inside at his machine making gold-handled brooms.
“Whatca doin’ Pop Pop?” I shouted the obvious.
“Got no time for ya, Tony. Got an order to fill,” he yelled over the machine’s racket.
“I’ll go play with the cat,” I hollered back. He smiled and waved me off.
Grandpop only worked until four, so I didn’t have long to wait. Creeping toward a set of open wooden stairs, I passed Hawkins sitting in his office, making out order forms. He looked up from his desk and frowned.
“Where da ya think you’re going?” he hollered. His dark beard shadow looked like coffee grounds.
“Just ta the loft. I’ll stay outta you way.”
“Make sure you do,” he hollered then returned to his paperwork.
I sprinted for the stairs and bounded upward to where the tangy-smelling broomcorn was stored and a flock of pigeons cooed in the rafters. I liked to go there and watch the machinery work on the open shop floor below. All of the equipment used to assemble the brooms was driven by an interconnected system of belts and pulleys powered by a tiny diesel engine that chuffed away in the yard. It was neat to follow the belt drive from its source as it passed through various pulley wheels, changing directions all the while, and ended up connected to the machine that Grandpop stood at all day, sweat dripping off his bald head, his bent fingers attaching cut stalks of broomcorn to brightly colored wooden handles with thick silver wire.
The sun beat on the factory’s metal roof, radiating heat directly inward. I sat near a glassless window on the edge of one of several dyeing tanks, my back to the wall, enjoying the Pacific breeze. An orange tabby cat with chewed-up ears and a white tipped tail trotted up and head-butted my legs, meowing loudly. I reached down and pulled him into my lap, his legs and claws extended. I could feel the rumble of his purring as I stroked his back. He gazed at me through half-closed eyes.
I leaned back against the wall and looked up at the pigeons cooing. The hot afternoon stretched out before me, much like the cat in my lap. The rhythmic machine sounds lulled me to sleep.
“COME ON, IT’S TIME,” came shouted up from below. Half awake, I stumbled to my feet.
The machinery was turned off and the sun had dropped a couple of inches toward the horizon. I heard a splash and a loud meow. The tabby cat-paddled in the three-foot-deep vat. It tried to climb out, complaining, and using the worst possible language.
The tank was filled with brilliant aniline dye used to color the broomcorn and give it that green industrial look. I snatched at the cat with my right hand, going for the scruff of his neck. But I missed and my arm went under to the elbow. On my second try I hauled the tabby up and out, causing more caterwauling and hindquarter flicking that added green stripes to my T-shirt but fortunately missed my face.
I dropped the cat and it low-tailed it down the stairs, past Grandpop and Hawkins who were going over last-minute paperwork. They broke into raucous laughter as the green streak shot by. The tabby stopped in the yard to lick his coat, which just turned the cat’s tongue an emerald shade.
“Oh Lord Almighty!” Hawkins exclaimed when he saw me clomp down the stairs. Both continued laughing. I thought they’d get sick.
Grandpop finally recovered. “Tony, that arm of yours is gonna stay green for a long, long time.”
“Really? Neat-o-rama. Wait til I show Rudy and Jeeder.”
“I’d worry more about your Mom and Dad,” Grandpop said, chortling. He handed me a rag and I dried off as best I could.
I was afraid the cat wouldn’t forgive me for dumping him in the tank. But during the remainder of that summer, when I’d visit Grandpop, the tabby would come up and nuzzle my legs and demand affection, although never when I was near the dyeing vats. Out in the yard, the ends of his fur caught the afternoon light and sparkled bright Kelly Green. I named him Kelly in honor of his dye job. By my next summer’s vacation at Grandmom’s he was almost normal color. By the summer after that he was gone.
About the author: Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and one skinny cat (his in-house critic). He writes full time, producing short stories, essays, poems, an occasional play, and novels. Since 2005, his short stories have been accepted by more than 120 literary and commercial journals, magazines, and anthologies including the Fifth Wednesday Journal, Birmingham Arts Journal and Boston Literary Magazine. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for his story “The Sweeper.” Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist – who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing.