Garlic Fingers by EM Reapy
Ten stories have been selected for the shortlist in our short story competition, Legends of the Fall. We will publish two per day this week and reveal the winner on Friday
What the judges said about Garlic Fingers:
Éilís Ní Dhuibhne: “Another very powerful story of the workplace, recreating vividly the atmosphere and the general activity in a garlic factory in Australia. Although it is a savage indictment of the way Ireland has abandoned its young graduates, the rather happy, zany humour of the characters and the narrator counteract this. Strong, but not contrived or sensational, storyline. The characters and details are excellent. Tightly focused, very controlled work.”
Donal Ryan: “Garlic Fingers: A great story, tight, immediate and suspenseful. Unfulfilled and seething, like many young people in his position, Tommo’s anger is palpable.”
Garlic Fingers by EM Reapy
‘I’ve a BA, a Postgrad and an MSc, so I do. What has Mitchell, the stupid culchie? Only attitude. Seeping out his big black pores along with the fucking garlic,’ said Tommo. His Dublin accent got thicker when he was angry.
‘Hey Tommo, I’m a stupid culchie too,’ I said.
‘You’re not stupid, Fiona. Never say that again.’
I smiled. Tommo was a sweet lad. Lazy, always hungover but he was sweet.
Mitchell, our supervisor, was running around the place, his shirt sleeves rolled up, sweat in beads under his hairline. There were four on my section, me, Tommo, Chuan Li and Amy Hu. Both of them were from South Korea. The garlic was endless rolling by us for ten hours a day.
Mitchell rushed over. He put his hand on my back gently.
‘Is it all going okay here, girl?’ he asked in his lilty West Limerick accent.
‘Yeah, it’s grand, Mitchell, cheers,’ I said. ‘Any word on sponsorship?’
Mitchell sighed and then said, ‘Not yet. But we’ve got buyers coming over from Italy and Greece over the next few days and I reckon if I can get along with them, I should be elected for the visa. You know, two of the backpackers got it last year so maybe. Fingers crossed, eh.’
I smiled at him and returned my attention to the belt, he walked away.
‘This is probably the height of his career, of his whole measly existence. That and the hamster porno he’ll no doubt star in,’ Tommo said.
‘Ah, I don’t know why you’re so harsh on him, Tommo. He’s grand.’
‘Do you really want to know?’
‘Yeah, go on,’ I said.
‘Nah, I’m saying nothing,’ Tommo said and laughed. His laughter was quickly followed by a smoker’s cough. He slapped his chest. ‘Fucking joints are ruining me lungs.’
Chuan Li and Amy Hu worked further down the line from us and though I tried to concentrate for most the shift, sometimes when Tommo was on form, I’d be struggling to breathe from laughing so much. Then the garlic would go past us and Chuan Li and Amy’d be doing our jobs too. I always offered them Double Choc Tim Tams on last smoko to try and make up for us messing. They didn’t really mind though, they were just mad for work.
The day before the buyers came, Mitchell was walking around and Chuan Li let a little scream out of him. Mitchell came over to see what was happening. Chuan Li never fussed. He was holding onto his finger tight. He’d slit the skin with the trimmers. Blood streaking up from the clean nick. I wondered if he’d need stitches.
Mitchell said, ‘Look, I’ll get you a band-aid but you should know, that if you don’t cut yourself at least once during your shift, you’re not working hard enough.’
Tommo gave me eyes.
Chuan Li’s soft face went a bit white but all he wanted to do was get back to trimming.
About forty of Tommo’s cloves went by us as all this was going down. Amy Hu sorted them.
‘She’s a sexy garlic ninja assassin,’ Tommo said and winked towards her.
Mitchell shouted over at him to get back to work. When he left to get Chuan Li’s plaster, Tommo told me the story.
‘Here, d’ya wanna know the truth? What happened with us? Why I hate that dope?’
I nodded my head yes. There was at least 40 minutes to next smoko.
Tommo took a big breath and said, ‘One day, I pissed myself at work.’
He stopped and checked my response. I didn’t react, I wanted to hear more.
‘It was way before you got here. So, yeah, I’m not proud of it or anything. It happened because Mitchell wouldn’t let me go. He knew I was hungover to death. He knew me bladder was full of water coz I was parched at the beginning of work. I was hopping up and down with me legs crossed like a junkie Elvis and me face was sweating. I said, ‘Sir, please. I’m absolutely busting,’ and he said break was in twenty and I could wait.’
I covered my mouth with my hand and tried not to laugh at the image.
‘So I’d been waiting. I’d been waiting and waiting and I couldn’t anymore. The first drop sprung hot and dangerous and next thing I was proper leaking. A relief and a shame too. It reminded me of a weird experience I had one night in Cambodia with a local girl but that’s neither here nor there. So the jeans were wet and the floor was dribbled underneath me. The heat and wet was uncomfortable. I sucked a breath up and called him over. Pointed to meself on the quiet. Said I told him this would happen, I was bleeding dying to go. He sent me home to change me jocks. And as I walked away from my station, he announced it again. Much louder this time so that even the non-English speakers knew something was up and looked at me, glimpsing me up and down and staring. Some laughed, smirked. Some gasped. Some just put their eyes back on the line of endless garlic cloves, disappointed they had become part of the drama between me and him. Disappointed to have the routine of their shift broken by my childish accident. I didn’t really mind though.’