I am invisible. As yet, I have not been able to reverse that. I need money to continue my optics research to discover the remedy, and my resources will not last to fund equipment, chemicals, a place to conduct my experiments. This apartment serves me for the moment, but I will not be able to afford it much longer. A classified I saw in the morning paper seemed a timely opportunity.
I could tell by his voice he was a man of little patience. I got right to the point. “Griffin calling. Your classified for an opening on the assembly line, the night shift, has it been filled?”
“Not yet. Interested?”
“Say again! What was that?”
The incessant clanking, thumping, hissing of machinery muffled Ford’s voice. I repeated, “Yes.” I played to his engineering sensibility. I related my own scientific background and associated my research in optics to the advancement of visual aids in the automobile.
“You understand this is not an engineering position. I am looking to fill a production spot. Assembly line.”
“I understand.” It didn’t matter what they called the position. I needed money. If not for my unfortunate financial situation, I easily could access the building without being seen, use their work space. But, that would not solve the problem of an income. I had to be on the payroll. “I am quite clear on the position and am very much interested.”
A door slammed, and, thankfully, the background noise diminished. I heard pages turning and what sounded like a pen’s nib scratching. “Come for an interview tomorrow. Noon.”
I had to think fast. Ever since the mishap with my last experiment, I’ve tried to stay indoors during the light of day. “May we delay our interview until later in the day? I have an appointment with my physician.”
“Are you ill? We need someone to start right away.”
“I’m not ill. I had an accident recently, and I’m under my physician’s care to guide the healing.”
I heard him grumbling. “Any problem getting to work?”
“Anything that will be a disruption in the plant?”
“Nothing. It will be as if I’m not even there.” I smiled.
“4:30 then. Be on time.”
I was grateful for the later time because of the early darkness winter brings. With my hat, coat, gloves, and the dimming sunlight, escaping notice from passersby would be much easier. “Thank you.” I felt I should prepare him. “I will be coming directly from my doctor’s office. I’ve recently undergone surgery, and my appearance…well, my appearance is shocking to some. I am completely bandaged about the head.”
His hesitation suggested he may have had a change of heart, but he said, “If you are able to work and can commit you will be here daily, come in tomorrow. We’re installing a new moving assembly line. I’m sure you read about it in the papers. If you’re a proper candidate, I’d like to process you through right away.” He told me I should ask for him at the front desk.
The next day, I made my way to the Ford Motor Company without incident. As I expected, the guard at the front desk stood in horror when I entered. “The name’s Griffin. I have an appointment with Mr. Ford.” He looked as if he didn’t believe me, staring long enough for us both to become uncomfortable.
He told me to wait and picked up the phone making no attempt to keep his call private. “Mr. Ford, I have a guy named Griffin here. Says he has an appointment.” He never took his eyes off me. He nodded and hung up. Pointing to a wooden bench near the time clock where employees punched in, he said, “Wait there.”
I took in the surroundings. A door labeled “Machinery Repair” stood across from the “Research and Development” area on my right. To my left, “Quality Control.” Interesting. Through a half-glass wall at the far side of the entry room, I could see the plant itself, conveyor belts, crowds of workers, pulleys, ropes, wires, the assembly lines I had read about. Behind the guard’s desk, a long flight of stairs leading to the offices on the upper floor. No doubt, I could make this place work to my advantage.
I heard the footsteps first, then saw the brown, laced-up leather shoes. I knew immediately what type of man I would be meeting. I watched as the sharp-creased brown pants gave way to a crisp, white shirt with a formal rounded collar secured with a dark necktie. He wore a buttoned vest, but no jacket. Just as I expected, he froze when he reached the bottom step and saw me. “Griffin?”
I walked toward him. “Yes.”
I saw him nod twice to the guard who nodded back. Of course, that must have been a code between them. Mr. Ford turned back up the steps and looked over his shoulder. Whether he wasn’t sure I was following or whether he was frightened, I couldn’t tell. We headed for his office, which occupied most of the floor except for one other office with a name plate that read Charles Sorensen. Other than the dust and musty air mixed with metal and oil smells, it was the office of a man in an elevated position. A stately, mahogany desk near the large, back window overlooked the plant. Two brown, leather armchairs sat before it. A smaller, round, pedestal table in another corner surrounded by four wooden chairs were positioned before two six-foot bookcases, their shelves lined with small models of cars, like a collection of toys. Another book shelf across the room, half the six-foot height, was heavy with books, binders, and mechanical drawings. “Thank you for seeing me,” I said.
He motioned for me to sit. “We need a dependable man. Someone with agile hands who’s comfortable working with machinery. It’s not necessary that you know the workings of the automobile itself. You’ll be assigned to a specific group working on one particular segment of the automobile in one section of the line.”
“We have moved to eight-hour days, but often, we require overtime, and overtime is not negotiable.”
I nodded again.
“I’m hiring for the night shift.”
“That suits me. Better for my…” I pointed to my bandages.
“May I ask just what type of accident you encountered?”
“I prefer not to discuss the accident. It was a troubling event. I assure you, though, that I am not incapacitated in the least. I can do the job as well as any man.”
We discussed my scientific background and my research on optics. I suggested that the work I’ve done was on the verge of changing life as we know it and would establish my reputation forever as the world’s most gifted physicist.
“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do,” he said. After asking many questions, he stared at me, and I almost expected him to send me away. Instead, he said, “Can you do this job?”
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Ford looked directly at my face. “I’ll give you a chance.” He scribbled something on a paper and sealed it in an envelope. “I’ll discuss your application with Mr. Sorensen. Hires go through him, and he’ll see to it that you are processed through our Personnel Department and added to payroll.” He cleared his throat. “When you meet with him, give him this.” He handed me the envelope.
“He’ll get back to you tomorrow with your start date. Where can we reach you?”
I gave him the phone number at Mrs. Hall’s Boarding house, where I was staying. We shook, and I could see in his eyes that he felt great discomfort shaking a gloved hand, discomfort with my appearance in general. “I look forward your call.” When I left, I knew I would have to outperform his expectations to minimize suspicion of any kind. I touched the brim of my hat to the guard on my way out.
I got the call. “Charles Sorensen here. Mr. Ford wants to add you to our transmission unit.”
It sounded as if he was smoking as we spoke. “He has some concern about your health.”
“No need for concern. I will do the job and do it well.”
“I speak for Mr. Ford when I say that better be true, or you’re fired. There’s plenty of men out there waiting to take your place. Men like you are a dime a dozen.”
You have no idea how wrong you are. There are no men like me.
“Mr. Ford is not a patient man. He doesn’t have time to play guardian angel. Be here on time.” He hung up before I could reply. At that moment, I decided I hated Mr. Ford, and Sorensen, too.
I played by the rules the first two weeks, but soon formed my plan. Eventually, I punched in, greeted the guard — a witness that I had arrived on the premises — and proceeded to my work station. I worked feverishly, outproducing my co-workers as if I had stood at that spot longer than eight hours. After our first coffee break, I left my station. As for the co-workers around me, I told them I had been assigned to split my shift between two production lines so they would not expect me to return. No one questioned me.
In the restroom, I removed my work clothes and bandages, rolled them in a paper bag, and hid them behind a large waste bin. I retrieved a satchel filled with the supplies for my experiments that I had hidden there the night before. My only challenge would be to get this satchel to the Research and Development area without anyone noticing. Luck was with me. The halls were empty. After that first night, I left the satchel hidden in there so it would be accessible for the nights to follow, and I would not have to chance anyone seeing it float through the hall. I was able to carry out my experiments with the convenience of their research area in privacy, since that staff worked day hours. Near quitting time, I returned to the men’s room, dressed, and punched out. At the end of the night’s shift, no one pays attention. Everyone is eager to go home.
For no other reason than because I could, before returning to my work station, I often stopped at Ford’s office. I couldn’t resist having a bit of fun at his expense. When he wasn’t there, I had the freedom to upset things at my will. It felt good to make a fool of this pompous man. If he was there, when he wasn’t looking, I moved an item or flicked his hat off its hook. One evening, while in his office, his right-hand man walked in. I overheard a conversation that put me on alert. “Have you been watching him, Sorensen?”
“I’m keeping my eyes on him just as you asked in your note.”
So that’s what Ford wrote and stuffed in the envelope when we met.
“He wasn’t at his station when I make the rounds a few times this week,” Sorensen told him.”
“Watch him,” Ford said. “Something doesn’t seem right with him. We need the hands, so I’m not firing him just yet. I don’t trust him, but I need proof before I can take action.”
Sorensen nodded. “I’ll keep him in sight.”
I laughed to myself. As if you could.
“Be sure you do, or your job is on the line. I’m counting on you, Sorensen. Fail, and you’re gone. I don’t have time to babysit.” Ford pointed to his door. “You can go now.”
This was all I needed to know. I took to upsetting Ford with new vigor. I removed files, tore pages from his calendar, rearranged everything I could reach in his office. The only difficult thing was keeping my laughter down. Though I cannot be seen, I can still be heard. I continued making Ford’s life miserable. I left notes on his desk, pretending to be Sorensen, asking for a meeting. Ford would call him in. Sometimes, I was able to follow Sorensen and witness the exchange, undetected, of course.
“You wanted to see me?” Sorensen asked.
“But you left a message.”
“I did not. You left a message on my desk,” Ford said.
Ford held up the paper I had written. “Then what’s this?”
Sorensen took the note. “I didn’t write that.”
“Are you well, Sorensen? Is this a joke?” Ford took the note back. “You think someone has time to write these notes and play games here?” Ford leaned on his desk. “This is the third note I’ve received from you asking to speak with me. Is there something you want to talk about? Out with it. Don’t lose your nerve, man.”
Sorensen pulled at his collar with the crook of his finger. I could see perspiration beading on his forehead. “No, nothing. I…I didn’t write that note.”
“Then find out who did. Someone is outsmarting you.” Ford pushed aside a stack of papers in anger. “Another thing, this delinquent, whoever he is, has been sneaking into my office and disrupting things. I can’t have that. Do you know anything about this?”
Sorensen swallowed. “Nothing.” “Well, you should. I expect more of you. These men report to you. You should know what they are doing.” Ford stared. “It wouldn’t be you, would it?”
“No, no Sir. Why would–” Ford pointed at Sorensen’s chest. “I have confidential information in here. Someone is violating my private office. Likely, it’s the same slack forging these notes. Get to the bottom of this. Fast. No one on the payroll should have time for nonsense, including you. You’re in an authority role here. Act like it.”
“Do you have something productive to share?”
Sorensen hesitated. His face suddenly lifted. “I do. I have an idea.”
“Vision without execution is just hallucination. Better you get to it, then. Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them. I’ve got a call to make. Solve this. We’ll talk later.”
Sorensen turned to leave, his face red with fury, and I followed. This was more entertaining than I anticipated.
We both stopped and turned.
“Continue checking on Griffin. Leave me a report on his activity every Monday by noon. And don’t tell me you can’t find him. I don’t employ failures. Remember that. I may be making random floor checks myself, just so you know.”
Sorensen nodded and left, and I was right behind him.
I had my work cut out for me, but I had no doubt I could manipulate the situation. First, I increased my productivity, not hard since a side effect of this invisibility is a type of mania. I don’t sleep. I am agitated. Energy fuels me. At my shift’s end, I punched out, but never left. I hid beside the building, stripped, and took advantage of my invisibility to sneak inside again. I worked several more hours building up inventory and storing the pieces in a hidden alcove. Each night, I moved a quantity to the next production station so it would look as if I had been overly industrious for my entire shift.
Once I had built up an extraordinary quantity of piece work, I left my assembly line position earlier than usual and went to the men’s room for my disrobing. Before hurrying back to the plant floor, I always went to Ford’s office to upset something. If Ford conducted one of his random checks, and I wasn’t there, or so he thought, I very much enjoyed watching his anger set in. I didn’t mind losing time on my own experiments hidden away in the Research and Development room. This was too amusing.
Two weeks later, I managed to eavesdrop on Ford reprimanding Sorensen. “Why haven’t you kept tabs on Griffin? Where are your reports? This is your last chance. Find Griffin, and you just might find the culprit wreaking havoc in my office. I don’t know how he’s pulling it off, but you better find out, Sorensen. No excuses.”
Sorensen stood red-faced.
I was totally unprepared for what I witnessed the next night. After disrobing and unbandaging in the men’s room, just for amusement, I walked back to my position on the assembly line. Someone dressed as me, bandages and all, was standing at my position doing my job. Who? Who could it be? I watched. Shortly after, this imposter left the floor. Curious. Most curious. However, I had much more work to do on my optics research and could not spare the time to follow him. I proceeded to the Research and Development room, stopping upstairs to disrupt Mr. Ford’s office first, and I let this imposter go wherever he was set on going.
Strange as this was, I thought it more strange to discover this situation replay over the next four nights. Someone was making sure there was a Griffin to check on. I laughed aloud and then caught myself before anyone could hear. There was only one thing left to do: wait and follow this imposter to see who this substitute Griffin could be.
I followed the fellow. As I suspected, he went straight to Sorensen’s office. The bandaged man looked over his shoulder, twitched nervously. I knew then it was Sorensen himself beneath those bandages. I did not want to miss the unveiling. How quickly he unraveled his disguise. He breathed heavily as he shoved the bandages into the lower desk drawer. Then, he ran to Ford’s door and guarded it like a sentry. Of course, I stood with him. When the custodian arrived and unlocked the office for cleaning, I slid in to leave my mark. Sorensen watched the custodian so closely, he never noticed the damage I was doing in another part of the room. Quite entertaining.
So, Sorensen had taken to dressing as me, bandages and all, and spent some time at my assembly line position rather than tell Mr. Ford he couldn’t find me. He was that afraid of the heartless man. My amusement only increased as I watched him perpetuate this charade several more times. Seeing Sorensen run from the plant floor to his office, to Ford’s office, to his other duties entertained me greatly. Dress and undress, rush and run, sweat and swear. The man was desperate. Sorensen’s life was hell.
A few weeks went by, and then I received word that Mr. Ford wanted to see me. I reported to his office. I was grateful for the bandages hiding my smile as I watched him reorganizing his desktop, a regular chore for him now since I continued to take every opportunity to upset his things. He motioned for me to sit. “I’m impressed with your productivity. It seems you are outperforming every man on your shift.”
I could see confusion on his face.
He cleared his throat. “Just one thing, we’ve checked on you these past weeks. You are often missing from your station. The guard downstairs doesn’t seem to know where you are. Said he never sees you.”
I laughed to myself. No one ever sees me. “I assure you I am on the job. My work proves it.”
“Yes, so, why is it that you are never at your station?”
“Perhaps you have me confused with someone else?”
Ford took a deep breath. “No other man in the plant is wrapped in bandages.”
Oh, but there is. I had to press my lips together to keep from laughing at the image of Sorensen.
Ford cleared his throat. “I’m not a man who likes games, Griffin. I’ve conducted some random rounds for the past couple of weeks. While I did see you there some of the time, other nights, you were missing. Where do you go?”
“Perhaps, the men’s room. Otherwise, I am hard at work.”
Ford folded his arms. “Why is it that you are invisible to anyone looking for you?”
I am invisible to everyone. Stifling my laughter took every ounce of effort. “I assure you I’m there, and my work proves it. I’m on duty, Mr. Ford.”
He said nothing to that. “Tomorrow afternoon, I have a meeting with Mr. Sorensen.” He sipped a cup of black coffee. “We’re watching you, Griffin.”
Again, I suppressed my urge to laugh. Watch me all you want, but you’ll see nothing.
“You will keep this conversation between us.”
“Mr. Ford, I don’t waste time on banter. I keep to myself and make transmission parts, a good quantity of them.” I knew I had made my point.
“Return to the floor.”
I thanked him, but just as I was about to leave, he asked, “Griffin, how much longer will you be bandaged like that?”
“I wish I could say.” I touched the brim of my hat. “Good evening, Mr. Ford.” Nothing particularly wrong went between us, but I left his office feeling something big was about to happen. He fidgeted. He drummed his desk with a pencil the entire time. His eyes were steel. I knew I had to be in the room when Ford met with Sorensen the next afternoon. As I passed his secretary’s desk, I glanced at the calendar. They were meeting at five. I planned to come in a bit earlier so that I could strip in the men’s room and slip into Ford’s office with Sorensen.
The meeting was illuminating. Ford said, “Something isn’t working here, Sorensen. I had to make the rounds myself a few nights to account for Griffin. Some nights, he was there. But more perplexing, I couldn’t find you on those nights.”
I could hardly remain silent seeing the angst on Sorensen’s face.
“I was here.”
Ford continued, “Well, there are some nights Griffin still can’t be accounted for. The damage in my office continues. And now, I can’t account for your whereabouts. It’s getting worse instead of better. Someone is going to be fired. I’ll be staying on top of this myself. If I find Griffin is shirking his responsibility, I’ll instruct you to fire him and replace him with someone who can be on the ball. Although, with Griffin’s production above average, it will be hard to prove he is shirking his duties.” Ford cleared his throat. “On the other hand, I have nothing material to prove you are doing your job. If I find you are the one who is delinquent, I’m telling you now, you will be fired.”
Oh, the joy in seeing Sorensen squirm.
“Mr. Ford, I assure you, I’ve been walking the plant floor several times a night. Giffin’s line is outproducing all the other lines on the floor. The man just seems to be invisible.”
“We both know that’s impossible. Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain. Figure it out or you’re fired.”
“I’ve been doing everything I can. Somehow, the circumstances are working against me.”
Ford tugged at his vest. “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” He paused. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
Sorensen was reduced to silence, and I reveled in that.
One night, while Sorensen was busy being me, I was in Sorensen’s office sneaking about. Mr. Ford walked in. “Where is he? He’s never in his office anymore? Now he’s gone missing, too.” Ford wrote a note and left it near Sorensen’s phone before leaving. I read it immediately. See me at 10 tomorrow morning. I did not want to miss this. I planned to be there, too.
I arrived at Ford’s door before Sorensen. When Sorensen did arrive, it seemed his hair had more grey, his brow had more furrows, his face had more lines. “Good morning.”
Ford didn’t look pleased. “I said ten. It’s five minutes past.” He pointed to one of his leather chairs. “Sit.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t know what’s come over you, Sorensen, but your work is lagging.”
I could see Sorensen’s shock. Wonderful.
“I’ve looked for you myself several times over the past few weeks during the evening shift. Can’t seem to find you. I always trusted you to carry out your responsibility, but you’ve let me down. You are not even on the premises when you should be.”
“But I am. I’ve been working extra hours, to be honest. I’ve been spending more time on the assembly line, rushing to do reports, keeping up with my regular responsibilities.”
“Where? Not in your office.”
I wondered how he would explain this one.
“I don’t know what to say, Mr. Ford.”
“Sorensen, you’re fired.”
“I don’t pay men to disappear. Your last day will be this Friday. That’s all, Sorensen.”
Sorensen stood like the limb of a dead tree. Looking confused, he tried to refute Ford’s decision, but was silenced. Charles Sorensen slowly walked to the door. Mr. Ford said, “One more thing.” He took a large manila envelope from his desk drawer. “When you do see Griffin, tell him to come to my office before his shift tonight. I have something to give him.”
“What is it?”
“Griffin is employee of the month. I’ll be presenting him with a certificate and a $25 check.”
“But, the man is never at his station. I don’t understand.”
“Somehow, his work is done. Not only done, but exemplary. His industriousness has allowed us to exceed production expectations and that means dollars to our bottom line. That’s my measure. I don’t know what he is doing, but it’s to my advantage.” He cleared his throat. “You, on the other hand, are not.”
I made a point of being at my station that night to receive that message. Being invisible is not ideal, but it is not altogether a burden. Alone — it is wonderful what a man can do alone! To rob a little, to hurt a little, and there is the end.
Maureen Mancini Amaturo, New York based fashion/beauty writer with a Creative Writing MFA, teaches writing, leads Sound Shore Writers Group, which she founded in 2007, and produces literary and gallery events. Her fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, poetry, and comedy are widely published and appear in many magazines, journals, and anthologies. Once named “America’s next Flannery O’Connor,” Maureen later was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and TDS Fiction Award and was awarded Honorable Mention and Certificate of Excellence in poetry from Havik Literary Journal. A handwriting analyst diagnosed her with an overdeveloped imagination. She’s working to live up to that.