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Sharp Focus

by Jennifer Stakes

My hands were sweating and slippery, so I peeled off my ugly rubber gloves and grasped the sweet potato runner with my bare left hand, using the knife to sever it at the base while I bundled it dexterously with the others in my grasp.


My knife flashed, and again. Fifty.

Tying the last runner, left long on purpose, around the juicy, mineral-smelling stems I dropped the bunch in the bucket beside me and bent back to my work, my hands already stained that distinctive pond-slime colour.

Beside me, a girl was sniffing as she worked. I didn’t want to know why. Her red overalls hung baggily around a small frame; if she was young I couldn’t risk her latching onto me. Women had been Sent Away for less. I concentrated on the fish-quick flashing of the knife against the growing mass of green in my hand and soon lost myself again in the rhythm.

The sun had shifted its burning angle when a Supervisor called my name and wordlessly indicated my gloveless hands. My spine protested as I straightened to pull the stinking rubber back over my cracked and filthy skin, but I bent back to my position beside the endless sprouting furrows before I had barely missed a beat.

The sun, tumour-yellow, scorched its course across the emptiness above me. The olive-green headscarf protected my head and neck but we can be fined for rolling our red overall sleeves up; melanoma treatment doesn’t come cheap. Rather, the costs are added to the imaginarily large sum that is our Debt.

Don’t confuse my headscarf for the algae-green that denotes the road-repairers. I get paid nearly twice what they do. Theoretically, at least. Who knows, maybe I’ll live long enough to see some of it one day.

I shook off my pointless daydreams. The sniffing girl had been taken away and I could concentrate on the work without interruption.

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Stakes

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