Thread: Short Story
The image most people get when they hear Fletcher Broobeck lived on an island is a happy man living in paradise, enjoying tropical weather, crystal clear ocean water, and beautiful women. If that is close to what you were thinking, replace it with this image: a middle-aged man, struggling through life on a 20-acre cement industrial island off the coast of Maine, surrounded by filthy water. Although this honest and hard-working man has lived on the same island for thirty years, because of a nagging wife and a then hour work day, Fletcher Broobeck has no time for friends on Whitewell Island.
On another gray morning, sometime in the fall, Fletcher woke up for work before sunrise. He left his house without his wife waking, grabbed his bike, and pedaled for work. Typical morning for Fletcher Broobeck. When he arrived at work, he clocked in and began to organize sheets of steel by width and weight. He worked steadily until mid-day, then clocked out. During his break, Fletcher snacked on his unvaried daily ration of banana, Dr. Pepper, and as usual, finished it off with a smoke, his highlight of the day. His smoke was the highlight of everyday. It was during this time that he thought. He didn’t think of anything in particular – he just thought. Sometimes he would think of how his wife left her wet towel on the bathroom floor or how she left the toothpaste tube open the night before. Sometimes he would think about what his life would be like had he never come to Whitewell Island. It was during this time that he stared into the endless murky smog hovering about him, fascinated by the smoke stacks and their ability to kill the nature around them.
As he was sitting outside the side door, trying to light his last cigarette with his empty lighter, a man came out. Fletcher saw his uniform and nametag, and realized that “Kurt” also worked in the steel preparation sector. He was obviously a new guy, because Fletcher Broobeck knew everybody in his sector. Kurt leaned against the wall next to Fletcher, slid down to sit on the damp cement and lit his cigarette on the first flick.
“Can you spare me a light?” Fletcher asked.
“Yeah,” responded Kurt in a slow, monotonous voice, much like the way Fletcher always sounded. When Kurt handed him the lighter, Fletcher realized that this man was actually a kid.
Fletcher lit his cigarette and exhaled. The smoke blended in with the morning fog, just as it had every morning before on Whitewell Island, yet it was hard to tell whether it was cigarette smoke or condensation from the cold, causing steam to pour out of his mouth.
Fletcher Broobeck handed the lighter back to his new co-worker and asked in the same way he asked for the lighter, “So, you new here?”
“Yeah, it’s my first day. They just brought in a whole gang of us from the high school across the water.”
Fletcher chuckled for no reason in particular, and said, “How ‘bout that? That’s when I started my job here. Well, not the same job. I was promoted nineteen years ago to the ‘Assistant Manager of Steel Preparation.’”
“Hmm,” Kurt awkwardly responded. They sat there in silence for a moment, simultatneously taking drags from their cigarretes. Kurt clumsily dropped ash on his pants, but Fletcher pretended not to see. “How has it been?” Kurt asked. “I mean dropping out of high school to come here and all.”
Fletcher Broobeck took a drag of his cigarette and sighed, “You really want to know?” Kurt did not respond, he just sat there looking at the wall of fog and smoke covering them from the outside world. The more and more Fletcher realized how much Kurt was like him at a younger age, the more and more he wanted to get to know him. “I tell you what,” Fletcher added, “Why don’t you stop by my place tonight for dinner and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Sounds good Mr.…” Kurt leaned forward to look at Fletcher’s nametag, “Mr. Broobeck. Thanks”
“Great. I’m number 261 at the East Whitewell complex.” Fletcher stood up and wiped his wet pants with his rag. “I’ll work on getting my lovely wife to make some dinner.” And with that, Fletcher Broobeck headed back inside.
With his hard hat back on, and safety goggles around his neck, he punched in and began to organize sheets of steel by width and weight. For the first time, he began to smile while he worked. Of course he did not make this obvious to anyone else, because Fletcher Broobeck’s smiles are not too common on Whitewell Island. He felt good about inviting a kid over for dinner, and even though he knew his wife would be furious, he really could not have cared less. Sheet after sheet of steel was gently placed by Fletcher’s diligent hands, for his work attitude began to increase, as well as his happiness. He was the only bright thing on the dark, foggy, gray island on which he lived.
“Mr. Broobeck,” crackled the loudspeaker. “Please make your way to the Manager’s Office. Mr. Broobeck to the Manager’s Office.”
When Fletcher Broobeck heard his name, he nearly fell over he was so excited. The only time he had ever heard his name on the loudspeaker was nineteen years ago, when he received his promotion. He quickly placed the sheet of steel down with the other sheets of steel of the same width and weight, and rushed to the office.
“What a day, huh?” Fletcher thought to himself. He realized that things were changing for him, things he didn’t even know he wanted to be changed. Fletcher Broobeck liked the change.
He creaked open the heavy door that read “Manager’s Office” over the opaque glass. His nervousness, mixed with excitement, caused him to slam the door behind himself.
“You called sir?” asked Fletcher Broobeck as he took off his hat. His voice was different this time. A voice one enjoys listening to, full of hope and good intention.
“Ah yes, Mr. Broobeck,” responded the manager. Mr. Broobeck’s manager was a kind man, but the kind of nice where the only intention was to look good himself. His nasal voice usually annoyed Fletcher Broobeck, but not today. “As you probably know, Mr. Broobeck…”
“You can call me Fletcher,” he interrupted.
“As you might know,” his manager hesitates, “Fletcher… we just brought in a whole crew of boys over from the high school, and…”
“Yes, sir. I know,” added Fletcher, hoping to impress his manager. “I met one of them today. Kurt is his name.”
“Anyways, with this new shipment of strong boys coming in, well,” the manager coughs, “there’s really no easy way to put this.”
Fletcher Broobeck’s heart stopped. Every good feeling that was in his body disappeared. Nose from the machines, breath, time itself - everything stopped.
“I’m sorry, but you’re fired, Mr. Broobeck.”
Fletcher Broobeck put his hat back on, walked out of the room, slowly shutting the door behind him. For the first time since he’s lived on Whitewell Island, Fletcher Broobeck did not punch out. He walked out of the factory, looking as if he were a dog who knows he’s done wrong. Fletcher Broobeck went home, and began to set up the house for a guest.
This is when the story of Fletcher Broobeck ends. So what happened? Did he go home thinking nothing but happy thoughts, because he finally has a friend? Did he head home, planning revenge upon Kurt? Would Kurt even show up, or was he just teasing him by welcoming the invitation, knowing the whole time he would have better things to do? Nobody really knows, because nobody really cares. Fletcher Broobeck did nothing to impact the world around him, never had and never will.