The soft glow of the iron as it’s heated and that endless whisper, the rush of the flame when the metal begins to ripple at the seams. This was something that she liked. She could see, right through her mask, the alteration of structure, at the molecular level, the tearing of atomic bonds. This was power beyond guns. Beyond men. They fought but she built their fighting machines. They tore flesh while she tore the very flesh of the earth. It was a hot job and it was dangerous, like theirs, but in a different way. She hung suspended in a boson’s chair fifty feet above the factory floor in her coveralls and mask. Where before she slung hash at a lunch counter, now she built ships. A whole factory of girls at earnest in their welding. Fire, iron, steel. Tongues of flame in the dark. Indigo daggers and ochre sparks. Women. The wombs of the world at war while the fathers of the now and the grandfathers of some blurred future slogged through the hedgerows and the jungles spraying their own flames. More metal. And this did not escape her. The world of metals. The metals of war. Flame melts metal and metal melts skin and he who has the most metal wins. Or she. For who was it now that made the metals that the men now flung at each other so far away? She knew this wasn’t the natural order of things. It was, to her mind, a corruption of nature and a blasphemy, a distortion of God’s intent.
She slid down to the factory floor with the smooth precision of a commando descending a cliff. Lunch break. All the ladies were chattering. A long line of girls carrying lunch pails and handbags and the seeds of wars yet to come. Heads cocked and turning, the swagger of the birthing hips. They talked about lipstick. They talked about Lent. Who gave up what sacred pleasure. Who deprived themselves of this thing or that. Edith Brown gave up chocolate. Tish Leery gave up bread. They went down the whole line there in the lunchroom. And then all the girls turned their heads. Aida, they said. Aida? Are you listening? She was never quite present, was she? Always in a world of her own. Aida, what are you giving up for Lent? Aida heard them. That’s something they never understood, never caught onto. She always heard them. She looked down at her lap, as if the answer was there. And of course it was. He had only come home for a moment. A lousy two day pass. But of course that’s plenty of time for everything we were ever meant to get done. What did she give up for Lent? It was already gone. What is forty days anyway, compared to the life of a boy?