2110 • Silo 1
Troy’s beat-up plastic meal tray slid down the line behind the splattered sheet of glass. Once his badge was scanned, a measured portion of canned string beans fell out of a tube and formed a steaming pile on his plate. A perfectly round cut of turkey plopped from the next tube, the ridges still visible from the tin. Mashed potatoes spat out at the end of the line like a spit wad from a child’s straw. Gravy followed with a well-aimed squirt.
Behind the serving line, a man in white coveralls with a white beard stood emotionless, hands clasped behind his back. He didn’t seem interested in the food. He watched the workers as they lined up for their meals, apparently more keen on them.
When Troy’s tray reached the end of the line, a young man, also in white and probably not out of his twenties, arranged silverware and napkins by the plate. A glass of water was added from a nearby tray tightly arranged with them. The final step was like a ritualized handshake, one Troy remembered from the months of orientation: a small plastic shot glass was handed over, a pill rattling in the bottom, a blurry blue shape barely visible through the translucent cup.
The gentleman ahead of Troy accepted his tray and cup. Tilting his head back, he shook the plastic cup, and the blue blur skittered a short hop past his lips. The man took a quick sip of water before grabbing his tray and finding a place to eat.
Troy shuffled into place.
A young grin. Perfect teeth. Everyone called him sir, even those much older. It was discomfiting no matter who it came from.
The pill rattled in the plastic. Troy accepted the cup and tossed it down. He swallowed it dry, grabbed his tray, and tried not to hold up the line. Searching for a seat, he caught the man with the white beard watching him. Everyone in the facility seemed to think Troy was in charge, but Troy wasn’t fooled. He was just another person doing a job, following a script. Sometimes, he wondered if anyone sat at the end of the line or if it was all a big circle of confusion.
He found an empty spot facing the view. Unlike that first day, it didn’t bother him to see out. He found it comforting. He remembered a man crying on the lift that same day, wondered if that fellow was feeling better now.
A scoop of potatoes and gravy washed away the bitter taste of the pill. Mere water was never up to the task. Eating methodically, he watched the sun set on the first week of his first shift. Twenty-five more weeks to go. It was a countable number. It felt much shorter than half a year. Switching to days, he had one hundred seventy-six remaining. That seemed like a lot. How one framed things really mattered.
An older gentleman sat down diagonally across from him, polite enough to not block the view. Troy recognized the man, had spoken with him once by the recycling bin. When the gentleman looked up, Troy nodded in greeting.
The cafeteria hummed with a pleasant sound. Plastic, glass, and metal beat a rhythmless tune. A few hushed conversations rose and faded. Troy spent a lot of time gazing past the rotting debris and up at the hills.
Breakfast and dinner were his favorite hours. Lunch was delivered to his office, which left him trapped in the middle of the building. He didn’t like the middle. There was nothing calling to him there. It was a place of being torn between two longings—the hard-to-define urge to unbury himself in the cafeteria, and a darker beckoning that called to him from below.
There were things he was supposed to know, but he kept forgetting. He awoke each morning with them in his vision, could feel memories taking shape, but by breakfast they were fading. By dinner, they were dull aches. It left Troy with a general sadness, a cold sensation, and a feeling like a hollow stomach—different from hunger—like rainy days as a child when he didn’t know what to do with his time. It was the pain of a chronic boredom mixed with the discomfort of time wasted.
He scraped the last of his potatoes off his tray. The gentleman across from him slid over a little and cleared his throat. Troy glanced up and slid the potatoes off the fork with his teeth, his arms erupting in gooseflesh from the sound and taste of metal scraping on enamel.
The old man smiled. “Things going okay?” he asked.
He reminded Troy of someone. Blotchy skin hung slightly loose around his face. He had the drooping neck, that pinch of flesh hanging from his Adam’s apple that made old people look like they were melting.
“What things?” Troy asked. He returned the smile and looked back to his plate. The knife was superfluous. Hardly any weight with the edge of his fork, and an unnatural bite of turkey slid off from the rest.
“Anything, I suppose. Just checking in. I go by Hal.” The gentleman lifted his glass. Troy did the same. It was as good as a handshake.
“Troy,” he said. He supposed to some people it still mattered what they called themselves.
Hal took a long pull from his glass. His neck bobbed, the gulp loud. Self-conscious, Troy took a small sip and worked on the last of his beans and turkey.
“I’ve noticed some people sit facing it and some sit with their backs to it.” Hal jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
Troy looked up at the screen. He chewed his food, didn’t say anything.
“I reckon those who sit and watch, there’s something they’re trying to remember.”
Troy froze. He swallowed and forced himself to shrug.
“And some of us who don’t want to see, I figure we’re trying our best to forget.”
Troy swallowed the last of his water, had rationed poorly. He still had a few bites of beans left. Something told him they shouldn’t be having this conversation.
“It’s the bad stuff,” Hal said, staring off toward the elevators. “Have you noticed that? It’s just the bad stuff that slips away. Anything that don’t matter all that much just sits there.”
Troy jabbed his beans even though he didn’t plan on eating them.
“It makes you wonder, don’t it?”
Looking up at the screen, Troy saw that the hills were almost invisible. They were turning the same color of darkness as the evening and cloud-filled sky.
“Makes you wonder why we all feel so rotten inside.” Hal took a bite of his potatoes.
Troy watched the man chew, jowls quivering. He eventually scraped the green beans off his fork, looked down at them, then jabbed them a second time.