Skunky’s Steel Mill Story


by Mike Smetzer


It wasn’t my department. But since you asked, I do remember some details. It must be forty years ago now. Steve and I were new. The white hats were off somewhere, so we spent the morning playing broom hockey with a pint we dug out from a fan mount. Jack Daniels, Black Label. Sometimes we found them part full, but this was empty and open. Except maybe half a teaspoon, dried to a syrup.

I remember it was hot that noon. I was sitting outside on the loading dock, leaning on the corrugated steel. The steel felt cool in the shade. The explosion had to be loud, but I don’t remember. I think I saw an orange flame. Then maybe the top two thirds of “The Largest Blast Furnace in the Western Hemisphere” disappeared in that black disaster smoke. You’ve seen it on TV.

What I really remember is the coke. Pea sized. Coming down all around me and bouncing on the concrete. I remember my hard hat was lying upside down with a sandwich in it. Pickle loaf with American cheese. Then I was standing inside the loading dock with the hard hat on my head and pickle loaf mush on my hand.

When I looked back, men were coming down the stairs along the outside and running toward the road. I remember light shirts under a black cloud. I finished lunch later, inside. I went back for my chocolate milk and bought a Butterfinger at the canteen. I have forgotten who died. No one I knew. But I remember those pellets of coke, dropped around like petrified bunny shit. We had to sweep coke balls out of the parking lot all afternoon.

first published in Staccato Fiction, Fall 2011


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