The vinyl ripples ran lusciously under Jamie’s hands as he moved the records into the flimsy paper sleeves. He knew he didn’t have one of the more important jobs in the factory: he didn’t know how to work the recording microscope that etched the songs onto each master disc, didn’t know how to work the hoses that coated the discs with tin chloride. He couldn’t work the press that forced the music grooves from the master disc onto the pliant, hot vinyl that would become the very disc that he would sleeve. He was replaceable. All he did was mindless head-turning, finger-fanning work; grasping vinyl, sliding into paper, grasping vinyl, sliding into paper.
Last night, Jamie had sex with a man he had met in a porn-store viewing booth. Those seedy stores seemed to be the Mecca for the lonely fags that couldn’t bring themselves to traverse the scene of the gay nightclubs. A while back Jamie would have perhaps classified that random act of fucking as out of character, but as of late, he had been dissolving into the kind of pervert his staid family had warned him about as a small, fair-haired child—a fairy, a faggot, a quilt, a little light in the loafers. Jamie knew that he had been abusing his crippling curiosity regarding the gay scene and, over the past few months, had been inserting endless streams of quarters in the curtained movie-booths.
The record he was holding slipped out of his preoccupied hands and one of his fingernails caught on the lacquered surface, causing a scratch to zag its way across one of the tracks. Jamie stared at the scratch, thinking of tiny fissures in rectal lining, pinpricks of blood squeezed onto a glass slide, and the way his back had looked after the last time he had had brought someone home from the movie-booths.
Lorenzo surveyed the factory workers from the office on the second floor of the factory. From up above, they looked like dark-blue ants, continuously on a course of repeated action. He liked that—constancy and familiarity, the repetition of the choreographed factory line movements.
Lorenzo relished few things in life: reiteration was one of them. Cycles were something that felt right—forward motion in one direction, with the ability to begin that sweet, smooth circle again when prompted. He saw this iteration reflected back at him over and over again—the factory assembly and production lines, the way a record could spin forward until being restarted on the same side. Repetition levered him out of bed in the morning. He thought only in a flowing, forward motion, able to begin again when the cycle needed to be reset.
Creating records was a more complicated procedure than people thought. Lorenzo took bombastic happiness in detailing and savouring the process. It all started with the master disc—a gritty slice of aluminum—being sanded down and moved to a conveyor belt, then passed underneath a curtain coater of nitro-cellulose lacquer, forming a veneer over the insert. The next step in the process was the flaw inspection. Workers were taught to scrutinize the newly coated master discs for any type of scratch or bump. There was no relentless forward motion here: flaw inspection was thorough and uncompromising. The rejection rate of master discs was, in fact, about 50 per cent.
Jamie felt flawed and stupid. He knew about the “gay plague” that was eating its way through the bones of men like him, plowing across continents without regard for race or creed or pleas. Nobody had thought that heat transfer from one person to another could result in death of the greying, sunken-skin kind. Nobody had thought that in a few years, they would be seeing the names of friends, lovers and makeshift family members being carved onto memorials and typed into the back pages of newspapers. Nobody talked about the virus that had started to transmute and multiply and plant its black flag into the graves of men across the world.
Jamie couldn’t stop thinking about the ease of transmission: a few torn fibres, a few miniscule fissures, a few moments in which a few people decide not to wear a condom in a world that mutates so quickly. What if the virus was perambulating its wide-toothed way through his arteries at this very moment? Semen was venom, blood was cruel, but he was relentless in being unsafe, writing out his will with sweat and the marks that fingernails leave behind.
Lorenzo watched the unflawed discs get edged with plastic and move to a hydraulic puncher. The satisfying strike of the machine through layers of vinyl made the hairs on the back of his neck rise with crunching pleasure.
The recording of the music was the most intricate. He watched the engineer place the disc on the lathe, lining up the microscope, directing the cutter as it etched a song into the vinyl underneath. This was a difficult process. Two workers in the recording room directed the cutter across the disc, making sure that grooves didn’t cross each other, watching the tiny black lines fluctuate depending on the level and depth of sound that was being burnt into the record. The song had to be etched onto the disc in one line—there could be no stopping during this step. Lorenzo’s head nodded with muted approval. People had to learn to function more like that: able to continue on in life in a straight, solid motion. If people just settled back into the groove they were meant for, everything would play out like it was supposed to.
After the song was recorded, the record was sprayed with tin and silver. Lorenzo watched the mutation of the black mirror-like vinyl into a grey ribbed grey circle, and saw the distortion of his own face looking back at him. Moving over to the nickel-coating tanks, he glanced down at the nickel-green water. The silver disc was put onto the underside of a tank lid; the disc was lowered into the water. An electric charge fused the nickel to silver, and settled into the grooves as it spun.
Sometimes Jamie felt as though he were spinning. He had gotten a job at the factory to pay the rent, but he wanted to be a dancer. Nobody would think that the boy in the middle of the light-freckled dance floors with the light-freckled face and eyeliner eyes was a factory worker in dark blue coveralls who no longer had anybody.
And now, the room spun. He knew the clinic and knew they had been increasing in requests for the blood test. He knew that the hours were late enough that he could go after work, and he knew that he would inevitably run into some of his friends there—people who used to be lush and full, and were now seemingly lighter, less fleshy.
Jamie exhaled and reached for a new stack of vinyl.
After the stacks of vinyl were coated in nickel, the metal layer was pried away from the disc. Lorenzo relished this part—the new metal disc was hot and smelled like blood when it came out of the tanks. He would often hold these newly minted circles under the guise of inspection, but rather, he liked the smell of them. The heat warmed his fingertips and reflected off of his face.
After the stamper was created, a hole was punched in the exact centre of it. The stamping disc was then trimmed to 32 centimetres. While the disc was being trimmed, the labels were prepared—Lorenzo watched the machines drill into the centre of a stack, making a centre hole that would match up with the hole in the record.
Jamie wasn’t sure how he’d feel if he found out he was HIV-positive. What would it feel like to have blood that was considered poisonous? Would he be able to feel the wasting that would go on in the tissues of his body, the cell death taking place beneath his fingernails, under the skin stretched across his cheeks, within his lungs and liver and spleen?
It would be so much easier to live in the dark, willfully infecting any fool stupid enough to screw him haphazardly. It would be so much easier to glide through life pretending as though he was whole physically and emotionally. It would be so much easier to close his eyes to reality: to pretend that the warm serpentine body that lay next to you for only fifteen minutes was one you could keep forever, that you were immune to the virus that was devouring friends, that you were a dancer as opposed to an anonymous factory worker. It would be so much easier to try and shove back the relentlessness of the motion of life.
Vinyl pellets were melted down into hot, pliable black vinyl patties. While the hoists pushed the newly minted labels into the vinyl, Lorenzo watched as a carriage moved the labeled vinyl forward and dropped it into the press. The two stampers in the press applied 100 tonnes of pressure to the patty at 193 degrees Celsius. The lump of vinyl was then melted and molded into a record. A cooling cycle hardened and bonded labels to vinyl, and the record advanced to a trimming table and was spun against a knife that cut away the ragged edges
The trimmed record was moved to a finished stack, where it awaited being slipped into a paper sleeve and an album cover. Lorenzo walked over to where the sleevers worked. In his opinion, they were some of the least talented people in the factory. Mostly young men from places outside of London, they only needed to be fast with their fingers and able to sheathe the vinyl fast enough. He watched a young, fair-haired man reach for each record unthinkingly, rapidly sleeving them. Lorenzo didn’t even know his name—it really didn’t matter. Most of these young men came and went anyways—this one would probably be gone in a few months, a couple of years at most.
The pressing and trimming of the finished vinyl album takes just 28 seconds.
Lorenzo looked at the clock. There were exactly 28 seconds left in the day. Each second that ticked off on the staring face of the wall clock etched a cycling motion in his head as the second hand traced along the glassy underside of the circle of the clock face, and reinforced the relentless forward-moving nature of his life—of this life.
Jamie looked at the clock. There were 28 seconds left before he would end his day. Each second that ticked off on the staring face of the wall clock reminded him of the tick marks used to measure body counts, of antibodies in titres of blood, and reinforced the relentless forward-moving nature of his life—of this life.
All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.