Dominique Manotti: Lorraine Connection

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Dominique Manotti Lorraine Connection
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    Lorraine Connection
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    Криминальный детектив / на английском языке
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Dominique Manotti

Lorraine Connection


A room enclosed by four grey sheet-metal walls, bisected by a conveyor belt carrying two rows of television screens and their cathode ray tubes, under the glare of neon lights from which a stray electric wire dangles. Two rows of four women sit facing each other on either side of the conveyor. Autumn is around the corner and it is very chilly: when they took up their positions this morning it was still dark outside. All the women know each other and feel almost close in this confined space where they work as a team on collective output and bonuses, but no one feels like talking, since the prospect of long nights and short days dampens their spirits.

The women, also looking grey in their short overalls, lean forward, their eyes constantly moving from the aggressive oblong-shaped bases of the cathode tubes filing past them to the tilting polished-steel mirrors overhead. The same crushing images of the same tubes are reflected from a different angle, as if magnified. Holding tiny soldering irons, they add a few final spots of solder then, on leaving the production line, the finished cathode ray tubes are conveyed to the next workshop on the other side of the sheet-metal wall, where they will be packaged, stored, and ultimately despatched elsewhere, generally to Poland, where they will be given plastic casings and become television sets.

The girls can hear only muffled sounds from the factory floor, but the noise from the conveyor belt bounces off the sheet-metal walls and dictates the rhythm of their days. Clack, the conveyor starts up, hiss, two seconds, the tubes start moving, clack, stop. Each girl leans forward, the soldering irons sputter, one, two, three, four blobs, and in ten seconds they straighten up. Rolande, at the end of the line, gives the tubes a quick once-over to check the accuracy of the soldering. Clack, sssh, the belt moves forward, minds blank, their hands and eyes work automatically. Clack, one, two, three, four, glance, clack, sssh … Aisha’s face between two tubes, wan, twenty years old, should be in better health. Clack, one, I was in better shape at twenty, two, pregnant, ditched, three, alcoholic mother, violent, four, who was already sponging off me, glance, clack, sssh. Aisha, her eyes vacant, violent father. Clack, one, my son, ruffling his hair, two, caressing his face, affection, three, the factory no way, never, four, study, study, study, glance, clack, sssh. Aisha, work, can’t stand it any more, clack, one, since the accident, two, the accident, the blood, three, blood everywhere, four, throat slit, glance, clack, sssh. Aisha covered in blood. Clack, one, she’s afraid, two, me too, three, all of us, afraid, four, the sheet-metal walls exude fear, clack, sssh. Aisha, her father yelling, clack, one, blinding flash, from floor to ceiling. On the other side of the production line a tube explodes, the briefest scream, earsplitting.

Émilienne keels over backwards, Rolande’s palm automatically hits the emergency button, the production line comes to a halt, a wire is fizzling all the way up to the neon light, orangey-yellow sparks and a very strong smell of burning rubber or some other substance, sickening. Silence. Rolande clambers on to a chair and picks her way over the conveyor between two cathode tubes. Émilienne is lying on the floor on her back, white, rigid, eyes closed, lips blue. Six months pregnant. Her belly protrudes through her half-unbuttoned overalls. An alarm goes off somewhere on the other side of the partition. In the total silence of the cramped room, Rolande speaks quietly, in a precise monotone: ‘Aisha, run to the offices, grab a phone and call an ambulance, the fire brigade. Go, hurry.’ Aisha rushes off. Rolande kneels down, Émilienne’s hair is spread on the worn-out vinyl tiles. The floor’s filthy, when was it last cleaned? She feels ashamed, removes her overalls and places them under the head of the injured, possibly dead, woman. Émilienne doesn’t appear to be breathing. She leans over her, attempts mouth-to-mouth, senses a breath. She gently unbuttons the neck of Émilienne’s blouse and frees her legs from under the overturned chair. A scorch mark on the seat. The girls are all on their feet, staring expressionlessly, their mouths closed, leaning against the sheet-metal walls, as far away as possible from Émilienne. What was I thinking about earlier? Fear? This is its natural home. Réjane, who sits next to Émilienne on the production line, murmurs in a quavering voice, her hands trembling:

‘Maybe we should give her heart massage.’

‘Do you know how?’


‘Me neither.’

One women slaps Émilienne’s face and dabs at it with a wet cloth, the other massages her hands, weeping.

Antoine Maréchal, bespectacled and in blue overalls, is juggling schedules and attendance sheets in the personnel office. He is the foreman of the assembly-finishing-packaging section, and each day is a monumental challenge to maintain output with absenteeism ranging between ten and twenty per cent. Closer to twenty per cent on this autumn day. What dross, all bloody Arabs or women. They don’t know the meaning of work. The Human Resources Manager in person comes into the office, thirty-something, in a tailored suit, expensive shoes of Italian leather, an incompetent, cocksure young upstart, still wet behind the ears. Maréchal, in his fifties, a lumbering figure in his overalls and safety boots, shudders with repressed hatred.

‘Mr Maréchal, how convenient, just the person I wanted to see. The latest figures show an absenteeism rate of thirteen per cent in your section over the last month.’

‘I know. I’m dealing with it.’

‘It’s the highest rate in the factory. If you don’t do something about it, you’ll be jeopardising the survival of the entire company.’

Maréchal removes his glasses, snaps down the sides and puts them in his overalls pocket, next to the red ballpoint pen and the blue ballpoint pen, and rests both hands on the desk, which creaks.

‘Listen, Mr Human Resources Manager, you’re new here. I’ve been here since the day this factory opened, and not a month has gone by without the management threatening closure. Anyone would think they’d only opened it so they could close it down. So that kind of talk won’t go very far with me. I don’t give a damn if your place closes down. I’ve got my house, it’s not long till I retire, I’ll pocket my bonus and go off gathering mushrooms.’ The pager clipped to Maréchal’s belt starts beeping. ‘Excuse me, I’m wanted on the factory floor.’

He leaves the Head of HR casting around for a reply and goes next door into the main factory building. The clanging, clattering, scraping and the din of engines. Confused sounds, he thinks. Memories of the powerful, constant roar of the blast furnace, the roar of fire. Nostalgia? Not really. It cost my father his life. He was confused too. The main factory building, divided into numerous enclosed areas which you have to cross or skirt around to reach the long, central corridor, cluttered with a discarded Fenwick engine, empty pallets and dustbins. In front of him, a gaping doorway leading to a narrow room entirely taken up by a machine which, at the time of its installation, was to revolutionise the chemical treatment of microprocessors. A purpose-built room, specially insulated against dust and temperature variations to prevent the machine from overheating and breaking down for lack of ventilation. Idle for a year and a half. Some clever buggers must have dismantled it and nicked some of the parts, can’t blame them. A rush of anger. And it’s my section that’s jeopardising the future of the factory. Wanker.

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