No one else knew about my dirty secret. That was one of the benefits of working at the forge. Scrapes and bruises were part of the job. Even Joey, my hammer operator, assumed any marks I had were the result of some unobserved mishap of my own making, such as poking my face with the metal tongs I used for passing heated steel to his drop hammer. He’d call me a klutz or say, “Man, what’d you do this time?” and laugh. He usually smoked a few joints or dropped acid or speed and became consumed with his work, paying little attention to me as long as my heated steel arrived in time for his hammer. The days were like that then, everyone jacked up on speed or acid to keep up production. It was the only way we made any decent money. We only took the speed on morning shifts, my usual schedule, though sometimes we stayed late for extra money, reserving the acid for those long nights, which gave me a break from the Sally and Patty show. Not that I minded Sally. Whatever she dished out was still sweet in comparison to a day at the forge. Thinking of her got me through the long days. Even as I waited for the blocks of steel to slowly reach their sun-yellow consistency before passing them on to Joey, where he would pound them into their molds with his four-thousand-pound ram hammer, I’d be thinking about Sally and how to get us back to that day when we had enjoyed each other so much. If ever the job got too tough, if I found myself nearly ready to scream from the hammers pounding like bombs or the black soot invading my eyes and mind like a physical darkness – like the building itself, lit mostly by the bright orange-yellow glow from the ovens – or the heated steal singeing my legs when it passed by my sweat-stuck uniform and insulated gloves and steel-toed boots, making me think I was on fire; or the incessant fear invading my mind of not being cut out for this, not being manly enough among these men who acted like the molds of steel we were producing (a part of something in which we all had to fit), like cavemen, limited to hunting, fishing, and hard labor; I’d quickly remember to think about Sally and I’d calm down. Though many had lost hope and openly exposed their ears to the mayhem, foregoing protection, perhaps to embrace deafness and permanently seal off the outside world, I stuffed mine with cotton underneath my helmet’s earmuffs to ease the strain of the crashing hammers, and when the horrors managed to still creep in as the hours ticked by – those incessant concerns about spending my life in this dungeon, churning out more chunks of pointless steel – I’d fight them off with more thoughts of sweet Sally, wanting to keep my mind and body whole for when those better days finally came. At least the noise created for each of us a safe environment for our thoughts, a place for fantasies to while away the time and forget our fates, where I could dream about Sally and those better days sure to come. I’d imagine us happy; I’d imagine us making love; and if her beatings seeped into my thoughts I’d imagine them as a special connection we had, our own unique way of loving each other – something I gave her – hoping I could be that endless sea of possibilities, as big as Lake Michigan, absorbing all of her disappointments, so that one day she could get to the other side of milk and honey and the freedom from whatever ailed her.