Michelle Valois


Michelle Valois lives in western Massachusetts with her partner and their three children. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in TriQuarterly, Brevity, Fourth Genre, Moon Milk Review, Florida Review, North American Review, Tattoo Highway, Pank, and others. She teaches writing and humanities at a community college.

Human Resources

My father’s hands were blue from the molds he made in the machine shop where he worked. My father’s hands were strong. My father’s hands struck out, sometimes; sometimes they repaired what was broken around the house. Usually, his hands held cups of coffee, cans of beer, or shots of Jack Daniels. On Saturdays, if there was no overtime, his hands cocked a gun. On Sundays, they were folded in prayer; later in the day they shuffled a deck of dog-eared cards as we and grandparents and sometimes aunts and uncles huddled around the dining room table to play Pitch. When we were infants, his hands cradled us, after my mother had bathed and powdered our tiny bodies but before she put us to bed. I could not remember his hands like this.

Last week, in my daily paper, I saw a help wanted ad for a job at the local university. The Physics Department was seeking a tool and die maker, someone to run the department’s machine shop, someone who could assist professors and graduate students with the instruments and tools needed in the fabrication of the scientific equipment used in sponsored research.

My father met every requirement, except for a high school diploma, but I could see him fast-talking his way into an interview and into the job, offering to fix the diesel engine on the department chair’s 475-horse-powered boat and then being invited to go deep sea fishing. He would smoke with the maintenance men, 100 feet from the nearest building; check lottery numbers with the department secretaries; and tease the academic dean, a bespectacled man in awe of my father’s unwavering ability to operate and fix every machine in the university’s shop (which would be cleaner and better ventilated than anything my father had ever worked in before).

My father would wear a white, buttoned-down shirt, ironed, but which would not stay clean and pressed long. I would visit him often at work. He would introduce me to his graduate students, young men who, when they looked at him, wished their own fathers could handle tools like that. He would make a point of walking by the offices of the department’s faculty and introducing me as one of them. My daughter, the professor, he would boast, and add, almost apologetically, English, and then, because he could never help himself, We always thought she spoke good enough, which is what he started saying the year I left for college.

I want to pen a letter, on his behalf, to the department of human resources:

Dear Sir or Madam:

Enclosed please find the resume of a man who, with half a century of experience as a tool and die maker and extensive knowledge of manufactured materials, most notably plastics; three years of active duty during the second world war; a surprisingly gentle fathering ability; not to mention overall likeability and unquestionable collegiality; meets nearly every one of your desired qualifications.

At his wake, twenty-five years before such a job was ever advertised or maybe even existed, I was struck by how white my father’s hands were, folded upon his chest—not the white of pressed dress shirts, not the white of an empty sheet of paper, or the white of a baby tooth or cream. He liked his coffee black.

I began writing “Human Resources” after I saw a help wanted ad in my local paper for a tool and die maker. Like so much of my writing, the piece explores class in all its strange configurations and manifestations; the way someone raised working class never really stops seeing the world through that lens. At least I haven’t. The ad made me long to connect with my father, who has been dead for nearly twenty-five years, within the context of my life today. If my father had worked at a university, would we have found more common ground than we did in “real life”? That is the question I had in the back of my mind as I started writing the piece, that and how could I render a truthful and complete exploration of this question in fewer than a thousand words? I have been experimenting a lot with flash nonfiction lately, and this piece is one of the results.