Ellie had her finger stuck up her nose when I met her. She was leaning over the adhesion tester so all I could see was blond hair and a lab coat, but I knew that stance. I'd done it before myself, twisting my finger like a corkscrew to work the glue in higher when a straight sniff didn't cut it anymore. "Careful you don't get stuck that way," I said, and she laughed, and wouldn't you know it, it did stick. Cyanoacrylate-54, a swift kick of a high but a pretty dumb move. Your nostril's lined with soft, delicate hairs and man, those fuckers hurt when you pull them.
Wasn't long after that we started messing around. The factory had been a hospital back in the days of bricks and ether, and had plenty of gloomy little rooms full of abandoned equipment, places no one would find us. I knew them all. I was an old-timer by glue factory standards. I'd started working there in high school, spending my summers testing samples on machines that looked like something Dr. Frankenstein would have used to squirt the elixir of life into his dear old monster, all syringes and metal springs. Six months of college in a pretty little town with a green in the middle, then my mom got sick and I moved back home to take care of her. The factory gave me back my old job, this time with the title of research technician, a fancy name for something a monkey in a lab coat could've done. Four years later I was still there, pushing the same levers and testing the same samples from the scientists, who were still trying and failing to find a knock-off for Post-It notes. It's the Holy Grail of adhesives. Everyone wants to be able to undo what they've just stuck.
When Ellie wasn't around I'd hang out in the lab and read. Dickens, Golding, Brontë. The orphan classics, I guess you'd call them. My lab coat had wide, deep pockets that could hide a paperback, and I rigged a pencil to hang off my right cuff with yet another failed Post-It knockoff, one that was too strong for paper—caused substrate failure and the sheet ripped—but if you wanted to hold onto something a little heavier it was perfect. I showed Ellie the pencil trick and she taught me to make bandages out of just about anything: paper, the condoms I carried in my other pocket, once an old rag she'd asked me to tie around her mouth like a gag. If you'd seen us back then you would've thought we'd barely survived an accident, we were taped up better than any crash victim.
It was pretty hard to get fired from a place where half the staff was high, but even by those standards Ellie was pushing it. She started to have a look to her like the fat lip of a dead fish, too glass-eyed to care about the hook. I figured she had to be screwing our supervisor, too, but she didn't volunteer and I didn't ask. It's not like I was a shining star myself. The bills from the funeral were coming in, I was shooting and snorting my paychecks as quick as I got them, and it was starting to look like the only way I'd ever make it back to college was as the old guy in the back of the class, the one who everyone figures is just there to ogle the coeds. Maybe I'd slip a little glue onto their skirts, see some skin that way.
So it wasn't a total surprise when one afternoon, after a particularly satisfying fuck in a supply closet, Ellie said she wanted to come back that night and clear Accounts Receivable out. I pulled a paper clip off her ass where it'd gotten stuck and then kissed the red welt it left behind, feeling the chemical residue burn my lips. She had an ass that should've been cast in copper and made into a monument, something unbreakable and forever.
I'd never seen the factory totally dark before, all the machines silent. Ellie took a key out of her pocket and soon enough I thought we were done, but she slipped her hand down my pants and led me into the lab. One last goodbye go of it, I thought. Ellie had other ideas. She climbed up on the lab desk, the same one we both work over, and started kicking at the window. She still had on the steel-toed boots we're required to wear, the one management lets us pick off a company truck once a year like it matters what style you get when they're all butt-ugly, but even so the glass wouldn't break. Cracks spread like spiderwebs, they etched up the glass until it looked about as strong as my mother had those last months, but still it didn't shatter. "You're never going to bust it, Ellie," I said. I knew. I'd helped paint the safety resin on the window myself. But standing there, watching her throw her small body at the glass, seeing how hard she tried and how hard it stayed, something inside me gave. I picked up the adhesion tester and hurled it at the window and what do you know, that sucker broke clean through.