Panama Worker #898

It was the only evidence left.

He came to build someone else’s dream, a canal between two oceans. One year of back-breaking labor, and then a joyous return to Rosa and young Henry. His pay would ensure simple things they grappled for now. Shoes that fit a young boy’s ever-growing feet, and warm coats for cold winters.

He managed to escape malaria and avoid the brothels. His wiry mud-caked frame always alert. Nimble fingers. Quick legs. Just ten days more. Twist the wires. Set the charge and run like hell. Only this time, hell exploded in his hands.


Photo by Connie Gayer.  Word Count: 98 words.
Flash fiction using this week’s photo prompt for Friday Fictioneers.

41 thoughts on “Panama Worker #898

  1. ceayr November 4, 2015 / 6:32 pm

    Nicely built tale with powerful ending.
    Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 4, 2015 / 6:56 pm

      So glad you like – many thanks for your kind words. Having read David McCullough’s epic The Path Between the Seas (history of the Panama Canal) and then doing a cruise last year through it — somehow those very early workers who literally came by the thousands, and risked life and limb — setting explosives, living in a land of mosquitoes, etc came to mind when I saw this photo. Quite amazing to see all the different takes on one image!


  2. ansumani November 4, 2015 / 9:34 pm

    Beyond sad! You descriptions of the man and his work were great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 4, 2015 / 9:37 pm

      So many people lost their lives on the Panama Canal – especially in the very early days of its building.
      Thank you for your kind words here.


    • lillian November 4, 2015 / 11:38 pm

      Hmmmm…explosive is an appropriate word here. Glad the ending surprised you!

      Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 4, 2015 / 11:39 pm

      Wonderful! So glad you liked it and replied. Many thanks for reading my work!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dale November 5, 2015 / 1:41 am

    The things we take for granted… never thinking of the poor folk who made the canal possible. Very well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist November 5, 2015 / 6:45 am

    Great character build. Such a sad explosion at the end. Panama probably took many lives (I don’t know) but certainly it happens too frequently to those that travel to work to support their family back home and then their lives are cut short. Sometimes I wonder if the family ever knows what happened. Very powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 5, 2015 / 12:02 pm

      Good morning, Irene. Enjoying my first cup of coffee this morning and reading your lovely words here. Many thanks for stopping by and providing your thoughts as well. Always enjoy chatting with folks in this venue!
      The book The Path Between the Seas is quite an amazing (and long) story of this period in history (100 years ago) when the Canal was built. Before the Americans took over the task, I believe it was the French who were working on it and the cholera, malaria, and mishaps were deadly to literally thousands of people. The politics behind the canal, the methods — all revealed so well my the historical/novelist. It’s a great read.
      Yes — Worker 898 is what I imagine just one of these souls to be like. And it is true, migrant workers, those who come to the US to make money to send it home, cruise ship staff….all are folks who sacrifice so much so their families can have a better life.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Margaret November 5, 2015 / 10:44 am

    Very engaging. I love how you pick up the pace in the last paragraph. Fabulous story-telling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 5, 2015 / 11:58 am

      Good morning, Margaret. So very nice to see your reply over my first cup of coffee this morning. Just my second piece in Friday Fictioneers and I’m finding that I enjoy the genre! Similar to poetry in its brevity. Hope you’ll stop by again – perhaps to read some poetry as well. Many thanks for taking the time to record your thoughts here, and so glad you liked it.


  6. AnnMarie Roselli-Kissack November 5, 2015 / 11:02 am

    Again, a superb piece and deeply soulful. About 2 weeks ago, I was talking to the middle school kiddies about the Panama Canal – well – it was a little bridge in the discussion of malaria and mosquito bites. The artist, Albrecht Durer – devoted animal enthusiast and accomplished High Renaissance artist – succumbed to infection delivered by a mosquito while “on site,” for his art.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 5, 2015 / 12:09 pm

      Oops…..just corrected “cholera” to “malaria” — my error though. Thanks for mentioning this!
      So glad you liked my tale. I’ve found the Friday Fictioneers quite enjoyable (well, just my second try). Perhaps it’s the brevity that is, for me, inherent within the poetry genre as well, that makes it a challenge worth doing. Will have to look up Albrecht Durer and see some of his work.
      One little insect — so much heartbreak and damage. In The Path Between the Seas it was quite amazing to read that the early folks planted trees in literally standing buckets of water near the housing etc….and of course, the standing water bred even more mosquitoes!
      On to my second cup — while being frustrated over my gravator this morning….had to change my password in WP and it knocked out my “signature” etc so working to restore. The joys of computers!


      • AnnMarie Roselli-Kissack November 5, 2015 / 9:27 pm

        I enjoy the poetic (well, really only free verse) form because it can be short and sweet, long when necessary. I adore free verse – the kitchen sink of words – ’cause I so detest structure – can’t do it. RULES are not in my nature which is pretty wild considering I’m anally organized 😉 But I think the organization is a form of control and I like to be in the driver’s seat whenever possible. I make a horrible second – my ego is way to gigantic 😉
        Sorry about your computer niggles – these machines are great when all goes as it should…

        Liked by 1 person

  7. subroto November 5, 2015 / 1:13 pm

    Some of the grandest construction projects have made by slave labor or exploited workers. Very well conveyed by the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 5, 2015 / 1:17 pm

      That is absolutely true. I’m glad you enjoyed the story and yes, the character, Panama Worker #898, could represent many who have worked so hard for their families and been exploited by the “dreamers.”


  8. rochellewisoff November 5, 2015 / 2:05 pm

    Dear Lillian,

    Most has already been said. A very good build to the end. You made me care about this man who has taken on a dangerous job to support his family. To have hell explode in his hands was a most powerful ending. Well done.



    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 5, 2015 / 2:39 pm

      Thank you so much. Your time and words are much appreciated.


    • lillian November 5, 2015 / 2:42 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment. Yes – exactly – we stand on or sail through an engineering wonder with nary a thought of the individuals who worked so hard and sometimes sacrificed so much to create the “wonder.”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Claire Fuller November 5, 2015 / 5:36 pm

    I love how this speeded up with the use of short sentences towards the end, and then boom! So well written. (And tragic)

    C – so minor almost not worth mentioning, but I think back breaking, should be a compound adjective, and therefore hyphenated. And so you gain a word, as well 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 5, 2015 / 10:07 pm

      So glad you like it!
      Ah…. Shall add that mischievous hyphen tonight. Excellent point! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 5, 2015 / 10:12 pm

      Thank you so much for your words here…..sometimes a “Like” button just doesn’t seem right. I’d love to have a button that says “Connect With.”


  10. rgayer55 November 6, 2015 / 11:42 am

    Well done. I was really pulling for this character to make it out alive, but alas, twas not to be. It made me think of the last casualties of a war. The issue is already decided, but they die just the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 6, 2015 / 1:00 pm

      Profound words in your reply. I’m glad to meet you here in this space….and very pleased you liked my post.


  11. jellico84 November 6, 2015 / 1:37 pm

    Great image, and every demo-man’s nightmare in one. Great write!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 6, 2015 / 1:42 pm

      Enjoying my morning coffee and your kind reply. Many thanks for the read and the encouragement!


  12. gahlearner November 6, 2015 / 11:35 pm

    This is very powerful, and the title ads extra meaning to this. So many people get exploited, uncaringly treated like a number for someone else’s dream.


  13. Above the Cylinder November 10, 2015 / 9:18 pm

    The punch of short, staggering sentences develops an interesting rhythm to this piece — particularly starting the story with one — though I believe the effect may be better constructed with an em-dash or two in certain spots. (e.g. “His pay would ensure simple things they grappled for now — shoes that fit a young boy’s ever-growing feet, and warm coats for cold winters.”) Such an alteration may seemingly deprive the significance of the splice, but I feel it enriches the preceding statement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian November 10, 2015 / 10:26 pm

      Thanks for you comment. Much appreciated.


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