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A BILLABLE HOUR by Katherine Heath

In the time that it takes him to park and unload the maintenance van into the freight elevator of the American Angus Journal, I’ve just rolled over to swipe right on the morning alarm. 

The receptionist, Sharon, escorts him past the framed photographs of carved ribeye—gorgeous cuts of glistening and perfectly pink meat—to the malfunctioning Hoshizaki. Normally it produces two-hundred and eighty pounds of ice in twenty-four hours, but this week, in the middle of a Missouri July, Sharon and her coworkers can’t keep their sweet teas cool. By the time his hands are tinkering with the organs of the machine, I’ve only made the walk from bed to kitchen table and opened the laptop.  

You must work backwards. You clean it, so you can put it back together to clean it again, he would say if ever asked about his process. To disassemble, he removes the deflector, float device, and pump, placing each in the sink to soak in bleach. He sprays solution on the evaporator plates—where ice forms once the temperature drops. He chisels limescale deposits where water and metal meet. He removes black mold from the tubes with a skinny brush designed for baby bottles. 

As he works backwards to clean, I stare at a blank Powerpoint slide for a presentation I’m building for Toy Brand Inc. entitled, “Life of 5-to-7-year-olds today.” I need an image to pair with the headline, “Generation Alpha, the True Emotive Storytellers.” I google a combination of relevant search terms like “child” + “writing” + “excited,” and scroll through the results: 

“Girl writing letter to father christmas Stock Photo #88415957”

“Boy writing down notes Stock Photo #76758209

“iStock rainbow children drawing art hobby”  

“Supportive father helping his child #939050552” 

All watermarked and licensed for use, meaning out of budget. 

After he reassembles, while he waits for the delimer mix to cycle its way through the nickel-chromium wire cages, he picks up a recent issue of the Beef Bulletin, a publication Sharon and her team produce. This month focuses on selecting cattle at elevation and features real-world bulls from the Connealy farm. One ad promotes a breeding season guarantee. Another offers discounted semen and embryo warehousing from Bovine Elite. Call us today to order! 

“It’s like Playboy with cows…and for farmers,” he will later say in jest as he describes the lighting and sheen of monochromatic hair. 

While he idly flips pages of fertile livestock, I try another tactic and go to my secret image source, the one in which clients can never know. I open my Insta-Photo social media account and type in ‘@midwestMama,’ the profile of a friend from back home. Her bio reminds me that she is into “mindful homemaking~~mothering three,” and “the simple things done with care.” My right index finger glides through hundreds of shots of her family. Each curated with the right mix of plants, flexitarian dishes, and smiling children—props displayed against soft hues of pink and white to convey the lifestyle brand that is @midwestMama. 

I click on the photo of her youngest dressed in costume, a nylon cape draped over the shoulders, holding a wooden shield and sword that look as though they were carved from a tree out in the backyard that morning, an upscale take on homemade. I hit ctrl + C, ctrl + P, then, using the cursor, adjust the placement of the picture to the left under the headline.   

We haven’t spoken in years, but her face and her kids, which easily pass for ages 5-to-7, will soon sparkle on-screen for my clients.   

Polishing the front and side panels with a paper towel, he knows the exterior speaks for the real work inside; his reflection in the stainless-steel signals a job well done. 

As I labor over the next image search for slide twelve of ninety-six, he, Dad, folds up the flimsy aluminum ladder, and before exiting, peeks inside one final time to watch the stream transform into a waterfall of frozen half-moon shapes. 

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