Help Wanted: Radium Dial Painters

You will glow.

How many other employers could promise this?

You will paint light, taste light, swallow light. We will teach you to shape the paintbrushes with your lips, like the china painters before you.

You will wear light; the radium dust will sparkle on you. You will shimmer in the dark.

Your clothes will luminesce. At night, as they hang in your room, you may mistake them for ghosts.

Come, paint instruments for war. Paint dials and clock faces. Paint the numbers one through twelve over and over, marking off minutes and hours, marking off time.

This is an excellent job: sitting in a studio, painting. Less taxing than factory work. It pays well. It will keep your family fed.

In the interest of full disclosure, we must tell you: your bones may fog photographic film.

Your teeth and bones may crumble. Your jawbone may loosen. You may be able to pluck out pieces of it by hand.

Your mouth may never heal. Your breath could become radioactive.

You may limp, lose teeth, lose limbs. You may end up burying your friends. Your friends may end up burying you.

You will carry light and glow with it, but then the eagle will come to exact the Promethean tax.

Should injury or death occur, please be advised we will not be eager to accept responsibility.

You will write letters, give interviews, testify. We may blame your death on you. On syphilis, poor hygiene, or something else. We will make you fight.

Your fight will become part of case studies. Lessons in industrial hazards, in workplace safety, will center on you.

You will be known for this job, for your losses, for the precautions that will rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of your greenish fire.

If interested, apply within.

illustration by Anna Hall

About the Author

Jennifer R. Hubbard

Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of four books, including Try Not to Breathe and Loner in the Garret: A Writer’s Companion. She participates weekly in Creative Nonfiction’s #cnftweet challenge as @JennRHubbard.

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