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Labor & Economy

The Dixon Family Chronicles: “Time Is Tight”

Gary Phillips

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Illustration: Jeffrey K. Fisher

“Son of a . . . ”

Splitting a knuckle open, Jess Dixon grunted through gritted teeth. Working to get the rusted wheel nut loose, it had come undone too fast as she wrenched on the tire iron. Her hand banged onto the edge of the wheel well.

Ignoring the pain, she hurried and got done removing the slashed tire and put the spare on and secured it in place on the hub. The spare was not in good shape, worn smooth on one side, the steel belt underneath just about exposed. She didn’t dig her job but she couldn’t be losing it either.

She got her car going and drove to work, hoping she wouldn’t have a blowout on the lousy tire. Because she got up early each morning, and knew how to change a tire and a few other car repairs from her Uncle Hank showing her, she made it to work with two minutes to spare.

Later, hours into her shift, she pulled three items banded together from their cubbyhole. She beeped in the bar code on the back of the set as she walked, reaching the conveyer belt in seconds. She placed the books in one of the open boxes going by, paying no attention as it continued on. Jess returned to the rows of goods, from bestsellers to toasters shaped like Darth Vader’s head, organic dog treats to multi-purpose sex toys. It all got pulled and it all shipped somewhere.

The scanner clipped to her belt buzzed and she flipped it up to look at the screen. Scanning the selections, she raised an eyebrow after reading the title of a particular book.  She then saved her next set of pull orders. Jess continued to get her current fulfillments done to avoid being chastised again for not meeting her hourly quota. She kept pulling, beeping, walking and packing.

When her 15 minute late afternoon break came, she was glad she was near her designated break room in the half mile long facility. There were times she could be a brisk five minute walk away, which also meant a five minute return trip to her work area.  She entered the room.

“Look, Mel, just pick up the kids after practice. Do your duty as their father.” Macy Farmdale pressed her thumb on her smartphone’s key, ending the call. Head cocked, she said to Jess “Don’t get me started.”

“I hear you.” Grinning, they playfully bumped shoulders.

Farmdale stepped to one of the vending machines along a wall. “Want anything?”

“I’m cool,” Jess said. She sat on a plastic chair at one of the flimsy tables. She called up the new fulfillment list on her scanner. Sure enough, there in position four was a book entitled On the Six by Patricia Burch, Staff Sergeant, retired.  A troubled look momentarily contorted her face. An onrush of voices and sensations invaded her head and she shook it off.

“Good for you, Sarge,” she muttered.

Macy Farmdale paused by the table, unwrapping her snack. She leaned in. “Come to the house next Tuesday evening.”

Jess pursed her lips. “You gonna have that organizer there.”

“And my Hawaiian chicken.” She winked. “Come on, okay?”

.    .    .

“Heard you be lookin’ for DeMarkus,” the man said. His voice was raspy, sandpapery and knotted burlap.

“That’s right,” Little Joe Dixon replied. The man had been waiting in the alcove of the entrance to Little Joe’s apartment. He was no kid, older than Little Joe’s mid-twenties. His guess was this dude was in his late thirties—a hard-lived late thirties.

“Whatchu want him for? You no social worker.” He looked him up and down. “You got the aptitude about you.”

Little Joe almost chuckled. “You know where I can find him?”

What might have been a cunning look on someone else was cartoonish on this man. “Worth something, ain’t it?”

“It might be worth it to DeMarkus.”

The other one snorted, any pretense at comity evaporating. He stuck out a hand, fingers spread in anticipation. “Like I said, how much it worth to you to know, huh?”

.    .    .

“Another one?” The bartender Pierre Gaston asked. In his prosthetic he clutched his bar rag.

Hank Dixon rolled the empty beer bottle back and forth in his calloused hands. He’d purposely come to the Scorpion’s Tap to drink in public. To drink beer rather than hit that half bottle of Bushmills in his apartment. “Make it a near beer this time, man.”

“Righteous.”

While he sat there stewing on what to do next in the cool and the gloom, a disturbance of late afternoon light temporarily invaded the establishment. Someone had stepped inside past the curtained inner entrance. Dixon turned his head slightly and peripherally recognized a familiar form.

Turned full around now, he gaped. “Juanita.”

“Hi, Hank,” she said. “I hear you might be getting evicted. I’m here to help.”

To Be Continued


The Dixon Family Chronicles appears every Wednesday. See also:

Chapter 1: “The Sink Man”
Chapter 2: “SOL”
Chapter 4: “Early in the Morning”
Chapter 5: “You Gonna Step Up?”
Chapter 6: “Esoterica”
Chapter 7: “Which Side Are You On?”
Chapter 8: “A Little Past Seven”
Chapter 9: “No Justice …”
Chapter 10: “Live for Today”
Chapter 11: “The People United”

Watch Gary Phillips talk about his webserial.

 

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