Yoharie: Neighborhood Watch (part six)
“I’m busy. Sit down over there.” And more friendly, looking over his shoulder. “Get you in a minute, bud.”
Hibbler would sit, and maybe there’d be a printout, or a magazine, or a newspaper with a can of beer, that when he picked it up to look at, there’d be a ring. Marked, only by accident, maybe…Ten Worst Crimes Inspired by Video Games. Kids that killed their parents.
Then: “So, Jer, how’s it going?”
And it was Hibbler’s job to say it, and he always had to say it. He hadn’t yet got this shorthanded, a thing that could be done, got out of the way because it had to be. Not mentioned.
His daughter, he’d met passing through the sliding doors.
His head bent at first, over the rolling cart, twenty-five pound bags of potting soil, a vacuum cleaner in a box, big tub of dog treats, two dying rosebushes on clearance. Right now he was pushing, and the customer was pulling…not helping, obstructing…because people didn’t really like someone hefting things for them.
(And anyhow, on her own, getting the heavy stuff out of her trunk.)
Savannah, pocketing her phone, raising eyes, had gaped at him with an unfeigned dismay, tingeing towards horror. He hadn’t spotted her anywhere when he’d come back inside, stopping at the cashier’s to say, “Got her,” returning to appliances.
And then she’d said Sunday, at the breakfast table. “Mom. Isn’t Dad still working at the place?”
“What, Tri-City? Or what place, Savannah?”
Rae sat up and looked at faces, with interest. “He got a part-time at Home Depot, Hanbo.”
“Oh. I guess I never heard…”
“Why not the one close?” Savannah said a minute later. Since he was sitting there, all this had been a little off-kilter for Hibbler. His daughter didn’t listen, was the answer, but it was possible, also, that Kate hadn’t wanted to tell.
So he ought to say, “Yeah, I was going to say hello…”
Or any normal remark that would make this family chat normal. But he hadn’t said anything.
Kate, sharp: “Why are you asking?”
He left the table. The corner of his eye caught his younger daughter roll hers, flip back hair from her shoulder. It wasn’t anger, though…what his mother called a snit. People were misunderstanding Hibbler these days. Only that he’d heard in this tone of voice, a whole picture his wife must have got in her mind. He embarrassed Kate; she thought people were gossiping.
I dunno, Savannah said. But, jeez.
He embarrassed Kate; he pretended to her he’d put in for a manager’s slot, when he hadn’t, and wouldn’t. He told her it was all he could do.
“I mean, I’m doing everything I can. Jobs are tough.”
He told Adam his daughter was having a rough time in school, and he needed to be home…home in the afternoons, as much as possible.
They were always tough. But, in his Sears days, he’d seen himself climbing the ladder.
Hibbler could ask…he never had…had he been liked by his salespeople? Had his boss—tall old guy, big head, thin white hair blackened by the grease he slicked it with, long skinny legs, huge gut, voice like Fred Flintstone—liked him? There was a kind of…he didn’t know…place, old people held when he had been their junior. Jeff McElroy boomed out friendly greetings, he moved fast, slapped shoulders, left his office door cracked, but no one went in.
Hibbler didn’t get his own juniors. Sometimes these days, they filled jobs like Adam’s bidding them out online. The Adamses came from other places, they didn’t root for your teams. They didn’t cut you slack because you were Zack’s brother, and Zack was cool…Jeremiah supposed he was. Zack was a lot like Mat Busby.
Online, people could downrate you. The customer could take out her phone, while you were still trying to help, and say: “What is your name?”
All reasons he didn’t trust working anymore. But—
He was doing a job. No one else did this
In a lot of cases, no, being watch captain…like with the basketball kids, kids especially, Hibbler thought… Disrespect. Even so, also, people asked him to take charge of things…stupid things, things they were lazy about… But they asked him, washing their cars, walking their dogs, just throwing open the door, just to ask, what’s going on? Hey, Jer.
Like he was mayor of these streets.
How come they have that sawhorse thing and the green sprayed over by the storm drain…right in front of my driveway, practically, what are they doing?
Let me make a phone call. I’ll email you, tonight or tomorrow.
Thanks, Hibbler. Thanks, Jer.
It was crap, in some ways. City Hall had a website. But Hibbler sort of was boss of this, now. For the people I serve…he was comfortable, not quite with saying it out loud, not to Kate. But going to have a look at whatever. Putting their minds at ease, in case there was any danger. He knew what he’d learned, and it was worth something.
So, Jeremiah Hibbler, Watch Captain. He cared, and they didn’t. They weren’t taking it away.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)