---Note to my readers: I am taking another stab at fiction. I picture a series of word-sketches of families and individuals coping with accelerating inflation and the social fall-out. The length of each sketch will be determined by when the horse drops dead beneath me.
This is a hand-to-mouth venture at this point. While this might be the only sketch I hope to publish something on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I will read the comments and (hopefully) find inspiration in your questions and observations.---
Clayton hung up his phone and punched the closest tool-box.
Kristal had just called from the Dialysis Center. Her replacement had not shown up and she was going to have to work a double-shift.
That meant he had to put down what he was doing, wash up and run to the daycare and pick up Mattie.
Damn, damn, damn, damn.
There was no point in firing up the big, diesel pickup truck. He would grab the stroller and walk the half-mile to the center to pick up his daughter.
Kristal was not happy.
This was not the first time she had been forced to cover the next shift.
The Dialysis Center’s major competition had suspended operation and now everybody in town came to Nephro-Center.
Rumor was that N-C lost money on every patient because insurance reimbursements were not rising as quickly as N-C’s costs.
N-C cut support staff and could, debatably, be accused of cutting corners on mandated standards-of-care. But nobody was looking too hard. Shutting down the last dialysis center in town would force patients to drive a minimum of sixty-miles to the next town...provided those centers didn’t close up shop in the mean-time.
Less support staff meant more work and more hassles and longer hours for the nurses and phlebby-techs who remained.
Clayton hadn’t been the smallest guy in his class, but he hadn't been the biggest either.
He had bounced around from job-to-job before he figured out he had issues with authority. Life had gotten 100% better after he started his own landscaping business, and then another 500% better after he married Kristal.
Nobody gave him any crap as he pushed the empty baby-stroller to the daycare, not that he expected any.
Clayton had the bulging forearms of a “wrench”. A major part of his “business model” was that he did all of the maintenance on his own equipment. That kept costs down.
He was also one of the few landscaping businesses that “did” small yards. He made it pay by using a push-mower. Clayton walked with the rolling-but-smooth stride of a man who earned his muscles from working for a living.
The excitement came on the way home. In retrospect, he had seen the three “yutes” lurking in the shadows between a couple of houses on his way to the daycare. They had been waiting for somebody just like him.
The closed in on him as he was pushing Matty in the stroller across a broken stretch of sidewalk. Two in front of him, one behind.
“Give me your wallet and your baby does not get hurt” the leader said.
Wordlessly, Clayton reached into his back pocket and pulled out a wallet and tossed it to the leader. The wallet fell short and landed at the leader’s feet.
The foaming pepper-gel from the canister in Clayton's left hand hit the “yute” behind him squarely in his face. Then, assessing the two remaining assailants, Clayton saw the glint of something shiny in the non-leader’s hand. He got the next blast of foaming gel.
Smoothly pivoting, Clayton gave the leader a long blast in the face.
Setting the brake of the stroller, Clayton walked over and kicked the screw-driver away from the second yute he had sprayed. Then he boot-stomped each “yute” in turn.
At 6’-1” and 240 pounds, his work-boots broke several ribs with each kick. Then he kicked them in their mouths. He wanted them to remember this every time they looked in a mirror.
Then, after a second thought, he walked back to the yute that had been wielding the screwdriver and heel-stomped the young thug's hands until they were mush.
Picking up the screwdriver, he noticed that somebody had crudely ground a chisel-edge to the end of the 8” screwdriver. Shrugging, he put it into the basket of the stroller and pushed the jogging stroller around the still-writhing yutes.
Clayton did not expect any of the neighbors to call 9-1-1. It would take the cops over an hour to show up...if they showed up at all. By then the would-be muggers would have dragged themselves away.
It did not pay to get involved.
He left the wallet on the ground next to the groaning muggers. It did not have anything in it except a few photo-copied $100 bills. You would have to be an idiot to carry a real billfold and credit cards now days.
For the tenth time that day, Clayton swore that it was time to leave the first-ring suburb where he lived. His clients could no longer afford to pay him to mow grass, rake leaves and spruce up their yards. They now considered it a luxury. The value of the house he and Kristal had purchased was much less than what they owed on it.
Even though he knew it was going to start another fight, he was going to tell Kristal it was time to leave the keys to the house on the counter and move into the ratty camper behind his uncle’s barn out in the sticks.