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in the family of things

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Morning shift ends at 3pm and John’s the first to reach the time clock, magnetic card already out. By his estimate, he’s only got fifteen minutes before the bus arrives to find and talk to Selby, the production shift manager. And that’s if he runs for the bus straight afterwards. He looks around, trying to pick out Selby’s squat figure amongst all the workers. His rush to swipe out doesn’t go unnoticed; usually, he’s one of the last workers to leave the floor.

“You’re eager to get out,” Avery – one of the forklift operators – says slyly, “got a cute young thing waiting for you tonight, John?”

“Yup. All five of them,” John says, distracted.

That brings on the predictable jeering (“Yeah, all five fingers and your palm, maybe!”) from the workers nearby; it makes John grin, but he doesn’t dawdle today to trade shit talk. He's just spotted Selby, not on the floor but standing near the manager’s office, talking to some suits. OSHA, probably. John flips off the morning shift guys with an easy smile and jogs toward Selby.

“Mr Selby?” he calls out. He slows down as he gets closer. Selby isn’t talking to OSHA like John had thought. He’s with the factory manager and some guys John hasn’t seen at the factory before. Corporate – and high up too, judging by the fine fit of their suits. They stand out like jewels in a pig’s ear in the middle of the factory.

“In a minute, Blake,” Selby waves him aside, not unkindly. The factory manager and the suits keep on talking as if John hadn't interrupted.

Typical.

John waits, fidgeting impatiently, as Selby finishes his conversation with the higher-ups, then sees them out. It seems to take forever. The corporate stiffs breeze by, looking past John like he’s beneath their notice; John has to quell his urge to sneer at them.

“What is it?” Selby says when he returns. He doesn’t stop walking, checking things off on a clipboard as he goes, so John has no choice but to pivot on his heel and follow him back into the factory, swept along in Selby’s wake. He almost has to skip to keep up. John’s heard some of the other workers joke about how quickly Selby can get around for such a large guy (“It’s like the guy just appears out of fat air!”).

But Selby’s not fat, not really. He’s burly, in his late forties, built like a worn out bulldog with the bluntness to match. But he’s a good manager. Fair. He’s never cheated John, and John – in turn – has never cheated him. John works hard, makes sure he does his job right, no matter how menial the task. And he always talks straight with Selby.

“I wanted to know if you’d thought about my request to convert to permanent part-time,” John says.

Selby grunts. “I figured that’s what this’d be about.”

When nothing else follows, John says cautiously, “And… have you, sir?”

Selby stops so suddenly that John almost walks into him. They’re standing by the loading bays. No one is currently nearby as morning shift swaps with the swing shift. “Y’know who those guys were, Blake?” he says conversationally, jerking a thumb in the direction the suits had departed.

“Corporate?”

Selby grunts again. “Corporate’s right,” he says, “HR, to be exact.”

John’s shoulders tense. Selby hadn’t said ‘HR’ like it was a good thing. “Checking to see if we deserve Christmas bonuses six months early?” he jokes weakly.

Selby snorts then sighs, slapping his clipboard against his thigh. “You may as well know now,” he says, peering at John from beneath lowered brows. The tension in John’s shoulders ratchets up. “Word has come down from upper management. Wayne Enterprises is slimming down its electronics division. The factories in Otisburg and Bayside are going to be shut down completely. The factories here in Burnley aren’t, but we’re going to have to downsize.” He looks away before adding: “I’m sorry.”

John’s stomach plummets but he keeps his face still. Well. He knows how downsizing works in this part of town – last hired, first fired. John’s only been here four months. But a part of him still has to ask: “Will you keep me on, sir? I’m a good worker; you said so, when I first asked you about switching to part-time.”

It’s as close as he can bring himself to begging.

Selby’s grizzled face is sympathetic. “You are, Blake. But there’re a lot of workers here. A lot of them with families,” he winces, as if realising that hadn’t come out right, and hurries on, “a lot of them have been working here for decades; their opportunities for re-employment aren’t as good as--”

“I get it, sir,” John cuts him off. And he does. A fifty-something factory worker has even less chance of finding work than John – twenty-four, high school diploma by GED, work history lined with temp jobs – does.

But the part of him that asked Selby to keep him on wants to scream out, Well, fuck them! They’ve got kids to look after? I’ve got a whole building full of kids in the East End who need me. How can I help them if I can’t even fucking feed myself?

But he doesn’t. It wouldn’t make sense to Selby and what good would it do anyway?

Selby lifts his hand, like he’s going to- to pat John on the shoulder or something, then thinks better of it and lets his hand drop. “You've still got a couple more weeks here. And you’ll get another job soon enough,” he says awkwardly, “you’re quick and you work hard. You’ll land on your feet. And I’m sure HR will arrange some sort of outplacement service--”

But John doesn’t want to get into that, not right now, and says instead: “This factory makes parts for Wayne Electronics. Since when does Wayne Enterprises downsize?”

Selby makes a ‘tch’ sound of disgust. “Since Bruce Wayne started bleeding money like a haemophiliac.”

 



After all that, John misses the bus anyway.