"The Battle March of Johnny Luther" by Travis Cravey

Johnny Luther walked from the plant to his car slowly. A blue norther had come through mid-morning and though the temperature had dropped forty degrees since lunch, Johnny took his time. His coat remained unbuttoned and his bare right hand clutched the large, stainless steel lunchbox he had carried every day for the last twenty-two years.

Turning momentarily from the wind, Johnny was careful to pull a single smoke out of his breast pocket with his free left hand. He had to first remove the severance letter he had been handed ten minutes before and place it in his mouth. After he retrieved a cigarette, he folded the envelope back in place and dug in his hip pocket for a lighter.

“I got ya,” Gilbert Rosaly said. He lit the cigarette in Johnny’s mouth. Gilbert stood there a moment, making sure the cherry was burning, then raised a hand and turned away. “Well, fuck all this,” he said and continued on towards a row of parked cars, already gathering frost.

“Yeah,” said Johnny. “Thanks.”

The wind was blowing so hard that by the time he reached his car the cigarette had burned to nothing. He sat down behind the wheel and stared ahead. All the trash gathered on the two-lane in front of him blew violently by. Some plastic bags got caught on a mesquite and flapped like angry, hurt buzzards fighting for freedom. The occasional gust swayed his heavy car and Johnny could see some of the men struggling to open the doors on theirs. One man, Johnny couldn’t tell who, lost his severance envelope and ran, wildly zigzagging, trying to stop it. Johnny didn’t turn his head to see if he caught up to the paper. When the man’s run took him past the windshield, he was gone forever.

Johnny thought about what had happened and what he would do, where he could find work at his age, in this economy, in this geography. What would he say to Linda? When was Angela’s tuition due?

He put his hands on the wheel and gripped it hard. He tried to remember the last time he had learned anything that didn’t have to do with the lathe that sat useless in the building behind him.

The cold had invaded the Buick by now, and Johnny Luther could see his breath. He put the key in the ignition and turned it. It kicked over twice and died. He turned the key again. The car started smoothly and Johnny Luther put it in gear.

Travis CraveyComment