On the Line

A Flash Fiction by Kevin Reigle

Johnny Rutledge flipped open the lunch pail as he straddled his usual bench.  His legs kicked out at each side like a jockey waiting at the starting gate. He rummaged through the lunch pail for his sandwich.

Johnny grimaced at the loud clanging that pulsed through the walls and into his brain.  His eyes snapped closed, and his teeth clenched.  Just as he was about to open them, he heard a familiar voice.

“Are you alright?”

Johnny relaxed his jaw as he looked across the table at Erik Newsome.  “Yeah, the banging was just getting to me.”

“You should be over that by now,” Erik said with a chuckle.

Johnny rubbed his temples as he watched Erik sit down on the bench across from him.  “It just gets to me every once and a while.  It’s not a regular thing.”

“I guess I’ve been here so long that nothing bothers me.  I can still see myself walking through that door the summer after high school.  I was pretty nervous, let me tell you.  My old man got me this job.  I worked right beside him till the day he died.”

“Heart attack, wasn’t it?” Johnny asked, unwrapping the tinfoil around his sandwich.

“Yeah, it happened right there in the back room.”  Erik extended his arm and pointed toward a rusted-out door in the mill. “I went to get a replacement part from the floor manager, and when I got back, he was face down.”  Erik looked across the table at Johnny’s sandwich.  “A bologna sandwich again?  She packs that for you every day, doesn’t she?”

Johnny started to lift off the bread, deconstructing the sandwich.  “I guess she doesn’t know how to make anything else.”

“You’d think she’d figure something out,” Erik said as he unsnapped the metal clasp on his lunch box.

“Every penny counts.”           

“How is the overtime going?  Is Anderson giving you any?”

“Not yet.  I went to see him earlier,” Johnny said as he put the sandwich back together and took a bite. “He said he didn’t have any to give me.”

“That college boy is such a jackass.  He doesn’t know anything.  Those kinds of people just swoop in here and think they know what the hell to do.”

“I’ll tell you; we aren’t doing too well at home right now.  I don’t know if I can get this check to stretch, or not.”

“Things are tight for everyone, aren’t they?”

“I guess so,” Johnny said as he shook his head.  His gaze froze on a poster beside the snack machine.  It was a picture of three dogs playing poker.

“You know, I do know a way you can make a couple extra bucks,” Erik interjected.

“How’s that?”

“If you want to place a bet on a horse, I got a pretty good tip on the sixth this Saturday,” Erik said as Johnny’s face went flush.

“Come on. Are you serious?”

Erik raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m sorry.  I thought, uh, maybe you were over that.”

“That’s not how it works,” Johnny said as he reached into his lunch box and pulled out a can of soda.

“I hope Anderson changes his mind about that overtime.”

“Yeah, me too. Before I forget, did you see the flyer on the bulletin board?”  Johnny pointed at the slab of cork hanging beside the hallway to the administrative offices.

“No, I hadn’t looked.  Why?”

“At the company picnic, they’re having doubles for horseshoes.  You’re pretty good, aren’t you?”

“Pretty good, do you know who you’re talking to?”

“Oh, I know exactly who I’m talking to.”

“So, you want me to be on your team, is that what you’re asking?

Johnny finished his sandwich and tossed the crumpled tinfoil into the lunchbox. “I think we could win.”

Erik nodded his head. “As long as you hold up your end, we will.” Johnny closed the lunchbox and started fiddling with the metal clasps. “You know that horse race you were telling me about?”

Kevin Reigle has previously been published in the Pensworth Review. He works at the University of the Cumberlands.

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