By Gary Cadwallader

Johnny Crawford. A cowboy name. But he’s not a cowboy exactly; he’s a coal miner. When girls at the tittie bar ask him what he means by “not exactly,” he tells them he dreams of a little farm all his own and he’d like to have maybe fifty head, mostly Angus. Angus are black. The buyers love black. The meat is red but it’s like they don’t know any better.

“There’s no money in it, though,” he says, meaning cattle ranching. He watches Sharon finish her set. He doesn’t know any full-time farmers, not little ones, anyway.

“It’s still hot,” the girls say in that seductive way women have when they’re wearing rhinestone panties and they’re talking to another dancer’s boyfriend. They think he’ll be riding and roping and he’ll wear tight blue jeans. They cross white legs and lean their elbows onto the table. “It’s romantic,” the girls say.

Johnny doesn’t think it’s romantic; he thinks of his cousin who raises old cars in his front yard. In Johnny’s part of the world, able-bodied men like his grandfather end up buried in coal. Then Johnny’s father had his legs crushed trying to pay for a few acres by going down into the mine with men whose cheeks were black as chimneys. Maybe lungs, too, but no one worries about that when there’s food on the table and kids running round.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Johnny Crawford says. “I worry about the environment. But just gotta feed my family first.” Sharon is dancing badly tonight. That’s unusual.

“Surely, there’s another way?” the girls ask.

“Maybe,” he says, but he doesn’t worry about it long. “It is what it is—the money, I mean.”

Johnny tried college; he even thought about nursing school. Maybe he wasn’t smart like a doctor, but oh, well, there had to be something. Then he went down into the mine two days after his Dad’s legs were crushed. His mother didn’t speak to him that first morning, but when he came home, his younger brothers had been moved so that he had a room to himself.

“And you know, bad stuff happens to everybody,” he says.

“In every life a little rain must fall.” The girls’ eyes sparkle like they’ve just thought of something clever.

“Exactly.” Johnny looks around the bar. “A little rain…” he says. He watches Sharon turn down a free drink. He watches her saunter to the chair beside him as the other girls disappear.

She leans over and whispers in his ear. “We have to talk,” she says and her bare boobs brush his arm. Her nipples are redder than usual.

Johnny Crawford doesn’t worry about what she wants to talk about. He’s already guessed because she hasn’t mentioned her period in weeks. “I got it covered,” he says. “Don’t you worry about a thing, Babe.”

“I’m scared.”

“It is what it is.” Johnny Crawford puts his arm around her shoulders and his smile only wobbles a bit.