Never cut himself on the job neither. Never mashed no thumb working the drill press, never sliced his flesh on a propeller blade by gripping the wrong edge when he went to lift it. And all the while, his eyes remained somewhere else, looking at the tin walls, smelling the world on the other side, knowing someday he'd be out in it, way out in it, and it would be wide.
The yellow slip of paper said "See Bill," and that was all, but Luther felt something in those words that made him reach below his bench and pick up the beat-on leather tool bag and carry it with him as he crossed the work floor toward the shift supervisor's office. He was holding it in his hand when he stood before Bill Hackman's desk, and Bill, sad-eyed and sighing all the time, and not so bad for white folk, said, "Luther, we got to let you go."
Luther felt himself vanish, go so damn small inside of himself that he could feel himself as a needlepoint with no rest of the needle behind it, a dot of almost-air that hung far back in his skull, and him watching his own body stand in front of Bill's desk, and he waited for that needlepoint to tell it to move again.
It's what you had to do with white folk when they talked to you directly, with their eyes on yours. Because they never did that unless they were pretending to ask you for something they planned to just take anyway or, like now, when they were delivering bad news.
"All right," Luther said.
"Wasn't my decision," Bill explained. "All these boys are going to be coming back from the war soon, and they'll need jobs."
"War's still going on," Luther said.
Bill gave him a sad smile, the kind you'd give a dog you were fond of but couldn't teach to sit or roll over. "War's as good as over. Trust me, we know."
By "we," Luther knew he meant the company, and Luther figured if anyone knew, it was the company, because they'd been giving Luther a steady paycheck for helping them make weapons since '15, long before America was supposed to have anything to do with this war.
"All right," Luther said.
"And, yeah, you did fine work here, and we sure tried to find you a place, a way you could stay on, but them boys'll be coming back in buckets, and they fought hard over there, and Uncle Sam, he'll want to say thanks."
"Look," Bill said, sounding a bit frustrated, as if Luther were pitching a fight, "you understand, don't you? You wouldn't want us to put those boys, those patriots, out on the street. I mean, how would that look, Luther? Wouldn't look right, I'll tell you right now. Why you yourself would be unable to hold your head high if you walked the street and saw one of them boys pass you by looking for work while you got a fat paycheck in your pocket."
Luther didn't say anything. Didn't mention that a lot of those patriotic boys who risked their lives for their country were colored boys, but he'd sure bet that wasn't who was taking his job. Hell, he'd bet if he came back to the factory a year from now, the only colored faces he'd see would belong to the men working the cleanup shift, emptying the office wastebaskets and sweeping the metal shavings off the work floors. And he didn't wonder aloud how many of those white boys who'd replace all these here coloreds had actually served overseas or got their ribbons for typing or some such in posts down in Georgia or around Kansas way.
Luther didn't open his mouth, just kept it as closed as the rest of him until Bill got tired of arguing with himself and told Luther where he'd need to go to collect his pay.
So there was Luther, his ear to the ground, hearing there might, just might maybe be some work in Youngstown, and someone else had heard tell of hirings in a mine outside of Ravenswood, just over the other side of the river in West Virginia. Economy was getting tight again, though, they all said. White-tight.
And then Lila start talking about an aunt she had in Greenwood. Luther said, "Never heard of that place."
"Ain't in Ohio, baby. Ain't in West Virginia or Kentucky neither." "Then where's it at?"
"Uh- huh," she said, her voice soft, like she'd been planning it for a while and wanted to be subtle about letting him think he made up his own mind.
"Shit, woman." Luther rubbed the outsides of her arms. "I ain't going to no Oklahoma."
"Where you going to go then? Next door?"
"What's next door?" He looked over there.
"Ain't no jobs. That's all I know about next door."
Luther gave that some thought, feeling her circling him, like she was more than a few steps ahead.
"Baby," she said, "Ohio ain't done nothing for us but keep us poor."
"Didn't make us poor."
"Ain't going to make us rich."
They were sitting on the swing he'd built on what remained of the porch where Cornelius had taught him what amounted to his trade. Two-thirds of the porch had washed away in the floods of '13, and Luther kept meaning to rebuild it, but there'd been so much baseball and so much work the last few years, he hadn't found the time. And it occurred to him--he was flush. It wouldn't last forever, Lord knows, but he did have some money put away for the first time in his life. Enough to make a move in any case.
God, he liked Lila. Not so's he was ready to see the preacher and sell all of his youth quite yet; hell, he was only twenty-three. But he sure liked smelling her and talking to her and he sure liked the way she fit into his bones as she curled alongside of him in the porch swing.
"What's in this Greenwood 'sides your aunt?"
"Jobs. They got jobs all over the place. A big, hopping town with nothing but coloreds in it, and they all doing right well, baby. Got themselves doctors and lawyers, and the men own their own fine automobiles and the girls dress real nice on Sundays and everyone owns their own home."
He kissed the top of her head because he didn't believe her but he loved that she wanted to think something should be so bad that half the time she convinced herself it could be.
"Yeah, uh?" He chuckled. "They got themselves some white folk that work the land for them, too?"
She reached back and slapped his forehead and then bit his wrist. "Damn, woman, that's my throwing hand. Watch that shit."
She lifted his wrist and kissed it and then she laid it between her breasts and said, "Feel my tummy, baby."
"I can't reach."
She slid up his body a bit, and then his hand was on her stomach and he tried to go lower but she gripped his wrist.
"I'm feeling it."
"That's what else is going to be waiting in Greenwood."