Art & Mr. Johnson
Lesley T. Walter
He sat on the shoreline of the Mississippi, the river that rushed through Minneapolis and plundered southbound. The waters were like a swallowing, galloping frenzy of mouths, spraying white beads under the bright light of the moon. Next to him sat Mr. Johnson, and they had just squeezed the last drop of whisky from Art’s flask out of his inner coat pocket. Collapsed in the dirt, these creatures were lean, pale young men guided by animal passions and unexplained hunger for something they couldn’t get in daylight, stashed away in an office on Washington Avenue.
They had left the bar an hour before to go down the steep ravine below the bridge and to watch the river tumble by as the night passed into morning. They laughed and spat jokes, drunk and fatigued, but still lusting for some other adventure before dawn broke. "Johnson," Art slurred with a half-smile. "I bet you one hundred dollars that you can’t swim all the way across the river and back." He slowed his speech to make clear every word. "To that shore and back here." He held a limp finger straight out before his nose and let it linger as his blue eyes settled into a far-off gaze.
Mr. Johnson’s grin fell into a frown, and his brow sunk low. The silver light of the moon glowed against half his face, and he could hear the splashing of water on rocks calling out to him. The smell of liquor clouded his nose, but the freshwater scent still seduced his wanderlust. "Art." He swallowed. Stuck out his hand. They shook. "I will take that bet."
And Mr. Johnson tossed off his coat, slipped off his scuffed-up shoes, and toddled his way across the shoreline of rock and sand, as though the earth was shaking beneath his legs, and dove face-first into the mouth that would make its way to the Gulf.
Art sat next to the footless pair of shoes. The wallet must have been in Mr. Johnson’s pants because when he searched the coat pockets, he found nothing but a spare flask half-full of whisky and fifty nine cents in loose change. When the first hint of orange and pink light splayed in the east, he took the coat, left the shoes, and climbed back up the ravine.
And Edna used to sit at the table during Sunday dinner and tell her three little grandchildren the story of her brother, Art, and his friend, Mr. Johnson, and the botched bet they had back in 1922. She used to laugh until her throat burned, and would slap her wrinkled hand down on the silverware, shaking her head at the memory of her brother’s face when he came home that day. How funny it would have been to be there, to watch Art finally realize that he would never see Mr. Johnson again, and that some Louisiana fisherman might take hold of his rightful winnings.
About the author:
Lesley T. Walter has a Bachelor's in Creative Writing/Literature from Southwest Minnesota State University, and has been writing since a very young age. She writes fiction and nonfiction, and also works as a legal proofreader. She was in the military for six years, and she hopes that her experiences and ideas will touch the lives of others through literature.