Posted on July 8, 2014 by Patricia Ann McNair7.8.2014 Journal Prompt Image by Carl Mydans July 8, 2014: It was steady work. Share this:ShareClick to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Like this:Like Loading... Related
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Any light there is we take down with us, see, and the air at the start of our shift smells of dirt when it is new turned over and it smells of damp, too, and sometimes it catches in the back of the throat and occasions sneezing.
And it’s not so quiet as you would think dwon there. All around the stone shifts and the coal cracks and splinters in sharp gunshots and the timber beams that’s holding up a mile or more of solid rock, they groan, and we listen to see if that wood moaning might become a complaint that is too much to bear.
And Thomas starts up with his tuneless whistling, which in a quiet room or church would be a growing irritation, but down here is sweet sound and music to dance to. See me, dancing in my heavy clattering boots and the light on my helmet flickering and fleeting, and Kevin laughing till his side is sore.
‘There now, boy,’ says old man Brendan, one heavy hand on my shoulder, heavy as a shelf of coal. ‘Don’t you go waking the dead there with your stamping. Let ‘em rest, why don’t you?’
And so we move along to the face of the seam we’ve been working for more than a week. And where we’ve been working the wall glistens, like our Bob’s shoes when he’s been polishing ’em for a Saturday night on the town, and he spits and spits and buffs the black leather points of his shoes with a yellow cloth till he can see his face in ’em, like glass or the glint in a bird’s black eye, and that’s the coalface where we’ve been cutting.
‘See you don’t rub them shoes thin as nothing,’ says our mam and she’s only teasing our Bob. And Bob grins and his skin is all pink and hot from the bath and where he’s been rubbing more than his shoes. And he smells of aftershave and lemon soap and it’s all for a girl called Mavis. Saturday nights they go dancing at the club, and kissing under streetlights, and he walks her home and she says him goodnight on the step, but she’s only pretending for she later lets him into her room by the window. He’s taken off his shoes by then so he can’t be heard, and there’s a different dancing there in Mavis’ bed and no music playing.
Then the picks are thrown and cutting a way through and through the black coal, and Thomas’ whistling is grown to singing then, and Brendan says nothing about the noise we make now, the hammering and hammering, so loud our ears ring. And the air soon smells of sweat and dog-breath and cigarette smoke. And the light from a dozen lamps makes a small yellow sun where we are and I am so close I can hear Collie’s breath and a rattle in his chest which he says is nothing, but will be the death of him in less than five years.
‘There’s easy now,’ says old man Brendan, and his hand this time heavy on Collie’s shoulder. ‘No need for running when walking will get you there soon enough.’
And Brendan has heard the rattle in Collie’s breath, too, and he knows ’tis only a matter of time. And Bob says it’s there worse when Collie is sleeping, for he has heard it through the wall when he’s in bed with Collie’s lass, Mavis, the streetlight yellow spilling into the room where Bob is breathless from the dance he’s just finished. And he says Mavis is not to worry now, although she does. And Bob says he’ll do right by her,see, and he’s earning more money than is decent and he’s saving every last penny so there’ll always be a roof over her head and his, and yes, her mam can come stay with them, too, in time.
‘Easy now,’ says old man Brendan again, and Collie nods, and Thomas is told to keep on with his singing, and the dead, if they waken, they keep to themselves and they keep quiet.