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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXIX
Once Reverend Browne left, Birk and Clancy went out to the back porch.
“Been a long couple of days.” Clancy said.
“Things changed so fast at times I don’t know what’s going on. Was what we were doing such an evil thing?”
“I don’t know, Birk. There are some who think so. Maybe t’was all my fault for coming back.”
“I wanted to be with you.” Clancy said softly. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too Clancy. It was the same as when Barky died.”
“Yeah. A mutt I’d found out back of here when I was a kid. Sure was a friendly dog. He’d wait for me at the colliery gate to go home with me. When he died I was so … heart sick.”
“You loved that dog.” Clancy said and gave a playful bark.
“I sure did. I’m not calling you a dog!”
“No more than I was calling you a monkey.”
“Though monkey’s is less hairy.” Clancy laughed, got up and walked to the end of the garden.
Birk followed him.
“What’s all this mean Clancy. We’re pals, right? Isn’t this how pals is supposed to feel. In the mines looking out for each other. That don’t end down there.”
“No, it doesn’t. But I don’t know any more than you about … could be we take to each other too much. A man takes a wife not another man.”
“I know that! I will one day cause that’s what Ma wants.”
“Is that what you want?”
“Not, if gals are like Miss McTavish. All proper and acting they know better.”
“There are some that is and plenty that are like your Ma and mine, too. You never know what you’re going to get with women.”
“Why are they such devious things?”
“That’s the way they are made. You’re asking the wrong man anyway.”
“You not looking to married?” Birk asked.
“Yes, but I agrees with you. I’m no hurry for that, I need a reliable job to plan for sort of future.”
“You don’t have family to worry about the way I do.”
“Yeah, but same as you I don’t see the need for it, yet. I want be settled as something. What would I have to offer besides the clothes on my back. Don’t even have a place to call my own.” Clancy sighed.
“You always got a home with us, you knows that.”
“Yeah but that’s not the same as having a place of my own. Takes more scratch that I’ve earned to get that.” He kicked at the ground.
They headed back to the house.
“What’s buggery, Clancy?”
“Why you asking that?” Clancy give a little laugh. “What do you think it is?”
“I hear it around the mines often enough, about the union being run by useless buggers. I thought it had something to do with the rats as we always call’em useless buggers too.”
“You got that right.” Clancy laughed again. “Let see how I can tell you.”
“It’s what that Father Patrick called us at the police station, remember?”
“Yeah I recollect that. You know how a baby gets set don’t you?”
“Pa explained that. You put yer little guy into the woman’s little slipper, between her legs.” Birk said. “Only the gals don’t encourage that sort of thing but they do as a duty. Husbands enjoy it though but a gentleman don’t bother no lady with that business less she makes it known she wants to make babies.”
“Mac told you pretty good all you need to know on that account.”
“What’s that got to with mine rats?”
“I’m getting to it. It’s when a man puts his little feller up the arse of another man.”
“What!” Birk stepped back, his stomach churning. “In the shitter?” The image made him sick to his stomach.
“You ever …”
“No.” Clancy said loudly. “When we was called abominations that was what they was talking about, though.”
“I …” Birk was looking for the words. “Where they get that notion from in the first place.”
“Something in the Catholic good book. I don’t know it well enough to tell you were they get it from. All I know is the ten commandments and that sure isn’t one of them.”
“What about what we was doing? Lettin’ our little fellas rub. That was pleasuring each other, wasn’t it?”
“So what if it was. It weren’t no one business if we were.”
“But it became their business when Miss McTavish caught us at it.”
“She done didn’t catch us at anything except being naked.”
The next morning Birk left Clancy helping the family pack up their possession for the move to Sydney. He caught the ferry to New Waterford and walked the mile or so to the millworks.
His mind kept returning to the conversation he’d had with Clancy the night before. He wondered if anyone thought of him and Clancy the way Father Patrick did. Calling them unnatural. All he wanted to do was … what? That first time on the rocks with Clancy, naked together was so natural. Something he couldn’t have done if Clancy had been a girl. Was that good feeling what the priest was going on about. Was it a sin to feel that good feeling?
His first day at the mill was simple hard work. Stripping branches off trees, keeping an eye out for boles that might trip up the saws, keeping the saw blades oiled proper.
The boilers were similar to the ones at the colliery. He showed them what he knew and they were impressed. Dan’l made it clear he’d have to get his proper papers before he could do more than check the dials with T Jean.
At the end of that day he was covered with sawdust and wood shavings.
“Nice change from the coal dust.” He said to T’Jean as he shook the dust off his overalls.
When he got back to Castleton Mines the second cart load of their possessions was packed and ready to go Sydney. His mother was leaning against the sink in the empty kitchen and crying.
“Never thought I’d leave this house alive.” she said wiping tears from her eyes.
“It’s BritCan’s problem now.” His father said.
“No more winter winds to warm us in the night Ma.” Birk said.
“No more garden for us in the summer either.” She replied. “No apples in the back orchard.”
“We can always come back for ‘em when we wants.” His dad said. “No one’s going to be buying this property up in a hurry. These half fallin’ down shacks’ll be full fallen by the time the snow flies.”
“The house’ll be so cold without us.” Maddy said.
“I’ll come back to light a fire.” Birk consoled her.
“How did things go at the mill?” His father asked.
“About as hard as the mine only more daylight. They had me hauling trees around, digging some for the new water main that’s coming through. Least I still know how to use a pick.”
“Hands okay?” His mother asked.
“No trouble.” he showed his palms and waggled fingers. “Healed up pretty well.”
“Guess all the holy moaning over where you put’em did them some good.” She gave a little laugh.
“Put’em?” he asked.
“She means all that foolishness by the good Father.” His father said lashing down the last of the furniture.
“At’s a man who needs to keep his own flock in order, if you ask me,” His mother said. “At least two unweds on Carter Street. Those nuns can’t keep their own legs closed. Then bringing his dirty minded ideas over here to plague us.”
“T’wasn’t m’fault though Ma.” Birk shrugged.
He clambered onto the back of the cart with Maddy. His mother sat in the front next to his Dad.
“Look Birk any full-grown woman who is so shocked at the site of a naked man isn’t in her right mind. It may not be something we see often but when we do it’s something we have to abide and keep our … distaste in check.”
“You see Clancy at all?” He asked.
“He’s in Sydney at the new place. Getting some things sorted out for us and then going to see about work for himself.” His father said. “May not be much for him though. The steel plant’s been cut back since the war.”
Birk lay back on the sofa cushions as comfortable as he could and watched the clouds and sky go by over head as the cart bumped onto the ferry. On the other side they reloaded their possession on the millworks truck to drive it to Sydney. His Dad took the cart and horse back to Castleton for the last of their furniture.
“A lot of changes for us, eh Ma?” Birk said.
“Good for you at your age Birk. More opportunity for you outside of Mudside. Might be time for you to meet someone. More gals in Sydney.”
“Yeah Ma.” Birk answered. “Thought you was saving me for your old age?”
“At this rate I’m probably not going to make it.” She laughed bitterly. “There will be a decent school for Maddy. More kids her age.”
“If’n I stay on at the millworks I may want to live nearer to them.” Birk said. “I have to get my boiler man papers soon.”
“You think you can handle all the reading and writing?” He dad asked.
“I can try. When I spoke with Magistrate Doucet at the courthouse he said closing the mines might be a good thing as it’ll force us out of the ground and into the world. No more hiding down there where all I have to do is figure if I got enough dug out for one day.”
They pulled up to the new house.
“A paved street!” He hopped out of cab and lifted his mother out. “No more sinking to our knees in the mud.”
He helped unload the rest of furniture into the house. It didn’t feel as large as their old place but it was cleaner and the walls had corners that met, with level floors and electricity. Maddy had to be stopped from pressing the lights on and off.
By the time Brik was ready to go to bed Clancy hadn’t returned.