Coal Dusters – Chapter LXX Birk’s Rude Awakening

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXX

Birk’s

Rude

Awakening

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Birk could hear his mother downstairs in the kitchen. Singing “Bringing in the sheaves” as she clanged the stove top covers. He could still feel Clancy’s hands on him, feel the slide of their tongues  in each others mouths as they kissed. They had started out in the front bedroom Clancy was to use but ended up back in Birk’s room in the bed that was familiar to them.

He rolled onto his back and stretched his arms and legs as far as he could on either side. The bed was cool where he expected to feel the heat of Clancy. There was no one there with him.

“Clancy?” He sat up. He pulled on his pants and went to Clancy’s bedroom. It was empty. The drawers were open and empty. There was nothing in the closet either. On the pillow was a note. 

“Birk

I’ve got too much to do with my life. It wouldn’t be fair to you let my feelings keep me where I don’t want to be. When I can I’ll be back. If I can’t come back I’ll never forget you, you hairy monkey.

Clancy”

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Birk could hear his mother downstairs in the kitchen. Singing “Bringing in the sheaves” as she clanged the stove top covers. He could still feel Clancy’s hands on him, feel the slide of their tongues  in each others mouths as they kissed. They had started out in the front bedroom Clancy was to use but ended up back in Birk’s room in the bed that was familiar to them.

He rolled onto his back and stretched his arms and legs as far as he could on either side. The bed was cool where he expected to feel the heat of Clancy. There was no one there with him.

“Clancy?” He sat up. He pulled on his pants and went to Clancy’s bedroom. It was empty. The drawers were open and empty. There was nothing in the closet either. On the pillow was a note. 

“Birk

I’ve got too much to do with my life. It wouldn’t be fair to you let my feelings keep me where I don’t want to be. When I can I’ll be back. If I can’t come back I’ll never forget you, you hairy monkey.

Clancy”

– the end –

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Dominion Beach Party

On my August Cape Breton visit I spent an hour or so on Dominion Beach. I can’t remember the last time I actually stood in the Atlantic Ocean 🙂 

Dominion Beach before the crowds

view of the Lingan Power Plant from the beach

‘the beach has changed once again’

public shower

horizon

TOpoet.ca under the horizon

feet in the sand

clouds over Dominion

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Chapter LXIX: Lillian Catches The Train

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXIX

Lillian

Catches 

The Train

Lillian arrived at the station with five minutes to spare. Her trunk had already been taken aboard. She went to her seat and sat back.

She checked her purse once again to make sure her bank draft was there. Next she made sure her transfer ticket to Montreal was there so she could change trains when she got to Truro.

The departure call was made. To her relief there was no sign of David Henderson. The train started to pull out. She smiled to herself at the image of him standing on the platform as the train pulled away.

Behind her she heard the conductor at the doorway talking to someone.

“Come on come on.” The conductor was saying. “Reach up and I can pull on if yer fast enough.” He grunted. “Ouf. There you go. Next time be here on time.”

“Didn’t know till now that I was going anywhere.” A man said.

The train picked up speed. 

Not that way.” The conductor said. “That’s for first class. Yer family ticket gets you caboose. T’other way.” 

As the train sped up Lillian let the scenery blur grateful that this was now her past not her future.

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Chapter LXVIII – Birk’s First Kiss

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXVIII

Birk’s

First

Kiss

Birk and Clancy were in the small backyard of the house breaking up the soil so his mother could start a garden. 

“Birk get in here, now!” His mother shouted from the back stoop.

He and Clancy followed her into the house. 

There was a stranger sitting in the living room.

“This is Mr. Joseph from the steel plant. This be Birk and our boarder Clancy Sinclair.”

The man stood and shook hands with them. “I’m sorry for your loss.” he said.

“Loss?” Birk looked at his mother. “Maddy?”

“No,” she began to sob. “Mac died at the plant this afternoon.”

“Couldn’t catch his breath.” Mr. Joseph explained. “I work with him with the boilers. He was shovelling the number 3 and stopped heaving for air. Took him to the infirmary and then they rushed him to the city hospital but by then t’was too late. Doc there says t’was his heart gave out.”

“After them done broke it.” his mother said. “Goddamned BritCan pulled that heart right out of him.” She dabbed at her eyes with the edge of her apron.

“I came to tell yer Ma myself. Didn’t know Mac for long but he was eager worker. Told us how good his boy Birk was around the boilers, too.”

“Some, but not as good as he was.” Birk said. Without Mac the responsibility for the family was now his. There’d be no leaving to anywhere for work with Clancy.

“Thank you from coming to tell us.” Birk shook his hand. “I see Ma’s given you some tea. You want another cup?”

“No thank ye. I have a family awaiting me too. I’m over Hanson Road. Not too far from here. Number fifteen. Come by the Plant in the morning and I’ll see if we can fix you up.”

“How’s that?” Birk asked.

“We took Mac because we needed him. We still need him. We can give you a try to see if you’ll do.”

“I already have work at the Patterson millworks.”

“So yer ma tells me but you’ll get paid more, travel less and keep ahold of your house.”

“I’ll think on it.” Birk shook his hand again glancing at Clancy who had remained silent since coming into the house.

“You boys had supper?” his mother asked once Mr. Joseph was gone.

“Can’t say as I’m much hungry Mrs. Mac.” Clancy said.

“Come out the kitchen while I sees to supper.”

Maddy was the the kitchen table. “When Poppa coming home?” she asked.

“Not fer awhile.” Birk said. “Not fer a long while.”

“He’s gone to be with Sal.” His mother sat beside her.

“Sal?” Maddy teared up. “Sal gone to be with God.”

“So she has.” his mother said.

“That why that man was here?”

“Yes Maddy.”

“I hate him. He sent pappa away didn’t he.”

“No.” Birk said. “Mac was tried that’s all. Moving here and changing was too much for him.”

“For all of us.” His mother ladled out stew for them. “Eat and we can talk more about this later. I’ll say grace, ‘God thank you for the food we have that will give us strength to face what has to be faced. Amen.”

Birk washed the dishes while his mother put Maddy to bed.

“You’re some silent.” He said to Clancy.

“It was all so clear to me this afternoon. It made sense to leave here and build a life on my own plans not on something set out before me. A life for two of us.” Clancy said.

“Nothing holding you. You said you got no family here.”

“There’s you.” Clancy said softly. “You know when I took off that last time I didn’t mean to come back. I was through with all this, with those micks who want to lynch someone for not being a God-fearing mick.”

“Lynch?”

“That’s what they’d call that mob that Father Patrick brought over to teach you, us, a lesson. They would have strung us the nearest tree if they coulda. You know that. And why? For being naked?”

“For what we were doing.”

Clancy took Birk’s hand. “We were doing nothing, Birk. Nothing. But I was feeling something.” 

“To you maybe but to them it was something.”

“Exactly. I don’t want to live in fear for someone disapproving of the way I sneeze. Of who I want to be with. That’s what brought me back again. To get you to leave with me.”

“You had me convinced too.” Birk brushed the back of Clancy’s hand on his own chin. “But you know I can’t go now.”

“Fuk,” Clancy stood and let his chair fall over to the floor. “I knows that. I have to think about what to do, for me.”

“Millworks will be lookin’ for someone when I go.”

“Yeah.” Clancy gave a small laugh. “That isn’t what I had in mind.”

His mother came into the kitchen. “I see you done the dishes. That’s something I could never get Mac to do.” She picked up the chair that Clancy had knocked over. She sat in it with her elbows on the table and her head in her hand. “Sometimes I feel my age.”

“It hasn’t been easy,  Mrs. Mac.” Clancy said.

“So Clancy you back for good?” she asked.

“I can’t say Mrs. Mac. Birk and I was discussing that too. It’s not as if I’m kin to you or anyone else around here.”

“True. I’m trying to be practical about things, is all. I need to know what I can count on before making any decisions. I don’t want you and Birk disappearing one day.”

“Ma…” Birk started.

She held up her hand. “Birk I know you wants a life of yer own. Geo did too. That sure can’t happen here. I expected you to go with Geo when he went to Alberta. He offered to take you but Pa said it had to be your idea not something we planted in you.”

“You did?”

“Yer Pa and I talked about what was going to become of you. Then I got afraid that mick gal was trying to lure you off too. So I said things about her I didn’t mean. When she got set with O’Dowell I breathed easy again.”

“Ma! I was never one for her. I knew that from the first time met her.”

“I know, son, I know. But comes a time when we have to let our children look out for themselves.”

“This isn’t that time Ma.” Birk said looking to Clancy. 

“It is Birk. Isn’t it Clancy?” She looked to Clancy too. “You want Birk to take a chance on a bigger life with you?”

“I won’t deny it. I talked to him about it. There isn’t much more opportunity for him here than there is for me. You want him to die with a shovel in his hand the way Mac did?”

“We all die Clancy.” she half-laughed. “Don’t matter what we’re holding in our hands at the time.”

“Ma, I’m not going anywhere with Clancy.”

“Maddy and I can go live with my sister in Guysborough. There’s enough to do around their farm to keep us.”

“Aunt Dierdra? The one you curses under your breath anytime you get the opportunity.”

“The same.” she took a deep breath. “If’n you want to stay Clancy, we’d be happy to have you. Mac never got settled in that room of his upstairs so you can have it for yerself. You won’t ‘ave to bunk up with Birk at all.” 

“We all have a lot to think about.” Clancy got up from the table and went to the front door.

Birk followed him. “Clancy you know I can’t go now. Maybe the steel plant is my opportunity.”

“For you but not for me.”

He left Birk standing in the open doorway.

Birk sat in Mac’s armchair in the living room. Even though Mac had a bedroom for himself Mac still fell asleep in his old armchair. The chair wasn’t as comfortable as it looked when Mac sat in it. The curves and bumps were ones that had been created by Mac’s body over the years. Birk sat on the sofa and out his feet up on the low table in front of it.

This was his duty. Family. The adventure that Clancy offered had tempted him sorely. He was glad now that he didn’t have to make the decision to go or not. That he’d stay was plain to him. 

Lying on his bed he heard the backdoor open and someone come into the house. He pulled his coveralls on and went to the top of the stairs to listen. He heard nothing. He went half-way down the stairs and could see his mother asleep in Mac’s chair in the living-room. The street light softening her face with its yellow.

“Clancy!” he whispered.

“Shush.” Was the reply. “Who would it be?”

Clancy came to the bottom of the stairs holding his shoes.

They walked up the stairs.

“I didn’t think you’d come back.” Birk said.

“I had no choice.” He took Birk by the hand. “My heart is here.”

“I …” Without hesitation he pulled Clancy to him and kissed him. He didn’t want that kiss to end.

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Out and About in Sydney, Cape Breton

Cape Breton sunrise

where I had great ice cream on the Sydney Boardwalk

stone stairs to nowhere in Sydney

the welcome feet of Sydney

stone in the Park/Brookland/Hospital Sts triangle

close up of the stone

stained glass in the CB Regional Library

CB highland dancers on Charlotte St.

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Chapter LXVII: Lillian Gets A Surprise

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXVII

Lillian

Gets A

Surprise

The Saturday of the unveiling was a windy overcast day. Rain threatened but never happened. Steven had been buried in the family plot at Hardwood Hill Cemetery. The bagpipes could be heard as she and Clara walked up the path to the family plot.

“Mama was a Presbyterian you know, and never converted, so when they wouldn’t bury her on Catholic soil our father didn’t want to be buried anywhere but her side. I know Steven felt the same way.” Clara leaned on Lillian for support.

There were several others already at the site. The Nova Scotia flag covered the small stone monument. It bellowed in the breeze.

“Good day Miss O’Dowell, Miss McTavish, I mean, Mrs. O’Dowell.” The custodian greeted them.

“Thank you Mr. Crookshank.” Clara shook his hand and nodded to other men there.

“He will be sorely missed.” Gus shook both their hands.

They stood in the wind for a moment listening the the piper. Clara signalled for him to stop.

“Lillian would you give me a hand?” Clara indicated to Lillian to stand opposite her by the grave stone. 

Once Lillian had taken the edge of the flag in her hand Clara leaned and undid the string that was holding it. They lifted it together and Lillian, expecting Clara to hold it, let go of her side once it was clear. Clara let go of her’s at the same time and the flag was blown away by the breeze to get stuck in upper branches of a near by oak tree.

“Oh my!” Lillian said and started to get it.

“Leave it for now, dear.” Clara said putting an arm around Lillian’s shoulder.

The monument was pink-grey marble column, the top edge had an inlay of black onyx carved to look like lumps of coal. It was topped with miner’s lamp made of brass. 

Clara read the inscription, “ ‘Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends. John xv:13’ ” Then she began to weep. The bagpiper began to play.

Lillian squeezed Clara’s hand and they walked down the path. Followed by the others and the bagpiper.

 

The silence back at the O’Dowell house was a relief to Lillian. She’d said all she had to say and longed to be on her way. It was worse than those last days at school before summer vacation. Clara had taken to her room and Lillian brought up a supper tray for her.

“Lillian you must understand how hard this is for me. To lose Steven and now to lose you so soon after.” she patted Lillian’s hand. “I know I’m beginning to sound same as an hysterical old woman but …”

“I will be back Clara.” Lillian hoped she sounded reassuring.

“Yes, but not till Christmas. Oh, do see if you can take some time to visit while you are at college.”

“Yes, yes.” Lillian said. “Once I know what my classes are and what work I’ll have before me I’ll know what time I have to spare.”

“This house has been so empty without you or Steven to share it with.”

“You’ll get used it so quickly you won’t want any intruders other than a cat or two.”

She went down to the kitchen

“Don’t awaken Miss Clara, Aileen.” she said. “I think it best if I slip away with less fuss than I arrived.”

“Yes miss. Am I to send the things in your room along to you?”

“No. They’ll be there for me when I return. Knowing my favorite blue shoes are here is sure to bring me back. I’d like you to have these.”

She gave Aileen the pair of stocking she had bought for the wedding. One less memento of a time she hoped to forget. 

 

She planned to leave Monday morning. Being here had become unbearable for her now that her escape from the island was assured. 

“I can’t quite believe you are going.” Mrs. Franklin said as they waited on the boarding house porch for the cab to take Lillian’s luggage to the train station.

“I am so grateful for everything you’ve done for me Rose.”

“Thank you, Lillian, you’ve been a joy to … “ she began to tear up.

“I’d like you to have this.”

“Oh  …” Mrs. Franklin pulled the tissue paper off what turns out to be an ornate carved ivory fan. “It is beautiful. The roses look so real.”

“I realize it isn’t that practical. Much like me, I suppose, I was brought up to be pretty but not practical. Life here has taught me to be practical.

“It was a gift from my father. He bought it for me on one his trips to the continent. I don’t want to have too many impractical memories.”

The cab pulled up. Once her luggage was safe at the train station she had the driver take her to the cemetery. She had given herself time to go back Steven’s grave. The day was sunny but the wind was strong around the grave.

As she knelt the wind pulled off her hat and her hair came loose. She laughed to herself thinking that Steven always did appreciate her hair.

“Steven,” she said softly, “forgive me for what I am doing. Even if you had lived I would never have been content here on this rock with you. Never.” 

“Lillian?” a man’s voice came from behind her. “Lillian McTavish!” The man repeated louder.

She stood, shivering, and turned around. The sun was in her eyes.

“Steven!” Had she brought him back to life? 

“It is you, Lillian! I thought it was a ghost.” He took her in his arms. She tried to push him away. 

“David Henderson? No, it can’t be. It can’t be.” She stumbled back away from him.

“It is.”

“How? Why?”

“When news of your death reached me in India I was devastated. I had hoped to return to Boston one day to be with you. I should never have let my family pressure me into leaving you. Never. It was torment I shall never want to experience again.

“I could hardly sit through the memorial service your uncle conducted in Boston. It wasn’t right to me. I had to see your grave to … be near you one last time.” Tears streaked his face. “To find you alive! How is that possible.”

“My uncle was … mistaken.” Lillian stared hard at David. He looked much she remembered. Older and less naive.

“He said at the memorial that you had been interred here with the other flu victims. I now see why the custodian was so puzzled when I asked about Lillian McTavish’s resting place earlier. He said that if you were here today it might be up here at the O’Dowell plot.”

A nearby church rang eleven.

“I … don’t know what to say David.”

“Tell me that my affections might still be returned.”

She started to walk down to the street. “Much had happened in the past year David. I can’t say what my affections are for anyone.”

“I understand that Lillian. I do honestly.” he stopped her and took both of her hands in his. “We can become reacquainted.”

He let go of her hands, put his around his waist pulled to him and kissed her. 

The wind wrapped her hair around them for a moment. They broke free and she quickly plated her hair and secured it under her hat. Was this Steven’s answer to her prayer for forgiveness?

“David I’ll be direct.”

“As you always were.”

They got into the cab that she had waiting for her. “Train station please.” Lillian said.

“I’m staying the The Royal.” David said.

“That may be, but my train leaves at noon. I intend to be on it.” Lillian’s thoughts were reeling with this unexpected, undreamed of event. Regardless of it she was determined to leave. “I can’t make any decision or plans as long as I am here.”

“I know that Lillian, but please hear me out. After my father’s death I inherited the firm and have increased its holdings in India considerably. When I first met you I was a young man with possibilities, now I am man of property.”

“I can see that. I presume you know that I was compromised by James Dunham.” She saw no reason to hold anything back from David.

“Compromised?”

“Yes. Do I have to explain that for you? That’s why I ended up here. I had a child by him. It was still born.”
“Lillian,” he clutched her hand and brought it to his lips.

“Do you still want to be become reacquainted with me?”

“How could you doubt it?” He said softly.

“You are free to come with me. I am not promising anything.”

“Yes. yes. Thank you. Drop me at the Royal and then take Miss McTavish to the train station.” The cab pulled up at the Royal. He jumped out. “It won’t take me long to pack my things and I’ll meet you at the station.”

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Chapter LXVI – Lillian Makes Up Her Mind 

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXVI

Lillian

Makes Up 

Her Mind 

Lillian unlocked the front doors to O’Dowell’s Sydney store. She bent over to pick up a few scraps of newspaper rear had blown into the corner. There was almost something caught in that corner. She left the door unlocked for the rest of the staff. She saw that Mr. Oakley, the store manager, was already there.

“Good morning Mr. Oakley.” She called out. “I’ll leaving the door open for the rest of the staff.”

She took of her gloves, then her hat as she walked up the stairs to her own private office on the second floor. It was a space in a back corner, reclaimed from the storage area on the second floor.

She had started working at the O’Dowell’s in New Waterford to pass the time. She explained to Clara that she wanted to learn the family business as she was now part of the family. Spending the winter days at their home hosting meetings of the various Women’s guilds that Clara was involved in didn’t appeal to her. 

In the new year she moved to Sydney and started working at the Sydney store. Supposedly to learn even more about the business but it was part of her plan to escape Cape Breton. Mrs. Franklin had managed to sell her property in New Castleton and had opened a new boarding house on Cottage Road in Sydney.

“Mrs. O’Dowell would you come down when you have a chance.” 

“Yes, Mr. Oakley.”

She quickly checked her hair and make-up in the mirror by the door of her office. She admitted the way the simple one-piece shift look both pretty and practical. She had convinced the other female clerks in the store that wearing what the store sold would sell even more. 

As she walked down to the first floor she could smell coffee perking. That had been another of her suggestions. Some of the Boston department stores had lunch counters. Even though the trade at O’Dowell’s wasn’t as brisk as Boston’s she decided it would a worthwhile ‘experiment.’ So far it had been breaking even.

“Good morning Miss Lillian.” Theresa, the counter girl curtsied as Lillian walked past her. “Here is your coffee.”

“Something is smelling good.” Lillian took a sip. “What is it today?”

“Thank you ma’am. That would be the ginger crisp.”

Lillian went to the door of Mr. Oakley’s office.

“You wanted to speak with me?”

Before he could say anything a voice from behind said. 

“Lillian I must speak with you.”

She recognized the voice immediately. “Not during working hours Uncle Patrick.” She replied without turning around.

“That’s quite alright Mrs. O’Dowell. We can discuss the Ladies Wear order later to day.”

She turned to face her uncle.

“Is there someplace more private we can talk.” He asked. “It is important or I wouldn’t have come here.”

Lillian knew that since the closure of the Castleton Mines the diocese had decided to close the church there so they wouldn’t have to replace her uncle when he left for Africa.

“We can go up to my office.”

Lillian’s office was so small there was only room for her desk and a chair for her behind it. Test rest of the room was shelving for goods and a file cabinet. There no place for anyone else to sit down.

She sat at her desk. “What is it?”

He took a document out of an inner pocket of his overcoat.

“I’ve done you a service.” He said. “You’ve been granted an annulment.”

“An annulment!”

“Yes. When I explain the circumstance of your marriage. That it was done without proper church requirements, that your husband died without the marriage being consummated the request for an annulment was granted.”

“I never requested this.” Lillian crushed the document in her hands. “My marriage stands. It will stand in a court of law. You know that very well. Steven’s lawyers ascertained that in probate.”

“Lillian, don’t you understand me. It frees you from any obligation you may feel to the O’Dowells. You are free to go back to Boston.”

“Boston.” She stood. “I have no intention of ever going back to Boston.”

“What keeps you here? It was clear when you arrived that you loathed this place, these people. I don’t see that has changed much. Is this your future?” He gestured at the office. “A struggling clothing store where you can be … what … queen? At least you arrived you had prideful ambitions for a bigger life.”

“Get out of here.” Lillian restrained from screaming at him. She realized that he was partially right. No matter what she accomplished at O’Dowell’s it would never be her home.

“Think about what I said Lillian.” He straightened out the decree of annulment. “All you have to do is sign it.”

“I said get out.” She came out from behind her desk.

He backed out of the office. “I’ll be leaving for the mainland this afternoon. The first step on my African adventure. I do have you to thank for that. If Miss O’Dowell hadn’t interceded with the Monsignor I may have remained trapped here as well.”

Lillian stood at the bottom of the stairs and watched as he left the store. Trapped! Was she trapped?

“He did what?” Mrs. Franklin handed Lillian the serving platter of scalloped potato.

“You heard me, he had my marriage annulled.” Lillian held the kitchen door open with her foot so Mrs. Franklin could pass through the to dining room with similar platter of pork chops.

They each placed their platters on the inning room table and took their places beside each other at the table. While the other boarders passed the platters around the table to help themselves Lillian continued.

“It’s as if I might have forget his action in the past.”

“What did he expect you to do?” Mrs. Franklin asked.

“He did realize that the marriage meant I was now a Canadian citizen. Steven’s death didn’t change that.”

“So you declined the offer.”

“Certainly. I also destroyed the document. Threw it in the furnace at the store. But he did say something that was worth while.”

“Ah.”

“Yes that he felt trapped here and was grateful his actions towards me resulted in him being set free.”

“Set free?”

“Of his obligations to the parish.”

“No one felt he was ever happy here, if you know what mean. Not that he was as unkind to others as he was to you but …”

“He didn’t make a home for himself here?”

“Exactly.”

“I am like him in that I way, Rose. I feel trapped here.”

In her room Lillian took out the leather binder that held her important papers. The Bank of Montreal’s white with blue cloth along the spine was the first thing she looked at. She checked it every night whether she had made a deposit or not. This was her money. It had grown over the months since Steven’s death. 

There was finally enough for her to make plans. It was time to leave. All she needed was to decide where. No, she would decide that when she was her way. The train to Halifax would start her journey. Once she was there she make further plans. 

The next morning at O’Dowell’s she informed Mr. Oakley of her decision to leave the store.

“This is rather sudden Mrs. O’Dowell.”

“I have been thinking on this for awhile and spring seems a good time to make such a move.”

“You’ve told Clara, I mean, Miss McDowell?” 

“I will this afternoon. We will be finalizing the plans for unveiling Steven’s memorial this Sunday. I hope to be leaving the following day.”

“Where do you plan to go?” Mr. Oakley asked.

“I’ll be discussing that with Clara as well. Until then I’ll keep that to myself.”

The meeting Clara, Mrs. Donaldson and Mrs Donaldson took place over tea at Mrs. Franklin’s. Once the unveiling plans had been discussed with them she took the opportunity to make her announcement.

“Ladies.” She loudly to get their attention. “Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Donaldson. I am deeply grateful for your concern and support over these past months. I feel I have a family here to replace the one I left in Boston.”

“Lillian …” Mrs. Murphy teared up.

“I know you will be happy to know that I have decided to bid you farewell.”

“You can’t mean you are going to leave us?” Mrs. Donaldson said.

“It hasn’t been an easy decision. I don’t think it’ll for long but I will be leaving. I’ve made some inquires and there are few places left in the next term at the Normal College in Truro. I shall go there to become a qualified to be a teacher for all your children.”

“Lillian!” Clara said. “What an excellent idea. I felt you were wasting your self in the store.”

“I won’t be leaving till after the unveiling of Steven’s monument.” she said.

“That’s an excellent plan.” said Mrs. Murphy. “I always knew you were a practical girl.”

Lillian took a tray of the used cups and saucers to the kitchen relieved that they had believed the half-truths she had told them. She had no intention of going the Normal College. Even if she did she would never come back to this place. Never.

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Behind The Cape

Cape Fever

it was a black satin half-slip

with a hem of red lace

I found in my mother’s dresser

it was cool on my skin

I twisted & turned

in front of the mirror

to see it flow

clutching the waist

around my eight-year-old throat

so it was my black cape

dripping with the blood

I’d dragged it through

but it wasn’t long enough

not full enough

meant for my mother’s narrow hips

when I tried to sweep it up

to cover my face

it fell off

it would never be Dracula’s cape

 

besides my eye brows were wrong

even after I tired to create

those terrifying arches 

using eyebrow forms from

my mother’s Elizabeth Arden make up kit

it had dozens of shapes to trace 

none were arched enough

so I did what I could

by turning one upside down

spectacular

 

the mouth full of tomato catchup

was impossible 

too thick

for it drip over my teeth

or out of the corners of my mouth

the red was wrong

beet juice was the right colour

but way too thin

the two didn’t mix well either

 

but those eyebrows were spectacular

they scared even me

in the mirror

when I held a flashlight under my chin

all I needed was the right cape

and a victim

 

This piece is based on a real memory of me playing with this half-slip. I might have a bit older as well as this memory is in our Royal Ave house which we didn’t move into until I was about that age. Was the slip satin? I don’t know but it was smooth & cool. My mother had, thanks to me Dad, various pieces of sexy lingerie. Did she like it as much as he cleary did?

I was old enough to be left on my own though. I would try on her high-heels but never felt the need to wear her clothes other than playing with those half-slips & sometimes a crinoline. I loved the flare of that stiff fabric as I spun around to watch it spin around.

 

I had seen Bela Lugosi on TV by then & knew in a very general what it was about – capes, looking over one that covered the face & of course drinking blood. I was frightened mainly by that face, the arch of his eyebrows not by what he was doing. All I remembered of the plot was people bending to his will & then him turning into a bat. It wasn’t until I saw the film as an ‘adult’ that it made sense to me.

 

The things done for the color of blood weren’t that elaborate & were tried as a Halloween effect not as a part of this actual moment.

Looking back now I’m not sure if I really to be a vampire as much as I wanted his mind control power.  Who cares about consent as I bend you to my will. I didn’t want victims either, my fear of getting caught playing with the slip was enough fear for me. I doubt if I was that interested in victims as I was in no longer being one. Besides (spoiler alert) Dracula dies in the end.

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Chapter LXV – Birk Gets An Offer From Clancy

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXV

Birk

Gets An Offer

From Clancy

Over the winter Birk settled into the routine of a new above ground life. Most days he was able to catch a ride to the Patterson Woodworks with T’Jean who lived a few streets over from them in Sydney. The mill offered snow shovelling to those who could afford it, so Birk was kept busy while the millworks was idle. He’d rather shovel snow that coal any day. He also enjoyed improving his carpentry skills in their workshop.

Spring was slow to come but burst suddenly upon the island. One mild day he spent unloading and sorting the first truck load of timber for the spring. At the end of the day he unconsciously went down the ferry back to Castleton Mines. He was half way down the lane from the colliery before he saw what he had done.

He stood in front of their old house, the sun reflecting off the windows. He walked to the back. There was nothing drying on the porch rail, nothing flapping on the clothes line, only the remains of the wood pile for the stove. The garden had green shoots sprouting.

He went into the house through the back door. The kitchen was empty without his mother at the sink. The floor where the stove had been was charred, the wall behind it discoloured. The living room was larger and wooden floors cleaner than he knew.

The stairs creaked as he went up to his room. The steps were uneven in ways he had never noticed before. The wallpaper yellowed and peeled away from the wall along the ceiling from where water always leaked through.

His sisters room smelled of them. They had never gotten around to fixing that spot on the wall where the girls fell one Christmas and cracked through the plaster to the lathing. The area around it was white after being covered by some drawing his sisters had made to hide it from them.

He went to his room half-expecting to find Clancy there. The room was as empty as all the others. There was pillow tossed in the corner, a single sock in the corner of the cupboard. The floor was gouged where the feet of the bed had rubbed a rut over the years.

He went out the front door. The only solid door in the house. He had helped his Dad and Geo rebuild the door frame under his mother’s watchful eye.

“A front door that was solid will keep a house from falling down around your ears.” She had said. She was right about that. Too bad it hadn’t been solid enough to keep the family inside.

“Come back for one last look?” Jake Malone from across the lane said from the front of his house.

“Turns out that way. So used to coming back here after work I came back here after work.” Birk laughed.

“Them old ways is sure hard to shake off.”

“You here for much longer?”

“Probably. BritCan may be gone but life here has to go one. I’m fixed with Jim Gillum on the boats. You?”

“Looks good for me at the Patterson’s Millworks.”

“Good on you. Yer mate?”
“Clancy? Not sure. He went back the mainland before Christmas. Nothing to hold him here.”

“Shame. You and he got along pretty good. Hard to find a mate that loyal.”

“I knows that.”

“Yeah after all that shite that got talked about you and that McTavish bitch he stuck by you. That’s a true mate.”

Birk was shocked to hear Lillian called a bitch. “She don’t mean no harm Jake. No need to cuss her out.”

“Don’t be so forgiving Birk m’boy. Them micks think cause they know a bit of Latin they can lord it over the rest of us. Let’em get away with that and there’ll be no end of it.”

“Best get going. Ma’ll wonder what became of me if I don’t get back to Sydney soon. Hours late as it is.”

“Tell’em we miss you even thought it’s been a day.”

The steel plant whistle was blowing 11 p.m. when Birk finally arrived home.

“Where you been boy?” His mother said. “Sent your sister over to T’Jeans to see what became of you. You could’a fallen into one of them saws for all we knew.”

“Sorry Ma. You’ll get a laugh when I tell you what I did. When I left the mill works I headed back to Mudside.”

“Mudside!”

“Yes’m, my feet took me back the old way and rest of me followed. The old house sure looks empty without us. I heard that Mrs. Franklin sold off her boarding house. Setting up the same here in Sydney.”

“You want a bite of supper?”

“Na sat a spell with Jake Malone. He’s working on the boats for now. I’m going to turn in. This house is so quiet without all the boards shifting but the noise of the plant can get some fierce too.”

“Go up quiet now. Yer Pa’s sleeping like I never see before.”

Birk took off his boots and tip-toed up to his room. He reached for the lamp then remembered they had lights, electric lights. But his Ma had been sitting in the back kitchen with only a lantern on. One of her old routines that was hard to break. He left the light off and went to the window.

He looked out to the houses around him and some of them had a lanterns flickering in a window. He turned the light on and had to close his eyes as it was too bright. Then turned it off quickly. Who needed so much brightness at night.

In the dark he went to the bathroom and ran some water to wash his face and hands. He was getting used to a bathroom with its own tub and running water. The old company house had a pump in the kitchen and buckets to bring water upstairs for washing up.

He folded his overalls on top of the dresser. This room about the same size as the old one. Longer but not as wide leaving no room between the bed and the wall for more than his legs. He was too restless to fall asleep. The house smelled so different. 

Sydney smelled so different from Castleton Mines. So close to the plant the the air was sour and sooty. Not that the pits smelled much better but once you got far enough away some of the smell was gone. Here it seemed to be everywhere. The midnight whistle sounded as he drifted off.

 

During his lunch break at the mill Birk heard a familiar singing near by.

“This is the hands that makes the boards, this is the hands that picks up sticks.”

Birk jumped up on top of a squared pile of lumber to peer around.

“Clancy! Where the hell are you by?”

“Hiding in the woodpile.” Came the reply.

“I’ll give you a hidin’ if you don’t show yer face.” He jumped to the ground and darted along the piled squares.

“This is the dog that can’t find a stick.” Came from behind him. 

He spun around and there was Clancy. He grabbed Clancy and wrestled him to the ground.

“Enough. Enough.” Clancy laughed and pushed him away. They stood up and brushed saw dust off their clothes.

“It’s months since we last saw ya b’y.”

“I know. I been working with my cousins down Hawksbury way. Tough work keeping that train moving across at Canso.”

“I thought might be doing more schoolin’?”

“Takes money to do that ‘less I ‘prentice with someone. Even that getting harder to find though.”

“So you back again. For good?”

“Can’t say but I’m for a bit.” He took a roll of money out of his pocket. “Made hundred-fifty bucks though so …”

“You rob a bank Clancy Sinclair?”

“Me! You know me to do a dishonest day’s work?”

“Tell me!” Birk stared at the money. He had never seen that much cash in anyone’s hand.

“I’ll be back when you get finish here.”

“T’Jean’ll take us back to Sydney.”

It started to rain at the end of the work day so they sat in the front cab of the truck instead of stretching out in the back box. Birk between T’Jean and Clancy.

“Snug b’ys.” T’Jean said.

“Better close than wet.” Birk said enjoying the nearness of Clancy.

“You smell like a pine box.” Clancy said.

“At’s what Ma says. She isn’t missing me coming back with coal dust in my hair. Least way I can actually wash this out.”

“You know the Sinclair’s over Boularderie?” T’Jean asked.

“Can’t say as I do. My Dad was Kenny Sinclair. Worked for the railway. Can’t say as he ever got over to the island much though. My Ma is related to the Roberts in Louisbourg.”

“Runs the bakery over there?”

“Yes. I should look them up too. Never thought of them. Cousins nearly as good as folks, right?”

“Depends on what you expect from them.’ T’Jean said. “The less you want the happier they’ll be to see you.”

Birk listened to Clancy and T’Jean talk families for the entire ride to Whitney Pier. He found out that Clancy had more kin here than he’d known before.

They got out at T’James. Three girls rushed out to greet him.

“You’ve met my daughters. Clarice, Catherine, Christine.” Each did a little wave as her name was said. “All getting to marriage age. This here be Clancy. Time to add another C to the household?”

“Poppa.” Catherine squealed. “Mama’s down at Aunt Mary’s”

“Thanks again for the ride T’Jean.” Birk said as he and Clancy headed down the street.

“Clarice, Catherine and Christine?”

“Runs in his family. He’s got brothers and sisters Jerome, Jenny and …”

“Jumpin’ Jesus?” Clancy laughed.

“James. So tell me!” Birk demanded.

“Tell you what?”

“Where did you get all that money?”

“From the railroad pension of my Pa’s. I can draw on once’t a year. This is as good a time as any to do that.”

“Not while we was scrounging in the woods for mushrooms during the strike.” Birk said.

“I was tempted but with so many in need around that I wouldn’t have helped anyone. Now it might do some good. And I found out some better news.”

“Which is?”
“My rail pass is good for two. Me for free and you for half-price.” 

“Me! Where we going to go?”

“Any where the railway takes us. Montreal. Toronto. We can leave here.”

“What put that idea in your head?” They stopped in front of the house.

“You did. There isn’t anything to hold us here. Work?”

“Family.”

“There’s no future for us here. The BritCan company has pretty much seen to that. Sons moving away. Fathers crushed in mine collapses. Sisters dying overnight. Isn’t that message getting through you. This island is worse than the water at the bottom of shaft. Wake up and get out of here with me.”

Birk’s mother came to the door.

“Get in here. Where you been Clancy Sinclair?”

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