Chapter XXX – Lillian to the Rescue

Chapter XXX

Lillian

to the Rescue

From the front parlour window Lillian watched the men gathering at St. Agatha Hall for the union meeting. She wondered why it was only men who went into the Hall. Why were their wives made to wait outside at such times? After all the decisions made here would effect their lives as much as the men’s. 

She hoped to see the hairy miner in the crowd but didn’t notice him. Her memory of him was vague at best. She had been unwilling to actually focus on him the few times they had met in passing. It wasn’t fitting for her to pay much heed to any of the Protestants in Castleton. His dark eyes and unshaved face made her shudder. What if he was too … animalistic for her purposes. Perhaps the Convent would be a better option. No! That decision could wait until she’d had a good look at the man himself.

Without changing out of her apron she left the rectory and went around the back of the Hall to a spot near one of the open windows of the Hall to hear what was being said. She couldn’t see over the heads of the man leaning on the inside sill. She recognized voices. Her uncle’s, that union man. If Birk spoke up she doubted if she’d recognize him. It was clear they wouldn’t be going back the mine that very night or in the near future. She hoped the rectory had enough fuel for the hot water heater. 

After confused, angry shouting the men began to move en masse. They went from being a disorderly but listening crowd to a mob. She joined some of the wives who had been stationed outside, to follow at a safe distance. A few men at the edge of the mob were drinking, shoving and fighting among themselves.

Father Patrick and Reverend Brown stood at the hall doors calling for the men to come back to finish the meeting. 

The men were chanting. “The Pluck Me. The Pluck Me.”

The mob gathered in front of the company store. She had been in the store several times before the strike began but only once since. Mrs. Seldon, wife of the store manager was also from off-island and had never gelt the local had accepted her. She had given Lillian a much needed listening ear when she first arrived in New Castleton. If there was some new patterned fabric she would send for Lillian in hopes of selling her some. Lillian loved to look at and handle the material but could only afford to dream.

They had spent evenings going through the Eaton’s catalogue looking at and longing for the various shoes, dinner wear and household items. They both were taken by the new washing machine that would reduce the amount of work needed to wash and wring out the clothes. With the birth of her son, Charles, Mrs. Seldon said she could use two of those machines to keep up with dirty nappies.

She felt a surge of powerless as she saw Mrs. Seldon shout from the second story window to discourage the men from taking any violent actions. When the men began to tear the boards protecting the plate glass windows she was faint. The men had gone from humans to animals as they attacked the front of the store.

  Boards were quickly pulled loose, the windows broken and the men clambered into the store through the sills, heedless of the crunch of glass underfoot. They were ants swarming over an apple core in the garden. First one, then two, then what seemed like hundreds of them. Like the ants with crumbs, the men were departing with bags of flour, bolts of fabric, barrels of things; carried in their arms, on their backs. The women joined in the clearing tins of food off of the shelves of the store.

She could hear Mrs. Seldon weeping and pleading with them. A couple of the wives dragged her out of the store and shoved her into the lane between the buildings opposite the store. The Seldon’s new born was wailing from the upstairs room. A fire broke out in the back of the store. The men were heedless of danger as they continued to pull out goods and disappear into the night with them.

She could no longer see Mrs. Seldon. The wails of the baby got louder. 

“You have to do something!” she grabbed one of the miners. “There’s a child up there.”

“Not my look out.” The man pushed past her. “I didn’t leave it behind.”

Lillian scrambled up the outside stairway that led to the rooms above. The unlocked door opened into the living-room. Smoke had filled the room. It stung her eyes. She covered her mouth with her apron and made her way to the corner where the crib was. She grabbed at the writhing child, wrapped him in a swaddling blanket and got him into her arms. The baby kicked and cried even louder.

Flames were now spurting through the floor boards around the edges of the carpet. As she got to the door, the floor began to collapse under her feet and into the store beneath. She prayed at least one of the miners would be caught in the inferno. The thought made her shiver with guilt.

Her apron caught on the door frame and she couldn’t pull it loose. She couldn’t let go her hold of the child as she tried to protect it from the sparks that rained on them. The smoke and heat made it impossible for her to see where the apron was caught. Her heart raced. She feared this was her doom. The landing where she balanced on the outside stairs began to smoulder. Another section of the floor in the room behind her crashed into the store. 

Clutching the baby in one arm she fumbled at the apron to see where it was caught. Maybe if she could untie it she could get loose. Struggling she began to mutter, “Our Father who art …”

A man appeared beside her out of the smoke. She couldn’t see his face.

“Oh! Thank God. My apron …” 

He reached behind her, ripped the apron free and dragged her down the stairs while trying to shield her and the baby from a new barrage sparks that fell on them as the roof collapsed into the building.

She glimpsed flames darting through the very stairs and around their feet as they stumbled down. The hem of her skirt began to smoulder. Flame burned her ankles. As they leapt from the next to last step the stairway collapsed and was swallowed by flame.

Hands grabbed them the moment they were off the stairs. The man kept her close to him until they were in the crowd. There was a scattering of applause as the mob parted to let them make it to safety. They were steered to a bench in front of the iron foundry across from the company store.

“Thank you. Thank you.” Lillian said to the man as she sat down. “I was preparing to meet God.” She gasped for air and coughed as she breathed in the smoke around them.

She set the baby on the bench beside her and opened the covers to make sure it was alright. It starting kicking and giggling as the swaddling was loosened. She picked it up and began to rock it gently.
“As was I, miss, as I ran up those steps. The closest I ever wants to come to the mouth of Hell.”

She rubbed her eyes with the sleeve of her free arm. They were clear enough for her to look at the man who had rescued her. His soot streaked face was familiar to her. It was her hairy miner.

“Thank you again.” She paused trying to recall his name. “I … we’ve met before, I think?”

“Think nothing of it, Miss. If it weren’t me, one of the others would have done the same.”

“What is your name? Please, so …. my uncle will be anxious to thank you himself, I’m sure. Father Patrick.”

“We have met a few times afore Miss, but were never prop’ly introduced. M’name is Birk Nelson.” He shook cinders out of his hair onto the ground. 

“I’ll most probably need a hair cut after this.” He grinned foolishly. “Thought it was going to burn off my head for a bit there.”

The very man she had been thinking of earlier in the day had rescued her! Was this God’s answer to her prayers for a way out of her situation? What clearer sign could one ask for? Moses had his message written in flames for him, too. Here was her’s. A commandment to marry.

She saw her uncle at the edge of the crowd. She waved to him.

“You must let me …” 

“Miss, I must be going. I sees that you and the babby are safe. I’ll let your kin look after you now.”

“No. Where … ”

He was gone before she could find out where he lived. She knew it had to Mudside. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find him there.

“Lillian!” Her uncle put his arm around her shoulders and helped her stand. “Are you all right?”

“I had to … to save Charles, the baby.” She loosened her hold on the infant. The child began to cry. “It is the Seldon’s.”

The Seldon’s weren’t parishioners of her uncle’s so she had kept her friendship with them to herself till now.

“You mean you went into that inferno to save their child?”

“Yes, Uncle. I was caught myself on the door by my apron and was in need of rescue. One of the miners risked his life.”

“Considering this was all their doing, it was the least one of them could do. I can’t imagine they wanted to add your death to their ill-considered actions.”

“Lillian!” Mrs. Seldon pushed Father Patrick aside. “Charles! You have saved Charles. I was so afraid he had been trapped in the fire.” She began to weep. “I tried to get back in but they held me back.” She took her child and began to rock it. 

Most of the mob had dispersed, satiated by their stolen goods. Some remained to bask in the glow of their handiwork. Lillian found it hard to breathe in the smoke and heat.

Mr. Seldon arrived with several other men. Lillian recognized one as Mr. Bowden, one of the mine managers.

Another group of men appeared pushing a large cart with a some sort of pump apparatus. A hose ran from it to the harbour. They began to pump and water trickled out in spurts to put out the flames.

“The best pumper is on company property.” Her uncle explained. “The miners won’t cross their picket lines to get.”

More men appeared with pails of water that they were throwing on the walls of the buildings on either side of the company store. Mr. Bowden motioned two of the miners over and they ran to the colliery with him.

“With the strike no one has been able to get to it.”

“Too late. Too late.” Mrs. Seldon sobbed. “We lost everything, for what! No one can make a profit from destruction.”

“It’ll be all they can do to keep the fire from spreading.” Mr. Seldon said. 

“How could men do something of this nature?” Lillian asked. “To make things worse solves nothing.”

“Often human passion can even drown out the voice of our Creator.” Father Patrick said.

“Some of these were men I’ve seen at Mass. I would never have imagined them capable of this kind of action.”

“Hunger, Miss McTavish.” Mr. Seldon said shaking his head sadly. “Can’t say as I can blame them but this isn’t going to help there cause.”

She watched in dismay as the back wall of the store wavered then crumbled in on the fire. 

The air hung heavy with the smells of burning mixed with the odd sweetness of things that had been incinerated in the store as it burned. 

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Zombie Dance

 

Psycho Zombies in the Rain

it was raining ballerinas

you know

rain so heavy

each drop created a splash tutu

as it landed

on its one toe

to join the corps du puddle

a literal rain dance

 

wet ragged gene mutated zombie

staggering down the street

skin stinking in the rain

crumbling for the lure of brains

grabs a light pole

flings aimless decaying arm

drops into the gutter

eyes washed but not cleaned

lightening strikes

the unlucky char

washed down the sewer drain

 

the rain not a sheet but a curtain

a shower curtain

lightening cuts through it

an electrified knife

stab stab after stab

screams drowned out by the rain

rain so heavy

we can’t see across the street

can’t see 

through the car window

wiper blades not cutting it

smearing rain like blood

on a steamy bathroom tile

Can you name all the movies referenced in this piece? This piece is a word-association dream-logic poem that pays tribute to at least two of my favorite movies in a mash-up of those genres – Psycho and Singing In The Rain. The logic flow of ballerinas to Gene Kelly dancing in the rain seemed quite natural, to me. Thanks to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies it isn’t such a leap to zombies in the rain, is it?

‘rain dance’ leads directly to the most famous rain dance: the classic scene of Gene Kelly dancing and splashing and singing and swinging on a lamp post. I give it the full decay treatment – I love this so much I want to see this movie. Michael Jackson’s Thriller didn’t go far enough. Real rotting corpses would fall apart dancing like they do in his video. But then again Triller isn’t a documentary.

Char down the sewer drain took me directly to swirls of blood down shower drain in Psycho – a move that features Janet Lee driving through the most amazing rain to end up at that charming motel where she cleans up real good. Hitchcock doesn’t go as obvious as I do  with lighting cutting the air while the knife slashes his heroine but sometimes poetry isn’t about subtlety.

I love so many things about this piece – it has no political subtext 🙂 It is full of crisp, cinematic images that flow effortless from one to other. Images that have become cliches in horror films & yet have been repurposed to create a whole new movie genre and a fun poem too.

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Chapter XXIX – Birk to the Rescue

Coal Dusters

Chapter XXIX

Birk to the Rescue

When Birk and Clancy got to St Agatha’s that night the meeting hall was jammed. Men were standing squeezed in all around the room. The windows had been opened to allow for some air. But the breeze barely moved the cigarette smoke that hung over their heads. There wasn’t room for the tea trolly even if the men had wanted tea in the heat. Some were drinking and sharing from their own bottles of refreshments. 

Alf Landen, the MLA was there once again, so every one knew this was to be more important than the last few meetings. He was talking quietly with William Gregory, Father Patrick and Reverend Brown in the front row. There were no company representatives there. 

Gregory stepped to the small stage. “Men I think you all know Alf Landon.”

“Yeah,” came a shout from the back “Some of us were made drunk enough to vote fer him!”

There was laughter and cat calls.

“Save it.” Gregory motioned for them to be silent. “He has some news for us from the cabinet.”

Alf stepped up to the stage. He hooked his thumbs under his suspenders and cleared his throat. “Thank you Will. First I want to reassure you that I am on your side, men. I think the way the coal corporation is treating you is shameful. But I am only one voice in the house. Not everyone agrees with me. Also, let me say how pleased I am that the strike has remained peaceful.”

“Not fer much longer.” someone shouted.

“I wish I had better news for you but we, at the provincial level, are at an impasse with both the union and the mine management. In cabinet we discussed the issues and after heated augments I can assure you we can see no way to force a change in company policy. We’ve taken it to the federal level as well.”

“We know how the feds deal with unions.” someone shouted.

“How?” someone else called out.

“They send in the troops to trample the miners and their children.”

There were more cat calls from the audience.

“Men!” Father Patrick got to the stage. “This isn’t going to help your cause in any way. If both sides remain … unmoved … ”

“Yeah! What will help?” someone shouted over him. “Praying to the Lord Jesus only hurts m’ knees worsen workin’ in the mine for twelve hours.” One of the miners walked up to face Father Patrick. “At least I sees some coal for that.”

“Men. Men.” Alf stood on a chair. 

They silenced.

“There is something you can do. You can go back to work on the company’s terms. That has to be better than letting your families suffer. ”

“That isn’t goin’ to happen.” Someone shouted. “They was suffering on what we were making before, anyhow.” Another of the men said.

“Okay. Okay.” Gregory got the men’s attention. “Alf you know that is unacceptable.” He pulled Alf off the chair and got up on it himself. “There will be a march in Glace Bay on Saturday next. That’s eight days from now. We have union members coming from the mainland to show their support. The steel plant will be closed down for the day when our brother members there put down their tools and join us. We have to show them we mean business.”

“What we been doing these past weeks?” Birk asked. 

“You should talk,” one of the them men said. “Yer pa Blackie still goin’ in there, isn’t he. Shutting down them boilers will show them we mean business, too. Won’t it?”

“Men!” Alf said. “Damaging the pits themselves won’t do you any good. You won’t have anything to to go back to if the mine closes down because you did something foolish to the boilers and let the mines flood.”

“Easy for you say,” someone shouted. “You don’t have a wife and three kids at home with nothing to eat.”

“I knows one place where we can something to feed our families.” Jim McKlusky said. “We all do! The Pluck Me.”

“The Pluck Me.” The men took up the phrase and started to leave the hall.

“Wait! There’s decisions to be made.” Alf shouted.

“We made em. Answer is no.” one of the men said. “No! No! No! To same work for less pay.”

“The Pluck Me. The Pluck Me.” The men chanted as they left the hall en masse. They marched in a ragged mob along Chestnut Avenue to the company store.

Clancy and Birk followed at the back of the shouting men. McKlusky was pounding on the front door of the company store. Two other men had gone around to the back to make sure the manager, Daniel Seldon, didn’t slip away, down the outside side stairs. The front windows had been boarded over the week before. The only light came from a window on the second floor.

“He ain’ going anywhere.” Birk muttered. “Too much stuff inside. He’d never step away from a profit.”

“Open up, Seldon. Man, we know you’re in there.” McKlusky shouted. “We don’t want to harm you. We know it ain’ your fault wha’s goin’ on but we have families to feed too you know.”

The window on the second floor opened. It was to the left of the front door. A woman’s head stuck out. “Dan’l t’ain’ here.”

It was his wife.

“He’s gone up to the big office. He was sent fer at supper time. He ain here.”

“Then let us in mussus.” McKlusky stepped back to call up to her. “We means no harm to you and yours.”

“I canna let you in. It’d be the end of me. He dinna want this to happen. But he’s got no choice He’s sorry he ever let his brother talk him inta runnin’ the cump store. Swore it was easy money. But it isn’t. It isn’t. We has to pay for everything same as you do. Even if it don’ get bought and goes bad we still has to pay for it.”

Birk had never heard Mrs. Seldon talk for so long.

“In that case we’ll have to ….” McKlusky reached along the edge of a piece of the wood that boarded up the windows and gave it a strong heave. It creaked and started to come loose.

The other men joined him and the boards were quickly all torn off. The windows behind were then shattered. Three men kicked in the door and they streamed into the shop.

Birk glanced at Clancy to see if they were going to join in the pillaging. Clancy grinned and muttered, “Well, guess we might as see what tea they got stashed there, eh? Or you enjoying that lilac leaf tea?”

“I don’t know. Don’t feel right to me.”

He looked up and saw Manny O’Dowell struggle out of store clutching packages of cigarettes.

“If the mick’s are doin’ it I guess we might as well too.” Birk said.

“Stop! Stop!” Mrs. Seldon was screaming as she rushed down the stairs into the store. She was pulling at the shoulders of the men to get them to stop. “Please stop.”

Some of the wives had joined the men in going through the shelves. One of them went to Mrs. Seldon and smacked her and shoved her to the front door.

“You had that comin’ for a long time.” she said to Mrs. Seldon. “Be quiet or we’ll tie you up and leave you.” 

“There’s more in the root cellar.” The woman turned to the crowd. “That door is over here.” Two of the women yanked the door open and one of them went down and began handing up sacks of potatoes.

Birk and Clancy pushed their way to the section of dry goods, beans, flour. Things Birk knew his mother could make use of. With their arms full they shouldered their way back outside. There was a flicker of flame near the rear of the store. The flicker quickly got larger.

Men where pushing and shoving each other out of the store.

“Watch my beans.” Clancy put his arm load of cans down and dashed back into the building. 

Flames spurted out of the roof. A baby was crying loudly. Dogs were barking. 

Clancy came stumbling out in a billow of smoke. He was clutching two jars of penny candy under one arm and a can of tobacco under the other.

“Something for yer sisters. Something for us.”

“You …” Birk had been fearful that Clancy wouldn’t get out of the fire. “You got a nerve Clancy Sinclair. True nerve.”

He saw a woman dash up the side stairs of the store that lead to the second floor and into the building. She appeared moment later holding something and trying to shelter it from the flames. Her skirt got caught on the door jam and she couldn’t get it loose.

Without thinking Birk bolted up the stairs, tore her skirts free and rushed her down the stairs. Sparks showered on them as the roof began to collapse into the building. He could smell his hair burning as it was singed in the heat. There was some applause as he got her safely into the crowd.

She thanked him repeatedly staring into his face. Even darkened by soot he knew it was the priest niece. She insisted on getting his name. He told her. When she was waving her uncle over he slipped away.

“Didn’t think you had that in you Birk.” Clancy brushed ashes off Birk’s face.

“Think I’d stand here and watch someone burn up?” 

They gathered the stuff they had taken.

The crowd stood silently and watched the flames destroy the company store. Mrs. Seldon stood to one side sobbing as she rocked her baby.

The fire was still going when they went back to Birk’s house. 

“Say nothing of what happened.” Birk said.

“You mean you playing the hero? It was a good thing.”

“I don’t care. There’ll be no end of it once Ma knows.”

In the kitchen they laid out what they had grabbed in their haste. Mrs. Nelson sorted through the various cans and stuff they had.

“I don’t know Birk Nelson. I didn’t bring you up to be … a… hooligan who’d take advantage of people in this manner.”
“But Mrs. N. what good would it have been to let this food go up in flames. Ashes don’t do anyone any good.”

“Wise words Clancy. Rest assured those ashes aren’t going to do any one any good when word gets back to the coal company what was done.”

“Yes Ma’am.” 

“Best wash off that soot before you go to bed. Yer almost as black as ya are after coming from the pits.” She smiled and rubbed Birk’s forehead.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License


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Chapter XXVIII – Birk Does Nothing

Coal Dusters

Chapter XXVIII

Birk Does Nothing

Even though they didn’t have their routine of work shifts to get to, Birk’s mother made sure he and Clancy were up at the usual time in the morning. The strike was entering its fourth week with no progress in negotiations.

“We goin’ ta have the best garden ever.” Birk wiped the sweated off his biceps.

He and Clancy were turning earth in the back garden. After the rain stopped in the first days of the strike Birk’s mother saw the soft wet earth as ripe for being worked proper. Potato eyes had been planted in a row along one side of the yard. Tomatoes were seeded in another row. 

Blackie had gotten cow dung from one of the farms and they were now working it into the soil between the potato rows. The potatoes had sprouted within days of being planted and Birk’s mother expected a good crop.

“Hope it grows fast. We’ll be eating soup made of boiled flour sacks soon.” Clancy said.

Over the past weeks they had, as had most of the miners, been looking after household repairs that had been let go of for some time. Even though the company owned the houses all maintenance was the responsibility of the miners. Miners who often had no time or energy after their shifts to do much more the eat and sleep.

Roofs were repaired, draughty windows stuffed with rags, broken glass replaced with thin wooden shingles, leaks plugged, eaves straighten, wells drug deeper or cleaned out, outhouses cleaned out. Things that could be done without spending money. The row of company houses Birk lived in were in the best condition than they had been in years. All they needed a coat of paint. Now idleness was setting in.

Birk and Clancy had been gone hunting with Jake twice and brought home some venison which was a welcome change from the rabbits that Birk trapped. But food necessities were dwindling in all the homes. Salt, sugar, molasses, flour and tea were slowly becoming scarce.

Birk’s mother made sure the Sal and Maddy were fed but even the portions for them were getting smaller. The girls went foraging with Birk for berries and dandelion greens. The greens were bitter to Birk but better than nothing.

One of the neighbour women showed them how to make a tea from the dandelion roots, how to dry certain wild flowers for tea, what mushrooms were safe to eat. The pickleweed from the saltwater marsh proved to a reasonable substitute for salt.

Birk and Clancy went to North Sydney to see if they could get part-time work on the fishing boats for a couple of days but there was no work for them there either. There were enough miners with actual sea experience who had taken what positions might be available. The fishermen were sympathetic but had be known to take matters into their own hands when any idle miners set out on their own to fish.

Clancy was able to get Mrs. Franklin to allow them to use the bath house once a week in return for keeping it clean and stocking the boiler room with wood and coal for the hot water. With the men not bringing in money she didn’t have many paying boarders left and was suffering financially because of that.

The young men showed up at the colliery for their daily strike shifts. To make sure management knew they were there, the miners would bring their fiddles to sing and dance to pass the time. Often with their children there as well to give their wives a break.

“Getting by on your dollar a week?” Jake Malone asked Birk.

The strike fund pay was a dollar a week for single men, a dollar and fifty cents for a married worker without children, those with children would get two dollars, regardless of how many children they had.

“Pays for milk but that’s about all.” Birk said. “How’s by you.”

“We’re stretchin’ it as best we can.” Jake replied. “Beth gets some from her folks. They have that farm out by Lake Ansley. Eggs this week. Yer welcome to a couple if you want.”

“We bagged some deer,” Clancy said. “Could swap you for what you may got to spare.”

“I’ll get Beth come over later. Good thing she’s not with … you know. This not a time to bring a child into this world.” He coughed and spat, toed the sputum. “Even m’spit is turning to water. Don’t look right without a heap o’ black in it.”

The church bells rang. 

“Time for us to knock off.” Birk said.

“See you at that meetin’ t’ night?” Jake asked. “About time the union had some news for us.”

Once again the union meeting was at St Agatha’s hall. There had been some informal ones at the Protestant church but the Catholics refused to come over to Mudside for union business.

“We’ll be there.” Clancy said. “Not much else to do these days.”

They headed back to Birk’s house.

“Doin’ nothing all day is making me want to … I don’t know … it’s like I’m hungry for something and don’t know what it is? Race you the back pasture.”

Birk knocked Clancy off his feet and started running over the uneven dirt lane that lead to the house. 

“You bastard. When I catch you …”

Clouds of dust rose from the dried out mud as Birk ran. The heavy thump of his boots on the roadway echoed off the houses. When he reached the side fence he stopped to see where Clancy was. He was no where to be seen.

“Ya give up that easily.” Birk grasped for air. 

Clancy darted out from the side of house, He dove head first into Birk and they tumbled though the gate into the garden.

“Get yer fat behinds outta my garden.” Birk’s mother burst out of the house with her wooden spoon held over her head.

“Sorry Ma.” Birk said pushing Clancy’s face into the dirt. He jumped up, leapt over the back fence and kept running through the field. He stopped at the oak tree and slumped against the base of it. He was tugging his boots off when he was showered by a handful of dirt.

“I guess you right Birk. We needs to get doing something besides nothing. But rolling in the dirt isn’t it.”

“I know. I know.”

“I could get used to this though.” Clancy tugged off his shirt and shook dirt out of it. “No coal dust and the life of leisure.” He rolled the shirt up and put it under his head as he laid on the ground beside Birk.

“Not me. I get this itch to do something. Used to feel so worn out from workin’ in the pit all day that I can’t wait to rest. Now I feel too rested.”

“We haven’t been fishin’ for awhiles now.” Clancy reminded him.

“True. Rocks don’t squeak loud as that bed o’ mine.” He caught Clancy’s eye briefly.

They had tried to rub on each other once but the bed rocked and squealed so loud they stopped before it woke anyone. 

“Don’t know how Geo managed that bed. Never made that much noise when he was on t’ other side o’ me.”

“One body movin’ isn’t the same as two.” Clancy said rolling over to his side to face Birk.

“Could be. So may be it’ll be fishin’ tomorrow. Depends on what Ma wants us to do.” His eyes met Clancy’s.

“I think we repaired every stick of future in your house already.” Clancy turned away.

“Except the bed.” Birk laughed.

“Hopes we catch another glimpse of that gal though. Nice of her to come by with bread for us at the gate there that once.”

“Could be she’ll be there t’night at the meetin’ ” Birk elbowed him.

“Could be.” Clancy grinned.

“That how you keeping your mind busy? Thinkin’ on her?” Birk shoved Clancy’s shoulder playfully with his foot.

“What of it.” Clancy grabbed Birk’s foot and pull him over on top of him. “She’d still smell a whole lot better than that foot of yours.”

They began to wrestle as they rolled over each other down the slope behind the tree. Each attempting to pin the other to the ground. Clancy stop resisting to let Birk sink on top of him.

“You giving up.” Birk asked.

“Nope. Just giving over. This ground don’t squeak. I feel you little fell’s ready ready.”

“So it yours.” Birk giggled.

“Stop horsing around you two. Ma’s be calling for you.”

Birk rolled off Clancy. It was Maddy.

“There’s some supper ready for you. Or would you rather play like kids in the muck?” She shook her finger at them. “You best wash up some before you come in the house.”

“Yes Ma.” Birk said. “I mean yes Maddy.”

He stood and helped Clancy stand. 

“You’ll need the broom to clean up properly though.” Maddy said as they followed her back to the house. “It’s either that or the spoon.”

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Coal Dusters: Chapter XXVII – Lillian’s Letter

Coal Dusters

Chapter XXVII

Lillian’s Letter

Since arrive in Cape Breton Lillian had received several letters from her Mother that kept her informed of family matters, of the parties she was going to and her brother’s upcoming nuptials in the fall. Letters that her Uncle had read first to make sure she wasn’t be contacted by suitors. This was wasn’t addressed to her but to her uncle.

“It’s my mother handwriting.” She eagerly opened the envelope then stopped. “It must be bad news. Otherwise you wouldn’t be giving it to me. Has my father died?” Tears came to her eyes.

“No. Someone even closer.”

In the envelope were two newspaper clippings. The first was an obituary for Lillian McTavish’s death.

“On the 20th day of June, 1925, the death angles visited Lillian McTavish when she succumbed to influenza while visiting her uncle, Father Patrick McTavish, at St. Agnes Parish in New Castleton, Cape Breton. She had gone there to join Father McTavish in his work the parish. Father McTavish found her to be always kind and good to each and everybody.”

Lillian looked up from the notice to wipe her eyes after skimming the family details. Then she continued to read.

“It was sad and hard for her loving family to give her up. But weep not loved ones for she cannot come to us, but we can go to her. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, and His will must be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

“This is not God’s will,” she burst out. She then read aloud from the obituary. “‘Her voice is hushed, her foots steps still, her chair is vacant the can never be filled!’ This is a fabrication.”

The other clipping was an announcement of a Boston memorial service, to be held at the Holy Cross Cathedral, as the body had been interred in Cape Breton.

“What? I don’t understand. I am not dead.” She was trying to make sense of this. She looked in the envelope there was no letter.

“You are to them.” Sister Claire said gently.

“Why? What I did wasn’t my fault! Was it so shaming that they would …” She covered her face with her hands and wept.

She heard Sister Claire pour a cup of tea.

“Here my child. Drink this.”

Lillian pushed the cup away from her. She knocked it out of  the Sister’s hands to the floor. She hoped it had broken. She wanted to jump up and go the china cupboard and break all those dishes. All those reminders of a life that now rejected her.

“This came as a great shock to your uncle as well. He thought, as I am sure you did, that your stay here would only be temporary. He does care for you but he admits that he isn’t prepared to take on the task of raising you.”

“Raising me.” Lillian stood. “I am a woman! Not a child. I’m twenty-three years old.” She paced the room. “I will not go into your convent Sister Claire, or any other. I do not have that calling. My family may be willing to sacrifice me for their sense of propriety but I am not ready to make any further sacrifices of my own.”

“Be that as it may, Father McTavish wishes you elsewhere.”

“And he has brought you here to do what he didn’t have the courage to do! If this were God’s will my uncle would have no reluctance though, would he? He knows this is wrong.”

Sister Claire picked up the cup and saucer and poured Lillian another cup of tea.

“Sit, Lillian. Sit. He wanted you know there were clear alternatives.”

“The clear alternative is that we contact my father to tell him that I am alive!”

“Father McTavish has tried to do so but your family has refused any contact from him.”

Lillian sat and drank her tea.

“I’m not surprised you are upset, that you would feel this strongly. Perhaps once you have had time to consider what has happened you will be more prepared to accept the conditions of your circumstance. Many girls welcome the opportunity to find a new life in Christ.”

Lillian’s mind raced with revenge. Her family would pay for this. Her uncle would suffer as well. The thought of returning to her Boston life was the only thing that made what she had been going through in this house bearable. Now that return was impossible. What would her family do if she showed up at their door? 

“You have no other friends or family here?”

“No, Sister Claire. Miss O’Dowell did offer me a place in her home but that is not a solution.”

“No marriageable men amongst the congregation?”

“Marriage! To a miner?” At one time she had anticipated marrying a man of considerable means, of wealth. “Me, in one of those squalid little company houses stinking of cabbage and turnips. Barking dogs and unwashed children underfoot. A crying baby and a drunken husband stumbling home reeking of sweat and mud.”

“I see your uncle is right one account. You haven’t learned enough humility. There comes a point in life where we must learn to adjust ourselves to things as they are Lily, and not let things as we wish them to be get in the way.”

“Yes Sister.”

“Not all the men are miners either. Perhaps if you had socializes outside of Castleton you might seen brighter prospects.”

“Socialize!” Lillian laughed derisively. “I have been a veritable prisoner in this house. My uncle has seen to that. Opening my mail, restricting what I am allowed to wear, accusing me of … deliberate allure when any man acknowledges my presence in the room.”

“It is understandable, considering your past actions.” 

“Sister Claire as far as I can tell there are no men here capable of the sort of … No, this is pointless. I was sent here, as you apparently know, to be kept out of the sight of eligible men. Not to enter into the social whirl of Cape Breton.” Lillian took a deep breath. “If I agree to go into the convent how soon would that happen?”

“We could find a place for you by the first of next week.”

That was sooner than Lillian had anticipated.

“Could I have time to make a prayerful decision. I don’t want to be forced into some rashly that all may regret later.”

“How long?” Sister Claire picked at clumps of mud on the hem of her skirts.

As long as my uncle will abide Lillian thought. “I’m not sure. With the miners on strike I feel I should remain here at St. Agnes. I’d rather Father Patrick didn’t have to cope with keeping up the house and attending to his parishioners in this time of difficulty. I have been gathering and distributing food stuff for them.”

“You may not be aware Lily, you are heeding some calling. You are more … maternally caring than even you think. I’ll speak with Father Patrick. If  I assure him that you are seriously considering joining us he will be satisfied. It would be more suitable for our purposes if you joined in the fall which is when two of the sisters will be leaving to work for the Catholic Missionaries in Africa. Their departure would make the way for you more natural. I would not have to male a place for you.”

“Thank you Sister Claire.” That should give her enough time to find a husband. If she was going to a bride it wouldn’t be of Christ.

“I will go and inform Father Patrick of the good news.”

“Thank you, Sister Claire. But before you go, will you pray with me.” Lillian took out her rosary. She knew this would convince the Mother Superior of a sincerity she did not feel.

“I’d be honoured Lily.” 

The two women knelt holding their rosaries and facing the crucifix. Sister Claire started and Lillian joined:

“Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Sister Claire added “Christ thank you for bringing your lost lamb closer to the fold of your everlasting arms. Amen”

When Sister Claire left Lillian cleared the parlour and washed the dishes. In the heat of summer Father Patric only wanted a simple cool evening meal. It usually consisted lightly buttered sandwiches with cold meat and whatever greens were available.

She set the table in the dining room then went to her room. Staring out her window that overlooked the garden she leaned against the frame to still her trembling. So this is why her father had been so eager to get her out of Boston. Out of sight of anyone who knew her. How many of her family knew that his was his plan? Were they all complicit in it? 

No, she couldn’t see her mother knowing the truth. It had to be her father’s plan to rid himself of his troublesome child. He had never understood why women wanted to vote, wanted to work, wanted to be free of the domineering hand of superior men. 

On her desk was a letter she had been writing to her brother. She took his last note to her from the desk. The date was the same as her memorial service yet there was no mention of it in his letter which was concerned with preparations for his nuptials and how his bride, Margaret, was looking forward to having Lillian at the wedding as her maid of honour. This was a letter from someone who thought his sister was alive. 

She checked the envelope Sister Claire had given her for a letter or a note, there was none, then she examined the newspaper clippings carefully. They were, as far as she could tell, actual newspaper clippings. There was no way her uncle could have something of this nature forged so well. There were portions of advertisements on the backs of each clipping. One for silk blouses. For a moment she thought of asking her brother if he could send her some silk blouses. She shook her head to bring herself back to reality.

She began to add to the letter she had started but words didn’t come to her. She wanted to know how they could do this to her. Why was he pretending things were going on as normal? Could her father not have told anyone in the family? Would he father merely intercept any letters from Canada?

No, the next time she wrote them it would be to invite them to her wedding. First she needed a husband. Someone who would be an affront. Mr. O’Dowell was merely a dullard and he would fit too well in with her family. 

The hairy imp! Yes! Who could be better for her purposes. A mixed marriage would be sure to offend not only her uncle but the entire congregation that did nothing when they saw how her uncle had mistreated her. 

He was man she knew she would have no problem controlling. The marriage wouldn’t have to last for that long. Just long enough for a Boston honeymoon. Show him off to all her friends and family and vanish. He was so unintelligent he’d probably not feel anything once she left him anyway. All she had to was find a way into his life. What was his name? B … Brian, Bradly something.

She had spoken with him and his friend a few times when they were on strike duty at the colliery entrance. Next time she would be sure to get his name. Find out where he lived in Mudtown. She’d prove that even if her family deemed her dead she wasn’t going to be that easy to bury.

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October 2018 Sneak Peek

Before I look forward here’s some stats for September. My Twitter following is up to 209 – not all of whom are book cover designers or internet marketing specialists. Tumblr is up to 208 – it would be higher but I block the frequent hetero porn sights that follow me – oddly I don’t get that sort of queer porn spam. I’ve been posting daily photo set at Tumblr for the last several weeks & will probably keep it up to the end of October.
I’ve been on WordPress for 7 years now & have built up to 273 followers, after 1425 posts. Chances are good I’ll hit 280 by the end of the year. I hope to wake up one morning to find one of my posts has gone viral.

Coal Dusters is moving along nicely. I’ve been taking my time to edit each new chapter & have been expanding them with more period detail & in one case a more colourful physical description, even creating whole new scenes to add to atmosphere. I’ve blogged approx 48,000 words so far with at least another 67,000 to go.

Coming up in October on the blog Tuesday & Wednesday will be devoted to scary poems. Tuesdays will fresh blood, while Wednesday I’ll discuss last October’s fresh blood poems. Friday I’ll post about my favorite horror writers & how they inspired me. Mondays will remain music, Tuesday Coal Dusters continues.

I’ll be going to Toronto Gratitude’s 40th Anniversary October 5/6/7. I haven’t been to the round up for a couple of years now but considering that I was at the very first one it’s fitting I make an appearance. I’ll be staying at downtown hotel so I can enjoy the event without the stress of transit. I’ll also be taking in my last Stratford show of the season later in the month: Paradise Lost. 

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet 

Chapter XXVI – Lillian Gets A Letter

Coal Dusters 

Chapter XXVI 

Lillian Gets A Letter

Lillian paced in the dining room as her uncle talked in the parlour with the Mother Superior of St. Margaret’s Convent in Sydney. Her bruise was still visible but not longer as vivid. She was dismayed to see how quickly it faded away but she resisted the temptation to pinch it in an attempt to make it last longer. She was grateful that she had not been confined to the rectory as she first feared. With the miner’s on strike her uncle had more pressing matters to attend to but made it clear she would be sent to the Convent as soon as it could be arranged.

As she paced she plotted. If he thought she would go into some cloistered life willingly he was mistaken. She would see to it that he regretted any further action to punish her in any way. She had hoped the sight of the bruise would result in his parishioners losing respect for him but other than being mildly surprised at it, they were mostly indifferent. No one had asked how it happened. 

The women had been more sympathetic but even they were not shocked. It was acceptable to them that a man would raise his hand to a woman if her behaviour called for it. Even if than man was a man of God. Even if her behaviour didn’t call for it.

“Lillian if you would care to join us?” her uncle said softly as he opened the door of the parlour.

She stepped resolutely into the room. The first thing that hit her was the smell. It was of something unwashed but wet at the same time. It made her think of dogs coming into her house in Boston after the rain. She had to restrain herself from sniffing. She kept he face as placid as possible.

The Mother Superior was larger than she expected. She was nearly as tall as her uncle but with a more ample figure. Clearly the nuns ate well. Lillian had the impression that nuns were small, thin women in big black cloaks.

“It’s my great pleasure to introduce you to Sister Claire. Sister Claire my niece Lillian McTavish.”

Sister Claire stood and took Lillian by the hand. Lillian shook the sister’s hand. The nun’s hand was as rough as hers. Nuns didn’t have soft dainty hands after all. The Mother’s nails were uneven, some broken along the edge. Her knuckles red, rough and the back of one was mottled purple.

“Happy to make your acquaintance, Lillian. The lilies of our community do both grow and toil. We spin not, mind you, but we make easy the lives of those around us. It is propitious that we finally have a Lillian join the lilies.”

The Mother gave a small laugh and pushed her wimple back. The dark habit framed her oval face. Her eyes were a clear blue nestled in creases. Lillian was used to wrinkles but these marks were deeper. The right eyelid was lower than the left.

“Thank you … Sister. Mother Superior?” As an adult Lillian had never been introduced to a nun before. 

“Sister will do nicely if I can call you Lily?”

“Yes. Sister.” She hadn’t been called Lily since she was a child. Insisting on having her full name used had been one of the first things she was adamant about when she turned sixteen.

“Your uncle has been telling me that adapting to life here has been difficult for you.”

“At first.” Lillian stepped back. Her hands, now hidden under her apron, were restlessly squeezing each other. Would her hands look like the Mother Superior’s in a couple of years. 

“Did you find it that easy, Father Patrick? When you first arrived at St. Agatha’s parish?”

“I was quick to adapt, Sister, but … well … after the seminary it was a bit … of a challenge to be amongst ordinary folks again.”

“It is so much easier for a man to adapt isn’t it Father. Particularly one who feels, as you have demonstrated, that it is a natural part of his calling. A sacred vocation.”

“Yes, but Sister Claire, we’re here to discuss Lillian’s future prospects.”

“I know that but I wanted to make it clear that we are all aware of the challenges any new life will present.” She smiled. “What is easy for one may not be as simple for another. Now I wish to speak with Lillian.”

“Of course.” Father Patrick sat in his usual chair.

“Alone.”

“Ah …” He stood.

Lillian looked from Sister Claire to her uncle. She was amused at his discomfort. She had seen no one disconcert him this way since she arrived.

“Surely, you, of all men, must understand there are some things that require privacy.”

“Yes … uh … I do have matters to deal with at the church office. If you’ll excuse me.” He shook hands with the Mother Superior and left the room.

Sister Claire went to the window and waved to Father Patrick as he went down the front path.

“I had to make sure he was actually going.” She said. “before we spoke. I’ve learned never to trust a man.” She tittered and sat heavily in the chair the father had vacated.

Lillian was once again struck by the smell as the Mother’s habit unfolded around her. The hem of the tunic was dusty and frayed. The sleeve cuffs had been mended and there were square patches of a nearly matching serge on the elbows.

“I see you looking at my habit.” The Mother Superior said. “I know it has seen better days but those days have so full of grace I have found it hard to … replace it with a newer one. As you see I wear the double veil that represents my consecration to God.”

“Yes, I know. We had visiting sisters come to our school to explain some of these things.” Lillian served tea.

“Please sit Lily. There is no reason to be uncomfortable with me. I do have your best interests at heart.”

“Yes, Sister.” She sat in one of the side chairs. 

“Father Patrick is most concerned about your position in life.” Sh reached over to take Lillian by the hand.

“I know that but …”

“Hear me then I’ll listen to your ‘buts.’ He wants to protect you from the temptations of the world that are around us all. You may feel this is unreasonable on his part but your past indiscretions make it clear you are not a girl who can be trusted to make the wisest decisions on her own behalf.”

“So he has told you about Mr. Dunham?” Lillian stood.

“Yes, but that is not most concerns him. It is the attentions of Mr. O’Dowell that causes him the most concern.”

“But …”

“I told you no ‘buts.’ I have also spoken with Anthea O’Dowell and am fully aware that you have not sought such attentions. It has always been unfair to me that the pretty are blamed for how others respond to their prettiness. Yes, it is clear that often men are the victims of their own longings and hungers and it is up to us women to protect them from acting in unwholesome carnal ways. Their longings can be even more crippling than the chains that bound Christ.”

“How can we control hungers that we have not caused? Women have to live in this world with these men.” Lillian sat.

“Not necessarily so Lily. Which is why your uncle has asked me to speak with you today. He is concerned with your very soul. If you are incapable or unwilling to armour yourself then action must be taken.”

“Is that why you are in the convent Sister. To hide yourself from the eyes of men.” Lillian asked.

“We are the Brides of Christ. Some, to be sure, have hidden themselves with us, but most of our order does not hide. We have decided to surrender our human desires to confirm our dedication to spiritual fulfillment. We seek our protection from Christ so that we may work among His children. Although we are female, men stop seeing us as such but come to recognize us as emissaries of grace. Our very garment signifies taking on a new life in Christ.”

The idea of being protected from the unsavoury, and unwelcome, attentions of men appealed to Lillian. “I understand that it would be a blessing not to have to worry about pleasing mean or living one’s life at their beck and call. But if the price is to remove myself from the world around me I don’t know if I am strong.”

“What is it you have missed most of your life in Boston since coming here?”

“My family.” Lillian didn’t hesitate. “Being able to see my mother or father when I wanted to. To be able to come and go from my house as I pleased. To listen to my brother talking about his business affairs.”

“But those are sacrifices all women must make as we get older. If you married you would have to leave your family home, right?”

“Yes.”

“Is there anything you don’t miss.”

Lillian sipped her tea and thought for a minute. “Yes! Here I no longer have to concern myself so much with how I look. There is no need to prepare my hair in the morning to do my chores, to face my uncle. I don’t have to select the right dress to wear. Those were things I once enjoyed, looked forward to, but now that I don’t, my life is much easier.”

“Then perhaps you have already heeded part of your calling?” Sister Claire said.

“Calling?”

“To be a sister is a calling, an avocation. It is to be free of …. adornment. Father Patrick didn’t become a priest on a whim. He knew he was making certain sacrifices to serve Our Lord. Sacrifices he gladly made.”

“I understand that. Being here isn’t a sacrifice I wanted to make. How would he have reacted if the priesthood had been forced upon him?”

“What is that you want Lily? What do you see in your future?”

“I expect to return to Boston, of course. To return to my family. Their intent in sending me was to spare my father any embarrassment in his political career.”

“How long do think he expects to be spared?” She took an envelope out from a fold in her habit.

“I … I had hoped to be home before Christmas. For my bother’s wedding.”

“Father Patrick had two reasons he wanted me to talk with you. One was to get a sense of your willingness to consider our vocation. The other was this …” she handed Lillian the envelope.

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Chapter XXV – Birk In The Mud

Coal Dusters 

Chapter XXV

Birk In The Mud

Birk and Clancy went into the back garden and Clancy sat on the bench, Birk sprawled on the ground leaning against it. He took off his work boots and socks.

“You see how she looked?” Clancy asked. “That weren’t no bump on anything.”

“Yep.” Birk knew Clancy meant Lillian. He had watched her on and off all night to see if there was some indication of who had struck her. “At the end there. When she come up into the light in front of all of us.”

“Oh yeah that look o’hers at the good man of the cloth, that uncle o’ her’s. I figure everyone there saw that and knew who she got beat by.”

Clancy began to push his boots off. Birk yanked them off for him and then his socks.

“Blue Lake smell still on’ em.” he laughed.

“It was good day fishin’?” Clancy said.

“Yeh. You pleased with what we caught?”

“I’m pretty happy with it, if you are?”

“Yeh. It’ll be a week or so ‘fore we can go up there again to there.” 

“Figured.” Clancy ruffling Birk’s hair. “It’s been a long day though. More tired now than when I raked behind you all day.”

“What’s that?” Birk stood. “Sounds like singin’.” He began to pull his boots and socks back on.

“Coming from the docks?” Clancy pulled his socks and boots back on. “Could it be those micks drunk and singing to the Holy Ghost?”

They walked to the lane that lead to the colliery and followed the singing to the dock. A group of the miners we’re sitting around a bonfire on the dirt road that lead to the pier.

“Join us lads?” Jim McKlusky came over to them with a bottle in his hand. “Someone has liberated some of the good father’s wine.”

Birk recognized some of the miners from the other collieries. They had just started a ragged verse of Rule Britannia with some of miners supplying their own words:

“Rule BritCan Co BritCan Co rules the coal

Miners ever ever ever shall be slaves

The miners not so blest with greed

Must take their turn in Hell

While you eat great meals for free

On the blood and sweat of all miners”

On the chorus all the miners joined in, adding their own bits to it. ‘Rule rule rule but never feed,’ ‘To Hell Hell Hell with their command.’ 

Different bottles made the rounds. Some with mild wine and others with potent home brews that sung Birk’s eyes and one that he spat out as fast as he could.

The miner with a squeeze box started in on Mademoiselle from Armenteires who you couldn’t kiss unless you’ve had forty beers. As they went through the verses and choruses locations changed, what the mademoiselle would do became more dirty and her body parts more detailed.

“You blushing?” Clancy grabbed Birk in a headlock and rubbed his hair. “Too much for your innocent ears?”

“Get off me!” Birk pushed him away and sent him reeling into a couple of miners swinging each other round in a step dance. This sent the dancers sprawling on the ground to great whoops and applause from the others. The shift signal whistle silenced them all.

“Well men,” the miner with his fiddle stopped. “Looks like its time to face the real music.”

 Birk helped Clancy up and dusted him off. 

Birk’s mother was sitting in her armchair by the stove when they went in. She took a deep breath as they splashed water on their faces at the sink.

“Someone’s been playing in the mud have they.” She said. “Mud and homemade by the stink.”

“I’m sorry Ma.” Birk couldn’t look her in the eyes.

“At’s okay son, your about a man now and it’s time you started to learn about some of those men things.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him Mrs. N.” Clancy said.

“So what’s the word on the strike boys?”

“Strike Mrs. N.” 

“Pa’s gone to check the boilers. He’ll be back soon.” Birk leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.

Is was raining heavily in the morning. Birk couldn’t see past the back fence. The lane in front of the house was muddy.

“Better wait till we get to the main lane before you put yer boots and socks on Clancy. Yer about to find out why this is called Mudtown.” Birk said as they were getting ready to set out. “After a heavy rain last year Billy McLean lost a kid. Wanted to cross over to play with cousins across the way there. Got caught in the mud and couldn’t get out and got pulled under somehow.”
“Yer joking.”

“Not a bit of it. No matter how much of the slag gets dumped on the road it sinks to somewhere when the rains fall.”

The rain slickers they wore kept them dry but all the laneways had all become rivers of mud. Thick, cold mud. They sank up to their knees at some points as they struggled to the colliery gates. Even the main lane was pitted with bogs of mud.

There were several other miners there when they arrived. A couple of them had trimmed some thick branches they intended to use as weapons if need be.

“Ya think the company will try anything?”

“Maybbe not.” one of them said “But best be prepared. If we show them we mean business right off we already have the upper hand.”

The rain didn’t let up. At different times during the day other miners would show up, some would go home. The union rep visited with them for an hour or so bringing hot tea with him. Then Reverend Brown came by with a roast chicken for them to share.

The men were too cold and wet to joke amongst themselves or talk for long. They stood on either side of the gate glaring into the rain, looking into the mine yard to see who they might see. 

Two of the managers showed up. The miners crowded around the gate to impede them from going in but didn’t do anything to directly hold them back either.

“It’s all fer show these first couple of days.” Jake told them. 

It pointless to Birk. He’d rather have been going underground to work than wallow around in this cold wet muck. Although he knew that the unions helped make sure that the men had some benefits from their jobs – the wash-up rooms, a doctor, that sort of thing; he didn’t feel they did much for him in the long run. They got his dues right off his pay every week but never saw them active in the lives of the miners.

At least Father Pat or Reverend Brown came into their homes when they were sick or hurt, but they only saw the union rep when there was need for more money for the union.

The rep hadn’t even told them what the strike fund was going to do for them. They’d been paying something into for the last three years since the last strike. Was there going to be enough between him and Clancy to keep food on the table? Blackie would still get his full pay to tend the boilers but the most of that would go for the house and that wouldn’t leave enough for their needs.

Maybe they’d have to go fishing sooner than they planned. That idea pleased him. He hadn’t dwelt on what he and Clancy did sliding on each other. Now the memory made him happy.

“You got something to smile about?” one of the men asked him.

“Yeh getting home and into dry clothes.” He said.

“Sure it isn’t that priest’s gal.” Clancy asked.

“Not a bit.” He hoped they wouldn’t see his cheeks burning as they questioned him.

“Sure wish she’d come by with that tea trolly now.”

“She’s need a dory to get through to us here ya know.” Birk said.

“Maybbe she can walk on mud as Jesus did on the water.” One of them said.

“Time you two went home.” Jim McKlusky appeared out of the rain. “Before yer house gets washed away.”

“Right, Thanks Jim. See ya in the morning.” Clancy said.

“If we find a place to dock the house, that is.” Birk said.

They set off to the house and stopped at the rise at the top of the laneway, leaned against the fence, pulled off their boots and socks and slogged down the lane.

“You think much about what we did t’other day up at the lake?” Clancy asked. 

“When we was fishin’ ya mean?”

“Yeh then.”

“Not as if I forgot it b’y but there’s a lot goin’ on too. Why?”

“Just wondering. I didn’t mind it.”

“Me neither.” Birk shook rain off his shoulders.

“Ya think that Lillian might …”

“Get those evil thoughts outta yer head Clancy.”

“Only thing keeps me warm in this rain.” Clancy wiped the rain off his face.

“I’d warm the arse of whoever done that hurt to her.”

“Me too, but if’n I found out who did harm her and I did him a harm, she might be very grateful.”

“How many time’s do we have tell ya she’s not going look twice at some orange arse.”

“I’d convert.” Clancy laughed.

“No doubt you would. What would yer ma think though?”

“She wouldn’t care. She was a mick herself, you see. When she married me paw her family turned their back on her. When m’pa died they wouldn’t forgive her till she went to confession and the priest said she was penitent. She only did that so we’d have a place to live.”

“So you think this one would be different, eh? Not as if she’s your regular mick either. The priest’s niece. She’s almost a nun.”

“Never thought of her that way.” Clancy laughed tipping water out of his boots.

Clancy lost his footing the the muck and staggered into Birk and they both fell into one of the deeper ruts. Birk’s work boots went flying.

“So much for trying to spare them.” 

Clancy crawled over the mud and got the boots then pushed himself to his feet. He turned to help Birk up.

“What a pair we make!” Birk laughed. “Can’t even walk home in the rain.”

“Yeh. All we are is a couple of dirty, filthy Mudtown mine rats.”

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Chapter XXIII: Lillian Serves Tea to the Union

Coal Dusters

Chapter XXIII

Lillian Serves Tea to the Union

After their meal she cleared the table. Washing up in the kitchen she could heard the church bells ring to call the men to the union meeting. The tea urn took three kettles of water boiled on the stove to fill it fully. 

Between each kettle Lillian attended to her cosmetic mask. Yes, this will be ideal. She had applied more power and rouge than she had ever before. The effect was clearly artificial. 

“Father Pat,” she called out. “The urn is ready for the meeting.”

“I’ll have a couple of the men bring the trolly over to the hall. You can follow with the biscuits. I mean the bread.” He said from the other room.

When the men arrived she pretended to be working at the sink so they wouldn’t see her face. As they were leaving she said. “Could you ask Father Pat to step in a moment.”

“Yes Miss McTavish.”

A few minutes later he came into the kitchen. “You wanted to see me Lillian.”

She turned around for the lantern to catch her face in full light. Her uncle gave a small gasp.

“Lillian. What have you done. You look …”

She knew that she looked similar to those low class women who sold themselves to men. She fumed at the way he acted as if covering her bruise was an act of contrition on her part.

“I … I  did the best I could Father Patrick. It’s been sometime since I’ve used my cosmetics. I wanted to be sure the mark was fully covered.”
“It is but … Well, it’s too late now.” He took the plate of bread she had cut. “Perhaps no one will notice. There are more important things at hand to occupy their thoughts.”

“I’ll be right there. I forgot the sugar for the tea.”

“Very well.” He left the kitchen.

She grabbed a damp cloth she had set aside for this moment and with a few sure movements wiped all the rouge off her face. Too much rouge on her face would reflect on her character but the bare face with its bruise would reflect on the character of the person who had caused the bruise. Even if no one the room knew who was responsible they would know someone was.

She slipped quietly into the meeting hall. On the wall behind the dais were portraits of King George V and Queen Mary, with a portrait of Pope Pius XI on side of of them; and a portrait of prime minister Mackenzie King on the other. Between the various portraits hung the Red Ensign and the flag of Nova Scotia. Over them was a crucifix. The union banner had been hastily draped along one side of the room. 

The tea service area was in the a corner to the left of the low stage. She cautiously nudged the trolly into a better light. As the men came for a cup she turned her face casually to make sure her face was visible. She could see their eyes dart from the bruise to her eyes then away as if shamed by seeing it.

William Gregory went to the dais and rapped on it with a gavel.

“I’d like to thank Father McTavish for allowing the use of Saint Agatha’s Hall for our meeting.” He motioned for the priest to come on stage.

“We will start this meeting with The Lord’s Prayer.” Father Patrick motioned for the men to rise.

The men all stood and recited the prayer. Without prompting someone began to sing ‘O Canada’ and all the miners put their hand over their hearts and joined in the anthem. Gregory rapped the dais with the gravel and all the men sat.

Once the meeting started and she sat. This was her opportunity to look over the men who were there. The various representatives of union, management and government were seated in the first row.

On stage, William Gregory the union representative, puffed on a cigar as he set out the conditions of the contract they had presented to the management board of the mine. The demands were merely to keep the tonnage rate as it was with a five percent per year increase over the next two years. 

She half-listened to the the various representatives. Alf Landon, the local Member of the Legislative Assembly was there; Mr. O’Dowell applauded loudly when the MLA stood to address the men. She almost laughed out loud as his white shirt cuffs kept popping out from under his suit jacket. The man’s family may own clothing stores but he certainly didn’t know how to dress. 

Running his thumbs under his suspenders, Landon explained the provincial government’s position of having to be supportive of management decisions yet would not stand in the way of any fair and legal labour action the unions chose to take. Alf stressed with word fair, intimating that the unions were on shaky grounds.

Some of the men stood to describe the unfair and dangerous conditions in the mines. There were representatives of the workers from the many mines in on the Island. It became clear to her that conditions were much the same in all of the mines.

One of the men she’d spoken with the other morning stood to say something. 

“I’m Birk Nelson, many o’ you know me. M’ father is Blackie Nelson. One thing some of us men want to know is why the mic … I’m mean the Catholic’s get favoured treatment in the Colliery?”

There was an immediate grumbling from the sides of the room closest to her. She could tell that the room was pretty much divided down the middle with parishioners she recognized on one side and the ones she didn’t on the other. They must be the Protestants.

She kept her eyes on Birk. What was it about him that fascinated her? It was something in his face, the blackness of his hair contrasted with the white of his shirt. It dawned on her that he resembled those engravings of the Devil she had in one of her childhood books of Bible stories.

“Gentlemen, please.” her Uncle stepped to the front of the stage. “Let us not get distracted from why we are here. This strike, if it happens, will effect all families regardless of their faiths.”

“He’s right,” someone said loudly. “But we can’t hide from them what damage this will cause our families. We will show them our true faces for once.”

“Yes.” Father Pat said. “The Lord hath no greater joy than to hear that his children are walking in the truth.”

“We need a united front,” William Gregory the union rep said. “Let’s not forget that. But Father I have to remind you that there is no ‘if.’ The strike has been called for and it will go ahead at midnight tonight. Not only here in Castleton Mines but in Sydney Mines, Inverness, Dominion, Glace Bay. All the collieries will be closed down and will remain so till the management concedes to our demands.”

The men to shouted their support.

“What about the engineers?” a man stood and asked. “Someone has to keep the boilers going properly. You know what happened in Caledonia when they were left unattended. They blew sky high.”

“That hasn’t been decided yet.” William Gregory said.

“It sure has.” another man stood up.

“It’s Blackie Nelson.” Several people muttered.

“I won’t desert them even if I’m the only one there. I built those babies with these hands and I won’t be derelict in my duties. My duty is to them. Not to no company or no union.’

There was scattering of applause and some boos to this.

“So you’ve decided to strike.” another man stood. “You men all know me, Daniel Seldon. I run the company store. As much as I agree with you, you know if you men don’t work there’ll be no more credit for you.”

“T’ isn’t fair.” someone shouted.

“Them’s the company rules. You all know that.” he replied. “I don’t make them but I’m obliged to follow them.”

“So we see where you stand, Seldon.” The union representative said. “The rest of you be prepared to man the picket lines starting at midnight.”

The room was silent for a few moments.

“We’ve come to the end of the meeting.” Father Pat said. “Let’s close the meeting as we opened it, with The Lord’s Prayer. Our Father …”

The men joined him. Before the Amen he added. “Father please guide these men as they embark on challenges so that they never forget they are on the path to reunion with you. Amen.”

“Thank you Father Patric.” Mr. Landon shook the priest’s hand. “And we all wish to thank your niece as well.”

Lillian pulled back into the dark corner behind her serving area.

The men stamped and whistled their approval. Mr. O’Dowell stepped past the tea trolly to bring her on stage. She held her hands over her face as if shy of the attention. Then dropped them so those who hand’t seen her bruised face fully now got to see it in the light.

She caught her uncle’s eyes then went back to her station behind the tea trolly. His expression made it worth while.

She was putting the used spoons into a washbasin when a hand roughly grabber shoulder and turned her around.

“Don’t let me ever catch you taking to my missus.” A drunk miner glared at her. “Or I’ll give sommat worse than that.”

Lillian couldn’t get out of his grip.

“Missus?” she asked.

“Jen tol me what you been tellin’ her?’ the man shoved her away.

“You mean Mrs. Hollerhan?” Lillian braced herself while looking to see which of the men were still in the hall.

“That’s right.” He moved toward her.

She grabbed the basin with water she’d been using to give the cups a quick rinse and threw it his face.

“You bitch.” He slipped on the dish water and fell hard on his back.

“What do you think you are doing?” Alf Landon grabbed the man’s arm and pulled him up. “Oh it’s you Davy Hollerhan. Mike, Robbie” he called to two men at the far end of the hall taking down the flags. They came over.

“Take Davy home. He’s seem to have had a few too many.”

“No such thing as too many.” Davy lurched at one of the me.”

“Right you are Davy. Come on we’ll have a few outside.” Robbie put his arm over Davy’s shoulder and lead him out. Alf followed them.

As the men departed her Uncle came over to her.
“What is the meaning of this Lillian.” 

“One of your drunken parishioners wanted to finish what you had started.” she mopped up the spilled water. 

It is your own doing then. You lead me to believe you would hide this. How could you do this to me?”

She wrung the rag out and poured a cup of tea to empty the urn.

“The Lord hath no greater joy than to hear that his children are walking in the truth.” she smiled and handed him the cup of tea. “This is my truth.”

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Transcendence 

Transcendence 

one rainy afternoon I was struck

with an inexplicable fever 

of home sickness

I Googled my village

thousands of possibilities 

were there is less than five seconds

I glanced down the list 

to my surprise they were all linked 

to the same site

hoaxxbusters.org

 

I looked at the next page of possibilities

they were all linked to the same site

there was nothing from our local tourist board

the cathedral reconstruction foundation

nothing that originated from my village

so I clicked on the hoaxxbusters link

to my surprise

there was post after post

exposing my village as a hoax

 

it was a place that didn’t exist

I went to Google Maps and sure enough

my village didn’t come up 

on any satellite photos

try as I might for that county

it wasn’t there

 

I typed the word moose into wikipedia

and all that appeared was a single sentence

‘a nonsense syllable meaning nothing’

my heart was racing 

as I checked other information

to see what I might be able to find

and came up with nothing real

it was all fabrication

 

not that I believed those tales 

of how the moose came from the moon

but I certainly believed that moose existed

yet according all reliable sources they were a myth

started by one Mikke Nordstrom 

some 300 years ago

when he came to this continent

even his appearance was in doubt

he was legendary figure not a  real person

 

everything I had come to accept 

as quaint truths about my past

my village 

was washed away by a few clicks of a mouse

I sat dumbfounded in front of my monitor 

wondering what to do

 

I typed in my own name into 411.ca 

to see if I was actually living here in the big city

and was questioned for more details

was the name spelt correctly 

even the street my condo was on couldn’t be found

my employer didn’t exist

 

when I went to the firm’s web page 

that site couldn’t be found

a connection couldn’t be established

with the grand academy 

where I was taking creative writing

I called my sister

and got a pre-recorded message

that the area code didn’t exist

 

my feet were rapidly disappearing

and I was just a stifled gasp

from my cubical

that was empty

when the coffee guy came by 

to see who ordered a no foam latte

Some of this was sparked by a friend of mine who did what my hero does. She used Google maps & then street view to go back home. She found the school, which apparently, had changed over the decades, found her old house, she even took a street view walk to school, except she couldn’t take the short-cut through the laneway – it was gone. She said it was better than physically going there & cheaper.

When I’ve visited, Sydney, where I grew up, I have taken those walks that I used to take to the various schools I went to. But Sydney is still there, as is the high-school I went to.

I’ve also had that search engine experience of typing in something & getting millions of possibilities & giving after three pages of them when what I was searching for exactly wasn’t really there. It seems every word in the English language is part of some porn site 😦 

The piece takes, I hope, an unexpected science-fiction/horror turn. I’ve seen/read stories about people driving in a fog & finding a town not on the map so pushed that to the town that vanished. I know some places have become so unpopulated they are no longer large enough to be considered villages. I’ve seen towns for sale. Here I have the town that never was or perhaps it was just a figment of someone’s over-heated imagination. hoaxxbusters.org is a fabrication, though the link will lead you somewhere fun (& non-pornographic). 

So in the end my hero transcends. Reluctantly this brings an end not only my hero but also to the Village Stories series. Editing, rewriting & even creating some new stories has been fun & productive. Next step is to gather them all together, with my discussion of them, into some sort of eBook. My attempts at real ‘publishing’ them have been futile mainly because they were too whimsical & hence aren’t literary enough for the real poetry world.

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