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Coal Dusters – Chapter LVI
The unusually mild fall day warmed Birk and Clancy as walked along the lane that passed behind St. Agatha’s manse. Leaves had changed and were starting to gather on the laneway.
“Sad about her.” Birk stopped to look at the garden.
“Yep. Strange how things happen. Who would have thought what her future was going to bring her.”
“She was pretty one.” Birk said.
“Guess that isn’t enough to make a happy life. Good thing that isn’t your problem.” Clancy started back up the lane.
“What you saying?” Birk gave him a playful shove.
“Birk, let’s face it no one is ever going to call you pretty or even handsome.”
“Goes for you too.” He took off running keeping a grip on the fishing poles.
Clancy followed suit.
Birk ran a few hundred feet then stopped to see how far Clancy was behind him. Clancy had stopped running only after a few yards and was walking and breathing hard.
“The ribs won’t let me keep up with you.”
“Didn’t think. When you can’t see the hurt you forget that it’s there.”
“When I breath too heavy I know it’s there.” Clancy touched his ribs.
“Mac’s taking that job at the steel plant in Sydney.” Birk said. “We’ll be moving there. He thinks probably something there for me too.”
“Yeah, so I heard. I figure I’ll go back to my Ma’s for awhile and then decide what to do. Go west I suppose. Sudbury perhaps.”
“Many have.” Birk said.
Over past few weeks while they both recovered from their injuries they had spoken often about what lay ahead. Birk didn’t see himself leaving the island the way his brother George had. With the mine officially closed many had already moved out of Castleton Mines. Some went to relatives else where on the island. Those that could were going back to school or looking to get trained in other trades. The Vocational School in Glace Bay offered courses in auto repair, electric engineering that Birk had considered. But the small size of the print in the their material scared him.
They came to the cliffs that led down to the beach along Blue Lake.
“I’m not sure I can hop down as easy you can.” Clancy stopped a few feet away from the first one.
“There is another way, you know.” Birk laughed.
“What!” Clancy said. “You never told me that, you bastard.”
“Yeah, but this one is faster. But we’ll take the t’other one this time.” He lead Clancy around the thicket and there was rocky path that coiled through the firs and down to the bottom of the drop.
When they got to the bottom, Clancy stopped to catch his breath and to look back the way they had come. “You never said a thing! I’d never seen it either. Not from here anyhow and it is right in front of me.”
“Forest can be that way. You ready to keep going. Not much further.”
The walked up a sandy hillock and stood facing the lake.
“There’s the rocks over there?” Clancy pointed to a low shelf of flat rock near the lake.
“That be them. Last time I was here was with Maddy and Sal.” He had a lump in his throat. “Was hard to say no to Maddy today. She sure wanted to tag along. She’s been that way since Sal passed.”
Clancy reach over and put his arm around Birk’s shoulder. “It’s been tough times for everyone hasn’t it.”
“We can stand the gaff.” Birk tried to joke.
“Sure we can, but that don’t mean we have to enjoy it.” Clancy hand slid down Birk’s arm and he took one of Birk’s hands his own and lifted it to look at it. “This is healing pretty good. Sort of soft though.”
“What you expect.” Birk pulled his arm away. “That medicated stuff don’t harden the skin none.” He flexed his fingers. “But the ache is pretty much gone from what I put them through.”
“There’ll be scars, too.”
Ma says I’ll have man’s hands.”
They went down to the shore, baited their hooks and cast them into the water.
“You never say much about what happened.” Clancy said.
“When you climbed up to the cage.”
“Don’t hardly want to remember that much.” For a moment Birk could feel that help[less sensation of hanging in the air, nothing but a black bottomless pit beneath his feet.
“Weren’t nothing to put m’feet on. When Red dropped so sudden I was dangling there same as …. the last leaf on a tree in the wind not knowing when it was going to be pulled off. My heart about stopped and I thought I was going to throw up.”
“Jez but I’d a crapped my pants for sure.”
“Not sure I didn’t do that myself. My coveralls were pretty much a mess when I did get up. Mud and grease from the cables and blood from who knows where.”
They cast their lines again.
“Worse moment was when I saw the the damn trap had to be pushed up, not dropped down. I had no way to get a grip to push it.”
“You could’a used your head. It’s hard enough.”
“Not as hard a something I can think of.” Birk nodded at the rocks where they had dried in the sun before.
“So what did you do?”
“For some reason I thought of Sal’s bean plants, How they’d cling to anything and pull up and up. I acted a monkey and swung me feet up at it. A couple of swings and it popped open enough for me to crawl though. That’s what ripped me fingers up so bad. The grate was made to stand on not hold on to.”
“Christ! I wish I could have seen you from down there. When you went up we didn’t think we’d ever see you again, you know. Some thought you was brave and other’s thought you was a damned fool.”
“Not much choice. Did I want to die down there, waiting to be plucked up or do what I could? You know it was thanks to you I finally made it up.”
“Yeah. I began to sing-song to myself the way you would when we were working.”
“This is a pole, this is the fish, this is a wish, soon a trout for my dish.” Clancy sang.
“It was more this way, ‘This is the hand, this is the hold, this is the hand that finds the coal, this is the hand that finds the hold.’” Every word of the song came back to Birk.
Clancy put down his fishing rod, reached over and took Birk’s free hand in both of his and sang the song back to him. “ ‘This is the hand, this is the hand I hold, this is the hand that found the light, this is the hand that finds the hold.’” He gently pressed Birk’s fingers open and kissed the palm of his hand.
“What the …” Birk yanked his hand out of Clancy’s.
They looked into each other’s eyes. Birk broke the gaze.
“This isn’t catching us much fish.” he said.
“Then let’s get to it.”
They re-baited and cast and over the next hour caught several sizeable fish.
“Ma’ll be happy with these.”
Clancy cleaned two and put them on branches to roast over a small fire.
“Won’t be doing this much once we move.” Birk said. “Too far a hike from where we’ll be in Sydney.”
“You Dad already found a place?”
“They showed him a few when he was over to do what paper work had to be done. He says the windows are properly caulked. No more winter breezes. Plumbing too.”
Clancy walked over the the flat rock and laid down on it.
“A little warm from the sun.” He stretched his arms and legs out as far as he could.
“Usually is.” Birk stretched out beside him. “The sky sure is blue today. Not a cloud. I wonder how far I’m seeing when I look right up into it.”
“As far as you do a night. No stars to catch your eyes.” He slid his arm under Birk’s neck.
“There could be something for you at the plant too, Clancy.”
“Might be, but I’m for one of those mechanics courses. I’d want some job that is not dark and wet all day, like the pits, nor hot and burning all night the steel plant is.”
“That makes some sense. I’m not sure about all the readin’ though.”
“I can help some with that, if you’ll let me.”
“I figured you would.” Birk rolled to his side so he was facing Clancy. “How the ribs?” He swung himself straddled over Clancy with his arms extended and on his toes so their noses almost touching.
Birk lowered himself.
“Ow. Off.” He pushed Birk away. “I can’t take that much weight, yet.”
“How about you on me?”
Clancy rolled on top of Birk. “Not as bad”
They moved their groins together.
“No!” Clancy winced and gingerly moved off Birk. “We’re going to have to wait a bit longer before we can do anything.”
“Least ways we can have that bit of fish.” Birk pushed himself up to his feet and helped Clancy stand up.
“Yer little fella says it be wanting for something.” He playful brushed his hand over the bulge in Clancy’s pants. He let it linger there.
“Yours too?” Clancy squeezed the bulge in Birk’s pants.
“Swim?” Birk stepped back and quickly shed his clothes and splashed into the lake. “Water isn’t too cold.”
“I’ll be right there.” Clancy moved the cooked fish away from the fire, then pulled off his clothes to chase after Birk.
“It’s freezing!” Clancy shouted splashing Birk.
They swam away from the shore to a point where the water was about neck deep for Birk. They splashed, shoved and pulled each other under the water. Brushing closer and closer, stopping at times to press against each other from the front, from behind.
“Ribs hurting?” Birk asked with Clancy hugging him around the shoulders from behind.
“Not a bit in this cold water.”
“Birk reached behind and grabbed Clancy’s privates by the root. Clancy pushed himself in and out in the the tight grip and quickly exploded. As Birk felt the small warm jet on the back of his hand his own flashed out into the water.
They swam back to the shore.
“Think the fish’ll enjoy that?” Birk asked.
“Not as much as we did. Didn’t hurt your hand much?”
“Nay.” Birk opened and closed his hands. “I … we never did anything such as that before.”
“Such as what?” Clancy pulled the fish off the spit and handed one to Birk.
“I never held your little fella. Never felt it in my hand.”
“Nah. Shh … look!” Birk said.
A doe with two fawns came out of the wood around the curve from them.
“Beauties.” Clancy said. “True beauties.”
They watched in silence while the deer drank from the lake and then suddenly scampered back into the woods.
“They must heard something?”
“Yeah, you breathing.” Birk said. “Best be heading back.”
Birk stood and went back to the edge of the water. “Got leave a little something behind.” He held his hands in front of him and pissed on them
“You still doing that!” Clancy said.
“Have to get ‘em toughened up after being so medicated.”
“Here let me give you a little more.” He stepped beside Birk and pissed on Birk’s hands as well.
Birk splashed some of his piss at Clancy. Clancy stepped back.
“Good for you, too!” He rubbed the urine into his hands then kneeled to dipped his hands in the water.
“As good as this.” Clancy aimed the last of his urine to Birk’s face.
“You bastard.” Birk jumped up and splashed Clancy with water he had cupped in his hands.
Clancy was laughing. “You should have seen the look on your face.” He reached out and took Birk’s privates in his hand. “I’ve never done it before either. I’ve handled my little feller enough times but never another one.”
“Your hands are cold.” Birk said. He cupped Clancy’s privates in his hand.
“So are yours. But your member is warming up fast.”
“What are you men doing?” A woman shouted down at them.
Birk stepped away from Clancy looking around to see where the voice had come from.
It was Lillian McTavish coming toward them from the part of the path that was hidden from their view.
The two men gabbed for their clothes and quickly got dressed.
“Indecent. Shameless animals.” She was nearly shrieking. “Fornicators. Abominations.”
“We were swimming, ma’am.” Birk said.
“Decent God-fearing men don’t swim unclad.”
Birk had never seen a look so piercing in anyone’s eyes before.
“No harm in it.” Clancy said.
“No harm! You weren’t swimming. You were … in contact with each other … you were touching each other in the most unwholesome, unnatural way. I saw … disgusting. How could you …”
She turned from them and started back to the path.
“Ma’am!” Clancy said. “I don’t what you think you saw but it was … it’s an old miner’s trick for the hands. To use piss to toughen them. That’s what you saw.”
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