Colby Days 2


Our Cottage Road house, between Park St & Whitney Ave by a laneway, was a compact two-story home belonging to Miss Kelly who lived in the house next door. Her house was huge. She had boarders on the second & third floors & she lived alone on the first floor. Her house was the model for the boarding house in my novel Coal Dusters. She deserves a post of her own, so this is all I’ll say about her now 🙂

This was a more upperclass neighbourhood. Larger houses, doctors & lawyers & sport celebrities abounded. Larger houses too – many 3 story, single family dwellings. Colby remained within walking distance & I would trudge Cottage Rd. in the morning, home for lunch, back for the afternoon. I’d walk home along central with the guys.

I was at Colby for grades IV & V. I have a class photos of me in Grade VI at Ashby school. I don’t recall if that was another summer move though. I do remember some of my Colby teachers though. The principle Miss Greenwood, Mrs. Butterworth & Mrs. McLeod. There were others but even seeing the list of teachers on the Colby School page didn’t ring any lunch bells. https://www.facebook.com/groups/colbyschool/

I do remember the hand bell that rang to get us into the school. I was a middling student even then. I had attention issues 🙂 I was also aware that I didn’t have the same feelings about girls as the boys claimed to have. I was, in fact, a sissy who preferred hopscotch to baseball. I don’t recall having any real pals or playmates of either sex.

I did get into a couple of fist fights though & lost. It was hard to keep punching when everyone around you was encouraging the other guy to teach me a lesson. I became a coward because proving my masculinity with violence was beyond me. Shame & fear were the biggest lessons I learned at Colby School.

It was here that I had to spend a summer writing out  words from a speller. I did page after page of writing each word out twenty times. Then had to retake the spelling exam at the start of the new term before I could go on. I did pass but again, the real lesson learned was shame, not how to spell.

The other thing I remember from then was the birth of my brother. Now that my Dad was settled in Sydney, his job was going well, may parents felt secure enough to raise a family. I felt I was a disappointment & now they wanted to get it right this time. My brother was about a year old when my mother was pregnant again, & we moved again, this time to the Ashby area.

Fully Human

I’m not enjoying this

so it must be good for me

the less I like it

the better what I am getting

the more I suffer

the more fully human I am

what I enjoy is to be avoid

it is merely a diversion 

from suffering

because life is suffering

 

any attempt to diminish suffering

diminishes all life

we a cannot afford pleasure

to admit to liking something 

someone

is to admit to weakness

is to admit to being 

a shallow fun-loving 

corrupter of basic human dignity

dignity requires suffering 

and sacrifice

 

those who aren’t willing to suffer

aren’t worth the breath 

they take to live

they should be face 

the error of their ways 

or be shunned

 

if you are having a good time

do it in another room

quietly

we don’t want reality 

sullied by gasps 

of sexual indulgences

we don’t want to hear laugher 

behind our backs

take to another room

another city if possible

 

here we are on the righteous trail

suffering to fulfill our real 

authenticity as humans

as a parade of weeping assholes

(poem prompted by one of Montaigne’s essays)


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Chapter XXXVI

Coal Dusters – Chapter XXXVI

Birk and Clancy 

Fall Out

Since the start of the strike Birk had been going to the Sunday morning service with his mother and sisters. This morning he had spent a good part of the morning getting the pants Lillian had sent to fit him better. His mother said she would make alterations but he didn’t want to wait.

The striped shirt didn’t look too bad to him. The collar was okay as long as he didn’t button it all the way. He rolled the cuff one fold so his hands could be seen. But the cuffs needed studs to hold them closed

The pants refused to cooperate. The legs took three folds to get them to ankle height. The waist left five inches slack around his waist.

“That uncle of her’s must have a belly bigger than a cow.” Birk said as he cinched it with a rope. 

“Guess he was fully grown. Not half-sized the way you grew.” Clancy said. “You’ll look an idiot going anywhere in those clothes. Ya look a kid trying on his Dad’s clothes.”

Birk took the pants off. “Here. Ya try ’em on then.” He threw them at Clancy. He was able to pull the shirt off over his head without unbuttoning it.

“She sent them to you not me.” Clancy threw the pants into Birk’s face. “Besides they already stink of you.”

“Says who?”

“Says me you … you … runt. At least I finished growing up. The only part o’you that’s man sized is between yer legs. And you didn’t even know what to do with it till I showed ya!”

Birk shoved Clancy into the wall as hard as he could. “These fists are man sized too. In case ya forget.” He punched Clancy in the stomach with his right hand and in the ear with his left.

Clancy walloped Birk in the side with his right fist.

Birk yelped.

“Hope I broke something. I’ve been wanting to that for a long time.”
“Me too.” He swung and hit Clancy in the nose. Blood spurted.

They grappled with each other and fell on the floor at the foot of the bed.

“You boys stop fightin’ or I’ll get Ma.” Sal poked her head in the room.

Birk stood and hauled Clancy to his feet by the front of his shirt. Clancy stomped on Birk’s foot and pushed him back and out the bedroom door.

“When I came here that first time. Saw that it was you lived here. I almost changed my mind.” He hit Birk in the chest. “But it was cheaper than Mrs. Franklin’s.”

“Too bad you didn’t.” Birk connected again with Clancy’s jaw. “Ya soft arse know-it-all mainlander. You should’ve been paying me to put up with you.”

“I couldn’t sleep proper till I got you sort of washed up. I’d wake up and think I was stuck in some … Hell that stank of feet and … pig shit.”

Birk had Clancy in a headlock and lost his footing at the top of the stairs and they tumbled down over each other. They pulled away from each other when they landed.

His sisters were screaming for them to stop fighting.

“These feet ya mean.” Birk pushed his bare feet into Clancy’s face as they lay on the floor.

“Pigs’ i’d smell better.” 

“I’m sure you’d know that.”

Clancy bit Birk on the instep.

“Ow.” Birk pulled his foot back then slammed it into Clancy’s shoulder as Clancy was pushing himself up.

“Birk! Clancy! What’s got into the two of you.” Birk’s mother was trying to come between them.

“He’s had this comin’ calling me stupid, a runt.”

“I thought you guys had become good pals.” she said.

“Me too.” Birk wiped blood from his mouth. “Me too.”

“The last puss I want to see most mornings is this one.” He swung at Birk and missed. 

Birk pushed him through the kitchen and out into the back yard.

“Watch those tomaters.” His mother shouted.

Clancy stumbled and fell. Birk kicked him in the side. Clancy grabbed at the dirt and threw it into Birk’s face as he got up. They lunged at each other. Heads locked on each other’s shoulder and hitting at each other’s sides and stomach.

“Ya can always go back to Mrs. Franklin.” Birk gasped into Clancy’s ear.

“You can go to Hell you stinkin’ mine rat.”

Birk braced himself and gave Clancy a shove with both arms. Clancy reeled back against the shed and slumped to the ground.

“Soft arse.” Birk spit a gob of blood on to Clancy’s face and went back into the house.

“I’ll be ready for church in a bit Ma.” He splashed cold water on his face. Rinsed the blood out of his mouth.

Up in the bedroom he carefully folded the pants and shirt. He’d get his mother to alter them later in the day.

He passed Clancy coming up the stairs as he went down to join his mother and sisters for church. 

On the way home after the service his mother asked. “What was that dust up?”

“Nothing Ma.”

“I knows better. That weren’t no horseplay. Neither of you were holdin’ back.”

“He told me it made him sick to look at me. That  ‘cause I wasn’t tall, I wasn’t a full man and would never be one.”

“Hurtful words.” She shook her head. “How he feel about the gal as sent you the pants and shirt.”

“He think’s she’s pretty and such.”

“Could be he’s sore she sent you something nice and he got nothing.”

“But I don’t give a care about her. Could have been anyone caught in the fire and I’d ’av done the same thing.”

“I know.”

“I know my duty to you and the girls. Besides she’s practically a nun.”

When they returned to the house from the morning service he found that Clancy was gone. All his clothes and other belongings had been removed from the bedroom. On the bureau was a note:

“Seeing as you can’t read writing I’ve printed this note to tell you I got word that my mother was poorly and I have gone to tend to her. Clancy.”

He tucked the note into his pants pocket. Picked up the shirt and pants that Lillian had sent him and took them downstairs.

“Ma you think you can fix these so they fits me better.”

She shook the shirt out. “That’s quality.” She held it to her face then studied the seams. “Don’t want to tamper with it. Look at that stitching. It’s a blessed art. I could never sew that that fine.”

“Look! We fit yer pants, Birk.” His sisters had pulled on the pants, each standing in one of the legs and holding them up by the waist. They hopped toward him.

“Get outta there.” He laughed.

“Priest’s a big man.” His mother said. “These wouldn’t even fit Blackie.”

The girls got out of the pants and Birk pulled them on over the pants he was wearing.

“Even if ya can fix the cuff some.” He folded the hem several times so that it rode at the hight his present pants did. “Even if they too big around the waist I won’t be stepping on them when I wear them.”

“Your waist will always grow.” His mother laughed. “Give ‘em here. I can do a a few stitches to keep them from dragging along.”
“Thanks Ma.”

“Where’s that Clancy gotten too?”

“Gone.” Birk said. “Packed his things and gone.”

“Yer joking.” she went up to the room and came back down. “So he is.”

He gave her the note.

“I knowed his Ma was ailing.” She said. 

“He say anything to you about goin’ to see her?” Birk looked at the note.

“Yes but didn’t say when.”

“I’m sure he’ll be back for that union march at the end of the week.”

“Depends on his Ma.” His mother said.

After supper Birk went out to check his rabbit traps. There was one caught but he left it there as he continued on his way to his favorite sitting spot. He climbed up high in a branch of the oak tree.

His Ma was right, the things Clancy had said were to him mean. It was same as his first months in the mines where he had to prove himself everyday. The men all riding him for being so small, then for being so hairy but he showed them. Showed Clancy too that he wasn’t going to take that from him either. 

But how could Clancy have been hidin’ those thoughts the past months. Acting as if they were friends. Making him feel he was …. someone he wanted to be with. But foolin’ him all the time. 

Getting him to talk about his hopes and making him think about the future. All that was a big show, a sham. Birk rubbed his head against the bark of the tree. 

When he got the rabbit on his way home he remembered showing the trap line to Clancy, showing him to skin the rabbit easy and where the salt was to treat the pelt.

He sat on the garden bench. He didn’t want to go into the house. He didn’t want to go up his empty room. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. He couldn’t figure out why this had happened to him. That someone could become such a part of his life that when they were gone it was if he had no life ahead of him.

He heard men talking in the road in front of the house, the McKlusky’s arguing next door. 

“I’m going out.” He heard Jim yell. “Where to is none of your business.”

“Don’t be late. I know it isn’t union this time o’ night.” His wife shouted back. “It’s to that Dan’s you’re going.”

“I’ll go where I want and I’ll stay out as late as I want.”

A gate slammed and Birk half hoped it was Clancy coming back but it wasn’t their gate. It was Jim on his way to the bootlegger’s. 

What was his life before Clancy showed up? Him and Geo eating at the table in the morning. Shovelling coal into the carts. He missed that. Doing things with his hands kept his mind from thinking about anything. He wanted to stop thinking. 

His mother came out of the house with a couple of mugs of tea.

“Sweet summer night,” she handed him a mug and sat beside him. “Before you kids came along me and Blackie ‘d sit out here. Then you could smell the hay.”

“You ever want to get out of here? The mines I mean.”

“Before I wed Blackie I thought about teaching or even nursing but once I had Geo those were a girl’s dream. Never can get ahead with the company. You buys from the company store, owes them money. You pays the company a fair price for a house, too, as long as you working there, but the house never gets to be yours.”

“It would nice to have something that was yours.” Birk sighed heavily. “Think I’ll take a walk.”

“A walk?”

“Clancy ‘d do that to get away and think a bit. Yeh something to do.”

Birk headed along their lane and to Pitt St and along to Chestnut Avenue. The smell of the burned company store was still in the air. He nodded to a few folks as he passed them. We went out of his way to pass Mrs. Franklin’s. There were boarders laughing and smoking on the veranda but none of them was Clancy.

He went along the pier and sat on a piling staring out at the reflection of lights on the water. The last drop off by the Dingle Dandy had been half-an-hour ago.

He’d never had this much free time. Time with nothing to do except worry about when the strike would be settled; what had he done to rattle Clancy so; what was he going to do at lunch with Lillian and Father Patrick. 

If this was what a man of leisure had to do, he wasn’t interested. He’d rather be worked to the bone and back sore from the pits than have time to think about things he didn’t understand and problems he didn’t know how to solve.

The Reverend Brown once said that God makes each man to his purpose. All along Birk figured his purpose was to work, to crush coal, bring his pay home to the family, sleep and do it again. Cut and dry so he didn’t have make any decisions himself.

“Taking the air?” someone said from behind him.

Birk started and almost fell off the piling and into the harbour. 

“Oh, Jim, you about knocked me over.”

“Saw you and that mainlander having a go at each other earlier.”

“Got in one another’s way. Gave him a good what for though. Sort of thing I never could get away with Geo.”

“That Geo used to love to torment you some.”

“Ma says it was what brothers were supposed to do.”

“Never had a brother. All sisters. Thought getting married wud be an escape from that. Trouble is sisters is women and I married  a woman. Them ‘s the breaks.”

“How long you think this strike is going to go on?” Birk asked.

“Not too much longer after us burning down the pluck me.  Sort of thing the Corporation won’t stand for. There’ll action and not the kind of action we’re going to appreciate much.”

“You ever think o’ getting out of the mines?”

“And do what? I suppose I could try for the Steel Plant, or that iron foundry in North Sydney. But this is what I know. You want to try your hand at something else?”

“Clancy said future’s black underground. He got some schoolin’ though he could get on. Oh … I dunno … I was pretty happy doin’ what we all do …”

“But you feel there’s something more? I know that feelin’. When I was your age I wanted something more too. Sure wish I done something about it then. What did I do? I changed shifts in the mines. That’s what I did. Come on I’ll spot you a tip at Dan’s.”

“Ma ’d kill me if she finds out I went to the bootlegger.”

“You only die once.” Jim laughed. 

“Sure why not. I’m wanting to do something different. Maybe this is it, eh?”

Dan’s house was at the edge of the end of Castleton Mines past St Agatha’s hall. Birk knew that after the recent union meetings some of the men would end up there drinking their strike pay.

“If it’s not Blackie’s boy.” Dan greeted him. “Thought you tea-total same as yer old man.”

Birk grinned. He recognized several of the men there. There was also a couple women there. Wearing not much of anything. The place smelled of beer, cigarette smoke and sweat. He peered around afraid he’d see Clancy there.

“Aren’t you the hairy beast.” one of the women brushed up against him and put her hand into his shirt. All she was wearing was an untied silk robe. He saw that she was naked underneath it. He moved back.

“Look ladies we got a virgin here?” she laughed hoarsely.

Birk continue to back away. 

“Don’t be afraid, little man. I won’t hurt ya.” She touched his face and moved to kiss him.

“No … n … no … thanks Ma’am.”  Her perfume made it hard for him to breathe.

He turned and rushed out of the house and ran all the way home. Was this were McKlusky spent his time? Was this what men did? 

He took his boots off on the back porch of the house and went in quietly.

His mother was at the kitchen table.

“Where you been?” she asked.

“Down the dock. Thinking.”

She leaned over and smelled his shirt. “All this time?”

“I got took over to Dan’s. Ma it was … I never been in there … you gotta believe me. I was so afraid I’d find Clancy there. There was women. I didn’t know what to do so I bolt out of there fast as I could.”

“Who took ya?”

“I don’t want to say. Don’t ask me. I wanted to see what went on in those places. That’s all.”

“I believe you Birk. I do.” She shook her head. “You go to bed. You got to meet that nun tomorrow.”

“Nun?”

“The priest’s niece.”

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Coal Dusters – Chapter VIII

Chapter VIII

Birk and Clancy Get Acquainted

Knowing that Clancy wouldn’t be sharing his room till the end of the week didn’t make working with him any easier for Birk. Clancy had already paid for a week in advance at Mrs. Franklin’s boarding house and she wasn’t going to refund any part of that if he left before the week was over.

When their shift started Birk would grunt hello and that was it. He didn’t care to know anything more about Clancy. As long he wasn’t underfoot, didn’t gripe about things and worked hard in the pit that was enough, barely enough to make him tolerable. 

Clancy had an irritating habit of humming as they worked. Sometimes muttering something under his breath or scraps of songs that Birk had never heard before. 

“Shovel and pick … pick and shovel … ” 

Things that didn’t make much sense to Birk even when he could make out what the words were. But as long as Clancy kept to himself, did his share of the work, he didn’t care. 

Clancy approached him during their lunch break on the third day of their working together. “We can’t go on this way Birk.”

“Says who?” Birk picked up his lunch pail moved to another part of the stretch they were working on. 

“If I’d known it was your house … ” Clancy followed him a few steps.

“Once you did, you coulda changed yer damn mind.”

“I can’t afford to stay at Mrs. Franklin’s on what we earn down here. I need to send something back to my Ma in Stellarton.”

“Why didn’t you stay there and work the mines?”

“Same story there as here.”

“Not my worry to deal with. I gotta deal with you.”

“Can’t be as hard as me having to deal with you.” Clancy went back to where he had been crouched for his lunch.

At the end of shift the cage was jammed already only one of the could fit on and Clancy shrugged as the cage went up leaving Birk below. When Birk got to the surface he took off his work coveralls and dashed to the wash up room to his usual spot. Clancy had taken it.

“Gotta be faster than that Birk. Yer gettin’ slow b’y.” Clancy chuckled as he continue to wash his underarms.

Birk pushed him aside. “Make way ya tuilli. You knows this is my spot now.”

“Careful.” the miner washing up next to Clancy said as Clancy stumbled into him.

Birk reached for the basin to toss out the dirty water and get fresh. Clancy upended the bowl so it splashed Birk.

“You …” Birk swung at Clancy. His fist caught Clancy on the jaw.  Clancy staggered back but quickly regained his footing. His longer reach let him swing back before Birk could react. His punch knocked Birk into a group of miners coming into the washroom.

“That’s it.” Birk took his fighting stance with fists raised, feet firmly planted on the wet stone floor. Clancy did the same.

“Bad enough I get stuck with you here.” He jabbed Clancy in the stomach. “But I’m not puttin’ up with ya any damn longer. I’ll send you back to the mainland to lick yer wounds. That’ll give you plenty worth singin’ about.”

Clancy jabbed Birk in the ribs. Both protected their faces as best they could. The other miners made a circle around them and if one fighter got too close to them they pushed him back into the centre of their ring.

“Isn’t m’ fault Red Mac didn’t think you were good lookin’ enough work above ground.”

“I didn’t want that soft arse job.”

They clinched and fell to the ground, wrestling and jabbing as best as they could. Blood dripped from the noses of both of them when someone hauled them away from each other and back to their feet.

“Enough of this.” It was Red Mac. “If yer want to beat the piss out of each other don’t do in here. We got men who deserve to be clean enough to go home to families that want them home.”

The miners held Birk and Clancy back from each other.

“Oh, it’s you Birk.” Red Mac said.  “Can’t say as I’m surprised. You two want to keep workin’ here?”

They both nodded yes.

“Then don’t let me catch you brawling during my shift on company time or on company grounds agin. You understand.”

Clancy nodded yes. Birk glared at Red Mac.

“Birk Nelson yer a good worker but yer always a disagreeable orange cuss too.”

There was some grumbling from the other miners.

“Okay! I knows there are more’n one orange men here.”

“So does we,” one of them shouted back. “That’s why we’re still buried underground and you fat arse micks get all the breaks.”

“You call this getting the break.” Red Mac said. “A good Catholic such as me having to deal with a bunch of … heathens … I mean you lot of ground hogs. Can I help it if I had the …. brains to get where I am?”
 

“You sayin we do don’t have as much brains as you?” another of the miners called out.

“All I’m saying is get cleaned up and out of here if you expect another shift tomorrow.” He went back to his office.

“Look! The Red Pope says its okay for us to wash up.” One of the miners joked. “The sacred waters better do their job.”

Birk filled his basin and washed off the blood, the mud from the floor and the coal dust from below as best as he could. His left hand throbbed. He had hit Clancy harder than he intended. He hoped he hadn’t done himself an actual injury. If he had Clancy would regret being the cause of that, too. How was he going to share his home with that tuilli.

As usual Jake was waiting for him at the gate.

“I dunno how I’m goin’ ta do it. Have that blowhard living with me. I’d rather move m’self before I share more than work space with him.”

“Ah lad, you gotta let go of it. Hard enough for us to get by as ‘tis. He can’t be that bad.”

“He is.”

“Things ‘re getting worse. We may not even be here long enough anyhow.”

“What?”

“They may cut some of the nights shifts. That’s why there’s strike talk agin.” Jake coughed harshly and sent a thick black gob of spit onto the road.

“Careful there, some ‘un will trip over that.”

“Yah.” Jake laughed hoarsely. “Least they aren’t charging me for the dust I sneak out in m’lungs.”

“What’s that ‘bout a strike?”

“Gregory was talking with some of us while you was … washin’ up. Says to us that they want not only to do away with night shifts but aim to cut back on the tonnage rate.”

“They can’t.” Birk punched at the air with his sore hand.

“They can if we let ’em. We gotta send them a message that we won’t put up with all this hurting of us workers who put food on the table for them but don’t get enough pay to put food on the tables for themselves.”

“Damn rights.”

“There’ll me a meetin’ tomorrow night at St. Agatha’s Hall.”

“They ain’t gonna let us orange in there, you know.”

“Sure they will. We got our union cards.”

“Yeh, but some of us don’t have our foreskins.”

Jake began to laugh again and had to stop to catch his breath. “Lad you are gonna be the death of me before the mine’ll do me in.”

Birk went around to the back of his house. His mother and Maddy were on their knees in the garden. The same as many of the miners they had a garden patch that spilled into the field behind their house. Each year his mother would grow vegetables – carrots, potatoes, tomatoes – with seeds or eyes saved from previous crops.

“Goin’ get much out of the patch this year?”

“There’ll be some.” His mother glanced up.

He went over and kissed her on the forehead. He pulled Maddy up and held her in the air at eye level to himself.

She giggled and wriggled. “Puts me down.”

“You been to school today?”

“Of course.”

One of the things Birk wished he had been able to do was continue in school. But when he got to twelve all he wanted to do what his dad did, what his brother did, what grandfather did – be a man who worked in the mines. In the mine he didn’t have to use his thinking much, only pay attention to what was happening right then. No need spell or add numbers up. Not that he couldn’t read or do enough arithmetic to make sure his pay packet was right. He knew enough keep track of what went on in the mines.

He’d seen some of the men reading from books, or from newspapers. He tried, but all those letters and words confounded him. He could follow word by word given time. He only trusted what a man said. You can tell if he was lying by his voice. Words on the page had no voice to judge them by.

He went to the well and got water to clean his socks and face rag. 

“I’m goin’ to check m’ traps, Ma. Might have a little something to add to supper tonight.”

He took several deep breathes as he walked along the grassy field. The smell of the mine stayed with him. Somedays he couldn’t shake it. He plucked a long blade of grass and chewed on it then spat it out. 

The rabbit traps had been pretty much in the same bushy area, beyond the three apple threes, where his great granddad had first set them. The apple trees were in bloom. He pulled a branch down to smell the flowers but all he could smell was the mine.

He stretched his arms up as high as they could go. It was only out in these fields that he could stand up fully. Even in the house he was pressed down by the ceiling. He’d find himself ducking under the door frames even though they were well over the top of his head.

During the run of a week the traps would be good for two or three rabbits. There was two this day. One pretty pump too, he hoped it wasn’t about to have little ones. It wasn’t.

He skinned and cleaned them there and was happy to hand them to his mother when he came into the kitchen. 

“Good. Good.” she said. “What you do with the skins?” She took the rabbits and quickly chopped and deboned them.

“Usual place on the back fence.” 

She would salt the skins and store them. Once a year around Christmas she’d trade them in at one of the furriers in Sydney. The money wasn’t much but would add something special to the Christmas dinner.

He poured some hot water from the kettle into a basin, rolled up his sleeves and washed the rabbit blood off his hands. 

“You’d think Blackie’d built us a little boiler for hot water around here.” He said.

She dropped the meat into a pot of water already simmering on the stove.

“Why we always have rabbit.” Maddy leaned against him as he sat the the kitchen table. 

“That’s what fits the traps. That and skunks. You want a stink for supper some time.” he tickled her.

“You stink enough for me.” she laughed and pulled away.

“You bring that bedding down tomorrow so as I can get it washed up before Clancy comes to share the room wid yer.” his mother said. 

“Don’t go countin’ on that. Might be lays-offs or worse, a strike.”

“I’ve heard. We‘ll know better when you Da gets home.”
“He’s usually back before me.” The smell of the cooking food made Birk hungry.

“He went to see Jim Spot who lost a hand a few weeks past. Union’s going see if they can get him something somewhere. He can always push a broom, ya know.”

“Not as if we don’t have enough one-handed broom pushers now.”

“What the union can’t do the lodge often does. Lest the company don’t own the lodge, yet. There’s Blackie.” 

Maddy ran out to meet him at the back gate. He handed her his lunch pail and they came into the kitchen. He hung his cloth cap on a peg by the door.

“Hear ya had a donny brook at wash up.” 

“He had it comin.” Birk knew this tone of Blackie’s meant he wasn’t pleased or amused. “Why? Clancy come cryin’ to you?”

“No. Red Mac’s gettin fed up with your carrying on. You worse than school kids. You know how he feels about us orange. After all, it was him, when he got that job, who started to replace all the good orange men with his own mick pals. Getting so bad you’d think it was Father McTavish that was running things and not the union or even the company.”

“Sorry Blackie. I wasn’t think about any of that. You know how I act I get riled up.”

“That’s no excuse.” His mother said.

“I’m goin’ rest in the parlour for a spell Ma.” Blackie unhitched his suspenders and shambled away. “Stuff to consider.”

When supper was served Birk went in and woke him. 

“I’ll take something up for Sal.” Blackie said. He came down a little while later. “She’s gettin worse?”

“Yes.” his mother answered. “The reverend’s wife was by this afternoon to look in on her. She’ll be back tomorrow with a remedy she think will help.”

“We don’t need charity from anyone, you know.”

“It’s not charity to let Sal get worse.”

They ate in silence.

After supper Birk went to check his traps to make sure he had left them set properly. There was a dell where he could sit on a low branch of an oak tree. He’d been going to it since he was so small he needed help to get to the branch. Now he could pull himself up on it and let his feet dangle in the air. He let his heavy work boots fall off.

He rested his back on the tree trunk and stared up at the sky. He couldn’t smell the mine or the coal.  

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