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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXVIII
Birk and Clancy were in the small backyard of the house breaking up the soil so his mother could start a garden.
“Birk get in here, now!” His mother shouted from the back stoop.
He and Clancy followed her into the house.
There was a stranger sitting in the living room.
“This is Mr. Joseph from the steel plant. This be Birk and our boarder Clancy Sinclair.”
The man stood and shook hands with them. “I’m sorry for your loss.” he said.
“Loss?” Birk looked at his mother. “Maddy?”
“No,” she began to sob. “Mac died at the plant this afternoon.”
“Couldn’t catch his breath.” Mr. Joseph explained. “I work with him with the boilers. He was shovelling the number 3 and stopped heaving for air. Took him to the infirmary and then they rushed him to the city hospital but by then t’was too late. Doc there says t’was his heart gave out.”
“After them done broke it.” his mother said. “Goddamned BritCan pulled that heart right out of him.” She dabbed at her eyes with the edge of her apron.
“I came to tell yer Ma myself. Didn’t know Mac for long but he was eager worker. Told us how good his boy Birk was around the boilers, too.”
“Some, but not as good as he was.” Birk said. Without Mac the responsibility for the family was now his. There’d be no leaving to anywhere for work with Clancy.
“Thank you from coming to tell us.” Birk shook his hand. “I see Ma’s given you some tea. You want another cup?”
“No thank ye. I have a family awaiting me too. I’m over Hanson Road. Not too far from here. Number fifteen. Come by the Plant in the morning and I’ll see if we can fix you up.”
“How’s that?” Birk asked.
“We took Mac because we needed him. We still need him. We can give you a try to see if you’ll do.”
“I already have work at the Patterson millworks.”
“So yer ma tells me but you’ll get paid more, travel less and keep ahold of your house.”
“I’ll think on it.” Birk shook his hand again glancing at Clancy who had remained silent since coming into the house.
“You boys had supper?” his mother asked once Mr. Joseph was gone.
“Can’t say as I’m much hungry Mrs. Mac.” Clancy said.
“Come out the kitchen while I sees to supper.”
Maddy was the the kitchen table. “When Poppa coming home?” she asked.
“Not fer awhile.” Birk said. “Not fer a long while.”
“He’s gone to be with Sal.” His mother sat beside her.
“Sal?” Maddy teared up. “Sal gone to be with God.”
“So she has.” his mother said.
“That why that man was here?”
“I hate him. He sent pappa away didn’t he.”
“No.” Birk said. “Mac was tried that’s all. Moving here and changing was too much for him.”
“For all of us.” His mother ladled out stew for them. “Eat and we can talk more about this later. I’ll say grace, ‘God thank you for the food we have that will give us strength to face what has to be faced. Amen.”
Birk washed the dishes while his mother put Maddy to bed.
“You’re some silent.” He said to Clancy.
“It was all so clear to me this afternoon. It made sense to leave here and build a life on my own plans not on something set out before me. A life for two of us.” Clancy said.
“Nothing holding you. You said you got no family here.”
“There’s you.” Clancy said softly. “You know when I took off that last time I didn’t mean to come back. I was through with all this, with those micks who want to lynch someone for not being a God-fearing mick.”
“That’s what they’d call that mob that Father Patrick brought over to teach you, us, a lesson. They would have strung us the nearest tree if they coulda. You know that. And why? For being naked?”
“For what we were doing.”
Clancy took Birk’s hand. “We were doing nothing, Birk. Nothing. But I was feeling something.”
“To you maybe but to them it was something.”
“Exactly. I don’t want to live in fear for someone disapproving of the way I sneeze. Of who I want to be with. That’s what brought me back again. To get you to leave with me.”
“You had me convinced too.” Birk brushed the back of Clancy’s hand on his own chin. “But you know I can’t go now.”
“Fuk,” Clancy stood and let his chair fall over to the floor. “I knows that. I have to think about what to do, for me.”
“Millworks will be lookin’ for someone when I go.”
“Yeah.” Clancy gave a small laugh. “That isn’t what I had in mind.”
His mother came into the kitchen. “I see you done the dishes. That’s something I could never get Mac to do.” She picked up the chair that Clancy had knocked over. She sat in it with her elbows on the table and her head in her hand. “Sometimes I feel my age.”
“It hasn’t been easy, Mrs. Mac.” Clancy said.
“So Clancy you back for good?” she asked.
“I can’t say Mrs. Mac. Birk and I was discussing that too. It’s not as if I’m kin to you or anyone else around here.”
“True. I’m trying to be practical about things, is all. I need to know what I can count on before making any decisions. I don’t want you and Birk disappearing one day.”
“Ma…” Birk started.
She held up her hand. “Birk I know you wants a life of yer own. Geo did too. That sure can’t happen here. I expected you to go with Geo when he went to Alberta. He offered to take you but Pa said it had to be your idea not something we planted in you.”
“Yer Pa and I talked about what was going to become of you. Then I got afraid that mick gal was trying to lure you off too. So I said things about her I didn’t mean. When she got set with O’Dowell I breathed easy again.”
“Ma! I was never one for her. I knew that from the first time met her.”
“I know, son, I know. But comes a time when we have to let our children look out for themselves.”
“This isn’t that time Ma.” Birk said looking to Clancy.
“It is Birk. Isn’t it Clancy?” She looked to Clancy too. “You want Birk to take a chance on a bigger life with you?”
“I won’t deny it. I talked to him about it. There isn’t much more opportunity for him here than there is for me. You want him to die with a shovel in his hand the way Mac did?”
“We all die Clancy.” she half-laughed. “Don’t matter what we’re holding in our hands at the time.”
“Ma, I’m not going anywhere with Clancy.”
“Maddy and I can go live with my sister in Guysborough. There’s enough to do around their farm to keep us.”
“Aunt Dierdra? The one you curses under your breath anytime you get the opportunity.”
“The same.” she took a deep breath. “If’n you want to stay Clancy, we’d be happy to have you. Mac never got settled in that room of his upstairs so you can have it for yerself. You won’t ‘ave to bunk up with Birk at all.”
“We all have a lot to think about.” Clancy got up from the table and went to the front door.
Birk followed him. “Clancy you know I can’t go now. Maybe the steel plant is my opportunity.”
“For you but not for me.”
He left Birk standing in the open doorway.
Birk sat in Mac’s armchair in the living room. Even though Mac had a bedroom for himself Mac still fell asleep in his old armchair. The chair wasn’t as comfortable as it looked when Mac sat in it. The curves and bumps were ones that had been created by Mac’s body over the years. Birk sat on the sofa and out his feet up on the low table in front of it.
This was his duty. Family. The adventure that Clancy offered had tempted him sorely. He was glad now that he didn’t have to make the decision to go or not. That he’d stay was plain to him.
Lying on his bed he heard the backdoor open and someone come into the house. He pulled his coveralls on and went to the top of the stairs to listen. He heard nothing. He went half-way down the stairs and could see his mother asleep in Mac’s chair in the living-room. The street light softening her face with its yellow.
“Clancy!” he whispered.
“Shush.” Was the reply. “Who would it be?”
Clancy came to the bottom of the stairs holding his shoes.
They walked up the stairs.
“I didn’t think you’d come back.” Birk said.
“I had no choice.” He took Birk by the hand. “My heart is here.”
“I …” Without hesitation he pulled Clancy to him and kissed him. He didn’t want that kiss to end.