My Five Year (Dead Friends)

With my AA anniversary this week (43 years on July 6) I’ve done some reminiscing about my early years in recovery. My memory is helped by the journals I kept at that time – this was before keyboards & morning pages. Handwritten & for the most part more a listing of events than reflections on those events. In my poetry archive I have pieces that I wrote then which are more about discovering the gay world than exploring sobriety.

One artifact I have is a cassette recording of my 5 year anniversary from 1983! I’m not sure if I have heard it since it was first recorded. I also have a photo taken of the occasion, plus some of the cards I was given! The photo brings back some memories. I listened the the tape a few months ago though before passing it on to the Archives for preservation as mp3.

It is, I’ve been told by the head of that committee, a piece of gay recovery history that shouldn’t be lost. I had to hear it first before letting it go. It was a bit embarrassing to hear myself praised, to hear my actual ‘acceptance’ remarks. It was bittersweet to hear these voices of members who, for the most part, are no longer with us. Dead friends. So many dead friends.

Some murdered by HIV, some who died of life itself, some who moved away to Vancouver or Calgary to struggle with their sobriety in different surroundings but didn’t make it, deaths I heard of eventually. Voices I still recognized. Voices that I was happy to hear again. I even recognized laugher of people in the audience.

I do recall the tape being made but don’t remember who made it. Side A says ‘Duncan’s Fifth – Key unknown – 7 July 1983.’ Side B ‘‘Duncan’s Fifth in AA major – 7 July 1983.’ Printed by the hand of the taper. I love the Beethoven reference. It is the entire meeting from opening serenity prayer, passing the basket & the closing prayer. 

I was a little surprised that it played at all. Cassettes often dry out, loose their ‘dynamic tension,’ tape ends become disconnected from the spools. One of the reasons I was so happy to to move to from tapes to cds. There was nothing more dismaying than having the tape on your Walkman jam up & pulling it out with endless feet of tape dripping out of it. I may wait another 43 years before hearing it again though 🙂

This is a piece I wrote in Cape Breton back in 1977 when I was deep into my alcoholism.

Blackout

1

the fear

aware of the light

shapes the unseen

the fear

<>

is being awakened

at the wrong trembling moment

to your own pulse

2

I gave in today

without a fight 

without a second thought

gave in to nothing

being nothing

doing nothing

going nowhere

<>

I gave up

my dreams & hopes

plans of a great future

that’ll never come true

all that’s left for me

is to relax into resignation

without bitterness

to keep on giving in

without a struggle

<>

the plan now

is to sleep in

on all fours

to a snug shadow

of calm reserve

a smug disinterest 

about the things

I once had to become

3

I’m getting old 

the feel of fall

is colder in my bones

every year

<>

I find it easier to drink

to forget old unfinished fears

than to make new motions

toward an altered shape

I find it easier

every time I empty another bottle

the next seems more welcome

more of a proffered hope

than a fleeting solace

leading to remorse for old hurts

4

resignation

is a futile gesture

it is an admission 

to pretentions

I once had a vision 

a true sense of a special offering

a vision proved to be

am insecure self-indulgence 

a vision

that kept me so in awe

I could never confront

even my basic mortality 

<>

the vision of immortality 

before more than I could bear

no one is fooled but me

there is no dream revelation

just the dream

just the dream

to black out the image

of the self-pitying 

aging

drunken

unfulfilled visionary 

with no shape

no broken heart

just his fear

<>

the fear

last feeling of fall

has no vision

5

the unseen

is the futility of resignation

the inability to admit

that even as these words are

I intend to deny their meaning

<>

this is not defeat

I have nothing to lose

this is not resignation

I have nothing to concede

<>

the dream

will never change

that it may never come true

is the heart of the plan

<>

the fear

pulse of the plan

has no end

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Spider Serenade

Spider Serenade

<>

spider

black

tree branched

against a winter moon

spins her fine web

fragile  almost nothing

floating wisps

to grab faces in the dark

infectious whips

to lash insects lost without light

<>

a spider’s web

diamond visible against the moon

intangible interlocking of lives

fragile

almost nothing

web of affections

splashed with moments

of pleasure

confused by the space beyond

only a light touch on the face

sound heard as echo

<>

many movements of moments in time

leave me

brittle fragile

against a moon of confusions

lighted

caught

revealed

so slight  nearly invisible

when I catch on your face

when we find each other in motion

caught in each other’s tangle

of sun

diamonds

and awkward blindness 

<>

Mr72/Jl76

This poem from 1972 is one of the oldest in the folder. The influence of Dylan Thomas is the first thing I saw as I was inputting this piece. His use of adjectives to enrich an image with more than colour – ‘infectious whips’ ‘diamond visible’ are a great examples of his influence. I can still feel that off-putting moment of walking into a spiderweb in the dark. Mildly alarming & icky. 

The transition from the actual spiderweb to the ‘web of affections’ is fairly smooth & the analogy is effectively sustained through the piece. The verses have an image structure rather than a strict rhythm or even line count like a sonnet. The moon appears in each of them – slightly different each time – theme & variation.

The last verse weaves images & words from the first two moon, web, diamonds etc into a tangle that catches us. By the time we get to this point we are familiar with the concepts & are lured into the moment.

This use of language was very deliberate & somewhat successful if one forgives the youthful romantic ardour of the piece. It talks of an idealized, very non-sexual, type of love as well. I wasn’t out but was aware that I was queer. I suspect the ‘awkward’ of the last line comes from my fears of reaching out, of wanting to present myself as a poet & not as a horned up teenager 🙂 The blindness comes from the fact that there were no guides to coming out or picking up guys at that time. No role models, no support systems. Me groping in the dark for context.

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Welcome To The F Files

https://topoet.ca/2021/06/27/welcome-to-the-f-files/

Membertou First Nation

Growing up in Sydney Cape Breton I was barely aware of the first nation population in the area. In my teens I heard stories of Membertou ‘The Reserve’ & once my drinking career was launched I was aware of it in the context of bootleggers. At least one booze buddy spoke of have an Indian girlfriend, whom we never met. The Reserve was also a place where some guys, maybe even my Dad, went for cheap cigarettes.

https://membertou.ca, http://eskasoni.ca/home/

The Reserve population was MikMak – I only heard it called that so, not sure if it was actually spelled – MicMac? An anglo corruption of Mi’kmaq. Some spellings weren’t taught in school. Its place in the history of the region was never mentioned. We did learn about Louisbourg – the conflict between the French & English. Alexander Graham Bell in Baddack. 

The other Cape Breton reservation was in Eskasoni on Bras d’Or Lake. I also heard of one in Shubenacadie on the mainland. But I never visited either of them. On my last visit to Sydney I went through Membertou with my sister. Lots of houses selling ‘smokes.’ A museum with artifacts & compulsory dream catchers. I don’t recall seeing anything about the Residential Schools but, thanks to wiki, I know the only one in the Maritimes was in Shubenacadie. It closed in 1967.

I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who lived there. Sydney, as small as it was, was very strongly segregated. There was a sizeable black community in one area that rarely went beyond its boundaries with its own schools, churches (one of the first Black churches in Canada). The same held true for the First Nations’ towns. I do recall that one of the Eskasoni high school boys sports teams (probably hockey but maybe basketball) had a reputation for being good players but rough.

I write this memory in the shadow of the recently discovered bodies of children in Kamloops. So many levels of dismay resonate in me – not merely the racist nature of this but also of the way children, all children, have been treated for their own good, by various legal systems. In the USA the separation of immigrant families & how the parents of a number of those children can no longer be found; stories of European war orphans shipped en-masse to North America. 

Children – those pure innocent possessions that get marched out as excuses for not exposing their tender sensibilities to sex education, same sex affection, etc. One of tenants of a current USA conspiracy theory is a secret child porn cabal – if you deny this conspiracy you are clearly a pedophile.

There is no easy wrap-up for this post. History is a wound than will never heal.

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Disco Chips

May 19, 2021 marks 43 years since I stepped off a plane to arrive here in Toronto on May 19, 1978. I’ve lived briefly on Wellesley St E, Sherborne for about year, briefly in Thorncliffe, Bright Street for a year, Oakdene for some 40 years. I’ve had a ‘real’ job for the first year then nothing ‘real’ since then. I have cleaned apartments, ran a theatre company for about 10 years, became a lab rat for pharmaceutical drug studies.

On the east coast I was working for Famous Players & had asked them for a transfer & ended up being sent to Toronto. The year or so before I left Sydney I subscribed to the Body Politic so I knew there was a gay world larger than the rumoured gay path in the park. I wanted a land of opportunity. 

I remember my first few months here. Discovering the bars, dancing, getting sober. I was a blackout drinker & was afraid of backing out at the Quest & heading for home – which probably would have been Sydney – a very long walk. I learned my way around the subway system going to AA meetings. 

I left Famous when I discovered I had an allergy to money! My job there consisted of counting box off take. often thousands of dollars of paper more & coins that had to counted & rolled & recounted any hand in airless windowless rooms. Money is filthy & we had no gloves or masks or sanitizers. I got rashes on my hands, arms & severe red-eye. None of which worked on the dance floor 🙂

here’s a piece I wrote my first summer in Toronto

Disco Chips

<>

1

<>

electronics

chip away

at the solid state of me

disco chips

chip away chip away 

dance away

till only sweat remains

<>

slip away

escape for a time

a time of being

suck away fuck away

disco chips

chip away chip away

take your time

take my time

take my pace

leave my body

thumping 

jumping 

energy frenzy

fits the pattern

fumbles the patter

<>

then

up your nose 

up your ass

in your mouth

out of your grasp

cuts your palm

across the life line

the pulse line

pumping thumping

flopping

dancing fists

disco chips

chip away chip away

at the solid of me

<>

chip away chip away

suck away fuck away 

dance away

till only the sweat remains

<>

2

<>

I used to laugh

when I was warned

of the lure the scent the heat

of the pleasure palaces

laughed at the phrase

the symbol

till I realized

I couldn’t resist 

the lure the scent the heat 

even when I saw

no real pleasure

no surreal palace

only a whispering wall

a muttering stuttering

wall of eyes

<>

I couldn’t resist 

the lure the scent the heat

<>

3

<>

disco hits

below the belt

disco chips

away the surface reveal 

my fear my futility

disco chips

disco hips & disco dicks

suck away fuck away 

dance away

disco slips

into the ear

then into the blood

<>

no alternative 

no escape

no please

tango prisoners

music fists

pounding me down

driving my pulse

popper clones

danger zones

disco chips

suck away fuck away 

dance away

disco hips & disco dicks

chip away chip away

suck away fuck away 

dance away

till only the sweat remains.

<>

jn78

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Paper Ghosts

Thanks to the pandemic I’ve been purging my past. Papers, first drafts, photographs & memories. A basement full of lumber, bricks, paint, nut & bolts saved, salvaged, kept for another day now gone, with out regret. Stage set pieces from Bushwack Theatre finally seeing the light of day in the back of a junk removal truck 🙂 

I have seeing my history in the paper I used for writing on. Scrap paper recycled from Famous Players old daily multi-coloured sales report forms – pads of which became redundant as they were updated. Colour coded for filing & mailing purposes. Flyers for movies, for theatrical productions. Lined or blank loose leaf, pages torn out of scribblers, note book of various sizes & even shapes. Notes, poems, fiction typed on various typewriters, hand written in various inks & pens, dot-matrix print outs that had never been separated. https://topoet.ca/2021/03/16/past-of-the-future/

The ‘See Europe’ was one of several road show productions that travelled around the maritimes with special presentations – this was Travel, another was Alpine Skiing – the most popular was the in person show by Raveen – a hypnotist, magician – I wish I had some of those flyers. The travel shows weren’t big draws mind you but they were rentals – in this case Tony Smith was in charge of his ticket sales. We got the rental fee plus sold lots of popcorn 🙂

The various papers help date when some of these pieces were written as many of them were undated. The Famous pages are before I moved to Toronto in 1978. Days Of Heaven is from my first year here. The Famous Players form bring back memories beyond what I had written on the blank sides. One of my jobs there was to type details onto them. There was carbon paper between the pages that were 4 form thick so one had to hit hard to make sure the bottom one was legible. A mistake meant whiteout on all copies before re-entering. A total pain. Life before computers & data entry. 

This piece was typed on the blank side of a ‘Days Of Heaven’ flyer

My Left Hand

he gives me a call

a peace offering

an invitation

an offer

to nail my left hand

to the floor

but he has no camera

<>

he calls

on days

when his memory

is fading

the echo of the moon

in an old well

he speak

French threats

innuendos

of vague violence

I cannot resist

<>

I cannot confront

direct violence

I have a fear of pain

pain as in death

facts to face

I am afraid

I’ll enjoy the nail

relish each thud of the hammer

<>

I remember

the bite of his teeth

even when I cannot

recall the feel

of his lips

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Fab Forty 1965

Dave Chritchton

I came across this CJCB Dave-a-go-go-Fab-Forty list in my social isolation covid cleaning frenzy. Although it is from April – many of these were songs of the summer. Daydream; Nowhere Man; California Dreamin’; These Boots. Going through the list I was surprised at how many of these songs I could hear in my head. Some of them I can’t get out of my head either 😉 

Some I have no recollection of – He Wore The Green Beret? Listening to Leslie on YouTube I have no recollection of this song – it is, as expected an answer record to Sgt. Barry Sadler’s hit. This is also the only song with a political agenda. Eddie Rambeau? 

I had many of these 45’s & lps. Now I have many of them at mp3s. Even those one-hit wonders – Elusive Butterfly; Magic Town. As expected the hits are all very pop with a few unexpected r’n’b, soul tracks there: Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett. First hint of psychedelic is the Yardbirds Shapes Of Things.

I remember the radio dominated by the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits but this chart is mostly USA top 40 fodder – no CanCan as far as I can tell. 

A bit of research tells me that the Liverpool Set were Canadian but they only released three singles. 

I can remember turning some of these songs up (19th Nervous Breakdown) & others down (Young Love) on my radio as I did my homework. I was always eager for my favourites to get played & I phoned in my votes to keep some things up there in the top ten. My music collection includes lps, singles by at least 30 of the bands/performers on this list! My retro collection is so full of good memories but trust me it has stayed relatively contemporary. It was tracks by the likes of Ramsey Lewis that open the doors to jazz for me. As Jim Morrison sang, at one time ‘music was your only friend.’ That wasn’t fully true but music is one of the only friends I have from high-school.

from August 2007

I’ll Scratch Yours

it’s hard to accept 

enough is never enough

I can scratch an itch

then minutes later 

need to scratch again

to get what I want leads to wanting more

if one-on-one is great 

a threesome is impossible to resist

<>

I’m a guy who can say no

but when I deny myself

I long to be praised

for not over indulging

on my way to sainthood 

when I want to gorge myself

the smug satisfaction of drawing a line

and sticking to it isn’t as rewarding 

as giving in one more time

<>

could be it that scratch

isn’t the solution to itch

should I try that zen approach

when the itch is ready 

the finger will appear

if only all it took was only a finger

can I learn to live with that itch

for another cd another man in the sack

better car bigger house

whiter teeth faster downloads

snappier sneakers flashier T-shirts 

all calling  scratch me now

or forever regret the opportunities 

missed by resisting

<>

even when I look away

I sense those glittering beacons

behind me just out of reach

straining teasing demeaning me

until I’m on my knees

too weak to do anything 

except beg for some relief

<>

to live with hunger

goes against our get-it-now culture

admitting that I don’t really want to scratch

is met with disbelief

what’s wrong with me

I gotta get with the program

whatever the fuck that is

but how do I get rid of the itch

isn’t there a way to feel free

be comfortable in my own skin

without the need to satisfy some urge

is this need to be free

just another in the long list of itches

<>

scratch my back

I’ll scratch yours

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Catholic Girls

Mary Teresa

Mary Teresa said

I can’t play with you anymore

her mother came out

get out of our yard

you aren’t welcome here

her brother Gerald

pushed me to the gate

you heard my mother

get lost

<>

Why

<>

Gerald shoved me again

punched me in the face

stop that his mother shouted

but Gerald hit me again

I could taste blood

<>

get going

you trouble maker

his mother pulled him away

you people are always trouble makers

now get going

don’t come back

don’t speak to Mary Teresa again

you hear me

she said

<>

Mary Teresa glared at me

from the top of the steps

stuck her tongue out at me

<>

I didn’t know what I had done

Mary Teresa was a year older than me

so I guess she was eleven

her bother maybe thirteen

they lived a block over from us

but neither went to my school

they had their own

Saint something or the other

where the Catholic kids went

I wasn’t Catholic

<>

we had lived in the neighbourhood

for about a year now

I knew the different schools 

there was taunting and chasing

that I avoided

<>

I didn’t understand how their God 

gave them the right to bully

told them who was good

who was bad

years later I still don’t

understand

Catholic Protestant whatever

caught in a match

of who’s piss is closest to the good book

<>

I never did speak to Mary Teresa again

<>

Here I have a sweet mash-up of real memory, somewhat fictionalized characters, and the real social context of Sydney, where I grew up. There were separate schools for the Catholics that remained separate for decades. Up to grade 10 – when some mix was allowed with catholic boys going to the multi-denominational high-schools. Catholic girls had their own high-school so keep them from being raped by heathen Protestant boys.

Depending on the Catholicism of the parents us kids weren’t allowed to mix. The incident here is based on more than one event. I did have some kids who we had played tag with tell me they couldn’t hang out anymore because we weren’t Catholic. Simple as that, as children we didn’t have the knowledge base to get into theological discussions. I did hear of kids told to get out of yards because they weren’t ‘micks.’

Even then the excuse of religion to justify bullying was acceptable. I say excuse because even today one can use ‘religion’ to justify any unreasonable fear rather than face that fear. The Bible says races shouldn’t mix so to prevent that lynching is logical. The Bible has relegated to a photo op prop anyway. I’m not anti-christian by any means but not particularly Christian either – so please, piss on someone else.

 

(I’m still getting use to the new WP editing program & can’t figure out how to put in poetry line breaks hence the use of <> to indicate were breaks would be if I could figure out how to get them there.)


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Out and About in Sydney, Cape Breton

Cape Breton sunrise

where I had great ice cream on the Sydney Boardwalk

stone stairs to nowhere in Sydney

the welcome feet of Sydney

stone in the Park/Brookland/Hospital Sts triangle

close up of the stone

stained glass in the CB Regional Library

CB highland dancers on Charlotte St.

https://wp.me/s1RtxU-diop


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Sydney Sights

Cape Breton Highlanders cenotaph on Kings Rd.

Highlanders cenotaph on Kings Rd.

haunted haircut house

haunted haircut house

Wentworth Park War Memorial

Wentworth Park War Memorial

The big hands of the founder (the scarf gets replaced regularly)

I went to these schools ‘*’

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Chapter LXIX – Birk Leaves Castleton

Coal Dusters: Book 1 is now available as as PDF – this covers the first 35 chapters – 65540 words – send $1.99 to  paypal.me/TOpoet

Coal Dusters – Chapter LXIX

Birk

Leaves

Castleton

Once Reverend Browne left, Birk and Clancy went out to the back porch.

“Been a long couple of days.” Clancy said.

“Things changed so fast at times I don’t know what’s going on. Was what we were doing such an evil thing?”

“I don’t know, Birk. There are some who think so. Maybe t’was all my fault for coming back.”

“How’s that?” 

“I wanted to be with you.” Clancy said softly. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too Clancy. It was the same as when Barky died.”

“Barky?”

“Yeah. A mutt I’d found out back of here when I was a kid. Sure was a friendly dog. He’d wait for me at the colliery gate to go home with me. When he died I was so … heart sick.”

“You loved that dog.” Clancy said and gave a playful bark.

“I sure did. I’m not calling you a dog!”

“No more than I was calling you a monkey.”

“Yeah.”

“Though monkey’s is less hairy.” Clancy laughed, got up and walked to the end of the garden.

Birk followed him.

“What’s all this mean Clancy. We’re pals, right? Isn’t this how pals is supposed to feel. In the mines looking out for each other. That don’t end down there.”

“No, it doesn’t. But I don’t know any more than you about … could be we take to each other too much. A man takes a wife not another man.”

“I know that! I will one day cause that’s what Ma wants.”

“Is that what you want?”

“Not, if gals are like Miss McTavish. All proper and acting they know better.”

“There are some that is and plenty that are like your Ma and mine, too. You never know what you’re going to get with women.”

“Why are they such devious things?”

“That’s the way they are made. You’re asking the wrong man anyway.”

“You not looking to married?” Birk asked.

“Yes, but I agrees with you. I’m no hurry for that, I need a reliable job to plan for sort of future.”

“You don’t have family to worry about the way I do.”

“Yeah, but same as you I don’t see the need for it, yet. I want be settled as something. What would I have to offer besides the clothes on my back. Don’t even have a place to call my own.” Clancy sighed.

“You always got a home with us, you knows that.”

“Yeah but that’s not the same as having a place of my own. Takes more scratch that I’ve earned to get that.” He kicked at the ground.

They headed back to the house.

“What’s buggery, Clancy?”

“Why you asking that?” Clancy give a little laugh. “What do you think it is?”

“I hear it around the mines often enough, about the union being run by useless buggers. I thought it had something to do with the rats as we always call’em useless buggers too.”

“You got that right.” Clancy laughed again. “Let see how I can tell you.”

“It’s what that Father Patrick called us at the police station, remember?”

“Yeah I recollect that. You know how a baby gets set don’t you?”

“Pa explained that. You put yer little guy into the woman’s little slipper, between her legs.” Birk said. “Only the gals don’t encourage that sort of thing but they do as a duty. Husbands enjoy it though but a gentleman don’t bother no lady with that business less she makes it known she wants to make babies.”

“Mac told you pretty good all you need to know on that account.”

“What’s that got to with mine rats?”

“I’m getting to it. It’s when a man puts his little feller up the arse of another man.”

“What!” Birk stepped back, his stomach churning. “In the shitter?” The image made him sick to his stomach.

“‘Fraid so.”

“You ever …”

“No.” Clancy said loudly. “When we was called abominations that was what they was talking about, though.”

“I …” Birk was looking for the words. “Where they get that notion from in the first place.”

“Something in the Catholic good book. I don’t know it well enough to tell you were they get it from. All I know is the ten commandments and that sure isn’t one of them.”

“What about what we was doing? Lettin’ our little fellas rub. That was pleasuring each other, wasn’t it?”

“So what if it was. It weren’t no one business if we were.”

“But it became their business when Miss McTavish caught us at it.”

“She done didn’t catch us at anything except being naked.”

 

The next morning Birk left Clancy helping the family pack up their possession for the move to Sydney. He caught the ferry to New Waterford and walked the mile or so to the millworks. 

His mind kept returning to the conversation he’d had with Clancy the night before. He wondered if anyone thought of him and Clancy the way Father Patrick did. Calling them unnatural. All he wanted to do was … what? That first time on the rocks with Clancy, naked together was so natural. Something he couldn’t have done if Clancy had been a girl. Was that good feeling what the priest was going on about. Was it a sin to feel that good feeling? 

His first day at the mill was simple hard work. Stripping branches off trees, keeping an eye out for boles that might trip up the saws, keeping the saw blades oiled proper.

The boilers were similar to the ones at the colliery. He showed them what he knew and they were impressed. Dan’l made it clear he’d have to get his proper papers before he could do more than check the dials with T Jean.

At the end of that day he was covered with sawdust and wood shavings.

“Nice change from the coal dust.” He said to T’Jean as he shook the dust off his overalls.

 

When he got back to Castleton Mines the second cart load of their possessions was packed and ready to go Sydney. His mother was leaning against the sink in the empty kitchen and crying.

“Never thought I’d leave this house alive.” she said wiping tears from her eyes. 

“It’s BritCan’s problem now.” His father said.

“No more winter winds to warm us in the night Ma.” Birk said.

“No more garden for us in the summer either.” She replied. “No apples in the back orchard.”

“We can always come back for ‘em when we wants.” His dad said. “No one’s going to be buying this property up in a hurry. These half fallin’ down shacks’ll be full fallen by the time the snow flies.”

“The house’ll be so cold without us.” Maddy said.

“I’ll come back to light a fire.” Birk consoled her.

“How did things go at the mill?” His father asked.

“About as hard as the mine only more daylight. They had me hauling trees around, digging some for the new water main that’s coming through. Least I still know how to use a pick.”

“Hands okay?” His mother asked.

“No trouble.” he showed his palms and waggled fingers. “Healed up pretty well.”

“Guess all the holy moaning over where you put’em did them some good.” She gave a little laugh.

“Put’em?” he asked.

“She means all that foolishness by the good Father.” His father said lashing down the last of the furniture.

“At’s a man who needs to keep his own flock in order, if you ask me,” His mother said. “At least two unweds on Carter Street. Those nuns can’t keep their own legs closed. Then bringing his dirty minded ideas over here to plague us.”

“T’wasn’t m’fault though Ma.” Birk shrugged. 

He clambered onto the back of the cart with Maddy. His mother sat in the front next to his Dad. 

“Look Birk any full-grown woman who is so shocked at the site of a naked man isn’t in her right mind. It may not be something we see often but when we do it’s something we have to abide and keep our … distaste in check.”

“You see Clancy at all?” He asked.

“He’s in Sydney at the new place. Getting some things sorted out for us and then going to see about work for himself.” His father said. “May not be much for him though. The steel plant’s been cut back since the war.”

Birk lay back on the sofa cushions as comfortable as he could and watched the clouds and sky go by over head as the cart bumped onto the ferry. On the other side they reloaded their possession on the millworks truck to drive it to Sydney. His Dad took the cart and horse back to Castleton for the last of their furniture.

“A lot of changes for us, eh Ma?” Birk said.

“Good for you at your age Birk. More opportunity for you outside of Mudside. Might be time for you to meet someone. More gals in Sydney.”

“Yeah Ma.” Birk answered. “Thought you was saving me for your old age?”

“At this rate I’m probably not going to make it.” She laughed bitterly. “There will be a decent school for Maddy. More kids her age.”

“If’n I stay on at the millworks I may want to live nearer to them.” Birk said. “I have to get my boiler man papers soon.”

“You think you can handle all the reading and writing?” He dad asked.

“I can try. When I spoke with Magistrate Doucet at the courthouse he said closing the mines might be a good thing as it’ll force us out of the ground and into the world. No more hiding down there where all I have to do is figure if I got enough dug out for one day.”

They pulled up to the new house.

“A paved street!” He hopped out of cab and lifted his mother out. “No more sinking to our knees in the mud.”

He helped unload the rest of furniture into the house. It didn’t feel as large as their old place but it was cleaner and the walls had corners that met, with level floors and electricity. Maddy had to be stopped from pressing the lights on and off.

By the time Brik was ready to go to bed Clancy hadn’t returned.

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