Monday is a long day. It's the same for most folk, I guess, but in the mines there ain't no clock on the wall to tell you your day's winding down. To offer some sort of escape, reprieve even. You kind of lose yourself to the dark a little bit more every day. The picks and axes hit the stone and it makes a forceful sort of music. Industrial, but with less heart. The music of the damned, maybe, if that ain't too heavy-handed. Shit. Heavy-handedness is all we got down here. You can't be light-handed, light-footed, or limp-wristed because everything's so damn dark.
But enough of that. I'm on break. I'm outside now, trying to enjoy the breeze on my face, though still coughing up the earth's dirty core. I brought myself a sandwich from home, but I don't feel like eating. Once I touch the bread with my dirty hands that pretty white bread will be stained with soot. The same soot that will eventually kill me.
Suddenly, there's a commotion coming from the south. Men resembling old mining stereotypes are yelling and running, calling for the foreman, spouting off nonsense about tommyknockers and vengeful ghosts. There's been a collapse. One of the mines has completely caved in. I'm standing here, thinking there's nothing I can do to be of any help, when it hits me: the south mines, ain't that where Nick works?
I'm off like a jack rabbit, pushing my way past miners, even knocking one down. "Nothing to be done," they all yell, every one of them a Gabby Hayes. "Nothing you can do for the poor bastards."
But I don't listen. I don't want to hear nothing but Nick's voice, his plaintive songs. I'm breathing hard as I reach the south mines and everything here is in a right tizzy. Rocks are being pulled away from where the mine's entrance used to be, guys are yelling down open shafts for any response, the injured are covered with dust and soot and are being tended to or carried away on stretchers. And all the while there are calls of "Where's the foreman?"
And then I see him. Nick. My heart nearly breaks, but not from grief. From sheer pent up exhilaration. From a flood of relief. He's dirty, covered in dust so that he looks like a stage actor with too much makeup, but he's alive, sitting on a rock, breathing rough-like, and drinking water from an old canteen. Thank God he got out! My knees feel like they're gonna give and I wanna smile and cry at the same time, but I control myself. I don't break. Not even when he looks up at me and nods.
It's taken me a while to get back home. Da's beat-up old truck's about had it. The poor thing's like a loyal horse with bad lungs. It's all fine by me, though. I needed the steady racket of the old truck to smooth away the edges of the day. I imagine Nick's in the seat beside me sometimes, but I know that's silly. Why, I wouldn't even be able to hear him above the truck's rattle.
I get out of the truck and start walking up to our small house. I'm always shocked by how quiet things are in the rest of the world. Outside the mines, I mean. It's nice, but also a bit unnerving. Like something's about to happen. Something real bad just sitting in wait. I ain't six feet from the door when I hear my da coughing and carrying on like he's calling up the dead. It's the worst I've heard him in a long while. Shit, I think. God's spared Nick, but He's gonna take Da.
I race inside, nearly tearing the door from its hinges, and what do ya know but there be my da laughing - laughing - with Auntie Bev. She's all spruced up in her high stacked peroxided hair, heavily applied eyeliner and lipstick, and gawdy accessories, and he's as read as a a pickled beat. She's entertaining him with dirty jokes.
"What the hell is up with you, sweetie?" she asks me. I can't tell if her eyes are wide with surprise or if that's just the makeup.
"I thought you were dying, Da," I say, trying my hardest not to sound too frustrated. Oh, my poor heart.
"I am," he answers, wiping away tears and spitting out phlegm. "Your auntie here be slaying me! She's a filthy woman."
"Naw," says my aunt. "I'm just colorful." Then to me, "You go clean up, hon. I made a stew. You're pale as a ghost. My stew will put some color in your cheeks."
I tell her I'll be back in a few and head to my room, leaving them to their merriment. I shut my door, standing, back against it, for a moment. And this is when my knees finally give and the tears come and I crumple, silently sobbing, to the floor.