This story is by Lorna Robinson and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Eliza breathed in slowly and deeply hoping to quieten her mind as she stopped to listen.
Not easy, when a thousand thoughts whirled and buzzed together in her head.
That happened sometimes, she would think she’d heard it, and she would concentrate and listen, and realize it was only in her mind.
She wondered if it was now?
“No,” there it was again!
Eliza felt the panic rise from deep within her; she needed reassurance and sort out her mother who was stoking the fire, poor Mother, she looked like she was struggling with her conflict as well; their eyes met….
Then again, the siren blasted, her mother made her way to Eliza’s side; There was no time to waste!
Thomas began to cry and held out his arms to reached for her; His grandmother picked him up,
It’s alright Love,” she soothed
“Hope so!” Eliza said as she gave them both a desperate hug.
“It’s alright Mother; please don’t.”
Her mother caught her hand instead and gently squeezed it, “I’ll pray for Richard,” she said.
“Yes,” answered Eliza, “Please do.”
Eliza quickly tussled her son’s hair and kissed him lightly on the brow…. “Be good for Grandmother,” she told him.
I better go!
As Eliza stood on the front step she paused a moment to prepare herself; if anything had happened to Richard!
She trembled as she leaned back into the door and slowly lowered herself to the step, she rested her head in her hands and wept as the siren blasted.
She cried for Richard, for herself- for her family -this was too hard, she didn’t have the strength to face this yet again.
But, she had to go….The siren blasted.
Eliza forced herself to picture Richard before her tall and strong “you better be alright!” she thought. Then she picked herself up, pulled her wrap a little closer around her, she adjusted her lamp and stepped out onto the street to join the others to follow dutifully as the siren beckoned until they congregated at the office outside the main gate.
Eliza watched the foreman as he ambled down from the buildings inside the yard.
“Arrogance,” she thought as she remembered him from last time;
She didn’t like him.
The gathering hushed, “There had been a cave-in in the southern section; ten men are still unaccounted for….” Richards name read out.
He assured them that the company was doing everything possible to rescue them.
“Damn… the company!” Eliza thought.
As he walked away; She decided she hated him!”
The crowd dwindled, but most of the woman stayed and settled for the wait.
They understood how important it was for the unfortunate not to feel alone. Waiting was nothing new, waiting was part of life…part of a mining village life, and although each time is different, it is always the same.
Each one of them wife, mother, sister understood not to intrude, not to force conversation or try to reassure.
From experience, they knew, for the time being, just being there and waiting and watching was enough, that was how they survived.
Eliza couldn’t help but remember the last time she had waited here.
Richard was involved in the search, and she had worried about him, but this time it was different; this time they were searching for him.
Last time her brother Andrew had been working, and like most of the others he was lost, but that was different too as there had been an explosion.
Hours dragged by and still, they waited. Fires were lit to ward off the darkness and cold. Someone kindly brought around some hot food, and Eliza ate obligingly thanking them, but she didn’t taste it.
They handed her a mug of hot tea; she appreciated their kindness.
Eliza clung to hope, as her eyes focused on the interior- Her mind willing Richard to magically appear.
Tears burned at the back of her eyes, but she wouldn’t allow herself to cry, not again.
Eliza first met Richard when he was new to the area and had become good friends with her brother Andrew; he had just started working at the mine.
She asked Richard one day why he wanted to work there; he said that was what men did in his family, his father and grandfather had been miners and probably his father before that.
She thought he was rather dashing in a rugged sort of way and he had a sweet smile that made his brown eyes light up, she enjoyed is company and he made her laugh at his antics and wit
Then one day he surprised her and kissed her.
But then Andrew had been killed.
She stopped herself again; it was too painful to think of Andrew; she didn’t want to remember, it only made the pain worse.
A tear escaped, but she quickly wiped it away!
About mid-morning, there was finally the movement everyone was waiting for, and everyone clambered to cling to the fence and watch to see who would emerge;
Fellow miners appeared and positioned themselves at the lift ready to assist whatever was coming. Eliza hoped as she watched that all ten would survive, but deep within she secretly prayed that if any weren’t, it wouldn’t be her man.
Her tired mind watched as the lift opened and a figure emerged and was assisted out. She couldn’t see who was, and she even wondered if her mind was again teasing because how could it possibly be human? It was black and dusty; it looked like a massive lump of coal. Then when it began to move, it took man’s form, and slowly it walked towards her, and as it got closer it weakly smiled, and it was Richard.
Relief flood through Eliza as the tears she had been holding back began to flow as she fell into Richards’ arms as the gates opened to her. The black sooty dust that clung to Richard transferred to her leaving a silhouette of their embrace on her dress, on her face, and everywhere they touched, she could smell the coal and taste it in his gentle kiss, but that was the last thing worrying Eliza now.
Clean and rested, they sat in their little kitchen at home, Richard took her tiny hand in his and gently enfolded it within his;
You know you don’t have to talk about it, Eliza gently told him.
He smiled at her wearily and kissed her. “Do you know?” he said, “This might sound crazy, but in a way, I was lucky.
I was on my way to the coal face, only about ten minutes in- any more and I probably wouldn’t be sitting … here,” he said
“Anyway, I was talking to Harry and Tom about a new seam that looked promising.
Suddenly there was a strange groaning above us, dread stopped us dead, Eliza, then from deep in the earth a sort of rumble, Harry swore, and Tom shouted ““RUN”” …. and we ran for our lives; I don’t think I got very far.
I think I was knocked out” Richard said as he rubbed his head, “it is still sore.”
Eliza stood and tenderly examined the top of Richards’ head gently parting his thick hair. “Yes,” she said “no wonder, there’s a lump the size of a goose egg” and gently kissed it.
He pulled her back down onto his lap, and she carefully wrapped her arms around his neck.
“The air was thick and full of dust, and I couldn’t breathe,” he said, “and it was dark, and I couldn’t find my lamp.
I felt around me; there wasn’t much space, I must have been in a small pocket.
And then I noticed the silence; You know the saying- that silence is deafening?”
Eliza nodded, “Well, I’d never really understood that, but I do now.”
I listened but couldn’t hear anything, yet I could… It was strange; I called out, ““I’m here,”” till I worked it out it was my heart beating.”
“I was so scared Eliza, and I began to panic
I had no idea how long I’d been there and was I was dead.
But I couldn’t be dead,” Richard smiled at her “my head hurt too much! But I dared not close my eyes, in case I didn’t wake up.
Then I started to change my thinking; I thought if it was me up above and someone else down here, what would be going on?
What would I be doing? I knew these men, and I knew what they would be doing they’d be looking for me- and the others of course.
I knew they wouldn’t stop until they found me – every one of us, they are brave men Eliza, and he squeezed her hand.
“I couldn’t be thinking of dying, and I had to think of you and Thomas…. I had to think of us,” he said as he gently ran his hand down the side of her face and over her cheek to wipe away a stray tear.
Eliza, he said, and he took a deep breath and looked deeply into her eyes “I thought about Andrew, and how his death affected you and your mother, I saw the pain that you have lived with every day since. I can’t do that to you anymore.
And I decided… if we can find a way, we should get away from here!”
Eliza laid her head on his shoulder and gently cried, Richard continued
“Eliza, I woke when I heard you call my name…” she sat up and looked at him again, “and I saw a light, and there they were… well, not you, but help. “Eliza, you brought them to me,” he said. And he kissed her, and she kissed him back.
“Richard” she hesitated and stood up.
Richard wrapped his arms around her waist and waited.
“I never want to hear I that siren again; my life wouldn’t be worth living without you, and Thomas needs his father, and I never want Thomas or any of our children to feel their only hope in life depends on working under the ground.”
Richard went to pull her down again, but she stopped him and placed his hand on her belly.
“You don’t fully understand what it means to me,” she whispered in his ear and then hesitated as she held his hand there.
“Richard, why don’t we go to Australia?”, Eliza asked.
What? That certainly wasn’t what he expected to hear, and Australia certainly wasn’t what he thought she was going to say, he stared at her in disbelief.
She smiled at his confusion as she said, “We could run a sheep farm, maybe have a cow.”
“The children can chase kangaroos or whatever they chase down there.”
She pulled a clipping from the local news out from her pocket,
I’ve had this for a while, but I thought you would think a farm was a crazy idea and I was waiting for the right moment to show you.
Eliza read it to him.
“It’s advertising a government scheme, for free voyage and land for eligible couples to farm in Australia,” she said.
“I never thought you’d want to go half way around the world” Richard laughed.
But he did agree -that would get them away from sirens!