A Pot of Usefulness

Extensions to Redbourn Hill works circa 1918

A Pot of Usefulness
by Jane Lomas

‘D’you fancy a cuppa, love?’ Bill calls from the back door. He takes the battered, tannin-patinated pot from the shelf: a leaving present from the lads.

He’d worked at the steelworks since he was a scrawny lad. Sinews hardened into manhood but fifty years of pick hefting and shovelling wore him back to the start. When he was used up the lads gave him the grand title of Chief Splosh Maker, and he’d spent a few happy weeks warming the pot, spooning loose tea and pouring for the exhausted gang. But they couldn’t cover for him for long. Soon he was rooted out. Management said he wasn’t productive, and in an effort to keep up supply for demand they had to eliminate all waste. He’d never thought of himself as waste. Not until then.

Bill sets the kettle to boil and sits on the old green stool to rest his aching hip. Beth wants him to see the doctor but there’s no money for that now.

Beth rushes into the kitchen, covered in dust. She runs her hands down her skirts and Bill’s not sure if she’s trying to smooth out wrinkles or remove the grime from her hands.

‘You don’t need to beat the rugs, love,’ he says, but he knows she won’t take any notice. Housework has been her life and she’ll cling to it like a drowning rat to driftwood. While he’s all adrift, she still cleaves to routine.

‘I’m leaving the house clean for the next tenants. Nobody’s going to say that I’m slovenly.’ Hands on hips, she raises her chin and Bill catches a glimpse of the girl she once was. That tilted chin had at first set against him but softened to half-mast in their courting days.

Her eyes fix on the old teapot.

‘Oh Bill,’ I thought you were going to throw that out.’

Bill puts a hand on it, protectively and looks at the shelf, wishing there was room for him. A shelf for eliminated waste.

‘I’ve a surprise for you,’ Beth says, pulling out a letter from her pocket. ‘My sister’s sent money for the train tomorrow.’ Bill gives no reaction. Thinking he doesn’t understand, she says: ‘Bill, we won’t have to beg for lifts!’

The kindness is unexpected and he looks away.

‘I can’t accept charity, love. You know that. It’s enough that they’re putting a roof over our heads.’

‘It’s not charity. It’s family and we’ll earn our keep. You’d help if they needed somewhere to live.’

Bill looks at the teapot, his eyes clouding over.

‘Come on.’ Beth smiles, placing her hand on his cheek. ‘I need to get on with the packing. We’ll put your teapot in last; we don’t want it getting crushed. You’ll be needing it to make tea for the farm labourers.’

Beth bustles out and as the kettle boils he spoons the bitter-tasting black leaves into the pot. At least there’s still something he can do.

Jane has loved creating stories for as long as she can remember. Janet and John books were her first inspiration, followed by The Famous Five. Now she’s grown up, her heroes are authors rather than characters. Jane writes flash, short stories, and has been working on a novel for ever.  You can find her online at https://loving-the-write-life.blogspot.co.uk/ and on Twitter at @completelyjane.

Image of Redbourn Hill, Scunthorpe, circa 1919, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.