In the Hours Before the 1959 Auchengeich Coal Mine Disaster
by Marie Hoy-Kenny
You wake, your wife Jean still serene in sleep, breathing deeply beside you. The sky is dark through the cracks between the curtains, but last night you dreamed you were at the sea watching the sunrise cast purples, pinks, and oranges across the sky and it was beautiful, beautiful, you didn’t want it to end. You rarely have those bad dreams any more, of the mine walls closing in on you like an angry clamp. You’re used to your routine now and find peace in your sleep. You creep into your children’s room, kiss your sons, your daughter, lightly on their foreheads and they stir just slightly, slightly, a small smile playing across your youngest son Sam’s face. In the kitchen you take out the bread, the jam, make a sandwich for your lunch pail, bread and jam every day. Perhaps next week you’ll fill your bread with ham, you need little changes like that, the big ones seem too far out of reach. Your friend Willy left for New Zealand, is a farm hand now, and you imagine working outside, breathing in the clean air. In his postcard he described the sun on the back of his neck making him feel “so completely alive.”
You remind yourself that the pit has its benefits. Some days you feel as though you know Earth differently than most, you travel to its secret belly, and before anyone on your shift starts using their tools, there’s this dull hum that you have to strain to hear, like it’s talking to you. Your watch reads 6:00 AM and you kneel to put on your boots. Before you leave, you stop at the entryway table, make the sign of the cross in front of the statue of Saint Barbara, like you do every day, say please bless my family, bless me. Then you step outside into the darkness.
It’s a cooler morning than usual. Tomorrow you’ll spend your Saturday playing soccer in the field with Sam. He asks you to play with him each night when you get home, but it’s too dark to play. Tomorrow you’ll show him how to kick the ball with the side of his foot, so he can get it to go exactly where he wants it to. You won’t wish the time away like you do sometimes during your shifts. You’ll stay in the moment, keep Monday out of mind. Tomorrow you’ll feel the sun on the back of your neck too. Tomorrow.
Marie Hoy-Kenny is a writer, teacher, and mother, from Ontario, Canada. Her work has been published in Cease, Cows, Cosmonauts Avenue, Trampset, Prose Online, and other publications. Her father is from Scotland and his family lost very dear friends in the tragic Auchengeich coal mine disaster. You can find her on Twitter @mariehoykenny.