The Life We Choose – Episode 06

A woman, on her hands and knees, was scrubbing her doorstep. When Sarah asked her for directions, she stood up, beaming.

“It’s yoursel’, Miss Ogilvie. You’ll hae come to see aboot the Wee School, then?”

There was an enquiring pause while the two studied each other. Sarah was astonished that she seemed to be known to people she didn’t recall meeting. And she was equally astonished that the proposed schoolroom for the smaller children had been given a name already, when there was nothing more than a vacant house to work with.

“Three doors up, that’s Mary Ellen’s hoose.”

With a friendly smile, the woman turned away and resumed her scrubbing.

Mrs Walker’s house shone out in the drab street. The front step was neatly edged with white pipeclay, the sills of the two windows flanking the door similarly brightened. There were snowy lace curtains at the windows, caught in brass rings, which gave them an almost elegant look.

The door flew open and a beaming Mary Ellen appeared.

“Come away in, Miss Ogilvie,” she said warmly, extending her hand.

The inside of the house was well-kept, shining and smelled faintly of furniture polish. On the big black range which dominated one wall, several pots simmered. Two brightly cushioned chairs flanked the range. In one of them sat a man with a shock of white hair, a blanket over his knees. Propped against the wall beside him were a pair of crutches.

“Pate Walker,” he introduced himself, extending his hand. “Kent in these parts as the Listener, Miss Ogilvie.”

While Mary Ellen bustled off to make tea, Pate showed Sarah the rag rug he was working on.

“I like to be busy,” he explained. “It fills in the time.”

He explained how, with a bit of canvas, a bag of neatly cut rags and a small hooked tool, he could make a rug.

“Better than onythin’ you could buy,” he finished, pointing out two examples of his handiwork which lay on the polished linoleum. They were cleverly patterned, each with brightly coloured borders and a matching motif in the centre. Sarah was admiring them, never having seen a rag rug before, when Mary Ellen brought in the tea things. The kettle was coming to the boil on the range.

“I’ll take you round to the Back Raw when you’ve had a cup o’ tea,” she said, launching into an explanation of how she had come to acquire the empty house there.

“It was Colonel Grant. He’s one o’ the good pit owners, or he would be if that Rushforth would let him. I went up to see him an’ explained about the younger bairns and the ones that are not sae strong, and he said we could have the house in the meantime.”

She went on talking, but her words were suddenly drowned out by the moan of a hooter, which made Sarah jump. Minutes later came the sound of tramping feet as if an army on the march was passing the front window.

“That’s the day shift finished,” Mary Ellen explained. “An’ the back shift gettin’ started.”

Somewhere at the back of the house a door slammed.

“An’ that’s the lodger.” Pate made a contribution.

“You have a lodger as well?” Sarah couldn’t hide her incredulity.

Mary Ellen smiled.

“I have that. A grand laddie. No’ a bit o’ bother. Quiet and considerate forbye. He’d never track through the house in boots and moleskins wi’ the dirt o’ the pit on him. Walks to the end o’ the Raw, then round to the back door an’ leaves his boots an’ workin’ clothes by the scullery door.”

“He has the room across the lobby,” Pate explained.

“Oor two laddies are away long since, an’ there’s nae sense in the room gaun’ t’ waste.”

Mary Ellen opened the door leading to the scullery.

“We have a visitor. Master Ogilvie’s daughter,” she announced.

A begrimed figure, helmet in hand, appeared in the doorway.

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Miss Ogilvie.” Daniel Morrison smiled and her heart went bump.

Sarah glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece.

“I don’t have much time left, I’m afraid,” she said. “My friend is meeting me at the crossroads. You’ve made me so welcome that I’ve quite lost track of time,” Sarah added when she had recovered her composure.

There began a rush to show her the empty house in the Back Raw.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.