The Life We Choose – Episode 21

Tricky was in the kitchen, a plate in his upraised hand.

“He says he’s gonnae smash every plate in the hoose.” His wife sobbed. “Says he’s protestin’ at workin’ at the pithead among the weeminfolk. Says I’ve to tak’ the job and he’ll mind the weans.”

At the sight of Mary Ellen, Tricky Binnie, arm still upraised, seemed to have frozen into the form of a dishevelled statue.

“Put that plate down. It belongs to me. In fact, most of the plates in this house belong to me because you’ve left your poor wife with no money to buy new ones.”

Mary Ellen was a big woman. Irate, her speech became that of a duchess. Tricky Binnie took the precaution of placing the plate on the table.

“Right,” his majestic visitor began. “Magrit, go and see to the bairns.” She pointed to an upturned kitchen chair. “Tricky, straighten up that chair and sit on it where I can see you, and listen to me.”

“The pithead work’s for lassies,” Tricky said lamely as he upended the chair.

“For lassies that have to do it to put bread on the table. For lassies that have fathers and brothers and husbands that canna work. Hard, dirty work in all weathers. Lassies that are better workers than you. Wouldna see you in their road, I expect.”

Leaning towards him, Mary Ellen delivered her lecture at the pitch of her voice. Small as he was, Tricky Binnie seemed to grow smaller.

A silence had fallen on the room. Magrit stood in the doorway, four curious little faces peeping round her skirts.

“This is your last chance, and it’s for the sake o’ the bairns. I’ll speak to the colonel and try to get your job back along wi’ the rest o’ the men. But you’d better stick to it if you get back down the pit. I’m warnin’ you. For if ye don’t, Magrit’ll no have to put you out. I’ll do it.”

Tricky Binnie quailed before her warning finger. Mary Ellen snatched a sweeping brush from behind the door and thrust it at him.

“Now, clear up the mess you made,” she ordered, turning to leave.

Tricky Binnie said nothing.

Back in her own house, Mary Ellen found Pate using his special “cleek” to shift the big soup pot on the range.

“Nae need to tell me what happened, Mary Ellen.” He chuckled. “I heard every word through the wa’. My, ye’re in fine voice the day, my love.” There was pride in his voice.

His wife smiled at him but said nothing. As she busied herself preparing their meal, her mind was on Sarah, already on her way to Langrigg and her new life, buoyed up with young love and the certainty of youth. Mary Ellen sighed. A long time ago, she had been Mary Helena, daughter of the manse, a runaway bride with a handsome young husband and with that same certainty that love would conquer all. But it had been a long, hard road that she and Pate had travelled together. Would Sarah, at just eighteen, have the strength to travel that same road?

She sighed at the thought.

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”.