The Life We Choose – Episode 38

I’m sorry about my father,” Daniel said at last.
Sarah squeezed his hand.

“I’m sure he’s a fine man,” she said. “But life has disappointed him. Just like my father, in a way. He reminds me of my father in the way he’s dealing with that same disappointment.”

Daniel said nothing, and Sarah went on to talk about his mother and Katy and the great welcome they had given. Daniel, dark-eyed and intense, resembled his father so much that something deep down in Sarah formed a stirring of alarm.

As they made their way back to Langrigg, Daniel’s mood brightened and he told her about Katy’s plans.

“She wants to be a nurse. Go to Edinburgh to train. Father’s opposed to it. Says she has ideas above her station and that shop work will do well enough and bring money into the house until such times as she decides to take herself off and be married.”

Sarah stared at him, horrified.

“How can he be so cruel, Daniel? He’s trampling all Katy’s plans into the ground, leaving her with no future.”

For a moment, Daniel didn’t answer.

“He’s done that kind of thing before, Sarah,” he said at last. “He told me that education makes trouble for people like us.”

His voice tailed off. Sarah gripped his hand a little tighter.

There was a rumble of wheels behind them as they were overtaken by Chisholm, the carter.

“Jump up. There’s plenty o’ room the day. Ye’ll get hame a wee bit quicker.”

His shout was jovial, and Sarah and Daniel didn’t hesitate.

“Let’s call in on Mary Ellen and Pate,” Sarah suggested when Chisholm dropped them off at the end of the Front Raw.

She wanted to avoid Daniel’s disappointment at his father’s behaviour and thought that a bit of company might divert him. He looked doubtful.

“Tomorrow’s a big day for me, Daniel. I’m going to do my first big washing in the wash house and Mary Ellen’s coming with me to show me what to do. I need to make arrangements with her.”

* * * *

That evening, Mary Ellen’s house was a haven of warmth and peace. The lamps were lit, Pate was working on his latest rag rug, Mary Ellen was sewing and the kettle was singing on the range.

The lady of the house looked up.

“Come in and give us your news.” She smiled. “You’ll be ready for a wee cup o’ tea, I expect. Just let me finish this wee sweeler for Lily’s bairn an’ I’ll mash the tea.”

“What’s a sweeler?” Sarah was curious.

Mary Ellen held up a broad strip cut from a blanket. It was neatly hem-stitched along both edges.

“Ye bind this round the back o’ a newborn an’ pin it, nice and secure. A bairn wears a sweeler up till it’s a year old. Keeps it warm, supports it, gies it a fine strong back.

“Every bairn should wear a sweeler. But Lily hasna an idea in her bonnie wee head about how t’ see to a baby. It’s just as well her mother’s takin’ her and’ the bairn an’ Jackie back to the city for a while. They a’ need lookin’ after, and Jackie’ll no’ be fit for work for a while yet.”

Pate looked up.

“They’ll no’ come back,” he said. “That accident nearly took his life. It was as near as made nae difference and forbye, that wee lassie, Lily, she’s never settled here. Once she gets Jackie tae the city, she’ll make sure they dinna come back.”

With a quick glance at Sarah, Mary Ellen got up and made the tea, talking all the while about the big washing planned for the next morning. Both of the women sensed that mention of Jackie’s accident might trigger off another outburst from Daniel about bad conditions down the pit, and both knew that such an outburst had to be avoided.

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”.