The Life We Choose – Episode 49

“Ernest? Is that your real name, Tricky? That’s a new yin, right enough.” Maggie laughed, suddenly taking an interest.

“My faither was English,” Tricky explained, moving on with his tales of his new job. “An’ here’s a funny thing. There’s an auld rug in the liberry that ye wouldna gie tuppence for, and ye’re no’ allowed tae step on it. Ye’ve tae walk roond it, because seemin’ly it comes fae Persia or some sich place,” he said.

For a moment, there was silence as the information was digested.

“Whit exactly is yer job, Tricky? Are ye a butler?” Nellie asked.

“Wi’ a swallatail coat?” one of her companions finished.

Tricky puffed out his chest and answered with dignity.

“I’m a general factotum. Miss Bunty’s ain words,” he replied proudly.

Someone giggled.

“Does that mean ye dae as little as possible?” Nellie Burnett enquired.

“It means,” Tricky answered, looking slightly offended, “that I dae a wee bit o’ this and a wee bit o’ that. And seein’ that I can turn my hand to onythin’, it’s nae bother.”

“Well, that beats workin’ up to yer knees in water at a coal face, Tricky. My man comes hame soakin’ maist nights,” one of the audience complained.

The conversation was suddenly diverted.

“An’ y’canna get the dust off damp moleskins,” she added. “Mind ye, I dinna miss that job. When I did my man’s workin’ claes off the gable end, I was choked wi’ dust. If they’re wet, I just hang them on the pulley.”

There was a murmur of agreement. For a moment, attention was diverted from Tricky.

“Did you come in tae buy somethin’, or tae brag aboot yer new situation, Tricky?” Maggie was losing interest.

Before he could answer, a new voice cut through the sudden buzz of conversation about the poor conditions at the pit.

“I asked you to get a loaf o’ bread on your way hame frae yer work. Are ye gaunnae take a’ night, Tricky Binnie?” Magrit stood there in a wraparound floral apron, scarlet spots of indignation on her cheeks. Tricky was suddenly deprived of speech.

Maggie handed a loaf to Tricky.

“Nae tick,” she said, extending her hand, palm upwards.

Tricky rummaged in his pocket. Magrit’s gimlet stare fixed on Nellie Burnett.

“An’ I hope ye havena been talkin’ aboot oor private business in this partic’lar company,” she added.

“That’s the last loaf.” Maggie seized her opportunity as Tricky’s audience melted away. “I’m done for the night. I’ll away ben the hoose.” She rattled her keys.

* * * *

Sarah was sewing when Daniel got back from one of his visits to Pate.

“Mary Ellen’s away out on errands of mercy most afternoons, and I think Pate gets wearied, sitting there on his own. A wee blether puts in the time for him, he tells me,” Daniel had explained when Sarah had remarked that he seemed to be spending a lot of time at the Walkers’ house.

“We’re not planning a strike,” he’d added. “Just tryin’ to work out where that water that’s floodin’ the pit is comin’ from. Pate knows a lot about the old workings.”

Sarah looked up from her sewing as Daniel sat down opposite her.

“I’m just in,” she said. “I walked over to Maggie Pender’s to get extra supplies. I don’t want you to starve when I’m away in Edinburgh. I’ll need to start making arrangements about the school and suchlike as soon as Aunt Bertha sends a reply to my letter. That should come any day now.”

Daniel tried to smile. He couldn’t bear the thought of Sarah going away for just a few days.

“What’s that you’re sewing?” he asked, desperate to change the subject.

“Just a blouse that needed mending,” she said, snipping off a thread. “Getting my best clothes ready to go in the valise. I’ll have to look at my most respectable. Aunt Bertha has an eagle eye where clothes are concerned.”

Daniel didn’t say anything, but stared into the fire. A moment later, there was a tapping at the front door.

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”.