The Life We Choose – Episode 60


“Mary Ellen said t’bring ye up to her hoose,” the carter said as they reached the Front Raw.

“No. I want to be at home when Daniel comes off his shift.” Sarah glanced at him, the slightest pinprick of apprehension making her suddenly alert. It grew as a group of women standing at a corner stared curiously at her before turning back into a gossiping huddle.

As she let herself into the house, the cold hit her in the face. The fire was out, a trail of ashes across the hearth. An unwashed plate lay on the little table. In the scullery, Daniel’s working clothes lay in a heap by the back door.

Trembling, Sarah leaned back against the sink board, fear sucking the breath from her body.

As she did, the door flew open and there stood Mary Ellen.

“It’s a’ right, henny. It’s a’ right,” she said, enveloping Sarah in an embrace,

“Daniel?” Sarah’s voice was scarcely audible.

“Safe an’ sound. Dinna you fret, lass. Come through ben the kitchen wi’ me and I’ll tell you what’s happened.”

Holding Sarah’s hand and patting it encouragingly now and then, Mary Ellen related the whole sorry tale of Daniel’s sacking, and of Rushforth’s spite.

At last Sarah managed to speak.

“None of it matters, Mary Ellen,” she said. “As long as he is safe and we’re together.”

It was then that Mary Ellen gave her the letter Daniel had left for her.

It bore no date and was a hurried scrawl, showing Daniel’s agitation as he had written it.

Rushforth has done his worst, it read. I have gone to look for work. Mary Ellen and Pate will look after you until I return. Till then, I carry you in my heart, my Sarah.

Your loving husband,

Daniel.

As Sarah stared at the words of the letter, the world around her dissolved into a grey, swirling mist. Mary Ellen’s strong hands reached out to steady her as she swayed a little. In their firm grasp, she was guided to a chair.

Much later, as she sat by a roaring fire in Mary Ellen’s house, drinking strong and scalding tea, she could remember nothing of how she’d got there.

Bewildered, she looked into Mary Ellen’s concerned face.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice little more than a whisper. “It was just . . .” Her voice faltered then and the tears came. “Just the shock of it all.”

Sarah sat there, letting a river of tears course down her face.

“And Daniel.” Her voice trembled as she spoke his name.

Mary Ellen gathered Sarah into her arms and held her tight. For once, she was lost for words.

At last she spoke.

“Daniel went away two days syne.”

“Where did he go, Mary Ellen? I have to find him.”

“You’ll hae a job, Sarah, lass,” Pate chimed in from his seat by the fire. “Findin’ him, I mean. He could be out at Queensferry where there’s paintin’ work an’ suchlike at the new brig, or he could be away through tae Leith docks or even Grangemouth, where the big tankers pit in frae the Persian Gulf.”

Pate’s honest answer to her question seemed somehow to calm Sarah. Smoothing down her hair and drying her tears, she got up.

“Thank you both for all you’ve done,” she said. “Whatever would I do without you?”

Still struggling to control her emotions, she went on.

“I’m going home now. I need time to think, to make decisions. I need to be on my own while I do that. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Despite Mary Ellen’s protests and her offer of a bed for the night, she gathered up her belongings and made her way down the Raw towards her own little house. The knots of gossiping women had gone, and from some of the houses, Sarah could hear the raised, scolding voices of mothers trying to get their children to bed.

She quickened her step. Once, this had begun to feel like her place – hers and Daniel’s.

Now, without him, she had become a stranger once more.

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.