The Life We Choose – Episode 65

There was no sign of his host. A rosy-faced woman was sweeping the floor in the next room. She returned Daniel’s smile as he retrieved his jacket and left a few coins on the table by way of thanks. Outside, he turned away from the docks and made his way up through Leith towards Waverley Station, his thoughts in turmoil.

Somehow, it was as if Sarah was walking beside him. Glancing up at the grey tenements on either side of him, he reflected that even if he had found work at Leith, his beautiful Sarah could never live in a place like this. She would wither and die like a flower in the first frosts of winter.

“Queensferry,” he said aloud, startling a woman who was hurrying past him. Daniel didn’t notice.

It would have to be Queensferry, he thought. A place where there was, by all accounts, still work around the new bridge, where the two of them could walk down by the river of an evening, where there would be plenty of places to rent now that most of the bridge builders had gone home. There would be money to be earned for those brave enough to scale the heights of the new Forth Bridge – money for the future, for their plans.

By the time he had finished imagining the future, Daniel’s step had lightened and he had reached the early morning bustle of Waverley Station. A train was already sending impatient plumes of smoke into the chilly morning air. Outside the guard’s van, a man was struggling with two bulky crates.

“Aye, this is the workers’ train for Queensferry. Leavin’ in ten meenits, if I can get these crates intae the van.”

“Need a hand?” Daniel asked, knowing what the answer would be.

It was cold in the guard’s van with the door open a little way to let in the light, but Daniel, perched on a box, watching the landscape slide past, reflected on his good luck at saving the price of a ticket.

“First stop,” the guard announced, breaking into his train of thought. He helped the man lift one of the crates on to the station platform.

“Next stop’s the Junction,” his companion told him. Daniel said nothing, but watched as the landscape became familiar. There were the barges on the canal, the huddle of houses, one shabby little cottage half-hidden by trees, a plume of smoke rising from its chimney.

His parents’ house. For a fleeting moment, he imagined his mother, up and about before anyone else, coaxing the fire into life, making things ready for his father.

His father, whom he had spoken to just a few nights before.

“Don’t run away from trouble,” he had said. “Turn and face it, boy. I ran away from trouble more than once and I’ll regret it till my dying day. When there’s trouble, you turn and face it. Put up a fight and overcome it if you can.”

Looking for work was, to Geraint Morrison, an excuse for running away from trouble.

“Ah said will ye gie me a hand wi’ this crate.” The impatient tones of his companion broke into his thoughts.

The crate was manhandled on to the platform. There was no-one about.

When Chisholm arrived, late for once, to collect it, he saw the workers’ train disappearing into the distance.

* * * *|

You’ve been crying,” Jess said accusingly, once Sarah had released her from a hug and settled her in a fireside chair, her feet up on a little footstool.

“No, I haven’t.” Sarah smoothed back her hair and tried to hide her weariness.

“Don’t you cry, Sarah. Daniel will be back as soon as he finds work. But you canna sit here, just waiting. There are things that have to be done.”

“You shouldn’t be out on a cold day like this, Jess. Not in your condition.”

Jess, plump and pink-cheeked, lifted their sombre mood by chuckling.

“My condition? I’ve never felt better, Sarah. Fair contented and happy I am, an’ makin’ plans. Plans for you an’ Daniel.”

And before Sarah could protest, Jess unfolded her plan . . .

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”.