Monday, March 8, 2010
This story was originally published in the 5 minute fiction column of Issue 76 of Shift Miner Magazine. I previously blogged about this story here.
This is a deviation from my usual stories and has a sadder theme. I got some varied feedback on this story. This included a someone telling me that they felt that I was judging people who chose to do fly-in-fly-out type of work. He seemed to take it personally; perhaps I hit a nerve.
What do you think?
Trent left the job he loved to chase the pay packets that the coal mines were offering. He found a job as a boilermaker for a contracting company; though, he didn't like the work at all. He loathed the early morning starts, getting up in the dark. Welding, cutting and gouging steel in the Central Queensland heat sapped his strength and his will. In a way, the work was always changing: a dragline bucket, a stacker-reclaimer, a construction job. Really though, the work never changed.
From the very start, Trent's only reason for working in the mines was to give his family the financial security and opportunities they deserved. He kept himself going through the weeks, months and years because this motivation was so close to his heart, literally. In his left shirt pocket, Trent kept his first payslip, with a photo of his wife Alison, and their two little girls, Caitlin and Emily, glued to the back. He called it his Motivator. He had plasticised his Motivator with a laminator to protect it from the dirt, sweat and coal dust. Over time it had become covered in creases and folds, and the plastic was peeling apart at the corners. During crib times, or the lonely nights in the camp, Trent would take out his motivator to remind himself of the reasons he was sweating in the heat and the dust, and to muster the strength to get up and get back to work.
He'd done all this for them; they knew that. They must know that. Their new life had its costs, of course. Trent hadn't been there when Caitlin lost her first tooth. He was on site when Emily fell down the stairs and cut her head open. He'd offered to come home on the next plane, but no, she said, we managed okay. She didn't add, “without you”, but he'd felt it.
They'd talked about it, after he'd finished that tour: if he should leave the mines and come back. It wouldn't work, she said, with the mortgage on the home, and the car repayments, and the private school fees. He said fine, and that he was only doing it for them anyway; he was willing to pay the price.
They seemed to manage okay, on the whole; but Trent was rarely around for the little things. He could book leave and twist his boss's arm to make time for the big occasions, but the little things slipped by; one at a time, over the years.
One day he arrived home for his days off, exhausted, to an empty house. “We've grown apart,” she said when he found her, eventually, at her mother's place. “You're not the same person any more, and neither am I.”
“I did all this for you,” said Trent.
“I know, I know; but it's not going to work. Don't worry about us, we'll manage okay.”
There were a lot of things Trent wanted to say then, but he didn't. He couldn't find the words, so he stood there like an idiot, with his mouth open. He thought of things he could have said, later.
Trent keeps working in the mines on the roster he still hates. He still does it for the girls, the two little ones mostly. He hopes that one day soon they won't despise him like they do now; that they'll grow out of it. He hopes that Alison will come back to him. A stupid hope, he knows, but it's still his hope. He can forget the pain and the past with the hard work and the hot sun and the scorching steel. He can forget until crib time, when he pulls out his motivator, and clenches his jaw to hold back the tears.