Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Days Off

This story recently appeared in Issue 85 of Shift Miner Magazine. I hope you get something out of it. Please, leave a comment.

Hal loved his family.  He carried a photo of them with him, all the time.  It was because he loved them that he agreed to his wife Jody's pleas to move them all to Mackay.  Emerald had been a great place to live, as far as Hal was concerned. He'd made some great mates there.  But Jody's friends and family were in Mackay, and she really wanted the kids to go to school there.

"Besides," said Jody, "with twelve hour shifts you're not really at home when you're working.  You could just drive out from Mackay, work your tour, and then come home after your last shift."

It made a lot of sense.  He really only did sleep and eat at home during his tour.  Lots of others did the drive-in drive-out thing.  Anyway, he liked the coast.  So, they moved.

Hal found his tours to be more lonely then he'd thought he would.  It was that hour or so when he got to the apartment and wound down before falling asleep.  He missed the quick catch-ups with Jody, and looking in on the kids in their beds.  He still fell asleep soon enough, and when Hal fell asleep, he was dead to the world.  He missed them all when he woke up, too.  It was like a dull ache; a longing to be somewhere else.  It didn't really make much sense.  When they were all in the same house he'd only ever got up and dressed in the dark anyway.  Still, he'd known that they were there, at home.

On day-shifts, the drive out to the mine in the pre-dawn darkness always helped Hal to clear his head.  It was his favourite time of the day.  Sometimes he'd think about the work ahead, preparing himself for the day.  Sometimes he'd think about his family.  Sometimes, fishing.

The end of each tour ended with two or three night shifts, depending on where he was in the roster.  He had a kind of feeling of expectation, driving out to the mine in the evenings for his night shifts.  It was almost time for his days off; almost time to go back home.

 It wasn't the night shifts themselves that Hal liked.  In fact, Hal hated working nights.  What he liked was knowing that he would soon be going home to his family.  What he didn't like was the effort it took to stay awake.  He loathed that time from about three to four in the morning, when his body craved a warm bed; but instead he was two hundred and fifty metres underground, putting up roof-bolts or driving a shuttle-car.

For Hal, the next hardest part of night shift was the drive home.  The drives back to Emerald wasn't too bad.  While some blokes felt better the more night shifts they did in a row, it only seemed to get worse for Hal.  By the last shift of his tour, he seemed to be runing on adrenaline and willpower.

It was willpower that made Hal drive straight home to Mackay after his last shift.  He didn't want to have another daytime sleep by himself in his Emerald apartment.  He just wanted to get home.  The mine was half an hour in the right direction anyway.  As the great philosopher Meatloaf once said, "Like a bat out of hell, I'll be gone when the morning comes."

Hal worked out ways to stay awake and stay on the road on that long, tired trip home.  He'd turn the radio on or played a CD, loud.  He'd turn the air-conditioner onto freezing, or sometimes open a window.  He would stop at the servo outside Moranbah, scratching his scalp and rubbing his face.  He'd get an iced coffee from the fridge packed full of them, and then hit the road again.  Next stop: Nebo.  If he found himself drifting off, he'd pull over for a minute and run around the car.  Hal had it worked out.

After six months, the car pretty much drove itself home.  Hal cut out the Nebo stop, and sometimes Moranbah too.  He got better at pushing himself through those sleepy moments.  He'd focus.  He'd talk to himself.  He'd think about Jody and the kids.  He'd keep going, going, going.  Home.

An elderly couple towing their caravan with an old Landcruiser were the first on the scene where Hal's ute had been split in half by a huge gum tree about twenty metres from the road.  The ambulance officers weren't able to revive him.  There were no skid marks, and tests showed his brakes were working fine.

After six years, his family still miss him very much.

1 comment:

Geoff maritz said...

One thing that I've resolved on in my life is to never allow myself to sleep in a vehicle for fear of falling asleep behind the wheel thinking that someone else is driving. Otherwise a very sad story.