Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Fool

"Oh, Cynthia," he said, his voice soft and crooning, as he drew her to his side. "You are the source of all my hope, my joy. You are my inspiration!"

She pushed her hand hard against his chest. "Gerald," she said. "You are a fool."

"Just a fool for you, my love."

"No Gerald," she said. "You are a fool in your own right. Go to your wife now, or else I shall."

This little scene was inspired by Sunday Scribblings number 224. The word was source.

Farewell Tour

Ted stood in the muster area, as the sun began to dawn, as he had hundreds of times before. Today he was alone; there was no shift change. There was no oncoming crew bantering and rustling with crib bags and drink bottles; there was no off-going crew tired and dirty handing over achievements and concerns; there were no engineers or planners or superintendents, all in a mild panic, trying to find out why things hadn't gone to plan, chasing precious paperwork, and passing on newer, grander plans.

The crew vehicles were parked in a row, silent. No one was doing the shiftly pre-start checks or complaining about the mud and rubbish left inside by the last mongrel crew. The safety board showed two days since the last injury. It hadn't been touched since the day North Creek Mine had been shut down.

The mine had been the biggest part of Ted's life; his whole life, really. He had lost that, when the front gates were closed and locked, fifteen days ago. Head office had chosen to shut the place down, and he'd found out at on the same day as everyone else.

He'd taken it hard. He held it together, until he was alone, and then he cried like a baby. He felt ashamed, to bawl like that.

He hadn't been able to sleep last night. In the early hours of the morning, he came back to the mine, to have one last look around; to say goodbye, properly. In the dark, he cut his way through the boundary fence. He walked the corridors and buildings and paths. He breathed in the smell of mud, diesel, grease, rubber and smouldering, heating coal as he roamed his mine. He touched the wheels of the mammoth rear-dump trucks, parked in rows on the go-line. He gathered memories.

As he walked through the plant, the wind blew in gusts, howling through the structure and the conveyor gantries and in and around the yard machines. Ted had never before heard that sound in the plant. The plant had roared when it was running, and during shut-downs the sound of the machines was replaced by rattle-guns, hammers, grinders, cranes and men. Now, the plant was silent, and the wind took its turn to be heard.

Through the early hours, Ted walked, and thought, and comforted himself with familiar sights, and saw some things around the mine he'd never seen before.

He'd gone to the muster area just before the dawn. He stood and watched lightening sky and listened to the crows as they fought over what was left in the bins.

He heard footsteps then. He stepped around the corner to avoid getting caught.

"There you are Ted," called a familiar voice. The footsteps quickened.

Ted went back and saw David, his overburden superintendent, and the closest thing he had to a friend.


David smiled. "Saw you before, lurking around," he said. "I've been on a bit of a farewell tour myself."

They stood quietly together and looked around. Then Ted said suddenly, "I'd do things differently, you know, if I could do it all over again."

David nodded, and grunted.

"I pushed, and pushed, for tonnes. That was my job. But I pushed until something broke." He sighed.

David said nothing.

Ted went on, "I said safety was the number one priority; but I didn't want people to believe me, and they didn't. I pushed tonnes, tonnes and tonnes. But I couldn't squeeze the volume through this place that it needed to turn a decent profit."

"But you tried."

Ted grunted.

They stood together in the cool quiet and the minutes passed. Ted could hear the clock on the wall ticking. He read the signs posted on the walls, as if for the first time.

A few tears escaped from Ted's eyes. He wiped them quickly with his shirtsleeve before David could notice. He didn't like to blubber; he just felt so depressed, like his life was over. His career was in tatters. He'd had little effect on production, he'd lost control of costs, and now two me were dead and a third would never walk again.

Ted hated who he was. He hated that he was crying about his mine and his career, and not about the men whose lives he had risked, and lost, and wrecked. He hated that he was crying at all.

Ted spat into the dirt. "I'm going home, before the rent-a-cops catch me."

David nodded. "Me too."

They shook hands, promised to keep in touch – both knowing that they wouldn't – and walked away.

This story appeared today in the Five Minute Fiction column of Issue 91 of Shift Miner Magazine. I've often thought of what it would be like to walk around a mine that was a big part of your life, and was then shut down. Imagine all the things that were once important, that now don't even exist.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A More Gentle Creature

"I think a man should be gentle," she said, not looking directly at him. "Strong, and bold, of course; but especially gentle."

"Indeed," he said. "How intriguing. I agree that a man possessing strength and boldness is worthy of some praise; but there is no call for gentleness. That is an attribute more fitting for a lady, I should think."

She laughed. "A lady should appear gentle," she said, "but can never be so, if she is to survive in this world."

"And what then of a man, that is both strong and bold - as you require - but is not truly gentle?"

"Such a man," said she, turning to face him directly, "is vulgar."

He knew that she had said, in not so many words, that such a man was he. He hid his humiliation by turning and leaving, in search of a more gentle creature, with eyes that might adore, rather than pierce him.

This little scene is my response to Three Word Wednesday number CXCVII. The prompting words are gentle, praise and vulgar.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

No Big Deal

No Big Deal appears in Issue 90 of Shift Miner Magazine. This is the first of my Shift Miner stories that isn't directly mining-related. I think most people who have travelled long-distance with their family should be able to relate to this. This especially includes those of us working in residential remote-area mining jobs.

"It's not such a big deal to drive to Brisbane," said Susie.

Bruce wasn't so sure. They'd done long distances before, but never with the two kids. "Okay," he agreed. They had to go to Susie's father's seventieth birthday part. Susie thought flying was too expensive, so they took the people-mover. Bruce decided to take the inland road. "Less cars, cops and other problems," he said.

Bruce had bought a portable DVD player with two screens. "That'll keep 'em busy," he said. It kept Bruce busy for a about an hour while he worked out how to set it up. Once they were out of town, Susie told the kids they could play their movie.

Dylan said, "Mum, it doesn't work."

"What do you mean?"

"The DVD player doesn't work."

"What's it doing?"

"It's not playing."

Discussion became yelling as Susie tried to diagnose the problem from the front-seat. Bruce pulled over. "Let's see what the matter is."

Bruce took out the DVD and looked at it. It had some kind of muck on the shiny side. "What's all this on the DVD?" he asked the kids. Dylan and Peter put on their confused faces and shrugged their shoulders. Susie found Bruce a tissue and he used some spit and polish to clean up the disc.

The DVD player kept the kids quiet, as planned. The movie itself wasn't so quiet. Yelling, laughter, crying and music poured out off from the two screens. "Turn it down," they called out from the front, a few times.

"Good little speakers," said Bruce, quietly.

Susie said, "Maybe we can get some headphones in Brisbane."

"Good idea."

After an hour on the road, they came to some road-works. The speed limit dropped to 80, then 60, then 40. "We'll be parked up soon, if this keeps up," said Bruce. He saw a lollipop-man sign saying "Prepare to Stop" and swore very quietly to himself.

"Settle down, dear," said Susie.

"I'm settled." Bruce looked in the rear-view. A few cars were banking up, then a new blue ute came around the outside. "What's this idiot doing? There's a truck coming the other way."

The ute overtook the cars behind Bruce. The driver must have seen the truck, his brake lights flashed on. The cars ahead were bunched close together now. There wasn't any space for the blue ute. Bruce hit his own brakes, hard. Peter shouted from the back seat. The truck driver flashed his lights. The ute pulled in front of Bruce. Bruce muttered to himself.

"What was that dear?"

"I said, 'Tanker'. The truck that almost took out that idiot is a fuel tanker."

Amazing, thought Bruce. We stare death in the face, and she ups me about my language.

It wasn't long after the road-works that Dylan said he felt sick. Bruce asked how sick, and did he need to throw up? Before he could answer, Dylan threw up.

Bruce and Susie used an old pack of baby-wipes to clean the worst of it. Susie did most of the cleaning, while Bruce tried to stop their children from suiciding on the highway, or throwing rocks at each other or passing cars. "Throw them out there at a tree, or something," he said. Evidently, trees were boring.

They hit the roo about half-way to Brisbane. "I didn't think roos came out in the middle of the day," said Bruce as he pulled over and turned off the engine.

"It would seem that they do," said Susie.

Very helpful dear, thank you, thought Bruce.

The roo had only glanced off the bumper. Bruce took his small axe out of the back of the car and went hunting for the roo to give it some euthanasia. He gave up looking after ten minutes. Susie didn't ask why he kept an axe in the car, which was a pity because he'd thought of a great come-back for that.

Bruce tried to make up some time. He got a speeding ticket just outside of Miles. Susie didn't say anything, which was good, thought Bruce.

Not far from Toowoomba it started raining. The window-wipers worked, but only just. The Central Highlands sun had toasted the wiper blades. Bruce thought that Susie might want to criticise his lack of maintenance and preparation, so he said, "Wiper blades are pretty expensive. And I checked the weather, and it said it'd be all fine."

"I didn't say anything," said Susie.

They arrived, finally, at Susie's parent's place. Susie's dad gave Bruce a hearty handshake. "I'm glad you guys could come," he said. "Susie said you might fly, but I suppose it's no big deal to just jump in the car and drive, is it?"