Charles Hayes, a multiple Pushcart Prize Nominee, is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. A product of the Appalachian Mountains, his writing has appeared in Ky Story’s Anthology Collection, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Fable Online, Unbroken Journal, CC&D Magazine, Random Sample Review, The Zodiac Review, eFiction Magazine, Saturday Night Reader, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Scarlet Leaf Publishing House, Burning Word Journal, eFiction India, and others.
Derelict now for more than 25 years, the grime covered coal tipple rises from the coal dust and slate like some kind of huge tin man from the Wizard of Oz. Shrouded in the hollow’s misty light as the sun breaks the ridge, the old mine takes on an almost magical quality. And it is quiet. A time when the night has retired and the day is only beginning to stretch. Perched here on the porch of my hillside shack above it all, I watch the black hole beyond the tipple. It is time.
Looking like black sticks, their hard hats blazing carbide, Biff and Spike emerge from the hole bearing a makeshift stretcher. On it, wrapped in the canvas cover of a mining machine, lies a dead miner. Switching off their lights but not pausing to rest, they trudge along the track and pass under the tipple. There, seemingly fueled by an inexhaustible strength, they leave the track and disappear into the green hillside below my shack. I can hear them talking between gasps of air as they wind their way up the path.
“I ain’t never seen nobody cut up like this before,” Biff says. “What we gonna tell his wife, Spike?”
“God damn it,” Spike replies. “Just shut up and haul. My boy was worse than this. The jaws of that thing got a taste of us with him. Jesus God, they’ll want me to operate that thing next.”
My wife, Jenny, having heard their voices, joins me on the porch.
“Oh Lord, Joe. Are they headed up this way again?”
Knowing the ways a bit better from my side, I try to instill in Jenny a calm that doesn’t come easy.
“Fraid so darling. Just like clock work ain’t it?”
Not one for two ways about something, Jenny lays it out pretty clear.
“Well Joe, just pretend that they ain’t here. Let ‘em come every morn if’en they want. We’ll just not see ‘em. And they can’t make us.”
The stretcher at their feet for the first time, Biff and Spike, hats in hand, look up at Jenny with white socketed eyes, black faces ashine with sweat. Spike, thinking how it was with his boy, says, “I’m sorry…….”
“I don’t see you and I don’t hear you Spike,” interrupts Jenny. “Same goes for you Biff.”
Looking down at the canvas lump, Biff does the unusual and actually speaks during this visit.
“But this here’s Joe, Jenny. Don’t you want to take care of him?”
“I don’t see you.” Jenny replies.
Looking to the empty chair at her side, Jenny continues.
“You see or hear anything, Joe?
“Just another quiet morn above a dead mine,” I say. “Just go on back inside, Jenny.”
This old soiled tipple of yesteryear at a very special time. I figure many out there would find it spooky and unclean. But out there is clearly beyond the pale, no doubt here. Besides into these reaches can not be seen. I can watch out there come and go across their flat tableaus. Yet if our eyes meet, nary a connection will be made. Like one way mirrors, I can look out but they can not look in.