Chum – a short story

Chum

Short Story by Roy Davies,  former Garw resident

He could always smell the dogs’ pond a long way before he got to it and in the long hot stretches of summer it was always worse.

“Pooh”, the groups of children walking on that side of the valley would say to each other.    “What a pong.  Can you smell it?”  And they would hold their noses with their fingers as they walked around the edge of the small, deep, pool of water on their way to the rugby field or the whinberry mountain or to the vast black tip sitting high above that they called the Aerial to play on the wires and buckets that brought up the waste from the colliery far below.

In Wintertime when the mountain water filled the pond to the brim the surface was always moving, whipped into motion by the cold winds which sang up the valley.   But in the summer the surface stretched itself tightly across the pool to cling onto the reeds at the edges.  The sun sucked out a foot or so of water over the months of warm weather and the mud and soft water slime that was normally covered, dried out.   Then, reaching through the nostrils and clinging to the back of the throat, came a stench that is only ever associated with death and decay.

The young man stopped at the edge with his back to the valley and the early morning sun and examined the pond.   He had seen it emptier when the bottoms of the reeds had been really white instead of their normal, light green but, still, it was pretty low.   He looked, as they all did, for the waterlogged sacks that they counted carefully and talked to each other about in the streets and school-yards of the valley.

On the surface, covered with green slime, floated several tight, dull, grey mounds.   In each one, they knew, bloated and decomposed was the long dead carcase of one of the dogs that had barked and played and run the valley streets and hills years before.

With each carcase in the sack there would have been a heavy stone and sometimes as the children walked the mountain paths they had seen miners approach the pool carrying a heavy sack that was sometimes moving and, standing at the edge, swing the sacks, dog and stone several times in weighted, silent, arcs before all were released to land with a visual splash in the middle of the pond.   The grunt of effort and the sound of the water being disturbed would reach the children in sequence a second later and would pass by them to be lost in the grass and whin above them on the steep hillside.

They all had a picture in their minds of hundreds of sacks and stones lying at the bottom of the pond all waiting for time to eat the sacking, release the stone and allow other rotting bodies to rise in turn to be covered with the green slime of the silent surface.

When the valley children could stand the smell no longer, nor the strange silence as the high bank of coal waste which had caused the pool to form there in the first place pushed the sounds over their heads, they would all throw stones at the mounds on the surface.

Some would hit and make a dull, soaking, thudding sound on the body inside.   Sometimes a sack broke open but, because there weren’t many stones left near the pool, the groups of children would quickly pass on up or down the valley without spending much time around that sickly-sad place.

The young man held his breath while he looked at the sacks.   Then, just as he was bursting for air, he turned towards the valley away from the pond, and breathed out hard through his mouth.  He then snatched another lung-full and turned back to the pond.   In this way he stood there several minutes.   As he inspected the sacks he saw that one had been newly ripped by a stone and poking out of a jagged hole was a hank of slime-slicked brown fur on which was tied an old gaberdine belt with a square buckle.

There was not much colour left in the material when he recognised it that morning but six years before when he had last seen it, that belt had been fawn and rust stained and buckled tightly around the neck of Sid Daniel’s huge mongrel hound to hold it down as its head was smashed to splinters by Sid’s blunt hatchet against the stone block in the backyard of his tiny house in River Sreet.

The young man turned from the pond, walked over the bank and down onto the mountain where the air was clean and looked back across the valley past the colliery, past the burning tip, the Cinema, the huge chapel and the police station on the main road and far above River street to the tiny sandstone cottage in Dale street where the passage from the front door led through the house to the tiny back kitchen where he had first seen his own dog.

It was his ninth birthday and he was rushing his breakfast before school.   He opened the cards both without stamps, one from the man and the woman and the other from his grandparents who lived on the main road directly below them, as he sat in front of the fire burning high in the grate.   Then as the woman put the teapot on the table, the man, still in his pants and vest after his bath ready to go to bed, opened the door and went through into the front room.

The man didn’t return, but after a few seconds a ball of black and white fur bundled around the door and stood there for a moment.   Its tiny feet were turned out, its mouth was open, its ears flopped over and its tail was flicking so hard it was slapping its own sides.   The boy didn’t move.   He simply looked up in wonderment.

“For me?  Its for me?” he gasped and looked at the woman and then the man who now stood behind the pup.

They both smiled at him and looked at each other as the boy put his hand down to the floor and rubbed his thumb and fingers together to attract the attention of the small, bright eyes that were trying to take in everything in the room.

The pup, attracted by the movement, flicked it’s tail, harder and then moved towards the boy sideways so that its head and tail came within range of the boy at the same time.

The boy leaned forward and picked up the pup.   He turned it over so that the pink-ness of its belly shone through the thin hair and the pup in its excitement to show its gratitude bent its back so that its tongue and its back legs were attacking either side of the boy’s hand as he smoothed it under its chin.

“Oh! It’s wonderful,” the boy said, as he brought the pup up to his face and then he laughed as its tongue tickled his nose and mouth.

“Do you like it?” the woman asked.

“I could always take it back,” the man joked.

“No fear,” said the boy.  “It’s lovely.  I’m keeping it.”

The pup was trying to bite his finger but its mouth was small and soft and it could get no leverage on the tiny pinpricks of its front teeth.

“How old is it daddy?  Is it a girl or a boy?  Where’d you get it from?”  The questions tumbled out.

“I don’t bloody know,” smiled the man.  “I don’t know anything about dogs.   Ask your mother.”

“Don’t ask me,” said the woman.  “I’m just as dull.  Go down to Main Street, Dad will know.  He’ll tell you.  But don’t forget.  It’s your responsibility now.   You’ll have to look after it and clean up its mess.  I’m not going to.  I’ve got enough to do with you two and your father.”

The man winked at the boy, glanced at the woman who had already turned away and then gave the pup a quick pat before going upstairs to bed.

The boy’s grandfather knew all about dogs.  He had kept them all his life – mainly spaniels but sometimes terriers for ratting.  They were his company when he put on his cap and picked up his stick to go walking the mountains.

“Duw, what a lovely pup,” he said to the boy as he watched it run around the back kitchen of his house that evening after the boy had carried it down carefully cwtched in his jumper so that it wouldn’t get cold.

“Is it a boy dog or a girl, Dad?” asked the boy.

“Well lets have a look,” said the old man and he turned the pup over and examined it.   The boy felt embarassed.

“Look, see this,” the old man said pointing at the dog’s belly as it lay upside down in the palm of his hand. “Haven’t you got one of those?”

The boy realised at once that the pup was not a girl.

“He’s lovely though, isn’t he Dad,”

“He is, boy bach, he is.  What are you going to call him?

“I don’t know Dad.  I’ve been trying to think of names all day but I haven’t had one good idea and only now did I find out he was a boy dog.  I’m sure to think of a name now I know that.”

“Dogs are funny animals though,” the old man said.  “You might have been better off with a bitch.”

“Why then Dad?” he asked.  “Don’t they make as much mess or something?”

The old man smiled.  “Oh you’d have to clear up as much mess with a bitch as a dog.  No it’s just that in some ways bitches are easier.”   He looked into the fire and then into the eyes of the boy.   “And then in some ways they aren’t but”, and he stopped as he noticed for the first time the discomfort of the boy at the use of the adult word, “there’s still a lot for you to learn about lots of things, isn’t there?”

The boy nodded and he was still thinking about what the old man could possibly have meant as he smoothed the pup’s head for the last time that night before climbing around the sharp bend of the stairs to bed.

Outside his window, in the bright starlight,  the ground rose steeply past the quarry to the fields of the farm that were harshly separated from their streets.   A fence of netting wire was stapled to split oak posts that were so old they had grown grey green with fungus from the mists and rain that swept across the valleys.

Above the fence there were three strands of sharp, barbed wire to keep the sheep in and the valley children out.   But the bleating of the ewes and their lambs in Spring and early Summer as they wandered like some woolly army through the narrow streets only served to show that something, somewhere, was wrong with the system.   The farmers claimed they had no idea of how their sheep got down into the valley – “but Duw”, they would say when tackled, “they can jump anything.”

The miners and their wives knew that the farmers drove their sheep onto the valley streets to feed on the stale bread and potato peelings that the women put out for collection by the ash-men every other night.   Almost all of them used open buckets made of zinc that had seen better days as scrubbing buckets or as containers for boiling clothes when they had got too dirty or grimy for ordinary rubbing on the boards of corrugated metal or glass.   After years of boiling on gas or on open fires in the grate, the bottoms of the buckets were thin or rusted away.   But even then they were not ready to become ash buckets.   First they were used as coal buckets with a loose piece of tin placed in the bottom to stop the coal or ash falling through the burnt out bottom.

For the sheep of the valley the buckets were no more than a game.   The ewes would take their newly born lambs up and down the streets showing them how to get their noses under the rims of the buckets and one by one turn them over and scrape among the ashes and paper until the scraps of food were discovered.

Most mornings, when the ashcart arrived, every bucket would have been turned over and a path of ashes and rubbish stretched all the way down the street.   But the damage was done during the night and as he fell asleep on his ninth birthday the boy could already hear the rustling and banging as the long legged ewes trained their young outside his house and the metallic clashes caused by their demonstrations provided a counterpoint to his breathing as it became steadier and more regular.

He decided to call the dog Chum.  It felt right from the moment he thought of it when he realised that there weren’t many boys he knew who would want to share his excitement.   There had been one friend, a boy from Main Street some years before, but he had gone away to live without even saying goodbye.  Since then the boy had found it hard to get many boys to play with him.

His brother was excited by the pup, but he was only five and after the first few days when the man and the woman had at least showed some interest, the boy realised that it was to be just him and the dog.   There was no one else and so Chum it was and the boy never regretted his decision.

The boy and the dog sought each other out at all times.  The boy would fall to the floor to play with the dog and the dog would scamper around licking and jumping on the boy and they were both very happy.   The boy found that if the dog had messed the mat or the floor, it was more and more often there for him to clear up when he came home from school.   But once he got used to the amount of soap, the strange feel of the scrubbing brush and the heat of the water in the bucket he even looked forward to that job as well since the dog was a sheer joy.   And when the dog chewed the leg of a chair or used its claws on a soft cushion the boy defended its innocence.   Slowly the dog learnt to control itself in the house and, for a time, the rows about the nuisance it was causing died away and the five of them lived together in relative peace.

When Chum was six months old the boy went to fetch its licence from the village Post Office and carried it proudly home.  Although he had tried to teach the dog basic commands he had stopped as soon as the dog looked as if it wasn’t enjoying itself anymore.   But he had been told that six months was a good time to begin training a dog and so he went home, put the brand new licence behind the clock, fitted the collar and lead onto the dog and took it up the mountain to begin training it in earnest.

Everyone had told him that it was necessary.  They said that if a dog wasn’t properly trained you could expect trouble from the farmers.

The woman said it more than most.   She said that if a dog wasn’t properly trained it would get run over on Main Street and that all her father’s dogs had been properly trained.    She said that if a dog wasn’t properly trained it would run in a pack with other dogs and that was why her father had always kept bitches and she said that any dog that wasn’t properly trained would chase sheep and kill the lambs and if that happened the farmer would get his gun and shoot the dog.

“And I don’t want any farmers coming to this house saying that that dog has been chasing sheep,” she said, looking at Chum. “You make sure it doesn’t get us into trouble, that’s all.” and she would turn away with an intake of breath that suggested she had had enough trouble and official disapproval already in her life.

So, within five months of his tenth birthday, the boy began to train his dog.   He had no real idea of how to train a dog, but he knew that if he did not manage it the consequences would be terrible for Chum and for the woman and since it was his job he didn’t feel he had the right to bother the old man in Main Street with his problems.

“Sit!” he would shout at the dog with the lead in his hand from a distance of five yards, and the dog would waddle towards him.  The boy would lead him back and start again.

“Sit!  Sit, Chum!” and the dog would come forward again.

“Sit, Chum.  Sit!…….Sit!…” and as his voice rose the dog would drop its eyes and approach him shyly with his tail between his legs.   The boy would then slap the dog on his haunches with the lead.

“Sit, Chum!…Sit!…damn you…Sit!…SIT!”… the boy began to yell.   The dog would come half way and then roll on its back looking at the boy, its tail curled to its belly between its legs.

“Oh Chum,  come on Chum,” the boy would plead in desperation and the dog would run to him and stand on its hind legs for praise.

“I meant come on and DO it,” the boy would cry and lash out at the dog with a longer length of the lead, sometimes beating the dog over the back and crying “NOT come here to me. NOT come here to ME. Sit…SIT.”

When it got to this stage the dog would yelp and run off confused and squealing.

“Sit!” the boy would shout at the top of his voice but the dog would be halfway down the mountain.   Then the boy would run after it and before he knew it they would both once again be outside the small sandstone cottage in Dale Street.

The boy did not want to show the woman either his frustration or how difficult it was going to be to train the dog, so he would put down the lead, call the dog to him and pet him to show him they were still friends before they went into the house

“I’ve got to do it Chum”, he would sob into the dog’s fur, “or one day the farmer’s going to shoot you.   You’ve got to learn that you can’t chase his sheep.”

The young dog would look back at him.  In terms of relative maturity it was already nearly half as old as its master and the boy remembered that look as he cried himself to sleep in the late Autumn of that year as the familiar sound of marauding ewes threatened their future.

But it didn’t get better.   The weeks that followed were full of frustration for the boy and the dog.   The boy shouted “stay” and the dog would either run off in a circle or roll over on its back.   The boy would shout “sit” and the dog would ignore him and set off on some expedition of its own.   The pleadings became more tear filled, the boy’s commands more shaky-voiced and the shouting and the barking were caught by the stone faces of the quarry and thrown back at them both in hollow, mocking echoes.

The woman never asked about the training and the boy didn’t know how to tell her of his feelings of helplessness.

Chum grew smooth haired and frisky with a black patch around one of its eyes and another towards its tail.   Otherwise it was off-white.   The dog had a good honest nature and although it was spirited it never fought with other dogs in the street, nor to his great relief did it seem at all interested in the sheep which continually ambled past the front of the house. However, it sometimes barked for no reason at all and then the boy would tell it to shush in case someone heard and thought that trouble was on its way.

Every day, Summer and Winter, when the boy was in school, the dog would sit or lie on the brick pillar of the steps which led down into the street and focus on the corner of the street two hundred yards away around which the boy would turn on his way home from school.   Then the dog would flip up its ears, set back its head and tear down the street to jump and dance around the boy in small circles as he walked home for his tea.

On Summer nights and Winter weekends they would walk the mountains together, the dog always running slightly ahead but never too far and then turning on his back to slide down the mountain grass or crash through the thick undergrowth of fields of bracken.   They would sit together on the top of the mountain and study the valley from the farm at the very top to the place a mile away down below them where the terraced houses turned around the fold of the hills to be dragged by the gently sloping road down and out of the valley.

Now and then the mounted figure of the most bad tempered of the farmers would ride along the boundary of his barbed wire fences looking hard at the boy and his dog as he passed but never speaking.  The boy would watch the man and horse and the farm dogs carefully as they moved across the fields but Chum showed no interest.

There was, the boy discovered as the months went by, only one place on the entire mountain where the dog refused to walk with him.   As they wandered the path on the other side of the valley from his home, the dog would stop a long way before they got to the dogs pond and either by going above or below, take a circular route to bring itself back onto the path and the company of the boy only once the pond was far behind.   The boy discovered from others who walked their dogs on that side of the mountain that not all dogs reacted in the same way.   Some did and some didn’t and there was no telling which would do what.   So the boy accepted the dog’s independence and the only demand it ever made of him.

The boy had never given up the idea of training the dog to stay clear of the sheep but although as he got older the dog looked at them in the street and sometimes sat up with interest, he never chased them and the boy began to believe that he may, after all, be  spared the worst of what might have been.

Then, when the dog was about eighteen months old there appeared outside the boy’s house one day, a large, ugly, brown and black dog with long legs and a long powerful back with large drooping ears and a huge mouth.   It had mean, grey and brown eyes.  It wore no collar but was quickly identified as a dog from River Street.

It was quite unlike any other dog that roamed the valley streets and whether by strength of character, sheer example or the promise of protection, the newcomer soon had a pack of local dogs around it as each day it sat serenely on the banking looking across the valley.

When it moved all the other dogs moved and, amongst them, naturally, appeared Chum now developing a fine loving nature combined with a degree of independence that only those who have ever raised dogs of spirit can know or understand.

As the Winter set in and the curtains were drawn earlier and earlier the boy felt a strange uneasiness.   In the worst weather the dog wanted to go out and the boy felt through those months that it seemed to be serving some kind of apprenticeship with the ugly brown and black beast that had now been firmly identified as belonging to Sid and Dennis Daniel, a rough, beer drinking family who were distant relations.   But throughout these times the woman was no comfort.

“That dog of yours is always out and you have no idea where he is.   If he gets into trouble, my lad, it’ll be your lookout.”

The boy became sadder and sadder as he felt himself losing control of Chum to the large, ugly hound.   He knew that it was his responsibility to keep the dog under control but he had no idea how to do it and he had the feeling that he was already too late to save the dog from the fate the woman kept wishing on him.

As his eleventh birthday neared and the dog’s second passed, the longer days brought the sheep around again with their new-born lambs to scavenge among the valley ash buckets.   Sometimes, now, he couldn’t even get Chum to come into the house at night-time when he called and he would go walking all the streets of the village and the gentle slopes of the mountain to see if he could find him.   He knew, they all knew, that the Daniels’ dog was continually left out at night but he never found any sign of Chum or the others.   Whatever secret place they wandered to after dark it certainly wasn’t within calling distance of his home.

The woman and the man never found out about his searches.   When he went to bed for the night he would wait a few minutes and then climb out of his bedroom window, jump across the top of the back alley to the garden steps then go through the broken garden wall and onto the mountain.   Some nights in the cold and rain he would cry with frustration knowing that if he did not find the dog trouble was inevitable and that even if he did find Chum it was only one night of security, for the next the dog would disappear again.   And every morning when he got up to go to school the dog would be waiting, wet, cold and dishevelled on the front doorstep as innocent as the day.   The brown and black beast was never to be seen.

“You’ll have to do something about that dog,” said the man most mornings as he bathed in front of the fire after his night shift at the colliery.   And the boy would look at the dog sleeping by the hearth and go off to school worried sick and helpless.  He knew that nothing which happened now would be anything less than his own fault and that now he would never train the dog.    He also realised that once he admitted out loud what he knew in his heart then Chum’s short life would be over.

Then, in early May, one day while he was eating his tea, the woman said suddenly, “I don’t know where that dog of yours was last night but two sheep and four lambs were killed on the mountain.”

The boy stopped eating and looked first at the dog and then at the woman.   “Well it wasn’t Chum,” he said angrily.  “I know it wasn’t Chum”.

“I didn’t say it was,” said the woman,  “But some dog attacked the sheep and the farmers have said that they will shoot any dogs they find on their property.”

“But it wasn’t Chum, I know it wasn’t,” said the boy, already in tears.  “It was some other dog but it wasn’t Chum.”

“I told you to look after the dog,” said the woman, but you’ve never properly trained it and sooner or later there’s going to be trouble.”

The boy got down on his knees by the dog and smoothed the flat hairs along his ears and nose as it slept.

“No one’s going to touch him,” he said defensively, looking at the woman.   “No one.   He’s a good dog and no-one’s going to touch him.”

As the weeks went by, more stories were heard of sheep being savaged by dogs sometimes alone and sometimes in packs.   The valley people hated the sheep and their mess but in some strange way they all recognised that property had to be defended and owners of dogs found attacking sheep could not expect their pets to live.

“That dog of the Daniels’ was seen chasing sheep yesterday,” the woman said one day as the boy came home from school.   “There were other dogs with it.   One sheep was injured so badly that it had to be destroyed.   If the farmer finds out which dogs did it they have threatened to summons the owner.”

The boy felt angry, ashamed, guilty and confused in turn at the unstated accusations.

“That dog of yours is always with the Daniels’ dog.  I’m warning you now;  if any farmers or policemen come here that dog will have to go.”

Three days later it was confirmed by some people lower down the street that Chum with the Daniels’ dog had been seen chasing sheep on the mountain.   That evening the boy had only just heard the news he had so long dreaded when, passing down the street to look for Chum, he heard the yelping and growling of a dog coming from the Daniels’ back yard down below the level of his own street.

He looked over the broken sandstone wall and saw the head of the brown and black hound, fear shot through its eyes, being forced down onto a stone block by a fawn, rust stained gaberdine belt buckled tightly around its neck.  It was being pulled down through a steel ring set into the stone flags of the yard by Dennis Daniels as his brother Sid picked up the blunt hatchet he used for breaking big lumps of coal and brought it down with all his force on the huge snarling head of the dog.

The boy heard a crunching, squelching sound mingled with the screams of the beast as Sid Daniel raised the hatchet again.   Once more he slammed it down onto the dog’s head.   Again there was the same squelching crunch of bone and brains.   This time the heart-breaking squealing stopped suddenly but the dog’s hind legs straightened violently and then twitched a few times before they lay still.   Then, to be sure, Sid Daniel brought the hatchet down once more, shattering what was left of the teeth, bone, eyes and nose of the large, black-brown, powerful beast.   Dennis Daniel let go of the belt.   The dog slipped forward onto the stone flags and the brothers went inside the house and shut the door.

The boy let his feet scrape back down the wall.   He landed at the bottom, curled up into a ball sickened by what he had seen but having been unable to look away at any point during the slaughter.  Still holding himself in a ball he struggled to understand how anyone could let that happen to a dog.

He knew the Daniels were renown for their cruelty and there were stories in the valley that they would do the most unpleasant jobs in order to get the money for a few pints.   People in the streets around knew all about the Daniels and there were few who expected acts of kindness from Sid and Dennis if there was a few bob to be made.   But to treat their own dog like that, even the brown and black beast he hated so much, was, he felt, something that would have been condemned outright by most decent valley people.

The boy crawled away from the wall hoping no one had seen him.   He was determined that no dog of his would ever be killed like that.   He decided to tell no-one what he had seen, not the man or the woman, nor any of the other children in the street.  He hoped that with the death of the beast the agonies of worry and responsibility were now over.   Without the ringleader Chum may at last be safe.

He found the dog sitting on the back wall of the house.  It came  quickly when  he called which pleased him a lot.   Perhaps after all this time, the dog was becoming trained and obedient.  The dog licked his hand.   It had no blood around its mouth – a tell tale sign of sheep marauding, and they went home together.

That night, for the first time, he took the dog to his own room to sleep and his arm lay gently across its smooth back all night long.

As the boy turned the corner from school the following day he looked up the road but for the first time he could remember the dog was not lying on the pillar outside the house.   Suddenly frightened, he began to run towards the house calling the dog’s name as he did so.  He got to the door and ran straight through to the back kitchen, but he knew the worst before he had reached the chair where the man was sitting in front of the fire. “Where’s Chum?” he shouted.  “Where’s Chum?”

“Well I’ll tell you,” began the man.   “We decided that because of his chasing sheep and all, it would be better if the dog was put to sleep before anything worse happened and before he was shot by the farmer.   It’s all for the best.”

“But you had no right,” cried the boy, “you had no right at all.  He was my dog.   I looked after him and cared for him.   You had no right to put him to sleep without asking me.  Why didn’t you talk to me about it first?  Poor Chum,” and he cried in desperation into the fat cushions of the settee in the front room while the man tried to console him.

“It’s all for the best,” the man said again, “you’ll see.  In years to come you’ll see it was for the best.  We thought we should have it done painlessly, so we scraped together the vet’s fee and had the dog taken down on the bus to Town this morning.”

The boy was inconsolable.  The wetness of his tears had soaked the rough cushion and his head turned this way and that as he howled through his grief.

After some minutes of awkward patting, for it was very rare that he touched the boy,  the man tried again.

“It had to be done, really, ” he said.  “The farmers were keeping a sharp lookout and you wouldn’t have liked it if one of them had shot Chum, would you?  It must have been over very quickly this way,” he said as the boy’s shoulder’s jerked uncontrollably and his stomach heaved.  “Sid and Dennis called after you went to school this morning and they offered to take him down for us.   They had their own dog with them since the farmers would have been looking for that one as well.”

The boy stopped crying and sniffed hard.  He pushed himself up with his hands and looked, really looked, into the man’s eyes for the first time he could remember.

“You know, these days, vets can put animals to sleep without them feeling a thing,” the man continued.

The boy’s gaze didn’t falter.  The man, aware for the first time of its unwavering directness, swallowed hard, unsure how to react and unsure how to continue.    “Duw, you should have seen Dennis in his best suit and tie.”

“So they all went down on the bus this morning, did they?” said the boy flatly.  Sid…..?”

“Sid …..and Dennis,” said his father quickly.

“And the beast…..?”

“…and the beast…..and they took Chum with them.”

“…and they took Chum with them,” echoed the boy.” Did Chum look afraid when they led him away?” “No,” said the man.   “He looked as if he was going to enjoy himself.   He must have thought Sid and Dennis were going to take him up the mountain for a walk.”

For the first time since he stopped crying the boy relaxed focus on the man’s face.   He got up from the settee and walked straight past the man and out of the front door.  He climbed up the mountain and lay in the long Spring grass and cried long and bitterly until the moon was high and the metallic clashes from the colliery were the only sounds left in the valley.

The young man, still gazing at the pool was suddenly aware of the sun on his face followed the curve of the valley as it dropped from River Street, down to Main Street, across the valley and began to rise again past the houses on the lower slopes of the Aerial mountain below him.   He pushed himself up and walked the few yards up to the edge of the water.

Nothing had changed.  The few sacks still floated in their slime.   He picked up a stone and threw it into the centre of the pool.  The flat green surface, torn apart by the ripples, slowly came together again as he watched and waited until the shadows of the late afternoon wrapped him against the hillside to hide his memories.

 

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