Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hope by Emma Perry

Emma, with sister Eliza and Mom and Dad
This is a story written by my niece Emma Perry. She's twelve years old and this story won second place in a city-wide middle school contest. What a rockstar! 


Faint beams of golden sunlight stream through cracks in the walls as our mining village hums to life. The rhythm that any miner can hear is already in full swing; the clang of men handling their pick-axes, the rumble of carts far off as they head down into the overwhelming darkness, and the forlorn hum of the miner’s song which pulses through the entire area as simply as wind blows. I know these sounds very well; in fact this is my regular wake up call. With great reluctance I slowly push the covers off and grab around for my boots.

I look through the bare cupboards for some kind of sustenance besides plain-watery gruel, though as expected the menu remains unchanged. As I tie my apron strings Papa strolls into the room in his soot covered breeches and cap, a pick-axe slung over his shoulder. He never shows it, but if you look closely you can make out a faint trace of tiredness in his step. It makes me uncomfortable to see that strong man in pain so I try and ignore this brief moment of embarrassing transparency.
Right about now the miners are shuttling down, deep into the soot coated abyss. Every man young and old works in the mine and so will their children and their children’s children. The conditions are terrible though no one speaks of it. The men are paid far too little and eventually become greatly indebted mostly because of the company stores which claim every penny you earn. Pa has been in very serious debt for a long time so we have learned to get on with little or nothing.
Pa has never allowed me to work in the mines so I mostly tend to housework and take on small jobs as Pa works day and night. Extreme numbers of people have died in freak accidents in our mine; falling down mine shafts, exhaustion, fatal gasses, cave ins, flooding, the death toll is unbelievably high.

It is mid afternoon and I am stirring clothes into hot water and hanging some up to dry when I hear something that makes my heart sink to the very bottom of my shoes; the bang of a loud explosion. Seconds afterwards screams erupt and everyone is sent into a tailspin. The only thing that I can think of is Pa. I can’t hear anything anymore. My own heartbeat is drowning out the screams. I jump to my feet in an instant and run barefoot through the streets with all the fervor of a man on fire. I lope past houses, bushes, trees, hysterical women, confused children until I find myself at the entrance to the mine.

I am not, by far, the first one there. Families stand waiting for assurance that their loved ones are not involved. Miners start to emerge from the gaping mouth of the mine dusted in black and having coughing fits.
No one knows what’s going on but men keep streaming out into the grasp of loved ones, only about thirty families now remain without a coal coated face among them. Less and less men and boys come until only about fifteen families are left. Some have started to cry and wring their hands but I know pa has not died. He’s Pa, it just can’t happen. The inside of my mouth feels like it’s been coated with coal dust and my eyes are burning. Subconsciously I feel a fat wet drop streak down my cheek then another then another. Some miners are giving me sympathetic looks, but nothing has happened. Pa is alive he is just trying to help others out of the tunnel, then he’ll come up safe and sound and I’ll bury myself in his chest and come back up, my face smudged with coal and smile up at him. While thinking this I do not notice the official coming near us. He clears his throat, “Folks this was a heavy blow and I’m very sorry for your losses. Please go home. There are no other survivors.”

He is mistaken he has to be. I rush over to the man and beat on his chest with my fists in a last feeble struggle to hold on. “STOP LYING TO US THEY ARE NOT DEAD” I shout, until I think my head is going to split from the effort, but all I get in reply is a sad silence so thick that my forced thoughts can not swim through it, leaving me with the cold hollow realization that papa is dead.
I do not know I have left until I am at home stoking the fire and putting a kettle on. Papa likes a cup of hot tea after a long day. Tears slip down my face and hiss as they fall into the fire. Papa is not coming home. A knock sounds and I wipe my tears away hurriedly and answer.

April 2, 1902
It’s been four months since that day when my father passed. I still miss him terribly. I write in this journal because my elders tell me that it will ease the pain some.
Four months ago when I answered the door I beheld my school fellow. I had not seen her for three months. As we grew older, our economic situation put school out of the question. It was decided that I would go live with her.
For a time I was only unhappy and despondent but because she was patient and waited with me in silence sometimes for hours on end. Slowly but surely I made improvement. She prayed with me at a small rubble chapel and cried with me when I needed someone to cry with. She ran with me when I needed to run away, and sometimes all she did was embrace me while I was not present, but in another world with papa.
She loves papa too although she does not know him. She loves him for me. I know that I will smile soon and she will smile with me.
Times are hard and friends are scarce but I have a great friend to help me through and I am ever more grateful for her. Though it still chills me to think papa will not be home ever again I know that somewhere he watches me and smiles. For now, I have a friend in the form of Hope.

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