The sun made its way through the blinds, covering our bed in warmth. I looked to the left, where the sheets were rumpled. I moved my hand over them; it wasn’t quite cold yet. The clock to the right told me it was a few minutes before six; I needed to get up.
I pulled back the covers, put on my slippers, and walked briskly to the kitchen. And there he was, with his work boots on and his hard hat in his hand.
“Were you really goin’ to leave without saying goodbye?” I asked him.
He looked startled, “Of course not darlin’. But you looked so peaceful sleeping, I couldn’t just wake you.” He placed his hat on the table and walked over to me. His arms wrapped around me in a tight embrace.
I looked up at him, “You be safe today.”
“Of course I will. I know not to touch the explosive things.”
The clock struck 6. “It’s time for you to go now.” I walked him to the door, picking up his hat on the way. “Now, don’t forget this.” I handed him the hat.
“What would I ever do without you?”
“Die.” I answered him wittily. I leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. “I love you.”
“I love you.” He answered back.
“Alright, off you go. I have some work to get done.” I pushed him through the door.
“Fine, fine lady. I’ll get going. But you better have dinner ready for me when I get home.” He joked.
“We’ll see.” I laughed.
“I love you, Betty.” He walked across the threshold. I held onto the door, preparing to shut it.
“Bye, John!” I yelled.
I shut the door, and watched him fade down the dirt path. “I guess I better get started on breakfast.”
The morning flew by fast. The animals were fed, the eggs were collected, the house was tidied up, and the only thing left to do was hang up the clean laundry. I grabbed the basket from the floor and trudged my way to the clothes line.
I placed the basket down by my feet and grabbed the first piece on top. I shook it out a little bit, laid it over the line, picked up a pin, and pinned the cloth to the line. A light breeze caused goosebumps to raise on my arms.
“So much for a warm evening.” I walked back to the house, to find a light jacket. On the rocking chair in the corner was my knitted shawl. “That should work.” I grabbed it and wrapped it around my shoulders, pinning the right end to my left shoulder.
The roar of an engine filled my ears. I looked out the window, and a police car pulled up by the water spout. I walked outside to meet him.
He got out of the car. “Are you Mrs. Black?”
“Yes, but please call me Betty. What can I do for ya?”
“Betty, there was an accident, down at the coal mines. An explosion went wrong, the whole place went up in flames.” He went silent.
“What are you trying to say?”
“Your husband, John Black, died. Nobody made it out, the beams blocked the entrance.”
“So you mean..” I looked up at him, with tears in my eyes.
“I’m so sorry Betty, it all happened so quickly.”
“When did it happen? Because John always said.” I choked up. “John always said, if something were to ever happen, I wouldn’t be informed until hours later. When did it happen?” I asked again, tears falling down my cheeks.
“Early this morning, around 7:30. It must of..”
“I’m sorry,” I interrupted. “But I can’t hear anymore right now. What… What can I do?” I sat down on the steps to the porch. “What am I supposed to do? I mean,” I take a breath and cradle my head in my hands. “He was the one… the one that figured everything out. I can’t make a decision without him.” I look up at him. “Will I see him again?”
He sat down beside me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Nobody in that mine will be seen again. It completely collapsed, no one can go in to extract the bodies.” He removed his hand and placed it in his lap.
“How many people do you have to inform? How many loved ones are going to feel this pain also?”
“Seven families. Ten people died in that mine today. Lots of sons working with their fathers.” He took a deep breath. “The youngest was 14.”
I looked over to him, tilting my head up. “Was I the last? That’s why you’ve stayed for so long.”
“Yeah, you’re the last.”
“Can you leave? Because right now I can’t stand to be in the presence of someone else.” My breath hitched.
“Yeah, Betty, I can leave. If you have any more questions, call down to the station.” He got off the porch, into his car, and drove down the road. Down the dirt road John just walked down
“John!” I cried. I sat there, for I don’t know how long. There were no more tears left to cry, and I had no energy to get up. I leaned my head against the railing, looking off to the right, I left the clothes out.
The basket was mostly full, I might as well finish ‘em. I bent over to pick up the top piece, slacks. His slacks. And it all just came back. The pain and the sorrow. I dropped them and collapsed onto the ground.
“John.” I sobbed. I ran my fingers through my hair, gripping it. “I knew… I knew how dangerous it was….. and I still let you go.”
“Betty.” Someone yelled. I looked up. “Oh, Betty, I heard…”
“John’s dead, mom. He’s dead.” Her arms circled my body, protecting me from the wind.
“I know baby, I know.” She began to stroke my hair. “But you can’t stay here on the ground forever.”
I looked up at her. “Will you help me up?” She placed her hands right under my arms and pulled me up. She wrapped her arm around my shoulder.
“It’s gonna be ok baby.” We began to walk back to the house. “Remember when Daddy died? You helped me through that. Now it’s my turn to help you.”
She sat me down on the couch, and went back outside for the laundry basket. She placed it on the table and got the tissue box from the side table. “Here baby.” I wiped my tears and blew my nose.
“Thanks.” I stared out the kitchen window.
“Maybe you should head to bed.”
“It’s not even dark yet.”
“You need your rest,” she paused, “because tomorrow is going to be worse.” I looked at her, wondering how tomorrow could be worse than hearing that my husband died. I got up, and she helped me to my room, get changed, and into bed.
“How can tomorrow be worse?”
“Because the mines are all anyone is going to talk about.”I wrapped myself up in my blanket. It was the loneliest I ever felt.