a week after I turned seventeen.’ She paused for a moment and Ellen waited. ‘We were given a cottage on the estate,’ she scoffed. ‘Cottage. That’s a grand English name for a cowshed. It had weed in the thatch and mice in the foundations. But your pappy set to and made it sound.’
A picture of the cottage with its bare white walls floated into her mind. She saw herself as a young bride, eager and frightened in equal parts. She remembered herself and Joseph in that old rickety bed, loving each other. They had both been so young, so strong, back then. Where had those years gone? The loneliness of the years since he had died, a broken man with coal dust clogging his lungs, swept over her.
‘I just remember that cottage,’ Ellen said, cutting into her memories. ‘Me and Joe used to chase the chickens in the yard.’
‘That you did, and we would have had more eggs had you not,’ Bridget replied.
‘I remember how the roof slanted at one end and the rain would come under the door if the wind was in the East. Pappy would shout at the wind to turn around. I remember one day it did and I was afraid that God would punish him for ordering his wind about. And how I swung on the gate waiting for Pappy to come home after market day and he always asked, ‘Where’s my smiley angel’ although I was right in front of him.’
Both women sat silently with their thoughts for a few moments, then Bridget placed her empty cup down.
‘You look a bit of a smiley angel today, Ellie.’
‘Do I?’ Ellen gazed at her fingers.
‘What’s he like?’
Ellen stood up and started to collect their cups together. ‘Who?’
‘The man who’s put the sun in your smile.’
Ellen gave a forced laugh. ‘Man? What man?’
‘That’s what I asked you.’
‘I’m just...’ She shrugged and raised her hands palms up on either side of her. ‘I’m full of the joys of spring. That’s all.’
‘Oh, that must be what’s making you sing, skip around the room and be talking about “noticing hands”.’
Ellen’s hand went to her hair. She pulled out a couple of pins and held them in her mouth, then, twisting her hair around, she jabbed the pins back. She glanced at the window and snatched up the basket from the table.
‘It’s past midday, I’d better get the washing in and ironed.’
A smile spread across Bridget’s face. She hauled herself out of the chair, took up the other basket and followed her daughter. As she reached the back door the grinding pain returned to her left arm.
Danny tapped the open book in his hand and shook his head slowly. Black Mike, his giant right-hand man with fists the size of hams, standing behind him, did the same. Both of them looked at Peter Petersen, the chandler. Stood on the shelves were tins of various shapes and sizes, sealed at their rims with wax and sporting nautical scenes. Behind the chandler, coils of rope hung from hooks from the rafters. Danny fixed Petersen with a steely stare.
‘My book here,’ Danny jabbed at the pages, ‘says you have been short of coin for me for three weeks now.’
Petersen pulled out a crumpled handkerchief and mopped his broad brow. He shoved it back in his inside pocket and smiled apologetically.
‘Times is very hard, yar, Mr Donovan,’ said Petersen, his oiled hair shining in the light from the lamp above.
‘That they are,’ Danny agreed, his face a picture of concern. After a second his expression changed to a perplexed one. He pulled a fragile-looking chair over, turned it around and sat on it, legs astride. ‘But, as I take me morning stroll by the docks, the ships are fighting each other to get a berth.’
Petersen ran his finger around his collar and stretched his neck out. ‘That they are. But, Mr Donovan, sir, the prices are low. Why, only yesterday I heard that some ships’ masters are carrying tea and sugar as ballast, so low is the price vot they get in port.’ Beads of sweat sprang up on the fair bristles of his upper
Jeffrey J. Schaider, Adam Z. Barkin, Roger M. Barkin, Philip Shayne, Richard E. Wolfe, Stephen R. Hayden, Peter Rosen