Aberfan Remembered by Irene Herry

The Artist by William Cox

Letters: None

Short Stories:

Plum Sauce by Julie Keys

Secret World by C Paice

Fourteen by Corey McHattan.

Jessie by Kelly Pilgrim

The Salmon Fisherman by William Cox

First Chapters

Replenish The Earth by Anna Jacobs

Back to PixelPapers Title Page


Short Stories


Plum Sauce

by Julie Keys


There were plums everywhere. A dollar ninety-nine a kilo. Soft, squashy overripe plums. The baby flattened them with her palms, licking the sweet juice with an already sticky tongue.

"Mum," my eldest tugged at my trousers.

"Mum, Mathew's kicking them around. Make him stop Mum."

The fruit shop was crowded with people and small, dark blood plums that rolled around on the floor. How many kilos I wondered, times a dollar ninety nine?

A woman in a pair of jeans stood in front of me blocking my view. She bent over sweeping the baby into her arms.

"You're having a good time," she crooned in a Kookaburra's voice."

"Had an accident?" she was talking to me.

"Yes," I squeaked "We've made a bit of a mess."

She started laughing as if it was the funniest thing she'd ever heard, this big woman in her big jeans. "Not your fault, it was waiting for someone to come along. They've over stacked the display that's all."

She told this to the owner as she walked us out to the car. He nodded and waved in agreement, smiling and bantering with this woman who jostled and smiled in her big clothes, strong and sure. She cackled to the babies and clicked the boys into their seats. I waved as I drove away without any fruit.

I wondered if Joe ever craved a chunk of woman like that, firm and ripe. I could imagine her legs draped over his shoulders, the bed sagging and Joe, purring. Joe, that old tomcat. Joe my husband. Joe who can't have a vasectomy because he doesn't like the idea of somebody messing with his balls.

The kids roll out of the car slamming into the front door, scratching at the paint work, trying to see who can get into the house first. I follow with the baby and key in my hand and no fruit.

Lunch, I think to myself. I'll cook lunch. Joe's got soccer training tonight and wont be in for tea.

The house jumps and leaps to the sound of vibrating children, the baby tapping in time with the saucepan lids and wooden spoon. I ladle home grown tomatoes, rich red and tangy, into a warm fry pan, speckling them with green leaves of basil, thyme, bay and chives. Perhaps I think to myself, a change of scenery would help things along. A course, a job?


"What?" My voice flattens out.

"Can we go out?"

"Where to?"


"I'm cooking lunch now."

"I don't want lunch."

"I do."

"Muuuuuuuuuum?" I put the pasta into a saucepan."

"Go outside then.''

"I don't want to go outside."

"We might go out after lunch, but it depends."

"On what?"

"On whether you can leave me alone for five minutes so I can finish cooking lunch."

Perhaps if I start jogging or gain some weight. I start laughing. The baby laughs back. I feel a shiver up my spine as I think of Jim, red haired and freckled licking my toes with his cats tongue. He'd..... lunch bubbles with a hiss on the stove, drying into hard red patches that will be difficult to get off.


"That's a naughty word mummy."

"Yes it is."

Perhaps Joe would change his mind about the vasectomy. Fat chance. He didn't even make the last labour. I had lain there waiting for him, staring at my legs. They reminded me of the lamb shanks I stewed up in the winter time. A groan worked it's way from my pelvis to my throat. My body pushed and pushed. I couldn't help it and couldn't stop it. I felt a rip as the head broke through, and still couldn't stop pushing. Another groan, pop, one more child. "A girl, a little girl."

"Just giving you some local Mary. You'll need some stitches."

"A little girl."

"A big girl Mary, a hefty one."

My thighs shook and trembled as I held her.

Spic and Span in the hospital bed with the baby and there was Joe with the boys, a bunch of flowers and a guilty look. The boys wanted to touch my stomach to see where the lump had gone.

"A bowl of jelly," they chanted.

"What happened Joe?"

"The phone must have been off. I didn't realise."

My husband Joe, who's virile and doesn't want a vasectomy. Who wants a dozen kids and forgets to turn on his phone. My husband Joe. I'm sure he's humping somebody else.

I'd sniff his underwear but it lays in mountains with the other clothes that I need to wash and everything smells like breast milk to me anyway. Perhaps if I gained some weight and started cleansing, toning and moisturising.

Perhaps if I get some sleep.

Joe thinks we don't have sex anymore and we don't very often. It's hard when you feel like a big teated dairy cow waiting in the bales.

"Forget it Joe, I'd rather get a good nights sleep."

"For Godsake Mary!"

"You wake up every night and feed the baby and see if you feel like sex."

"I would if I could."

"Sure, have a vasectomy."

"Go on the pill."

"You know I can't"

"Neither can I."

Perhaps it's a good thing he's humping somebody else. It makes him feel guilty and he washes the dishes at night, when I'm too tired to shut my eyes and go to sleep.

The condoms lie in our wardrobe glowing in the dark. Joe thought it would be a nice surprise. It was. It was the best surprise I'd had in ages. I laughed until I cried and then I felt like throwing up. The glow disappeared into a dim blob which made me laugh even harder. I ached for days. The baby slept through that night and Joe looked vaguely desirable the next day.

Perhaps if Joe took the kids out on Saturday I could have a sleep. Shit, he's invited people over and I'll have to clean the house.

The baby shoves fistful's of pasta into her mouth while the eldest one complains about not getting fish fingers for lunch. I drink a strong cup of coffee and feel a little better. I look around the kitchen. I'd started to strip the wallpaper off the walls in a moment of energy. I'd never finished. The floor is splattered with tomato and pasta and the lunch dishes have joined the breakfast ones in the sink.

"Let's go to the park," I wave my hands with enthusiasm while the kids eye me suspiciously


"Now," I gurgle. "We might buy some fruit on the way home."


"Yes but this time we won't spill any.'

The kids laugh. We all laugh.#



Secret World

by C Paice


Uneasy midnight. The boy was sleeping badly, troubled by heat, mosquitoes, odd noises of cats. He was new to this way of being, this night solitude. In the small yellow kitchen he made tea, stared out the window. Strange lights looked at him, yeah whaddya want yeah whaddya want, and he felt cold, took his tea back to bed where no one waited for him. Warm rain pelted on the window. Eventually he slept and woke to a forceful blue sky that not even he could ignore.

"It's not the end of the bloody world!" she'd screamed, "It happens all the time, you're just scared you shit face You shiiittfaaace!"

He'd walked away. Left her. The baby would have been born by now. He really wanted to know, wanted to know, yeah he really wanted to know.

The mine foreman laughed when he told him he was leaving. "Go to the office son, they'll fix you up but you won't get your bonus now, you know that don't you. We don't pay workers to break their contracts."

He packed up the flat, didn't take long, had a last cup of tea in the yellow kitchen and walked out the door. He had to know. No one had telephoned him, none of his family spoke to him anymore. "There's words for someone like you, but you're my son, I won't be saying them to your face," his dad had said, in the yard, the night before he left. "We'll be helping her out, she hasn't got anyone else has she?" He'd gone back in, didn't speak to him again.

Now he barely felt the weight of his bag, the familiar road dragged at his feet. He'd been scared, didn't know what to do. Had no one to talk to.

His family hated him. She did too. He'd just left her. Walked out. He hadn't wanted anyone else to take care of. He loved her, but he hadn't planned on this. What about his life? Her life? Their life? He couldn't fit a baby anywhere. He was a bastard, she was right. Now for some reason he felt this new life somewhere inside him. Calling him. This life he had made with her. He'd imagined the birth, tried to see round corners. Wanted to be there with her, but couldn't face it. He knew that would be the last place she'd ever want to see him. Now there was a child in this world and he was the father. He had to see, had to try, had to at least see her again.

She'd painted the cottage blue or someone had. It looked nice, he thought, nice. He felt shaky, unprepared. She stared at him through the fly screen door, saying nothing.

Then he heard a baby's cry echoing through the house. It made his legs buckle. When she returned with a bundle in her arms he was sitting on the step, head in his hands.

"Come in," she ordered. She watched him, wary as a cat as he pulled out a kitchen chair. She'd painted the kitchen too, or someone had. She said nothing. She was waiting for him to do the work. Words scratched and stuck in his throat. The bundle was crying again. She sat down on the other side of the table and pulled her tee shirt up. Her breast was dripping milk, the baby quickly snuffling and sucking. He watched its tiny fingers pushing against her chest. Kneading her skin like a cat. He could not stop staring. This was it, this is what had driven him away. The thing he'd dreaded in his life but it was such a small thing, so very very tiny for a dreaded thing, with a round little head, fine fair hair, he couldn't see the rest.

Sara was staring back at him.

"Sara, I'm sorry," he burst out, "I'm so so bloody sorry," he put his head in his hands.

"I've got one baby," she said, "I don't want another one just yet."

The back door slammed. A male voice yelled out, "Sara! It's only me."

His father walked in, took one look at him, slammed the nappies on the table, "Took your bloody time didn't you? This one's going to be just like you, I reckon."

Still, you'll hear all about it soon enough, if you want to." He looked at Sara, "Give us a call love, if there's anything else you need."

Sara smiled, "Thanks." The baby was asleep at her breast. Milky dribble leaking from one corner of its mouth. She pulled down her shirt and gently placed the baby over her shoulder, rubbing the baby's back. A gurgly burp, surprisingly loud for such a small thing, was the only sound in the kitchen. She sighed, and stood up, "I'm exhausted," she said, then handed him his son. He looked at the eyes tightly shut, the faces the baby made every few minutes, fast asleep, smiling, eyes twitching, smiling again. A secret world.

Sara had gone. Left him sitting at the table holding the baby. He hadn't even realized. He didn't even know the baby's name. What if he suddenly woke up screaming? He went to find her. He walked through the cottage they had once shared. It was just the same. Except there was a baby's basket on their bed and nappies and a sweet smell he'd never smelled before. Sara was nowhere to be seen. He wanted to shout her name but didn't dare in case he woke the baby.

He was whispering it quietly to himself. Sara!Sara! there was silence. He sat on the bed, carefully lay the baby down, as he did so the baby's arms flew into the air, his little face going all red and a loud cry coming from the tiny mouth. The boy cried too, Sara! Sara! She appeared at the door. "Useless," she said, "You're useless."

Much later all three of them stopped crying.#



by Corey McHattan.


Mitchell carefully placed the mug on the sturdy oak bedside table and

slid under the covers next to his wife. After shifting himself into a

suitably upright position using several of the lace-fringed pillows

which littered the end of the bed, he returned the coffee to his grasp

and cradled it just below his lips, blowing the edge off its heat. He

silently cursed himself again for failing to pick up a paper this

morning, especially as Kathleen had filled the TV screen with images

from some drearily anonymous period drama. Unfortunately, it was too

early to go to sleep, and besides, he still had his coffee to finish.

For want of something better for his eyes to rest upon, he looked across

the vast expanse of white lace at his wife. He might just try to drag

her away from Pride and Persuasion, and instigate one of those

'conversations' she was always going on about.

'Amy did well in her netball game the other day. I didn't

realise she was such a good shooter.'

'Hmm?' Kathleen replied, still clinging to the television's

nineteenth-century world.

'I said I didn't realise how good Amy was at netball until the

other day,' he repeated, cheerily enough. But his relative good humour

was short-lived.

'Perhaps her talents wouldn't have come as such a surprise if

you'd gone to more than one game in the last couple of years.'

Ouch. She knew he worked long, irregular hours and couldn't

always be present at parent teacher nights, school plays and netball

matches. Not for the first time, he wondered if she had ever forgiven

him for missing Amy's birth.

'As you know, Kathleen, being a sales representative is not a

nine-to-five, Mon-'

'-Monday to Friday job,' she finished for him. 'Yes, Mitchell, I

was aware of that. After all, you've told me enough times. But did it

ever occur to you that maybe repeating that excuse like a mantra every

time we have this discussion doesn't make everything alright?'

Any semblance of serenity had left Mitchell in the face of this

unprovoked attack. 'I'm sorry that you feel that way,' he forced out

through clenched teeth. 'I'm doing the best that I can.'

'And what about Steven?' she continued, as if Mitchell had not

spoken. 'All he does is sit in his room all day, music blaring. If I

manage to coax him down for a meal, he just mopes about until I let him

go back upstairs. I try to reach out to him but all he seems to be

interested in is sports and video games. You like sports. You like video

games. But when you should be talking to him about things like that -

and girls, for Christ's sake! - instead, you're in Fallow Creek, or

Newport, or some other Godforsaken hole. And even when you're here, you

seem to spend all your time at the office with that damned secretary of


Understanding coursed through Mitchell. So that was what this

was all about. For a moment there he'd thought he was in real trouble.

But the idea that there was something going on between him and Joanne,

his secretary, was so absurd it was almost laughable. For starters,

Joanne wasn't even that good-looking. But there was more to it than

that. When Mitchell had married Kathleen seventeen years ago he had made

a promise to himself that his wandering days were now over. And,

surprising himself a little, he had stuck to it. He still looked at

girls, and flirted; there was one night in Melbourne after a business

conference when he had let things go a little further than they should

have, but he had never been unfaithful to Kathleen. And that was why he

began his defence of himself in a state of calm. After all, he'd be

telling the truth; she'd have to believe him.

'Kathleen...' he began, and moved a little closer to her. She

moved a similar distance away again, but Mitchell refused to be

deterred. 'Do you think there's something going on between me and

Joanne?' Nothing. 'Because I can tell you, as I lie here, hand on my

heart-' he made the gesture, and felt a little foolish '-that there is

nothing going on between Joanne Turner and me.'

Still Kathleen said nothing. The way she had turned her body

Mitchell could not see her face, but something, perhaps seventeen years

of history, told him that he had succeeded. Sure enough, she soon rolled

over. But Mitchell was surprised to see that there was a lone tear

making its way down her left cheek.

'I'm sorry,' she said quietly, without looking into his eyes. 'I

didn't really think that you were sleeping with her. It's just that...

well, sometimes I feel like she gets to see more of you than the kids

do... more than I do. What about me, Mitchell? I lie here, three or four

nights out of seven, on my own... Mitchell, I bought a vibrator,' she

finished guiltily.

That one word threw Mitchell right out of his apathy. He moved

closer to Kathleen, who this time didn't withdraw, but he was unable to

think of anything to say. Finally he decided on a more heartfelt, more

sincere version of the excuse he usually proffered when the two of them


'I'm sorry honey. I... I guess I didn't realise that things at

home were this bad. I'll talk to Dan at work and see if I can weasel my

way out of a few trips, ease off a bit - God knows they owe it to me. I

can spend more time with you and the kids, give you no need for that...

contraption, and try to help out more around the house.' He winced

inwardly at the thought.

'You know, I can't remember the last time I just kicked a soccer

ball around the backyard with Steven,' he continued. 'Still, he's not

doing too badly without me. He scored eighteen goals last year. As a

mid fielder!'

Kathleen nodded, not yet fully convinced. Or perhaps she knew

even less about sports than he thought.

'I don't know, Mitchell. I realise teenagers go through a period

where their parents are their worst enemies. I know I made my mother's

life hell for a year and a half. But with Stephen it just feels like

something more. He just seems so... distant.'

'I wouldn't worry too much about that,' Mitchell replied with

what he hoped sounded like confidence. 'I think all the kids of his

generation are like that. Maybe video games and the internet are killing

all their social skills, I don't know. At least we know it can't be

anything too serious,' he finished cheerfully. 'After all, he's only



In the modest three-bedroom home's immaculately clean garage, Steve

knotted the rope one final time and then stepped back to dispassionately

appraise his handiwork. Suitably satisfied, he looked slowly around the

room, noted the interior door was locked shut, and then stepped

deliberately forward to meet his fate. The three steps up the metal

stepladder were taken slowly but without hesitation. Upon reaching the

summit he turned his neck through the loop and adjusted the fit. Then,

with a deep breath, he let himself go. Distrusting himself even at this

time of clarity, when the rope turned his body to a suitable angle he

dispatched the ladder into the corner with a deft kick. After that his

body remained still, the only movement his diminishing half-revolutions

around a twine axis, the only sound the creaking of the roof beam above.

The clatter of the stepladder on the cement floor was not heard

in his parents' room.





by Kelly Pilgrim


Some mothers eat their young. Mine scalded me with hot water, and called it an accident. I'm showering her now, as she sits on a plastic, slip proof seat.

The temptation is great.

"Is that too hot for you mum?" running the water over my wrist and then down her slumped back. The water pools at the base of her spine, leaking through holes in the chair. She's leaning forward with rounded shoulders, her ample breasts rolling about on her stomach. I'm in the shower recess, standing over her. I've taken my shoes off and brace my toes into the tiles. The water spits at the floor, then bounces up to wet the cuffs of my pants. I focus on the red emergency button at eye height. Not much good if you've fallen.

There's a gas heater in the bathroom of our old house. My mother always lights it for me with a match, taken from a box with a picture of Lucille Ball smiling on the front. When lighting it, she holds down a little red button until the flame click, click, clicks to burning, and then she leaves the room. The water is hot, really hot, but my body shivers, almost to blistering. A blue-lit landscape. I measure my growth by how far my body stretches against the length of the bath.

Up until two years ago, she dyed her hair black, but now, I lean over her silver head, bottle in hand. Sometimes, she'll go a week without showering, other times she forgets she showered yesterday and demands another one today. . The nurses only come to shower her every two days, but when I visit she'll ask me instead.

"Do you want your hair washed?" I squeeze out the last remaining shampoo, and slop it on. Her thinning hair feeds its way through my fingers.

I am 6 years old, and I'm wearing a pink, drop-waisted dress. She tells me how pretty I am. She parts my hair in the middle, and brushes it firmly. I never wear the dress out of the house. She says it's for special times only.

I'm named after my sister, Jessie, who died at birth. Once every month, my mother and I visit her grave. We place flowers in the vase. She kneels by the gravestone and slowly traces her finger over the lettering. Mother carries a photograph of Jessie in her purse. She carries a picture of my dead sister. If I talk she slaps me on the back of the legs and tells me to shut up. A cemetery is no place for noise.

I ask her to stand up briefly while I dry her off. Her knuckles whiten as she holds tight to the railing. She sits again, exhausted. I put her socks on first because she hates for her feet to be cold. She doesn't offer any help and I struggle to stretch the material over her toes and then her heels. She doesn't care what she looks like anymore, but I like her to look smart. I believe this reflects well on me.

When the Mormons come to the door, I'm wearing the dress. They tell my mother she has a lovely daughter. She squeezes my hand so tight I could cry, and drags me behind her skirt. I peek through the folds of cloth, smiling at our guests, but mother pulls me back. Some mothers eat their young. Mine hid me away, storing me for the future.

I select black linen slacks and a red sweater from her wardrobe, which contrasts nicely with her fair complexion. She manages to place her own incontinence pad in her underpants, and then pulls on her slacks clumsily. She raises her arms above her head and I slide the sweater over her body like a sheath. I help her into the wheelchair and push her down to the local shopping centre for coffee. The staff know us well; every Saturday this is our routine. She has hers in a mug, with extra milk, so as not to burn her mouth. We don't talk much. Instead, we watch people go by. We do look alike, and I can see people glancing over in our direction, and maybe thinking, what a caring child.

On Sunday mornings, I get up early and run down the stairs to make my mother breakfast. She always has a fried egg and bacon, on two pieces of toast, and a cup of tea. I find it difficult to time the cooking of each item and normally something gets burnt. Each time, she yells at me for "cooking like a boy." Every Sunday I try harder not to burn her food.

After buying fresh carnations and shampoo, we walk back to the nursing home. The carers are happy to see me as usual, and fill me in on my mother's progress. How many times she pressed the buzzer in the middle of the night this week, and the numerous refusals to shower. They seem to like her though they talk about her like she's a child, a naughty, cheeky child. I know a different woman.

Baby Jessie was born prematurely, with her lungs not properly formed. This is why she died. Mother keeps her death certificate in the top drawer next to her bed. Jessie was the baby she had longed for. I wasn't planned. My father left shortly after I was born. There were no more children after me.

I sit in the chair next to her bed, half-watching the news on television. She asks me when I am getting married. She asks me this every time I visit. I turn to her, the answer is always the same. "One day mum." The truth is, I'm married to my mother.

I am 10, and in trouble. I've ripped my trousers on the tree. "Jessie wouldn't have been so boisterous", she screams. Underneath the torn trousers, my leg bleeds. The material sticks to the wound. She runs into her room, and slams the door. She stays there until dark. I think I might put on my special dress for her because she says nice things to me then. I slide down the cupboard door onto the lino floor with my knees to my chin. The clock in the next room ticks loudly.

Some mothers eat their young. Mine is developing dementia, some days are worse than others. This is what the carers say today when she refers to me as her beautiful daughter.

They ask me if I have any sisters, or am I her only son.



First Chapters

published by Severn House October 2001 in hardback only



Chapter 1



A fire of seacoal glowed dimly in the grate and a shaded candle flickered in

one corner of the room. The sound of the sick woman gasping for breath woke

her daughter, who was dozing fitfully in a chair by the bed, and Sarah

leaned forward anxiously. When her mother sighed into sleep again, she

leaned back, closing her eyes as worries chased one another round her mind.


How would she manage once her mother died? The small annuity would die with

her, and then Sarah would not only be alone in the world, but penniless.

She glanced down at her capable hands, a little reddened from all the

washing, and spread them before her. Strong hands in a tall, strong body.

Could they earn her a living? She fingered one strand of the honey-coloured

hair lying loose about her shoulders, smiling wryly. Her mother said her

hair was beautiful when it was curled and fussed with. Well, Sarah had no

time for such frivolities these days, had hardly had time to do anything for

the past few weeks but care for her mother.


'Sarah. We must - talk.'


She glanced up again. 'You need to rest, not talk, Mother.'


'I need to - tell you something.'


Sarah knew it would do more harm than good to try to prevent her mother

speaking, so she smiled at the figure in the bed, a loving smile which

brightened her gaunt, anxious face for a moment. 'Let me get you a drink

first, then you shall talk.'


She limped across to the tiny fire and swung the kettle over the flames,

rubbing her bad hip, which always ached in the cold weather. 'Here, try the

new cordial the apothecary mixed yesterday. He thought you might find it an

improvement on the other.' And that's the strongest he can make, she

thought. Pray God it will ease the pain for as long as need be!


'When I'm gone . . . '


'Ah, Mother, don't!'


'I must! I worry for you. Afterwards, Sarah - you are to see the lawyer,

tell him . . . '


'I saw Mr Peabody last month to get our money. He knows about your illness.'


'Not him!' Her fingers tightened on Sarah's hand. 'You must go and see my

father's lawyer - Mr Jamieson - at the Sign of the Quill in Newbury Square -

and you must ask him for help.'


Sarah's mouth tightened to a narrow, bloodless line. 'I want nothing to do

with any of your family! If they disowned you when you married Father, then

they disowned me, too!'


'No! No! You must see him! You must!'


'I won't ask for their charity!'


The thin fingers dug into her arm. 'You can't deny - my last wish. My

father must be dead by now, but my brother will not refuse to help his

niece. And you - you must accept - that help.' Her face was deathly white

and tears were running down her wasted cheeks. 'Promise me!'


Sarah could hold out no longer. 'I promise.'


The grip on her arm relaxed and her mother let out a long sigh of relief.

'I can go in peace now. You will keep your promise to me, I know.'



In Dorset, Will Pursely took the lawyer's letter out to the copse and sat on

the fallen log where he often sought refuge when things grew hard to bear,

for he did not wish to add to his mother's worries. The trees were leafless

still, but the buds were getting fatter by the day and soon the tender green

would burst forth. It was his favourite time of year. There was such promise

in the surging growth of spring. Or there had been in other years.

For a moment or two he sat there, breathing in the cool, fresh air, enjoying

the sound of the wind rustling the bare branches, letting the peace seep

into his bones. Then, with a sigh, he unfolded the letter and studied it

again. But no amount of reading would make the words say anything different.


My dear Mr Pursley,

I am in receipt of your letter of the second of this month, and I deeply

regret that I can offer you no longer lease upon the home farm than a yearly

tenancy. The will of Squire Bedham is still not resolved and in those

circumstances no long-term plans can be made.

However, I sincerely hope that I shall be in a position to offer something

more permanent by the time the new lease comes up for renewal.

In the meantime, I should be obliged if you would continue to act as our

agent in Broadhurst, collecting the rents on the same terms as before.

Yours most sincerely

Samuel Jamieson


'But what the devil do I do about the farm?' Will asked the piece of paper,

shaking it angrily. 'I need some more cows and I see a chance to get them.'

But that would mean taking a risk. He had already lost the main thing he

cared about - his family's farm, where he had been brought up and had

expected to bring up his own sons in due course. But after his father's

death, it had been taken away from him by the new landowner, Matthew Sewell.

He could feel anger stir in him at the mere thought of that man.

Will knew he was lucky to get this place at such short notice, but it didn't

feel like home and it was small - heart-breakingly small after Hay Nook

Farm. He slapped his palm against his thigh in frustration. What worth was a

year's lease to a man who thought in terms of planting trees for the timber

they would one day provide and breeding good stock over several generations

of animals?


For a moment, bitterness scalded through him, then he tossed back the lock

of dark hair that always fell across his brow and unfolded his long limbs.

There was work to do done. No use sitting here feeling sorry for himself.

But if his mother had invited that silly Jen Tapper to tea again, he would

walk out, he surely would, and go down to the village inn till she'd left.

He hated young women mooning over him with foolish expressions on their

faces. Didn't think much of Jen Tapper's face, anyway, come to that. She

looked just like a cow he had had once, with her big eyes and heavy

features. It had been a silly cow, but not near as silly as she was, however

skilled she was in a dairy. A man married more than a pair of hands.

It would be a long time before he'd consider marriage again. Amy Barton hadn't

wanted him any more once he'd lost the farm. Her father had come to see

him the very next day to break off the engagement. And she'd married someone

else so quickly that Will felt furious every time he saw her flaunting her

full belly. One day, he'd have his own land again and she'd be sorry. And as

for Sewell, why, that man was the biggest villain still unhanged.


With a growl of anger at the whole world, Will went back to dig the garden,

slamming the spade into the ground and turning the soil until his arms

ached. Soon be time to plant some vegetables. You didn't need more than a

year's lease to grow those, at least.


The following day, he drove his mother into the village to sell her cream

cheese and butter at the small weekly market, though she had little to offer

nowadays compared to her former produce.


While he was strolling round the village green, looking at what else was on

offer, he found himself facing his enemy.


Sewell blocked his path deliberately, arms akimbo. 'Still here, Pursley? I

thought I told you not to renew your lease on that hovel? I don't want

trouble-makers in my village.'


Behind him, the bully boy who accompanied him everywhere snickered.

Will folded his arms across his chest. 'I'm not answerable to you, Sewell.'


'Squire Sewell to such as you.'


'Bedhams have always been squires in this village,' Will retorted.


'There are no Bedhams left.'


'There's an heir still to be found. And he'll be squire, not you.'


Sewell slashed suddenly out with his cane. 'Less of your impertinence,



Will felt the sting on his cheek and snatched at the cane, taking Sewell by

surprise. He sent it spinning across towards the duckpond and when the bully

moved towards him, he smiled, 'Come on, then, fellow! I could fancy a

turn-to just now. 'Tis a pity your master's a bit old for fighting, but I'll

make do with you.'


The man hesitated, looking to Sewell for orders.


Thad Honeyfield pushed through the crowd which had gathered to watch and

came to range himself at Will's side, hefting his blacksmith's hammer

suggestively. A couple of other men moved forward from the crowd and stood

behind them. Those owing their livings and cottages to Sewell, took care to

move a step or two backwards, but lingered still.


After a moment's pause Sewell shook his head and gestured to his man to

stand back. 'You have no place in this village now, Pursley. When will you

recognise that?'


'Funny. I just had my lease on the home farm renewed, so it seems to me I do

still have a place here.'


'Call that patch of muck a farm!' Sewell scoffed. Turning on his heel, he

strode off, pausing once to toss over his shoulder, 'You'll regret this.'


Will watched him go, then turned to his friend. 'Thanks, Thad. But don't put

yourself in danger for me.'


The blacksmith shrugged. 'I'm already in his bad books because I refuse to

sell him my land - he can't bear that I have two whole acres to call my own,

that one. He must own everything in the village, it seems.'


Both men watched Sewell climb into his coach and be driven off.


'What was he doing here today?' Will wondered aloud. 'He doesn't usually

honour our small market with his presence.'


'Came to see Mr Rogers.'


'If he's been bothering Parson - '


'He hasn't. Mrs Jenks wouldn't let him in.'


They both smiled. Parson's housekeeper would rout the devil himself if he

tried to disturb her beloved master, who was still recovering from a fever.


As his friend walked back to the forge, Will turned and glanced towards his

mother, who signalled that she had sold her produce and wanted to go home.

She was looking anxious and he knew the encounter with Sewell would worry

her. Why could that man not let well alone? Hadn't he already turned the

Pursleys out of their home? And done the same to one or two others. Did he

want to grind the whole world under his heel?


Elizabeth Mortonby lingered for another week, drifting mostly in a merciful

haze of laudanum, then slipped away quietly in the night, so that Sarah woke

to a silent room and a loneliness that seemed to surround her like a high



Widow Thomas, the landlady, flew into a rage when told of the death and was

loud in her complaints that she had been deceived as to her lodger's health.

A death on the premises was bad for business. Heartless wretches, they were,

to damage a poor widow's livelihood! They would not have got the room if she

had known how ill Mistress Mortonby was, that was sure! And would Miss

Mortonby please make the necessary arrangements as soon as possible, because

a corpse lying around upset the other lodgers!


The vicar was sent for, but the curate came in his place, for it was a raw

February day and the vicar was fond of his creature comforts. Mr Rawby, a

studious young man recently ordained peered at the corpse, but seemed

disinclined to approach it too closely. He offered up a cursory prayer for

the soul of 'er - Elizabeth Mortonby', agreed to hold the funeral service

the very next morning and volunteered to inform the sexton for 'Miss - er,

Miss Mortonby'.


He always had trouble remembering their names, Sarah thought bitterly, but

had no difficulty with the names of richer parishioners.


She had to brave the weather to make the practical arrangements for the

coffin and its transportation to the church, and returned to a cheerless

room, whose fire had gone out. Conscious of the still figure on the bed, she

could eat nothing, but she did light the fire again and brew herself a dish

of weak tea with some of the tea dust at the bottom of the caddy.


Later, two men came with the coffin, a poor affair of splintery wood and

clumsy joints. The older one smiled sympathetically at Sarah. 'You sit down

over there, miss, and we'll be as quick as we can.'

'Thank you.'


The younger man gazed stolidly round the room, but said nothing.

'Your mother, is she?' the older man asked, his eyes squinting at her from

under his lank hair.


'Yes.' Sarah blew her nose and dug her fingernails into her palms,

determined not to give way to her grief in front of these strangers.

'Pretty she must have been once,' the man went on. 'Here, Bill, you take the

feet. That's it! Gently does it.' He arranged the body, then stepped back to

study it with the eye of a connoisseur. 'They don't always look so peaceful.

Some of them has a terrible look on their face, like they've gone straight

to hell.'


Sarah knew he meant well, but she wished he'd finish what he had to do and go.


'Nail it down, shall I, miss?'


'Yes . . . no . . . I . . . just a moment!'


She went over to the cheap,

crudely-varnished box on the bed for a last look at her mother. Leaning over

to kiss the wasted cheek, she noticed the locket round Elizabeth's neck and

hesitated. It was gold and contained miniatures of her mother and father,

not very good ones, but it was all she would have to remember them by.

Steeling herself, she unfastened the locket and then, after further

hesitation, slipped the gold wedding ring from her mother's finger. Her

mother would understand her need.


She felt dreadfully guilty, as if she were committing a theft, but she had

no choice. Poverty was a harsh mistress. Dropping the locket and ring on to

the table, she watched bleakly as the coffin lid was secured.


In the morning, Sarah forced herself to toast and eat the last piece of

stale bread, then put on her best dress, which she only wore to church on

Sundays. The dark blue silk was faded and worn, and the dress offered little

warmth on such a bleak day, but it was all she had. On a sudden impulse, she

threaded the ring on to the chain with the locket and fastened them both

round her neck. They didn't show under her high-necked gown, but she could

feel them and that comforted her. When the men came for the coffin, she was

sitting ready, her features set in an expression of endurance.


After the funeral, at which she was the only mourner, she returned to

Furness Road to find the door to her room, which she had locked carefully,

standing ajar. That jerked her out of her lethargy. 'Dear heaven, no!' She

pushed it open and sobbed aloud at what she saw.

The place had been ransacked and the thief seemed to have vented his

annoyance at such poor pickings upon its meagre contents. Pieces of

threadbare clothing were strewn around and her precious few books were

tumbled on the floor, their spines broken, their pages spilling out. Worst

of all, her mother's papers had been tossed into the hearth and had caught

light. The grate was now full of ashes with only one or two singed corners

remaining. Her mother's marriage lines, her father's letters, everything



She choked on another sob and went to find Widow Thomas, who vowed she had

seen and heard nothing, and grew angry when her lodger insisted on sending

for the parish constable.

He came within the hour and examined the room, but could offer her little

hope of catching the culprits. 'Times is very lawless and with no reward

offered, well, who's to take an interest?'


When he had gone, the landlady came up to rap on Sarah's door. 'I shall be

obliged, miss, if you will leave my house immediately.'


''But we've paid until the end of the month!'


'I want you out. Deaths and constables! What next, I ask!'


And suddenly it was all too much. Sarah took a step towards Widow Thomas,

the pent-up anger exploding out of her in a rush of words. 'If you even try

to turn me out before I'm ready, then I'll hire a bully-boy to come and

smash your front door down - and I'll tell him to smash anything else he

fancies while he's at it. See if I don't!'


Widow Thomas gasped and backed away, but Sarah was between her and the

stairs, and she could only retreat to the end of the landing, stuttering in

fright. 'Well, I - I - your mother just buried. A day or two - you shall

have a day or two.'


'And the rent?'


'I shall refund what is not used.'


Sarah stood there for a minute longer, then laughed scornfully and moved

away. 'I have to go and see my lawyer now. I trust you will keep an eye on

my room while I'm gone? I should be very angry indeed if anything happened

to what's left of our things. Who knows what I'd do then?' She held the

woman's eyes for a moment longer, then walked out.


Even though the sky was heavy with clouds and she would be lucky to escape

another drenching, she regretfully refused the shrill offer of a passing

sedan chair. Her iron pattens were soon encrusted with mud and who knew

what else. Since she did not dare spend even a halfpenny on paying one of

the urchins to sweep a crossing for her, she picked her own way among the

refuse and slops, crossing streets when she could behind some wealthier

citizen who could afford to have a path swept clear.


Impatiently, she waved away the pie seller who accosted her, as well as the

hawkers of ballads and newssheets, clasping her purse firmly inside her worn

rabbit-fur muff, instead of leaving it hanging by a tape beneath her skirt.

Pickpockets were everywhere. It had nearly broken her mother's heart to be

reduced to lodgings in Furness Road.


After a while, Sarah came to a more respectable area, where the streets were

cleaner and people better-dressed. She asked directions from a

motherly-looking woman standing in a shop doorway, and so found her way at

last to Newbury Square. Wearily she limped round it in the drizzling rain,

studying the signs swinging above the doorways.

When at last she found the Sign of the Quill she did not let herself stop to

think, but strode immediately up the steps and into the hallway, pushing

open the door, anxious to have this humiliation over and done with. She was

sure the lawyer would only tell her to go away, sure her uncle would refuse

to do anything for her. But she had promised her mother to ask for his

help - and she would keep that promise.


Inside was warmth and order, with a cosy fire reflected in the gleaming

oak panelling. She pushed her damp hood back and tried to think what to say.

An elderly clerk was standing writing at a high, sloping desk by the window.

The lad standing at the desk next to him did not even raise his eyes from

his work, but kept his quill scratching across the paper as if his life

depended upon the speed of it. The older man set his quill down on the

inkstand and looked questioningly at the newcomer.


'I would like to see Mr Jamieson, please,' she said firmly. 'This is his

place of business, is it not?'


'Is he expecting you, madam?'




'Then I'm afraid Mr Jamieson cannot see you today. He's a very busy man.

Perhaps you could leave your name and come back next week?'


She could see his glance straying back to the papers on his desk, so let the

anger that had never really subsided since her confrontation with the

landlady rise again. 'My business is urgent. I must see Mr Jamieson today!'


'May I inquire as to the nature of your business, madam?'


'No, you may not!'


They stood arguing for a while, with the clerk becoming less civil by the

minute and Sarah standing her ground. She would carry out her mother's last



Suddenly, a door on the other side of the room banged open, and a small

stout gentleman came storming out. He had on a maroon waistcoat beneath his

grey jacket, with grey knee-breeches, and an old-fashioned, full-bottomed

wig crowning his rosy face.


'What is all this noise?' he demanded. 'Did I not expressly tell you,

Pickersleigh, that I was not to be disturbed?'


Sarah stepped forward before the clerk could speak. 'Are you Mr Jamieson,



'I am, madam.'


'Sir, I beg you to grant me a few moments of your time.'


He frowned at her, lips pressed together.


'My name is Mortonby. I . . . ' She stopped in bewilderment as the room

grew instantly still, even the lad by the window stopping work to gape at

her openly.


'Mortonby? Did you say Mortonby?' Mr Jamieson took a step towards her, his

expression eager now.




'Your mother's name? Her maiden name?'


'Elizabeth Bedham. But . . . '


'Aaah!' Mr Jamieson let out a long exhalation of satisfaction. 'You have

seen our notice, no doubt, madam? The broadsheet?'


'No.' Sarah was bewildered, the anger ebbing suddenly and a great weariness

taking its place.


'Then how did you know we were looking for you?'


'I didn't, sir. My mother died yesterday. She made me promise to come and

see you.' Sarah's voice trembled for a moment and she had to fight for



His voice became gentler. 'I'm sorry to hear that. But what am I thinking

of, keeping you standing here like this? Pickersleigh, send out for a pot of

chocolate and some pastries. The lady is wet and chilled, and could use some

refreshment, no doubt. Leave your pattens by the door and come this way, my

dear Miss Mortonby. I have a fine fire in my room. Dear me, have you hurt

your foot?'


'No, sir. I've been lame since birth.' She was used to such questions, but

he coloured and tried to hide his embarrassment by whisking out a

handkerchief and blowing his nose loudly.


'Pray take a seat, ma'am! Pickering, the chocolate. The pastries. At once!'


Sarah sank into a huge, leather-covered armchair and held her hands out to

the blaze, the muff dropping forgotten to the floor. Such an extravagant

fire and sea coal four guineas the chaldron this winter! It was a long time

since she'd enjoyed such wonderful warmth.


'Why were you seeking me, sir?'


'First, can you prove who you are? I'm not doubting your word, my dear, but

'twould all be much easier if you could prove your identity. Papers, your

mother's marriage lines, for instance? Anything, really?'


Her heart sank. 'My room was ransacked while I was at the funeral. They

burned all the papers.' Perhaps he wouldn't believe her now.


'Then is there someone who knows you? A clergyman, perhaps, someone who

could vouch for your identity?'


'Not a clergyman. We have moved about so much, but,' her face cleared,

'would a lawyer do? My father's lawyer? Mr Peabody has known me all my life.

My mother had a small annuity, which he administered.'


Mr Jamieson beamed at her. 'Elias Peabody? Sign of the Red Seal, Hotham



'Yes. Do you know him?'


'I am not personally acquainted with the gentleman, but I know of him. His

testimony would be quite acceptable. Ho there!' He sent the young man who

answered his call off to find Mr Peabody, then turned to beam at Sarah. 'My

dear lady, it is my pleasure, my very great pleasure, to tell you that if

you are indeed Miss Mortonby, you have been left a legacy. Not a great

fortune, you understand, but still . . . Miss Mortonby! Oh, my goodness!

Pickersleigh, come quickly!'


For the first time in her life Sarah had fainted clear away.


She came round to a vile smell and feebly pushed away the burning feather,

ruins of a quill, that the clerk was waving under her nose. 'I'm sorry.' She

tried to sit up straight, but felt distant and dizzy still.


The outer door banged and the boy came in, staggering under the weight of

an enormous tray containing a bulbous pewter chocolate-pot and a platter of

sticky pastries.


Mr Jamieson brightened. 'There you are at last, Thomas! Put it down there,

put it down! Now, my dear Miss Mortonby, I shall pour you some chocolate and

you will take a pastry, will you not? That will make you feel better, I'm



This was such a rare treat that Sarah found herself eating and drinking

almost as heartily as her host. She would not now need to spend money on an

evening meal . . . but perhaps that didn't matter any more? The tide of

questions could be stemmed no longer.


'A legacy, you said, Mr Jamieson?'


'Yes, indeed. Not a fortune, but enough to provide for you in modest

comfort, once the house is sold.'


'House! I've been left a house?' she asked, dazed at the prospect. All her

life she had lived in rented rooms. The thought of owning a whole house of

her very own was an astounding thing!


'On conditions. But those conditions need not concern us now.' He regretted

the words as soon as he'd spoken them.


'What conditions? Why need they concern us no longer?' she asked quietly

and a little grimly.


'My dear . . . '


'I must insist that you tell me.'


'Well, the bequest is from your grandfather and is upon condition you

change your name to Bedham and - ' He hesitated.


'And?' she prompted.


'And that your mother does not reside in the house with you or - or ever

visit it.'


She said nothing, but he heard the quick intake of breath and leaned

forward to say earnestly, 'He was not a forgiving man, I'm afraid, and he

grew quite strange after his son's death. Sad to say, the only reason you

have inherited the house is because there is simply no other family member



She banished her anger resolutely. No use being angry at a dead man. And at

least her mother could no longer be upset by the conditions. 'He must have

been very bitter.'


'Yes. With reason.'


'It seems like a miracle. Tell me about my house, if you please. Where is it

and why must it be sold?'


'Well, the house is Broadhurst Manor, of course, your mother's old home. And

it must be sold because it has been let run to rack and ruin, and is now

scarcely habitable. The roof leaks, the place reeks of damp, the gardens are

overgrown . . . Oh, it must certainly be sold! And very fortunately, I have

a buyer already waiting - indeed, he is pressing for a sale. There is some

land, you see, as well as the house. We shall get you a fair price, don't



She leaned forward, her expression eager. 'But surely the house, or part of

it, could be made habitable? Broadhurst has belonged to my mother's family

ever since the Great Queen's day - Elizabeth, you know.' She beamed at him,

joy flooding through her suddenly. 'My mother used to tell me all about her

home, but I never thought it would belong to me one day, never expected to

see it. I - I still can't quite take it in. Surely it can be restored, at

least in part . . . ?' She looked at him pleadingly.


'I doubt it, my dear. At least, not without great expense, and there is

little money to spare until you sell. Mr Sewell is offering a fair price and

might even be made to raise it a trifle.' He smiled at the thought, for he

dearly loved to bargain.


'And what does this Mr Sewell intend to do with the Manor? Has he the money

to restore it?'


Mr Jamieson sighed and avoided her eyes. 'I'm afraid he means to pull the

house down. It's the land he wants, you see, to form a deer park. Even the

cottages on the estate are to go - well, they're in poor condition, too, and

the people surly. They say a bad landlord makes for bad tenants, do they

not? Though it is not your grandfather's fault they've been sore plagued

with cattle sickness in the district lately. No, that at least was not his

fault. But as a result, some of the tenants have been unable to pay their

rents in full for the last few quarters. You must not be thinking yourself a

rich woman. There will be very little money until the place is sold, my



Sounds in the outer office announced an arrival. Mr Jamieson excused

himself and left Sarah to ponder on the news. It was a few moments before he

returned, accompanied not only by Mr Peabody, who smiled at her warmly, but

also by the young gentleman who had gone to fetch him. Even the clerk,

Pickersleigh, came into the room. She felt embarrassed to be the object of

their stares.


'This is the lady in question,' said Mr Jamieson in a formal tone very

unlike his former manner. 'I would be obliged, Mr Peabody, if you would tell

us who she is and what you know of her.'


'Her name is Sarah Mortonby and I have known her ever since she was born. I

know her mother, too, Elizabeth Mortonby, née Bedham. I administer a small

annuity which her husband set up for her soon after they married.'


'Ah!' said Mr Jamieson in tones of satisfaction. 'Then I shall call upon

you all to witness this due and proper identification.'


'By Jove, yes!' exclaimed Mr Lorrimer enthusiastically, for he was still

young enough to see the romance of it all.


'Certainly, sir,' said Pickersleigh more formally. 'Shall I prepare the



'Naturally. Three copies, I think. No need to make it very long. All quite

straightforward. You'll stay and take some chocolate with us, Mr Peabody?'


'Delighted!' Mr Peabody eased his ageing bones down carefully into one of

the armchairs and nodded to Sarah. 'How is your mother, my dear?'

'She's dead. I buried her today.'


His face fell. 'Why did you not let me know? I would have wished to attend

the funeral.'


Sarah flushed. 'I - it was a small affair - just myself. I could not afford



'It will be necessary for you to come round to my rooms - when it is

convenient, of course. There are certain formalities. And money is owing.

One third of a quarter, to be precise.'


'I had not expected - I thought the annuity stopped at my mother's death.'


'And so it does - but not before her death! We are a full month into this

quarter and the interest is accrued monthly, though it is only paid out



Sarah could not prevent herself from sighing in relief. 'I didn't know. I

thought I was destitute.'


Her voice quavered on the last word and Mr Jamieson looked across at her

anxiously. Was she going to faint again? Poor lady, she must have felt

desperate! Imagine a Bedham reduced to such circumstances!


'I, too, have some money for you, my dear,' he said encouragingly. 'I have

your rents, such as they are, from last year.'


'How much?' If it was unladylike to ask, Sarah did not care.


'I have in hand thirty-two guineas, eleven shillings and sixpence. I'm

sorry it isn't more, but there is some other money outstanding, to be paid

as times improve.'


'It seems quite a fortune to me!'


'My dear,' said Mr Jamieson gently, 'when we sell, I have every confidence

that we shall get more than a thousand guineas for your estate. With such a

sum, you will be able to buy a small house somewhere more convenient -

Tunbridge Wells, for instance, is a fine healthy town - and then you can

invest the rest, hire a maid and live comfortably for the rest of your life.

Either Mr Peabody or myself would be happy to advise you on how best to

invest your money.'


Sarah wasn't really listening to him. 'My mother has often told me about

Broadhurst,' she murmured in a bemused fashion, 'though I had never thought

to see it for myself.'


'But Miss Mortonby, I've just told you how it is! I cannot advise you even

to visit the place. Let me arrange to sell it and - '


'Sell it!' She sat bolt upright and looked him full in the eyes. 'Sell

Broadhurst! Oh, no, Mr Jamieson, I couldn't sell my mother's home, not

without seeing it first, at least! And - and if it is at all possible, I

should very much like to live there!'


'No, no, no! Believe me, pray believe me, it is not to be thought of! The

place is a ruin!'


' It would seem very splendid to me, I'm sure, after Furness Road.'


He clicked his tongue. 'Furness Road! Dear me! I had not realised things

were so bad. Tch! Tch! We must find you better lodgings immediately. Have

you - er, have you any money left?'


Sarah laughed, fumbled for the muff and untied the strings of her purse,

emptying its contents into her lap. 'Oh, yes, sir. See - I have six

shillings and fivepence three farthings.' And she laughed again at the

expressions of sheer horror on the two lawyers' faces.


The Salmon Fisherman

by William Cox


Old Doc Toombs had been fishing salmon every year in the rivers along the

north and south shores of the great St. Lawrence. Some even said he was seen fishing two

rivers at the same time.


He was pointed out to me one day as he was up to his knees in the current, casting into a pool

and wearing that old beige-coloured "Tittley" hat on his head. His rod was expertly waving

to-and-fro placing the fly in the exact position he sought. The scene would have made a

beautiful cover photo for a Salmon-fishing magazine. They told me he was 81 years old at the



I saw him again when I was fishing a pool on the Matane River a few years later. I was alone

and the sun was just rising over the mountains. My dry fly was flicking over the small sun-lit

ripples as I concentrated on a spot where I had seen a salmon leap out of the water.


While descending with the current in my hip-boots, something half in and half out of the water

caught my attention. When I went to investigate I could see that someone was lying there. "My

heavens!" I said, when I saw it was the body of an old man wearing a soaked, beige Tittley

hat. I recognised him as old Doc Toombs. His white skin, blue marks, icy arms and rigged cold

hands with no pulse, told me he was dead.


Suddenly his right hand jerked at the same time that a large salmon arced out of the water and

splashed back in. The dead man was clenching the rod with the salmon on the end of his line.


I held the body in a sitting position while I reeled in the salmon. Doc's frozen hand never

let go of the rod. It took about twenty minutes to bring the salmon to the shore. It was a

beauty that broke the Matane river's record.


Still leaning against me with the salmon on his lap, I heard a voice say, "Thank you." It did

not come from old Doc Toombs' body but from above, through the canopy of rustling leaves in

the sunshine.






Aberfan Remembered

by Irene Herry


Friday 21st October, 1966. The student nurses were in high spirits. It was the last day of the nursing study block and they had just received the results of their examination paper. Everyone had passed with creditable results. It was 11 o'clock, I sent them off to tea break to release their pent up spirits, knowing I'd get no more serious work out of them that day

Friday 21st October, 1966. In the mining village of Aberfan in South Wales the children in Pantglas Junior School were excited, looking forward to their half-term holiday. Seated behind their desks in their classrooms after assembly, they looked up at their teachers with bright expectant faces.

9.30am, Friday, 21st October, 1966. Behind the school the slagheap of coal waste thrown up over many years from Merthyr Vale colliery, began to slide down the mountainside. It took with it boulders, trees, rubble, anything in its path. Rapidly gathering momentum, it pushed in the walls of the school lying below forcing desks, chairs, blackboards against the children, covering them with black slime.

Parents rushed to the school. Disaster hooters in the nearby pit sounded, miners came up with picks and shovels to stop the avalanche of black slurry engulfing the school and houses on either side.

Frantically digging, they tried to stem the still moving tide, throwing it to one side to uncover the still bodies lying beneath.

Police, Fire brigade, and Red Cross drove from the town of Merthyr Tydfil five miles away. Doctors, nurses and ambulances arrived ready to treat the injured and take the survivors to hospital. Alerted to the probability of severely damaged patients, Merthyr's three hospitals were on emergency standby, beds emptied of any patients who could go home.

 The student nurses returned from their break, their mood dramatically changed. Reports of the disaster had reached the media. Arriving at the dining room they found colleagues gathered round the radio, shocked and silent as the extent of the slide became evident. Urgent appeals for earth-moving machinery and helpers to clear the site were issuing from the radio.

Six of my students were from the Rhondda Valley where Aberfan was situated "What can we do?" they asked when they returned. "Can we volunteer our help?"

I rang Merthyr General Hospital. Firsthand knowledge of the disaster had told them that the complete eradication of the school and nearby houses meant few were expected to escape with their lives. The Matron thanked me but refused my offer of help explaining the hospital was adequately covered for the small number of emergency cases expected.

The girls were distraught. "Please, we must go to see if there is anything we can do". Their people were in trouble and they were desperate to help.

Calling on Glyn Watkins, a colleague, to take three in his car, I  took the other three. We agreed to get as far as possible into the disaster area. However, if, at any time, our presence was seen to be a hindrance to operations and we were turned away, there was to be no argument.

With the nurses still in uniform, we set off the 25 miles to Aberfan. The road into the Rhondda Valley climbed slowly into the Black Mountains. On the way we passed rows of working-class terraced houses reminding us that the Valley was no stranger to tragedy. The mean terraces were built in the 19th century to house poor Irish and English families. Irish displaced by the potato famine, and English escaping the poverty of rural England. Men glad of any job to feed their families were cruelly exploited by the coal and iron masters while they, the owners, made vast fortunes. Working conditions produced many a tragedy. Mine collapses, terrible accidents in the furnaces of the steelworks continued to maim and destroy their descendants. Now mines were shutting down, coal had lost out to oil as the prime energy source, the uncertainty of unemployment hung over the Valley.

This though, this tragedy was different, it involved the Valley's children.

We travelled north,  "There it is!" Looking down we saw the village, a sea of black sludge immersing a large section. Bent figures in clusters were scattered over the slurry. Turning off the main road we slowly approached a waiting policeman. I explained who we were and, seeing the uniforms, he directed both cars on to a member of the Red Cross. Repeating our story we waited for her to decide where to send us.

She did so quickly, "Go down this street to Bethania Chapel on your right. Go inside and say I sent you. Someone there will tell you what to do".

We drove the cars past the horde of diggers intent on shifting the thick slimy mud. There was desperation in their faces and it was very, very quiet. The evening sun was sinking slowly behind us. It had been a fine day, but now the damp chill of autumn was seeping into the valley. A little body was passed down a line of rescuers.

Inside the Chapel we met another Red Cross worker who told us we would be laying out the bodies of any dead children or adults that were brought in. The Chapel was being used as a mortuary.

Taken aback by this reality, I was nervous about the students' reaction, but they were determined to do their best. In their two years of nursing most of them had laid out one or two bodies, but not many. Anyway they promised they would tell us if they became upset, and when they were ready to go home their parents would collect them.

We entered the church hall where people stood beside trestle tables.  Bowls of water, sheets, flannels, rags and towels were set at each table.

We waited.

Grief scarred the face of each person carrying in a body. No words were spoken. They laid them on the tables and we set to, gently washing the faces, eyes, and limbs free of the caked black slurry. The hair was more difficult to handle, matted and dirty, there was no time to wash it. We needed to wrap the body in a sheet so that it could be taken to the back of the hall for identification.

Memories of the next hours are buried deep. I recall little bodies, broken, faces blackened, features distorted from contact with unyielding furniture, a pink ribbon in a tangle of red brown hair, a flowered dress with a once white collar, a little arm wrenched from it's body.

In the background a queue of parents and relatives silently moving along rows of wrapped figures. Barely audible gasps when a child was identified. Bleak faces when none were recognized.

. A father, assisting in the dig, was handed a body. He recognized his own son. Breaking from the chain he, wordlessly, brought him to the Chapel and placed him on a table. The nurse looked closely, stopped, and cried,

"He's alive". A miracle? It was one bright moment in the desolate scene.

We worked through the night, but must have had a break because I can remember the Red Cross in a brightly lit hall opposite the chapel handing out hot pies and strong tea.

One by one the nurses broke away to be met by relatives and taken home. I finished about 10am and drove away past the now swollen army of rescuers, still digging furiously.

That evening I woke from an exhausted sleep and put on the television. Journalists, at the site of the disaster, had tears streaming down their faces. Rescuers behind them persisted in their efforts to recover the remaining bodies from the mud.

I didn't return. The flow of helpers increased day by day, donations of money, toys, and machinery flooded in from all over the world.

144 people were killed in the disaster, 116 of the children. 145 children survived, either escaping the engulfing tide, or absent from school.

Then, the bickering started. . Arguments as to who was in charge, so different to the collaboration and teamwork that we had encountered. Politicians and V.I.P.s were photographed in tidy suits inspecting the site, making suitable condolences. More bickering as decisions were made as to who should manage the Disaster Fund for the bereaved families and the stricken village. When the Disaster Fund closed in January 1967, 1,750,000 pounds had been collected.

In 1997 the public record of the Disaster was released. A survey of the event defined the weaknesses inherent in disaster management at that time.

Failures were found in corporate responsibility, in compensation of victims, in protection of the moneys donated, and in the study of long-term consequences.

No official of the Coal Board was ever prosecuted despite evidence of earlier reports of instability in the tip.

The political sensitivity of pit closures and avoidance of strikes took precedence.

The Wilson Government agreed to remove all South Wales tips in 1968, but demanded 150,000 pounds from the Disaster fund to do so

There was no mechanism for accident compensation by the Coal Board because no miner was killed.

In a survey of 50% of the survivors 34 years later, 82% were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a syndrome unheard of at the time.  Photographs of the village and the survivors can be found on the Net. I felt choked when I found them, and I cannot read or recount this story aloud.

Aberfan is part of South Wales' history. The cause and effects of the Disaster are tied into the rise and fall of the industrial fortunes of Wales, adding to it's melancholy.#


The Artist

by William Cox


Over the past ten years I have taken drawing and painting courses with three different professors at Ste.Genevieve-de-Batiscan, Ottawa and Sherbrooke.

Most of these lessons were for still life and landscape oil painting except those in Ottawa. An admission error was made at the Ottawa School of Arts. I ended up in a class of modern art. Instead of portraying the lakes and mountains of a Canadian countryside, I had to try expressing my inner feelings with squares, orbs, triangles and meaningful colors. I had a difficult time, but I did learn to appreciate the works of such artists as Picasso and Salvatore Dali.

The nude models in this class of modern art were new for me. But I managed to apply colors to the canvass expressing myself as the master directed. During the break a model would walk around, with a robe on, to see the results of our paintings. I refused to let her see mine. I ended up making her look like a scene from up north of Baie Comeau with distorted eyes, breasts and dark ominous clouds.

As a young man I once wanted to become an actor, among other things, so I decided that now was a good time to take acting lessons. I am now a full fledged student, one night a week, in Drama -Acting 1- at Bishop's University. Wife thinks I fell out of tree and knocked the sense out of my head. I explained to her that, as a writer, I may want to write a play one day and knowing what an actor's role involves and how a play is prepared, would certainly be helpful.

Besides, who has never visualized him/herself as an actor on stage or the big screen with lovely talented actresses, an agent, and millions of dollars coming in.

I had the misconception that I had natural talent and would soon be recognized by my peers and teachers.

Believe me, there is no such a thing as a born actor. Only very tenacious, hard working, motivated people who love the art will make the grade.

Our class is fortunate to have Rebecca as our teacher. She is a very dedicated and knowledgeable teacher who loves her work. With her clear vibrant voice that reminds me of clinking crystal and a laugh like sparkling champagne she keeps her class interested and motivated. Anyone who joined just for the credits and to pass the time got a surprise.

I never realized that to become an actor you had to walk around wondering where you are, snarl, pucker up, stretch your arms and legs, roll your head and lie on the floor breathing with different sounds that must seem eerie to any onlooker. After the first session I was a little leery, wondering if a soon-to-retire peace officer was in the right class.

But, as we got into some role playing, and analyzing a play with its weird characters, the importance and seriousness of everything becomes evident. I have only started the session but I have already begun to appreciate all that is required from the actors and actresses I see on the stage.

If I don't end up with a starring role in an MGM production, I know I will have benefited from the experience of working with a wonderful group of fellow students and an inspiring teacher.






Back to PixelPapers Title Page

Letters or Submissions