Friday, June 14, 2013

We Used to Wait

We Used to Wait

We don’t want to end up there. The mines. It’s where people get lost. It’s where dads leave families. It’s where boys stop growing up or just start growing old. It’s where people get stuck and darkness looms and breathing becomes as difficult as lifting a hundred pounds.

We don’t want to end up there. But we do. Each of us. All boys at one time and before we know it our voices are lower. Our muscles more defined. Our brows smudged and wrinkled and we don’t fight. What’s the point of fighting? We make due with what we got. In the end we all end up in the mines because work is slow. The economy is bad. And this is a very small town.

The smudge of the fingers. The dirt so packed into our fingernails it’s a wonder to see someone without the dark crescents under their skin. We taste it. We taste it with each bite of a sandwich our loved ones packed for us and we don’t even notice the oil or grit because it’s almost the same as turkey on rye.

Our days are this: We wake up when it’s dark. We dress. Some of us kiss our moms or wives or kids goodbye. Some people have no one to kiss or no one who kisses them. Sometimes there’s an animal to pat and sometimes there isn’t. The boots slip on signaling the real start. Things creak and crack when we get up no matter what the age because once in the mines you aren’t getting out anytime soon.

We walk. Walk as the sun starts to peak and the moon dims hidden by the slow glow and we walk towards it. To a hill that reminds some of a volcano and others of a tomb. At some point we all form a line ready to go and truly let the day begin. In bunches we head into an elevator that hums and hiccups as it lets us down and takes us up. And just as the day shines through we get feel it less, see it less. There’s nothing but a sliver as we plunge back into darkness.

We work. We hack things up. We huff chemicals or elements. We push wagons. We cart coal.  The young men whimper but not for long and the older men curse all damn day. We dig and find oil and then come the men slick as the substance wanting us to sign away what is on our land.

We sweat. We cough. We don’t recognize ourselves anymore because some of us weren’t dark and now we are and others were already dark and got darker. Some bomb tunnels to make for more ways out and others stare on, halted in their movements afraid that that blow will be the one to take us under. Happened before. It could happen again. There are limbs with numbers and last words scrolled on them that make for a moment to cross yourself before putting it in a bag to take to someone. This is why some men don’t wear rings anymore. If they get lost then at least the family may have something to pawn.

We don’t dream. We don’t sing. We don’t think. We just work. We do. We’re in a cave of testosterone and we do it because it’s all there is or all that’s expected of us. There’s no light beyond what’s on our helmets, weighing us down and matting up the hair some of us have and others wish they still had.

There’s no color but for black and gray and brown. But one day someone stops. A boy, a young man really. He stops his work. He stops digging. He stops moving and wheeling and coughing. One by one each man stops too. Looks on where he is. Someone asks what’s going on. What’s the hold up here because we should keep on. The day won’t stop just because we do.

The boy points, he crouches. The boy groans as he bends. And soon we all come by thinking it’s another arm. A foot maybe. Lord forgive him if it’s a head. But it’s none of those things. There’s a doll. A lifesize baby doll with eyes closed and when the boy reaches for it the eyes open lazily. And the puckered lips look more like a smile now with the eyes wide open staring at us and he asks, “How you think this got down here?”

We know how. But we look on triggering a memory of something better. A light beyond the lost. One of us takes the kid in our arms. That one’s smile cracks on his lips and his teeth shine adding more illumination to the darkness and he says, “Reminds me of my little girl.” I look up at the rest of them, stroke and smudge the baby’s face and realize it reminds me of Adelaide. My little Adelaide and that I’ll see her soon. And for the first time in awhile I start counting down the hours. 

Story by: Jenn Baker
Photo by: Emilian Robert Vicol


  1. I like this Jenn, the ending was very cool:-)

  2. Thanks, Amy! Besides my mom I think you're my biggest fan.

  3. Great job, Jenn! I love the hope at the end. And this line - "we don’t even notice the oil or grit because it’s almost the same as turkey on rye" - I love it!