pages Passages

by Dan Reilly

Published in Issue No. 268 ~ September, 2019

Openings lead to openings in darkness, miles below. They shovel ore into steel bins pulled to the surface and dumped, hour after hour, day after day. Clink clink go their mattocks and picks. No one knows the time. Years ago, many years ago it must be, the last light extinguished, yet they work on. Hands and feet find direction without sight, find the valuable mineral.

Dampness, foul air, fill voids between men. Hear water drip, drip . . . and the shuffling scrapes of sole against stone. Old Eben falls dead. No more timber for shoring, axes worn to the core, they must stop work, carry his body out.

“It takes two angels to fetch a soul to Earth,” says Walter, “only one to bring it back.”

No one speaks again, walking up and out. The journey lasts longer than expected to the fourth abit, where the rail line of their grandfathers yet remains. Eben weighs on hard shoulders. The miners lay him on a small flatbed, wheel it outward on rusted track daubed with bone oil. Faintest reflections of light pain their eyes. The mine’s opening is the sun itself. They stop a long time to accustom wide pallid orbs to the light, true sunlight.

No one is there when they emerge. Eben’s body lies near tall piles of unprocessed ore . . . the insides of Furnace Mountain which they dug out. They stare. Rotted wood heaps and fallen beams stand where sheds and the company offices were just yesterday, it seems. But many years are gone . . . years of cold work, and the dark passage of time.