Beneath the midday sunshine

On cold days his knee still ached. He’d lean on his stick by the front garden fence, his cap pulled down, and his padded jacket wrapped around his thinning frame.

“Let him be,” grandma would say, watching him stood looking down over the valley.

It happened two weeks after mum’s fourth birthday. The news spread in minutes, the way bad news does in a village. She remembers grandma getting ever more frantic, unable to stay still but not wanting to leave either mum or the telephone.

By the time he came in it was dark. His face was blackened and his breath sour. Grandma hugged him and yelled at him for being drunk, for being late, for spending his wages on alcohol, for being a miner. Through all this he just stood in the doorway, his arms hanging by his side. She learnt later that he hadn’t spent a penny, that the landlord had waved away his attempts to pay.

We never knew why he was leaving the mineshaft at the time of the explosion. It was the middle of his shift, and the supervisors were known for their inflexibility. He never talked about it. When months later the 468-page report blamed no-one he just spat.

Once, I ran out to him by the fence when mum wasn’t looking, my small hand finding the leathery creases of his. We stayed there until mum shouted from the kitchen, then we went back inside to where grandma’s cawl struggled in the pot.

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