Mining Men – Excerpt 2

A man slouches in the chair in front of me, his shoulders slumped under tonnes of earth and coal. His eyes look through me, past me, staring down into the black pit which has played home to the lives of his forefathers. Now, facing the sudden termination of his access to this oasis of activity and prosperity, he is lost. The fiery red of the desert flashes behind his eyes, the hereditary gift passed down through generations of men who dug into the earth. I question him cautiously; he holds a dogged animosity which growls at anything that might come between him and his livelihood. All that he knows and has might soon be taken away from him, and surely he will feel guilt; it must have been him, who has let down the strong men of his family and all the offspring they have supported for generations. As he responds, his  mouth moves autonomous of his mind, the cracked red lips forming the sounds of a dying animal, as his eyes gaze past me still. His ears are pricked, and at times he is silent, receptive only to the echoing call issued up from the mines, the piercing whistle of his master whom he adores. The immense orifice has been their owner since they first tasted its earthy presence, since the first time their fathers held them gently in their reddened hands. Even I am beginning to feel its call. In the Spartan buildings above ground, the grounds tilts and tips, as we all slide slowly, trance-like, into the heart of our planet. The men are silent, breathing only low murmurs between each other, and the wailing bellow of the beast rings in the air above us all, its dusty fingers reaching in through open windows and doors to grasp at us clumsily. They do not recognize me, tentatively swirling around my body to caress the inarticulate man from whom I cannot coax a meaningful syllable. He shivers, breathing in sharply as his mouth fills with an ethereal soup redolent of sweat, earth and masculinity, relishing the chalky taste he was introduced to as a child. His hands twitch on his lap, and he looks at his watch.


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