Streams of sunlight drifted through the buildings and windows of the small town called Berkley. Heating the stones on the road, brightening the buildings as it sent a spill of pinks and oranges. There is no dawn like the one here in the sweet town. His place itself couldn't be more friendly and filled with struggle.
On this day Vincent-Leo's life will change forever or at least he hopes it will as he opened his eyes to stare at the wooden planks that covered his ceiling of his mining home. Swinging the blankets his mother made him off his bed, he spun his bare feet out of the bed onto the floor. The cold snapped at his toes and he leaned his head in his hands.
Sighing a loud breath he pulled on his clothes efficiently and using a strict manner. He tugged on each piece to make sure that he looked his best before pulling on his boots. Splashing cold water on his face to wake him up despite the dread that clawed at his insides. Every man must have felt this way before they went down into the mines.
Opening the door drawing a heavy breath as he did. The long wooden peaked hill like stairs led him down to the foyer and the family to one side and the kitchen on the other. The smell of bacon and soup were drifting up to his nose making his mouth water. He walked down the stairs with a lengthening stride that made his foot steps echoing in the hallway.
Coming into the Kitchen where a spread is covering the centre of it. A kettle was starting to boil furiously on the range fitted into the corner. His mother buzzed around pouring a thick soup like a stew into a bowl. Her washed out grey skirts flowed around her in a spiral. She was so full of life and that was what kept him going.
“Morning.” She called loudly.
He attempted to stay cheerful even though his dread was creeping through his gut making his stomach roll. Vincent-Leo now had to force himself into the seat close to t he range cooker where the heat warmed up his body. The chill had been ground through him as easy as ghost did a wall.
“This is some spread mother.”
Vincent-Leo commented as he stared at the newspaper that sat next to his fathers seat. He knew that he was going to face a similar fate that his father did if he didn't do something about it. That was exactly what he was planning to do.
He had been swearing to himself since he had helped lay his father to rest that he wouldn't end up like him. He would get his family out, make there lives better somehow. His mind had been working on ideas on how to do that ever since. Vincent-Leo hadn't been more frustrated than he was currently.
“I'm sorry about the farm managers job.”
His mother Erica said using a very sympathetic tone that made everything worse on him for his own guilt was eating away at him. He allowed his head to sink a little as his chin almost touched his chest. It took a lot of bravery to lift his head where he stared straight ahead, taking the burden of his family onto his shoulders.
“It wasn't meant to be.”
“You shouldn't have to go into the mine.”
Eric spun around to face him with a pale face and slight tremble in her hands. He found his heart lurching in his chest at the sight before him. A rag hanging from her fidgeting fingers along the edge of it with nimble hands that still mended the streets clothes. He could see where the hard work had worn deeper into her flesh over the years. Her greying hair was sprinkled with jet black strains of hair and chocolate brown eyes stared back at him.
His eyes floated back down to her hands where he took in their wrinkled and redness which were still flickering about her eyes and face. She was still as sharp as when he had been a boy and he knew that she had endure some of the worst sort of pain.
“That's the only work going, but it wouldn't be for long I promise.”
“That is what your father said!” She shouted with a tremble in her chin. “I wouldn't lose you to that blasted mine too.”
His mother looked at him with pure fury and grief in the heart of her eyes. The sort of pain that would never be able to rid of her of them. He found him rushing to his feet where he knocked over his chair and was in front of her in seconds. His hands grabbed her biceps to stop her from moving, she looked away and after what felt like an unbearable amount of time she lifted her eyes to look at him.
“I promise you that not happen to me.”
He said sternly using a gentle tone that he hoped would ease some of the terror that she felt. Vincent-Leo couldn't imagine what she was going through and he guessed that this was the reason for the spread that she had prepared him. He eased his hands away from her biceps after stroking them with his thumbs using caressing strokes.
Turning back to the table he rightened his seat before he slipped back into it with slow movements. He clasped his hands to prevent them from being idled. He kept her face looking forwards so he couldn't lose his nerve. Vincent-Leo found himself losing it a lot lately it had everything to do with old memories that refused to leave his mind.
His request seemed to be nothing other than a mire whisper that he managed to utter without allowing his own fears into his voice. Closing his eyes he steadied himself as he listened to her leather boots patter along the well worn floorboards that couldn't be cleaner. His mother had been scrubbing the house since she heard the news.
Her footsteps were shaky as she moved to a nearby chair and he could hear her fingers drum on the top of it. He could sense that it was taking a lot out of her to handle this morning without exploding and curling up into a ball on the floor in endless waves of tears.
Her voice fluttered weakly to his ears and it made his throat grow tighter. He swallowed extra hard as his adam's apple bounced. It made his shoulders automatically tense tighter than a drum.
Opening his eyes he saw her start to dish out portions of the breakfast items that were making his stomach grumble. Her back sat iron straight against the wooden backed chair that even showed its worn, weathered, generations of use. The tensions slipped out of the room even for now as he could sense that his mother was making an effort for him. He couldn't even begin to thank her for doing that for him.
Lifting his up his fork and knife of tarnished steel that had been laying next to the plate waiting for him. He now started to cut and eat pieces of the the assortment of pieces that he knew that she must have traded work for. His mother choose to make items that were going to fill him up without making him feel tired. The sort of preparation that she did for his father and now she was going to do for him while he lived with her.
Out of respect for her scuffed down the plate full as his stomach started to twist up into a ball in the bottom them. A nervousness was filling with a wave sickness that kept rising up inside him. It made him dizzy with even more frayed nerves that were taking over him.
He was snapped out of his thoughts when the sound of fellow miners who were starting to head to work clinked along the gravel road that lay outside the house. It made him lift his head upwards where he looked towards the door as if the sense of fate was tugging at his guts started again.
“Please be safe,” his mother mumbled.
Her hand reached out where she grabbed his forearm where she squeezed it gently. He swallowed hard trying to move the lump out of her throat. Vincent-Leo lifted his hand where he placed it back on top of hers. He gave her what comfort that he could give her.
Turning he saw his mother's face so scared that he almost didn't rise up from his chair. His hands rested on the table where his eyes falls on his fathers lunch box on the end of the table. His gut fell through the floor making him almost gasp for breath. They moved further until he saw the flask that sat next to it.
The whole situation became very real.
“I will be.”
His words were a gentle tumble that floated through the room.
Vincent-Leo starts to move through the room where he picked up the lunch box and flask where he headed towards the front door. His hand hoovered over the top of the door handle just inches above it. Almost like his fear won out in the end.
“Marcus would want this.” Vincent-Leo managed to say with a surprisingly strong tone. “He would want me to take care of you.”
“We can make do.” She sighed. “You don't have to go.”
There was a pleading tone to her words that was like someone slicing him open. It made him almost gasp aloud, but he managed to keep it just behind his lips.
“I have to provide for all of us so my sisters have better marriages. I have to do this.” He paused with a edge to his words. “Please understand.”
Vincent-Leo slammed his hand down over the door handle where he yanked it open and headed out into the air. He closed the front door behind him softly allowing her to deal with her emotions in private. Coming out of the porch his head turned towards the perch next door where his eyes fell on the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen.
A woman that he had known his entire life and was surprised every time he saw her.
Chryston Mark stood both feet planted on the porch with thick blonde hair falling down into thick spiralling curls. Her thick skirts were swishing around her legs with black leather boots looking worn and weathered.
A dull white blouse was tucked into her charcoal grey skirts. Thin legs that showed the muscles from her work showed and his heart seemed to skip several beats inside his chest. His throat grew tight as he tried to think of the right words to say and his entire body seemed to be become as nervous as his school days.
Raising his eyes he met the coal blue ones that were almost like steel. A pale complexion that was almost peach in the sun. When the light hit her locks it looked like a waterfall of gold. The arch of her neck made his mouth grow direr than the out back desert. His tongue scraped the bottom of his mouth.
Her smile seemed to awaken something inside him that made his body warm despite the cold nip in the air. His breath stuttered in his chest as he tried to breathe out. These were the same feelings that he had felt since he had first laid eyes on her when they were just children going to school.
When her lips dropped back down they made a perfect love heart shape in the centre of them. He longed to press his lips against hers and find out once and for all if she truly felt the same as he. He wanted nothing more than to give her a better life.
This wasn't where that promise ended it reached out to his own mother and that of his family. Including those sisters who had been married off to make the burden on the household less.
“Good morning Mr Thornton.”
Her voice sounded so soft when she spoke to him in a welcoming greeting. He found himself stammering and scrambling frantically to come up with the right respectable response. She deserved his best at all things that were related to her. For she was secretly his entire world.
“Good morning Miss Mark.”
He started to feel good about his response to her even when he dipped his head in greeting. He lifted his hand to her as well to make sure that he got the biggest smile off of her as possible. She nodded back at him with a small curtsy that was almost missed it was so subtle. Their small interaction sent her off to do her chores before school.
Vincent-Leo with a lighter heart joined the miners that were marching towards the mines. At least now he would have good thoughts as he descended into the darkness and the polluted air rushing through the shafts. These didn't make his feet move any faster towards his destination.
Looking around he took in the rolling hills, thick forests and the gravel like road that led by the lake that shone in the day light as the sun raised up higher into the sky. Thick fluffy white clouds were dotted around about the place. The morning dew that clung to the air and crawled over the land, damping his skin. He could feel himself memorising every detail with each step.
“Please don't let his be my life from the start.”
Vincent-Leo mumbled softly while he sucked in several deep breaths so his lungs were expanded to there fullest. His foot steps crunched with each step enjoying the world as his father had taught him. Now needed to see if he had what it took himself.
Chryston wrung her hands in the other as she leaned down onto the desk where her eyes drifted out the window. Her thoughts were filling up her mind so fast that she knew that today was a total waste for her to be at school. Still she sat in the wooden chair, her supplies were set out in front of her. The assignments were due to be handed out by Mrs Friz.
Violet to whom was often referred to as her long suffering best friend sat next to her. Her eyes were fluttering between Mrs Fritz and the piece of paper on her desk. Chryston was very much aware of the fact that Violets eyes were staring at the blackboard like her life depended upon it. Her good friend found studies and lessons difficult compared to herself. Even now she was sure that she could probably pass any questions or tests that Mrs Friz presented to them.
Today was the day that Vincent-Leo was set to go into the mines, the very same one that had claimed a few good men recently. A pain struck several families along her row and the idea of the place made her blood boil deep within her. Its far to soon in her opinion for him to be going down into the mines. Her mind started to be filled with memories of the time at school together which was just s few weeks ago.
* * * *
The first time that Chryston met Vincent-Leo on their first day of school where she had so scared that she wasn't sure about going in. Tears had streaked her cheeks as her lower lip quivered a bit. She didn't care that she was making a scene like her mother kept retorting to her. Her mother had let go of her hand as a thick sense of what she knew as dread and fear gripped her inside twisting them making her feel sick. Her cheeks burned as some of the the other children her age were already inside and even the older children were inside.
Yet her feet remained firmly fixed on the ground, fear gripped her insides again harder this time. The effect made her body rebel as she shook constantly. Dirt that was fresh clinging to her nose and she could taste the change in the seasons. She longed for summer when they were together and everything was perfect.
Out of nowhere his slightly thicker boy came into view his face full of courage even if his eyes eyes were tinged with red. He stopped in the thong of parents where his eyes met hers and made the fear lesson some how. She felt like the world had slowed down even stopped for that moment. She liked the feeling of the world coming to a stand still around her. That snake of fear seemed to losen its grip around her.
“Hi I'm Vincent-Leo Thornton, “ the boy said confidently and full of courage.
He placed his hand proudly over his heart and that was just something about his face, smile even the freckles on his nose that made her grip slacken on her chest.
“I'm Chryston Mark.”
She placed her hand onto her heart in the same gesture that Vincent-Leo did. Her hand then moved to her cheeks where she swatted at the tears that were still streaming down them like tiny endless rivers.
“Are you coming in?”
His question made her mouth freeze slightly open and her eyes were widen to the maximum they could go. Before she could regain her senses she saw him reaching out his pale hand with a faint tan embracing his wrist bones.
“We can go in together if you want?”
Vincent-Leo spoke with the same courage that left her in awe. Someone who was the same age as her could do so much like the grown ups around him, baffled her. This was a trait that she couldn't help noticing and admiring. He made her feel safe and there was nothing that felt better.
“Go on,” her mother encouraged. “You'll be perfectly fine.”
Her mother released her grip on her shoulder as Vincent-Leo took her hand within his warm one taking the fear completely out of her. This was the first and the last time she ever felt that way because there was so much constant change in their lives.
Together they entered the schools wooden hut that smelt like mould and dampness that lingered in the clothes that hung in the back of her home. Everything seemed brighter and okay having Vincent-Leo beside her.
* * * * *
“Chryston,” Violet whispers with a series of hushed tones. “Chryston.”
Violet's tone was sharp and contained a very cold harshness that reminded her of how many times her best friend had done this for her. She could see the unspoken concern in her eyes with the way her jaw was set into a very sharp line. Her eyes were boring holes into hers, showing she was clearly annoyed.
“Teach is about to pick someone else to read from Abbey's Cove.” Violet paused. “Page ninety two.”
Taking one last look around to make sure that no one was watching Violet returned to her correct sitting position where he light balled fists was holding her head up as she stared at the words on the page of the book in front of her. Violet's mind seemed distracted and that was the one thing that they all shared together.
After all the tragic events happened in Berkley just a few weeks ago.
Chryston opened her book distractly keeping up with those who were reading aloud on the very off chance that she would be called upon to read. She wanted to do anything else other than read. Her mind told her that she should be running towards Vincent-Leo now begging him to not go into the mine. To hold his face in her hands and kiss away his fears.
She had longed to kiss him and hold his strong body in her arms.
Her fingers fiddled with the edge of the pages with her very tips. Despite her desperate attempts of keeping her attention on the lessons that they were being taught. Her fingers were aching for his to stroke them. To feel his head leaning in against hers as they often did on the back of her houses porch. To have his strong arm around her back supporting her, protecting her from the harsh world around her.
Nothing could make her focus when her anchor, the very thing that she needs to continue to grow so there was hope that she wouldn't spend the rest of her life here, rotting away inside. Her parents wanted her to go further than them which was making a lot of eyebrows raise within their small village. She would do anything to go to the big city where she could further her education.
But she was a realist.
Her father was a miner who wasn't going to be able to pay for her to do that. Her future would be simple and had been set in stone since her birth. She would marry a miner properly and spend her life in this town going through the pain that most of the other women went through. She wasn't sure that she could stomach the not knowing if her husband would be coming home or not. If she would have to find a away to survive or send her oldest child into the mines.
Her eyes raised to see a figure appearing not far from the edge of the hill that led to the mine at the top of theirs. He made his way ever closer into the view of the school hut's view. Her heart started to beat faster even skipping the odd beat, making her hand raise and press against her chest. Almost instantly she could feel her head growing dizzy as her heart continued to beat like a steam train. After several deep breathes her head started to spin so violently she was scared she would faint. But she held on.
Through the bright rays of light that blinded her, he took shape before her. Without even seeing his features form completely she knew who it was and nothing made her feel better. All her strength returned and the determination that lived in her gut that she couldn't ignore.
Vincent-Leo walked through the rays using a strong steady stride as he continue on towards his destination with the rest of the men who walked with their heads down. In her eyes this couldn't look more wrong as his hand gripped his lunch box tightly in his hand along with the flask of strong coffee and his rations for the day. She hated how he kept his eyes turned away from her the closer he grew. She knew just as well as him that she would be enough to make him doubt his decision.
Every muscle tensed in her body so she prepared to throw herself out of the chair and rush towards him as she noticed how pale he seemed. His face baring the weight of the responsibilities of those his father had once carried. Ones that none else was in a position to carry other than him for there was no other person to do so.
A painful reminder of the life they must lead.
“Please don't do this,” she whispered.
Chryston knew how unfair it was to ask that of him so she remained seated on the chair. Her hands were clasped together on top of her book so she refused to take her eyes off of him. Even if there was a dread holding her gut hostage, making her feel so ill. She wanted to keep it together more for him than me.
What made it worse had to be the look on his face, the slump of his soulders and how his head bowed. She hated how she couldn't shoulder some of the burden of what he tried to carry. Her entire life she wanted to be his and to do whatever he needed in order to make him happy, she feared that would never be the case.
Their eyes met briefly and she knew that all they showed was love yet mountains stood between them. Mountains that Chryston believed she couldn't overcome not quite as well as quickly as she'd like. For she also hoped to give Vincent-Leo a chance at his own dreams and life. If it meant that eh never had to go into the mines ever again then she would do it.
It was the how that was stumping her.
That drove her to focus just in time as her name was called by Mrs Friz. She rose and started to read aloud with the proudest voice she could muster. Knowing that if Vincent-Leo was there he would be smiling at her. She held onto the image to get her through the rest of her long day.
Vincent-Leo made his way into the depths of the mine with his God father who watched all the men that turned up to dig the coal from its murky depths. The cold, dampness rested in his nose and on his tongue. A shiver went through him as he came closer to the man with the stern, unforgiving blue eyes. He was a stocky man who wore a starched, shirt, trousers and boots. They were all worn down to their threads and had been repaired so many times that the patches were starting to show in the sunshine. This skin had a pale pasty colour to it that almost had a layer of sweat already gleaming from him.
Vincent-Leo stumbled in front of the man who still lived two doors down from him. The butterflies, uneasy feelings rose up inside him leaving his lungs starved of air. His head was dizzy almost like it was filled with cotton balls as his heads started to shake ever so slightly. Suddenly his heart burst forwards against his ribs like a run away train. He could feel it beating in his throat as blood rushed through his ears leaving them ringing.
His pick axe weighted heavily in his hands and no matter what he did he just couldn't make his feet move forwards. Every hair on his body stood up on end as if death itself walked by him. Still not a word had passed between them since his father had been laid to rest.
Even strides took the man with an uneven step off the platform that over looked the workers of the mines entrance. The limp gnawed at his leg slowing him down, the damage that was done to him since the shaft fell in on his father and him. Vincent-Leo's eyes picked up on the way his fingers twitched by his sides. Something that he knew that his God father only did under a great deal of stress. He prepared himself for the worst.
“Vincent-Leo,” Albert uttered uncomfortably.
“Yes,” he responded weakly.
“You'll be in shaft six.”
Cold almost ice like blood ran through his veins as he knew that was the shaft next to where his father had been killed. Somehow he managed to swallow and even choked on that swallow. He did what he could do to make sure that his body tremble like a school child facing horrible nightmare.
He was a man had be.
“I'll be working your first shift with you.”
“You don't have to do that.”
“I promised your mother and father that I would keep you safe.”
A flurry of emotions flickered deeply in his chest robbing of his breath as his heart kept up its new quick pace. His muscles were pulled tense like guitar strings and he found himself fearing they would stop.
“You don't need to do that.”
Vincent-Leo tried to be courteous at least that was something he at least had control over. He watched his God father moved uneasily from foot to foot trying to shift his stress around. A trick that Vincent-Leo had yet to learn and thought over time would come to him as simply as walking as a toddler would.
“I'm a man of my word and I will do my best to fulfil it.”
The cold and steal like response trickled through Vincent-Leo that made him shrink away from the man he respected more than anyone else in the world. He could feel the hope inside him flicker in the wind like a candle. Vincent-Leo never wanted it to die and that seemed impossible with the anger that was stirring inside him. After lack of communication and support for his family.
These were the sort of things that Vincent-Leo couldn't forget.
Albert placed his thick hand onto Vincent-Leo was guided him towards the cross roads of the mines opening. A cold sharp wind struck through the pair of them and he could see the tension tightened the muscles of his jaw. Vincent-Leo tense all the muscles in his body knowing the pain he'd endured through out of the shift.
Vincent-Leo wanted to converse to make this day easier only there wasn't a way to start a conversation not in his mind. They headed into the darkness of the bleak shaft as if it were nothing more than a summer stroll. Every inch of the darkness struck to his skin like a deadly mist. One that had claimed the lives of many who worked within its walls.
He could feel the family bonds growing thin between them. Thinner by the day.
“What the hells is bothering you?” Albert snarled. “I can hear you thinking, you were almost one for thinking.”
Albert spun around to face him clinking his own mining gear and lunch packets that they'd ration. His God father held a very stern and unchanging angry look in the depths of darkening pink skin. Vincent-Leo had no idea how to answer this man as his teeth took to being held underneath his tongue. A bitter metal taste that filled his mouth under the pressure of his strained resentment.
Both of them continued down the mineshaft where the lanterns were now a touch brighter, but soon there would be none hanging on the line leading to the end. A thread to guide the men back out of the endless darkness, they saw and often referred to it as their lifeline. Vincent-Leo made a point of reminding himself of that lifeline just as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up on end.
Something wasn't quite right.
His God father demanded to know the answer to a question that he hadn't been listening too. Vincent-Leo still struggled to gather the words to answer him to a satisfying standard that his God father would accept. He knew that the truth wasn't going to cut it this time around. Either road that he took here, the know in his gut grew bigger, rounder even. He could sense something wasn't right however he could not place what or where everything was starting to fall apart.
Vincent-Leo stopped walking like his feet had became lead weighing him to the spot. This brought Albert to a dead stop ahead of him and he could hear the exasperated sigh from where he stood. Albert took many deep breathes before he spun back to face him with an enraged face etching into his features like he was letting him down in some way. A sterner more frustrated look came through the rage and his already lined face grew deeper as it scrunched up more than normal.
He felt a bit like Albert was treating him like his own son.
“There is something wrong.”
Vincent-Leo blurted out not meaning to sound so much like a scared child unlike the man he wanted to be. He could see that look of understanding in Albert's troubled eyes. He showed what he feared the most and it made Vincent-Leo want to back up, but he stayed where he was.
A startling realisation hit Vincent-Leo as he stood there with men passing him by making comments under his breath. Their boots clunking against the dirt, rock floor as they drudged their way through the mine, heading to their shafts. He wished that he was like them. Only he now knew that Albert would never see him as anything more than a child. Vincent-Leo raising the alarm when there was no warning signs for him to do so just proved it in Albert's eyes.
“Your just nervous about your first day.”
Albert said in a tone designed to reassure yet held a stern edge that at one point his father had taught him to see past. Those were the tones that held the greatest of warnings to stop what he was doing and to not panic. It was almost like his father had been preparing him for this day for sometime. He needed to shake that effect off of him before everything feel down about him.
Turning his God father signalled for them to go deeper into the mine shaft. He watched Albert go unable to move his feet like he requested him to do. He stayed glued to to the coal pounded floor. A terror started to rise up inside him like a ghost had reached inside his chest and clamped its hand down onto his heart. All he could do is watch Albert shake his head shake before he reached out grabbing the collar of his shirt with a closed fist.
“Get to work now!”
The order couldn't have been more clear and it made Vincent-Leo feel worse than he did. Albert shook him heart then let him go as he turned away from him then sharply back.
“If your not cut out to do this then get lost now!”
Those words hurt Vincent-Leo who wanted to provide for his family and to do his best to ensure that his sisters were never suffering or going without. He hated that he was unable to do what his father must have found so easy. Part of him wondered if he had stalled in the mines opening and made his God father look stupid for getting him this job when they had moved here.
He would never know.
“I didn't think so.”
Albert's stern cold tone was what brought Vincent-Leo out of his thoughts as he watched his God father turn away from him. He started to walk deeper into the shaft with even steps. Something started to yell really loud inside his head.
Somewhere in the heart of the shaft Vincent-Leo was sure that he heard the voice of his father like he was still alive. The warning was painful to hear and one that he wasn't going to ignore so easily. Now he felt what his father sensed coming and what he wanted his son to save his uncle from. Even if their mother said he was nothing more than his God father now.
Vincent-Leo would never tell anyone that this was a trait he shared with his father since he was a young boy.
Vincent-Leo stopped his mining equipment and other things to the filthy floor with a clatter. His feet were already moving at much faster rate than he thought possible. The echo rang out in his ears just as his hands fisted in Albert's moth nibbled jacket. It sounded like the fabric tripped and tore underneath his grasp as he pulled the back towards him. The opening in sight but still a distance to go with a struggling Albert in his hands.
“Boy what the hell are you doing?!”
Albert cried out as the words rung off the walls deafening the pair of them, further down the mines entrance other workers stopped to stare at them. He just made eye contact with Albert where he allowed the full effect of his emotions to hit him. All that Vincent-Leo could hope for was that he would take the warning seriously.