On the front walkway of the Bob Burger Recreation Center, a giant inflatable turkey sways in the November wind. "The 4th Annual Cold Turkey Run," proclaims its girthing midsection, "5K fun-run for childhood vaccinations. Free clinic inside." The morning sun shines a crisp, hard light in the sky. This being November in Colorado, the sun will be generous enough to stick around for a few more hours, before plunging the world into darkness around 5 PM.
Across the parking lot, middle-schoolers on Thanksgiving Break navigate their way through the bowls and rails of the skate park. The baseball diamond lies empty. Toddlers run giddy toward piles of cottonwood leaves.
The Recreation Center sits in the heart of Lafayette, a smallish city north of the Denver metropolis, and east of the Republic of Boulder. To the middle-school skateboarders, Lafayette was a doldrum of pretty parks, farmer's markets, trailer courts, and oatmeal festivals. Nothing was open after 8 PM, and the popular pasttime was driving to the neighboring town of Louisville, to get a poster framed at Hobby Lobby. The main attraction was a massive, market-tested megachurch, based out of an old Wal-Mart, which doubled Lafayette's population every weekend.
Charles Lindbergh is a worldwide hero.
Construction has begun on Mount Rushmore.
Joseph Stalin has seized power in the Soviet Union.
In America, alcohol is illegal, but underground drinking persists
Women have had the right to vote for seven years.
The steam whistle pierces through the gray light of morning. The whistle carries over the autumn mist, over the rolling hills of the Columbine Mine, and back home to Lafayette. Little Dorothy will be headed to school now, thinks John Eastenes. His wife Bertha knows the Columbine blows its whistle ten minutes before the school bell back in Lafayette, so it helps keep Dorothy on time.
The black beams of the mine tipple rise over the work line. Most miners took it as a given it would fall over on them someday, most likely on their last day of work. Eastenes hopes not, he has other plans.
Eastenes has stood in the work line for the past three days, and not once has his number been called. Three days, with his dented lunch bucket rattling against his overalls in one hand, the old wood worn shiny from years in his iron grip. He needs this. Last night, he prayed that his number be called, with a follow-up prayer on the six-mile walk to the Columbine. What worries Eastenes, though, is that even if the Lord Above is on his side, the artithmetic isn't. Working today would put him fifty cents closer to buying that dress for his daughter, Dorothy, and the lady at Scholes Mercantile said the dress would be very much in style this Christmas. Problem was, from what the guys had told him, he'd be lucky to work another dozen times before Thanksgiving, and he'd still be short. Scholes wasn't extending any more credit to the miners, not when they're all up to their eyes in debt already…
"Number 27! Eastenes!"
The big, ginger Greek behind Eastenes gives him a nudge. Eastenes looks around.
"Last time, number 27! John Eastenes!"
Eastenes raises a hand. "Right here, foreman!"
The mine foreman sticks his thumb toward the cage, that creaking freight elevator that lowers the miners into the shaft. Eastenes straightens his hard hat and walks foreward. Who needs artithmetic, anyway?
"Thank you, sir!" he says to the foreman. "I really needed this one, I'm buying my little girl a new dress-"
"Get in the cage, will ya?" says the foreman, "and get yer hearing checked. That's the last time I call your name more than once."
The foreman drums his fingers on his clipboard. Every year, he thinks, these miner's names get stranger.
"Number 41! Rene Jacques!"
A hand raises up from the line.
Rene Jacques steps forward, swinging his breast-auger and lunch bucket. The auger's drill bit alone is almost as tall as Jacques himself, and both items still have the initials of Jacques' brother etched into them. Even the metal auger has worn smooth where Jacques has touched it. He remembers the Fire Boss in Louisville, handing the tools over the day after his brother's funeral. If he showed up for work the next day, he could have them… for half-off, of course.
The tall Greek behind Jacques watches the little Frenchman walk off, rolls his eyes, and drops his tools to the ground.
The foreman shakes his head. "I said Jacques, not Spanudakhis."
Jacques takes his spot next to Eastenes in front of the cage door. They hear the clanking and whirring of the motors, carrying the cage back to the surface. He gives Eastenes a nod, they'd shoveled coal together before. Eastenes was a family man, trustworthy.
Back in the line, Spanudakhis takes a step ahead, and the temperature of the line rises one degree. It was dangerous to hold up the process. All eyes are converging on him.
"Boss," says Spanudakhis, "the mines closed for the summer. I just spent the last of the savings. With winter coming and all, well, how do I say it? I gotta work!"
The foreman looks up from his clipboard to see the six-foot-three Greek walking toward him.
If we call your name, you'll work today", says the foreman, "and for the record, you worked last week."
© 2018 NDH Ltd.
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