My daddy worked in the coal mines until the pneumoconiosis took him down when he was a hearty man of 43. My brothers fared a little better, got themselves up to 50 before every one of them was stone dead, in the same bed their daddy died in. Mamma didn’t really fare no better. She was dead by 54, a broken heart and a gin bottle fondness most likely. I started working the mines when I was in my teens and for reasons I don’t rightly reckon, I ain’t never been sick, not a single day in the almost fifty years I have worked there.
Sure, I cough up the dust until it coats the room, I spit the black and the lung tissue into the sink, hell I even wonder how I can breathe after all the things I done have coughed out of my lungs. Some of them damn things was the size of a grapefruit. I sit down in the window bed daddy made me when I was a little girl and I look up into the hills of West Virginia and for the life of me I swear all I have to do is blink and it seems like I just wake up to go to them damn coal mines.
When I ain’t in them mines I am shuffling along barefooted trying to get to and from the damn bathroom in time, hoping I don’t mess myself mike my brothers did before they died. I ain’t made a mess yet and Lord willing I ain’t ever going to. Damn shame, a grown woman worrying about messing herself on the way to the damn john. ‘Cept though, I can’t really remember what the last thing I done ate was. I know I has to be eating, you can’t be living on nothing but air and coal dust.
Next thing I know, there I is at the mines again, shoveling the damn monster rocks into the train that never, not ever, looks full enough to move. I shovel and I shovel and there ain’t ever anyone near me, maybe it’s cause I is old? Maybe cause they think I is sick?
As soon as the thought is done in my head, I am back home again, sitting on the window bed looking out at them hills that make the heart scream in love for how beauteous they is. I would smile at the thought, but before I can, there I is at the damn mine again, shoveling for them bastards that don’t even seem to pay me nothing no more.
Hell, when was the last time I got paid?
When was the last time I ate? Or drank? Or saw anyone?
I don’t rightly care, I just gots to make sure I get to the mine and make that poor man’s dollar.
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