August 10th, 2020
Dirt TrawlersSo a brother and sister couldn't have been closer living as they did shoulder to shoulder in the dirt, mud caked boots stacked by the door, thick, leather coats hanging by the fire. The dog flicked its tail, eyes closed by the fire. Heavy bowls and dirty spoons still lay on the small table where the two trawlers ate, passed cards, and sat in the warm afternoons, talking the days away with stories and waiting for something to happen in the small part of the country where they whiled away the hours between waking, larking, and the night. So visitors were rare but welcome. Given that nobody came their way except by invitation, or curious happenstance there was no need to fear the strangers that came wandering up the river, draw towards the unexpected dwelling, miles from the nearest village or town. So those that came were invited in and given hot food, warm conversation and advice for their onward travels. So the end of summer brought rain that covered the land with damp, splashing in the river that rippled with the heavy droplets cascading down the valley. In one week late September, with the river and sea rising and falling in heavy swells, the sand from the South was carried upstream and mixed with the wet hills' earth to form a thick mud that covered the banks and beaches, turning the world a constant gravy brown, streaked through with black dirt and white sand that marbled in the gentle, frigid waves. So watching the spiralling earth and sand run into the mud was the sign that it was time to dig out the heavy boots, and thick wooden sweaters in which the two siblings would spend the next five months tramping through the countryside, turning over every stone, pulling back every branch, digging through the mud and earth for clots and seams that would sift up from the liquid belly of the world through the soft ground to gleam and shimmer in the golden hours. So they were out when the visitor came and knocked at the low heavy house that was slowly, year upon year sinking by half-inches into the earth. Arriving back in the evening, breath heavy, sacks swung over shoulders, they found the lights flickering and shared a look of confusion, calling softly to the dog who came to heel, watching with flashing golden eyes as the two crept forward to the window, peering in to see who or what was at home. So the door as open and they stepped inside, where unfamiliar boots were stacked by the door, and an unfamiliar coat hung by the the fire. An unfamiliar figure stood in the corner, leaning against one wall, their hands deep in heavy cotton pockets, braces strapped over a plain white vest, smoke blooming from a cigarette that glowed as the stranger breathed in the dry white flavour, unblinking eyes staring into the fire. They didn't stir as the brother and sister entered the house, nor when they removed their boots and coats. Not until they sat at the small table where they shared everything, did the figure seem to notice they were there at all. They looked up from the flames which were glowing low on the thick logs in the grate, taking in the room as if seeing it for the first time; the brick around the fire, the worn leather chair, table, unshuttered windows, basin and door that lead to the rest of the compact home. The two at the table watched the stranger as they examined the unmoving things before their curious attention was met in kind. So they stood and sat saying nothing, watching. So the brother stood and went to the kettle, filling it at the basin and setting it to boil. The stranger watched, still leaning against the wall in the corner. So the sister stood and went to the fire, turning the logs and taking another from the pile, a gentle toss sending sparks gliding and flitting into the chimney. The stranger watched, hands still deep in pockets. So the brother took three cups from the side and set them on the table. The stranger watched the water as it steamed into the cup, the leaves bobbing in the stoop. So the sister went to the larder and took out some bread on a plate, and cut three hunks from the loaf and placing them, with a pad of butter, on the table. The stranger watched it all and, when the others sat, and a chair was left empty, they eased themselves off the wall and, with weary steps, cross the small room to join the simple meal. So they ate till they were full, and drank for warmth and comfort, without saying a word the whole time. No suspicion was shared while they honoured the duty of a guest at home. Univited, without permission, with no explanation they shared a meal and when it was done a bed was made up on the floor by the fire where the stranger lay down with the dog curled at their feet, safe in this home on the edge of the sea and the river, where the mud was turning to marble. So the morning came and the stranger was gone, but in the evening they returned to stand, leaning by the window, watching the world go by from the cosy home. So in the morning they were gone, and in the evening they returned, and the kettle was boiling and the bread was set, and they stranger was sleeping by the fire with the dog curled up at their feet. In the morning they were gone and in the evening they returned, to sleep by the fire in the warm heart of the home. So one evening the two came walking, boots thick with mud, and there was a stranger there, who watched as they set out some food and a bed, and the three smiled that they had found home.
©2007-2021 Benedict Esdale