For The Want Of Kindness by Dorothy Snelson
It was just a graze, a small scratch really, hardly a gaping wound. She wrapped a rag around it later, but all day it had been exposed to the heat, the sweat, the coal dust, and the dirt. Ironic, when many were the times, when I’d seen her body chaffed raw by the belt around her waist ,and the chains passed between her legs, to enable her to crawl on hands and knees, drawing the huge tubs full of coal.
Ma hadn’t always worked down the pit. From twelve years old she had worked in the mills like me. It was only when she married pa, a collier, that she too ended up working in the pit . She didn’t have a choice. Pa wanted her as his ’drawer’ and you didn’t argue with pa. It was a dreadfully hard life drawing, from six in the morning , till six at night with only one break, to eat a meagre meal of bread and butter. The pit at Turton was always wet, and sometimes she was up to her thighs in water. The roof leaked and her clothes, such as they were , never dried out. When she got home there was a meal to prepare, or she would feel pa’s fist if it were not on the table straightaway. Some of the women down the pit were wicked, and swore like the men, but not ma. The men took liberties with those women but not with ma. Pa is a bare knuckle fighter, and it would have been a brave man would stand up to him. He could beat ma senseless almost if she were not ready with the coal tub, but let another man say as much as a word to her, and he would live to regret it.
Ma made about seven shillings a week at the pit . She still worked at drawing when in the family way , as did the other women. I hardly ever knew her to be ill but I could see, that at thirty seven she was not as strong as she used to be. She was tired, and sometimes fell asleep before she had washed.
That little graze must have been festering for days and she could hardly hobble to work a week later. Pa said there was no money to spare for a doctor and then she took a fever, which consumed her for days. I bathed her with cool water and tried to get her to drink, but it was in vain. She never rallied and died without ever uttering a word. She was owed three shillings for the part week she had worked. Pa brought it home next day. It felt as if that was all she was worth, my ma, three lousy shillings. She is buried in the graveyard at St. Anne’s Church, Turton but with nothing to mark her grave. Nothing to show for a life, hard beyond comprehension, but these are the times we live in. Life, for the poor such as us, matters little to our masters. We are expendable.