My grandfather worked down the Pit and he took his son, my Dad, down, just like I took my three lads down. I keep their pictures on the mantelpiece: James, smiling, and David, the quiet one, and Malcolm, just a boy, and the big colliery wheel behind them. I’m waiting for them to come home.
The colliery wheel turns and boys go down the Pit and come out old men. Then the man from the Ministry closed the Pit and the wheel stopped turning, 27 years after the big explosion and all the bodies they never found.
The neighbours left but I stayed. I was waiting for my lads to come home.
The letter from the Council told me to go, but I was waiting for my lads to come home.
The waiting got so hard, that I sat in the kitchen, one November night, and wept. Then the latch rattled and in they walked. James, smiling, and David, all quiet, and my boy Malcolm.
Black with soot they were. So I ran the bath, the way Mother used to, and scrubbed them clean. They never spoke, but they put on clean shirts and sat around the kitchen table, waiting.
Nothing in the fridge except a heel of bread. So I ran, to the Chippy, and Hamid was frying up.
“Hello Jack,” he said, “is it fish with chips?”
“Times four,” I said, holding up fingers.
“My lads,” I told him, “they’ve come home.”
They tucked into that fish like they were famished. Then they washed up in silence. They went and sat on the sofa and waited. So I turned on the telly. And they watched it in silence, and I watched them, all evening long.
They went to their room, and I lay in my bed and listened to their breathing. Not sleeping, they were lying there, in their beds, just waiting.
They came down at dawn, wearing the pit clothes I’d cleaned. I’d packed their lunches. I opened the door and out they went, smiling James, quiet David, my boy Malcolm.
“Lads,” I called and they turned to face me. I didn’t have words, but they nodded, James, then David, then Malcolm. Then they left, up the sleeping street, under the shadow of the big colliery wheel, turning one last time.
This one brought a lump to my throat when I wrote it. The destruction of the colliery towns by the closure of the old mines and the real grief of those who lost sons to mining disasters are real enough without ghosts. The supernatural plot is drawn from the medieval ballad The Wife of Ushers Well that Steeleye Span turned into a folk rock classic.