Dec 27, 2021
3 mins read
The town's as busy as an ants' nest.
DAHLIA JENKINS : There they go rushing by
says Dahlia Jenkins as she stares out of the grubby soot-darkened window of the old Ship Inn.
with their office jobs and suits. Miserable, ain't they, over such easy money.
Her few silent patrons sup at their pints.
OLD ABRAHAM : Oh, they'll never know,
sighs Old Abraham,
the beauty of the clean bright white snow.
Life, sings the Spring. And the memory of any kind of snow melts.
And Old Abraham, engine stoker, not quite ready for work, imagines woolly white blanketed hills
OLD ABRAHAM : Tucking in the sleeping valleys
With clean softness over the rolling countryside...
DAHLIA JENKINS : Well, well, well, hark at you, mister!
"Tucking in the sleeping valleys"
Like they were giant kids in an oversize bed...
OLD ABRAHAM : Now, there's a thing,
says Old Abraham,
comparing land to children.
And Dahlia Jenkins, who is no longer really listening to the good old non-drinking gentleman she'd thought so well of, answers,
DAHLIA JENKINS : But I prefer the Greenshire rhyme.
OLD ABRAHAM : If only they'd never, if only they an't come to this place I would've grow'd up wild and free in the clean old land–
DAHLIA JENKINS : Our clover hills roll in money
For Landing's soot brings sweeter...
Old Abraham sings, so soft and quiet,
OLD ABRAHAM : Here's forty shillings on the drum
For those who volunteer–
DAHLIA JENKINS : honey.
OLD ABRAHAM : to come.
And the two stare at each other, reassessing their opinions of the erstwhile ally who has revealed something they do not want to see or hear or acknowledge or accept...
DAHLIA JENKINS : Let me sing a rhyme
Of a diff'rent time.
OLD ABRAHAM : Diff'rent time
DAHLIA JENKINS : Diff'rent time
When there was no work here
But farms and home spinning.
Sheep's meat, sheep's wool.
OLD ABRAHAM : Before your time and mine
In the long long ago.
And your rhyme?
DAHLIA JENKINS : Listen.
OLD ABRAHAM : It's all before your time and mine
Long before the thick soot and grime.
DAHLIA JENKINS : A diff'rent time
Without the gas street lighting
Or the fine shops or the handsome new homes.
OLD ABRAHAM : Once there was
Fine silver in the lake
As well as on it.
Leave it, let it be.
DAHLIA JENKINS : The factories brought money.
Money brought us all hope
OLD ABRAHAM : False hope and soot.
DAHLIA JENKINS : The money brought us a better way of life
Variety and change, less strife
OLD ABRAHAM : It brought workers
Those just like my own family.
But it also brought coughs and sneezes and dirt.
DAHLIA JENKINS : Now there is
Fine silver in our hands
And in our wallets.
That's all, we're rich.
OLD ABRAHAM : We spend all we have
On food and medicine.
Are we rich?
DAHLIA JENKINS : Richer.
OLD ABRAHAM : And yet this coal-fueled richness
Does not buy back the things we miss.
DAHLIE JENKINS : I miss nothing
As there was nothing before
OLD ABRAHAM : It changed so slowly.
DAHLIA JENKINS : Oh?
OLD ABRAHAM : The work and money were good at first.
DAHLIA JENKINS : The work and money're still good
For those that'll take it.
OLD ABRAHAM : Work is hard and scarce.
DAHLIA JENKINS : There is enough work here.
OLD ABRAHAM : Work is done by engines
Money's made by engines
They make the dirt too
That covers us all
Even your poor brew.
DAHLIA JENKINS : You what!
And the other patrons mutter and whisper as Old Abraham stalks past them, and he feels the ghostly itch of this morning's tears on his cheeks, and his stoker's soot-stained skin hides the flush of anger and embarrassment as easily as it hides the flush of the engine-room heat while Dahlia Jenkins calls out behind him to question his worth and his loyalty and the value of his hard-earned paw-grubbed brass pennies. Her words mean nothing at all, yet, as he turns towards his work, thinking already of the heaps of coal and the noise and the shovels and the unforgiving heat of the engines, he chafes at his inability to explain the lost beauty of Clean. Then Dahlia Jenkins puffs up and preens behind the polished bar, proud to defeat an enemy, to root out such disloyalty, to have seen off some Luddite who would reduce Under Smoke City to a backwater, devoid of technological advantages, bucolic, quiet, poverty-stricken, as clean as cow manure, repressive and depressive outside of a short sharp sour cherry season, desperately hand-to-mouth, without a point of interest, without future, with neither ships nor Ship Inns, alone as the world moves on, left behind as the hot steam cools.