Fiction by David A. Johnstone
Originally published in Tangents 1.9
June 1966, pp. 8–10.
See Part 2: July 1966
The wind whipped at the tattered coat Ken Morris was wearing. He pulled the collar closer to his throat. A friend shouted goodnight disappearing into one of the many pit cottages, the other miners behind Ken lauded at a dirty joke. It was Monday evening—Home from the pit—streaked with sweat and coal dust. These men looked forward to Monday evenings. It was Bath night, the one night their wives or mothers put on the great copper and did the weeks washing.
Ken felt a hand catch at his arm. He turned to see Davy Evans. Davy had a nasty little ferret face. His eyes were too close together. He spoke like a rasping snake…
“Don’t forget Ken lad what I told yer. Don’t go letting your step father 1 touch your cock. He likes young boys does John Cobourne.”
“Shut yer dirty mouth” Ken replied, pulling away from the leering man. Ken ran the last few yards until he reached Barran Row. Here the houses were a little better than the pit cottages. He raced to the back door and spat. Damn Davy and his filthy suggestions.
Ken threw open the door and walked into the cheerful little kitchen. In the armchair before the stove sat John Cobourne, his step father, reading the local paper. He looked up with a welcome smile as Ken entered.
“Hi Ken lad, how was it at the pit today?”
“Same as bloody usual” Ken grunted, throwing his lunchbox onto the table. “Hot and sticky. Thank God its bath night. Mum got the copper boiling then?”
“Of course lad, would she forget? No, the water’s lovely. I had a bath in front of the stove this afternoon,” John Cobourne said, putting down his paper. He watched the youth strip off the filthy shirt and vest, saw the coal dust coated on the white shoulders. A cloud of coal dust arose when the trousers dropped to the carpet. Even his legs were black with the dust of the pits.
“Where’s Mum then?” Ken asked aware of John’s eyes for the first time. Normally he wouldn’t have thought about his step father. Now with Davy’s suggestions burning in the back of his mind…
“She’s dawn at Ada Higgin’s house, what with the baby due and those three little devils of hers. Anyhow Mum thought she might be able to do a bit of Ada’s washing for her.”
Ken smiled, how like his mother to go to help a pregnant neighbor after doing her own washing all day. Ken slipped off his underpants and scratched the matted tangled hair at bis crotch. “Bout time Bert Higgins left it alone isn’t it? That’ll be her sixth not counting the poor little bastard in the graveyard.”
John didn’t answer. He swallowed a lump rising in bis throat. To see his step son standing there naked in front of the glowing fire bars. To see the orange flames reflecting in bis eyes. To see that wonderful young body.
Shrugging away the thoughts in his head he struggled up and limped across to the door. “I’ll get the bath in, you’ll get your death of cold standing there in the nude like that.”
Opening the back door he limped to the wall where the old tin bath hang. He lifted it down, panting heavily. Ken watched the man feeling a moment of pity. But then the voice of Davy came back to him hardening his heart against his stepfather. It was over a year ago that his mother had remarried. Yet still be felt the sense of isolation, the gulf of difference between them. It didn’t seem right that this lame man should be sleeping with his mother.
He turned away as John came in. Leaning across the fire he lifted the worn wooden lid covering the old fashioned copper. Steam arose in a cloud filling the kitchen. Steam, scented with soap powder. It misted the windows, shutting out the drab view of the houses opposite. Houses where other men were taking their baths in front of the fire whilst busy housewives watched with proud eyes.
Behind Ken the bath hit the carpet with a thud. John sighed, “Phew it gets heavier every week or else I’m getting older.”
“Your not that old John” Ken laughed, “still old enough to know the world eh?”
“Well, if you consider forty eight old enough, I expect I am,” John agreed. “Now come on, Ken, get that water into the bath. God this leg of mine is playing up again. It’s going to rain. It always hurts when it’s going to rain.”
Ken poured the jug of Water into the tin bath. More steam filled the room. Condensation formed on the shiny paint of the walls. Ken could hardly see John across the room. He saw his stepfather sit down awkwardly. The leg spoilt John’s appearance. If it hadn’t been so badly broken in that mining accident he would have been a handsome upright man. Now he was bent and twisted. Perhaps even twisted in his mind, too. Yet John was a good looking man compared with the others who worked in the pits. They all looked alike.
Ken stepped into the soapy water. It burnt bis foot. He pulled it back and added more cold water from the bucket—the ever ready bucket by the sink—there for filling kettles during the dark hours when Mum felt scared to go out. There were large rats in the yard around the dustbins.
Stepping back into the water Ken sighed, “Ah lovely.” Water splashed the carpet. John leaned forward, took a towel from the oven door, and placed it by the bath. He could smell Ken’s body. The sweat mingled with soap. He watched the youth soaping under his armpits. Saw the way the black hair grew softly there. Nestled almost. John felt an urge to touch the sweet skin. But instead be sat back saying “Step on that towel when you get out, Ken lad.”
Ken nodded. He lay back, relaxing in the luxury. Every night it was a catlick head to toe wash at the sink, but Monday nights were a pleasure, a pleasure until tonight. Tonight, he found John’s presence in the room disturbing.
To be continued…
©1966, 2017 by The Tangent Group. All rights reserved.
- This term occurs five times in the article. The last two times the words are conjoined. ↩