The Italian Hall, 1913
Gideon Piers Alexander Smith

They heard fiddle music as feet rhythmically beat out a square dance on the floorboards above. "Sounds like a party!" The old man wheezed. Ken put one hand under his fathers elbow, guiding him up the steep staircase. "Now, that is first-rate!" the old man said as he caught sight of the normally drab room filled with almost 100 people. Holly and mistletoe hung from rafters, candles fluttered in every window, and trestle upon trestle sagged with foods. Children spun past them, dreaming of santa and presents. Wives and miners hovered around the food, each looking back on better days, looking forward with hope for them to return.

Ken Mullins eyed the luxuries as if counting the cost, speaking around his cigarette as he lit it, "When do you think the strike will end?"

"Can't be much longer. I heard..."

"Fire! Fire!" Came a voice from nowhere. Confused faces turned towards them, as wives grabbed children, and husbands grabbed wives. "See, see! Fire!" The band was drowned out by screams and cries. One trestle over-turned, the rich piles of sweet meats and egg nog preceding the avalanche of people. Ken fell, screaming, kicking. He pushed a small boy out of his way, trying to reach out and grab his father but found himself sliding down the steps backwards, and, as a mass of 74 heaving bodies pressed his dreams and breath out of him, he heard his dead mothers voice, "Down will come baby, cradle and all."

First published: August 2002