More about Elsie

Back in March, I “interviewed” a character for my current writing (see here: I didn’t get to ask her many questions because she was such a great talker! She didn’t make it, but I’m sure she’ll find a home one day. She’s been tapping at my mind, asking to be put in a story NOW. There’s not even a hint at an outline, but I wrote a short piece about an incident in her working life. I hope you enjoy it.

Uncle Jim

Jim was a steelworker, something he’d never intended to do, but circumstances forced it on him. He grew to love his work, the smell of the molten iron, the heat – and even the noise. Others called him foolish, or even mad, but steel was what made Jim tick. While his workmates rushed off when the factory whistle blew, Jim would stand a while and listen to the sounds of the workshop shutting down for the night.

Through the nearby partition, he heard the last of the grinding-wheels stop its growling and grumbling and he opened the door to the grinding shop. All the women had already left, but as he thought, little Elsie was still there, looking for crumbs and slivers of metal.

“Lass? It’s time to go home, didn’t yer mam fetch you?”

“Oh, Uncle Jim! She went home early. A stone broke and cut her arm bad. Now we’ll be short, so I’m looking extra hard for the bits of metal.”

“Come here, there’s something I want to show you.”

They went back into the machine shop and Jim marched over to some bins along one wall, lifting the lid.

“Elsie, come and look!”

The bin was full of corkscrews of bright metal, all in shimmering rainbow colours. Iridescent greens vied with deep purples. Blues, reds and even yellows shone in the gloomy corner. Elsie’s eyes widened.

“Uncle Jim, what is it? It’s so pretty!”

“It’s metal shavings from the high-speed planer. We call it swarf. It won’t stay pretty for long because it will rust. Here, watch your fingers, this stuff is sharp. Can’t have two of you needing an expensive doctor now, can we? Take these bits, wait for them to go dull, and sneak them in with your sweepings. Bit by bit mind, or we’ll both be in trouble.”

Elsie wrapped the steel curls in a bit of old sack. Jim saw her frown lessen as she realised she could help her mam.

“C’mon love, let’s walk home together.”

Elsie skipped out of the door for the first time since she started work.

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