Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Black (10/15/09)
TITLE: Get-It Boy
By David McCord
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So Harv was doin’ the actual work, and Kenny was up there with ‘em. And me…I was just 11 at the time.
I was lucky to get work up above in the sun. I was Jerry’s “git-it boy”. That’s what he always said: “Git it, boy.”
Well, a rivet had popped out from a cover plate and jammed the main ratchet dog. With Jerry overseeing, Harv and Kenny were struggling with the machine while they hung on to the framework, forty feet above the yard.
Jerry says, “We need a two-foot bar and a short chain up here. Git it, boy!”
So I scurried down the narrow plank along the side of the big chute towards the roof of the gear shack. Some guys were standing there by the shack looking up at me. I can still see their coal-smeared faces watching me. They were getting nervous ‘cause this fix was taking too long.
You see, if the main chute stops, the lift bucket stops. That means the loader in the hole stops, and the bucket line behind that. Then the rhythm of the work is lost, and the foremen start to shout up the line to see what’s wrong. If it stays wrong, the foremen call to the shift boss. If the shift boss gets to the site, then word might get back to the general manager’s office, and well…it’s best if that doesn’t happen.
So I was scurryin’ down the planks to get a two-foot bar and a short chain. It was a simple task—I knew exactly where to find ‘em. He knew I could haul them back up to him in good time. And those coal-smeared faces of those men watched me.
I leapt onto the metal roof of the shack, grabbed the top of the ladder and swung around to the top step without slowing down, all in one move, and scurried down to the ground. A few of the coal-blackened men shuffled out of the way. The shack was covered in black dust, like everything else.
I skipped over to it and, just as I reached for the latch, I happened to look up the derek where Jerry’s boys were working. Exactly then, Harv Winslow lost his grip.
It was a weird thing to watch as his weight suddenly pulled him away from his perch at the top of the machine. His hand shot out, but missed. Kenny turned, but too slowly to even reach out. Jerry’s voice cried out “Harvey” as if he could grab at the falling man with that powerful voice. But he fell.
I heard a clang as his shoulder struck a metal brace, and that made him tumble wildly the last twenty feet toward the ground. And he hit hard on a mound of black earth with a thud that jerked me awake.
My legs came alive and I ran, hopping over the scattered rubble. In a few seconds I was on my knees by Harv’s side. With my small voice I echoed Jerry’s call... “Harvey?”
The fallen man’s eyes shot open, wide white orbs in that black-smeared and frightened face. His hand snapped up and grabbed my sleeve tight as a vise. With a desperate effort, Harv struggled to pull some air into his chest. Then his eyes found mine and latched on like grappling hooks. I heard a man come up beside and say “Oh God”.
Harvey’s eyes changed their gaze somehow—less panicky and more of a yearning. Still trying to inhale, still holding on tight to me, reaching out with his eyes alone.
“Oh God,” I heard again, and men were kneeling down around us. They put their hands on Harvey, shoulders, head, hips…and still his eyes held mine.
Someone said, “Let’s get him up.” And suddenly, Harvey let go of me…he let go with his eyes…his hand released my sleeve and his eyes let go. He just let go.
Somebody pulled me away. And I saw Harvey’s face one more time as his eyes shut with a wince. His eyes, and his desperate, steely force that had held me just seconds before, were now dark…lost in a dark face…closed under that unforgiving layer of coal.
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