2015 -- 8.1 (Fall) Fiction

The Ultimate Ultimatum

By Brandon Henry

On an ordinary day, Bickford would have been already deep into the bowels of the Clearwell mine. He has now worked in that bloody mine for over fifteen years. Like most families in England, times were tough. Bick only makes five quids a day, barely making ends meet. The Great War has been ravaging Europe for years now. Workers of all types were required to work longer hours in support of the war efforts. Before the war had broken out, Bick had met his wife whom was studying at Oxford University. A beautiful, fair skinned woman, who had fancied Bick since they met at a local tavern while she was on holiday. They wed six months later, and started a family together claiming home to the suburbs of Gloucester.

Bickford would work until the wee hours of the night, eat dinner with Dorothy and his two beautiful children Alice and Peter. He was a picture perfect father, always there to tuck the children into bed with a good story. All of that had changed. The war had forced Bick to practically live in the mines. Some workers have gone on unofficial strikes, claiming they could not afford to feed their families. Which was another reason Bick was forced to pick up more work hours. This inconvenience had placed a lot of strain on Dorothy and Bickford’s marriage. He was only home long enough to shower and sleep never seeing his children awake. He was also never drafted, the doctors told Bick he had early stages of “The Black Lung.” He wasn’t opposed to joining, he actually liked the idea of throwing a spanner in the works on those Jerry’s.

Several hours after Dorothy had readied the children for bed, Bick stumbled in the door after a grueling thirteen hour shift, black as the night sky; he headed straight to the washroom to have a shower. Quietly Dorothy says “Bick, I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what Dorothy?” Bick said.

“We never see you, your children, they don’t ever get to see you. They need their father, and I need my husband. You need to leave that mine, it will kill you too, just like your father!”
Bick replied, “How do you plan to live? I cannot just stop work, I have to make money! How would we bloody live then?”
As the tensions rose, Bick stormed upstairs, wondering how she could be such a selfish twat. He thought what can I do? After all he has grown rather zonked of the mine. He finished washing up, and proceeded downstairs to confront Dorothy. As he walked down the staircase, he could here Dorothy whimpering over the creaks and groans of his footsteps on the old wooden floor boards.

Dorothy continued to argue with Bick, telling him to find another job. She stressed that her and the children needed Bick. She gave him an ultimatum, change jobs to be with the family, or they – her and the children – must leave for her parents in London.

“That stonking mine Bick, it has nicked you from us!” Dorothy said.

“Have you gone barmy? If I leave the mine, where will I make money? I Love you Dorothy, but I can’t just sit on me arse!” Bick said.

“What if we leave? We can pack up and go across the pond, at least until the war is over.”

“Yeah Dorothy, that would be cheap as chips! Sod off! You’re mad!
The arguing continued until the early hours of the morning. Bick had finally fallen asleep on the couch, while Dorothy had claimed their bedroom.

Bick had been woken up by the sounds of planes flying overhead accompanied by thunderous booms in the distance, one after another. It sent shockwaves that shook the entire house, it resembled the shocks while in the mine. The sunlight had pierced through the raggedy curtains, shinning onto Bick’s face. He realized he was late for work. The sound of the planes and booming was all too familiar. He sprung up off the couch and ran to gather his things for work. As he rushed out the door onto the front porch, he could see plumes of black smoke, the blackest of black he has ever seen. Blacker than the soot that caked his entire body after a hard day’s work. Overhead were Nazi bombers. Not knowing if there would be more attacks, Bick drove to the mine. As he reached them, he could see police officers and Tommy’s blocking off all roads leading to the area.

“Blimey!” Bick said, He had finally realized that they had bombed the mine. The Germans have occasionally bombed areas which aided the war with coal and iron. Bick decided to stay, and see if there was anything he could do. Perhaps now, Bick won’t have to argue the toss about the ultimatum Dorothy laid down.

Meanwhile, Dorothy had risen and started her day while listening to the BBC on her wireless. There were lots of dishes to be done and other choirs around the house. She also figured she needed to pack later to be off to London by dinner time. She thought it was obvious what Bick had decided to do. “How could he choose that mine over his family,” she thought? On the broadcast, Tord Lidell was talking about some bombings that had happened in Britain today. “…And in Gloucester, the Clearwell mine, which is a major supplier of our naval ships, had been destroyed just after 7:00 am this morning. Casualties are unknown at this time, it doesn’t seem likely any inside have survived.” The plate Dorothy had been washing crashed to the floor, shattering at the same time her heart did. “Bick…” she thought, “Bick was to be at work,” she did not see his truck outside. Panic had set in, knowing her husband is buried alive. Her stomach began to knot, she felt weak and nauseous knowing the last thing said to one another was not “I love you,” but was her threatening to leave him.

After the police had shooed Bick away as if he was a curious child in a restricted area, he headed for home. The thought of him missing work brought all kinds of emotions to him. He felt overwhelmed with a flood of guilt, sadness, and even joy. He kept thinking of his friends, crushed below the surface. He thought of how Dorothy last night yelled and pushed him to leave the mine. He reached the front entry and frantically shoved the door in, almost removing it from the rusted hinges that supported it. There, he saw Dorothy and the children weeping huddled together on the couch, as if striving to stay alive out in the blistering cold of winter. As if seeing a ghost, they hesitated. For a brief second, time seemed to be at a standstill. Dorothy lunged off the couch and embraced Bick, the children followed frantically. “I thought you were dead!” Dorothy cried, “I’m sorry Bick, I Love you!”

“I love you too Dorothy, I am sorry I haven’t been here for you and the children.” Bick replied with a broken voice. Overwhelmed with emotions they all began to cry, and for a moment, forgot about the tragedy at the mine. Without any other words spoken, they knew they were a family again.

Bickford had been so furious with Dorothy this morning over last night’s event. He now knew that if that argument never had happened, he would have been in the mine. It would have become his final resting place, a tomb. One in which would not suitable for any man. His marriage had been endangered, but without that threat, he would never even had a chance to decide about the stipulation which was thrown at him.

The following day, Bickford had given it a lot of thought, perhaps going to America was the best choice. They packed their things and sold the house, and left for America. Since that dreadful day, their affection for one another had flourished, it grew greater than when they first fell in love. Bickford started working for General Motors, assembling tanks. As for Alice and Peter, they couldn’t be happier to have their father back. No longer would Bick live in a world of utter darkness such as that mine. Even with the war continuing, he at least had his family and they were safe in America. A job can always be replaced, but a family cannot be.