“I’ll se’ thee ”, Charlie called, waving an arm carelessly in Joe’s direction.
Crouching down to peer through the low windows, Joe made his way to the back of the tram. Settling in an empty seat he scoured the far side of the street between the bright paint of passing trade vans. His eyes falling on the round figure of a woman with wild, red hair, pulling a shawl closer round her shoulders and waving frantically to a man standing head and shoulders above the crowd pushing his way towards her. It was Charlie.
Annie O’Connor stepped backwards into the shadows of the damp, muddy alley. Tossing her long, untidy red hair over her shoulders she beckoned Charlie to follow.
“I’ve bin looking out for thee”, she said in a harsh Yorkshire accent laced with a heavy Irish brogue.
Charlie grinned and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her to him and pressing the softness of her full busoms against his chest. “Tha knows where to find me lass”.
“Aye”, Annie smiled sarcastically, her green eyes flashing. “Tucked up in bed with yer wife. When tha should be tucked up in bed with me”.
Charlie threw back his head and let out a deep gutteral laugh. “After a night with thee I need to sleep for a week. At least with Mary tha knows tha’ll get plenty of that”.
Annie pulled back from his embrace, her smile falling away. “Tha managed to keep awake long enough to get her pregnant”.
Fixing her with concilliatory blue eyes, Charlie dropped his voice. “Annie…Tha knows she’s got nothing on thee. Tha’s more woman than she is and more of a wife than she’ll ever be”. Cupping his hand under her chin he pulled her lips to his.
With sudden violence, Annie grabbed his wrist and tossed it to one side. Then, stepping back she twisted herself free from the arm that nestled on her waist. “A wife with no ring. Tha can’t have thy cake and eat it Charlie Hardwick”. Her eyes flashed again, a deep threatening emerald that pierced the air as sharply as her tongue. “Think on this. When Mary drops her child tha’ll have another well on the way. Another mouth to feed…How long before tha decides which of us tha wants most?” Placing her hands on her hips and responding to his non committal expression with a hard, driving stare, she spoke with dark, cynical malice. “Mebbe this time God will decide”.
“How much longer Ma?”Sighing, Emma crossed her arms and rested her chin on her hands.
Sitting at the table in the small, dark cluttered kitchen in London Road illuminated by the soft welcoming glow of the range, Emma swung her legs in an idle rhythm under the table, her bright grey eyes followed her mother as she laid the table for supper.
Mary Hardwick walked with laboured, weary steps her body swollen with the unborn child. “For supper or the barn”, she teased. Her pale, drawn features lifting briefly
“The barn of course”.Emma dropped her head on one side and gazed longily as her mother ran her fingers over the swelling that promised so much.
“God willing not much longer”.
Stopping suddenly Mary groaned gently, clutching her stomach as she clung to a chair back for support. Emma shot upright, eyes wide and filled with concern.
“Don’t fuss”. Mary muttered breathlessly, settling heavily in the high backed, wooden chair.
Emma jumped down from the table to kneel on the red tiled floor and taking her mother’s hand in hers, peered nervously up into her face. “Does tha want to lie down. Shall I cross the yard and fetch Mrs Miller?”
Her mother smiled warmly. “No child. I’m fine. The barn’s stretching is all”. Gently picking up her daughters hand she placed it on the swelling. “Here feel…can you feel it?”
Emma grinned as the swelling shifted beneath her fingers. “I can feel it!” she shrieked. “I can feel it moving”.
As the kitchen door was pushed open, Mary rose to her feet unsteadily, watching as her son took off his cap and hung it on a peg on the brown emulsioned wall. William was tall for his age. Although still only thirteen, he looked every bit the young man and Mary was intensly proud of him. Soon he would finish his schooling and part-time work at a grocers making deliveries on a bicycle and would bring home a full-time wage packet. Her face softened as she gazed on the handsome young features that were so like the ones she had gazed into some 15 years before. Like his father, he was stubborn and determined, but was capable of a tenderness that the years of hopeless toil had eroded in his father.