The hedgerows are heavy with white Hawthorn blossom and winding brambles that will soon enough bear dark fruit. I would have walked; carried my suitcase of wares through uneven meadows dotted with nodding yellow cowslips and hopped over the bubbling spring of crystal water avoiding over curious cows. But today my hopes are stacked high in the back of my van.
The village appears over the brow of the hill, the houses gathered in neat rows overseen by the towering pithead rolling its wheel as if time was not an issue. Even my tuneless humming sounds sweeter as I trundle toward the village basking in the warm spring sunshine like a quiet red brick oasis in a lush green desert. I check my watch, an irresistible smile creeping across my face. Women are much more pliable when unencumbered by ill-tempered spouses, tired and hungry from a long shift underground, and the swarming hordes are let loose from the school with the kind of ravenous hunger only children can muster. Today my timing is perfect; I even have time to spare.
I roll into the short stretch of tarmac beside the school, pull on the handbrake and letting the brightness of the day seep into my van, watch the next generation taking shape. Every grubby kneed boy with grey socks crumpled round his ankles is a miner in the making, sporting the same resigned hard bitten look that trawls in and out of the pit yard at the change of shifts. Their barracking and jeering voices resound against the school walls and ricochet around the schoolyard as they posture, dangle and drape; acting out adult themes with undersized feet in oversized shoes. The girls look on in conspiratorial groups, their faces already swathed in burgeoning maturity, subtly dictatorial and inoffensively judgemental; still learning the ways their mothers are so practiced in. They scan the posturing rabble assessing future husbands, decrying their availability with indignant sweeps of dismissive hands over colourful skirts.
“’Ere Joy gives us a kiss.”
“Come ‘ere and I’ll give you a thump.”
“Well show us yer knickers then.”
“Naff off Mickey or I’ll tell me mam.”
Mickey makes a tactical withdrawal into the sniggering arms of his peers and Joy smirks to the conspiring group beside her, suspending her fragile weight on the bars on the steps to the school room door. Enough said; in time Joy will show her knickers while Mickey fumbles with maturity and responsibility and the pithead wheels turn on relentlessly until joy is buried under the needs of a new generation.
But it is not my place to think such dour thoughts. Happiness reigns here in the schoolyard, in grubby knees and unfettered smiles. My own voice once sounded among them; I had my own Joy for a while, though I never made her my wife. This small rambunctious gathering will one day become my customers, if there is a God and he is kind. One day I will carry my suitcase to Joys’ door and mistake her for her mother and I will know that life goes on, and so must I.
Leaving my van, I venture forth case in hand, crossing the road that skirts the outer edges of the village. My first port of call is the deputy’s houses with small, neat front gardens and their backs to the lesser minions. I knock discreetly on each door and am ushered in to stand and wait, hope laid bare in a broad meaningful smile. Each female occupant dressed in the same flowered pinafore as every other female village occupant, their eyes furtively sweeping the neighbours gardens as I am woman handled inside.
“Wait here, I won’t be long,” they wag the same accusing finger and vanish into the gloom.
“No problem,” I smile benignly and rock from polished heel to polished toe, trying not to look too closely at the neat and tidy trappings of the lower middle working class with upper middle aspirations.
“A tanner, right?” They reappear already brandishing the coin that catches the light from the window and sparks an unspoken threat.
“A tanner, yes,” I log the payment and allow myself to be ushered out into the glaring sunlight, politely tipping my hat before I leave and closing the garden gate behind me with unfathomable care. My heart quickening, I trot across the tarmac road, one hand securing my hat on the way back to the van.
The schoolyard is still now, though in my mind it still rings to sound of heavy footed scampering feet. The sound of children’s voices, droning to the beat of the nine times table, drifts through an open window as I slip behind the driving wheel and start the engine. Trundling backwards, I swing the van round to face the row of garden gates, the engine rumbling contentedly at the thought of what lies beyond. Pressing my foot on the accelerator I urge it on, over the road and into a left turn and park up among the streets of gardenless two up, two down houses laid out like ploughed furrows. The identical front doors, always spotlessly clean and reserved for Sunday visitors, glare at each other over deep grey tarmac, but I am no Sunday visitor. Instead, I heave my case from the back of the van and head toward the back yards where gossip is tossed back and forth over chest high brick walls and children play within easy thumping distance on the broad tarmac run.
“Hello Mrs Tooley. Nice day Mrs Smith,” I tip my hat and greet each one of my customers with a deeply comforting sense of déjà vu. In their turn they survey me critically over stoically crossed arms, a cursory nod and occasional ‘eyup’ passing for social pleasantry. Bleached blonde and dyed black, rollered up and pinnied in; these are the women for whom I am a deliver of dreams in the privacy of their back yards demanding a length of service befitting hard decisions for two bob down and a tanner a week.