© 2005 - 2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas.
The wind funnels down from the Beacons and plants cold kisses on people’s anklebones. Then it leaves the ankles to themselves, as if calling by at all was a mistake. It whisks sweet wrappers from the gutters and sends them swirling through the rusted gates of the park, then sets the last geraniums dropping red petals in their beds and tests the leaves of a tree by the park gate. And a man called Judah, up his ladder cleaning coal dust from the town’s windows, will smile:
Leaves for Judah Jones, is it?
The leaves are not the burned leaves of autumn, oh no. They are pale and bloodless leaves, silvered, hanging by thread-stalks, twisting like milk-teeth on their last rootlets, until they drop and chatter over the grass to pile in late confetti against the twin metal benches of Gwendolyn and Gwyneth Watkins, spinsters both. Then Judah Jones may appear in his flat cap and his fingerless gloves, his ladder tied against the spine of the bike. He will rest the bike gentle against one of the Miss Watkins, take his bucket from the handlebars and bend to pick up the leaves, all pale and crisping.
He pushes his bike towards The Cat Inn on the corner of Maerdy Street, thinking of rooms he sees when he is cleaning windows; fires warm in their front-room grates and budgies dozing in cages, dining tables with velveteen skirts, and cups of tea matching on trays with lardy cake and butter. Dusty bedrooms with working trousers over bedside chairs, thrown with a petticoat, a stocking. And lumpen pillows on unmade beds, their dips and valleys as familiar as songs.
He may round the corner ready to go home to Plymouth Terrace, but find the coalminers waiting outside The Cat for the door to open and let them in.
Judah Jones will stop, sudden. He will creep back unseen and listen for a voice that rings in his ears like bells wheedling him to prayer. But not talking to him, oh no:
There’s a thirst I have. I could swallow The Taff…
Iechyd da, Peter Bevan…it’s good luck you’ll need then…
Judah will close his eyes, rest his forehead against the wall. He will see a miner in the dark, gleaming black gold in the shadows, the muscles moving under his skin. He will smell skin, sweat, coal dust, salt and tobacco, and feel his fingers reaching for the man’s arm, all solid and warm. He spreads his fingers to brush the skin, the hair. And his fingers meet nothing. Just a brick wall.
And in Plymouth Terrace is there a fire waiting in the grate and a kiss by the back door? There is not. The grate is empty and as cold as his bed. There are no petticoats over bedside chairs, nor stockings curled on the carpet. Nor is there the beauty of black streaks from under the nails of a miner called Peter Bevan on the pale soap by the kitchen sink.
Judah has been seen in the park collecting his leaves, the mist parting round his boots. And by the gate, a small boy pulled along by the hand may look back and ask,
Mam? What is he doing then? Mam? Can we go in the park?
His mam may say there’s no time when before she was saying there was plenty. And the park swings will go unswung.
There will be no reply.
Later, when he has all the pale leaves he can find, Judah Jones will set his ladder against the stone walls of the shops. He will clean the windows of the sweet shop, the undertakers. He will knock at the door of the dressmakers and shine the glass so the unfinished blouse on its cardboard body can see out proper.
Then he pushes his bike past the cinema, past the cinemagoers waiting on the steps. And he will go to where his soul has been all day. The grey and square-stoned chapel called Ebenezer.
At Ebenezer Chapel, he will lean the bike against a stone bench in the porch where a beggar called Ianto Jenkins sleeps at night under newspapers. And he will wash the windows and shine the glass with his cloths. And when they are done, does he go home? Does he take his ladder and tie it to the bike to go home to Plymouth Terrace? He does not.
Judah will stand outside the doors of the chapel to wait, listening for sound. But there will be none, oh no, for the Chapel is empty and waiting. He will push open the doors and enter all quiet, and will close the door behind him.
He will wait in the half-light before going to the windows, their saints lined up left and right like soldiers. And he will clean them all with water, all except one. He will go to a window at the back of the chapel, half hidden, and gaze up at the man on the glass. Then he will take a handful of silver leaves and will brush them gentle over the window, rubbing until the leaves crumble and rain onto the flagstones, whispering,
I am here.