Back to Archive 



© 2005 - 2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas.


And the cinema-goers, their breath rising from their mouths like souls that have forgotten something, will want to know about the window cleaner who carries autumn leaves into chapel. And if they ask it right, if they rustle a toffee bag deep in a pocket, and if the asking comes to the beggar Ianto Jenkins, he will lean against the peeling wall, tap his watch that has no hands, look at the chapel doors, and sigh:


Listen with your ears, I have a story for them see, about little Meggie Jones who came before Judah and who started something that only Judah Jones will finish.


A long while back this is, and Meggie is living with her husband happy as linnets. And he digs out the stomach of the mountain for the coal. Meggie has their first child in her belly, look, and her man takes the shine of her eyes below ground for a light.


“Tonight, Cariad bach...”

“My Geraint. My man.”


And one day the mountain rebels, see, and there is a fall of stone and a single spark that finds a handful of coal dust, and it races its fire along the adits. The smoke billows from the pit head like a message.


And little Meggie runs crying to the pit to join the women waiting to know who are to be wives and mothers no longer. The engine brings up some men alive and they stagger out into the light all shrunken.

But not her man. The next day it brings up the dead and she peers at the burned faces and hands but he is not there, the man Meggie slept with not two nights since.


With each rise of the engine Meggie’s heart beats a little faster for it is possible indeed that her man is hidden, that he found a hole to climb through, and is in the next valley, lying on the grass. And she cries,


“My Geraint. My man…”


But he is not in the next valley, oh no, and he is not in the adits and he is not in the heaps of men who clutched each other like brothers as they died. He is never found despite the looking. Never.


And what can Meggie do but creep into her cold bed and turn her face to the wall?


In Ebenezer chapel they gather to sing for the dead. Meggie sits at the back in her good coat that will not close because of the baby coming, watching the wives with their men all neat ready for the ground. And the sunlight finds its way through the window above her head and shines onto her. She looks up, and what does she see but the shadow of a man looking down and watching her with a half-smile.


Later she is alone in the silence. And she climbs up with her baby all heavy inside her, and stands on a chair to reach, and with her fingernail she scratches in the dust. The light shines through the dirt of ages, and that light is green and gold. Is the window speaking to her, then, right deep inside… where only she can hear? And Meggie asks who’s there:


Pwy sy 'na?


But there is no answer.


She goes to find a cloth to wipe the window, her task, while the other wives have their husbands to bury.


But she finds no cloths nor water, and out she goes into the evening light, thinking to go home, to fetch a cloth from the yard… and there, in the chapel porch, piled on the flagstones, the wind has brought leaves.


Leaves from the wild cherry trees on the hills, see. Bright reds and golds, and Meggie thinks they will do nice. She takes the leaves, she does, and the man looks down at her as she climbs back onto the chair and begins to clean his window with a handful of leaves.


She stands there with her unborn child and cleans the window, not raising her eyes to the glass, now, for this is holy work. She only rubs a corner of the glass, all covered in dust, she rubs it with her leaves, and oh, where Meggie thought to find a verse… instead, she finds grass, each blade as real as tears. She finds wild strawberries, whinberries, tiny, perfect. She finds buttercups. The things she knows from places deep in the folds of the hills where she lay with her man. A merlin and its mate tumbling in the grey sky.


And look... among the grass and the flowers, see? There among the flowers of the Beacons are the feet of a man, overgrown with ivy, his skin brown and his nails square and strong.


Meggie runs her fingers over those toes and she cries, remembering her man that she will not see again… and she wipes her eyes with the handful of leaves. So now… it is with her tears that she washes the window, and it is her tears and leaves that work away at the glass and take away the grime of years, until she sees a man standing there, dark with coal, barefoot. And he is beautiful.



The cinemagoers, who have forgotten about the film, who have been looking past the storyteller at the chapel just there, are thinking perhaps they will go and see, for the door is open. But the storyteller has stopped, back begging he is, holding out his cap to the new arrivals. And the story half told.


Aww, stop your begging now, and tell us about the window then?



Previous                                        Next

Silver Leaves for Judah Jones by Vanessa Gebbie

1 - 2 - 3