The gaspers

Lilian had had her eye on Dan from the start. She picked him out the afternoon her family moved in—slouching on the corner with a cigarette dangling from his lip. ‘Gaspers’, he called them and he didn’t so much smoke them as pose with them.

Her mother forbade Lilian any contact. When her daughter befriended him, Mrs Thorpe warned, ‘don’t you get serious, now.’

He left school to join the mine so he could ask for Lilian’s hand. Mrs Thorpe just shrugged and said, ‘that boy’ll be the death of you.’

But he proved a hard worker, devoted to nothing more than their being together. He started off in loading—came home dusty each night. She’d strip the overalls from him and run his bath. Soon he was on a digging crew, then foreman before he turned thirty.

All his working life he spent there, and the sadness of no little ones was tempered by his love for his girl Lil.

They started talking about the dust, then Bobby Cohn got the wheeze. If Dan had caught it she’d have remained proud of him. But his lungs stayed strong. Now she wondered what sort of blessing that was—to either of them.

“Are you comfortable, Darling.” Dan shuffled in from the kitchen to check her respirator.