The union

They met in ’29 in a dingy basement heavy with smoke and work clothes.

While earnest elders whispered in one corner Leith and Carmel cranked a bill press. It turned out 200 leaflets an hour and could take your fingers off if you weren’t quick. Leith set Carmel’s words across the top of the page—Unite Against Servitude. The sentence formed in reverse. Carmel wondered how his inky hands would feel against her skin.

By the strike of ’32 they were getting by in a one-room fourth-floor walk up, reading Marx and talking revolution. Carmel ran the Women’s International. They’d uncovered the company’s union-breaking plans. Leith took the fight to the boardroom, the press and the street. The company backed down, but not before they’d had Leith’s face rearranged.

Carmel was pregnant in ’36, when they laid off 200. She wanted to go straight down to the picket.

‘No Carmel. There’s two feet of snow out. It’s no place for you.’

‘But —

‘There are others. We can only do what we can.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Come down to the basement. You’ll see.’

In the dim light the old bill press looked like a torture machine. ‘Give me your words, Carmel,’ he said. ‘You were always so good with them. We can fight with them again. Together.’

2011—Richard Holt / small stories about love (