“Lotsss,” she whispered, over and over.
Buddy’s silhouette appeared in the doorway. “They won’t be back,” he said.
“Who?” Sally sat up, letting the sheets slide away from her breasts.
“Ya can’t make any money at it, Sal. Too much free stuff floatin’ ‘round.”
“Yeah? An’ all this money yer makin’s gonna keep me here?”
He turned back down the hall.
“Buddy,” she said, and heard him stop. “C’mon.”
As he shed his shoes, she noticed the slope in his back more than usual, but when he turned to her, his chest swelled as he unbuttoned his shirt. From where he stood, the hail light mixed with the TV, flashing her eyes white and pink as she moved in the blanket-wave to make room for him.
He climbed in, and his cold hands stroked her waist, and she felt the little tremors in his muscles. She dragged a single finger down his spine to make him shiver.
“When ya leavin?”
“Pretty soon,” she said, pulling him closer.
* * *
Estep honked his horn again, and Lindy danced by the door, howling.
“I’m comin’, dammit,” Buddy muttered, buttoning his shirt. The clock on the nightstand glowed ten after eight.
Sally propped her pillow against the headboard and lit another cigarette. As she watched Buddy dress, her jaw tightened, and she rolled ashes from the tip of her cigarette until the fire came to a point. “See ya,” she said as he started down the hail.
“Yeah. See ya,” he answered, as he closed the door quickly to keep the dog inside.
Outside, the mist mingled with snow, and water beaded on the fur of the spitz. Buddy left it to warn the pack, and walked toward the clicking of Estep’s engine and the soft clupping of wipers. Before he could open the door, a pain jabbed his lungs, but he held his breath against it, then tried to forget it in the blare of the car’s radio.
“Whadya know, Mad Man?” Estep said as Buddy climbed in, coughing.
“Answer me this—Why’d ya reckon Curt wants props for?”
“To shore the damn face, dumbshit.”
“An’ doghole that goddamn seam, too. He’s a ol’-time miner. He loves doin’ all that ol’-time shit,” Buddy said.
“Whadya drivin’ at?”
“How many ya reckon’d walk out if I’s to dump the water Monday?”
“Buddy, don’t go callin’ strike. I got family.”
“C’mon—how many ya reckon?”
“Most,” Estep said. “Maybe not Fuller.”
Buddy nodded; “I’d say so, too.”
“Yer talkin’ weird. Curt’s kin—ya can’t go callin’ strike on yer kin.”
“I like Curt fine,” Buddy said, coughing. “But I’m tellin’ ya they’s a easy way to run that coal.”
“Won’t work, Buddy. Operation like that’d put ever’body outa work. ‘Sides, land ain’t good fer nothin’ after ya strip it.”
“That land,” Buddy said, “that land ain’t no good noway, and we could so use work. We’d use ever’body in our hole. An’ Storm Creek. An’ that piddlin’ of Johnson’s. Fair an’ equal. Know how much that’d be?”
“Can’t be much with all the fellers in the line.”