Aberfan by Steve Goodlad

There was a change in the air; full of energy. The power undulates as a torrent beneath the surface, carrying the pulse of what will come. The spoil heap had no root. Viscous and heavy, a suspended secretion, pregnant with three weeks of rain; it began to slide.

The dark mass was unstoppable, settling only where gravity dictated, leaving nothing in its wake except a memory of where things used to be. There was nothing recognisable for the villagers; the makeshift, self-recruited rescue party, to gain their bearings on. This land once so familiar, suddenly so alien. A gap on the horizon like a lost tooth.

There had been a tree in the corner of the playground; gone. An apex roof above the main classroom; gone. So, they splintered into small panicked groups; digging out the slurry into sandbags and buckets and sending them along the chain of hands to be emptied and returned, hoping to uncover a clue as to where the children were.

The roof had caved in and they were burrowing with shovels, picks, bare hands, bared teeth.

Frantic as time passed. Their children buried whole; crushed? Suffocating? Certainly suffering.

A hand appears, a wrist then an arm. The fingers don’t move.

“Find his head, dear God, help him to breathe” shouts one.

“I’m telling you it’s him”.

This shouted more in hope, as the first one to be pulled out. Everyone knowing everyone but he’s still hard to recognise.

His name was added to the memorial along with another 115 children and 28 adults, some of them teachers, and the dinner-lady who covered five children who survived.

I stop by annually to reminisce in the garden. The images are as clear as they were the day I missed school with measles fifty-five years ago.

Published in Issue #20

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