Originally written as an exercise at The Flash Fiction Group of ACW, on or around Good Friday 2022
I shifted my rucksack to a more comfortable position. Where possible treading upon grass or undergrowth, comfortable for my feet. Ahead lay Donkersville, I’d be sad to leave the quietness of country paths behind, coffee and cake however would be welcome. Somewhere too to replenish my water bottle and snack pack.
Multicoloured barges chugged past, there was a day it would have been real horse power plodding along this very path. I wondered, which was best?
Many of these barges were summer homes, a few only lived in all year round. Hardly any worked the traditional business of a barge hauling freight down country waterways. Replaced instead by the roaring of rail and road.
My head went hazy, I sat on a log clasping my head in my hands, waiting for the world to settle. Before I could look up, Clop Clop Clop, a steady plod drew close.
I opened my eyes, a horse caked in black dust hauled a laden coal barge. Grey fug rested over Donkersville, smoke pouring from chimneys here and there.
Gone were my hiking togs, replaced with grimy work clothes topped off with a sweat stained flat cap. And was I? Indeed I was, leading the horse.
Clicking my tongue, “Come on Bess. We’ll be home soon enough.Deliver this barge to The Works, home to oatmeal, a rub down and rest. Then for me, bath, supper and bed. Always good to look forward.”
Donkersville was busy and loud, the waterway cut straight through to the center. Turning off into a small harbour I unhitched Bess, as we left, folk were scurrying back and forth already preparing to unload it’s black cargo.
Five minutes later we turned into a courtyard, home at last.
After far too short a sleep next morning we were back to collect an empty barge, retrace our steps to Bartell Bow to collect more coal, then back to The Works. Same tow path, same route, plodding day in, day out. Still, I was lucky to spend my days in good clean fresh air out of a smoggy town.
Lifting my head, had I been dreaming again or really been back in time? Sipping coffee, feasting on cake I noticed grimy hands…