Title: Coal Flat

Author: Bill Pearson

Publication details: Paul’s Book Arcade, 1963, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Paul Millar

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Coal Flat

1

page 388

1

When Flora finally got back from the hospital at Greymouth it was after midnight. Rogers had come to, when she returned with the doctor from the fire at Nora Herlihy’s,; he was groggy and couldn’t move his left leg. The doctor said it was broken. He rang Greymouth for an ambulance, but rather than wait for another half hour, he persuaded Rogers to be carried to his car, where he was propped in the back seat with cushions; and, Flora in the front seat with him, the doctor drove slowly to Greymouth.

Rogers was strained, pale and in pain when Flora left him, pressing his hand and saying, ‘I’ll come a lot, Paul.’ Flora herself was strained and worn when the doctor let her out of the car at Coal Flat. ‘Where are you staying tonight?’ he said.

‘I’m going to Mum’s.’

‘Don’t overdo it,’ he said. ‘They’ve all had a hard time. Don’t get carried away.’

Mrs Palmer was lying back in an arm-chair with an empty whisky glass by her, and Doris sitting, behind her leaning over to stroke her brow; Dad stared disconsolately ahead of him. ‘Ah, you’re good,’ Mrs Palmer said. ‘You all come back when we’re in trouble. The past doesn’t matter now, Flora. Oh, Flora, how did it happen? Why isn’t Don home yet?’

‘Don’s gone away, Mum. Paul told me. He said he’s gone for good. He didn’t know where.’

Mrs Palmer’s face took on a defeated faraway look as if the inevitable she had always feared had come at last. Without a word she went up to bed.

The next day they reopened the bar. Dad and Flora served. Mum never appeared. Their old customers came drifting back.

Doris came frequently to see them. Mum picked up surprisingly quickly. Most of the old spark had gone our of her but she wasn’t nearly so miserable and bickering as she had been during the boycott. She had come to terms with some part of herself and she was page 389 more at peace, though she looked as if something in her had died, and at last looked resigned to her age. She was more content once she knew that Dad had got a pub in Nelson.

Because of this Flora found it easier to consider not leaving her, though Mrs Palmer’s need for attention was not so great as it would have been had she been difficult to live with.

One night her mother said in that more distant way of speaking she had developed since Don walked out, ‘Flor, when we get away up to Nelson, we won’t have the memories of this old place. Why don’t you and Paul live with us up there? We’d make a happy family. It’d be nice to have you both around.’