NINETEEN FIFTY-SEVEN

Dai was frowning. 

"What is it, love?"  Rhiannon had finished peeling the potatoes. 

She knew Dai was preoccupied with negotiations at the pit.  Both sides were driving a hard bargain, but events over the past year had weakened the miners' solidarity and the management knew it.   

"You'd think it was 1927, not fifty-seven," he said.  "If this was the Soviet Union, I'd be retiring in a few years time."   

"I know, love, and women get to retire at fifty-five.  Some chance of that here!"  

He puffed his cheeks a moment, expelled the air and sighed heavily.  "Tom's called a meeting." 

"But dinner'll be ready in twenty minutes."  Rhiannon knew it was pointless, but protested nevertheless. 

Dai was putting on his cap.   

Rhiannon put a couple of inches of cold water in the saucepan and began slicing the potatoes, making sure each piece was of the same size.  She, Irene and young Stephen would have their meal together and Dai would have to have his later, as usual.  Rhiannon slid his potatoes into an enamel bowl and placed a plate over it.  From the scullery window, she watched him mount his bike and turn into the alleyway.  She hoped Mrs Probert was not coming the other way.  

She pictured him riding over the cobbles, bumping down the curb, swerving into Moy Road and freewheeling down the valley.   

The row among comrades in the v alley Party branch and way beyond was heartfelt and there had been fallings out.  Krushchov's denunciation of Stalin at the twentieth Soviet Party Congress had proved a stiff challenge to them all.  But Dai and Rhiannon agreed with each other that whatever was true about Joe Stalin's regrettable mistakes, the achievements of the Revolution had to be defended.  Hadn't even Churchill acknowledged that the Red Army, with Stalin at the helm, mind - "tore the guts out of the German army."  The couple raged together, secure and united in their contempt for the Churchill who had been for turning machine-gunners on miners striking for decent pay.  One day, the British working class would wake from their torpor and rise as one against the Tory bosses and their lackeys.

Rhiannon thought she might make an onion gravy.   

The Soviet intervention in Hungary last October had been a tougher one to handle.  Tom Evans had resigned his membership, and his wife, Elsie, had sent him to Coventry.  Tom had to get his own dinner and sleep downstairs.  There was talk of half the Party nationally having resigned.  Labour friends and workmates were angry with them, some downright rude.  Nye was said to be in a rage.  However, the passion that all this engendered brought Rhiannon and Dai closer.  They pored together over articles in the Daily Worker and dispatches from the Soviet embassy in Moscow News.  Their loyalty to the Party and each other was tested and they emerged from the acrimony a little bruised, but stout hearted, willing and able to argue with rekindled fire.  

Stephen was hanging on the scullery door. 

"Sausages for tea," she told him.  "How's the homework?" 

The boy was settling in well at the Grammar School.   

She glanced at the clock.  Irene would be home from work in quarter of an hour.   

They heard a car draw up.  Neither of them recognized the sound.  They heard voices outside.  It was Irene, and someone was with her. 

"Ma, this is Arthur." 

Rhiannon was not expecting her daughter to bring anyone home, let alone a young man. 

"How do you do, Mrs. Meredith?" 

Rhiannon found she had a momentary uncomfortable feeling, that she should bob a little curtsey as she shook his hand.  It was soft, smooth, not that of a working man.  His haircut was an expensive job, very neat, especially around the ears.  She was trying to identify the aroma, a brilliantine perhaps.  The lad had a ready smile that showed a lovely mouth of teeth.  He was so well presented!  His charcoal suit showed a little cuff of his quality cotton shirt.  His tie was a knitted one in grey and blue, an odd choice, she thought, for a young man.  However, he was personable and the toecaps of his black Oxfords shone brightly. 

"I'm pleased to meet you," he was saying. 

"Arthur gave me a lift," Irene explained.  She glanced in her brother's direction.  "That's Scruff.  Stephen." 

Arthur waved. 

"I'll put the kettle on," said Rhiannon.  It would give her time to collect herself.  "Do go on in, Mister er..." 

"It's Arthur." 

"Yes," she said, feeling wrong-footed in her own home. 

She made a pot of tea, arranged the tray and checked her hair in the scullery mirror.  Irene reappeared.  She whispered, "Be nice to him, Mum, he's feeling a bit nervous," then said, louder, in a mock conversational tone, "I'll take the tea things in, then." 

Rhiannon whispered, "He's very..."  She wanted a word that would be both true and right for her daughter.  She settled on "smart."  Then added, "Lovely manners." 

Irene grasped the biscuit barrel.  "He is nice, though, isn't he, Mam?  You do like him?" 

"Of course," her mother responded automatically.  "You're a dark horse, Irene Meredith, that's for sure." 

Irene pecked her mother on the cheek, grinned and shrugged conspiratorially, then left for the parlour with biscuits and side plates.

 

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