What Pegman Saw : A curtain pulling shut


When I was four years old, my father left the family home to be a lumberjack.

He’d grown up in the brick canyons of Manchester, under the long shadows of the cotton mills, every breath he took speckled with coal dust. He started work aged seven as a scavenger, plucking cotton threads from under the looms. Thunder with jaws, he called those machines.

It was foggy the morning he left, the smoke twining with the fog so the two hung solid along the twisted alleyways. I watched from my bedroom window as he slipped away, smog closing behind him like a curtain pulling shut.

Years later a postcard came. On the front a painting – mountains with snowy, pointed hats, thick-fringed with trees too many to count. On the reverse a message.

The air is clear and smells of pine

I did not recognise the hand.


Written for What Pegman Saw. Go stroll through Google Streetview with them and find a view that inspires. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

40 thoughts on “What Pegman Saw : A curtain pulling shut

  1. Have you seen the TV mini series adaptation of North and South? Reading it was one thing, but seeing the show gave me such a vivid picture of those cotton mills. I can see why someone would want to get away from that life into the woods, where the air is clear and smells of nature. But not writing to your family for three years? Bad dad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never did catch that, Joy, though I’m not sure why. I grew up in mill country, in the north west of England, where there some of the mill buildings still stand with their tall red brick chimneys and the stone buildings are still blackened from a century of soot. Dark satanic mills indeed. Thanks for reading

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting, I didn’t know that about you. How atmospheric, growing up around dark satanic mills… The closest I’ve been is Tampere, which was the “Manchester of Finland.” Their remaining mill buildings have mostly been turned into shops and office buildings, although there’s a nice historical museum covering the mills.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That seems to be the way so many of these old, industrial buildings go if the community bother to keep them around. Bristol was a big harbour, has a lot of old warehouses down by the water side that are now cafes, restaurants, galleries, a museum, an art house cinema. All lovely, but very different from their original purpose.
        Yes, growing up around these places was interesting. You really get a feel for the brick canyons of the mill buildings, how cities like Manchester the powerhouses of the Industrial Revolution. Fascinating, but I’m glad I was born when I was, not 150 years ago!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I’ll take a comparison to John Irving – deserved or not – happily, thank you πŸ™‚ I’ve only read his A Prayer for Owen Meany and that a long time ago. Gorgeously written and tragic if I recall. Thank you Josh for the kind comment

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Or thought of sending. Or wrote but never sent. I think the poor man just had to leave – whether it was the right thing to do or not – before the place killed him. He would have been poor, unable to be responsible for others as he worked his way abroad and with communication being the way it was … Thanks very much for reading Penny


      1. Don’t ever think you’re not worthy of them, but if you’re going to waste valuable time blubbing when you should be writing, I’ll leave the comments boxes blank πŸ™‚
        I have to tell you again – I bloody loved that story…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, this, a prime example of why I love to read your short fiction, so economically told and yet richer than many a commercial novel. I know how this feels — as a former city boy I can appreciate that to stand in pristine Alpine splendour is an experience to quietly savour, perhaps forever.


  3. Wondering what “I did not recognize the hand,” means. Did Father change enough in personality to change his handwriting (unlikely) or did a different person address it? If the latter, why? Then there’s the possibility that with Father being gone so long, no one remembered what his handwriting looked like.

    Sounds like an invitation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was thinking either way, James. Perhaps father couldn’t write and got someone to write the card for him. Perhaps so many years have past (and our narrator was very young when he last saw his father, remember) that he just doesn’t recognise it. Either way it symbolises the distance between them now – father may be reaching out, trying in a clumsy way to explain his actions but the card may as well be from a stranger. Thanks for reading , James

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very nice writing. There’s a certain detachment from the MC and I found the last line to be very sad. I’m not saying anything should be changed but it would be interesting to have known the MC’s reaction at four-years-old to dad’s leaving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, a detachment is right and I suppose this is because it’s written from an adult viewpoint, by an adult that feels the detachment and hurt from being left by his father. Thanks for the insightful comment Michael

      Liked by 1 person

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