Photo by Lance Booth.

Mack was not your typical mine foreman. He cared more about getting in the gym than focusing on getting this new slope cut down.

We were still cutting a new entrance to the mine, and we were on our third foreman. Cap Wedge, our first, still hadn’t returned. The second one, Charlie, a miner I admired, had also left to work at Mine #41.

So we were left with Mack, another man from southwest Virginia. He did not fit the stereotype of a miner. He seemed more like a frat boy. He loved to talk about women as if they were nothing more than sexual objects. He was the type of man who boasted great and adventurous sex life.

For Jaybo, another miner on the crew, this was a match made in heaven. Jaybo also bragged about his sexual exploits. So the men became best friends.

“Hey y’all,” Jaybo said, standing with a woman near the door to the trailer where we changed. “Tracy wanted to come in here while we was getting dressed. I didn’t figure you’d mind my ol’ lady looking round for a minute.”

Jaybo showed his wife into the trailer. Many of the men refused to go in. Some stood outside smoking cigarettes, others left in their vehicles without changing. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to go home covered in rock dust, mud, and diesel fuel, so I opted to follow Jaybo and his wife into the trailer. I wasn’t embarrassed to change in front of them, but I wasn’t interested in putting on a strip tease either.

Jaybo and Tracy disgusted me. Tracy was shorter than Jaybo, which put her at no more than 5 foot 4 and her box-bleach hair hung just below her waist with enough grease to keep Lee’s Famous Recipe in business for two months. It was mid-February and snow was falling. Yet Tracy wore a crop top and cut off jean shorts. She finished off her outfit with a pair of matted, dirty boots trimmed at the top with fur, possibly from an old squirrel or a raccoon hide. I figured she had the fur to keep her calves from getting cold. As they walked through the locker room, Mack stood there with nothing on, barefoot, on a towel. As Tracy walked past, she gave him a firm smack on the ass. Jaybo laughed, giving Mack a wink.

“She likes it rough. Don’t go getting any ideas though. She’s just wanting some eye candy to get her warmed up before the ride home.”

I didn’t realize Jaybo hadn’t driven his ATV to work. It must have blown a head gasket, or maybe he had sold it for dope money. So Jaybo’s wife had dropped him off at the beginning of the shift and picked up at the end.

I quickly undressed to my boxer shorts and socks, washed my face with warm water, and Go-Jo degreaser before putting on a fresh uniform. As I opened the door to my Ford Pinto, I noticed the men who had gathered outside to smoke had left. Only Jaybo, Tracy, and Mack were left in the locker room. I didn’t want to stick around to find out what would happen.

Over the next weeks, Mack and Jaybo became close friends. They would have beers together after work, and Mack would go to Jaybo’s house to party on the weekends. Jaybo continued to be dropped off and picked up in the parking lot by his wife, but he was never brought her into the changing rooms again, at least not with the rest of the crew.

One morning this all changed. Jaybo rode up on his ATV. He didn’t speak to anyone when he got dressed. No boasting or bragging to the crew about his weekend romances and Mack wasn’t hanging out beside the continuous miner talking to Jaybo as he would on a normal shift. We all knew something was wrong. At lunch, Jaybo chose to eat underground with Herman while the rest of us went outside to the mine office.

“Man, something is up,” I said. “What do you guys think is going on?”

And before anyone could give any details, Clay spoke up. “Hell, Mack’s been f*cking his wife every evening before we come outside. Ever since that time Jaybo brought her in the changing room she’s been showing up an hour or two before shift is over. Why else would she be showing up so early?”

“Now, Clay, how the hell do you know that? That’s a bold statement,” I said.

“Well, Jaybo always says that she’s a freak in the bed and all he has to do is get her a few pills and she will do anything he wants. You don’t think that’s just for him do ya? Hell no it ain’t. That’s why you don’t see Mack underground past 3 p.m.. I bet they got all f*cked up on something this weekend and the secret got let out.”

What Clay had revealed was a thought that had crossed all of our minds over the past weeks. When I would haul a load of gob out of the slope, I would often see Jaybo’s Blazer parked in the back of the parking lot near the silt pond. But I didn’t care enough to notice his wife sitting in the driver seat or walking into the mine office.

The following Monday morning I pulled into the parking lot. Through my Pinto’s frosted windshield I could the lights of an ATV shining on the front office. Smoke circled the right tail light just where the exhaust exited. I walked across the parking lot and I could hear Jaybo yelling, definitely upset about something. Before I could make it to the changing room, he was stomping down the stairs, cursing. I was met at the bottom of the stairs by Charlie as Jaybo revved the engine of his ATV, spinning the tires in what was a weak attempt to throw gravel in Charlie’s direction.

“Well, looks like you picked a good time to come back, Charlie,” I said.

“Ahh, hell, he’ll get over it. I tried to call him this weekend, but his phone was disconnected. Cap Wedge is coming back today and Jaybo is moving to second shift.”

“Well, now that you’re back, where’s Mack gonna go?”

“He’s gonna work on days for the rest of this week, and then he’ll be going to third shift. I think Jaybo was more pissed when I told him Mack was going to third shift than he was when I told him he was being moved to second shift.”

We all heard the story from Mack that morning while we were setting bits on the miner. Clay was right. Tracy had been coming to meet him just before the end of shift. He would give her a few of his Lortabs and they would go into the locker rooms to do what they did.

“Well, last Saturday night we were all drinking whiskey, and she started asking me for a Lortab. That’s when Jaybo started asking questions. Like, ‘How you know he gets Lortabs?’ One thing led to another, and when I refused to give up any of my pills, she spilled the beans, let it all out. I thought I was gonna get shot or have to kick his ass. I really didn’t know what to expect, but he just kicked Tracy and me both out of the house. She refused to go with me because I had cut her off, in her words, so I just drove back home. I don’t know if they made up and don’t really give a sh–. I haven’t spoken to him since Saturday night, but I can tell you this: She texted me earlier this morning to let me know that her old man was going to second shift so if I wanted to come over and party again, he wouldn’t be home.”

Gary Bentley is a former underground coal miner from Eastern Kentucky.

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