Carl ran from the bike shed under the salted tarmac
grey of the early winter sky, catching hold of the factorys door just before
it closed behind the previous entrant. Once inside he silently cursed the guy
some snobby creep from the offices for not holding it for him in such
atrocious weather conditions, and stomped towards the clock. He grabbed his own
timecard, noted the hours hed put in that week, smiled to himself at the
thought of Friday finally being here, and slotted it into the top of the
machine with a satisfying thunk.
Placing the card back, he heard a familiar voice ask
the obvious. Raining out there, is it?
No, I had a water fight on the way in. he said
Looks like you lost.
The other man stood looking at the notice board, his
dark blue overalls barely able to contain his portly frame. His chubby face was
barely-lined, but his scalp appeared to be growing out of a ring of thin white
wires of dwindling quantity. He turned to look at Carl, hands in pockets.
Carl didnt say anything, instead peeling off his
barely adequate fluorescent poncho and shaking it violently to shake off the
excess water. He removed his rucksack and slipped off his trainers, digging out
his battered but functional steel-toed boots, and then began to put them on as
he sat down on the bottom of the steps that led to the boiler room. Only then
did he become aware that he was being watched.
I said it looks like you lost, son.
Carl looked up and gave a sheepish smile. Sorry Jim,
I was miles away. Yeah, I lost. Lost against a fucking ten-ton artic doing 60
The older man made an exaggerated tutting sound,
theatrically rolling his eyes. Come on. Lets get a coffee inside you, and
then well get on with the shift hand-over.
Carl was grateful for the coffee. It wasnt often the
shift supervisor bought anyone a drink, but he was a bit of an old hippy and
admired the younger mans resolve in always travelling to work by bicycle whilst
people who lived half the distance away always came by car, alone, sometimes
despite having colleagues who lived on the same street. It seemed needless and
wasteful to Jim, and he commented on this often.
The change-over of the shifts was swift, and the
machine operators all settled to their tasks with their usual diligence, many
of them set into patterns so rigid and oft-repeated that they appeared little
more than organic robots under the dim lights way above in the factory ceiling.
The only event out of place was the sound of a coffee cup shattering on the
floor near a machine manned by one Carl Marshall.
A chorus of cheers went up. Any breakage was ritually
celebrated this way unless someone had clearly been badly injured, but a sign
on the main entrance wall proudly read NO ACCIDENTS NOW FOR 454 DAYS and it
wasnt going to be changing today.
By the time Jim Cairns had waddled from his office to
Carls machine, Carl had already returned from the broom cupboard with a mop
and bucket, dustpan and brush. His expression was now one of acute
embarrassment tempered with the annoyance he already held from having had such
an unpleasant journey into work.
When youve got that cleaned up, Jim began as gently
as the mechanical hum would allow, Join me in my office. Youre distracted and
edgy this evening, young man. He turned and wandered off to another colleague.
When Carl arrived at Jims office he waited to be
asked to sit down, and at that he did so.
Jim let out a big sigh. Now, whats eating you up then,
Carl? Youre not usually this distant and off it.
Carl shrugged, not looking the older man in the eye. I
Just a crap ride in. Stuff going on. You know...
Trouble with this new young lady of yours?
flashed a quick look at Jim. Nothing got past this crafty old bugger. Hed only
told a couple of the lads, and neither was on this shift. But he was, as was
pretty much always the case since Carl had started as a sixteen-year old
apprentice nine years ago, spot on.
It is, yeah. Car admitted, almost smiling until his private thoughts forced
his ears to blush in embarrassment. They waited for his cheeks to catch up, and
then he went on. Its Kelly. Her name, that is. Weve been out a couple of
times now, but she kinda dropped a bombshell last night, and I dont know what
to do. I guess thats whats bothering me.
silent for a moment, steepling his fingers under the lower-most of his multiple
chins. Then he cocked his head on one side and went on. Well Ive told you all
so many times, if you want advice on anything at all you can always come to old
Jim, hes seen it all before. Drugs, booze, lasses, marriage, divorce, kids,
you name it. So go on son. Name it.
Carl took a deep breath. Well, its 2 things. First off, Ive not told her Im Im not Ive not told her- He broke off, covering his mouth with his hand and rubbing his lips in acute embarrassment.
Or not, as
the case may be. Carl said in a low voice.
Ohhhh, Jim said in an equally low voice. Well, that happens to the best of us sometimes lad, but-"
No! No, I
didnt mean it like that. Carl suddenly looked even more sheepish. No, I mean
I havent ever
his hand forcefully onto the desk to interrupt the fractured rambling of the
younger man. I get what you mean lad. You dont have to say it. Weve all been
at this crossroads. Not, maybe, all at 25, like. But weve been there. Its a
tricky place to be, but its like riding a bike, so to speak. Once youve had a
go and you know how to stay on its a piece of piss. And this Kelly
He trailed off, leaving the question hanging.
puzzled for a moment. Oh. No. No shes not. See, thats the other thing. I
didnt know she has kids. She admitted on the phone last night shes got two. A
two-year old and another whos six months. Their dad dumped her just before the
youngest was born.
did what hed done on many occasions in many situations over the years. He left
the silence between them all nicely prepared for Carl to fill. There was no
need to say anything else as it was clear from Carls range of expressions that
he was still formulating what he wanted to say.
Jim. The thing is, Ive never had a proper relationship before, and shes only
really been with that one arsehole of a bloke. And to tell you the truth Im
really really into her. Shes funny
and sweet, she laughs at my jokes and she makes me feel like Im really
special, and not just some prematurely balding speccy four-eyes. I love being
with her, but I dont know if I can go through with the whole, you know, the
whole losing it bit with a lass who already has two kids.
towards the ceiling, sucking his lips between his teeth, as if seeking some
divine guidance while sucking a lemon. He looked back at Carl and then casually
glanced at the window to the workshop. How long til that runs done?
glanced at his machine. Itll be off in ten minutes.
aint gonna take ten. Basically laddo, you need to stop worrying about yourself
and get on with it. I popped my cork at what youd call a rave back in 1968, to
a lass whod had more prick that a second-hand dartboard. It was crap. But this
was the sixties and so you can probably guess quite a lot of the reasons for
that, but I digress. My point is this: You cant go through life wondering about
the ifs and buts. If you like this girl you can put all this aside. Not for
you, but for her. It may all be new to you, but for all you know she may only
have had that one fella, and he may have been hung like a mouse, with the
staying power of a bottle rocket. Give it a couple of runs round the block and
you may find yourself taking her to somewhere he never even dreamed of!
Carl gave a
little laugh and shifted his shoulders into a noticeably more relaxed pose. I
know youre right Jim. But Ive left it so many times before
I have to admit
it boss, Im scared. Its a big deal to me.
need to get over that fear. You need to get her to yourself for a night, and
explain how things are. If shes an understanding lass it wont be an issue. If
shes as into you as you are into her, youll be rocking each others worlds in
next to no time. And the sooner the better. We dont have that many mugs in our
department, you know?
Carl grinned. And no one says rock each others world nowadays either.
laughed. You says so? Ten quid says Avril Lavigne says different. He winked.
I have grandkids, he finished.
done? Jim asked, almost leering as he noticed Carls huge grin.
having the piss taken, for me! Carl said. Gotta say cheers, Jim. I thought
about everything you said and I had a word with my Mum and, well, it went
Jim said, looking at the clock. No briefing for 5 minutes yet, lad. It went
Carl said, looking a bit caught between embarrassment and sheer joy. I came
clean about being a virgin, and she told me how Daved been the only lad shed
ever shagged. So Saturday she arranged for her Mam to have the kids and I got
my Mam to teach me how to do a proper fancy meal, and I got her round mine and
we had a proper romantic meal and then watched a couple of DVDs-
dirty ones. Nice ones. And then
Well, the rests history, as they say!
grinned so broadly it looked like the top of his head was going to come off.
Yep. Four times. Each time it was
more amazing. It was just incredible! I swear if Id not talked to you, wed
still be just kissing and holding hands and stuff. If that even!
him heartily him on the arm and glanced at the clock again. Im dead chuffed
for you, lad. I hope everything works out alright.
Me too. Carl said, his tone almost ecstatic. Plus, I doubt theres much chance Ill ever get to fuck a fifteen year old again!