New To This

Carl ran from the bike shed under the salted tarmac grey of the early winter sky, catching hold of the factory’s 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 he’d 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 drolly.

“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 didn’t 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 down Millers Lane, then lost going through where it floods on Factory Road. Some twat in a Vectra. Soaked me.”

The older man made an exaggerated tutting sound, theatrically rolling his eyes. “Come on. Let’s get a coffee inside you, and then we’ll get on with the shift hand-over.”

Carl was grateful for the coffee. It wasn’t often the shift supervisor bought anyone a drink, but he was a bit of an old hippy and admired the younger man’s 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 wasn’t going to be changing today.

By the time Jim Cairns had waddled from his office to Carl’s 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 you’ve got that cleaned up,” Jim began as gently as the mechanical hum would allow, “Join me in my office. You’re distracted and edgy this evening, young man.” He turned and wandered off to another colleague.

When Carl arrived at Jim’s office he waited to be asked to sit down, and at that he did so.

Jim let out a big sigh. “Now, what’s eating you up then, Carl? You’re not usually this distant and off it.”

Carl shrugged, not looking the older man in the eye. “I dunno… Just a crap ride in. Stuff going on. You know...”

Jim smiled. ”Trouble with this new young lady of yours?”

Carl flashed a quick look at Jim. Nothing got past this crafty old bugger. He’d 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.

“Yeah. Yes! 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. “It’s Kelly. Her name, that is. We’ve been out a couple of times now, but she kinda dropped a bombshell last night, and I don’t know what to do. I guess that’s what’s bothering me.”

Jim stayed 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 I’ve told you all so many times, if you want advice on anything at all you can always come to old Jim, he’s 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, it’s 2 things. First off, I’ve not told her I’m… I’m not… I’ve not told her-“ He broke off, covering his mouth with his hand and rubbing his lips in acute embarrassment.

 “Nothing you say leaves this office, lad. But I think I know what’s coming.” Jim said kindly.

“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 didn’t mean it like that.” Carl suddenly looked even more sheepish. “No, I mean I don’t… I haven’t ever…”

Jim tapped his hand forcefully onto the desk to interrupt the fractured rambling of the younger man. “I get what you mean lad. You don’t have to say it. We’ve all been at this crossroads. Not, maybe, all at 25, like. But we’ve been there. It’s a tricky place to be, but it’s like riding a bike, so to speak. Once you’ve had a go and you know how to stay on it’s a piece of piss. And this Kelly… Is she…” He trailed off, leaving the question hanging.

Carl looked puzzled for a moment. “Oh. No. No she’s not. See, that’s the other thing. I didn’t know she has kids. She admitted on the phone last night she’s got two. A two-year old and another who’s six months. Their dad dumped her just before the youngest was born.”

Jim nodded. “I see.”

Jim then did what he’d 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 Carl’s range of expressions that he was still formulating what he wanted to say.

“Thing is, Jim. The thing is, I’ve never had a proper relationship before, and she’s only really been with that one arsehole of a bloke. And to tell you the truth I’m really really into her. She’s funny and sweet, she laughs at my jokes and she makes me feel like I’m really special, and not just some prematurely balding speccy four-eyes. I love being with her, but I don’t know if I can go through with the whole, you know, the whole losing it bit with a lass who already has two kids.”

Jim looked 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 run’s done?”

Carl glanced at his machine. “It’ll be off in ten minutes.”

“Well this ain’t gonna take ten. Basically laddo, you need to stop worrying about yourself and get on with it. I popped my cork at what you’d call a rave back in 1968, to a lass who’d 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 can’t 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 you’re right Jim. But I’ve left it so many times before… I have to admit it boss, I’m scared. It’s a big deal to me.”

“Then you need to get over that fear. You need to get her to yourself for a night, and explain how things are. If she’s an understanding lass it won’t be an issue. If she’s as into you as you are into her, you’ll be rocking each others worlds in next to no time. And the sooner the better. We don’t have that many mugs in our department, you know?”

“I know.” Carl grinned. “And no one says ‘rock each others world’ nowadays either.”

Jim laughed. “You says so? Ten quid says Avril Lavigne says different.” He winked. “I have grandkids,” he finished.


 Monday afternoon rolled around too soon for everyone. Again the weather conspired to render Carl’s waterproofs useless, but once Jim Cairns saw him as he strolled past his office into the workshop he knew that this was a fundamentally different Carl Marshall to the one that had clumsily smashed a mug at the end of the last week. He called to him as he was about to open the workshop door, noting as he did that Carl gave him the thumbs up.

“Dirty deed done?” Jim asked, almost leering as he noticed Carl’s huge grin.

“No more 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 well.”

“Go on,” Jim said, looking at the clock. “No briefing for 5 minutes yet, lad. It went really well?”

“God yeah,” Carl said, looking a bit caught between embarrassment and sheer joy. “I came clean about being a virgin, and she told me how Dave’d been the only lad she’d 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?”

“No! Not dirty ones. Nice ones. And then… Well, the rest’s history, as they say!”

“You did it?”

Carl 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 I’d not talked to you, we’d still be just kissing and holding hands and stuff. If that even!”

Jim slapped him heartily him on the arm and glanced at the clock again. “I’m dead chuffed for you, lad. I hope everything works out alright.”

“Me too.” Carl said, his tone almost ecstatic. “Plus, I doubt there’s much chance I’ll ever get to fuck a fifteen year old again!”