I thought it would be nice to share a romantic story with you for Valentine’s Day. So, I scanned my back catalog of stories and realised…I don’t write romance. I knew it wasn’t a theme that cropped up often in my work, but I thought there’d be more of it than there was. Maybe one of my goals for this year will be to try and write more about love, to include these important human relationships in my stories.
Here, though, is one piece that is definitely romantic. It was written as an Hour of Writes entry in response to the prompt Health and Safety; that means the story below is literally an hours work, it hasn’t been edited since and will contain imperfections. I hope you enjoy it, anyway.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Getting a nickname was how you knew you’d been accepted at Henshaw’s. It didn’t matter if you started as an apprentice, or came in fully trained from another garage, until you had your nickname you were on a sort of probation. Once you had your name, you were a fixture.
There were no hard and fast rules for how a nickname came to be assigned, some of the lads were named after their particular abilities, like Tyres who could change and balance a pair of wheels faster than anyone else. Others got their names as the result of happenstance, like Flat-head, who had once been underneath a car when it had come off the ramps and given him a fairly serious head injury. Romeo got his name for the number of married ladies who arrived at the workshop doors asking for him particularly, wanting him to check their oil or listen to a banging noise from the engine. There was no way to control how your nickname came about, and no way to change it once you’d been given it unless you stayed at Henshaw’s long enough to be given a new one, as had happened with Codger.
Stanley Hetherington had been working at Henshaw’s for eight weeks now and was beginning to feel the lack of a nickname. He had no reason to suspect that the other lads didn’t like him, they were pleasant enough once the initial teasing of the new chap had settled down. He’d been wise enough not to go and ask in stores for a left handed hammer, but he hadn’t expected them to fill his boots with ice water. Laughing along with them was all part of it, and he’d done it out of good spirits as well as a keen desire to be liked.
Always on time, Stanley did his job to the best of his ability but he didn’t shine in any particular area. There was nothing remarkable about the things he said, or how he said them, he didn’t hold strong political views like the lad they dubbed The PM. He didn’t want to force a nickname, that wasn’t in the spirit of the thing at all, but he was becoming more anxious that, whatever he was called eventually, it was something positive.
His anxieties had started three weeks ago, when the bosses daughter, Mildred Henshaw, started working in the office. Mildred was no starlet, but something stirred inside Stanley the first time she paused in the doorway to the workshop clutching their wage packets with one hand and pushing her thick, national health spectacles up her nose with the other. She’d called all the lads by their nicknames but had hesitated when she’d got to him, and stuttered out ‘S..s..s..Stanley?’
From that very moment, Stanley was seized with a keen desire to protect the lovely Mildred from the embarrassment of speaking his true name again but what would it be replaced with? The lads could be course, and whatever she called him, it had to be the sort of word that you could whisper with, well, fondness. The way that he said her name, in the privacy of his own thoughts.
But here we were at the end of his ninth working week, and still no event had transpired to give Stanley the name he waited for. He had just finished his last job for the day and was carefully putting his tools back in his toolbox when he saw Codger making his way across the workshop floor. The older man was carrying a box of spare parts that obscured his view, and he didn’t notice the hose that Tyres had running across the workshop at just the right height to trip a man. Stanley spotted it, and realising the older man was about to fall, he quickly closed the distance between them calling ‘Stop!’
Flat-head was the first to call it out ‘Oh ho! Health and Safety!’ and the chorus was soon taken up by the other lads. Stanley felt his heart sink, although there were definitely worse things to be named for (ask ‘Skid’ Mark Turner, the paint sprayer) this nickname still held the troublesome, sibilant S sound that would trip the tongue of his beloved Mildred.
It was with heavy heart that he waited for his pay slip that week, cap in hand and eyes downcast. Then all of a sudden he heard her gentle voice calling ‘Health and Safety’ and for a wonder, she didn’t trip over the sounds at all. Looking up to meet her eyes, a surprising green behind the spectacles, he was warmed by her smile.
‘I like it,’ she said.
‘I do. Health and safety. Them’s good qualities, in a man.’
The lads were stifling laughter or outright tittering, but he didn’t care. Stanley Hetherington felt ten feet tall.
‘Oh, um, well then. Could I walk you home, Miss Henshaw?’
‘I suppose you can,’ she replied, pushing her glasses up her nose and making Stanley’s heart quicken, ‘and you can call me Mildred, too.’
A roar of approval went up from the lads behind him, and Stanley suddenly found himself being lifted from the floor and held between Romeo and The PM. He had time to see Mildred retreat in blushing confusion before he was paraded around the workshop to the chants of his work mates.
Good old Health and Safety.