“Get out. Get far away if you have to. Don’t leave him for me, leave him for yourself. Even if I never saw you again, if we couldn’t ever be friends, I’ll be happier with that than seeing you every day with you being with him, I’m not saying I would make you happy, Mary, but at least I’d try.”
Mary Ryder is a housewife, her once fiery nature ground down by a life of cleaning and cooking for her drunken husband Nigel. A chance meeting with idealistic mineworker Lewis Evans makes her realise what love can be. But Mary made a commitment to Nigel: for better, for worse. When the National Union of Mineworkers calls a strike, Mary doesn’t realise it will change her, and the town, forever.
A tale of love, friendship and solidarity, set against the backdrop of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, Mighty Like a Rose follows Mary on her journey from neat detached house to the front line of the UK’s longest-running industrial dispute.
As she checked her appearance, she heard the whistle of the pit filling the valley, signalling the end of the early shift. Mary smiled. Soon the road would be full of miners on their way home. One of them would be able to help, or get help at least. She tidied up her mascara with a pocket handkerchief and waited.
She was surprised at how quickly she saw someone.
Freewheeling down the hill towards her on a pushbike, eyes lined with coal dust, was a man. It was hard to judge age, although the men washed as they left the pit, coal dust remained around the eyes and settled in lines in the skin, making everyone look old.
Mary wound down the window and stuck her head out.
“Excuse me, could you help me?”
The bike screeched to a halt. The miner looked through the window of Mary’s car.
“My car has… just stopped. Do you know where there is a phonebox so I could call my husband for help?” She tilted her head and looked at the miner through her eyelashes, the way Princess Di looked at TV cameras. It was a look that usually worked on men, Mary had found.
The miner looked at her. Close up she could see that he was younger than she had first thought, maybe in his early twenties like Mary. His hair was black and his eyes a dark brown. A five o’clock shadow made his cheekbones look even sharper than they were. The rain washed coal dust down his face like running mascara but it stuck around his eyes, as if he was wearing kohl not coal. His skin was pale in comparison. He could almost be one of the Goth kids that hung around the record shop in Wakefield.
“Perhaps I can have a look? I might be able to work out what’s wrong.”
Mary looked at him and the pushbike.
“I do know a bit about cars, my dad’s got one of these. His is only a Mark II though.”
Mary smiled and hoped she hadn’t seemed ungrateful. “Thank you. That’s really kind.”
She handed the keys to him. His hands, like his face, were scrubbed clean and pink but were black around his cuticles and under his nails. He wasn’t tall, which was probably an advantage down a mine, but was broad and even through his denim jacket she could see his biceps were well-built.
Mary got out of the car and the miner turned the key in the ignition a few times. Each time the engine coughed before falling silent. The miner stifled a laugh.
“You have to put petrol in, you know.”
Mary blushed. She had meant to ask Nigel for some money for petrol, but she hadn’t found the right time. But she was sure the tank wasn't empty when she set off.
The nearest petrol station was on her way home. Up the hill. Tears filled her eyes again. She looked away and tried to dab the tears with her hankie without the man seeing.
“Don’t be upset. How long have you been driving?”
“Two weeks. I’m sorry, I’m such an idiot.”
“Everyone makes mistakes. Having a car takes a bit of getting used to.”
“I'm sure it wasn't near empty when I set off. The man in the garage when I bought it said I'd get a few more miles even if it was showing empty.”
“You will, normally.” He furrowed his brow. “Were you parked on a slope?”
“I was partly on the pavement. It's a narrow street”
The miner smiled at her.
“There you go then, you're not an idiot. The fuel gauge measures how high the fuel is. If you park on a slope it sometimes thinks there's more than there is.”
Mary smiled back. “I still feel a bit daft though. That sounds like the kind of thing everyone should know, or the streets would be full of cars that had run out of fuel.”
The miner winked at Mary. “How do you think I found out? We all make mistakes.”
The road was getting busier now, more men on bikes sped past. The miner acknowledged some of them with a nod.
Behind the group of bikes, a powder blue Hillman Imp rumbled down the hill. The miner waved the car down. The Imp pulled over and another coal stained face stuck its head out of the driver’s side.
“Now then, Lewis, what are you doing with this lovely young lady?” The man in the car spoke with a broad Yorkshire accent, like most people round here. Like Mary used to.
“Glad you asked, John. She’s out of petrol. Do me a favour and lend me a bit?” Hearing Lewis speak to the other man she realised there was something else to his accent, a lilt of some kind.
Lewis turned to Mary. “Where do you live?”
“On the new estate.”
Both Lewis and John raised their eyebrows. John gestured to the boot of his car. Lewis walked over to the boot and got out a red metal can. He waggled the can and having ascertained there was nothing in it he also removed a length of hosepipe.
He opened the cap of the petrol tank on the Hillman Imp and put the hosepipe into the hole. He knelt down close to the floor and sucked on the dangling end of hosepipe. Mary watched as with one swift movement he pulled the pipe from his mouth, capped the end with his thumb and spat out a mouthful of petrol, grimacing. He then inserted the free end of the hosepipe into the petrol can and waited. Once enough petrol had siphoned into the can he removed the hosepipe from the can, held the free end of the pipe in the air to let the excess flow back into the Imp and closed the fuel cap.
He then opened the fuel cap of Mary’s Escort and poured the petrol in.
“Thank you so much.” said Mary to John, reaching into her soft, dove grey leather bag. “What do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry about it, love, Lewis’ll buy me a pint, won’t you Lewis?”
Lewis replaced the can and the hose in the boot of the Imp. “Of course John, I owe you one.”
The Hillman Imp drove off.
“Can I give you something, for your trouble?”
Lewis shook his head. “I’m happy to help. Make sure you fill up on the way home though! Hope your husband’s got you something nice.” She looked quizzically at him. “It’s Valentine’s day!”
And with that he got back on his bike and made his way up the hill behind her, legs powering him up the steep hill like the pistons of a steam train.