The Wooden Heart – Episode 01

“Bye, Jacqui,” Ash called, stepping into the bus and opening her purse to search for coins.

“Bye, Ash.” Jacqui’s voice followed her. “Until the weekend, anyway. Then we can go out to celebrate having no more college!”

“Melrose,” Ash told the driver. “The abbey, please.”

Taking her ticket from the machine, she began to walk up the bus until she found an empty double seat, then sat down with a quiet sigh. The sense of shared jubilation quickly ebbed.

The end of an era, she thought. The end of four great years studying every twist and aspect of fabric and design at the Borders College in Galashiels.

The end of an apprenticeship, with all its theory and design examinations.

She stared out of the bus window, her eyes lifting automatically towards the three hills above Melrose – Trimontium, the ancient Romans had called it, but that was for the tourist brochures.

Most locals never saw their hills: like the furniture in their houses, or the sponsors’ banners on the rails at the rugby club, they were always there, and had become invisible.

But Ash loved them. They were gentle and friendly and her Indian mother had brought her up with all sorts of fairy stories woven around them. A heady mix of Indian culture, local legend and pure fantasy.

Three years after her mother’s death, Ash still missed her. At times it still felt that each day had less light, less warmth, less comfort.

She blinked, staring out of the window. Her mother had been her confidante, the person who encouraged her, who listened to and shared her dreams.

She would have been so proud of what Ash had achieved in her course, not just in coming first in most subjects, but in the Indian-influenced fabrics and pastel colours she had created for her final year’s design exhibition.

Ash was part-Indian, part-Scottish, and was fiercely proud of both cultures to which she belonged.

Impatiently, she rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. All the tears in the world would never bring her mother back to help her face the challenges which awaited her.

Dreams and plans over coffee breaks were all very well, but the reality was that Ash and her fellow graduates were just another wave of textiles students in the Scottish Borders, where there were more dead textile mills than living ones.

They were students struggling to find a foothold and get their designs in front of the public.

The surviving mills were global in their brand names and their international reputation demanded that they used only the top designers in the world.

Breaking through was never easy, and even the students placed with some of the larger mills usually disappeared without trace.

Most of the bright ones headed to London to try to get work in the fashion houses, and maybe find a way to filter in some of their own ideas.

Of course Ash had another fan, every bit as loyal as her mum had been, and just a little over-protective.

It was understandable in the circumstances. Having lost the centre of his world, the only thing which had brought her dad through his own grief had been the need to look after the daughter that his beloved wife had left behind.

Then he lost his job as a senior marine engineer when the fall in the global price of oil had caused the collapse of the North Sea oil industry.

Cutbacks in production and exploration had knocked back on to suppliers of components and specialist services.

“When the production platforms sneeze, we suppliers catch pneumonia,” he had told her.

He had fought so hard for her, she thought. In a few short months he had lost everything that mattered to him, apart from her.

A smile came to Ash’s face. Apart from her and his ancient Austin 7, that was. It was his long-term project, rebuilding both the engine and the bodywork of the straw-covered wreck he had discovered in a farmer’s barn.

That old classic car, bought before he had lost his job, had become a lifesaver which carried him through the darkness of loss – until they ran out of money for further restoration work. Even that didn’t stop him tinkering with the ancient Austin for hours on end.

Was that where she would find him today, Ash wondered.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.