The Wooden Heart – Episode 04

“Stephen Melville,” he replied. “On the subject of names, why do you call your dog Franz?”

Her lips twitched.

“After Schubert. I am – was – a musician, and I love the Schubert portraits. He had a wild mane of hair, where most other people were wearing wigs.

“He always looked as if he’d been dragged through a hedge backwards. Just like Franz did in the rescue place.”

They sat in silence for a bit.

“You said you were a musician?” Stephen prompted, stressing the past tense.

This was the last thing she wanted to talk about – least of all to a stranger, however nice. Yet she found herself answering.

“I was, until the car crash. I was the passenger. My left arm was broken in two places, and my wrist and hand had bad fractures. That’s why the fall hurt so much today. That fracture damage has never really healed.”

She paused, taken aback at how easily she was chatting about her nightmare.

“Your left arm . . . Were you holding that out in front of you in the car crash?”

“No,” she said. “It was wrapped around my violin case. I wrapped my left arm tight around it and took the full impact of the crash.”

He stared at her.

“You looked after your violin instead of protecting yourself?”

“You don’t understand. That violin was more important. It was a Tobin, an eighteenth-century violin, and irreplaceable. The crash was so bad that it was shattered beyond repair.

“As people say nowadays, this happened on my watch. I was one of the dozens of musicians who had looked after it over three centuries, and I failed them all.”

Her head sank and he saw a tear trickle down her cheek. The silence lengthened, then she spoke so quietly that her voice was a mere whisper.

“Have you ever had something which is more precious than yourself?”

For two or three of her heartbeats, he was silent. Then, just as Gabrielle was about to apologise for her question, he replied.

“Yes, I had something – someone – that important,” he answered. “I sacrificed everything for her.

“Turned my back on family and walked away from everything I knew. Never once, in the years she was alive, did I regret that step.”

Gabrielle forgot her pain. In his quiet words, she sensed the same huge grief and loss that she felt herself each day.

“You must have loved her very much,” she said.

Stephen nodded, his eyes and mind far away.

“She was Indian, and over here to study,” he murmured. “The most beautiful woman I have ever known – inside as well as out. We met as students and we married with only a handful of guests.”

He sighed.

“Both sides of the family rejected us. Shiri was high-caste Indian and her family wanted her to be a doctor. A penniless Scottish engineer was far below their sense of status. While my own father . . .” His voice faltered.

“His own prejudices ruled supreme,” he continued. “He told me that if I married Shiri he’d disown me. He lived up to his threat. He refused to have anything to do with us, or even our daughter, Asha.”

“How horrible,” Gabrielle whispered sympathetically.

Stephen shrugged.

“Being rejected by both sides set the context of our marriage.

“We only had each other and that was all we wanted. What we made with Asha was our world. The rest didn’t matter.”

He grimaced.

“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t know why I opened up and dumped all this on a total stranger. You have enough problems of your own.”

“Snap,” Gabrielle said, smiling wryly. “The only thing I didn’t tell you is that the damaged bones and tendons in my left hand are the worst possible injury for a violinist.

“They hinder my fingering on a violin so that I can no longer play.”

They smiled at each other, feeling suddenly and illogically very close.

“Ships that pass in the night,” Stephen commented. “We will probably never see each other again, so both our sets of secrets are completely safe.”

“Miss Madeley?” A nurse was standing at the doorway to the emergency cubicles, a clipboard with Gabrielle’s registration form in her hand.

“I’ll wait here for you,” Stephen said. “Then I’ll run you home.”

“I have a better idea,” she said. “Come with me. Give me courage and stop me from being a coward when they get down to making the examination.”

He smiled.

“You can hold my hand if it helps, but I’m warning you, I can’t stand the sight of blood.”

“Then I promise not to bleed.” Gabrielle returned the smile.

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.