The Wooden Heart – Episode 12

Gabrielle and Stephen walked back in the summer sunshine, comfortable in each other’s company.

She found herself chatting about some of the great conductors who had visited the Scottish National Orchestra when she had played among the first violins there.

“They were obsessive, in what they saw and wanted from the music,” she finished. “But they were usually such nice guys when they were offstage, full of fun stories about their disasters with other orchestras in other countries.”

The conversation switched naturally and she found herself asking him about his past employment.

Stephen explained his job as a marine engineer and the work he had done on the oil rigs and supply vessels. He told her about the wild storms out in the open North Sea, and flights out and back in helicopters.

“I hated those.” He shivered. “Not just the vertical landings and take-offs, but because I knew enough about aerodynamics to recognise that if those two rotors stopped working, then the pilot was left to fly a very large brick.”

“I understand,” Gabrielle said, opening her front door. “Let Franz tow you into the lounge while I make us a cup of tea. Milk and sugar?”

“Just milk,” he said. “And not too much of that.”

He turned into the lounge, stooped to let Franz off the lead, then stepped aside as the terrier bolted back to the kitchen.

“Sorry!” Gabrielle called through. “He’s only checking if the food fairy has been. He would eat until he exploded if I didn’t ration him.”

She came through with the cups, a teapot and a plate of biscuits on a tray, to find him studying the wall of her lounge.

“So much music,” he said quietly. “LPs, CDs, stacked floor to ceiling.”

“Once an obsession,” she replied, pouring tea. “Tell me, what have you been doing since we met?”

Stephen sat down.

“You won’t believe this. Remember the story of my father? How he threw me out and told me never to darken his door again?”

“The Dickensian ogre.” Gabrielle smiled. “Yes, I remember.”

Stephen puffed out his cheeks. His gaze slid away to the sunlit front garden.

She could sense that he was struggling to marshal difficult thoughts and to control his feelings. She gave him time.

“How can you spend most of your adult life virtually hating a man,” he finally said, “then, when he dies, suddenly realise that, deep down inside, you still love him?

“After all, he was your dad. He was a huge figure in your childhood and, now that he’s gone, you actually feel orphaned. Crazy, isn’t it?”

Musicians know their role in silences – the passages where you don’t have to play, but simply sit and listen, becoming a silent and supportive partner.

Gabrielle waited.

He was still staring blindly out of the window.

“Ships that pass in the night,” she quoted back to him. “All secrets are safe, whatever they are.”

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.