The Wooden Heart – Episode 14

It should have felt like an adventure, but it didn’t. Ash watched her father close the front door of the near-empty, echoing house, turn the key in the lock, then slip it slowly into his pocket.

“I’ll come back and scrub out the place once the house clearance men have taken away what we’ve left behind,” he muttered.

“We both will,” Ash replied.

She looked around as they walked down the path towards their car. Where was everybody? Then she realised and bit her lip.

Gossips loved a story, and where they didn’t have facts they made them up. Their leaving for Denholme had grown arms and legs.

The rumour mill had broadcast that they were financially ruined, selling off everything and leaving their home a step ahead of the bailiffs.

The neighbours she had known all her life were staying away, embarrassed.

Defiantly, she waved goodbye to the empty street. A hand fluttered uncertainly from one of the windows opposite.

“Despite that silly rumour, I’m going to miss the house,” she said unsteadily, slipping into the passenger seat of their car.

“In fact, I’m missing it already.”

Stephen said nothing, simply started the engine and glanced in the mirror at the small trailer they were towing, with its precious tarpaulin-covered classic Austin 7.

They pulled slowly away in the wake of the removal van, turning up past the abbey ruins, then climbing the hill to the market cross, to turn left and leave the town behind.

She had known no other place to live.

“I think I’m going to cry,” Ash said in a small voice.

“Feel free,” Stephen told her. “I did my crying last night.”

They turned on to the road towards Gala to pick up the main road south.

“Goodbye, my lovely Tweed,” she said sadly. “And the number of times you sang me to sleep at night. I’ve never lived in a place without a river.”

Stephen glanced round.

“There’s still a river,” he said. “There’s a stream half a mile above the village. I used to guddle trout there, then run like mad if I saw the gamekeeper.”

“What did your dad say to that?” she asked.

He turned round to her, a grin on his face. In it she glimpsed the boy he once had been.

“He never knew,” he replied.

They turned on to the A7, travelling slowly behind the removal van. She glanced out of her side window when they passed the old grey town at a higher level.

“Goodbye, Melrose,” she said. “Goodbye, hills.”

Stephen shook his head.

“Not so final. You can come back to see your friends. You can get here by bus, and it’s only half an hour by car.

“You’ve plenty time now for driving lessons. That way we can both come and go as we please.”

Ash heard, but her mind was elsewhere.

The move had seemed so sensible when they were discussing things, she thought. Now it was actually happening, she felt like curling up and crying.

It was just a house, she told herself firmly. It was the people who lived in it who had turned it into a home, and they could do so again.

She sniffed, searching for a tissue.

Stephen glanced across.

“A wise woman told me that you should never look back,” he said quietly.

“What has happened in the past is out of reach, and we can no longer change it.

“We can only face the future and start again, to write the next chapters in our lives.”

He touched her arm.

“And you have so much still to write, my darling,” he continued. “Your whole life is waiting to open out in front of you. To take whatever shape, whatever direction, you make of it.”

“Who was this wise woman?” Ash asked.

“Somebody I know,” he said after a slight pause.

They followed Hawick’s one-way road system, before finally climbing out of the town and turning east for Denholme.

Her three hills, the ancient Romans’ Trimonium, had gone, but there were fields and minor hills in plenty round about them, and another small river to cross.

“Not far now,” Stephen said. “About a mile to go.”

A few minutes later, the van in front of them slowed down at the approach to the village.

A hand appeared from the driver’s window, waving them forward, asking them to lead the way.

Stephen checked his mirrors and, slipping past, turned up beyond the village green into the rows of small grey cottages.

He stopped in front of their new home, switching off the engine and forcing a wry smile.

“The ancient Romans used to burn their boats,” he said. “To stop them going back and forcing them to go ahead and conquer.

“We haven’t burned our house, but it comes to the same thing.”

In his voice, she sensed the same doubt and uncertainty as in herself.

That would never do.

“Right,” Ash said more briskly than she felt. “Let’s go. Let’s make a start in turning this old cottage into our new home.

“Are you ready, Dad?”

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.