The Wooden Heart – Episode 28

Ash had always been sensitive to atmosphere and, from the first time she had seen it, she’d always felt strangely comfortable and happy in what had been her grandfather’s old workshop.

It was good to see it being worked again, to smell the scent of new wood as Calum bent over the scarred bench and finished cleaning up the complex edges of the joint he was about to fit together.

“You never talk about your family,” she commented.

“Fair’s fair,” he replied, his head over his work. “They never talk about me.”

“I bet that’s not true.” She laughed.

He looked at her ruefully.

“It probably is,” he said. “My younger sister is the real star in the family – top grades in this, top grades in that. Music lessons as well as schoolwork.

“Everything she turns her hand to, she excels at. My mum and my grandma keep their bragging rights for everything Ailish does.”

He rubbed his finger over the edge of the joint.

“She’s OK,” he said. “As sisters go.”

He spoke with the resigned experience of someone who has scores of sisters whose shadows blight his life.

Ash hid a smile.

“What age is she?”

“Twelve – going on thirty.” He became absorbed in his work again.

She watched him lazily. Strong hands deftly using the old tools.

“What will this be once it’s assembled?” she asked.

“I’m keeping this first one simple,” he replied over his shoulder. “It’s a while since I worked on a bigger piece of furniture and I’m rusty.”

He turned.

“I’ve settled for a bog-standard bedroom cabinet. A couple of small drawers for personal stuff, and a hinged door to open into a bigger space – for storing towels maybe.”

He looked critically at his handiwork.

“Once it’s assembled and sanded and stained, it will look different. The trick is to focus on getting the individual pieces ready, then fit the frame together and finish off the outer shell.

“Then, once that’s solid, start working on the door and drawers,” he continued. “I’m just about ready to start assembly. Do you want to watch?”

Ash moved beside him.

“See,” he murmured. “I’ve tried to make it the way your grandad did. The old traditional joints – like clipping pieces of jigsaw together, and bonding so tightly, they don’t need any glue. It makes it far stronger than any modern joint.”

As he spoke, he showed her two pieces of wood he had made ready, with a series of tiny empty, almost-triangular slots on the end of one, and the matching tongues of wood left projecting on the other.

“See,” he began, laying one half of the joint above the other. “Slide the parts of the lock together . . .”

As he spoke, his fingers eased the tongues of wood into the waiting slots. His preparation had been so good that the joints interlocked, sliding sweetly into place.

“Now feel how strong the joint is,” he said.

Ash took the L-shaped piece of wood. Gently she tried to wiggle the ends, but nothing moved. She applied more pressure with the same result.

“That’s without glue to hold it,” Calum explained.

Their heads were close together; their faces almost touching.

At the same moment, they turned towards each other.

Ash never knew who moved first, but they were kissing. At first tentatively, almost surprised. Then, without conscious intent, they were kissing with real passion.

Calum eased away.

“Sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking.”

“Me neither.”

Standing almost a yard away from each other, Ash looked at Calum, suddenly shy.

“Maybe we should try again – but you hold the pieces of wood this time.”

The wooden joint fell, first on to the edge of the workbench, then bounced from there to the floor. It held firm, but neither of them noticed.

“You’re beautiful,” he said in a voice which had a sense of wonder in it. “The most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

The last word became a mumble as their lips met.

For Ash, it was as if all of time came together and fused into this long-lasting moment.

Dimly, at some far-distant level in her conscious mind, she knew that when it started up again, the whole of her future life would have changed for ever.

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.