Wooden Hearts

The spark had been missing lately so our fifth wedding anniversary called for just one thing – a trip to the sauna!

We get undressed and tiptoe gingerly across the matting of the sauna changing room.

I glance at you as you open the wooden door and you raise your eyebrows.

“We must be mad,” I whisper.

“Why are you whispering?”

I haven’t a clue except that saunas are like churches. You don’t like to be too loud in them.

Then I remember it’s not the kind of sauna you have to share with a dozen other people. For the next hour it’s all ours.

We step into the cedar wood scented dimness and perch on the slatted bench seats. It isn’t very hot. The temperature gauge shows 72°F.

“They’ve only just put this thing on.” You sound outraged.

“And we’ve paid all of £8.50.” I start to giggle. “Whose idea was this anyway?”

“Yours.” And then we’re laughing.

It’s our fifth wedding anniversary. We decided we should do something different.

Lately we’ve been stuck in a rut. The kind we said we’d never fall into when we got married.

Working until six every day, watching TV with trays on our laps. Me going to yoga on a Wednesday, you going to your evening class.

We haven’t discussed it, but sometimes I feel as though there are no surprises left.

So, tonight, we decided to come back to the place where we first met.

Well, we didn’t meet in the sauna exactly. We actually met in the swimming pool here when we were taking lessons, Swimming for The Terrified, the course was called.

I’d always been scared of water, but I didn’t know it was the same for you until you confided that you’d nearly drowned as a child.

You went up in my estimation a lot after that. I’d always liked a man who wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable.

Learning to swim is a bonding experience and our class got into the habit of going for a sauna and then a coffee after lessons.

I remember one evening in the sauna I just closed my eyes and lay back on my towel.

The next time I opened them, everyone had gone, except you.

I don’t think you’d been expecting me to open my eyes at that moment, because I caught you looking at me appreciatively, across the shimmering heat haze.

“What are you thinking?” Your voice breaks into my thoughts.

“I was remembering how we were thrown together because we were the last two of the class to learn to swim. How on earth did it take us so long?”

It was the kind of class you stopped going to when you graduated. Everyone else had got their certificate and gone.

“I, um… well, I may have learned to swim a few weeks earlier than I said,” you confess, flushing slightly, which definitely isn’t because of the heat.

I give you a look of mock outrage. “You lied to me!”

“Only a white lie. Am I forgiven?”

“On one condition. That you take me somewhere a bit more upmarket than this for our anniversary celebration.”

“Actually, the fifth anniversary is the wood anniversary.” You gesture around. “See… wood.” Then you add hurriedly. “But I do have a back- up plan.”

An hour later we’re sitting in a country pub called The Woodcutters beside a blazing log fire with real logs, that crackle and spit and occasionally fall against the grate with a sigh.

We’ve just eaten a slap-up meal and now I’m finishing the wine.

Because even though it’s my turn to drive, you volunteered – to make up for your white lie.

“Happy anniversary, Laura.”

You push your glasses back on your nose in that way you do when you’re feeling vulnerable and pass me a gift-wrapped box.

When I rip off the paper, I discover a slightly wonky jewellery box handmade in wood.

“It’s what I’ve been doing at my evening class,” you say with that same shy pride I remember when you were awarded your ‘I can swim’ certificate.

“I love it. It’s absolutely beautiful.” I pass you my present and watch your delight as you unwrap a wooden stand for glasses in the shape of a nose.

“I love it. Thank you.” Your face glows in the light of the flames.

“Have you forgiven me yet? I had the best motive. Those extra three weeks gave me time to pluck up the courage to ask you out.”

“You’re totally forgiven.”

“Let’s come here again, Laura. How about next week?”

“Sounds fab.”

Actually I’m starting to feel just the teeniest bit guilty. Because you weren’t the only one who pretended they couldn’t swim for longer than was strictly necessary.

But I think I’ll save that for next week, when I’ll pay the bill. I’ll even offer to drive!

Our My Weekly Favourites series of lovely short fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.
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