Under The Elm Tree – Episode 01


ELLA followed her mother up the garden path, clutching a carton of milk in one hand and a loaf of bread in the other. She watched as Susan’s black funeral hat bobbed and disappeared into the porch of Hollyhocks, the pretty cottage where her grandmother had lived.

Her steps slowed to a stop as the emptiness of the cottage swept out to envelop her. There had always been a special bond between her and her gran, forged through the wonderful school holidays she’d spent with her in the Hampshire village of Wembury. She was going to miss her so much.

But Gran wouldn’t want her to be miserable, would she? Not a bit of it.

“I’ve had a happy life.” She’d smiled from her hospital bed. “What more could I want?”

What more indeed? Being happy sounded pretty good to Ella, and until a month ago when Martin had broken up with her, she thought she had been, too.

Taking a deep breath, she passed through the hallway to the kitchen, where her mother was thundering water into the kettle. Outside, the grey November clouds parted to allow a ray of weak sunshine to fall across her as she settled the kettle on its base and flicked the switch.

“Tea, dear?”

“Yes, please, Mum.” Ella put the milk and the loaf on the work surface, then drew a chair from beneath the kitchen table, and flopped down on to it. “It’s going to be strange without Gran,” she said, drawing off her gloves and stuffing them into her pocket.

Susan nodded.

“Yes, it is,” she agreed, and was still for a moment, lost in her thoughts.

“Mum?”

“Hmm?”

“Why was it that Gran and Grandad were allowed to carry on living here after Grandad finished working on the farm?” Ella asked. “I thought tied cottages were given back when someone’s employment finished?”

“Well, they normally are,” Susan agreed. “It was because of something that happened in the war, but they’d never talk about the war so I don’t know more than that. Mum was brought up here in the cottage, though, and Dad worked on the farm for years, so maybe it was something to do with that.”

She paused.

“Now, are you sure you don’t mind staying on to clear the house?” she enquired, looking at her daughter. “Mr Pagget says we can keep the cottage on for the time being, as long as we keep paying the rent, of course.” Mr Pagget was the owner of Wembury Farm, and he was also the landlord of Hollyhocks.

“I don’t mind, Mum, honestly.”

“It seems a lot to ask you to stay after . . . well, with Martin and everything.”

Ella concentrated on the steam beginning to rise from the kettle spout. She knew her mother meant well, but after only four weeks it was still a difficult subject to talk about.

It had been a great shock when Martin had told her he was finishing their relationship. It had become boring, he said. A few days later she’d learned the real reason for their break-up. He’d been seeing Karen from the accounts department.

The bubbling of the kettle brought her thoughts back to the present.

“I’ve got to do something with my holiday,” she told Susan in as cheerful a tone as she could manage. “It might not be the two weeks in Malta that Martin and I had planned, but it’ll be a break from work.”

A break was certainly something she needed right now, she reflected. Living in London and working at Lansetti Interior Designs had been exciting at first, having been brought up in a sleepy Norfolk village. But she wasn’t really a town girl at heart, and now that she and Martin weren’t an item any more she was beginning to wonder what there was to keep her there. Perhaps she should leave when her contract came up for review at the end of the year.

But you can’t just throw in a good job, a voice inside her said, and her thoughts went backwards and forwards like a shuttlecock. The truth was she didn’t know what to do.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.