Under The Elm Tree – Episode 02

SUSAN’S voice interrupted Ella’s reverie.

“Dad and I would stay to help, dear, you know we would.” She put two teabags in a teapot and added boiling water. “If it weren’t for the renovations at the boat yard, and the extension on the house,” she added. “There’s such a lot to do.”

Ella’s parents ran a business on the Norfolk Broads, and although winter was usually their quiet time, they were busy at the moment extending their premises.

“It’s OK, Mum. Besides, the peace and quiet might be just what I need to get my head together.” She smiled, but she couldn’t quite erase the wobble in her voice.

Susan stared at her for a moment before reaching for her mobile.

“I’ll ring Dad to tell him I’ll be staying here tonight,” she said, with a wave of her hand that indicated she wasn’t going to be persuaded otherwise. “He can drive Megan back as planned.” Megan was Ella’s sister. “That’s if you don’t mind running me to Farchester for the train in the morning?”

Ella shook her head, secretly glad of the decision. It had been a sad and difficult day.

She opened the fridge door to put the milk inside.

“Oh, dear,” she said, staring at the empty shelves. “Gran’s cleaner said she’d cleared everything out. Well, she certainly has! You’ll have to get some things in tomorrow.”

Susan sat opposite Ella and poured the tea.

“What a shame there aren’t any shops in Wembury any more,” she mused. She took a sip of tea, and gazed into space. “Things were so different when I was a child. There was a butcher and a baker, a drapery and a little post office,” she said, counting on her fingers. “Not to mention the grocery store where your gran used to work.”

“I used to love hearing Gran’s stories about the village when she was a young girl, especially about Queenie and the shop,” Ella said, and her eyes moistened at the thought of never hearing them again.

Susan covered Ella’s hand with her own.

“Drink up,” she said, gently squeezing her fingers. “We’ll go and make up the beds. We won’t feel like doing it later.”

She finished her tea and stood up.

“We can put the fold-up bed in the room in the eaves if you like,” she continued. “You always used to love sleeping there when you came to stay as a little girl.”

Ella smiled. Her mum could be a bit bossy at times, but she had a heart of gold.

“It was your gran’s room, too, when she was growing up,” Susan said over her shoulder as she led the way up the stairs.

Ella looked up at Susan’s retreating figure.

“Really?” she said, surprised. “How come I didn’t know that before?”

“There must be a lot of things we don’t know about her,” Susan replied.

Later, lying in bed with her mother snoring gently in the bed beside her, Ella’s mind was filled with memories of her grandmother. She tried to imagine her as a young girl, growing up in the cottage. If only she could have known her then, she thought as she drifted off to sleep. How wonderful that would have been.

November 1938

Kitty opened her eyes. Judging by the weak strip of light that filtered between the flower-patterned curtains and the sound of the wind in the thatch, it was going to be a stormy day.

Her sister Florence’s bed was already empty, and she could hear her mother moving about downstairs, then her father’s low voice humming softly.

She smiled as she pictured her dad at the scullery sink, his grey hair tousled from the night’s sleep. He always broke into song when he’d finished shaving. It was her signal to get up. She waited, luxuriating in the warmth beneath the blankets as she counted down the seconds. Three, two, one.

There it was.

“I’m no mill-ion-aire,” Albert’s deep voice crooned, resounding tunefully as he sang Bing Crosby’s hit. “But I’m not the type to care.” His voice swelled confidently, “’Cause I’ve got a pocketful of dreams!”

She couldn’t put it off any longer. She threw back the covers and searched with her toes on the cold lino for her slippers, dressing as quickly as she could before washing her face and hands in the chill water from the jug on the washstand.

As she opened the curtains, she looked down from the window of her little room high up in the cottage eaves. The wind was tearing at the trees in the copse beyond the lane, sending the last of the colourful autumn leaves swirling in the air. As she watched, a man came out of the gate next door, and made his way in at theirs.

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 tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.