Under The Elm Tree – Episode 07

ELLA racked her brains. Where had her grandmother kept the key? Of course, her sewing box. She’d seen her fetch it many times when she was a child. How could she have forgotten?

Soon, she was turning a large black key in the lock. The rusty hinges creaked as she lifted up the lid and peered inside. It was full of linen, just as she had expected. She took out several blankets, and put them aside for the charity shop. After that came laundered sheets and pillow cases, and some tablecloths.

Finally, Ella reached in to draw out the last item from the bottom. She shook it out. It was an old-fashioned dress, from the thirties or forties, she guessed from the ruched bodice and A-line skirt. She stroked the green crepe material, admiring the neat stitchwork and pretty satin-covered buttons before putting it aside.

“Good,” she said. “That’s that done, too.”

She was just closing the lid when she noticed something pressed into one of the deep chest’s shadowy corners. She reached down for it, thinking that it would be a curtain or a dress-making off-cut, and was surprised when her fingers felt something hard through the soft material.

Carefully, she lifted it from the trunk. The cloth was velvet, a deep midnight-blue colour, with a matching ribbon around it tied neatly into a bow.

Curious, Ella placed it on the rug beside her. It must be something important to have been so carefully wrapped, she thought, pulling on one end of the ribbon. The bow undid easily, but the knot beneath was tight and stiff with age. Slowly, she worked her fingernails into it, easing it looser and looser until she was able to unravel it.

The velvet slipped away, and what Ella saw made her gasp in astonishment.

It was a painting of her grandmother as a young woman. She was seated beneath a tree with sunshine dappling through the green overhanging branches. She was smiling and happiness seemed to exude from every brush stroke.

“I wonder who painted it?” she asked the empty room. She peered closer, trying to make out the signature at the bottom, but like many signatures it was incomprehensible. She turned the painting over. There was something written in pencil, but no amount of tipping it this way or that illuminated the faded writing enough to make it out.

Why had such an amazing picture been hidden away, she wondered as she stared at it. It just didn’t make sense.

November 1938

“Morning, Queenie,” Kitty called out above the jingle of the bell as she pushed open the door of Wembury Grocery Store.

“Morning, Kitty.” A disembodied voice drifted out from the dark recesses of the shop. “Close the door now, or you’ll let all the leaves in.”

Kitty quickly turned to do as she was told, and Queenie bustled forward to stand in the centre of the shadowy shop. Her employer’s grey hair was scraped up in its customary manner into a tight bun on the top of her head, while her ample figure pushed at the seams of a print blouse with old-fashioned leg-of-mutton sleeves.

Kitty always thought she looked as if she belonged to Queen Victoria’s time, rather than the modern age they lived in with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth as their monarchs.

“What a morning,” Queenie said. “Better have them lights on, my girl, much as I hates ’em. Why they had to go and put that electricity into our village when we was all right as we was with our oil lamps, I’ll never know.”

Kitty herself thought that it was wonderful to be able to press a switch and have a room light up, and was glad she didn’t have to trim messy wicks any more or fill lamps up with oil!

She made her way to the back of the shop, stopping beside the bead curtain that always hung there, winter and summer alike, against the flies, and flicked down the switch. Cool light fell everywhere; on the counter and the brass weighing scales, on the neatly stacked packets and tins and jars of sweets. It fell on cards of buttons and bundles of candles, on the glass cabinet which contained the cheese and butter, and even dimly reached the kindling and the sacks of potatoes on the floor.

Quickly exchanging her coat and hat for her apron, she began cleaning the shelves. It was her least favourite job, so she was always pleased to get it out of the way first thing.


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”.