Under The Elm Tree – Episode 08

ARE you going to the W.I. dance on Saturday, Queenie?” Kitty asked as Queenie began to weigh and bag up some currants.

The Women’s Institute often organised dances at the village hall, but this time it wasn’t going to be the usual affair with their limited supply of crackly gramophone records, nor even Mrs Pagget, the farmer’s wife, thumping out dance tunes on the old upright piano. No, this week it was going to be a swing band all the way from Farchester, and it wasn’t going to finish until two o’clock in the morning!

“Of course I’m going,” her employer replied indignantly. “When have I ever missed a good knees-up?”

“I’m going with Ivy and Margaret,” Kitty said, lifting up a packet of Brooke Bond tea, and polishing beneath it. “We’re walking down with Sid.”

“That young man o’ yours?”

She blushed.

“Sid’s not my young man, Queenie, you know that. We’re just friends.”

“That’s how it always starts, dear.” Queenie laughed.

Well, it isn’t how it’s going to start for me, Kitty thought.

She and Sid were like brother and sister, and that’s the way she wanted it to stay.

As she worked, she thought about the dance. She’d wash her hair on Friday night, for there wouldn’t be time after work on Saturday, and there was plenty of rainwater in the water butt in the garden to rinse it with. But the big question was: what should she wear? She wished she could afford something new, but she couldn’t because she was saving up to buy gifts for Christmas, and then there was Joyce’s wedding in the New Year.

Perhaps she could liven up her green crepe dress? Some new buttons might just do the trick, or perhaps a trim of ribbon? She was so engrossed in her thoughts that when the doorbell jangled, it made her jump.

The sound was quickly followed by a cough, and she turned to look down. A young man stood there, rain dripping from his tweed coat and trilby. A wave of shyness passed over her when she realised she didn’t recognise him.

Acutely aware of the blush that was flooding her cheeks but unable to stop it, she stepped down, covertly continuing her scrutiny. The brim of the stranger’s hat was pulled down and she couldn’t see his eyes from where she stood, so she concentrated instead on a pair of finely drawn lips, a straight nose and a firm, neatly shaved chin. His stance told her that he was young, but it was only when he lifted his trilby to her that she could see how handsome he was, even though his cheeks were rather pale and thin.

His eyes turned out to be a deep, velvety brown. They caught her curious gaze and Kitty felt her blush deepen. She thrust her duster beneath the counter and smoothed down her apron.

“How can I help you, sir?” she asked, wishing that her heart wouldn’t beat quite so hard.

“I’ll take a quarter of aniseed twists, please.” He began to cough again, a harsh, racking sound. Kitty waited anxiously, hoping he was all right. “I find they help,” he explained with an apologetic smile when the paroxysm had passed.

She placed the quarter-pound weight on to one side of the scales, unscrewed the top and tipped up the sweet jar. Several red sugary twists clattered into the brass scoop.

As she was swinging over the paper bag, twisting the ends tightly together, the door burst open, setting the bell clanging for all it was worth.

All thoughts of dances, sweets and handsome strangers disappeared from her mind as Kitty stared across the counter. It was Sid. He was standing in the middle of the shop, bent double trying to catch his breath. A feeling cold as ice gripped her heart. Something had to be very wrong for one of the farm-hands to be allowed from their work.

“What is it, Sid?” she cried, running round the counter towards him. “Whatever’s wrong?”

Sid straightened up, still breathing hard.

“It’s your dad!” he exclaimed, his eyes wide with concern. “There’s been an accident. The doctor’s on his way, but your mum says you’ve got to come quick!”

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”.