Under The Elm Tree – Episode 09

ELLA drew back the curtains and looked out of the cottage window.

“Oh,” she breathed. “How beautiful.” An overnight frost had turned the garden into a sparkling fairyland.

“It’s far too lovely a morning to stay inside,” she told herself. She dressed quickly and ran downstairs, pulling on her coat and rummaging in the hall cupboard for her grandmother’s old wellington boots.

The cold nipped at her nose and cheeks as she made her way down the path. As she breathed the refreshing air deeply into her lungs, a feeling of freedom welled up in her. Normally at this time in the morning, she’d be making her way to work on the London tube train.

Thinking of London and work inevitably led her thoughts to Martin, and she sighed. It was difficult not having him in her life any more. She missed him.

“But there’s nothing you can do about it,” she told herself. “He doesn’t want to be with you, and that’s that. Lots of people go through painful things. You’ve got to get over it.”

She shut the gate firmly behind her and turned in the direction of Wembury Farm, deciding to take the road that swept in a large loop around the village.

She stepped out briskly, enjoying the exercise and taking a childish delight in cracking the milky puddles with her boots. When she reached the village she stopped on the little triangular green and perched on a tree stump to enjoy the scene. Smoke drifted up lazily from cottage chimneys into a clear blue sky, and many front doors already sported wreaths of festive evergreen. With the layer of frost over everything, it looked just like a Christmas card.

A sense of peace settled on her. She watched as a young mother led a toddler across the icy grass to the swing, their footprints a dark wet trail behind them. A car edged past the green, taking time and care. How different this all was from London, she thought, and she couldn’t help comparing it with the city’s incessant blare of traffic and general busyness of life.

And it was then that she knew. She knew without a shadow of a doubt that she didn’t want to go back. She’d tried hard to like city life for Martin’s sake, but now they weren’t together there was no need for pretence any more.

I’ll ring my boss and tell her I’m leaving at the end of my contract, she decided. I’ll go back to Norfolk for a bit. Mum and Dad won’t mind. It would be scary not to have any money coming in for a while, but she had some savings to fall back on.

Ideas flowed thick and fast, and gradually her fear of the future changed to hope. I’ll start working on some new designs, she decided; build up a portfolio. I’ll have something new to show at interviews then.

Suddenly, her reverie was interrupted
by a pretty black spaniel as it bounced up to her, sniffing her boots and wagging its tail.

“Hello.” She smiled, stroking its silky head.

Two damp black paws appeared on Ella’s knee.

“Ruby! Get down, girl,” a voice called from behind her. She turned round, recognising the elderly lady who stood at the edge of the green. It was Margaret Foster, her grandmother’s old friend. She’d only seen her briefly at her grandmother’s funeral, and had regretted she hadn’t had time for a proper chat.

“Don’t worry,” she called out, standing up and brushing down her coat. “No harm done.”

Ruby trotted off, investigating the scents of the green, her tail wagging furiously, and Ella walked across to the old lady, who was leaning heavily on a walking stick.

“How are you getting on with the cottage?” Margaret asked. “I’ve been meaning to call,” she added apologetically, “but my hip’s been playing up.” She patted her right side gingerly before changing the subject. “It’s a big job clearing out a house, isn’t it?” she added.

“It certainly is,” Ella agreed, “but I’m enjoying spending time there. It’s making me feel close to Gran.”

Margaret nodded, and her glasses glinted in the sunshine.

“Kitty was lucky to have had granddaughters like you and your sister,” she said. “Bill and I would have loved children, but it wasn’t to be,” she added sadly, and they were both quiet for a moment.

“Would you like to sit down, Mrs Foster?” Ella asked, gesturing to where she’d been sitting.

“No, dear, I’m not stopping. I’m better if I keep moving,” she said. “We’re lobbying the council to have a bench put on the green, you know. It would be much more comfortable than that old thing.” She waved her stick at the elm stump. “But I’m afraid the wheels in a village like this grind exceedingly slow.” She paused. “I don’t suppose you remember the old elm,
do you? Such a grand tree, it was. The only place to be on a hot summer’s day.” She smiled.

An image of the painting slipped into Ella’s mind. Could the old elm possibly be the tree in the picture?

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”.