Under The Elm Tree – Episode 10

ELLA opened her mouth to ask Margaret about it, but the old lady had started speaking again.

“It was such a sad day for us all when it had to be felled. Dutch Elm disease,” she explained. “Ah, what secrets that tree must have known.” She sighed, looking thoughtfully at Ella. “Do you know, you’re a lot like your gran when she was your age?”

“Am I?” Ella felt a surge of pleasure, and thoughts of the painting disappeared.

“If you had darker hair, you’d be the spitting image,” Margaret assured her. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “Well, I’d better get on,” she continued. “My hip gets stiff if I stop for long. Do come and see me one afternoon, dear, won’t you? You remember where I live?”

“Of course I do.” Ella pointed across the green to a tiny row of low, brick-built houses. “The one at the end. I used to love to come and visit when I was little.”

Margaret smiled, waving her stick in the air as a form of goodbye, before leaning on it once more and hobbling off.

Ella continued her walk, following the road as it curved round in a circle towards her grandmother’s cottage. Her steps led her past Wembury House, and she stopped for a moment to look at the conversion work that was taking place. The large three-storey house was built of honey-coloured stone with a grey slate roof. It was funny how such a lovely building spooked her mother, she thought. She couldn’t understand it.

As she gazed, an idea came into her head. She could use the apartments as the basis for her portfolio! A theme would bring the designs together. It was just what she needed.

A sound of hammering grew louder as she walked tentatively up the path to the open door, and the smell of new paint drifted out to her. Would they let her have a peek? She wasn’t sure.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” she told herself firmly as she stepped over the threshold.

“Can I help you?”

She turned, half recognising the man’s voice.

“Oh!” she said, taken aback, as she found herself looking up into the handsome face of her grandmother’s next-door neighbour, Joe.

For a moment she felt flustered. If their initial encounter was anything to go by, the answer to her request would definitely be no.

“I wondered if I could have a quick look round,” she stammered. “I’m doing some design pieces and I’m searching for ideas.”

They stood looking at each other for a moment. Suddenly, to her great surprise, he grinned.

“I’m helping with the conversion,” he explained. “I’ll take you round now, if you like. It’ll be an apology for my lack of manners the other day,” he added.

Ella sighed with relief. Her first meeting with Joe had been a little frosty, and she hated not getting on with people.

“You’ll have to wear this,” he added, lifting down a hard hat from a shelf and handing it to her. “Sorry, they’re not very flattering, but rules are rules.” He grinned again.

She placed the yellow helmet on her head, and looked around with interest as he led her from apartment to apartment. What struck her most was the way the original period details were being incorporated into the modern design. Old complementing new, she thought, and design ideas began to spin around her head.

Her brain was still buzzing when, back at the cottage, she jotted down some notes before continuing with the task of clearing out.

Upstairs, she rolled up the rug in her grandmother’s bedroom then unhooked the thin floral curtains and folded them. The house was quiet except for the tick of the clock in the hall downstairs and the distant murmuring of the radio she’d left on in the kitchen.

The wintry sunshine slanted through the windows, lighting up a layer of dust on the panes. Clean windows, she added mentally to her list of jobs to do.

She turned to look at the piles that had accumulated on the stripped bed. She’d placed the green crepe dress on the top of one of the “to keep” piles. On an impulse, she picked it up and held it against her.

It was a wonder it hadn’t faded, she thought, letting the crepe material slip through her fingers and stroking the smooth satin trim. Judging by the design, it must be sixty years old at least.

Suddenly, she felt an urge to try the dress on. She slipped it over her head, and it settled neatly round her curves.

“That’s amazing,” she said. “It’s as if it were made for me.”

She turned to look into the mirror, and once again time seemed to waver. She swept her long hair away from her face and the transformation was complete. What she saw wasn’t a twenty-first century girl at all, but a stylish young woman from the nineteen thirties.

She shivered, not because she was cold, for the bulky old radiators were surprisingly efficient. It was because the girl in the picture was looking back at her.

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”.