Under The Elm Tree – Episode 14

SUSAN looked at the remnants of the enjoyable evening they’d just spent, and began stacking dirty crockery. She gathered together a pile of plates.

“It was nice to have the neighbours round,” she said, sweeping crumbs expertly into her hand with a dishcloth. “We haven’t done that in ages.”

“Well, there’s no use floundering in the doldrums just because we’ve hit a bad patch,” Greg replied. “We’ve got to get on with life.”

Susan smiled. Where would she be without Greg’s cheerful attitude? Though if the dark rings beneath his eyes were anything to go by, he was more worried than he was letting on.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said as he returned for some more dishes.

“About what?”

He came up behind her and put his arms around her.

“That you deserve a break,” he said. “I know it wouldn’t be a holiday as such, but why don’t you go and stay with Ella for a few days? I’m sure she’d appreciate the company, and it would do you good to get away from all this for a while.”

He motioned to the far wall which was still shrouded in large sheets of plastic.

“What about you? You deserve a break, too.” She turned in his arms and reached up to kiss him.

“If the accountant sorts things out and we get some of our money back, one of us needs to be here to push on with the extension,” he said reasonably, and as if in confirmation, the wind flapped the tarpaulin, letting in a chilly gust.

“Things will work out, Greg,” she said, holding him close. She was sure he was far more worried than he was letting on.

“I don’t think I’ll go, darling, if you don’t mind,” she continued. She decided to use the old reason as an excuse. “You know how hard it is for me being there. I know it’s stupid, but it always brings things back.”

“That was a long time ago,” he reminded her gently but firmly. “You were very young.”

“I was sixteen, Greg,” Susan replied. “Old enough to know better than that.”

He shook his head.

“You’re too hard on yourself. Everybody makes mistakes. That’s what being young is for.” He smiled.

“But it’s what it did to Dad,” she whispered as the memories threatened to engulf her. “The shame of it all, having to go to court and everything. I can still see his face. He was so disappointed in me.” Her eyes began to sting with threatening tears. “I let him down, and he didn’t deserve that.”

The sound of her mobile pinging filled the sudden silence. She eased herself from Greg’s arms and crossed through into the hall to draw her phone from her handbag.

“It’s a message from Ella,” she said, reading the text as she walked back into the lounge. “She says she’s e-mailed a photo of the painting she found.”

She reached for her laptop from the sideboard and sat down with it on the sofa. Greg came to sit beside her. After pressing a few buttons, suddenly a colourful image appeared on the screen.

“Oh!” she said.

Greg leaned closer.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “It’s really beautiful.”

She nodded, a feeling of pride filling her.

“Mum was lovely, wasn’t she?”

“Do you know who painted it?”

Susan read the message Ella had sent with the attachment, and shook her head.

“She says she’s going to try to find out more about it. I’ve certainly never seen it before. What I don’t understand is why Mum hid it away. It just doesn’t make sense.”

“It certainly is mysterious,” Greg agreed. With a sigh, he eased himself off the sofa. “Come on, love, let’s get the clearing up done, then we can go to bed.”

He stood up, and as he did so his face paled to a clammy grey. He put his fist to his chest, and his shoulders hunched as he leaned forward.

“What is it?” Susan called out in alarm. “Darling, what’s wrong?”

Greg’s knees buckled. She tried to reach him to break his fall, but she was too late. He had already collapsed on the floor.

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”.