Under The Elm Tree – Episode 15

MUM?” Ella said sleepily. She looked at the digital alarm clock beside her bed, which read 1.20 a.m. “Is everything OK?”

“It’s Daddy, darling.”

Ella’s heart began to race, and she clicked on the bedside light.

“What do you mean? Has something happened?”

“I’m at the hospital, Ella.”

Suddenly she was wide awake. She clutched her mobile tightly.

“Why? Is Dad OK?”

“He will be,” Susan assured her. “We had friends round for supper. I think everything’s just got too much for him.”

Ella could hear the tears in her mother’s voice.

“It’s OK, Mum,” she said quietly. “Just tell me what happened.”

“Well, we’d been clearing up, then we sat down to look at your e-mail. He got up from the sofa and just collapsed,” she finished.

“Was it a heart attack?” Ella’s voice was tight with dread.

“No,” Susan said, “not a heart attack. The doctor says it was angina. Dad’s got to stay in hospital for a day or two while they do some tests.”

“Would you like me to come up?”

“No,” her mother replied firmly. “There’s nothing you can do here. Daddy just needs some rest. He’ll be home in a day or two. And you’ve got your hands full down there. I’ll let you know how he gets on. Now try not to worry. Promise?”

“I can’t promise that, Mum, but goodnight.”

Ella pressed the off button, and sank back on to the pillows. Suddenly, all the pent-up tears of the past few weeks cascaded down her cheeks.

“First Martin finishes with me.” She sobbed. “Then Gran dies, and now Dad’s in hospital.” The tears fell from her cheeks on to the duvet cover. “What on earth is going to happen next?” she asked.

She spent the next day working quietly at her designs. Drawing always absorbed and calmed her, and it was better that her mind was occupied, she decided.

The previous day’s frosty calm had been replaced by mild, blustery weather. The last vestige of light was fading from the sky when there was a knock on the door.

Ella put down her pencil and went to open it. It was Joe, clutching a casserole dish wrapped in cling film. His lips stretched wide in a good-humoured smile.

“Second and final peace offering,” he said, holding out the dish.

“You needn’t have done that.”

“No trouble, I made loads.”

“Well, put like that, how can I refuse?” She sniffed appreciatively as an aroma of curry drifted up from the dish. “Mmm, smells good,” she said.

“It’s chicken madras. It’s the only thing I can cook successfully.”

She laughed.

“I haven’t even thought about dinner yet, so it’s perfect. Thanks.”

“I just wanted you to know that I’m not usually as unfriendly as I was that first day,” he continued. “Since Leanna and I split up, I . . .”

“It’s OK,” she interrupted. “I broke up with my boyfriend recently so I know what you mean. It makes it difficult to act normally, doesn’t it?”

“Turns you into a bit of a monster,” he agreed. “For a while, at any rate.”

“It certainly does,” she agreed. “Would you like a coffee?” she asked, realising with a start that she was actually glad he’d called. It was good to have some company.

He looked at his watch.

“I have a while before I have to pick Cathie up,” he said, “so that would be great.”

Ella smiled as she remembered his friendly six-year-old daughter, and beckoned him in.

“Go into the lounge and I’ll bring it through,” she said, and he disappeared obediently into the front room while she took the furthest door leading to the kitchen.

There was silence from the room as Ella put the coffee through the filter. When she took the pot and two mugs in, she found Joe staring at the painting, which she’d propped on the dining table by the window.

“Where did you get this?” he asked, peering closer. “It’s very good, you know.”

She nodded.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she replied. “That’s Gran when she was young. I found it when I was clearing out. I don’t know anything about it, though. None of us have seen it before.”

“Leanna works for an art gallery,” he said, accepting a mug of coffee and sitting down. “She was always bringing paintings home. I’m no expert, but I did learn a lot from her. I’d say this is excellent.”

“There’s an inscription on the back,” she said, placing her mug on the floor near the fender, “but I can’t make it out.”

He gestured at the table.

“May I?” he asked.

“Of course.”

He carefully lifted up the painting, and turned it over.

“Mmm, I see what you mean,” he said, squinting at the faint writing.

Ella reached out and flicked on the sewing lamp Kitty had used when doing her embroidery, and bent her head closer to his as together they tried to decipher the message on the back.

“Hang on, I think I might have it,” he said. “To my darling Kit,” he read slowly, tilting the painting further towards the light. “My wonderful wife-to-be. Love always. Tam. 1939.

Ella’s mouth dropped open and she looked up, dumbfounded.

“Wife-to-be?” she stuttered. “But Grandad’s name was Sid! Who on earth is Tam?”

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”.