Under The Elm Tree – Episode 19

THE afternoon light faded, and Ella drew the curtains early. The air was full of the delicious aroma of her baking session. It had surprised her just how much she’d enjoyed making the little cupcakes for Cathie. She’d even stuck some jelly sweets on them to make them extra pretty. The plate stood on the sideboard, covered in foil.

She switched on the standard lamp that stood in the corner of the living-room, and a soft glow illuminated the room. Then she turned on the old-fashioned electric fire for a bit of extra warmth, and tucked the fireguard around it inside the fender. You couldn’t be too careful with children around.

When her visitors arrived, Joe helped her lift the table from where it always sat beneath the window out into the middle of the room, then she spread an old blanket across it.

“Why do we need a cover on the table?” Cathie asked.

“So the counters can hop better,” Ella replied, smiling as the little girl’s brow creased in puzzlement.

“Look, I’ll show you.”

Soon all three of them were hooting with laughter as they tried to get their counters in the old Bakelite egg cup her gran had packed in the box as “home”.

After one spectacular miss by Joe as one of his counters went sailing into the air and on to the floor, they were all weak with laughter. Ella’s eyes met his, and the laughter slowed to a smile.

Suddenly, Joe placed his finger on his lips.

“Shh!” he said.

Into the silence there came the faint sound of singing – “Silent night, holy night”. The words became clearer as the carollers came up the path to the door. They sat still, listening to the words of the beautiful Christmas song.

When the last verse was finishing, they all trooped to the front door. A group of six carol singers stood in an arc around the doorstep. One of them carried an old-fashioned lantern on a pole.

“Merry Christmas!” they chorused.

“Merry Christmas!”

There was the sound of rattling coins as an elderly lady shook a tin.

“We’re collecting for the children’s ward at Farchester Hospital,” she said, “if you’d like to make a small donation. No obligation, of course.” She smiled.

“Of course we will. Hold on.” Ella fished in her bag for her purse, and Joe produced a coin for Cathie. Together they slipped their coins into the tin.

“Makes you feel Christmassy, doesn’t it?” Joe grinned when they’d closed the door again.

They retreated indoors, and Ella decided it was time for tea and cakes. She poured some milk into a glass for Cathie, and made a cup of tea for herself and Joe.

They were sitting cosily around the fire eating cakes when there came a knock at the door.

“What a busy afternoon.” Ella smiled. “Hold on and I’ll see who it is.”

“It might be Mummy,” Cathie offered.

Joe looked at his watch.

“Actually, it might,” he agreed, raising his eyebrows. “Six o’clock. I hadn’t realised it was this late.”

Sure enough, when Ella opened the door, Leanna, Cathie’s mother, stood there. She’d seen her from a distance when she collected or dropped off Cathie, but they’d never actually been introduced. She smiled tentatively, but was rewarded with a stare.

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”.