Under The Elm Tree – Episode 31

Wembury, 1939

I’M not going back, Mother!” Florence stuck out her chin in defiance. “I’m not! The girls are horrid to me. I hate it at Otterby’s. I wish I’d never gone there.”

Kitty tried to calm the situation.

“Come on, Flo, you don’t mean that,” she said. She glanced at her dad, who was sitting silently at the head of the kitchen table. His mood had lightened in the past couple of months as the pain in his back had receded, but if his stern expression was anything to go by, her sister was in for a good telling off.

“I do mean it!” Flo retorted before pressing her lips together in a determined line.

Kitty shifted uneasily in her seat. She couldn’t help wondering what Tam was making of it all. She turned to look up at him, but his expression was inscrutable.

“Now, then, child, listen to me.” Muriel leaned across the table, pointing her finger at her errant daughter. “You’ll always come across bullies. That’s life. It’s how you deal with them that counts. I thought I taught you that.”

“But I hate it there,” Flo wailed.

At her new outburst, her father intervened. But he didn’t shout or tell Florence off as Kitty had feared. He spoke quietly and authoritatively.

“Stop that noise and listen to your mother,” Albert said.

Immediately, Flo’s sobs subsided.

“I wish George was here.” She sniffed. “He’d understand.”

Muriel got up from the table and walked to the tiny gas stove that stood against the wall.

“Well, he’s not here,” she said. “Your brother is down in Plymouth training to be a sailor in case there’s a war. He’s getting on with his life,” she added, “same as we’ve all got to. Including you, Flo.”

She picked up a box of matches and there was the sound of a match scraping followed by a pop as blue flames sprang into life beneath a large brown kettle.

“We’d better all have a cup of tea,” she said.

“I think you’re looking at it the wrong way,” Kitty said to Florence. “Forget about the girls for a moment. What about the sewing you’re learning about? Isn’t it what you’ve always wanted? Just think, you’ll be a seamstress when you’re finished.”

Florence looked down at the table.

“Everyone says I can’t sew a seam straight and that I’ll never be any good because I work with my left hand,” she murmured.

“Don’t you listen to them.” Muriel put the teapot stand on the table, then turned to unhook cups from the edge of the shelf. “They’re just jealous. You’re learning, and that’s what apprenticeships are for. And besides, your seams are as straight as any I’ve ever seen. Mrs Potter said much the same at your interview, didn’t she?” Her brow creased in a frown. “Those girls are just making trouble.”

“How are you getting on at Edie’s?” Albert asked. “Is that upsetting you, too, not being at home?”

Florence nodded, her eyes brimming with tears again.

“It was all right staying with Cousin Edie when Joyce was living there,” she explained. “It’s not the same now she’s married and gone to live with Frank. I wish the war would happen like everybody’s saying. Then Frank would go off to fight, and Joyce could come back and stay with me.”

“You don’t mean that,” Kitty said, thinking how devastated their eldest sister would be if her new husband had to go away and leave her. But a wave of sympathy passed over her for her little sister. She might be sixteen now and grown up in lots of ways, but she was still such a child in others.

“I just wish things were back the way they used to be,” Flo whispered. “With me living at home and everything.” She pulled down the sleeve of her cardigan and wiped her cheeks.

“May I say something?” Tam intervened.

“Of course you can, lad,” Muriel said. Steam began to wisp from the kettle, and she poured some hot water into the teapot to warm it. “You’ve earned a say, bringing her home like you did.”

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”.