Under The Elm Tree – Episode 39

VERY slowly Kitty’s father reached forward and switched off the radio. Not one of them spoke, not even Flo. A robin’s song drifted across to them through the open window, and Kitty couldn’t help wondering how it was that the world outside was still going on as normal. Then Albert got up and walked out of the room.

The three women looked at each other. Kitty rubbed her arms which, despite the heat of the day, were covered in goose pimples.

Their mother was the first to speak.

“Just you mind you’re on your best behaviour today, Florence,” Muriel told her sternly. “This news will be hard for your father. He’s been having his dreams again.”

Kitty frowned.

“The ones about the trenches?”

Muriel nodded.

“I thought they’d stopped years ago,” Kitty said.

“They’ve started again. I think it’s because he’s worried about your brother,” Muriel went on. “He’ll be assigned to a ship soon, and then it’ll be the real thing . . .”

Her words were cut off by the rising wail of a siren.

“Good heavens and God help us!” she cried, jumping to her feet as the noise swept up and down. “They’ve come already. Run and get your gas masks, girls, quick!”

Kitty and Florence dashed to the door, colliding with their father, who was coming back into the room.

“It’s all right,” he said, holding up his hands. “It’s only a practice siren, Mother. The ARP warden at the meeting last night told us it might happen. I should have warned you.”

“Oh, Albert,” Muriel said, twisting the corner of her apron. “How are we all going to bear another war?”

At her words, Albert walked across the room and gathered her in his arms. It was a rare show of affection between them, and Kitty felt her eyes fill with tears.

She watched as he pressed his lips to Muriel’s forehead.

“We’ve got to bear it, Mother,” he said, “and that’s all there is to it. We’ve got to fight for what’s right. Everybody’s got to do their bit, and those of us at home can make a start by being brave and cheerful.”

Muriel drew away, straightening her apron, untying the strings and tying them again.

“You’re right, Albert, of course you are. But they shouldn’t have sounded the siren,” she said. “Not so soon. It’s downright irresponsible, scaring folk like that.”

“I expect they wanted everyone to know we’re at war.” Florence hadn’t said a word since the announcement and now she stood up, scraping her chair back across the linoleum. “There must be lots of people who don’t have a radio to listen to like us.”

Muriel nodded.

“That’s probably it, Flo. Everyone will know now, though, that’s for sure. What a bloomin’ racket!”

Kitty suddenly had the urge to be on her own, to try to take it all in.

“I’ll get the rest of the beans, Mother,” she said quietly. “Don’t worry, Flo,” she added as Florence turned towards the scullery to accompany her, “I don’t mind doing it.”

Her mind was in turmoil as she stepped out into the sunshine again. What would happen to them all now?

Her thoughts went to Tam. He’d joined up almost as soon as he’d returned to Sheffield, and was up in Lancashire training to be an RAF pilot. I want to do my bit, he’d written in one of his letters and she understood that, of course she did, and she was very proud of him. But now they were at war? She shuddered. Things had suddenly got far more dangerous.

Her brother George would soon be at sea and involved in real battles, too. She felt sick at the thought. And what about Sid and the other lads from the farm? They’d joined up, too, and were soldiers. They’d been on leave that weekend, but a sergeant from a nearby camp had come into the Fox and Hounds and ordered them back to barracks. She dreaded to think what life held in store for them now.

Everything was changing. Even the sunshine looked different from how it had a quarter of an hour before, the shadows deeper and darker.

It’s not just the boys’ lives, either, she thought as she stepped beneath the rich green foliage of the beans. Dad’s right, it’s going to affect all of us, even those of us left at home.

The anxiety that had been fluttering inside her slowly solidified into an awful certainty. The world was never going to be the same again.

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”.