Under The Elm Tree – Episode 04

SUSAN hunched into her coat against the wind, and turned the key in the door. She was glad to be home. It was never the easiest of train journeys from Wembury to Heath End, but she was glad she’d stayed on with Ella for the night. She’d had a rough time of it recently.

She heard Greg’s footsteps behind her.

“Get a move on, love!” he called. “It’s freezing out here.”

She pushed open the door and stepped into the square hall of their chalet-style home. Even with the gaping hole in the end wall that the builder had covered with a large sheet of unflattering blue plastic, it was still an attractive property, with dark criss-crossing beams in a mock-Tudor style. It had seemed a reasonable size when the girls were growing up, but had proved woefully inadequate for their new plan to offer a B&B service alongside the boat rentals.

At the thought of what they’d bitten off, she felt a lurch of anxiety.

“Oh, dear,” she said aloud, as Greg closed the door.

He placed her holdall on the floor.

“What’s up?”

“I was just thinking . . . what if our plans don’t work out?”

“Of course they’ll work out.” He unbuttoned his coat. “They’ve got to!”

Despite his brave words, she saw a flicker of anxiety cross his face, and her heart went out to him. She knew he was as worried about it all as she was.

“It’s too late to get the jitters,” he said, attempting a laugh. “Don’t worry, lots of people are still taking short breaks, and that’s our new market. If the recession carries on like they say it will and bookings stay down, we’ll be able to get by on the B&B.” He hung his coat on the stair post. “I’ve been thinking I might refurbish a couple of the older boats, too,” he continued. “We could hire them out to people by the day. That way we’ll maximise our potential.”

He turned towards the kitchen as the phone rang.

“That’ll be Ella,” he called over his shoulder. “She rang a little while ago.”

Susan picked up the receiver.

“Hi, love,” she said.

“Hi, Mum. Just calling to see you’re back safe and sound. Good journey?”

“Well, you know, it’s never an easy one from Wembury.”

“I feel bad about that. You should have gone back with Dad yesterday.”

“What? And missed a special evening with my daughter?” Susan said, smiling. There was a pause, and she imagined Ella smiling, too.

“Thanks again, Mum. Oh, by the way, is Dad OK? When I texted Megan earlier, she said he’d been a bit stressed. He’s not working too hard, is he?”

“You know your father, Ella,” Susan said lightly. “He’s only happy when he’s occupied.”

But the truth was she’d been worried about Greg for a while. He was one of those people who always put a brave face on things while keeping his worries inside.

“Don’t worry, darling,” she told her daughter reassuringly. “I’ll think of a way to slow him down.”

“Good luck with that one.” Ella laughed, making Susan laugh, too.

Susan decided on a quick supper of mushroom omelettes and salad and they sat at the table in the kitchen to eat it. She could hear the wind whining around the corners of the house and flapping at the plastic sheet, while a cold draught snaked around her ankles. She shivered. They must be mad to have begun a building project in November!

She looked across at her husband, and the knot of worry inside her tightened. Greg had worked hard to make the business a success, and he’d made a modest but steady living out of it. But when the recession hit and bookings had started to fall, they’d taken stock of their position and decided to put all their savings into their new plan.

“We can’t afford to give up the business yet,” Greg had said, “so we’ll have to diversify!”

“Did I tell you that Wembury House has been sold?” she asked conversationally. As she uttered the words Wembury House, her stomach did a flip as it always did. “There’s a sign up. It’s being converted into flats.”

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”.