Under The Elm Tree – Episode 40

HOW are you feeling today, darling?” Susan looked across the breakfast table at Greg. A ray of winter sunshine glanced across him and on to the slice of toast he was eating.

“I’m perfectly fine, so please stop fussing.” He softened his words with a smile before taking another bite.

“The doctor told me I had to keep an eye on you, and that’s what I’m doing,” she said, returning his smile. She got up to switch on the electric kettle, then spooned instant coffee into two mugs.

“Well, you can stop keeping an eye on me. I’ve never felt better.”

“Really?” Her heart gave a little twist. She simply couldn’t help worrying about him, for he meant the world to her.

“Really,” he said emphatically. “In fact, I’m looking forward to working on Bella. It’ll be good to be doing something again.”

Bella was the narrowboat they’d bought and which they planned to refit for letting out in the summer.

“Well, OK, then,” she said thoughtfully. Greg’s health might not be as robust as it used to be, but it was probably better for him to get on with things than sit and stress about them. “You go on. I’ll just clear the dishes before I come and join you.”

Fifteen minutes later, she was walking towards the boat yard which was adjacent to their property. Bella was moored in the little inlet where they kept their small fleet of day boats. Beside them the narrowboat looked very shabby, her green and red paint peeling and faded.

She stepped across the mooring rope on to the back end and edged her way to the front. The sound of breaking wood drifted out of the open cockpit doors, and she peered inside. Greg was in the galley, ripping out the row of cupboards that ran along one side.

Taking out a bandana from the pocket of an old pair of working overalls she’d found in his wardrobe, she put it on and tied it jauntily around her head.

“Ready for duty,” she announced, stepping across a pile of splintered wood.

Greg stood up, grinning.

“I see you’re dressed for the part!”

She gave him a playful punch on the arm.

“It’s hardly glamorous work! Now then, what would you like me to do?”

He handed her a paint scraper.

“How about rubbing down the paintwork outside?”

“OK, boss.” She smiled as a feeling of happiness welled up in her. She really had to stop worrying. For the first time in ages, they were moving forward.

They’d recouped some of the money they had lost when the company renovating their house went bust, the extension was underway again and Greg’s health was better than it had been in a long time.

They might never be millionaires, or anywhere near it, she thought, as she eased away some flakes of curling paint, but they had an awful lot to be grateful for.

An hour and a half later, she was just thinking of popping back to the house and putting the kettle on when Greg put his head out of the cockpit door.

“I’ve been doing some calculations,” he said. “If we’re aiming to get Bella finished in time for the summer, we ought to get the adverts off.”

“Already done. I e-mailed them before I came down.”

“Oh.” He paused. “Should we send them in the post as well, do you think?”

“No-one sends things by snail-mail any more, Greg. You’re behind the times.” Susan laughed.

“There’s a lot to be said for pen and ink!”

“If you say so,” she replied. “It’ll be fine, Greg, really. Now, how about I go and make us both a cup of coffee?”

“You read my mind.”

They worked hard all morning, stopping at lunchtime for a more leisurely break.

“Doctor’s orders,” Susan insisted, and they wandered across the yard to the little corrugated shed that served as office and storage point. Above the door, a red painted sign announced Field Edge Boat Yard, Day Boat Hire.

“We’ll have to redo the sign, Greg,” she said. “If we change it to Day Boat and Narrowboat Hire, it might bring in some passing trade.”

They sat down on the step of the hut. It was a sheltered spot, gathering all the warmth of the January sunshine and reflecting it back to them. She watched a swan float majestically along the river at the end of their garden, followed by a smart narrowboat with smoke wisping out of a black stove chimney.

That’s what Bella’s going to look like, she thought, munching her sandwich and listening to the sleepy chug-chug-chug of its engine as it passed.

Her musings were suddenly cut short.

“I’ve been thinking about our retirement,” Greg announced.

“Retirement?” She turned to look at him. “Surely that’s a good few years away for us yet?”

“Not so very many when you work it out. This health scare’s made me think about a few things. We can’t keep working for ever, you know. We should have a plan.” He paused. “What do you think about going back to Wembury?”

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”.