Under The Elm Tree – Episode 41

SUDDENLY Susan’s sandwich tasted of cardboard.

“Retire there, you mean? In Wembury?”

Greg nodded.

“It’s near Farchester, which has got everything we’d need. You’ve got roots there, and I love the countryside in Hampshire. I think it’d be a great move. We’d still be able to visit our friends here if that’s what’s worrying you,” he added.

“No, it isn’t that.” She laid her half-eaten sandwich back on the plate. “Wembury’s always been home, of course. I grew up there. But it’s just . . .” She paused. “Well, you know.”

Greg put his arm around her.

“Look, love, that was a long time ago,” he said gently. “Everybody makes mistakes, especially when they’re young. You can’t let something that happened all those years ago keep affecting your life.”

She felt her hands clench.

“That’s easy for you to say,” she murmured, standing up. “Do you know what was the worst thing about it all?”

He shook his head, his eyes not leaving hers.

“On top of everything else, to be accused of stealing.”

“But you know you didn’t steal anything, and that’s what really matters,” he told her. “Lots of people have unresolved issues in their past – that’s just life. Perhaps it’s time you made your peace with it.” He stood up beside her, and smiled gently. “Now, are we getting back to work, or what?”


“I really don’t know how you stand it.” Martin shrugged himself deep into his coat as Ella shut the gate behind them. “I mean, there’s nothing to see and nothing to do here. It would drive me mad to live here.”

“What do you mean? It’s fantastic,” Ella insisted. The morning was cold, but bright winter sunshine lit up the leafless trees, glancing on bare hedgerows and glistening ploughed earth beyond. “Look around you – it’s beautiful.”

Martin performed an exaggerated turn.

“Wonderful,” he said sarcastically.

She decided to laugh it off. She knew she couldn’t win because it wasn’t an
argument to be won or lost. You either liked the countryside or you didn’t.

“You’re such a townie,” she told him with a smile.

He shrugged.

“Of course I am. Thing is, I thought you were, too.”

How could she explain to him that she’d just been going through the motions in London? Life there was interesting and lively, certainly, but it didn’t fill her heart like it did here.

She decided to change the subject.

“Has anything been said at work about me leaving?” she asked.

“Plenty.” He frowned. “It surprised everyone when you handed in your resignation like that.”

“But our relationship was over,” she reminded him. “It would have been too difficult for both of us to have carried on working together.”

“It wouldn’t have bothered me.”

“Wouldn’t it?” She looked at him in amazement. How could he be so insensitive? “Well, it bothered me, so let’s leave it at that.”

They passed the entrance to Wembury Farm, and stopped to watch the ducks sliding comically on the icy pond before they continued on the road that swept round to the village.

Nothing seemed to please him about anything they saw; not the rooks cawing in the trees, nor the 12th-century church with its castellated tower, nor even the village green surrounded by pretty thatched cottages which to Ella was delightful.

When they passed the stump of the old elm tree and she told him how she thought it might have been the same one as the one in the painting she’d found, he wasn’t interested in that either, and her comments fell on deaf ears.

As they neared Wembury House she spotted Joe’s van, and her eyes scanned the working area for him. When she saw him coming out of the open doorway, she lifted her hand in a wave.

Joe waved back, and they exchanged a smile. When Ella turned back to Martin, his face was contorted into a scowl.

“Isn’t that the chap we saw at the pub? What’s he doing here?”

“He’s working on the conversion,” she explained. “They’re turning the old house into apartments.”

Martin didn’t reply, and merely stood stiffly beside her.

“He let me have a look round, Martin. To get some ideas for my portfolio,” she continued, a feeling of anger sweeping over her. Why was he acting in this way?

“How very accommodating of him.”

“Don’t be like that. He was only trying to help me.”

“I’m sure he was.”

Ella turned to look at him. For a moment, the man beside her seemed like a stranger. How odd, she thought. Three months ago I thought I knew everything about him. But since the break-up, I’m not sure I know him at all.

Things had changed so much. The question was, had they changed too much? Was it possible to get back what they had had? She didn’t know.

She was still none the wiser when Sunday evening came and she watched his red sports car leave the village and disappear in the direction of the M3 and London.

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”.