Under The Elm Tree – Episode 42


A COUPLE of days later, Ella and Joe were sitting at the kitchen table in Hollyhocks Cottage, having a cup of tea.

“Mum and Dad have made a start on Bella,” she told him.

“I always fancied a narrowboat,” he said thoughtfully. “I think they’re brilliant. It must be great fun to refurbish one.”

“If you’ve got the skills, which luckily Dad has,” she agreed. “A lot of hard work, though! They’re desperate to finish it in time for the rental season, but personally I think they’re pushing their luck.”

His face lit up with interest.

“How far have they got?”

“Not sure. I’m going up at the weekend. I’ll let you know when I get back.” He looked so wistful, she added, “You can come with me and have a look, if you’d like? Mum and Dad won’t mind,” she continued quickly. She didn’t want him to get the wrong impression. “You’d have to put up with Dad going on about it, though. It’s all he can talk about these days.”

But Joe didn’t show any signs at all of taking the invitation the wrong way.

“Thanks, I’d really have liked to,” he said, “but I’ve got Cathie this weekend.”

Ella smiled at the mention of Joe’s six-year-old daughter.

“Why not bring her, too?”

“Really?”

“Really.”

His face broke into a smile.

“She’d love it. We could all go up in my van to save petrol. I’d have to come back on Sunday evening, though.”

“That would be perfect. The house clearance people are coming on Monday, so I’ve got to get back, too. Cathie can stay in my sister’s old room, but you might have to sleep in the narrowboat,” she warned him. “It’ll be a mess, and there’s no heating or anything.”

“That’s no problem. I’m a tough guy.” He grinned and Ella couldn’t help grinning back.

“You’ll have to watch Dad doesn’t rope you in.”

Joe’s eyes lit up, crinkling at the edges.

“Actually, I hope he does,” he said. “I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend.”

As it turned out, Greg and Joe hit it off straight away. They talked non-stop about renovation projects, and Joe told him all about the conversion he was working on at Wembury House.

Cathie played in the garden under Ella and Susan’s supervision, while Greg showed Joe what he was doing on the boat, and immediately the pattern for the weekend was set. The two men were soon hammering and sawing side by side.

It was ten o’clock on Saturday night when Joe suggested a walk along the river.

“Would you mind listening out for Cathie, Mrs Cooper?” he asked. “I really fancy a walk before I turn in. She’s asleep, so she shouldn’t be any bother.”

“Of course not, dear. You go right ahead.”

Joe turned to Ella.

“Would you like to join me?” he asked.

“Go on,” Susan urged as she hesitated. “It’ll do you good to get some fresh air.”

They walked down to the tow path, their footsteps crunching softly on the crisp grass. It was a clear night, and a frost had begun to set. Moonlight fell gently on the fields beside the river, touching them with silver.

“That’s what they used to call a bomber’s moon in the war,” Joe said, pointing up into the star-speckled darkness.

“I remember my grandad talking about that. He said it was easier for pilots to navigate and find their targets when there was a full moon.”

The path narrowed beside the reed beds, causing them to walk closer together, and Ella was suddenly deeply aware of him.

She realised she liked having Joe for a friend. She liked the way her life was changing, too. Her world felt more honest these days, less cluttered.

And it was then, in that moment of clarity, that she knew she’d moved on from her relationship with Martin. The damage he’d done by finishing with her and going out with somebody else had been more profound than she’d realised, so that when he’d come down to see her, it was almost as if they’d been two different people.

I’ll telephone him when I get back to Wembury and tell him, she decided. She would have preferred to tell him face to face, but there was no point prolonging things.

Their relationship was over.

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.