Under The Elm Tree – Episode 49


THE colonel caught me in the house when I shouldn’t have been there. There, now you know.” Susan paused as the memories came flooding back. “I was sixteen, and quite old enough to know better. It was a stupid prank that went wrong, but I’ve never forgiven myself for it.”

There was a crackle on the line.

“Tell me about it,” Ella prompted.

“Well, it was the summer holidays. Some college friends and I were sitting on the garden wall at the back of Wembury House.”

“Why were you doing that?”

Susan managed a smile.

“It was just somewhere we used to meet to hang out,” she said. “We didn’t have youth clubs or internet cafés in those days, you know.” She closed her eyes as the scene began to replay itself in her mind. “We were bored, and one of the boys, Frank, suggested a game of Truth or Dare. I should have known better,” she whispered.

“I can’t hear you, Mum.”

“I said I should have known better,” she repeated. “Frank was such a livewire and was always up to some lark or other. He said I was being a spoilsport, and then Jen, my best friend, started on at me, too, so I agreed.

“When it was my turn, Frank dared me to go into the house. He knew I was familiar with it because I used to walk the Stonethwaites’ dog, but I’d only ever been downstairs. Frank dared me to climb up on the porch and go in through an upstairs window they’d left open. He said he’d heard they had gold taps in their bathroom, and he wanted to know if it was true. It was all very silly.”

She was quiet for a moment as she remembered.

“Go on, Mum.” Ella’s voice sounded in her ear.

“I knew the Stonethwaites were out,” she resumed, “because I’d heard them talking about it earlier. A business dinner or something.” She pressed the phone hard against her ear as she concentrated. “I knew it would be breaking the law, but I didn’t want the others to think I was a coward. When Frank said he’d come with me, I said I’d do it.”

“And?”

“It turned out that Colonel Stonethwaite hadn’t gone out that evening after all. His gout was playing up, and he stayed in to rest his foot. He caught us on the landing.”

She heard Ella burst out laughing.

“It’s not funny!”

“Sorry, Mum. It’s just that there is a funny side to it.”

“Well, I’m glad you think so,” Susan said, feeling ruffled. But in a strange way, Ella’s reaction had lightened the mood, and talking about it became easier.

“We didn’t steal anything,” she assured her, “and we never intended to either. But when, a day or so later, a bracelet went missing, Frank and I were accused of taking it.”

“Oh, I knew it!”

“Knew what, darling?”

“That I’d heard something about a bracelet before.”

“You might well have done. Everyone knew about it.” Susan couldn’t help wincing. “It was all over the local paper.”

“You poor thing.”

“Don’t feel sorry for me, Ella. Frank and I went in their house when we shouldn’t, which was very wrong. We were charged with breaking and entering, and that was fair enough. But the theft thing was another matter. Eventually that charge was dismissed due to insufficient direct evidence. Which was right and proper,” she added firmly, “because we hadn’t taken anything.

“What really upset me,” she continued, “was what it did to my relationship with your grandad. He supported me and came with me to court and everything, but if you’d have seen the look of disappointment on his face, Ella, you’d understand why I’ve never forgiven myself.

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”.