Under The Elm Tree – Episode 51


TRUST you to know, Kitty,” Mrs Bone said. “You always was a clever one.”

She felt her eyes smarting. She had to change the subject or she would cry, and that would never do.

“Have you got your shelter sorted out yet, Mrs Bone?” she asked.

“I have, my dear, thank you. At long last.” The feather in her customer’s hat fluttered as she turned round to include the rest of the queue in her news. “My brother put it in for me when he came home on leave.”

“About time, too,” Queenie commented, slicing a chunk of margarine off a large block.

“Well, I expect you’re right,” Mrs Bone replied with a sigh. “Nasty, damp things that they are. I suppose it’ll save me having to run next door every time that bloomin’ siren starts, though.”

Kitty bent over her list, pencil in hand as she added it up.

“That’s eight and sixpence-halfpenny, please.” She took the ration book that was proffered, and snipped out the relevant coupons while Mrs Bone counted out her money. Then she packed the items into her basket before bidding her good morning.

“Who’s next, please?” she called.

A middle-aged woman with greying hair stepped forward.

“I’ll have me week’s ration o’ bacon, Kitty, dear, if you please,” she said.

“Certainly, Mrs Neville.”

As she began to slide open the door of the cool cabinet, there suddenly came the distant steady drone of aeroplane engines.

The noise increased, and everyone in the shop grew silent, listening.

“Sounds like a lot of ’em,” Mrs Neville said loudly. “Are they ours, d’you think? I can never tell, though our Jack always can. He says you have to listen for the ups and downs. The siren hasn’t gone off, though, so perhaps they are ours.”

Suddenly, a little boy came rushing into the shop.

“Come quick, Mum,” he cried. “There’s hundreds of ’em.”

“Don’t you tell tales. There can’t be hundreds,” Mrs Neville scolded, but she nevertheless followed him out on to the little pavement outside the shop.

Kitty went, too, with Queenie close behind, and she let out a gasp as she looked up into the sky. The noise was deafening now, the deep roar of bombers and fighter planes reverberating throughout her entire body.

Mrs Neville’s little boy had been right. As they watched, the sky became
black with planes.

“They’re not ours!” a voice called out. “Look, there’s a Messerschmitt and a Heinkel and a Dornier!”

“Good heavens above, they must be heading for London,” Queenie said, shouting to make herself heard. “Our boys’ll have their hands full trying to stop that lot.”

Kitty watched them pass overhead. In her mind she could see Tam sitting in a chair on his airfield, waiting for the bell that would tell him and the other pilots that enemy planes had been picked up on radar.

Perhaps it was being rung at this very moment to scramble the pilots into the air. She twisted her engagement ring around her finger as she uttered a prayer.

“Please God,” she whispered. “Please keep him safe.”

****

The following morning, Kitty was dusting the shelves when the shop doorbell sounded.

“I won’t be a minute,” she called over her shoulder.

“Kitty, love.”

She turned round.

“Hello, Mother, what are you doing here? I thought you were helping on the mobile canteen in Portsmouth this morn . . .”

Her words trailed off as she looked at her mother’s ashen face.

“What is it?” she asked, moving round the counter towards her.

Muriel held out an envelope.

“The telegram boy’s just come. Oh, Kitty, love, I’m so sorry,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “It’s for you.”

Her heart thumped as she took it, her hands shaking so hard it looked as if the telegram were fluttering in a breeze. She fumbled it open, her mind spinning. Perhaps it was from Tam telling her he had leave and was coming to visit? Yes, that was it. What was her mother thinking of, frightening her like this?

But it wasn’t from Tam. It was from his parents. As she read the words of the message, she felt the shop begin to spin around her. The large, black-typed capitals were like bullets entering her heart.

REGRET TO TELL YOU TAM KILLED IN ACTION STOP LETTER TO FOLLOW.

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”.