Under The Elm Tree – Episode 54

A DRIVER!” Albert struck a match and held it to the bowl of his pipe, sucking on the stem until little clouds of blue smoke surrounded him. “Would’ve thought that was men’s work.”

“There aren’t enough men left, Dad. They’re all off fighting.”

Albert puffed harder.

“Women did men’s jobs in the last war, Bert,” Muriel reminded him gently. “Cousin Edie drove a tram, remember. That was a man’s job.”

He stared at the fire for a moment before getting out of his chair and holding a sheet of newspaper across the front of the fireplace.

“That should make it draw a bit better,” he said. He was always good at ignoring conversations he didn’t like.

“Wouldn’t you have preferred to work the searchlights or the ack-ack guns?” Flo asked. “I know I would.”

Kitty shrugged.

“You don’t really get to choose. We all had to do trade tests to see which area we were best suited to. I’m going to learn how to do mechanical repairs and everything.”

Albert glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece.

“It’ll soon be time for the news, Mother,” he said. “I hope you put the wireless back to the Home Service. All that ‘Music While You Work’ – I don’t know how you women listen to it.”

“It’s nice and cheery, that’s how. It helps us get our chores done, Bert,” she answered smartly. “And don’t you worry, it’s put back.”

Everyone was silent, waiting for nine o’clock to come, and for a moment the tick of the clock and the spit of the dusty coal were the only sounds in the little room.

“Goodness, I’ve just remembered,” Muriel said, jumping up. “Something came for you while you were away, Kitty. I’ve been so caught up in seeing you that I clean forgot.”

She went out of the room and returned a moment later with a parcel.

“It says Handle with care,” she said. “Are you expecting anything?”

“Nothing I can think of.” Kitty frowned, reaching out and taking the square, brown paper-wrapped package. She sat for a moment peering at it.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” Albert asked, looking over the top of his newspaper at her. “You won’t know what it is by staring at the outside.”

Obediently, Kitty began to untie the knots that held the string in place, but for some reason her stomach began
to churn.

“I’ll have the string, Kitty, love, if you don’t mind,” Muriel said, holding out her hand. “It’ll come in handy for my pudding cloths.”

She handed it over and pulled at the paper.

“I’ll have that an’ all, if you don’t want it. Waste not, want not.”

“Whatever it is, someone’s taken a lot of trouble with it,” Florence ventured, as Kitty prised apart two pieces of wood that were sandwiching something in between.

A sheet of paper dropped out and fluttered to the floor. Kitty stooped to pick it up.

“It’s from Tam’s parents,” she said, glancing at it before handing it to Muriel to hold.

She took the wood away, and the past rushed up to punch her. She gasped.

“What is it?” Flo cried. “What’s the matter?”

Kitty stared down at her lap. A radiantly happy image of herself was gazing back at her. How was it possible, she asked herself, that so much could have changed in so short a time?

“It’s a painting Tam did of me,” she whispered. As she turned it to show her parents, at last the tears began to fall. And once they’d started, it seemed as if they’d never stop. She cried as she hadn’t been able to since the day of the telegram.

When finally she dried her eyes, Muriel handed her the letter.

“Read it out loud, Kitty, love,” she said gently.

Her daughter nodded, and took a deep breath.

Dear Kitty,” she began. “We found this amongst Tam’s possessions, and we both think you should have it. He loved you so much, my dear. We can tell that just by looking at this painting.”

She paused as the tears began again.

Keep it close to your heart,” she resumed when she’d dried her eyes once more, “and let it always be a reminder of what he thought of you. But don’t let it hold you in the past.

“In time you must allow yourself to move forward, as he would have wanted. We will always be grateful that our darling Tam was our son. Please feel free to visit us at any time. Our door will always be open to you.

“With kindest regards, Graham and Doris Dodd.”

Kitty looked at the painting again. Could that summer’s day really have been only six months ago? It felt as if it were a lifetime away. But then again, as if it were only yesterday.

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”.