Under The Elm Tree – Episode 06

YOU’VE found him! You’ve found Dusty!” The little girl squealed in delight. “I was playing with him in the garden,” she explained seriously, her voice lisping slightly. “Then I went indoors to get his furry mouse because it’s his favourite toy, and when I came back out, he’d gone.”

Ella crossed the damp, overgrown lawn to the privet hedge that divided the two gardens of the semi-detached cottages, and looked down at the little girl on the opposite side.

“I gather he’s yours, then, is he?” Ella untangled the sleepy kitten’s claws from her lapel, and held him out. Soon he was purring just as contentedly beneath the little girl’s chin.

The little girl nodded as she continued to stare at Ella.

“Daddy said that Mrs Bloomfield died.” A breeze blew her hair across her face. She shifted the kitten and, with her free hand, tucked the wayward strands behind her ears.

Ella guessed her little neighbour to be about six.

“Yes, she did,” she said gently.

“How old was she? She had lots of wrinkles.”

“She was ninety.”

“Ninety! That’s very old. What was her name? I always had to call her Mrs Bloomfield, but I know everybody has another name. Mine’s Cathie.”

Ella couldn’t help smiling at the child’s curious questions.

“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Cathie,” she replied. “My grandmother’s name was Kitty, and I’m Ella.” Suddenly, it was pleasant to be standing in the winter sunshine, talking over the hedge. It must have been like this years ago, she thought, in Gran’s time, when people didn’t fill up their lives quite so much.

“I live here with my daddy,” Cathie continued, resuming her stroking of Dusty the kitten.

“Do you? That’s nice.” Ella recalled what her grandmother had told her when her neighbours had moved in a year ago. The couple had married when they were very young, she’d said, and when they’d realised they wanted different things, Joe had taken it very badly. Now they were divorced. Ella had seen Cathie from a distance a couple of time when she’d visited, but this was the first time she’d met her.

“My mummy lives in Farchester,” Cathie continued. “I stay with her at weekends.”

Ella smiled, and opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a deep voice calling from the cottage next door.

“Cathie? Time for lunch!”

The words were immediately followed by the appearance of a tall, broad-shouldered man on the doorstep. Ella guessed him to be in his late twenties. His hair was darker than his daughter’s, with an auburn sheen that reminded her of newly split chestnuts, and he was dressed casually in jeans and a sweatshirt. In different circumstances, Ella would have had to admit to herself that he was gorgeous. But she was in a painful place at the moment, and had no time for such things.

“Hello,” she called out in what she hoped was a neighbourly fashion.

The man nodded curtly, motioning for Cathie to follow him in.

Ella flushed with annoyance. He could at least have introduced himself. After all, she’d made an effort, hadn’t she? She turned away, and went back into the house. If that was the way he wanted it, then fine. She wasn’t going to waste her precious time worrying about it.

Collecting a roll of black plastic sacks, she ran up the creaky wooden stairs. She’d make a start on the clearing out.

“No time like the present,” she told herself, using one of her gran’s old sayings. Taking a deep breath, she pushed open the door of her grandmother’s bedroom. The sooner this bit was done, the better.

Inside, the half-drawn curtains gave the room a dim, slightly gloomy air. She strode to the window and pulled them back firmly. Then she tore off three sacks from the roll, and laid them out on the stripped bed.

“One for the charity shop,” she murmured, “one for things to be thrown away, and one for things Mum will need to see.”

It didn’t take long to clear the dressing-table. Then she did the tall-boy and the bedside table before turning her attention to the wardrobe and the drawers. Soon the bags were bulging. What next?

Her gaze alighted upon the leather-bound trunk that stood at the bottom of the bed. It had been there for as long as she could remember. She traced her hand across its leather surface, remembering how she had liked the smooth feel of it as a child, before letting her fingers slip down to the clasp. It was fastened, of course. Her gran had always kept it locked, even though as far as Ella knew, she’d only ever used it for sheets and blankets. She kneeled down on the rug beside it, and gave it a tug. It was no good, it wouldn’t budge.

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”.