Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 41

JULIA followed him not long after. She had thought Marco, motionless beside her, was asleep, but suddenly he sat up.

“He said this other lad from the village was called Marcello,” he said into the darkness. “The stories she used to make up for me when I was small, set in the village? There was always a hero in them, a dashing prince or someone . . . and his name was always Marcello.” He was silent for a few moments. “But I guess it’s a common name there.”

Again, Julia longed to speak. She must – she believed their very marriage depended on it. The problem was how to go about it.

“How about going out to Two Shires Oak?” Julia suggested the following sunny morning. Once before, the tree had helped her find the words to raise serious matters with Marco. She hoped it might now do the same.

Marco immediately agreed to her suggestion, clearly wanting things back to normal. He carried Jessica when they left the car and set off towards the old oak. Dawdling behind, Julia noticed that the tree seemed to be coping with the lack of rain.

Maybe some branches looked frailer than others, but, then, some always did. The tree would survive.

“I think,” she said later as they sat under its whispering boughs, “families are like trees. Some branches are strong, some not so much. Some will cope better than others in the storms, but they’re still all the tree, all part of the same life. You must let go of the bitterness you feel about your father, Marco. It does you no good, nor our marriage. Think of Jessica, too. You must try to forgive . . .”

She broke off, seeing his face was like thunder. She felt with absolute certainty that the resentment he was still holding would, in time, damage them all. She had had to speak her mind. But it ruined the afternoon. There was a tension you could touch.

When they set off back home she was glad until she saw, ahead of them, walking towards the road that led to the local station, Marco’s father. She glanced at Marco. He’d seen him, too, but he just drove past.

Then he braked, reversed and wound down the window.

“Do you need to get the next train?” he asked the older man.


“In that case, why don’t you come back and eat with us?”

He looked at Julia for confirmation and she nodded vigorously.

“Yes, please do!”

She had planned to make spag bol, a favourite from her hard-up days as a student nurse. She reckoned she had become pretty good at it. But not good enough to serve to a real Italian!

As she rummaged in their new freezer, from the next room she caught bits of Marco and Luigi’s conversation. Luigi was making it clear he didn’t believe Marco’s mum had intended any deception when she’d married him.

“She was not aware her heart was with another. But she was a truthful woman and could not live a lie. So when she realised, she had to tell me.”

He also said that, when she told Marco he was dead, that was likely to be what she believed.

“Maria, whom I met in Rome? When she saw me she nearly fainted! Some misunderstanding, no doubt, but it seems a lot of people were under the impression I was no longer on this earth!” He laughed wryly.

Then he was serious again as he said he regretted that their youth had prevented them from handling better all the powerful emotion of the time. He also said he was saddened to hear that Marco’s mum had been so unhappy.

“But if she pined away, it was for Marcello, not for me.”

As Julia finished preparing the meal, Marco came into the kitchen. And he was her Marco again – the Marco of their marriage.

“Thanks,” he said, kissing her.

“You haven’t tasted it yet.”

“I mean, thanks for what you said. You were right.”

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”.