Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 47

Summer 1999

HOLLY was sitting beneath Two Shires Oak, strumming her guitar and singing to herself. A few months on, maybe September, she might well have been invisible, blending with the copper and umber of autumn both through the colouring she’d inherited from her grandmother, Grace, and mother, Suzanne, and the earth tones she tended to choose for her clothes.

She smiled up at the canopy of leaves lit by the afternoon sun. For a moment it had sounded almost as though the tree was singing along with her! Of course, she knew that, really, it was just the sound of the soft, summer breeze.

Or was it? Her grandmother and grandad (who had painted it so beautifully), and even her mum had all confessed to similar moments under the old oak’s ancient boughs.

“Whatever, you’re my favourite audience,” she told it, still smiling.

Holly had many audiences to compare it to. She played well, had a lovely voice and was becoming a regular performer at local folk clubs. Usually, this was with two friends, but whenever she had a day off from the Manchester computer company where she worked she liked to come out into the Derbyshire countryside and make music just by herself.

Particularly, she liked days like today, when it was quiet. The schools hadn’t yet finished for the long holiday. Still a couple of weeks to go, she knew from her mum, who was a teacher and counting the days.

“Not because she doesn’t like her job,” she told the tree, “but because my dad’s coming over!”

Though her parents had separated, Holly believed there remained something strong between them, and that her father’s regular visits were not just for her.

“Think about it – near enough twenty years separated yet never a word about divorce. With Dad still working with the overseas aid people, there’s not been much chance, yet . . .”

She broke off as her mobile phone rang. Work. They were handling a big project and, having risen to quite a senior position, she had told them to phone her if they needed extra help. Now it seemed they did.

“I’ll be there soon as I can,” she said into the phone, then hurried off to her little Fiat which was parked nearby.

Barely had she departed when Two Shires Oak had another visitor, a light-haired young man this time. If the tree did indeed possess a special kind of life, and it could remember the many who’d come its way, it might have seen a resemblance between him and the girl, Francesca, who’d met there with her two friends, more than a half-century earlier . . .

He, too, was speaking into a phone.

“Sarah, it’s Ollie. I’ll be late back to the office. I had the meeting in Manchester, but I’m not going ahead with that proposition. However, while up there I heard about some land for sale that might be what I want. It’s in, well, I’m not sure if it’s Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire. This is not a part of the world I know at all, so I’ve stopped off now on the way back to London to have a look. So, has anything important happened in my absence?” He nodded a few times as his secretary updated him.

Ollie was an architect, like his grandfather. He’d trained in the firm that Grandad Oliver still headed as energetically as ever, though now in his late sixties. Ollie greatly admired his grandad, though from the start he’d always been what his mother, Marianne, described as “more entrepreneurial”. His interest was in property development rather than just design, so, when a sum of money came his way via his grandmother, Francesca, he bought an old jam factory which he converted into luxury flats and sold at sufficient profit to start his own business.

Ollie knew from his family history that his great-grandfather had got into the house-building boom after the war. Maybe, he reflected, it was this great-grandfather he took after more than his grandfather, despite having Oliver’s name. Certainly it was houses – and a lot of them – he intended to build on this land if he bought it.

“It looks good, though,” he said now into the little voice-recording device he carried about with him as an alternative to a notebook. “Rural location, but not far from quite large towns . . .”

He broke off abruptly as he stumbled and went over on his ankle. He glowered up at the big old tree. An oak? Giving it another dark look, he hobbled back to his car.

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”.