Monday, 7 January 2008

My first story for you!

She stood looking out at the garden, watching a blackbird gathering moss for its nest. The sun was shining, calling her out, and lifting the shadows that had hung over her of late.
This had always been Emily's favourite time of year, the time when everything was renewed. Spring warmth, flowers, blossom and hope. At least, that was the way it had always been when her Tom was alive.
Her throat caught with emotion because he wouldn't see spring this year, wouldn't be able to work in his beloved garden. It hurt her to see the garden looking in need of some tender loving care, the care that Tom had lavished on every shrub, every rose, every blade of grass.
Oh, she had done her best. Of course she had. She had managed to cut the grass and tidy the rose beds up a little, but it wasn't the same.
'I miss you,' Emily murmured, turning to look at the photo she kept on the mantle. She smiled as she always did when she saw a picture of a young, handsome Tom. He had been so strong and full of life when that was taken, just after they were married. 'I shall always love you, my darling.'
Where had all the years gone? That was what Emily asked herself a dozen times a day as she cleaned and polished, keeping the inside of the cottage as spick and span as she always had. They had been such good years, the two of them always busy. Tom with his market garden business, or their own little piece of paradise out the back, and Emily with the children and then helping out at the local play school once the girls had grown up.
Emily sighed as she thought of her two daughters. Roberta away in America, an expert in computers no less – Where had she got her cleverness from? Neither Emily or Tom had that kind of a brain, though Tom was an intelligent man in his own quiet way – And Sheila in London with her doctor husband and their son Robbie.
Robbie was a clever lad, too, so Sheila told her. They were hoping he would follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor. He was due to leave school and go to college any day now.
Her family was doing very well for themselves. Just as her husband had, though none of them had guessed it.
'Surprised me, didn't you, Tom?' Emily chuckled as she remembered the nest egg her husband had provided for her, which she had discovered only after his death. 'Never breathed a word, did you?'
It amused Emily when she thought back down the years, to the day she'd told her parents that Tom Harding was coming that evening to ask for permission to wed her.
'You could do better than him,' Emily's mother had commented. 'He'll never amount to much, never be more than he is now – a farm labourer.'
'Tom has plans for his own business,' Emily had replied. 'Anyway, I don't care if he works on the land all his life, mum. I love him, and I always shall.'
Emily's father had given a snort of disgust. He worked as a clerk in a solicitor's office and considered his daughter was letting him down by courting a lad from the labouring class, but he hadn't refused when Tom asked.
Emily could remember the day she married Tom, when he'd brought her back to this cottage, carrying her over the threshold. It had been rented then from the farmer who owned it, but Tom had bought it once his business started to flourish.
'I'm going to give you a good life, Emmie,' he'd promised her that day. 'I'll work for you and I'll love you all my life.'
And he had. Sometimes she'd thought he worked too hard.
Tom had started in a small way, using the cottage garden to grow plants and selling them on to larger horticultural centres, then he'd bought a small piece of old orchard land just down the road, tearing up the old trees and planting pretty shrubs and blossom trees in containers. He had been one of the first to use that idea.
'He'll never get anywhere with that,' Emily's mother had said at the time. 'If he had a few pounds to invest, he ought to have asked your father where to put his money.'
'Tom likes to grow things,' Emily replied. 'And I've never gone short, mum. There's always money on the table every Friday, same as if Tom was working for someone else.'
She wished her mother was alive so that she could tell her what Tom had done, but both Emily's parents had died years ago.
Gradually, Tom had built up the business, acquiring more and more little pieces of land that were scattered all round the village … and that was what was really troubling Emily now.
She looked out at the garden. She could get someone in, she supposed, a man to do the heavy work she couldn't manage. But what was she going to do about all the other land? Sheila thought she ought to sell. Especially the orchard, where Tom had started his business, because that was the bit of land the developers wanted.
They were offering a ridiculous figure, at least in Emily’s estimation. More than a million pounds… but what did she need that kind of money for? She’d never gone short of the things she wanted, but she had always enjoyed making clothes, knitting, cooking… there just wasn’t anything she needed. A new TV perhaps, but she could have that anyway.
Of course she could give the money to her children … perhaps it was selfish of her to want to hold on to the land…
Emily turned to look in the mirror, and then her heart caught. She could see Tom and he was smiling at her … but not the Tom who had so recently died. This was the young Tom who had courted her all those years ago.
'Tom'… she whispered. 'Oh, Tom…'
'Don't take on, lass…'
She heard the words as clearly as if he were standing beside her, and the tears slipped gently down her cheeks. The picture in the mirror was changing and she saw that she was with Tom now … they were standing in the orchard … kissing.
'Oh, Tom,' Emily said. 'Is it time? Have you come for me? Take me with you … take me with you…'
'Not yet, lass. You've work to do yet. I'll come back for you when it's time…'
The picture in the mirror had gone. Emily touched her face, seeing the lines and the sorrow. Had she imagined it – or had Tom come to her?
No matter, it had finally made up her mind. The children could wait until she was dead. They were all doing well … and Tom had been one of the main employers in the neighbourhood. If she sold the orchard it would put a lot of young men out of work.
She shook her head. This wouldn't get the jobs done. She sat down on a kitchen chair, about to slip her gardening shoes on when she heard the front door bell. Now who could that be? She wasn't expecting anyone.
When she opened the door her heart stood still. It was Tom! The young man smiling at her was the very image of the photo on her mantle. Yet she knew it wasn't her husband.
'Hello, Gran. I thought I would surprise you.'
'Robbie…' Emily shook her head at the change in him. It was nearly a year since she'd seen Robbie and he'd grown up. There had always been a resemblance between him and his grandfather, but now it was more marked. 'I thought you were still at college?'
'It's a holiday,' Robbie said and leaned forward to kiss her cheek. 'I thought I would visit – if you don't mind?'
'Mind?' she said, drawing him into the house. 'It's lovely, Robbie. You must know I'm always pleased to see you. Your Mum and Dad don't visit enough. And you didn't come the last time they were down.'
'Dad said I needed extra tuition,' Robbie said. 'He was afraid I would fail my exams and he was right.'
'You don't know that.' She sensed he had something on his mind. 'Go and sit down while I put the kettle on. I've made a chocolate cake – could you eat a bit?'
'Smashing,' Robbie said with a grin that made Emily's heart do odd things. He really was like his grandfather. 'Can we talk as you make the tea, Gran? I want to ask a favour…'
'Of course – if I can help.'
Robbie went to the kitchen window to look out as she made the tea.
'It doesn't look the same these days,' she said. 'I suppose I shall have to get someone in, but I hate the thought of a stranger working in Tom's garden.'
'Would you mind me working there?' Robbie looked at her hopefully. She was surprised by the expression in his eyes – almost pleading. 'I know it's a terrible cheek, Gran. Mum didn't want me to ask – and Dad isn't pleased, but it's what I want to do. I want it so bad it hurts.'
Emily saw it in a blinding flash. He wasn't just like Tom to look at, he was the same kind of man: quiet, intelligent, needing to work with his hands.
'Is it just my garden you want to tidy up?' she asked. 'Or were you thinking you would like to take over the business?'
'Would you let me manage it for you?' Robbie asked and his face lit up. Just the way Tom's had all those years ago when he'd asked her to marry him and she'd said yes. 'I don't need much of a wage. I could live here for a while – or perhaps you wouldn't want me?'
'Not want you?' Emily shook her head. 'Of course I'd want you, love.'
'Mum says you ought to sell the orchard land,' Robbie said. 'I know it's a lot of money, but…'
'What's money for it if it doesn't get you what you really want?' Emily asked. 'If you can make a go of the business that's all I ask. Keep it running the way Tom did, just nicely ticking over.'
'I'm sure I can,' Robbie said, eager now. 'I've been studying a lot of stuff on horticulture … that's why I gave up the idea of a medical career. I'm never going to be a doctor. It's not what I want.'
'No, you wouldn't,' Emily said, her mind already made up. 'Well, the orchard is yours, Robbie, and the business. I'll want my housekeeping on the table every Friday, same as your grandfather gave me, and you'll take your wage – and when I go the land will be yours.'
'You can't do that, Gran,' Robbie said, alarmed. 'I wasn't asking for that. What about Mum and Aunt Roberta?'
'Oh, there will be enough for them,' Emily said. She smiled as she went over to the dresser and took out a statement. 'I don't really understand this stuff – but it's shares. Tom invested in them over the years and they're worth quite a bit. More than the orchard anyway. I shall never need them. The solicitor says it's probably best if I put them over to the girls while I'm alive. Save a bit on tax that way … and I've got all I need. As long as I get my money on a Friday.'
Robbie was astonished as he glanced through the statement. 'Did you know Grandfather had all this?'
'He never said a word. I always had what I wanted, and there was a piece of jewellery for my birthday and Christmas – but Tom knew I didn't need more.'
'Then I can really come here? Take over the business?'
Emily felt herself caught up in a big bear hug. It almost squeezed the breath out of her. She hadn't been hugged like that for years, not since Tom's heart began to trouble him.
'It's what Tom would have wanted,' she said, and looked out of the window to hide the tears of joy.
The blackbird was after the moss again. Spring was always her favourite time of year, so of course Tom had chosen this time to send Robbie to her, and she knew that he was watching over her as always.
It was a time of renewal and hope. In Robbie she would see it all happening over again; the struggle to build up, the eagerness and the love…
Oh yes, the years had been good to her. And there were more to come.

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