by Celia Jenkins
mug of milky tea
“Oh Eleanor! Why must you always be so butter-fingered?” Ma threw her hands up in the air, making the strings of her floral apron flap around wildly. “Those were the last of my eggs, you know.”
Eleanor stared down at the sticky mess on the floor, yolk splattered up her clean white socks. She'd been so eager to help, what with Ma being so busy. The basket had just slipped out of her hand.
“Five eggs, that was.” Ma tutted. “Now I'll have to go borrow off Mrs. Lane, else there won't be enough for the cake.”
“Sorry, Ma. I'll run get them now, if you like?”
“There's been quite enough running around from you today!” Ma scoffed, taking off her apron and reaching for her bonnet. “No, I'll go up to Mrs. Lane myself. You clean up that mess there and see if you can go help your Pa instead. I've got enough to do around here as it is with the dance this very evening, and now a delay on the Victoria Sponge. Goodness me!”
She could still hear her Ma chattering on as she went down the path. Eleanor sighed and began picking up the broken eggshells. If only I could be less clumsy.
Pa was out back with Betsy, their best milker. Poor Betsy was getting on a bit, but since the war had ended there hadn't been extra finances to afford a new herd, so they had to make do. Eleanor could hear her father whistling away on the other side of the barn. It was good to hear him making merry again. She tiptoed over and enjoyed the melodious tune.
“Can I lend you a hand, Pa?” Eleanor popped her head over the stacks of hay, causing them to wobble precariously. They jolted so sudden that Betsy gave a start. Back she stomped and with one nudge of her hoof, the bucket was upturned.
“Eleanor!” Pa clutched his hand to his chest. She'd given him a start too. “Look what you've gone and done.”
Little rivulets of milk cut their way through the straw and disappeared into the ground.
“Ten minutes work there, draining away.” Pa sighed. “Honestly, Eleanor. You're sixteen now, far too old to be playing games and creeping around like that.”
She hung her head. “Sorry, Pa. I didn't mean to.”
He leant down and righted the bucket, dusting off the sides. He looked up at her and sighed a smile.
“I know that, pet. But you must try and be a bit more... graceful. It's not proper for a lady to be so ham-fisted.” He gave a chortle and chucked her under the chin. “Don't be downhearted, now. Why don't you go see if our Walter needs a hand, eh? You can't cause much trouble for him, I'd say!”
Eleanor blushed and headed towards the shed. The farm hand – a muscular blonde boy a few years older than herself – had been with them for several months now. Her heart skipped a beat whenever she saw him. I just hope I don't embarrass myself.
Walter was hammering away when Eleanor approached, and she was careful not to creep up on him. She gave a little cough as she stood in the doorway before giving him a smile.
“Miss Eleanor!” He gave her a cheerful wave, knocking a box of nails off the shelf above. They rained down onto the worktop in a shower of sparkling silver.
“Gosh darn it!” Walter smiled. “I'm all thumbs today.”
“I know the feeling.” Eleanor gave him a friendly smile. “Here, let me help you tidy that now.”
“Alright, but you watch your fingers now Miss Eleanor. Those nails can be mighty sharp.” He said as he held out the box.
“You can call me Nora,” she said quietly as she dropped a handful of nails into the box.
“Well now. I'm not sure what your Pa would think of that.” Another dazzling smile, and Eleanor felt a flutter in her stomach.
“I'm sixteen now,” she said defiantly. “What my friends call me by is quiet my own business, don't you agree?”
“Indeed.” Walter went quiet as he swept the last few nails into the box with a clatter.
“So, what were you working on before I came and interrupted you?” Eleanor asked, looking and the shards of wood scattered on the workbench.
“Oh, I was making a signpost for that barn dance up at Mrs. Lane's place tonight.” He pointed to the hand painted sign with a wonky arrow, shaking his head. “If only I weren't so inept! I've made a right pigs ear of that.”
“Not at all,” Eleanor smiled. “I think it's right nice.”
Walter went quiet and looked at his shoes.
“You're not fixing on going, are you? To the barn dance, I mean.”
Eleanor felt a blush rising in her cheeks.
“Well, I suppose I will. But I'm such a clodhopper, I dare-say there's no-one who'd want to dance with me. I'm proper clumsy, you know.”
“Ah Miss Eleanor. I mean, Nora.” Walter corrected himself. “You can't be any more ungainly than I am. So say you'll go with me, won't you? I'll check with your Pa, if you'd like.”
He took her hand and squeezed it softly, flashing his white teeth as he smiled at her expectantly. She took her time, enjoying the warm touch pulsing through her fingers.
“I'll go, of course I'll go, and I'll wear thick socks in case you tread on my feet.” She gave him a wink and leant forward to brush some wood shavings off his shirt. Now it was Walter's turn to turn red.
Eleanor went back on up to the house like she was walking on clouds. She'd beg her Ma for another chance to help with the cake, on the promise of being more careful this time. But, on the other hand, maybe sometimes, being a bit clumsy isn't such a bad thing after all!
About the author
Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer, specialising in writing for children, light-hearted romance and travel writing. She also moonlights as a café girl, senior caregiver, and language teacher. In her free time (ha!) she likes reading, knitting, cooking and hitting the gym. Her hot beverage of choice is a latte, though she also enjoys chai latte, pu’er, almond cake rooibos (yes, that exists), After Eight honeybush (yep, that too), and a good old fashioned ‘cuppa’.