Every year, the allotment society hold a Bonfire Night party: food, fireworks and fun for all the family. Holly always goes with her grandfather, only this year he’s stuck in a care home and she’s been looking after his allotment for months. Greg and his kids have only just taken over their plot, but the Bonfire Night party should be a great way to get to know some of the other gardeners. Including the cute girl who spends all her Saturdays working at the allotment just along from Greg’s.
There’s only one thing that’s guaranteed: there are going to be fireworks…
Bonfire Night is a 10,000 word contemporary romance short story.
Holly leaned on her garden fork and wiped the back of her hand over her sweaty forehead.
Make that the back of her very grubby hand. Oh, well, it would wash off and it wasn’t like there was anyone here she was interested in impressing. She tucked her woolly hat more securely around her ears and glanced around the allotment.
A bright, sunny Saturday in mid-October and the place was heaving. All the old lads who came down every day were smugly watching the weekend folks from the comfort of their folding chairs and drinking strong tea from thermos flasks. They’d long since tied up their raspberry canes and pruned back their blackcurrant bushes. You could see the neat patches of ground that had been dug over ready for spring planting, while their winter potatoes and brassicas were still yielding vast crops.
Holly’s grandad would have had his allotment as neat as anyone’s. Ever since he’d retired, it had been his pride and joy. That’s why she was out here now.
Every week, she spent her Saturday taking care of the plot and on Sundays she visited him in the care home with detailed photos of what she’d done. Grandad kept a close eye on the weather forecast and he’d always know exactly what needed doing next. Holly took a notebook with her and carefully wrote down his detailed instructions for the coming week.
Of course, she took him the produce to inspect, too, though the care home weren’t interested in cooking the veg for him. But he enjoyed the soft fruit and sometimes Holly made soup from the veg and smuggled it in with a crusty roll from the baker on the corner.
Today she was supposed to dig up the beans and the peas. She’d already removed the canes and stored them neatly in the potting shed. She was halfway through the first row of beans and wondering why on earth Grandad insisted she grew so many of the darn thngs. Her small freezer was full to bursting with them. She’d be amazed if she got through them all before next summer. She never questioned him, though. It was his allotment and she was just the unpaid labour.
The guy two plots along was here again, she noticed, with his kids. The littlest one didn’t do much except sit in the mud and smear it all over himself, but the older ones were helping, after a fashion.
He was new on the allotment. She’d first noticed him a month or so ago, taking over from India, the hipster woman who’d filled her plot with all kinds of exotic things that no one recognsed. She was after essential oils for her aromatherapy products, she’d told Holly. As well as purple carrots for unspecified reasons. Hardly anything had produced a harvest, though, and none of the other gardeners were surprised that she gave it up after less than a year.
Holly heard all the gossip around the allotment. Everyone asked after her grandad and then told her all the news they thought he might want to hear. She’d relayed the message the blackspot on Colin’s roses that he was sure had come from his neighbour’s plot, but since Shelly and Miranda refused to treat their plants with any chemical controls, there wasn’t much Colin could do about it. He’d won a rosette at every summer flower show for the last fiften years, but who knew whether he’d have a single bloom worth showing next summer.
She’d heard more than she’d ever wanted to know about Bill’s fears for club root on his cabbages and Mr Chen’s fight with the slugs for ownership of his Chinese greens. Holly had been more interested to find out that Kate and Dave in the corner plot were finally expecting their first child and that to celebrate they’d decided to plant a new apple tree.
She hadn’t yet got to know the father of the boy currently stealing the very last of the autumn raspberries from Neal Kennedy’s plot.
‘Hello!’ she called out.
The guy looked up at her and smiled briefly. ‘Hi.’
‘Is he yours?’ Holly nodded across at the boy. ‘Only he’s not really supposed
to eat other people’s crops.’
‘Oh, hell. Elijah! Elijah! Come here now. Sorry,’ he said to Holly. ‘I have told them, but it’s hard to keep an eye on all three of them at once.’
‘Yes, it must be. I’m Holly, by the way.’
‘Greg.’ He retrieved Elijah and told him off, extracting a promise not to do the same thing again. ‘Come on, then, let’s find something more useful to keep you busy. Want to do some digging?’
He lifted his hand to Holly in a friendly way, then turned away to find a small spade. She watched him patiently showing his son how to use his foot to push the spade down, then twist the soil up and out of the way. With the child-sized tool, he couldn’t get far enough down to give the ground the real turnover it needed, but the technique was good. She watched for a few minutes, then pulled up her own fork and started to attack the rest of the beans.
By lunchtime, she was nearly done. She’d brought a packet of sandwiches and a bottle of diet coke. Grandad kept a stool in his shed and since the autumn sun was warming up a bit, Holly dragged it outside and sat down to her meal.
‘That looks comfortable.’
Holly looked up to see Greg holding one muddy child on his hip and the other two standing around him. He was tall and had a sort of rugged look. Although maybe that was just his beard.
‘It works,’ she said.
‘I just wanted to say thanks for earlier. I don’t want this lot becoming a nuisance to anyone.’
‘No problem. Just so you know, that’s Neal Kennedy’s patch and he can be a bit particular. I wouldn’t want your kids to get in trouble with him.’
‘Noted. Do you know all the other allotment holders, then?’
She shrugged. ‘Most of them, a bit.’
‘You’ve been here a while?’
‘Oh, no. Only since April. It’s my grandad’s plot, actually. He knows everyone.’
‘It’s kind of you to help him out.’
‘He had a hip replacement. I said I’d look after it until he could manage it again.’
Greg frowned. ‘Six months to recover from a hip replacement. Is he okay?’
Holly shook her head. ‘A couple of months after the operation he had a stroke. He’s recovering, but it’s slow.’
‘Oh, I see. I’m sorry.’
‘The allotment is what keeps him going. He’s determined to be digging again in the spring.’
‘Will he make it?’
Holly hadn’t dared to think about it. ‘Probably. I don’t know. Did you know about the allotment bonfire party?’ She pointed to the A4 photocopied poster over on the noticeboard. ‘They’re looking for volunteers to help build it next weekend.’
‘We could do that. What do you think, guys?’
‘Oh!’ Holly interrupted before the kids could speak. ‘It’s not really a family thing. I don’t know if it’s safe for them. But I know Bill’s looking for a couple of extra pairs of hands, if you can leave them with their mum for a few hours.’
His face turned blank and he hoisted the little one higher on his hip, while reaching out to the other two. ‘I can’t do that, sorry.’
Oh, hell. She’d put her foot in it big time and she didn’t even know quite how.
Greg was halfway out of the allotment with the children skipping alongside him before Holly’s brain finally processed what she’d said.
This was why she shouldn’t be allowed near people. She always managed to get it wrong. She didn’t intend to upset people, she really didn’t. But if there was a way to misunderstand, she’d find it. And then she’d dive into it headfirst, smashing people’s feelings all over the place without realising until it was too late.
She screwed the top on her diet coke bottle and put her rubbish in her satchel. There were two and a half rows of peas left to dig up and at least they didn’t have any feelings to hurt.
10,000 word short story