The Right Choice

Allison Hay © Child with bright apron baking cakes


Can Dora’s kind gesture cheer a sad child or is a little more detective work needed?

Lily was sitting in the corner of the big school dining-room. On her own. Again.

Dora looked at her, a little frown gathering her brows into a pleat.

“Don’t you want to go outside, love?” she asked, dumping a pile of dirty plates on the counter. “I know it’s a bit chilly but it’s a lovely day and all your friends are out there playing.”

Lily shook her head. Dora knew better than to push it. One of the teachers had told her that Lily was having a tough time right now. She put a hand on the girl’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

“OK, then. You stay in if you want. Means you’ll be first in line for your cookery lesson once I’ve cleared up the kitchen. What are you doing today?”

“Cakes,” Lily said. She didn’t sound as if the prospect was appealing.

“Ooh, that’ll be fun. I love making cakes, especially if you get to eat them afterwards!” Dora nudged her gently on the arm. Lily just shrugged.

As she left at the end of her shift, Dora saw the children gathered in the kitchen for their lesson. They looked like a moving rainbow in aprons of all colours and patterns but Lily’s was a sad-looking greyish-brown bearing the washed-out stains of cookery lessons past. It swamped her slight figure and looked as if it made everything twice as difficult.

No wonder she hadn’t seemed all that keen on baking.

Dora bought her usual magazine on her way home. The picture of a pretty apron was displayed on the cover. Pattern on Page 23, it said. Dora riffled the pages until she found it. It looked simple enough, she thought. All she needed was two bits of contrasting bright, zingy materials, some cotton thread and a couple of funky buttons.

Coming into the kitchen, she took the package from her bag and unrolled it.

“What on earth?” Her husband grinned at her.

Practising for the Great British Sewing Bee?

“Huh!” Dora said. Fred was well aware she wouldn’t know one end of a needle from the other until it pricked her. “It’s just an apron. There’s this little girl at the school, you see. Her dad’s in hospital after an accident and her mum couldn’t cope with Lily, her job and running backwards and forwards to visit him, so Lily’s gone to stay with her auntie for a while. Don’t think the auntie knows much about kids. Does her best, but she hasn’t provided the poor little mite with an apron for cookery classes.

“I saw her wearing one of the old school ones and it’s awful. So I thought I’d make her one. Can’t be that hard.”

“Like me to do it?” Fred asked.

It was what Dora had been hoping for. Give her a list of ingredients and a decent set of saucepans and she’d knock you up a meal that would have you wishing it wasn’t considered rude to lick your plate. Her cakes were either so light they needed tethers, or they were moist and rich and divinely spicy.

But sewing was Fred’s forte. He’d been doing it all his life.

All the same, making an apron to fit a little girl wasn’t exactly what he was used to. Dora showed him the pattern in the magazine and looked at him hopefully.

“Seems straightforward enough,” he said. “I’ll take it in with me tomorrow, do it in my lunch hour.”

Dora waited excitedly for the children to gather for their cookery lesson and handed Lily a squishy parcel.

“Open it!” she smiled as Lily gazed at it with big eyes.

“Ooh!” one of her classmates said as Lily revealed the gaily coloured apron. “That’s really cool!”

“It’s lovely, Mrs Harding,” another said. “Aren’t you lucky, Lily!”

Dora wasn’t sure. Lily was staring at the apron as though she couldn’t believe it, but she hadn’t said a word.

“Pinnies on,” the teacher called. “Grab a bowl and a spoon and come over here.”

“Lily?” Dora urged. “Let’s put this on.”

But Lily was examining the apron like a professional.

“Did you make this?”

“I found the pattern but my husband did the sewing.”

“But he’s a man!” Lily said, surprised. “My mum makes lovely clothes but Daddy doesn’t.”

“Fred works for a car firm, making the seats,” Dora explained. “He normally sews leather.”

Would he show me how?

Lily’s eyes were alight. “I could make Daddy a pouch to keep his chisels in.”

“Of course he will.” Dora slipped the apron over the girl’s head and tied the strings in a bow.

Lily might never aspire to Bake Off, but it looked like they’d chosen the very thing to help her through until her Dad was home again.

Read The Midnight Bakery, Shankley’s Pony and Clued Up short stories now, plus many more in our archives.

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Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.