‘Nanny!’ Tabitha’s cries brought her to her senses, as she tried to keep her emotions together.
‘Sorry love, Nanny was getting tired,’ Martha attempted a brief smile.
‘Nanny, please may I go on the ladybird?’
‘Of course.’ Martha gently picked Tabitha up and planted her on the ground. She tried to keep up with her little angel, who was now running at speed to the red and yellow climbing frame. A firm hold of her tiny hand, she was led along the top. Her eyes wandered over to Laura, who watched them from the park bench.
Martha felt a little guilty that she had to keep these meetings a secret, but couldn’t stop seeing them altogether. Thomas was missing out on so much. Every little smile, every little moment.
Even so, she was happy to be out of the house. It was the first time in a long time she had been out on her own and had enjoyed herself. Martha wished she could go out more often. However, with the neighbourhood watch meetings it was more important to tend to matters at home.
When Laura was young, she had wanted to get a job to help with the finances, but it made sense that Thomas’s earnings were enough to keep them both living comfortably. Back then, she felt deeply sorry for Theresa, having to go out and work, especially when she had to leave her daughter with a child minder. Truly glad of the time she had spent with Laura and the special bond they shared; she never regretted a thing.
Once Laura started school, it was a different matter. The days seemed endless and without meaning. She tried to persuade Thomas the extra money would help with holidays. Give her something more to do than gardening or housework. They didn’t need the extra money. Family was always more important, Thomas said. He had a reputation to keep up. What would Mrs Stoddart think of his wife working? It was then he had volunteered her services to the church. There wouldn’t be time for a part-time job now.
Martha was ready for a hot cup of tea and a chat with Theresa. A three-year-old child could be so tiring. Age had crept up. Old bones creaked in all the wrong places. As she stood on the doorstep, her heartbeat quickened. A brief tap on the door, it opened with a flourish. She was greeted with a warm smile.
‘Sorry, I went out with Laura. I sent a text did you get it?’
‘Just get yourself out of the cold, tea’s brewing.’
The hallway was cluttered with old furniture. In the corner was a tall, wooden hat stand, which was covered in a mixture of coats and muddy wellington boots.
‘I’m exhausted, Tabitha is so quick on her feet.’
Theresa narrowed her eyes, ‘I know what three-year-olds are like. Becky has too much energy sometimes and I have none.’
Martha settled on the well-worn sofa, while Theresa busied herself in the kitchen. She looked around the cluttered front room. Always at ease in her best friend’s house she didn’t mind the haphazardness of her home. There was no pretence in her world. What you saw was what you got.
‘So, what’s occurring?’ Theresa placed the tray on the small table and reached out for a chocolate biscuit.
‘Not much, it was wonderful seeing Tabitha. It’s been too long this time and she has grown so tall. She’s clear worn me out.’
‘Becky’s the same, reckon she takes after her dad.’
‘Tabitha’s a mummy’s girl through and through,’ Martha said, with more than a hint of pride in her voice.
‘How is Laura?’ Theresa drank her tea in one go.
‘Okay, thinking of getting a job though.’
‘Good for her!’
‘What about Tabitha?’
‘She’ll live, most mums work these days. I know you could look after her, something to keep you occupied.’
Martha sadly shook her head, and placed her mug on the small, wooden table. ‘You know they don’t get on.’
Theresa’s eyes glared like fire, ‘She’s your daughter, and you’ve every right to see her. Just because he’s an arsehole doesn’t mean you have to miss out.’
‘You know how it is.’ Martha said dismissively.
‘I know exactly how it is and you know my views on Thomas.’
‘You don’t see the good in him, are a little overprotective of me,’ Martha looked down to her lap, ‘And besides, I do see them.’
‘There is no good in that man,’ Theresa said, her cup slammed on the table.
Martha gripped on to her handbag like it was the only thing holding her up. ‘You just don’t know him like I do, he is treating me to an expensive meal tonight, a late anniversary present.’
‘There’s more to life than fine dining and money.’
‘Whatever he does, he cannot do anything right in your eyes.’
‘Listen to yourself Martha, please.’
‘I’ve got to go, it’s nearly three o’clock.’
Up on her feet in seconds, Martha was nearly at the living room door.
‘Think of Laura and that gorgeous granddaughter of yours. Don’t you want to spend more time with them?’
‘I think of nothing else, but until I can persuade Thomas, I’ll have to be happy with meeting occasionally. I’m not arguing with you. I must go home and get changed.’
‘Please stay, I’ll stop talking about him I promise.’
Martha couldn’t get her breath. Her eyes rushed to the plastic clock on the wall. Its ticking got louder and louder until Theresa’s voice could hardly be heard.
‘Sorry, I have to go, I will ring you.’ Martha said.
She ignored Theresa’s pleas to stay, and rushed out of the front door. Leaving it wide open. Martha only stopped when she couldn’t run no more. Scattered looks around the street, more air was expelled then breathed in. Finally, her back straight, Martha walked home.