Plates were handed out, full of little cakes and triangle shaped sandwiches. Drinks were carefully supplied. Martha joined Thomas by the mantlepiece. She surveyed her front room. Each piece of furniture sparkled from her lemon polish. The maroon carpet was hoovered. Not a speck of dust could spoil his night.
Their three-seater, leather sofa, and Thomas’s matching leather chair was situated at the back of the room. Already, there were crumbs on the table, but Martha did her best to ignore the mess. She sipped her orange juice instead.
If Thomas was willing to stay dry, then so was she.
‘I were saying to Thomas – such a good likeness, you’re extremely talented,’ Fred said, glancing at the painting on the wall.
Martha’s faced glowed. She studied Thomas’s bronzed skin. It was just after they returned from their honeymoon. He was sitting outside, with The Express in one hand, a whisky in the other. The way the colours of his skin reflected in the glass was almost poetic. She had drawn him while Thomas relaxed in their compact garden.
They had only been married a month, and he was still tanned. He turned for the camera at just the right moment. Martha loved him more than the day she had first met him.
Hours and hours spent alone in her tiny studio – spare bedroom – Martha was ready to show Thomas the finished product. He studied it for a few minutes, brought her close and fixed his gaze on hers.
He had taken down the painting of her father and replaced it with his a few hours later.
‘I’ve put on a bit of weight since then, but I agree she’s got a good likeness of me,’ Thomas said.
‘It’s because of this gorgeous ladies home cooking.’
‘A woman of many talents, it’s why she’s my wife.’
Martha arched her back, and her gaze didn’t falter until Thomas looked in hers.
‘Certainly is, you’re an extremely lucky man, my wife only served me burnt offerings.’
Fred, just passed his ninetieth birthday, grinned at Martha, and took another sip of tea. He helped open doors, which had only been ajar a couple of years ago. A victim of a mugging, it was Martha who convinced Thomas to enquire about adding another evening bus service.
Thomas searched the room, and eventually found who he was looking for. Charles was in full flow. He exchanged a casual glance with his friend and tapped his feet against the fire guard.
‘I’ve got to go Fred, but my wife . . . will look after you won’t you Martha?’
‘Of course Thomas.’