He stopped midway, with an expression Martha couldn’t quite read before Charles called him over.
‘Just the man, we were just talking about how brilliantly you handled the mayor the other day.’
Martha glanced to Thomas, and back to Fred.
‘How did your first shopping trip on your own go?’
‘I missed talking to you lass, but I thought of you. We both were mugged, but you’ve always been braver than me. I saw Laura at the end of the road, did she see you in the end?’
‘No – I must have been out that day,’ Martha said.
‘That’s a shame.’
‘It is . . .’ Martha said, and looked back to Thomas.
He was deep in conversation with Charles. Every so often their eyes would meet. Martha smiled, then looked back at his younger self. Still handsome, but if she painted him now, would there be the same youthful glow in his face?
‘Do you still paint?’ Fred said.
At first Martha didn’t hear him, but when he repeated it for the third time, she wiped away an invisible piece of dust from the crystal vase. The painting, and everything around it was polished for this neighbourhood watch meeting, but something was always out of place.
‘Busy with the home, neighbourhood watch admin, and the like Fred, besides, I haven’t picked up a paint brush in years. It’s a bit like riding a bike, I don’t think I could do that now either.’
‘I’m pretty sure if I had your talent, I would be painting every day. My wife, God bless her, she was always drawing. I’ll show you them one day if you like.’
Martha kept a watchful eye on Thomas, but the drinks cabinet remained closed. He was waving his hands in an elaborate manner, beckoning her to come over.
‘Is that an empty glass I see? A hostess’s work never stops. While I’m in the kitchen do you want another slice of cake?’
‘You trying to fatten me up?’
‘It’s my secret weapon, we’re not having turkey this year.’
Stopped mid laugh, it was a feeble joke to begin with.