A tray with a small silver teapot, jug and a small cup were brought over. With only a nod of thanks, Martha resumed her vigil. She struggled to open the sachets of sugar. Her focus, on the bell over the door, was the only thing she could think about.
One last look at her watch, it was one o’clock. Any minute now Thomas would walk through that door, and she would see his mistress. Martha pulled her arms into the table, so that only her eyes could be seen over the menu.
The door opened, and Thomas walked in.
Martha silenced the table with her knees. Her shoes were wedged against the base of the chair. She wanted to wind back the clock a few hours. Resume her spring cleaning, but she couldn’t look away.
Wearing a sapphire-blue dress, Elizabeth followed him in.
Martha blinked and scrutinised her rival. Her clothes could have been from the same shop in the high street. They made her look older, but there was at least ten years difference between them. A stickler for younger women – Mrs Carmichael was testament to that.
Always the gentleman, Thomas pushed her chair under the table. Martha imagined the simpering giggle that went with her smile. The menu pulled down part of her hoped Thomas would notice. But as he kept peering over the crowded restaurant, Martha slipped further into the shadows.
Her menu lifted again; she couldn’t risk it.
His conversation with Elizabeth became quieter but it didn’t matter. She filled in the blanks with his actions. A hand rested on Elizabeth’s knee, a kiss and mouthed proclamations of love were all she needed to see.
With a loud cough, Thomas motioned for the waiter and within minutes, an expensive bottle of red wine settled on the table. Two generous amounts were poured into their glasses.
Martha’s chair scraped forwards, which caused Thomas to turn around.
The palms of her hands paled against the red of the menu. Martha pretended to sip the rest of her tea. It was horrible cold, but in this instance, there was no choice.
He was treating his mistress, when it should have been Martha by her husband’s side. It wasn’t right – she put up with his moods and his violence because she thought it was derived out of love.
Didn’t her loyalty mean nothing at all?
‘Madam, are you going to order any food?’ The waiter stood right in front of her. Martha lowered the menu. It didn’t matter that she was in a public place. She wore the wedding band, which tightened around her finger.
Thomas’s love belonged to her.
Martha stood over Elizabeth in an instant. She grabbed at Elizabeth’s blouse and watched as hands scrambled against her own, but she wouldn’t let go. Elizabeth coughed and her grip tightened.
‘Martha!’ Thomas said, and pushed his chair back.
‘How dare you sit there with my husband you hussy. He’s my husband and not yours to take. Do you hear me Elizabeth? I wear his wedding ring, not you.’
Released from her anger, Martha fled past Thomas, and collapsed outside. As one breath overtook the other, she clutched at her chest. Thomas was nowhere in sight. Had he made his choice already? Nothing mattered any more. Not her marriage, Thomas, or the whore in the restaurant. Her life was over.
Thomas pushed his arms on to Martha’s shoulders. ‘Martha, you need to calm down.’
‘You promised it was over.’ Martha thumped on his chest. Each strike a blow for those he had given her. ‘I hate you Thomas and I wish you were dead!’
‘Martha, don’t embarrass me.’
It was barely a whisper, but Martha quietened immediately.
‘Thomas . . . I didn’t mean, it’s just I’m nothing without you.’
‘Get in the car Martha, I’ll talk to you when we get home.’
Thomas pointed to his car, parked in the disabled bay.
‘What about Elizabeth?’
‘Elizabeth is of no importance.’
Thomas opened the car door, and Martha slipped out of view.
His mistress stood, just out of sight, and Thomas didn’t even give a backward glance.
She saw the veins in Thomas’s neck throb to the beat of Vivaldi. The volume had been turned up so loud, Martha couldn’t hear her own thoughts anymore. But she wasn’t frightened about going home. Even what was going to happen next was worth it.
Thomas had made his choice and she would wear her bruises with pride.