‘I would advise you to eat something.’ Martha’s solicitor tried to hand a shop-bought, ham sandwich in her direction. ‘It may well be a while before transport arrives and you might not get there in time for the evening meal.’
‘I’m not hungry.’
Martha clutched at a thread in her blouse and pulled until it snapped in her hands. She had wanted to take Buddy. Why couldn’t Laura see it was prison protocol that stopped her? Her empty words were said in haste surely? They’d had fights before, but this one felt more permanent than the rest. She expected Laura to change her mind – run back and cling to the bars. Alone in the holding cell for an hour, her daughter didn’t come back.
Thomas died, but instead of the link being strengthened, their relationship was in a state of disrepair. Why couldn’t Laura see that murder or manslaughter, she deserved to be inside? A life for a life – wasn’t that what the bible said? Wasn’t that what Charles’s sermons told her on a Sunday service? Maybe it was better that way? Laura could live her own life and Martha hers. In Laura’s own words – it was never that simple.
On remand Martha had kept to herself. It was good to have a cellmate, who wasn’t too chatty. At least she was comforted Laura would never desert her. When everything had died down her relationship could be salvaged. Guilt over Thomas’s death could ease over time. That wasn’t going to be possible now.
As she watched their similar tell of anger, Martha had seen Thomas’s face in Laura. Just for a second, she had been frightened of her. But she wasn’t her father. The way she was with Tabitha, and the easy-going rapport between them couldn’t be replicated. Fear didn’t preside in her granddaughter’s eyes, like they did when Laura was a child.
You belong here Martha and you will pay for your crime with your life. Negative voices inside her head, which told her she belonged in prison with the other murderers, always had his tone of voice. Perhaps one day she could learn to ignore it.
Her solicitor was still talking. She was still going on about how she needed some sustenance inside her.
Martha was loath to eat anything, but the low grumble of her stomach was getting louder by the minute. She hadn’t been able to eat breakfast or lunch because she felt so sick. With her free hand, she took the sandwich, nibbled at the edge of the semi-stale bread. Each mouthful got stuck in her throat and within minutes it had been pushed aside.
‘I will be speaking to my more experienced colleagues.’
‘Please leave me alone,’ Martha said.
‘Your sentence wasn’t warranted.’
Why couldn’t she just go? Martha sagged into the unforgiving plastic and fatigue overcame her. There was time to argue her case later. For now she just wanted to sleep.
Footsteps crashed in the corridor, as keys clashed against the locks of the doors.
‘I just want to see my little girl!’ A screech almost shattered the glass in the window. ‘I just want to see my little girl!’ As each door slammed, the cries lightened until Martha could only hear the pitiful sobs.
It was a mother’s greatest fear and she lost hers.
She tried to drown out the solicitor’s advice on how to move forwards. What did she want with an appeal anyway? The jury would have no choice but to come to the same conclusion and the outcome would be the same.
At least one of them needed to start their lives over.
‘You must understand that you weren’t in control of your actions that day.’
The solicitor’s face was blurred at the edges.
‘Are you okay Martha?’
‘It’s just so hot in here.’
Distorted images looped in and out of her consciousness. Martha slumped against the chair. She heard ambiguous voices, as if they were from a far-removed universe.
His hand grasped at her throat . . .
She sank into the floor, and his hand gripped tighter until she could no longer breathe. ‘No, please leave me alone!’ Martha expelled all the air from her lungs, as she battled against the bonds that refused to let go. The more she writhed, the more his hand tightened until she was about to lose all hope of life.
A male voice echoed in the distance. It called her back to the present and away from past mistakes. She blinked, a blurred outline of the doctor, his features distorted into a warped transition of Thomas, forced them to close. She blinked again, and his aftershave wafted against her nostrils. On the third try, Martha shielded her eyes away from the bright strobe lights of the ceiling.
‘Take your time Mrs Whitman. When you are ready then try and sit up.’ The doctor checked her pulse and gently helped her into a sitting position. ‘Do you know where you are?’
‘In a holding cell.’
She allowed the doctor to check her over.