Martha twisted her solid-gold wedding band. I wish the world would swallow me whole. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Her thoughts just swivelled in every direction possible, and all her exits had been blocked.
She shuffled on to the bottom bunk and took off her shoes. Only her stockinged feet lay on the cover. She tried to sleep, but loud opinions in her head wouldn’t be silenced. Thomas, a permanent resident, and his influence was still the loudest.
Martha’s mindless thinking ended abruptly, as her attention fell onto the prisoner, who had just leant over, in the bunk above hers. They hadn’t had a chance to exchange names, but Martha remembered her from the holding cell. The flaming red hair, which now trailed over the side of the bed, was wild and untamed. Along with her flushed cheeks and the temper that went with it she was a formidable figure.
Possessing a broad smile, she held out her hand as if she wanted to be friends. ‘I’m Christine by the way, but you can call me Chris since we’ll be bunking together.’
‘It’s nice to meet you again, Chris.’
It was like they were at a dinner party, but instead of exchanging pleasantries over drinks and net curtains, there were metal bars and prison uniforms. She was sure that Thomas wouldn’t have approved of such a controversial guest.
But Martha liked this outspoken cellmate.
She watched the springs of the bed bend as the woman fell into a seated position – her legs dangled over the side like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Her trainers were scuffed at the bottom and worn down at the heel.
Chris jumped down off the bed and peered through the gap.
Martha wanted to turn and face the wall, but Chris had got under her skin like dirt under fingernails. ‘I don’t want to be rude, but I just want to be left alone.’
It was as if each word she spoke fell on heedless ears and Chris didn’t budge.
‘Don’t look so glum, from what I’ve heard he deserved it.’
It wasn’t the answer Martha expected.
‘He didn’t deserve to die,’ Martha said, but for the first time had trouble believing her own words. She stood shakily on her feet. Chris was at least three inches taller and bulked out with muscle.
‘Then why did you kill him?’ Chris asked.
It was like her cellmate thought that murder was a natural end to Thomas’s life. How could that be when everyone deserved to live? Didn’t they? Whatever her husband was capable of, it didn’t give her the right to kill him. If the clocks could be turned back, she would have just let her husband lash out. No pain was worse than the culpability she carried with her everywhere now.
Silence was Martha’s only friend.
She hoped that Chris would get back to her own bunk. Leave her be, but she refused to back down and Martha couldn’t force her to move.
‘He hit you, bruises may fade but the scars on the inside stay with us.’
Martha couldn’t bear to hear the truth. It was too painful to relive, and she didn’t want to tarnish Thomas’s memory. He may have grown into a man who used anger to control the things around him, but he wasn’t always like that.
His mother, a difficult woman to be around, had to take some of the blame.
‘Sounds like he deserved all he got.’
Chris thrust Martha away from the past and into the cell, which had an area of only nine metres squared.
‘He didn’t deserve to die,’ Martha said.
‘I’m sure he did!’ Chris straddled her waist. ‘He was a bully who took his pleasure from hurting you.’
Dragged along the rough cover of the blanket, her fingers felt every fibre. All she ever knew was how to defend Thomas. Yet, all she could see now was Laura’s disappointed face. ‘Because of my actions, my daughter lost her father.’
‘Not much of a father, if you ask me?’
Martha shook her head and bit down on dry lips. For some reason she couldn’t find a good word to say about her husband. It was like her diary had come to life, but there was nothing she could do to stop it.
‘Thomas loved our daughter.’ Martha tried to convince herself, but it wasn’t working. She thought of all the times Laura had to spend in her bedroom because Thomas hated interruption to his nightly routine. ‘He just found it difficult to express himself that’s all.’