‘Were you close to your dad?’
For the first time that afternoon, Martha relaxed in her chair.
‘I loved his stories, and he was a good listener. Always there when I needed him. When I was being bullied, he would spend hours just making me feel better.’
‘Tell me a little more about that.’
Anguish at their cruelty was still felt. Even though she had forgotten their faces, the names they called her remained.
‘I was about eight years old, and they would follow me home from school. They called me ‘Fleabag’ like I belonged in a rubbish bin. I thought it was my fault, but my dad made me realise that it wasn’t.’
Space to talk, and it all tumbled out.
‘Dad would sit with me for hours. It didn’t matter what I said. I didn’t feel like I was going mad, with him. He never once said I was wrong. He just listened until I didn’t hate myself anymore.’
Martha smiled at the memory of sitting by her dad’s knee and the smell of extra strong mints that brought a sense of calm to an uneasy world. His strength pulled her from the brink of loneliness. Doubts were thrown to the wind like sycamore seeds.
‘What do you think your dad would tell you now?’
‘He would say it wasn’t my fault, but he isn’t here to tell me that is he?’
Suddenly Martha wanted to scream at the world, which had made her feel so helpless.
‘Would you like to tell me what happened to your dad?’
‘He was in hospital, had a heart attack, but died within weeks of being admitted,’ she said.
‘How old were you?’
When the news of his death was received, Martha just arrived home. A night out and her dad said she deserved it. Had he wanted her gone in his final moments? Was it to spare her? ‘Seventeen, it was just me and Mum after that.’
‘Were you close to your mum?’
‘Not while I was growing up, but when Dad died, we became close.’
‘Why do you think that was?’
The first few months after her father died, Martha felt like she was at fault. The only thing that stopped her spiralling into her own grief was that her mother was grieving too.
‘She loved him too and I understood her a little bit better,’ she said and reached for a tissue.
‘Are you okay to carry on?’
It wasn’t okay, but still thoughts were relayed out loud. ‘Yes, it’s just I miss them so much.’
‘Tell me about your mum.’
‘She was lonely, lost interest in a world that didn’t have my dad in it.’
‘How did that make you feel?’
‘I hated seeing her so unhappy, there was nothing I could do. Nothing I could say. She just seemed to wither away without him.’
Those feelings, which had felt so real at the time burst through. Once again, Martha wanted to get up and leave the room, but her legs wouldn’t stop shaking. It was as if she were fixed in a time and place, she could never escape from.
‘Did you feel like you had to grow up before you were ready?’
‘A little, I think if Mum were still alive when I met Thomas, I probably wouldn’t have married him,’ Martha said, surprised at her own honesty.
‘Why is that?’
‘Because she was lonely, and when we were together, less so.’
‘Do you think you stayed with Thomas because you feared being alone?’
Leant back in her chair, she thought back to a place where she watched her mum gaze at her father’s picture every night. ‘Maybe, a little love is better than none.’
‘When did your mum die?’
‘A couple of years later. The doctor said it was cancer, but I think she died from a broken heart.’
‘Can you tell me how old you were when you met Thomas?’
The change of subject had been unexpected, but the steady stream of oxygen in her lungs, had given her courage. The date of their first acquaintance was crystal clear. Her cousin James had just got married and it was her first outing since her mother had died.