For the first time since Martha had got married, her own choices were made. From choosing what to wear in the morning, to important decisions such as selling the house, she started to take control.
She couldn’t personally make a profit, but Laura, as her next of kin could. Not that she wanted anything to do with her, or the house. Theresa was the only person she could speak to, and not have the argument thrown back in her face. She said they needed to bash their heads together but agreed to help with the sale.
Martha hoped that another family could rewrite the house’s history and didn’t want any part in the contents. The only thing she wanted to take away was an old T-Chest. When she first got married it was put in the attic, along with ornaments, books and little knickknacks that didn’t have a place in her new home, but always held a special place in her heart. As each year passed a new diary was reunited with their friends.
There were twenty-nine diaries in all. Each with their own tale to tell. She had hidden them well, but still, deep down she was shocked Thomas never found them. Martha wasn’t sure what she would do. Maybe she would get rid of them, but she was curious to see how her marriage had evolved from walking down the aisle to Thomas’s death.
‘You sent that letter yet?’ Chris stared at another prisoner, until they moved aside on the bench.
‘I wrote the letter does that count?’
‘How’s she going to read it if it’s not sent?’
‘I can’t, she’ll not reply anyway.’
Martha observed the officers, high in their rafters, guarding the perimeter of the courtyard. It was an easy access to drugs.
‘Perhaps she’s sitting at home and regretting her argument too. Afraid to be the first one to get in touch,’ Chris said.
‘I miss her Chris, but I can’t keep hurting her.’
‘No, but don’t give up trying or Thomas has won. Hasn’t he?’ Chris said, and stretched out her limbs. ‘I wish I could have my time back again. At least make peace with my mother.’
She looked down and scuffed her shoes against the gravel. Here she was talking about family when Chris had no chance to reclaim hers. James, a part of her past she had never quite let go of, telephoned the prison, but was too soon to think of reconciliation. There wasn’t any reason to talk to him. Lucy too, they would both think Thomas deserved to die, and she wasn’t ready for that type of conversation.
‘Did you ever make peace with your mum?’
Chris massaged her temples, shielded her eyes from the sun. ‘I did. My brother Alan contacted the prison and said I needed to be there on her deathbed. I tried to talk to her, but only ended up arguing with the one person I should’ve stayed close to.’
‘We didn’t part on good terms let’s just leave it at that.’
‘I’m so sorry Chris.’
‘My point is . . . learn from my mistakes, send that bloody letter.’
‘Do you think she’ll ever speak to me again?’
‘I don’t know Martha. I was so angry with Mum. For giving up. For blaming his violence on his drinking. He could’ve stopped and knew he was violent on the sauce. I was even angry with Alan. He was a strong lad, but instead of helping us, ran away instead.’
Martha bowed her head and watched the ants scurry underneath the bench. ‘It wasn’t easy for her too.’
‘I know that, but she made excuses for him time and time again. It got to the point where I didn’t want those excuses.’ Chris looked to her skin, which had gone from white to a pale red, and traced around her scar.
‘She probably didn’t either that’s the stupid thing.’
‘Maybe . . . it’s getting warm out here, we should go inside.’
‘I’m sorry Chris, didn’t mean to rake up the past.’
Martha patted her on the shoulder, and a watery smile met her gaze.
‘No, it’s okay. I don’t think of Mum very often now – or perhaps I do. The nightmares seem to have got worse these days not better.’
‘The psychiatrist said art therapy would help with mine,’ Martha said.
‘It’s all a bit wishy washy psychobabble to me, but if it helps you then go for it.’
‘Not so sure I could walk into a room full of strangers though.’
‘I wasn’t much good at art when I was at school. Threw a few paper airplanes out of a window.’
‘I’d feel a lot easier if you were there with me.’
‘I’m no painter.’
‘Come on Chris, it could be fun.’
‘Did they put something in your tea this morning?’ Chris placed her palm on Martha’s brow.
‘Just sugar,’ Martha laughed, ‘I refuse to take anything else.’
‘If I joined an art class, Steph would think I’ve lost it.’
‘Doesn’t she already? Come on Chris it would make a change from counting the stains on the ceiling.’
‘Alright, but I wouldn’t want the quack’s opinion on my paint splodges.’
Fingers tapped on the bench, to a long-forgotten tune, she remembered her dad’s smile. ‘I tell you what, I’ll send that letter if you join me.’
‘Martha Shaw, are you blackmailing me?’
‘Maybe I am, prison has taught me a few things. No, I’m serious and you can always stop if you don’t like it but think about it.’
Martha allowed the sunshine to remain on her shoulders. Since being in prison, the bars didn’t keep her in, but kept the world out. Thomas, faded and distant, only appeared in her nightmares now.
‘And you will send the letter like you promised.’
‘Yes, I’m a woman of my word.’
‘Okay, I will, but just to let you know, I’m terrible at painting,’ Chris said, and stared across the concrete garden.
‘And I’m terrified of Laura’s reaction.’
‘You still don’t want to appeal against your sentence?’ Chris asked.
‘No, it doesn’t matter what Thomas put me through, I still killed him. Nobody forced that crystal vase into my hands.’
‘Yea, but there were mitigating circumstances. I’m sure there is something in the legal system that will help you.’
‘I’ve made my decision. Did Thomas deserve to die? Probably. But then I should have left him sooner. But it’s too late now.’
‘I think you’re mad, you know that.’
‘You’ve said, but ultimately it’s my choice. I was under Thomas’s control for so many years and I want to make my own decisions now.’ Martha said, and stood up from the bench.