‘Now ladies, I want you to focus on what your feelings are today. Whether they are joy, sadness, anger, or fear, let the paint brush do the talking and get it down on canvass.’
Chris giggled at the back of the class. Martha couldn’t help joining in. What would a few splattered paint spots show on canvass? But it was great to pick up a paint brush again. The bristles stroked across her palm, and she smiled at the familiarity.
When was the last time Martha had picked up a brush? Was it her painting of Thomas? No, it was Thomas and Laura. He was feeding her, while she clung on to his fingers. The two people in her life, with so much in common. Nothing removed the love they shared. Side by side on the mantlepiece, they had remained together.
Sometimes Thomas would bring the painting down and show off her talents to everyone who would listen. He had been proud of Laura then. Constantly picked out their similarities. Even when she was a toddler, she stamped her foot like him.
With Amelia’s death, something hardened within Thomas. Her persona became his persona. Little things crept in. No longer did he run to Laura when she cried. Their trips to the park, after the Sunday sermon, became talks with Charles.
There was nothing to paint after that. Martha didn’t want to be reminded of the stark change. Her canvas, paints and brushes were put in the chest, and she created life in her garden instead.
Was it grief, which turned Thomas into a monster, or guilt at not being there at the end? Martha wasn’t sure. But he was lost to her and was replaced by a man she could no longer recognise. His urge to climb the ladder at work was followed by late nights at the office. Laura craved attention, and so did she.
Chris picked up her brush and it drifted over the pallet. ‘The last time I painted was when I was at school. I’m not even sure what colours to use.’
‘Just paint anything that comes to mind. The colours will show you.’
‘You sound like you’ve done this before Martha.’
‘I dabbled, but I haven’t painted in a long time. I’m hoping it’s a bit like riding a bike and you never really forget.’
‘I fell off my bike the last time I rode one,’ Chris said.
Chris went to paint, but the brush slipped through her fingers and fell to the floor.
‘Do you want me to pick that up?’ Martha asked.
‘Why have you dropped something?’ Chris asked, her hands held in mid-air before she looked down to the floor.
‘No you did, it’s probably the central heating in here. I’m feeling a little woozy myself.’
‘I didn’t sleep too good last night. Had a bit of a migraine.’
‘They’re horrible migraines. Not even paracetamol will shift them, maybe you could ask for something a little stronger – Migrative perhaps.’
‘You know as well as I do, they’ll ask questions if I asked for anything stronger and I’m not going to Steph, even for a good night’s sleep.’
Chris was right. It was a bit like being in a hospital when medication was handed out. There were ways and people to go to in prison. No prescription drugs – but weed was rife across the system. The officers did their best, but prisoners would find some bizarre ways to bring them in. Someone had even mixed it in with the dye on a child’s painting once.
Finally, picked up from the floor, Chris’s brush was dipped into the emerald paint, and swiped across the page.
Martha’s head tilted back, as she surveyed all the colours on the pallet. The brush was dipped into a hearty red, and it flew across the canvass. Yellow was streaked across the paper next. Without even thinking, a vivid purple splashed on to the page.
She didn’t even notice what she was painting now. There was a mess of colours on the paper. With the tip of her brush, indented in all the shades, was a haphazard outline. It was only squares and circles, but enough to make Martha stop. She looked to the floor, beneath her feet was her maroon carpet. Something glistened amongst all the blood. Martha bent down to pick it up . . . She stepped on some glass and removed it from her tights. It was Amelia’s wedding present – the crystal vase – but it had shattered into a million pieces.
‘Martha, you okay love?
She stared at the painting, and when the room stopped churning so did she.
‘Speak to me love.’
‘Sorry got lost there for a minute, it’s this bloody central heating.’
Chris pointed at the image amongst all the splatters. ‘Is that him?’
How had his image been transferred on to the paper? In her absence Chris had been busy too. Different shades of green were marred with a dark brown splodge in the middle. On top of the burnt toffee, was the brightest white she had ever seen.
The prison officer walked over and scrutinised Chris’s painting first. She didn’t ask why those colours were chosen. She didn’t have to reveal anything. It was like a catholic confession, nobody else needed to know.
‘Very good Chris, I love the brown, and different shades of green,’ the prison officer said.
‘I’m not sure about it myself miss, have I done it wrong?’
‘No, this means something to you, even if you don’t know it yet.’
Martha hoped that the officer, Miss Prentice, would go away, and look at someone else’s work. The look on her face, as Thomas’s crooked features jumped out of the page, made Martha blush.
‘Martha, well done. Your choice of colours, amazing. I think you’ve done this before.’
It wasn’t her best work. Some of the shades didn’t match, but her psychiatrist was right. By putting Thomas on the page, another door could close.
‘I enjoyed that,’ Chris said, and linked her arms in Martha’s.
The stairs clattered as all the prisoners bombarded the metal with hammering feet. It was nearly lunchtime, and she wanted their usual spot to eat. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder the psychiatrist had called it on their last session. Was that why she always checked rooms were tidy before she left them? She hadn’t really thought about it before, but the need to check things over and over was one sign, the other was never vying from routine. There wasn’t one person who didn’t have it in one form or another.
‘So did I, but I don’t even remember painting Thomas.’
‘He looked so angry, and that bulge on his neck.’
Martha held on to the bannister. ‘It’s how I saw him I suppose.’
‘Hurry up teacher’s pet,’ Steph said, and barged past Martha.
Nobody else but Chris saw the hand in her back. She steadied Martha so she didn’t take a tumble. The crowd manipulated, Chris was down the stairs before Steph, and cornered her against the wall. Her stance was wide. Large hands spread against the grey. There was nothing but hate in her eyes. Steph pushed back, and her head jolted. It was a surprise for a second, but Chris charged forward again.
Martha pushed through the crowd. ‘Chris, take it easy please.’