With officers on guard, and tables bolted down to stop prisoners from throwing them across the room, Martha wasn’t sure this was the right environment for Tabitha, but it was too late now to change her mind.
The door opened, as the visitors filed inside.
Martha watched as groups of men and women took their seats opposite the other prisoners. She was about to think that Laura changed her mind when they walked through the door. Laura was holding Tabitha by the hand, and they sat down opposite her.
Tabitha shouted her greeting. ‘Nanny!’
She didn’t think there would be another chance to see her granddaughter again. Tabitha reached out her arms for a hug, but Martha had to be content with blowing a kiss instead. She knew the reason Laura brought Tabitha today. It was their first face to face conversation in a year – easier to not mention the elephant in the room.
‘Tabitha, what is your mummy doing – putting you in a pot. You’ve grown so much.’
‘Don’t be silly Nanny,’ Tabitha said.
‘Have you been a good girl for Mummy?’
‘I’m always a good girl and have been learning how to write my name.’
‘Wow, you’re so clever.’
‘Mummy have you got any paper? I want to show Nanny how I write my name.’
‘I haven’t got anything right now darling, maybe when we get home.’
‘I’m sorry I had to send Buddy back to you, I didn’t want him to get lost,’ Martha said.
‘I’ve been teaching him his numbers anyway.’
Tabitha looked up to the officers and shrank back a little in her seat.
‘It’s okay, they’re just watching to see if we’re all behaving ourselves,’ Martha said.
‘Just like my teachers at school.’
‘Exactly like that,’ Martha said.
With her eyes fixed on Tabitha, Laura kept her mum at arm’s length.
They had to talk and couldn’t do that properly with her granddaughter sat at the table. As much as Martha missed this bundle of laughter, they had to get the difficult subject out of the way before their relationship could be repaired.
‘Do you want to go and play for a little while? It’s much more interesting than listening to us adults talking,’ Martha said.
‘But I want to tell you all about school Nanny. I’m going into year one soon.’
‘I know you do, but you can do that a little later,’ Martha said.
Reluctantly, Tabitha walked to the corner of the room and sat down on the floor. At first, she looked a little lost, but soon located a small plastic tea set – cup, saucers, spoons – of all different colours.
‘You look so well,’ Martha said.
A lightness fell on her shoulders when she realised there was nothing to hide.
No bruises, no pain.
Martha gazed at Tabitha, now reading “Little Red Riding Hood” to a selection of Barbie dolls and back to Laura. Even now she couldn’t speak of Thomas. ‘You’ve put on weight. Mind you I’ve put on a few pounds myself since I came here. I would love to say it’s the food, but it’s more like school dinners than anything.’
‘You look well on it Mum; those jeans look great on you.’
‘I wasn’t sure at first, but I like them, and they are perfect for work.’
Cotton always felt more comfortable than silk.
‘Are you enjoying working at the prison Library?’
‘I’m enjoying it, the days are endless if you have nothing to do and I feel at home amongst all the books. It’s surprising, they have quite a good selection.’
Martha was aware of the small talk. Like her neighbourhood watch meetings. What’s the weather like? Did you see the Chelsea flower show on TV? How do you keep your home so beautiful? It wasn’t just Tabitha stopping the real questions being asked.
‘You seem different Mum,’ Laura said.
‘I feel different, but it still feels strange not having Chris to talk to.’
‘Chris, the lady you mentioned in your letter, did they move her to another cell then?’
Martha didn’t want to reveal that she was closer to Chris in prison, than a lifetime with Laura.
‘No, she died of an aneurism about two weeks ago. She’s the reason I sent you the letter, and why you’re sitting here today. . .’
Her fingers crept across the table and stopped short. She smiled as her granddaughter put on the voice of the wolf. In the middle of a world of her own creation, she was engrossed in her story. If Chris were alive, she would have loved hearing their meeting had gone so well.
‘I’m so sorry Mum.’
It was difficult not to cry. There wouldn’t ever be a day where she would forget Chris’s immense influence. Not only in body, but in heart too. The world had lost some of its craziness when her friend died. ‘It’s okay, she would be happy to see me here with you.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me about Buddy before?’
‘Would you have believed me?’
‘No, he was a monster to me.’
‘You’re right, Thomas was a monster and I let him become that because I was afraid of being alone. One thing I’ve learnt from Chris is that our time on earth is short.’
‘I was so angry that day Mum. You took his side and wouldn’t take Buddy. I felt like you’d abandoned me all over again. I shouldn’t have got angry with you, but you were so determined to put Thomas in a good light. I couldn’t see why you would. All my memories of him were bad, but I took a look in the T chest the other day.’
‘You found the painting, didn’t you?’
‘For a second we were at the park, and I knew he loved me once.’
‘He did, but that doesn’t mean his actions afterwards could be forgiven. Laura I’m sorry for not listening to you. I’m sorry I didn’t let you know about the son I lost or was there to comfort you when yours died too. I’m sorry I constantly took his side over yours. I didn’t realise his control over me – over both of us.’
‘Not anymore though Mum.’
Martha smiled and felt her shoulders lift. ‘No and we’ve got the rest of our lives to make up for it.’
‘I just wish Chris were here to see us together,’ Martha said.
‘I wish I could hug you right now.’
‘You don’t know how much I want to do that. What happened with Chris made me think. We can’t waste another moment of our time worrying about Thomas.’
‘No, we shouldn’t.’
‘So on that note, have you any news about the house?
‘We’ve had an offer.’
‘How much?’ Martha said.
‘It’s twenty thousand less than the market price. I wanted to ask you first before Theresa accepted.’
‘It’s not about the money, I just want rid of that house. How much did they offer?’
‘£280,000, give or take.’
‘That should go some way to paying off the solicitor, and a little something over for yourself and Tabitha.’
‘I wish you could keep some of the money.’
‘I don’t want any of it, couldn’t even if I wanted to. What would I spend it on? I only need a few pounds for the tuck shop and it’s going to be a few more years before I get out anyway.’
‘And I wish you would reconsider that too. I’ve spoken to someone, and they think you would win an appeal.’
Martha looked down at Tabitha, who had got another book from the box in the corner of the room and was telling the dolls a story about a mermaid. She wanted Laura to look away, but she refused to budge.
‘I know you mean well love, but ten years isn’t long. I’ve already served a year and a half, and the rest will go by quicker than you think,’ Martha said.
‘It shouldn’t be any time spent in prison.’
‘I killed a man, unless you have a time machine, that isn’t going to change.’
‘He deserved to die.’
‘Maybe, but I wasn’t convicted of murder, just manslaughter.’
‘It’s not good enough.’
‘Love, I know you mean well, but at least I’m free of your father.’
‘I want to be able to see you whenever I want, ring you up and go for a coffee or walk in the park. You may be okay, but there’s still bars at the window, officers above us, and our belongings were searched when we came inside. I even had to bring my passport to prove who I was.’
‘I know it’s upsetting for you, but I’m only a phone call away, in prison, outside, that won’t change, besides the evidence is still the same.’
‘I went on a radio show, a while ago now, to talk about what happened, and to talk about domestic violence. There was a psychologist there, Sheila. I’ve still got her card.’
‘Laura, I’m not going to change my mind.’
Not giving up, Laura carried on. ‘She says there’s a condition called Battered Woman Syndrome.’
‘Battered Woman Syndrome?’
‘It’s a bit like PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder – like soldiers suffer from when they have been in battle conditions. They keep things bottled up until there finally comes a point where they lose control and snap under the pressure.’
‘But I’m not a soldier, I didn’t fight in a war,’ Martha said.
‘No, but in a way, you did fight your own battles – everyday. You woke up terrified and you probably went to sleep terrified. I know I did. It explains everything, the panic attacks, the anxiety and the nightmares.’
‘I don’t want to argue about this, not in front of Tabitha.’
‘Neither do I but could you at least write a request for her to visit you and put her on your visiting list. She’s brilliant Mum. Don’t you agree this isn’t the place for a child to be in?’
‘It’s not bad in here Laura, honestly. I’ve made friends and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.’
‘I wish you would reconsider,’ Laura said.
‘I’ve made my decision.’
‘You’ve come so far, and I can see the difference in you. But now it’s time to take the final step.’
‘I killed him,’ Martha whispered.
‘Yes, your actions did, but can you honestly say you can remember any more of that day, than you did a year and a half ago?’
‘I remember it all now, but what is going to be different in another trial? The evidence isn’t going to change, and you would have wasted money on something that will end in the same way.’
‘See you’re different Mum. When you were on the stand before, Thomas still had a hold over you, but now . . . but now I know you will speak the truth,’ Laura said, not moving, not blinking.
‘I just don’t want you wasting more money on something that might not go anywhere.’
‘I wouldn’t be wasting money, look at Tabitha, where would you rather see her? In the park, where she could feed the ducks, or here?’
‘It isn’t perfect, but we have to make the best of things,’ Martha said.
‘There will come a time when she realises where she is.’
‘You need to let this go Laura, please, I just want you to get on with your life. I’m safe and you’re safe that’s all that matters,’ Martha said.