Martha watched the entrance to the visiting room. As each partner, Mother and child sat down, she wanted to edge around the walls and escape back to her cell. When she had first made the request, for a visitation order, to see Elizabeth, she thought her judgement was correct, but now all she could see were hands around a frightened woman’s throat.
She didn’t want to put her through any more pain. The last letter, asking Martha if she could see her wasn’t a shock. At first, she wanted to rip the letter up. Not because she hated Elizabeth, but because going over old arguments wouldn’t solve anything.
It was her last conversation with Chris that changed her mind.
There must be questions, and didn’t Martha have so many of her own? If nothing else, it would allow her to stop feeling guilty about attacking Elizabeth in the restaurant. It was a chance to draw the line under Thomas once and for all.
Martha’s gaze darted from the door to the floor and back to the door again.
Prisoner’s conversations, held in private, were in the slightest of whispers. It didn’t matter anyway, the only person she came here to see wasn’t here.
Maybe Elizabeth changed her mind.
A new-found confidence was sensed when Elizabeth finally walked into the room. She shifted around other visitors like a police car in traffic. No longer looking at her shoes, but straight ahead.
Elizabeth sat down opposite her.
The room folded in on itself and Martha gripped the table for support. She was back in the restaurant, and an old hatred burst through. A crack in the mirror, distorted its image into something they both shared.
Martha went to leave – this was a bad idea. What could they possibly say to each other? They were from different parts of a puzzle. She was the inside piece, no sides, and no hope of escape. Elizabeth had other sides to her piece and could slide away whenever she wanted to.
‘Hello Martha,’ Elizabeth said, and crossed her legs.
‘Hello,’ Martha said, not sure of what else to say.
Elizabeth reached for a water bottle in her handbag. Half a bottle was drank before she spoke again. ‘Thank you for agreeing to see me.’
‘I wanted to,’ Martha said.
Now Elizabeth was in front of her, Martha’s many questions crushed underneath the ringing in her ears. She looked down to her hands and remembered their last meeting. She was so angry that day. The other woman was her rival. But now, they weren’t the same people, just women who had fallen for the same excuses.
‘I didn’t think you would at first,’ Elizabeth said.
Martha watched as Elizabeth squirmed a little in her seat.
‘It was so long before I heard anything and after our last meeting.’ Elizabeth shrank back against the chair.
A tide of emotions ebbed and flowed, and Martha concentrated on her breathing. Her hands shook, as she blinked away the memories now invading her mind. ‘I don’t hate you, and I’m sorry.’
‘For what? I hope it isn’t for killing Thomas, that wasn’t your fault. If it was for strangling me, then you had every right at the time,’ Elizabeth lifted her head and a tight-lipped smile forced through like an explosion. ‘Thomas, well you know what Thomas was like, aggressive with a woman, but with a man, he was totally different.’
Martha felt an old anger resurface like an unexploded mine.
‘Oh, don’t lie to me Elizabeth. Thomas was different with you. You said, under oath I might add, that Thomas never hit you and that he loved you.’
Martha dismissed Elizabeth with a wave of her hands.
‘At first there were no signs that he was violent. There was always a controlling side to him though. It was like I came to the decision, but he was the one who pushed me in that direction. He convinced me to lie to my boss. Martha is so fragile; I can’t leave her – she will kill herself if I do. We need the money so I can look after you both.’ Elizabeth’s hands relaxed over each other.
‘He came over to you at Christmas and hit me as an excuse to leave the house. It was clear he loved you more,’ Martha said.
‘Do you know what he did when he came over to see me. It was the first time I’d seen him really drunk,’ Elizabeth said. ‘I tried to drink with him. I thought it would relax me and give me a little bit of confidence, but I got drunk and he got angry. He said he didn’t know why he bothered coming over when all I did was drink. It was then he pushed me, and I was knocked into the cabinet. I stumbled into my bedroom. I must have collapsed. I woke up and he was on top of me. He said he loved me. If that is love, then I don’t want it.’
‘I didn’t know,’ Martha said.
‘I can still smell the heavy stench of whisky at the back of my throat. Do you know what I did? I pretended I enjoyed it, that we were just making love.’
This revelation wasn’t a complete shock.
When she first said no Thomas pulled her hair back so hard, it felt like clumps of skin tore from her scalp. Yet, minutes later, he gently held her in his arms, and professed his love.
Elizabeth’s head fell on the table and Martha didn’t know what to do. How to make it better. Thomas, so pompous and full of himself, convinced both women in his life they were to blame for his actions.
‘It probably wasn’t the first time he raped you either was it?’ Martha said.
‘It happened once, but I think if you hadn’t of killed him he would have done it again,’ Elizabeth said, and blinked away her shame.
‘You’re probably right. The first time he raped me, I blamed it on the whisky. He spiralled when his mother died. But I stopped saying no, after the first few times. As the control escalated, I pretended I enjoyed it more. It was part of married life, for better or for worse. I just had to put up with it. When he had been drinking, he was in his own world, but when he was sober he still liked to be in control. I was afraid if I said no, then it would be worse for me.’
‘I didn’t mean to get so upset, I’m sorry, I thought because Thomas was dead, I could just forget what happened.’
‘Stop saying sorry, we’re not to blame for his actions,’ Martha said.
‘Sorry,’ Elizabeth said and for the first time, their eyes focussed on each other, and they began to laugh.
‘You’re right, we’ve got to stop saying sorry, it’s just I can’t seem to rid Thomas out of my life. He’s always there.’
‘I don’t see him anymore.’
Martha felt her shoulders lift.
‘It took something dreadful for it to happen. My friend Chris . . . she died without making peace with her brother. Her one piece of advice will always stick with me. Do my time and keep my head down. When I’m out of here I can pick up the pieces of my relationship with Laura.’
‘I’ve been talking with Laura.’
So, this was her real reason for coming over. It wasn’t to clear the path for forgiveness, it was to persuade her to appeal her sentence. She had already told Laura that an appeal served no purpose. Thomas was a monster, a bully, had terrorised women all his life, but blood was still on her hands.
‘Nobody forced me to kill Thomas, it’s like they said at the trial – there were many times I could have left him, but I didn’t. Loss of control or not, I killed him. That won’t change; besides, just over eight years isn’t a long time, less for good behaviour.’
‘It’s still eight years, and you’ve Laura to think about. If you give up then what does that say to her?’
‘But what use is another trial?’
‘I don’t know whether another trial will work, but for the sake of your family, you must at least try.’
‘I miss them, of course I do, but I’m not sure I could go through it all again,’ Martha said.
‘You are stronger than you think,’ Elizabeth said.
Martha couldn’t help but agree.
‘This time you need to give an honest account of what Thomas was like. I’ll do the same. A jury needs to know how tough it was for you, for both of us. If nothing else, all this secrecy will be out in the open.’
‘But what about my diary – so much hate in there.’
‘It was your only outlet. Could you have said these things to Thomas? No, because if you did, he would use his fists to beat you down again.’
‘I’ve got so much to lose if I appeal. I’ve made peace with my sentence, and to go through a trial will only rake it up again.’
‘You don’t deserve to be in prison. You have to consider a re-trial. It’s the only way he doesn’t win.’
‘But what if I lose again? No it’s better this way.’
‘How? The only way you see Laura is here and you can’t even hug her. Do you want Thomas to win this battle too, or do you want to reclaim your life back?’
‘I killed him Elizabeth.’
‘He deserved it! I was only at the beginning of my journey with him, but you’ve suffered a lifetime. He may have one the battles, but you need to win the war!’