Martha’s diaries, in the past books, where anger festered, were not a place for quiet reflection. But the more she read through their myriad of pages; the more Thomas pulled away. It was Elizabeth who convinced her to write her story. A book to permanently drive away her memories. It was time to finally put the past to sleep.
All her artwork, new and old were slipped in between the sheets. Her agent said they needed to be there. They told a story words never could. Her thoughts were written down – from day one of her marriage to her life beyond the abuse. Each word and picture unshackled the burden of his death.
Now, her book published, she was ready to reveal all.
As she watched the steady stream of people, from all walks of life, stroll through the library doors, her chest lifted. The library had never felt more like home. It seemed fitting to hold the book signing in the dwelling, which had given her shelter against Thomas.
A table, filled with cakes, were just by the entrance. Nobody had to pay today. Theresa, who was helping out, waved as Martha walked towards them. It was hard to resist Elizabeth’s doughnuts, but she would have to, just this once.
‘Are they all here for me or for your cakes?’ Martha asked.
‘You, the cakes are just a bonus and that reminds me Elizabeth, don’t forget to save some for later. I love those little pastries you do. They’re selling like hotcakes,’ Theresa said.
‘You look busy, are you sure I can’t help?’
‘I won’t hear of it.’
Hands placed over Martha’s; James caught her off guard. He always did that. Even as children they would make each other jump. A widower, and stealthily single, he was never short of admiration. But he was just the same gawky cousin she played board games with.
‘Tell you what Theresa, I’ll give Lizzie a hand and you can have a chat with Martha before her head won’t fit in them doors.’
‘Where did you spring from James?’
‘I’ve been here all the time you old codger.’
‘Who are you calling old? You’ve three years on me and should be drawing your pension already.’
‘You look like you should be on the front cover of Vogue,’ Elizabeth said, and blushed.
Martha smiled at the two of them getting along so nicely together. They only met a year ago, when James came over for a holiday, and had been drawn to each other from their first meeting.
Aware that Martha needed a bit of fresh air, Theresa led her outside. A few months before the real Christmas rush. It was still warm. They found a wooden bench, just by the entrance.
Theresa gave a half smile. ‘Not thinking of Thomas are you?’
It would have been easy to lie, but Martha was done keeping secrets. ‘A little, but I will do. You can’t be married for that long, and not have some connection. There may have been years where I hated him, but I still love the old Thomas. Always will, but that’s okay.’
‘It is through our mistakes we can be ourselves, purple hair and all.’ Theresa flicked at Martha’s purple streaks in her hair.
‘Too bloody right, but shouldn’t you be getting in. I think James has more to contend with than Elizabeth in there. I’ll be in soon, just want a moment to myself.’
Theresa didn’t have to be told twice.
Cars plodded along the main road, as she watched the world pass by. Young, old it didn’t matter, they just got on with their lives. What would happen next? Martha couldn’t be sure of. Her agent said there was another book in her, but painting was her one true love.
Martha only just stepped in Susan’s painting gallery; was recognised straight away. She spent hours admiring the paintings on display. They talked about a possible showing of her own artwork, to highlight her book.
‘Mrs Whitman, Martha.’
A young man shook her hand, Martha instantly knew who he was. The same red hair. He looked like Chris in a short wig, but taller and a little stockier than her friend.
‘Alan, I’m so glad you came.’
Martha embraced him like they were old friends.
‘I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. If Chris were here she’d say the same thing.’
‘I miss that crazy lady.’
‘I wish I had more time with her, by the time I got her letter it was too late to say sorry. I left her to it, but I had to get away. The trouble was I ended up just like him. I drank to forget the pain but caused more. My wife divorced me, and I don’t blame her. It was Chris’s letter that made me get help for my drinking. I got married again last year, and we’re going to have a little one soon. We’re calling her Chrissie.’
Now was the right time for happy tears.
‘She would’ve been so proud.’
As he walked inside, Martha steadied herself on the bike racks. She was lucky, Laura had never shown the same aggression to Tabitha, or James. She had her problems with depression, but never let it affect her children.
‘You ready Mum?’ Laura asked, with a gentle tap on the shoulder.
Martha was never more confident. ‘More than ready.’
A young man, who couldn’t have been more than thirty hadn’t moved since Alan had gone into the library. Wearing oversized sunglasses and a worn expression, he almost hugged the pushchair in front of him.
‘Let me get the door for you,’ Martha said.
Taking a deep breath, the man seemed to contemplate Martha for a minute, before manoeuvring the pushchair inside the reception. Suddenly a quiet voice could be heard from the pushchair he was gripping on to. ‘Daddy, could I get Little Red Riding Hood today?’
Martha instantly thought of Tabitha: it was still her favourite book. On their many trips to Laura’s book shop, they would often spend hours, laughing at the same jokes and made more noise than they should. If Thomas were still alive, he would never have allowed their relationship to blossom. Now a boisterous nine-year-old, Tabitha was such an energetic child, who strode through life with a sense of real purpose. When her little brother was born, she took on the role of big sister with gusto.
‘You’ve attracted quite a crowd,’ Laura said.
Daring to look at the table in reception, where copies of her book “Crystal Ball” sat proudly on the table, Martha let her nerves fall away. Elizabeth, Lucy, Theresa, James were all cheering her on. Alan there in Chris’s stead, but she could almost see her friend beside him. Tabitha, with a firm grip on James Junior, with a grin ready to fill the whole room. Even Thomas was allowed, as long as he was the man in her painting.
Martha would never be forgotten again.
Laura wrapped her arms around her mum and gave them a gentle squeeze, ‘you’ve come a long way Mum.’
‘And so have you. My little girl the proud owner of a successful business.’
‘We are both a little stronger.’
Martha felt the light cotton of her sleeveless dress against her skin. A few years previously, she started growing her hair long. Age slipped away. She knew Laura to be right. There was a strength in her that nobody could take away now.
It was like she was in another world, signing her name on a book, she had every right to be proud. As the line filed down, Martha shook the hand of every person. Once more, she was drawn to the last man in the line. Was it true that one wounded animal always recognised another? She wasn’t sure, but the energy around them just seemed to crackle.
He couldn’t look away as the book was handed over.
‘Who do I sign this to?’ Martha asked, and gave the little girl in the pushchair a smile.
As their hand’s touched, John flinched. Inside the cover she wrote, “You are not to blame.”
‘I can’t leave him,’ John whispered, finally taking off his sunglasses, which revealed the bruise under his left eye.
‘I speak from experience, you know that.’ Martha pointed to the number of Refuge at the top of the page. ‘Your daughter needs a dad. Be honest, she doesn’t deserve to be a victim.’
‘She’s not a victim.’
John tried to shut the book, but Martha softly kept it open.
‘Do you want to see your daughter afraid of her own shadow? I know you don’t. I can see you love her. Ring this number 0808 2000 247. They will give you a safe place to stay. Advice about what to do next. You are not alone. There will always be someone who will listen to you. You are stronger than you think.’
Refuge – 0808 2000 247
Cut it out – posters found in salons, where staff are trained to spot the signs of domestic abuse, so that their clients can be referred safely.
Samaritans – 0800 069 6222
Mind – 0300 123 3393
Speak to family, friends, and most importantly let them help.
You are not alone.
You are not to blame.
Thank you for reading snippets of my book ”It Won’t Happen Again”.