The voice on the other end of the telephone paused, and Martha put down the receiver without hanging it up. She gazed at the walls quizzically, not sure what she was looking for, her head gently swaying from side to side. Then:
“What a nice shade of white,” she murmured. “I must see if John can do the bathroom in the same color.”
Martha shuffled off down the long hallway and entered a small room through an open door. A man lay on the bed; he was not John. The man called out the name Martha to her; whatever for? He stood, took her by the hand, and escorted her out the door. A little farther down the hallway, he opened another door that led into her room. It was hers because there was the vase of yellow and white plastic flowers sitting on top of the bureau. How did he know where I lived? Martha went up to the flowers, poked them around for several minutes until all the yellow ones were on one side.
She turned round, surveyed her room; she was alone. No sign of John. There was the twin bed against one wall, neatly made up with hospital corners; the nightstand next to it with her mystery book on it, her page marked with a yellowing piece of tissue; the dresser with the vase bolted to the top. Photographs speckled one wall; several were of her surrounded by people, young and old. The air smelled of lavender.
Then remembering she was looking for John, Martha mumbled, “Now, where’s the man gone to?” She would just have to go hunt him up.
She opened the top drawer of the bureau and stared at the rainbow-mix of colors within—“So pretty.”—before remembering she wanted a scarf. She took a white one and tied her hair up without using the mirror across the room.
“I bet he’s in the living room watching TV,” she mumbled, and shuffled out the door.
A wide arch led into a large room with too many stuffed chairs for her taste, many set facing a wide, flat-screen TV bolted to the far wall; its volume set on loud. Even so, two men slept through the noise, and a woman in white sat in the back reading. She smiled at Martha and said something unintelligent.
“Not here,” Martha mumbled. “John’s probably out back, asleep in the hammock. I should never have let him put it up.”
Returning to her room, Martha took out another scarf and this time tried tying it on in front of the mirror. She stopped when she couldn’t make it sit right and stared. Something silky slipped through her grasp, tickling her fingertips. She looked at her hands and found nothing. From the closet she took out a white sweater with a sequence of roses and a pair of pink sneakers. She put these on; then saw a discarded scarf on the floor. Martha bent over and picked it up, folded it, and put it back in the top drawer of the bureau. Mary’s been going through my things again, that little scamp.
She turned to the photographs and took down the portrait of a seven-year old girl. She ran her finger along the side of a face with a big smile that poked out of a large tumble of reddish-brown hair. She then touched the short ends of her own grayness.
“That used to be my color,” Martha said aloud. “Oh, today’s Monday. Mary’s supposed to call.”
Reverently she replaced the photograph next to one of a woman of maybe thirty-five with the same smile and tumble of hair but whose name she couldn’t remember. Once out in the hallway, Martha shuffled down to the telephone. The receiver was in place but it wasn’t ringing. Had John answered it and not told her? That man was too much. I bet he let it ring while asleep in his hammock.
She continued along the hallway, muttering her disgust at the choices of artwork John had made to decorate their house with: more portraits than landscapes. “Do as the just and temperate men do”? What a funny thing to put under the portrait of an old man. And what a name for an artist to take: Aristotle. Someone else had already made it famous, but for what she didn’t remember.
The last room was the kitchen; and when she pushed the door open she was aghast. Where had all the pretty curtains gone? The sinks were clean and shiny, as was the floor, but ooh, that disinfectant smell. I must be sure to cut some flowers and put them up in here.
A set of double-doors led outside and down a long ramp to the street. Off to one side was a large green dumpster. When had John put these up? Humph, he never really knows what he’s doing. She looked for the hammock, and not seeing it, shuffled off down the ramp and along the sidewalk.
The sun was hot on her face and hands, and Martha loosened her sweater. There were children playing; she could hear their voices and cries: happy little sounds. But this late in the day? She tried reading her watch but found the sleeve of her sweater had bunched up around her wrist. It was under all that cloth. Martha stopped and stood for a moment wondering what she had been looking for. Oh, it’ll come to me. Oh, yes, John. See?
The children’s voices grew louder. A park came into view. The jungle gym and swings were full, and two or three groups of kids—Martha couldn’t tell who played with who—kicked black and white soccer balls about on a large grass field. A few older kids passed her on the sidewalk, whizzing by on their skateboards. She looked down at her sweater wrapped wrist, and then called out.
“Hey, you kids! Get in here! It’s time for dinner. Get in here and get washed up!”
A few of the children stopped their play and stared. A moment later Martha shuffled off, muttering, “Get in here. Get in here.”
The park turned into rows of houses; the houses transformed themselves into lush trees and bushes bordering a dirt track. She looked for the hammock, expecting to see it hung between any two trees. Why would he hang it so far out here? It’s so far from the house, and the sun’s going down and all. The air was cooling, but her sweater wouldn’t pull up from her arm. Her scarf had blow loose somehow and been taken by the wind. I must look awful, and it’s all that man’s fault. Tomorrow that hammock goes! Up ahead someone had parked their car in the middle of the trail. As she approached, Martha could see the backend bouncing up and down as if some couple were messing around inside. She heard voices, muffled cries, and then a loud slap.
“Hey, you kids! Get in here and get washed up!”
The car stopped moving. A girl screamed, and tumbled out of the passenger side onto the ground. The engine cranked. The tires spun dirt and gravel into the air as the car raced off down the trail.
Martha shuffled up to the young girl lying by the side of the trail. She bent down, put her arms around her, and helped the girl up. She was crying and tightly clung to Martha.
“Here now, you must be more careful when crossing the street” Martha said. “Look here, you’ve torn your skirt and blouse in the most unseemly way, child. Oh, but don’t cry. We’ll have you fixed up and mended. Did you bruise yourself? We’ll have that all taken care of before suppertime. Come on home, now. Don’t you cry, child.”
When they got to the houses, a commotion grew out of nowhere. There were too many people talking, walking, and doing just about everything for her to know what was going on. She tried answering their questions but kept coming back to why they were making such a fuss: the child had only fallen down. Martha was glad when the police finally drove her home, but she couldn’t imagine how they had fit their car through the door. And where had John been in all this?
Sitting on her bed, she picked up the mystery on the nightstand and began to read but grew tired after a paragraph and put it back down. Martha went to the door but the knob wouldn’t turn and she sat back down on the bed. Was it night? They always locked the doors at night, though it made the room stuffy.
Martha went to the window but it would only open an inch. John will have to fix that. Can’t have stuffy rooms in the summer. She went to the door. The knob wouldn’t move and she sat back down on the bed. Was it night? They always locked the doors at night, though it made the room stuffy. She glanced over to the photographs, her gaze passing quickly over a framed document that mentioned something about someone named Martha; and why was it in her room, anyway?
Her eyes came to rest on the photo of a seven-year old girl with a big smile that poked out of a large tumble of reddish-brown hair. Martha touched the short ends of her own grayness.
“That used to be my color,” she said aloud. “Oh, today’s Monday. Mary’s supposed to call.”
Martha went to the door. The knob wouldn’t turn and she sat back down on the bed. Was it night? They always locked the doors at night, though it made the room stuffy.
- copyright © 2014 by mari t.
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