Hi! Welcome to Book Tuesday. This is the final instalment of Martha.
If you would like to catch the story from the beginning, please click here.
If you are looking for part two, please click here.
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Right! Without further ado, I present the final instalment of Martha…
The sun shone through the birch trees and warmed the occupants of the First Line Bus. It shuddered to a stop, letting out passengers on the small pavement across from the tall grey buildings. A woman crossed the road, flicking her head left and right to check for traffic. Her feet slip slapped against the pavement and she looked up at the tall grey building looming above with dark, soulless windows.
She made her way to the third floor of Staines Court and gently wrapped her thin fingers against No. 31’s dark blue door. She waited, staring at the keyhole to catch any movement. Just as she thought no-one was home, the latch clicked and the door opened slightly.
“You’ve come back!” a raspy, croaky voice called from within.
“Yes, I said I would” came her soft response.
Her figure disappeared behind the blue door. Shadows danced along the brown wall papered walls. The huddled figure led the way to the lounge/diner. She passed it and walked to the kitchen. The kettle was filled and the stove switched on to warm it. The cupboards were opened and closed until a can of baked beans were pulled out accompanied by bread.
“Where do you keep going?” the tentative croak asked.
“What do you mean Gerald?” she asked, turning to watch his fumbling figure.
“The police came round the other day. They wanted to take me into care Martha. Said you were gone and I was on me own,” he replied.
The kettle whistled, breaking the silence. She made a big mug of tea, baked beans and toast. Laying them out on the tray she followed the bent figure to the table.
As soon as the food was placed down, the slurping sounds of a hungry body began. Martha scooted around the flat, dusting and fluffing cushions, picking up dirty cups and plates and washing them in the kitchen. By the time Gerald had finished his food, she had tidied the lounge. Again she pondered on cleaning his room but refrained. There were some places one should never tackle. The clatter of a spoon hitting a plate made her turn.
“Would you like some more?” she smiled.
“I…yes please Martha!” came the croaky response.
She took the tray back to the kitchen and refilled the cup and plate. The figure watched her from the dining table and eagerly awaited the return of the tray. She placed it in front of him, watching the spoon disappear under the hoodie that forever covered the dark eyes watching her.
“I will be going soon,” she sighed. Her face pulled down, making her look twice her age.
“Please don’t go!” Gerald begged.
“You know I don’t want to Gerald,” she replied.
“Please don’t!” he cried, tears glistening on dark cheeks. “I’ll…I’ll show you the bedroom!” he said in desperation.
“That won’t be necessary Gerald. Thank you. I know what’s in there.”
“Maybe you’ve forgotten. Maybe I have to remind you,” said the croaky voice. His body lifted from the chair and shuffled across the floor to the bedroom.
She didn’t know whether to follow or stay where she was. The temptation to see his reaction pulled her towards the room. Uninhibited feet followed the bent shape of what used to be a strong man. She was greeted by a pleasant surprise. The room was kept neat and clean. The bed was made and clothes packed away in the dresser and built in wardrobes. Her favourite cushion was placed in the centre of the bed and dried flowers stood on the bedside table.
“It’s exactly as you left it my love,” he said, pointing a gnarled hand at the pretty pink doily covering her dressing table filled with brushes, perfumes and lotions. The soft scent of roses filled the room and the last rays of sun filtered through the light blue curtains, setting a warm ambience to the place.
Martha’s heart filled with sadness. She looked around her and saw a life she had left behind. Each bottle filled a memory and her eyes filled with tears staring at the photographs of her and Gerald on the dresser. So young and happy. So full of promise. She turned and walked back out of the sacred shrine to her; back to the mould and muskiness that was reality. As she watched to see if he would follow, her eyes spotted the documents left by Social Services. They required a signature of consent for him to move to Sunny Meadows Nursing Home. A signature that would change everything.
“Please don’t leave me again,” Gerald whispered into the silence. She didn’t turn around. “I know you want to go, but please stay this time Martha. Please stay with me!” His voice rasped out, ragged with emotion. The shadows danced around her, making it harder to see her.
“I’m so sorry Gerald!” She pulled away and walked to the dark blue door. It opened and shut, the last glimpse he had of her fading with the sound of her footsteps.
Gerald’s body shuddered. He looked at the home he once shared with the most beautiful woman he had ever known. It tore little pieces out of him thinking how every happy memory was slowly disappearing under the filth of neglect and age. He didn’t want to face the prospect of leaving the one place left that was filled with her memories. He wanted to fight on.
The end of the week saw the return of the police officer and Social Worker. The two burly men walked through the flat again, looking for something he couldn’t see. Maybe they noticed the shadows too. The sweet smell of roses cut through the rank musky odour hanging in the entrance way. Someone had been back to clean again. The Social Worker searched for the paperwork he had left on the bookshelf near the cloak stand. They were still there, presumably untouched. He picked them up and filed them away into the little briefcase strapped across his shoulder.
“Gerald, you have to come with us today,” said the police officer. “We need to pack your things so we can take them with us.”
“She’s not coming back,” muttered Gerald. He hadn’t seen her now for days. Showing her the bedroom had been a mistake. “She won’t back come back…ever!” The frail old man buckled under the weight of sadness and tears fell unabated from tired dark eyes. The policeman blinked furiously and gently led the huddled figure to the flower patterned sofa.
“It’s okay Gerald. We want to look after you. Don’t worry, we will take you somewhere much brighter and happier than this place,” he said, looking around at the faded wallpaper and dirt lines showing where furniture used to stand. The sofas they sat on came from a different era and it was an effort to push out of them.
“You don’t understand,” said Gerald, shaking his cloaked head. “This was my happy place. It’s filled with her memories. I…I can’t lose them now. They’re all I have to live for!”
The Social Worker joined them in the lounge. He watched the old man cry and the police officer try to maintain a stern façade. He swallowed the lump developing in his own throat.
“Look Gerald, I’ve brought a special box with me to keep all her memories. We can take them with us and any furniture you like to your new place. Would you like that?”
The hunched shape nodded and slowly got up with the assistance of the officer. They walked to the bedroom. With a lot of patience, they carefully packed every bottle, every hairbrush and picture frame. The pretty pink doily was folded and set to one side of the box whilst the dry roses with bagged and placed on top of it. A suitcase was found in the back of the large built in wardrobe. Suits that hadn’t been worn for years were pulled out and packed, along with smart shirts, underwear and socks. Shoes were boxed and placed next to the bulging suitcase.
“Is there anything else you want to take with you Gerald?” asked the Social Worker.
“No. That’s all there is. That’s all,” came the resigned response.
The dark blue door to No. 31 Staines Court shut with a permanence that resounded across the corridor leading to the lifts. The huddled figure of what was once a strong man followed two burly officers, one in a police uniform and one in a smart grey suit. He watched the lift doors glide shut, enclosing them in what reminded him of an ice-box. They walked through the cold entrance way of the building with a broken window allowing the wind to whistle straight through. A bare yellow light bulb flickered overhead. Gerald looked around for the last time and said his silent good-byes.
They climbed into a marked police car parked close to the entrance. All of Gerald’s life was put into the boot; four shoe boxes, a box filled with pictures and bottles and a heavy suitcase filled with clothing. The car drove off, leaving the cold grey building behind. Streets flew past and the city slipped into view. They drove through, passing avenues and wide roads. The shadows danced along the buildings, sometimes drawing closer, other times disappearing altogether. Soon, they left the town behind and approached Sunny Meadows Nursing Home. The tall gates automatically opened to allow the vehicle to pass and closed shut with a snap.
Residents meandered through beautiful gardens and watched the car proceed down the long drive to the entrance way. A nurse came out of the sprawling building and smiled at the officers and Gerald. She helped his cowering figure out of the car and led him to the receptionist’s desk where a pretty young woman sat clickety-clacking at an old style keyboard. She looked up and smiled at the newcomers.
“Welcome Gerald! We are so glad you’ve decided to join us. I’m sure someone will be very happy to see you here!” she smiled.
He looked confused. Who knew he was here? There was no one left to care. He was alone.
“Come on Gerald,” said a care worker, coming to take his arm. “Let’s go get you a nice cup of tea and ginger nut whilst these two sort out your paperwork.” She led him through to a large room filled with various styles of armchairs and a loud television blaring out ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ in the corner.
The Social worker pulled out the paperwork he had retrieved from Gerald’s flat and handed it to the nurse.
“We had to bring him through. We received the signed consent,” he stated in a grim voice.
“Oh dear! Was he in any danger?” she asked.
“No. He seemed to be clean and fed. The carer was visiting but his wife had to be moved out for her safety. He’s been too far gone for us to ignore. So we had to make a decision.”
“Never mind, I’m sure he will be fine once he’s settled in and has company again,” she replied, smiling in Gerald’s direction.
A soft touch on Gerald’s shoulder made him jump. He looked up to find a pair of beautiful blue eyes staring at him.
“Hello Gerald,” she said, her voice as soft as velvet.
“Martha! Martha! How did you know where to find me?” he asked, his gnarled hands reaching out to hold hers. She was so beautiful. His eyes filled with tears as he watched her move in front of him.
“I’ve been here all this time silly,” she replied.
“No! You went away. It was dark and you fell. The shadows were calling to you and telling you to leave me Martha. You said you weren’t coming back!” he croaked.
She shook her head, blue eyes swimming in a pool of sadness.
“No, my dear. I’ve been here all along. You’re the one that keeps disappearing.”
She turned to watch the care worker approach and help him out of his seat. They led him to his new home, a room six feet wide by eight feet deep. There was a small en-suite attached with a toilet, sink and towel holder. It was sparse but adequate. Someone had unpacked his clothes into a free standing cupboard and placed his special bottles of perfume, brushes and pictures on a chest of drawers. The pretty pink doily lay carefully on the side table next to his bed.
The sun was setting over the horizon and a golden glow washed the bedroom. Gerald sat on his new bed and looked at the strangers standing there. The Social Worker, the nurse and care worker smiled back at him and made small talk, trying to make him feel comfortable.
“Where’s Martha gone?” he asked, searching the sea of faces for her smile.
“Mrs Stanton is outside Gerald.”
“I don’t see her. Please, don’t let her go!” rasped Gerald. He could see the shadows dancing on the walls, drawing closer.
“Please Gerald, calm down. Here is something to help you,” said the nurse, offering him a small transparent cup filled with pills.
“No! I don’t want your damn pills. I told the doctor the same thing. I’m not crazy!” he shouted.
“Now Gerald, we discussed this…remember?” said the Social Worker. Realising what he said, he changed his stance. “Martha’s going to be back just now Gerald. If you take your medicine, you’ll see her.”
Gerald frowned at the cup and reluctantly took it, swallowing the pills. He sipped at the drink offered and sighed. He hated medicines. Too many damn medicines to take every day. He was sick of it. Martha must be angry with him for hiding the pills away. She kept disappearing.
The sun has set by the time everyone left his room. He felt tired and confused. Everything smelled clean and new. Nothing felt like home. He gazed at the pictures on the chest of drawers, trying to draw some comfort from them.
Suddenly the door opened. Martha walked in, smiling at him. She looked so young and beautiful, just like the day he had married her. The shadows danced along the wall, following her progress into the room.
“I hear you took your medicine tonight. Well done!” she laughed. Her soft hand found his gnarled ones and held them tight.
“Where did you go Martha?” he asked.
“I never went anywhere my love,” she sighed. “I was always here. It was you that disappeared.”
“I…don’t remember,” he rasped, trying to clear the fogginess from his mind. The shadows wanted to draw in, take her away from him but he held on for as long as he could.
“I know dear,” she said kindly. “You’ve done ever so well, but we needed help. I needed help. We are going to stay here together now. You’re safe.”
“What’s wrong with me Martha?” he croaked out.
“You have Alzheimer’s Gerald. It has been getting worse these past couple of months. That’s why you keep seeing me go away. I’m always there with you…you drift away from me and I anxiously await your return,” she said, eyes filling with sadness. “Stay with me Gerald, for as long as you can. Okay?” she whispered.
He looked into her bright blue eyes and for the first time noticed the deep lines etched around her blue eyes, tracing webs across her face. Her hair was streaked with grey and her soft frail hands looked translucent against his dark ones. Gerald sighed. The shadows danced across the room, beckoning to him.
“I love you Martha,” he said, a lonely tear falling down his emaciated face. She reached out and kissed him.
“I love you too.”
The shadows drew together and he sat alone. The world was quiet and filled with strangers.