Oh, Martha

By Mara Coson
October 2011


A while back I had written a story about a certain Martha, which had been published in a literary journal called Fragmented. Here is the story in full:

In bed at eight-thirty one night, Martha lay reassuring herself that at by the age of twenty-six she would kill herself by the stairwell of a boring brick building, with a suicide note tattooed around the scar on her shin about the size of a bullet. On the side of her bed that night were half a bottle of pills close to expiry sent in advance from Death and a pack of slightly chewed tropical-flavoured gum. This was the eighth time she had backed out. With nails shaped like the edges of a mail stamp, she rewrote in the carbon-monoxide-heavy air the words she had once scratched out with an old calligraphy pen: at least when you’re dissatisfied, you’re certain life’s still got something to offer. That’s not to say she was satisfied. After all, these three years left before her date of death were certainly going to be a slow ride of gluttony and self-parody.
     It wasn’t meant to be until that time that her stomach would be left to hang awkwardly to the side forever and happily so, like it does when she lets sleep run. In a way her gut would no longer matter — it was enough that for most of her life she had taken to weight-loss programs and diet books and hours of Oprah, Masterchef and, for a taste of demographics, Jerry Springer, and her neighbourhood souvlaki shop. She had always hoped to feel a sense of daring, perhaps a drive to be show-host attractive and rivetingly interesting, but that didn’t even happen even when she was brimming with life at nineteen.
     She was going to fill her fridge the next day with buffalo wings and cold Three Musketeers bars every day until her twenty-sixth birthday, and maybe sometime next week she would take out a chunk of her savings to buy technology too eager to die. In their obsolescence they’d be left to her mother, who thinks she can send anonymous text messages from a payphone. She would ‘try to fix them’ to keep her company after grieving for the next few years post-suicide.
     All of that seemed to be set, but the thing was that one hour prior, while she was staring at the boiling macaroni, somebody had decided that it would be good to visit her. While she flossed her teeth — that is, while her gums bled, and nearly threw up at the taste of it, while she watched Conan O’Brien on YouTube while feeling her lumpy breasts, while she ate her overcooked macaroni — this person was on a bus stop, and then on a bus, to see young Martha.
     Meanwhile, Martha balanced a piece of gum at the tip of her nose in a reclined position while the television was on and worried herself for the length of a show on the rights and wrongs of faking a sick-day. Just as she was about to tuck the rectangular piece of gum and decide that her perfect attendance record was bliss enough, the man stood on her doorstep and shook his umbrella to dry it. He pressed the mouldy doorbell button. After waiting for quite some time he pressed it again, scared to be rude, not realising that the doorbell had been inoperative for years.
     There would be no story had he decided to turn around, as public transport was still relatively frequent around nine. However, reputed to have the neighbourhood’s fiercest dog — a yapping Doberman with a white bow tie too tight around its pedigree neck — Martha was meant to know of this visit. The Doberman, never blessed with a permanent name, took the liberty of greeting the suited and moustachioed visitor with a painful kiss on the calf. In spite of his caricatured Ivy League manner, the visitor yelled out a rarely uttered profanity, forcing Martha to the window in order to determine the source of this voice.
     The suspicious man put his hand out above his head, twitching from pain and the brightness of the room. She couldn’t see his face properly.
    ‘What do you want?’ Martha asked impatiently, in a tone that even the narrative is obliged to speed up. She knew that if she didn’t sleep in the next hour she would be forced to visit the nearby pub — the emptiest in the entire suburb for miles — for a quick nightcap.
     ‘To come in’, he yelled back. Momentarily putting himself together, he propped his wounded side with a closed umbrella whose handle looked like a raggedly clipped nail.  ‘Rather, may I come in?’
     ‘It’s late, sir. It’s very, very late’, she responded with warning, though she had accepted pizza and sweet-and-sour-pork deliveries at times much later than this.
     ‘Oh, but I think you’ve been expecting me.’
     Good God, Martha thought. I’m being visited by Death of all people. Holy mother.
     In three simple seconds she swallowed her gum, pushed the window down, turned off the lights and belly-flopped down on the dirty brown carpet and put a finger to her lips to quiet her own self, her eyes going left then right, then left, then following a noisy wasp that had somehow gotten in through the window.
     Now she wanted everything to slow down. Good God, pardon me. Now she wanted to take back the nights she spent watching Oprah reruns instead of asking Pete down at the souvlaki shop out on a date of firsts. She wished she had given her dog a name, among many other wishes — of which her greatest was that she had never expected him.
     ‘May I come in?’ he repeated, his voice so loud it startled the ceramic girl figurine on the ceramic swing above the music box. Was he a wearing black suit and a bowler hat? Did he look like, or was he, Death? Martha could barely recall. The telephone was broken, too far, and too useless considering her mother was taking a tour through the Australian outback with no phone number. The wasp that had gotten in kept slamming into the closed window. Do not move.
     As Martha had her nose down flat on the furry, stained carpet, the man in question simply shrugged and started to turn around, limping, back onto the street, back to the bus stop, bleeding from two fang points back into the oblivion that is, unfortunately, exterior to this narrative. He would never come back. By the time the man was back to where he started, Martha had fallen asleep above the carpet darkened and greyed with menthol drool. Oh, Martha. When Martha woke up to the drying smell of saliva on her right cheek she was still too afraid to move. Death could wait. If he could wait forever then so would she. The wasp died first.
     They say that Martha’s death was a slow one. Her last attempt could not have been called her ninth attempt, but it surely was the last. They say for a suicide she was remarkably strong-willed to ignore hours and hours of hunger and to make trips to the toilet akin to jogging in place. They say the only one who bothered to attend her wake was a limping man in a black suit who they claim was her lover, but no-one could verify it. They say it could’ve been Pete from the souvlaki shop, but that it was hard to tell. Nobody really knew Martha, but they all sure knew she was dissatisfied.