Time changes everything. Nothing is still and nothing eternal. Martha could now look at her husband and be content with her own lot. Her old memories were fading, at least some of them were and he knew that.
Robert had married Martha for the dowry that came with her. It was a huge investment for his newly found advertisement firm. That firm was now well established and in the responsible hands of their son. Robert knew Martha was against this match from the start. He had not given her a chance to say no. He had cheated her out of her chance at true love, she always told him. Perhaps he did. Robert couldn’t love Martha the way she wanted him to. There was one particular reason for it and her name was Samantha.
Martha knew about Samantha. She had found her in her husband’s bed a decade ago. She had ample reasons to leave but nowhere in particular to go. She had no hopes of a bright future, not because she lacked beauty or charm. She lacked interest.
Martha knew about Samantha but Robert never found out about Mathew. He didn’t have a chance to. Mathew was her past. He had very little to do with her present or her future. When Mathew left Martha’s life had come crashing down on her. That never happened again, not when her parents’ died in a car crash, not when she found out about her husband’s affair. To Martha such trivial realities had stopped to matter the day she found Mathew’s letter on the bedside table where they had just made love the previous night.
The letter promised Martha a bright future, many unattainable dreams and a promise that he would never bother her with his presence ever again. Martha never really recovered from that hurt but the pain had fainted with time.
It did not matter to Robert ever that she could not respond to his advances of love with the same zeal that Samantha would. He had Samantha for his pleasures and Martha for the show. One other thing that Robert never found out was that soon after being found out in her bed Samantha had reached out to Martha and they had been best friends ever since.
Samantha came from a poor family. Her mother was prostitute while her father was unknown. Samantha however did not want to be stuck to the local saloon offering her services to drunken men. She had high ambitions and to fulfil them she had come to town. Her first patron was the owner of a bar where she joined as a singer. She had a nice voice, so many of her customers told her, customers who always demanded more. She used her voice to sing at parties and buffets till she came into the eye of a very powerful businessman. That businessman was Martha’s father.
Martha’s father wanted to make a star out of her. He was perhaps the first man in her life who never touched her physically and the first man that she had given her heart to. It was Martha’s father who had introduced her to Robert. After the old man passed away Robert made her a star alright with a small price to pay.
Samantha was an expert at the art of making love. She did not restrict her skills to Robert though. She had an insatiable appetite and she was never out of tricks. Once, Samantha tried to teach Martha some of her tricks, so that Robert wouldn’t insist on frequenting her, so often. When their lips met they felt contentment for the first time in a long time.
Samantha knew about Mathew. She even promised to find him for Martha. Martha never held her on her promise. Samantha never told her.
Mathew didn’t even remember the name. When Samantha had introduced herself as Martha Sutherland he simply proffered his card. Samantha saw the impression of a ring on his left hand. It was fresh. He had hastily taken off his wedding ring in order to take her hands for the dance. That was the general reaction men gave to her presence.
Samantha had a conscience. She didn’t like breaking homes. That is why she had gone to talk with Martha in the first place. That was now in the pages of history. Mathew’s wife was less tolerant than Martha, much less tolerant. Samantha was there to witness his drinking as well. She always filled the glass when he felt he had enough. Those were the nights when Robert left her alone.
The two women met during the day. They exchanged pudding recipes and made love. That was the regular routine. Sometime’s Martha would teach Samantha how to sew a rose on a quilt. Sometimes Samantha showed Martha the correct way to apply mascara.
Samantha knew that Martha would hurt more if she knew that Mathew laid her for a bet. When Samantha found out she was pregnant it was Martha she went to. That was perhaps the first time that the woman had surprised her as she stood up to her husband demanding that he adopt the child. Martha always thought that the child was Robert’s.
Samantha died young. She was about ten years younger than Martha. She couldn’t see her biological son graduate, or fall in love, or succeed in business. Sam inherited his mother’s kind heart and conscience. He knew he was named after their family friend Samantha Doolittle. He was there on a vacation from school when the kind woman died of a weak heart.
There never was any other woman that Martha could call a friend. Samantha’s death brought her close to her husband. They grieved for a long time and tried to see Samantha in Sam. That didn’t work too well because Sam went away for his studies. They finally found comfort in each other’s arm.
One summer afternoon, Martha had been forced to enter a pub to take shelter from the incessant rain outside. Seated on a corner table was a face that had blurred from her memory but a likeness that was fresh in her consciousness. Before that moment it had never occurred to her that Sam never resembled Robert in his facial features. He neither inherited anything other than his light blue eyes from his deceased biological mother. But Sam’s face always brought a sense of déjà vu to her. She now realized why.
Martha walked up to the table where Mathew sat. He looked up with glazed eyes. He did not recognize her. Martha sat down on a chair opposite and ordered lemonade.
“Mathew, it’s me. Martha.” She said weighing her every word.
The drunken man looked at her. He opened his eyes and looked at her closely, turned away and smirked. “You know you are not Martha. Your eyes are brown, hers were a crystal blue.” So saying the man got to his drink again. Martha sighed, nodded to herself, got up and went home.
That night she cried. She cried for whatever her friend had done for her. She cried for the stupidity with which she had ruined her own life. Robert didn’t know how to console her because he didn’t know the reason of her tears and sobs. As his instinct guided he held her close till she had emptied her heart out. Somehow it wasn’t working. Robert kissed away his wife’s tears and brought his lips to hers. In that moment they remained for a long time before Martha came back to reality. She rubbed away her tears, took a deep breath and looked at her husband. Her smile faltered. She took his face within her hands and in twenty years of their marriage, for the first time, kissed him back.