Published by: T. A. Belshaw
Coming Spring 2021
Unspoken Book 2.
When trouble comes disguised as family.
Martha lay on her side, her turban-covered head nestled into the deep pile of down pillows. Her bedside clock read four-minutes-past-seven.
‘Late again,’ she said under her breath.
She rolled onto her back and studied the thick crack in the ceiling that she was sure had spread further over the last few days. She would have liked to get it fixed but the young man she had booked to give her a quote had looked like a bit of a rogue builder, although he claimed to be a member of the Master Builder’s Federation. Martha didn’t believe a word of it, there were a lot of rogues about these days. At one time you could get a local builder who would take pride in his work, knowing that if he messed up, the word would quickly get about, but now, all the trades seem to come from a minimum of twenty miles away and they wouldn’t give a damn about receiving a complaint. Just look at that Rogue Traders program on TV. The country was full of cowboy builders.
Only last week, old Mrs Hardy a few houses down the lane had been told by a ‘passing builder’ that the roof of her old bungalow looked in danger of collapse. After an inspection he blew out his cheeks, shook his head and told her it couldn’t be repaired for a penny under ten thousand pounds. The silly old woman had agreed to have the work done, but luckily her son came over to visit at the weekend and he had brought in his best friend, a builder himself, to have a look. Finding no fault, he suggested they ring the police. Mrs Hardy’s son, who was no saint himself, was reluctant to get them involved, so he just rang the number on the card she had been given, and cancelled the job, warning the builder that he was onto him and he shouldn’t show his face around the area any time soon.
Martha scratched an itch just below her right eye and looked towards the door.
‘Marjorie, where in God’s name have you got to?’ she muttered.
She shook her head and thought about the meeting with the solicitor later that day. With just the tiniest, and long awaited, bit of luck she so thoroughly deserved, she wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of repairing a crack in the ceiling ever again. She could afford to get the modern equivalent of Sir Christopher Wren to do the job if she felt like it. An unexpected mention in her late mother’s will could mean she would never want for money again. The old girl had been loaded when she died. The big, old farmhouse she had lived in and the couple of acres of land around it, must be worth at least three quarters of a million pounds these days. Then there were the proceeds of her land sales. The farm had once boasted a hundred acres but Alice’s astute selling of parcels of land had netted her a fortune over the years. She had invested a lot of the money in London property and stocks and shares. God knows how much those assets were worth now.
‘About time,’ she said loudly as her sister, Marjorie, entered the room carrying a rattling breakfast tray.
‘I’m sorry, I… well, I dropped the pan with the eggs in and had to cook some more, by the time I had cleaned up, the tea was getting cold so I had to make another pot.’
‘I hope the eggs are properly cooked today.’ Martha scowled at her sister. ‘Yesterday, they were so undercooked they resembled mucus. How many times do I have to say, boil them for three minutes and twenty seconds, precisely.’
‘Yes, Martha, I’m sorry, but the handle of the pan was hot and—’
‘Just give me the tray and stop wittering,’ Martha scolded.
Marjorie pulled open the thickly-lined curtains to allow the early morning sun to light up the room.
‘It’s a nice day for an inheritance,’ she quipped.
‘Don’t count your chickens just yet, Marjorie,’ replied Martha. ‘You know what the tight old so and so was like. Remember the time I went cap in hand to her when Roger claimed a quarter of this house in the divorce court? She wouldn’t give me a penny to help me out of the mess.’
‘It was good job I had some savings, wasn’t it, Martha?’ Marjorie walked stiffly across to the bed and sat on the corner.
Martha coughed on the piece of toast she had just put into her mouth.
‘Don’t go digging up all that again. You’ll never let me forget that for once in your life, you helped me with something, will you? Put another record on, Marjorie, I’m fed up of hearing that one.’
‘I’m sorry, Martha,’ said Marjorie, quietly. I won’t mention it again. I might not need to after we’ve been to the solicitor today though. I didn’t think we’d get a penny from Mother, but we’re both mentioned in the will. I fully expected her to leave everything to our Jessica.’
Martha put the crust of the toast back onto her plate and sliced the top off one of the eggs with a knife. Inspecting the consistency of the yolk, she nodded, and dug a teaspoon into it.
‘Well, if we are the main beneficiaries, don’t you go throwing your share about. I’ll find some nice, safe investments for you. And, watch out for fortune seeking men. You would be taken advantage of far too easily.’
‘I’m seventy-six now, Martha, I don’t think any men will be interested in me.’
‘You’d be surprised, Marjorie,’ said Martha bitterly. ‘If I can get caught out, there’s little hope for you.’
Martha finished her egg and decided the quality wasn’t quite good enough to warrant eating the second one. Instead, she poured tea into a delicate china cup, poured in a small amount of milk, stirred it gently, and took a large sip.
‘At least the tea is made properly,’ she said.
Marjorie got to her feet. ‘I’d better get on with running your bath.’
‘Leave it for twenty minutes, I don’t want to bathe on a full stomach.’
‘Yes, Martha,’ replied Marjorie.
‘You can get in after me.’ Martha ordered. ‘We’ll share the water. Our gas bill was enormous over the last quarter.’
Marjorie walked to the door. ‘I’ll come back for the tray when you’re in the bath, shall I?’
Martha nodded, picked up another piece of toast and bit into it.
‘Off you go then. Make sure the kitchen is properly cleaned, I don’t want to be stepping on bits of egg shell when I come down.’
When Marjorie had taken away the breakfast tray, Martha got out of bed, removed her nightgown and slipped into a striped bath robe. Removing her turban, she studied herself in the dressing table mirror, running her fingers through her sparse, white hair before holding a hand mirror behind her head. Cursing the latest, seriously expensive, but useless, scalp cream, she walked quickly to the bathroom where she dampened her hair in the sink before rubbing a generous handful of the supposed miracle, steroid cream, onto her head.
Martha had always been envious of her mother’s shoulder length, chestnut curls. When Alice was young, people used to compare her to the Hollywood actress, Rita Hayworth, and indeed, there had been a remarkable likeness. Martha wasn’t as fortunate, she hadn’t been exactly unattractive when she was young, but she could hardly be classed as a beauty. Her hair had always been straight and thin, almost lank. Even in old age, Alice, her mother, had managed to keep a full head of hair, she had even retained some of her natural colour until she was well into her sixties.
Martha assumed she got her looks, and her hair, from Frank, her father, who had died somewhere in the Atlantic the year after her birth. Maybe she got the hair problems from Frank’s mother, Edna, was it? How was the hair gene passed down? She doubted it was a matriarchal thing, after all, her daughter and granddaughter both had dark, healthy, heads of hair. She decided to blame it on Alice anyway. They had always hated each other. There was talk of her mother practicing witchcraft in the attic of the farmhouse. Perhaps she had placed a curse on her first born, or simply used toxic chemicals when she washed her hair in the bath when she was a baby. Alice was capable of anything.
After bathing, she returned to the sink and rinsed out the sticky cream with fresh warm water, then she returned to the bathroom, calling to Marjorie on the way.
‘The bath’s all yours, be quick, the water isn’t too hot.’
In the bedroom, Martha pulled on a black and grey checked skirt and a white, silk blouse before opening a hat box that sat on the dressing table. She took out a steel-grey wig and pulled it over her patchy clumps of hair. She sat for a few minutes, tugging it first to the right, then the left, then the back. Finally satisfied, she applied a dab of rouge to her cheeks and went downstairs to the lounge where she turned on the radio and listened to the latest international news program. Radio 4 and the BBC TV news were her only source of information. She had cancelled the newspapers to save money some years before.
A few minutes later she heard Marjorie come down the stairs and five minutes after that, her younger sister walked into the lounge carrying a tray laden with Martha’s favourite china tea service. She was wearing a maroon skirt, a cream blouse and a navy cardigan.
‘I thought I’d use the best china as it’s a special day,’ she said.
Martha pursed her lips, looked Marjorie up and down, then shook her head.
‘You aren’t going to a solicitor’s office dressed like that, surely?’
‘What’s wrong with it?’ Marjorie looked down at her chest.
‘It’s not really fitting for the occasion is it? We’re attending the formal reading of a will; we’re not going to a coffee morning at the Women’s Institute.’
‘I... I thought.’
‘Don’t think, Marjorie. It seldom works out well for either of us.’
Marjorie looked confused. ‘What should I wear then?’
Martha sighed. ‘I’m not your dresser,’ she said, testily. ‘Wear the black knitted suit you wore to Mother’s funeral. That will look much more business-like.’
‘The hat had a veil on it,’ Marjorie protested.
Martha slammed her hand down onto the dining table making Marjorie jump.
‘Then don’t wear the bloody hat.’
Sniffling, Marjorie left the room.
‘And don’t take all day about it,’ called Martha. ‘Nicola is picking us up at eleven.’
Marjorie’s tear-stained face appeared around the dining room door.
‘Why are we leaving so early, Martha?’ She sniffed, pulled a handkerchief from the sleeve of her cardigan and wiped her nose. ‘The appointment isn’t until one-thirty.’
‘We’re going to have a look at our old home, Marjorie. I want to see what state the outbuildings are in. I’ve got big plans for that place.’