Get Away with Martha Hall

Artemis Callaghan

There are a couple of things I’ve been a right muppet about and forgot to put in the two previous instalments.  First off, I put “unfinished” rather than “incomplete”.  So never fear, this is a finished story and I won’t leave you hanging.  Secondly, and much importantly, I forgot to thank Sally for her unparalleled help writing this.  Luckily, she is a very forgiving woman.  She has dug me out of some incredible holes, and often knows my girls better than I do.  So Sally, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Part 3


            There was a chink as the door opened, pushing against the bell set on the frame.  Alistair Ray glanced up and saw a small woman in a big parka, baggy trousers and big boots.  Short blondish plaits emerged from a navy and white striped knitted hat.  She wore no make up and her nose was reddened by the North-Easterly that had troubled the town for the last two days, but her eyes were the clear blue of a summer sky.  Ordinarily, this was an effective disguise; however, whereas she would’ve walked past him unnoticed in her normal clothes, Alistair Ray recognised her immediately.

            “Hello Matty”

She looked startled, glanced over her shoulder and then gave him an uncertain smile.

            “Hello Mr. Ray. I was – I was wondering – is Lauren around?”

He put down The Guns of Navarone and viewed the young woman over the top of his glasses.  It was hard to imagine that she was a success in her chosen field, even if it was one that he considered frivolous beyond belief, she seemed so timid, too unassuming.  Not for the first time he wondered what the appeal was for his daughter.  If he could wish a best friend for Lauren, it would’ve been one whose strength of personality matched hers: self reliant, tough, honest.  He would’ve wished her a boy not this girl.  But boys had never loomed large in Lauren’s life after the age of eleven.  They’d never discussed it; he’d tried when Lauren was a teenager but she’d deflected any attempt at so personal a conversation the way she always had.  He regretted that they’d never had a proper father-daughter talk; the sticky facts of life and intimacy, the way the world really was outside the confines of a dust jacket.  But the opportunity never seemed to present itself and he couldn’t bring himself to force the issue.

            On her eighteenth birthday, Lauren stayed out all night for the first time.  She reappeared the next morning in time for breakfast, the skin under her eyes smudged, a suspicious bruise on her neck, acting as if nothing had happened.  Alistair wondered if he ought to have said something but Lauren was legally and, he was sure, emotionally an adult so he kept his mouth shut.  It was the first in what would be a regular occurrence.  Whatever it was she felt the need to do, she also felt the need to do it away from home, and as he never got a phone call from the police station or the hospital, Alistair didn’t feel he could challenge her about it, or even ask.  He respected her privacy but sometimes he felt he was lacking, that ultimately he was letting her down.

            And now here, in the middle of his shop, was Matty Hall, a loose thread in his daughter’s otherwise tightly woven life; for something so important, she was a disappointment.

            “Lauren? I’m afraid you’ve missed her”

            “Do you know how long she’ll be? I mean, could I wait for her?”

“You’d have a long wait, I’m afraid. I have absolutely no idea when she’ll be back, she never said”

“I’ll come back later, before you close, maybe she’ll be back by then”

“I doubt it. She’s gone”

Alistair Ray watched as the colour literally drained from Matty’s face.  He was fascinated.  He’d heard and read the expression countless times but had never actually seen it happen.  When she spoke, her voice faltered.



            “Gone where?”

            “I don’t know”

She was staring at him, wide eyed.

            “She’s your daughter and you don’t know where she is?”

She had a point, he had to admit that.  He shrugged away his embarrassment.

            “Last I heard she was in Montana. Or was it Colorado?”

Matty’s knees seemed to give out on her and she gripped the edge of the desk.



            “O God. It’s so big, how would I ever find her?”

The last words were whispered, she didn’t want a response, didn’t even care if he was listening.  She looked as if she might either cry or throw up, or both.  Sympathy tugged at him but he was unsure what to do.  Alistair McLean might tell you how to blow up Nazi gun emplacements but he was no use to anyone faced with a potentially fainting girl.

            “Would you like to sit down, have a glass of water?”

She looked up at him and gave him a weak smile.

            “No, I’m fine. Is there any way to get in touch with her?”

“Short of contacting the British Embassy, no, not really. She rings me every so often”

“She hasn’t got an email address or anything like that?”

That was a question he couldn’t answer; he’d no more allow a computer in the house than he would a television set.  He prided himself on the fact that the only pieces of machinery in the shop was the old till.  He raised his hands, palms up.  There was a sharp intake of breath from Matty; a single drop of salt water that edged out of the corner of her right eye and clung to a lash.  She rubbed it away with the back of her hand, continuing the movement across her check until she also rubbed at her reddened nose.  Alistair wanted to put his arm around her, reassure her that everything would be alright, for once in his life display a little fatherly affection, but he couldn’t; it would be inappropriate.  Instead, he softened his voice and tried to comfort her.

“She told me she’d be back and Lauren is as good as her word”

Matty’s face was still white and forlorn, her shoulders hunched against potential cold and hurt, but she managed to give him a smile of surprising warm.  He put his hand out to her and, after a moment’s hesitation, she took it and shook it.

            She’d always preferred the town at this time of year.  Only the hardiest of holiday makers and day trippers would bother with the east coast of England in February.  The short days and long nights, the rain and wind of the post-Christmas, post-New Year period drove the British deeper into the warmly lit comfort of their own living rooms, to huddle on the sofa with the central heating on full blast, curtains drawn against the bleak early darkness outside the windows; settling down at the kitchen table with brightly coloured brochures spread out in front of them, dreaming of ten days in the Floridian, Marbellan or Cretan sun.  Television sets flickered with promise and fantasy: bikinis, white sands and water so clear you could see the bottom.  And there to guide them through it all was Martha Hall.  Martha Hall propped against the rail of the Queen Mary II, sea breezes tugging lovingly at her blonde hair, her skin caressed by the sun until it was golden; Martha Hall with her alabaster white smile and blue eyes that were a holiday in themselves.

            She’d watched herself the previous night on the TV in her hotel room.  Watched Martha Hall as she chatted with her fellow cruisers as they lounged by the cerulean splash pool, wandered around the boutiques and enjoyed the extensive onboard entertainment.  This was the relaxed and open Martha Hall, the one the cameras and the viewing public recognised.  She remembered the closed off, cowering Martha Hall, her terror of the potential pitch and yaw of the Atlantic, thirty foot waves and childhood memories of Shelley Winters failing to survive the Poseidon Adventure; sea sickness that never left her, worse when faced with plates full of food, Anya just about managing to shout cut before Martha’s land loving stomach mutinied, taking no prisoners and keel-hauling her nerves.  There were nights when she sat on the gently swaying bed in her gently swaying suite and did nothing but cry.

            The sea, she decided, was better viewed from a respectable distance, with both feet firmly on dry land.  The most contact you should have with it was to roll up your trouser legs and take a paddle; cold grey water against the skin of your shins and calves, toes digging for traction in a thin layer of yellow sand over pebbles.  Ideally, you should be sitting in a plastic roofed shelter next to raincoated old ladies who don’t recognise you as that girl off the telly, the fur lined collar of your parka pulled up around your neck, your hands plunged deep your pockets, eyes trained on the white foam blasting the shingle back to the Stone Age.

            Martha sat in a plastic covered shelter staring out at the sea, not so much ignoring the raincoated old ladies drinking tea from a thermos as them gradually sliding out of her consciousness.  Their initial interest in her, the sneaking suspicion that they knew her from somewhere, had quickly dissipated as she proved not to be one of life’s great talkers.  Their conversation washed over her with the sound of the incoming tide and squawking gulls.  Coming back had seemed like a good idea, less certain than in the summer, admittedly, when sunshine and a solid career in broadcasting, the rosy glow of nostalgia, had buoyed her confidence.  That had been shattered the minute she’d walked into Alistair Ray’s bookshop and saw the last person she expected to see, even if deep down she’d hoped to.

            Both her heart and her stomach had lurched up into her throat as if trying to escape from her mouth when she saw that familiar dark head bowed as fingers flicked through what appeared to be a collection of dirty magazines.  She’d barely changed in nine years; she even had on the same T shirt she’d been wearing the very first time Martha had seen her.  Lauren always told everyone that the first time she and Martha had seen each other was first day of secondary school: two girls in identical uniforms, blouses still holding their cellophane creases, navy and gold striped ties tight at their throats, but that wasn’t true.  It might’ve been the first time Lauren had seen Martha, but it wasn’t the first time Martha had seen Lauren.

            Heat had turned the tar sticky on the strip of promenade that ran along the front.  If you stood at one end and looked up it, the buildings in the distance were insubstantial, indistinct, and it seemed as if there was a huge puddle on the horizon.  Matty’s father explained that this was simply a trick of the heat and light, that the buildings were as solid as ever, that the puddle was a mirage just like they got in the desert but on a much smaller scale.  Matty and her friends from school were making the most of a summer where they still knew their place.  September would bring uncertainty: new faces, new rules, new dynamics.  They didn’t know that this anxiety was a cover for deeper, darker changes; bodies that were on the verge of knowing themselves, the rush of hormones and a confusion of feelings.  They clung to the end of the pier in a fever of proto-pubescent excitement, lairy on too much sugar and too many possibilities.

            It was on a July day that an eleven year old Matty Hall, in this hot, unconscious frenzy, had a vision; a vision that came out of the shimmering heat haze at speed.  A figure on a bike, a BMX bike, dark hair and a flash of blue like a kingfisher.  It hurtled towards her, blurred past, and then came to an abrupt stop four feet beyond her, where two boys with ginger hair laughed and clapped their hands.  The dark haired, blue T shirted cyclist leapt off the bike, handing it to one of the ginger boys.  Matty couldn’t stop staring.  Initially, she assumed it was a boy but there was no way a boy would wear a T shirt with Wonder Woman emblazoned on it; with a flush, Matty realised it was a girl.  It wasn’t the first time she’d seen a tomboy, there were plenty at school, but she never had anything to do with them being a girly sort of girl.  Or rather they never had anything to do with her.  She was instinctively drawn to them but could never communicate; they spoke the secret language of boys: dens and penknives, barely concealed violence.  The girls around her spoke the language of ponies and fluffy pens, their vocabulary expanding daily to include clothes, make up, boys.  Matty strove to keep up, could understand and be understood, but felt increasingly that this was not her first language; she had an aptitude but no feel for it, much as she did for French and German.

            Everyday for the rest of the month she went down to the pier hoping to catch another glimpse of the girl in the Wonder Woman T shirt but without any luck.  The first week in August she had to go on holiday with her family: a week in a caravan park in Prestatyn.  She never understood why they went from one seaside town to another the other side of the country.  A change is as good as a rest, her mother said; just do what you’re bloody told, was her father’s answer.  At the park she fell in easily with a gang of girls who were a couple of years older than she was, and even more caught up with boys than her friends at home.

            Matty hung from the climbing frame pretending she was a tomboy, the blood pouring to her head making her feel dizzy and peculiarly invincible.  Upside down, she watched her new cohort as they sat on the swings, chewing gum and talking aimlessly about which pop stars they fancied, which boys on the site they’d snog, which ones were complete dogs.  Carol, a girl from Chester who looked and acted as if she was fifteen but had only just had her thirteenth birthday, was smoking a cigarette without even choking.  The one time Matty had tried, she’d coughed so hard her eyes watered and her throat was raw, but at least she didn’t throw up, not like Michelle Enderby.  Carol held the cigarette between the index and middle fingers of her right hand, the ring and little fingers curled towards the palm, the wrist bent slightly away, like the women in the old black and white films they show on Saturday afternoons.  It gave Carol the glamour of a Hollywood starlet, even the wrong way up. 

            Carol was the unspoken alpha female, her position unassailable by virtue of her having done it with a boy.  Admittedly, this was an unsubstantiated claim but no one was about to challenge her on it, least of all Matty, who was the youngest of the group and barely tolerated as it was.  She was allowed to hang around because she didn’t say much and listened, wide eyed and credulous, to their stories of wandering hands and heavy petting.  Carol let a skein of smoke trickle from her mouth, partially obscuring her face.  That day she couldn’t be bothered with the girls on the swings.  She took another draw on her cigarette, tapping the ash off before looking at Matty.

            “You got a boyfriend?”

Matty pulled herself right way up before shaking her head.  It was the first time Carol had spoken to her directly and she wasn’t sure what to do.

“You could be pretty if you made a bit of an effort. You know, eye liner and stuff”

Carol’s protracted interest in Matty had caught the attention of the other girls, all of whom were now staring at Matty as if they were seeing her for the first time.  A discussion ensued, Matty at the blushing heart of it.  She sat on the top rung of the domed frame, several feet higher than the rest and the feeling of invincibility had mutated into over-excited vertigo.  Air heaved in and out of her lungs with a rapidly increasing regularity bordering on hyperventilation, leading to a resultant light headedness.  She thought she might faint, and that in itself was thrilling.

            That afternoon Matty Hall was initiated into the Mysteries, Carol the High Priestess with her wand of mascara held to Matty’s eyelashes.  Blink, she said, and Matty, awed by her central part in the proceedings, meekly obeyed.  Eyes closed, she felt Carol’s breath hot on her face as the blunt pencil, wetted with a lick of Carol’s tongue, dragged along the edge of her lower lid.  It was almost more than she could bear but to move, to stop it, would be to break the spell and she wasn’t ready for that.  Take a look, the words were whispered caressively, millimetres from the curl of her ear, the lips almost ruffling the downy hair of her jaw.  Matty shivered and opened her eyes.

            There were still times when Martha looked in the mirror and saw that same reflection looking back at her: startled blue eyes imprisoned within a boundary of black lines, meshed by lashes longer than was natural, she was both horrified and transfixed, not recognising herself.  Carol was pleased with her work, grinning at Matty’s reflection.

            “You could pass for fourteen, easy”

The face, maybe, but not the body.  Maturity was barely bothering Matty’s flat chest apart from an ache that often felt more emotional than physical: a tightening, a longing.  Matty watched her face in the mirror with a growing unease; a premonitory flash of a woman she’d never know how to deal with.

            The Matty Hall who came back from Prestatyn was not the same one who had gone away.  It wasn’t automatically obvious to anyone who looked at her casually, not even to her parents who looked at her every day, but Matty had seen the future even if she didn’t recognise it as such, let alone understand it.  In fact, she’d never completely understood it; things did not get any clearer as the years went by.  Assumptions were made that day in Carol’s caravan and Matty wasn’t given the choice.  She sat in the back of her parents’ car on the long drive from North Wales to East Anglia, staring out of the window as her father and mother bickered, as the landscape changed with each passing mile, tongue tied and uncommunicative.  There, Carol had said, doesn’t that look better?  Compared to what? She’d wanted to ask but couldn’t form the words.

            Back home she felt dislocated from her friends and stayed at home watching TV rather than hanging out at the pier.  The tomboy she’d been so desperate to see slipped out of her consciousness almost entirely apart from a dim memory of joy and speed.

            The new school was almost a relief from the unsettled feelings that had stalked Matty for the rest of August.  At least there was something concrete to be nervous about: a new system, a new regime; cleaving to childhood friends with a terrified urgency.  All the first years were in the Hall, a large oak panelled room with a stage at one end and at the other a list picked out in gold letters of all the head boys and girls reaching back to the 1930s when the school had been opened by a man Matty didn’t recognise in the black and white photographs by the headmaster’s office.  Someone one told her it was the Queen’s father but she didn’t know whether to believe them or not.  They trooped into the Hall and sat grouped by class, tutors sitting point like collies with their flocks.  Matty sat on the hard wooden chair, letting her eyes flicker across the room taking in both students in their navy and white uniforms and the teachers in their blouses and skirts, jackets and ties.

            And then she noticed her: a girl sitting in Indian summer sunshine that shafted through a high set window, a girl with dark brown hair and eyes to match.  With a start she realised it was the girl from the pier, the tomboy.  She was even sitting with the same ginger boys.  Suddenly, the girl’s eyes met hers and she gave Matty a smile of such incandescence she couldn’t help but stare.  Her face was burning; she only managed a slight smile before it became too much and she had to look away.  When she eventually raised her eyes, the girl was still looking, although her smile was smaller now, more intimate.  They kept up intermittent eye contact throughout assembly; one would glance away only to have the other seek her out.

            And then, a surge of unexpected happiness, there she was at break time, shy but bright eyed and glorious.

            “My name’s Lauren, what’s yours?”

            “Martha, but everyone calls me Matty”

            “Hello Matty, I’m very pleased to meet you”

            “I’m very pleased to meet you too, Lauren”

            Martha felt her legs stiffen from sitting too long in one place.  The old ladies had left ages ago, in search of somewhere warmer, perhaps, or to catch their bus home.  Martha had barely registered their departure.  She stood up, stretching her arms above her head, feeling and hearing the click of her joints.  It had been a while since she’d been to the gym, her body sluggish and hibernating.  When she got back she’d book a couple of sessions with her personal trainer, maybe take a yoga class.  She let her arms drop.  London seemed light years away, a distance you’d have to travel in a space ship rather than an hour and a half on the train.  She’d cut herself adrift from this place at eighteen but nowhere since had ever felt like home.

            The thick soles of her boots sank into the pebbles as she crunched her way along the ridge that always formed at the edge of the high tide.  The sea pulled the shingle from further up the coast and spat it out here in a steep shelf.  In the summer kids, dogs and adventurous adults would skid down it to the flatter, sparser strip of sand and broken shells that cut bare feet and pads, and launch themselves, gasping, into a sea that was never more than bone chillingly cold.  The Gulf Stream never seemed to make it as far as here.  But an island race is drawn to the sea even if to swim in it is insanity, even if all you can do is watch the waves curl in on themselves as they rush towards the land.  Martha wasn’t watching the waves, she was watching her boots as they pulled themselves out of the stones before plunging back in, almost ankle deep.  Martha wasn’t watching the waves and so didn’t realise that she’d wandered too close, that the tide was higher than she thought, until a boisterous wave caught her out, hitting her in the back of the knees, sending her sprawling onto the shingle and, for a second, completely engulfing her before withdrawing to a safe distance.  Martha sat on the wet stones, too defeated to even cry.

            Jo Wheeler pushed open the door of the public toilets, only to let it swing shut again in front of her.

            “O God, I’m sorry”

            “It’s okay, please come in”

Jo stood with her back pressed to the door, forgetting why it was she’d gone in there in the first place.  Standing at a sink was a woman with blonde plaits, wringing out a piece of cloth.  Judging by the fact she was in her bra and what seemed to be a soaking wet pair of cargo pants, she guessed it was a shirt.

            “What happened, did you fall in?”

The woman looked up at their distorted reflections in the polished metal mirror and smiled a little ruefully.

            “Smack down, on the shingle”

Jo felt herself push away from the door, stopping just short of the sinks.  She wanted to reach out and touch the woman’s shoulder but was too shy; her hands hung uselessly at her side.

            “Are you okay? You’re not hurt at all?”

The woman laughed.

            “No, only my ego, and I’ve been told often enough how robust that is”

She straightened, turning round to face Jo, her smile broad and very white.  She seemed unaware that she was showing a lot of toned muscle and perfect, lightly tanned skin.  Jo, on the other hand, was very aware.  She wanted to pull her eyes away but couldn’t.  The woman looked like a model in a glossy lesbian magazine: her hips and shoulders tilted; small, gently curving breasts cupped by a black lacy bra; stone coloured combats cinched at the waist by a dark blue and white striped belt, the end of which curled out of the snap buckle, wet fabric clinging to her hips and thighs; big yellow Timberland boots four square on the concrete floor of a ladies’ lavatory.  Blood screamed round Jo’s body, not knowing if it wanted to settle in her face or between her legs.  Action, she decided, was better than staring like an idiot.  She shuffled off her overcoat.

            “Here, you should put this on”

            “Are you sure?”

            “Yeah, go on, otherwise you’ll catch your death”

The woman slipped the coat over her shoulders.

            “Listen, I’ll be back in about twenty minutes, yeah? Don’t go anywhere”

Bright white smile.                               

            “Funnily enough, I wasn’t planning to”

            Martha pulled the collar of the overcoat up round her neck.  The tweed was scratchy on her cheek as she brushed against it.  The silky lining on her chest and the top of her breasts, however, was making her tingle, especially when she thought about the woman who looked like Lauren.  It felt a long time since anyone had looked at her like that; grey eyes fighting to disguise desire but failing.  The fact that it was a woman doing the desiring hadn’t even occurred to her until she’d put on the long coat and smelt her perfume.  She wrapped her arms across her chest and leant back on the sink.

            The woman had said she’d be back; she’d have to come back for her coat.  Martha looked at where her parka was hanging up over the hand drier, the fur of the hood soggy as a drowned dog.  Her trousers hung over the top of a cubicle door alongside her shirt.  She was standing in the middle of a toilet in her bra and pants, a tweed overcoat and a pair of boots, burying her face in her hands, trying to keep the hysterical edge out of her laugh.

            She looked up when the door opened, relief washing over her at the sight of the other woman who was shivering slightly and holding a plastic bag.  A bag she handed to Martha.

            “Hopefully these’ll fit”

            “You shouldn’t have”

            “Don’t get excited, they came from a charity shop”

Martha fished into the bag and pulled out a pair of faded jeans, a navy knitted cotton jersey and a black bomber jacket with a bright orange lining.  To her horror, she started to cry.  The woman reached over and put an arm round her; Martha turning into her to snuffle against her shoulder, the weave of her jumper reassuringly rough against Martha’s forehead, the material quickly absorbing weak tears, foolish snot. 

            “I don’t even know your name”

            “It’s Jo”

            “Thank you, Jo. I’m Martha”

            “Yes, I guessed it was you”

Martha’s laugh was muffled.

            “O no, does this mean I’ll see me name in the Sunday papers?”

“No, I’m strictly broadsheet. Come on, the sooner you put these on, the sooner I can have my coat back”

It was hard to imagine that the woman sitting across the café table from her was really Martha Hall.  It was difficult to equate this woman, whose smile had become a little shy, but no less attractive, with the immaculately turned out woman who consistently topped best dressed polls in weekend supplements and celebrity magazines.  Mind you, she would look good in anything; on her charity cast offs were couture.  She’d loosened out the plaits so that her hair now fell a little short of her shoulders, and her face, clear of make up, was fresh and healthy.  She was the beautiful girl next door: everyone’s sweetheart, a sweetheart who was looking at her very intently.

            “What’s the matter?”

Martha shook her head and smiled.

“I was just thinking: you have the most incredible eyes”

“Look who’s talking”

Martha swept her hand like a dismissive child.

“Lots of people have my eyes but I’ve never seen any like yours before. Have you ever seen it when it’s raining at sea? The sky goes really dark and the water goes a beautiful pale grey, almost silver. That’s the colour of your eyes. Incredible”

For once in her life, Jo Wheeler lost the power of speech, the ability to string words together into a coherent sentence.  All she could do was stare hot faced at Martha for the grand total of two seconds before having to look down at the table where wood was visible through chipped Formica. 

            “I’ve embarrassed you, I’m sorry”

She looked up into heart stopping blue eyes.

“No, you haven’t embarrassed me. It’s just – it’s just a long time since anyone has said anything so – well – complimentary about me. Certainly not someone I’ve just met”

Martha reached out and laid a hand on her arm, she could feel the warmth of it through her jumper.

“Then they’re all idiots, blind idiots. I’d tell you everyday for the rest of your life because I don’t think I’d ever get over those eyes”

How easy it was to be charmed by her, how easy to fall for her, even this quickly.  Jo shook her head to clear it.  This was Martha Hall, she reminded herself, one half of a media power couple.  Her boyfriend, Marco Santini, had started his own production company at the age of twenty six; it was rumoured he was considering a change in direction, hoping for a slice of lucrative British cinema where stage set London was as swooningly glamorous as the 1960s make believe of Michael Caine, Julie Christie and Terence Stamp.  Commodifing the dirty back streets and sex shops, the congested inner city of Jo’s childhood and selling it back to a gullible public whose rapacious, atavistic pleasure in shootings and random beatings bordered on the carnal; the last word in hip and sexy cool.  She’d seen Santini interviewed, heard his dubious but adamantly held claim to kinship with West End Italian mobsters, and she knew that he’d piss himself if he was ever faced with a real gun. 

Jo remembered the first time she saw her father’s snub nosed Berretta.  It was lying in the drawer, a live, dangerous thing that was somewhere all reason said it shouldn’t be; a wild animal amongst the balled up socks and tights, and Jo knew what it was to be mesmerised by a rattle snake in its coil and be afraid for your life.  It was something you stepped silently away from before the rattling stopped and it lashed out at you.  It’s not the gun that kills you, her Uncle Pete once told her, it’s the bastard pulling the trigger does that.  They were sitting in the living room, an old sheet was spread on the coffee table and on it was Uncle Pete’s revolver, broken down into pieces and methodically laid out the way other men strip and oil their motorbikes. Aunty Sharon was grilling fish fingers in the kitchen, the flat smelled of toasted breadcrumbs and gun oil.  Don’t be afraid of it, it’s just a tool, he told her, it’s the other buggers in the world you have to watch out for, Jo, love.  Don’t trust no one but yourself, and then think twice.  He laughed then and ruffled her hair.  Not trusting anyone but herself and then thinking twice was the best piece of advice Jo had ever been given, one that had got her this far in life.  She looked down at where Martha Hall’s hand still rested on her arm, and although it felt fantastic, the shock of seeing her half naked had worn off and the nippy little voice at the back of her head asked what the hell was she playing at.

            Jo was looking at her oddly.  Martha wasn’t completely surprised.  Often, because she was on television and in magazines, when people met her they thought they knew her, when in fact they knew nothing about her at all.  She was used to the awkward gap between expectation and reality.  She’d thought Jo more sophisticated than that, however, and when she looked closer, she realised that it was something more complex than disappointed expectation.  She lifted her hand off Jo’s arm and took a sip from her rapidly cooling mug of tea.

            Looking for the rain eyes she met fog instead: impossible to read, and a pang tightened her chest.  Jo was leaning back in her chair smoking a roll-up; she picked a thread of tobacco from the tip of her tongue.  Martha, reflecting her body language, sat back, her hands flat on the table, fingers splayed.

            “Can I have one of those?”

            “Sure. Would you like me to roll it for you?”

Martha nodded.  She watched as Jo laid a cigarette paper out flat on the table top, her fingers digging into the soft springy tobacco before laying it out in a neat line down the middle of the Rizla.  She watched as the same fingers coaxed tobacco and flipped paper into a perfect cigarette shape.  She almost gasped at the quick flash of tongue along the gummed edge.  Jo put the cigarette between her lips and lit it before handing it over to Martha.  She held it between her index and middle fingers, the ring and little fingers curling towards her palm, her wrist slightly bent.  Jo gave her a slow smile.

            “You look like Greta Garbo”

Martha took a draw and let the smoke idle out of her mouth.

            “That’s the general idea”

Continued in part four

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