Martha

3

After clocking out at the supermarket, Martha Malone had just enough time to walk home and fix herself a cup of instant coffee before her good friend Tracy stormed through the door to spill her guts. Martha and Tracy had been close friends since freshman year (seven years ago), when they lived in one of the ancient dormitories where the only air conditioning was produced by small fans and ice cubes.

Tracy had given Martha the headlines in a brief call earlier in the day: She had caught her no-good boyfriend cheating and broke up with him. This would not be Martha’s first broken-hearted breakup conversation. It was not even her first one with Tracy. But here she was, furious, agitated, and perched on the edge of Martha’s sofa needing to share the gory details so badly she was about to burst.

Utilizing the quick problem-solving skills she had honed as a Crisis Center Hotline volunteer, Martha tossed her coffee in the kitchen sink and pulled an opened bottle of white wine from the refrigerator. “I don’t have wine glasses,” she called to Tracy.

“Doesn’t matter,” Tracy yelled back.

Martha poured wine into two ceramic coffee mugs and offered one to Tracy, who was now trying to curl her 5-foot-9 inch, 160-pound body into a fetal position on the sofa. When she saw the mug, she sat up, pushing her long red hair over her shoulder. She peered over the lip to make sure it wasn’t coffee and took a tentative sip.

“This is pretty good,” Tracy said.

“It’s all I had,” said Martha, sitting in the rocker opposite the sofa. Martha tended to think of herself as average looking, but that was not the whole picture. True, she was never going to be a fashion model, but she was cute. Her blue eyes were alive with intelligence and good humor, and when she smiled, which she often did, dimples appeared in her cheeks. Her brown hair flowed in natural curls to her shoulders when it wasn’t tied back in a bun. “I’m low on emergency supplies,” Martha said, “but I did bring home a pint of ice cream just in case.”

“Aw, you know me too well!”

Martha laughed. “I would hope so. So tell me what happened.”

“What happened,” said Tracy, “is that I came back to the apartment early and Ginny’s door was closed but she was obviously ‘entertaining,’ which was not a problem for me. Only when the door opened, guess who was in there with her.”

“Oh no!”

“Oh yes indeedy! My lame-ass, good-for-nothing boyfriend. Under my own roof! Can you believe it?”

“That’s low.”

“I could have killed the sonofabitch,” said Tracy. “Or her. Or both. But then I thought, why bother with these stinking fucktards anyway? They’re not worth it.”

“Good call. So what did you do?”

“I told my now-ex-boyfriend to beat it and never darken my door again. And I told Ginny to pack up and find a new place to live.”

“Good for you,” Martha said. “How long will you give her to leave?”

“Until sundown.”

“Today?”

“You’re goddam right today! If I see that sleazy sex maniac ever again, it’ll be too soon.”

“That’s short notice.”

“Yeah, that’s what she said. And I said, ‘Okay, you can have ‘til midnight.’ When I left she was packing. Oh, and you’ll be delighted to know that dickwad said he would call me later to explain.”

“Really? Like, what’s to explain?”

“I told him not to bother. We’re done. Finis. Kaput.”

“Is this the first time he-“

“I doubt it. But it’s the first time he’s been caught. Bastard! He must have wanted to get caught. Why else would he do it with my own roommate in my own apartment?”

“You’re a strong woman, Tracy,” Martha said. “I’ve always admired that.”

“Not that it’s gotten me anywhere,” Tracy replied. And then she wept. Loudly. Martha scurried over to the couch, tissues in hand, and hugged her tightly as Tracy bawled her eyes out.

Tracy jerked up and stopped crying. “Oh my God,” she said. “I just remembered. I’m supposed to work tonight.”

“Call out sick,” said Martha. “Take the night off. You’re in no condition to wait tables after a shock like that.”

“I need the money,” Tracy wailed.

“Not that badly, you don’t.”

Tracy didn’t need much convincing. “I guess you’re right.”

“Besides,” said Martha, “you’re going to be too drunk to work.”

“I’m not drunk!” said Tracy.

“Yes, but you just got here,” said Martha.

“Can I sleep here tonight? I don’t want to see that skanky-ass man-stealing bitch tonight.”

“You’re welcome to the sofa. I hear it’s pretty comfy.”

There was a knock at the door. “Oh, brother,” Martha grumbled. “Now what?” She opened it to find her across-the-hall neighbor, Sandy Martin.

“Hey, Sandy, what’s up?”

Sandy glanced inside and saw Tracy wiping her eyes. “Uh, is this a bad time?” he said.

“No, come on in. You know Tracy, right?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well I sure as hell know you,” said Tracy. The wine was beginning to take hold. “If it wasn’t for me, you’d never get any beer.”

“Oh, Tracy! From Slocum’s, of course. I’m sorry, you look different out of uniform.”

“What you mean is, you never noticed my face before because you were too busy looking at my tits,” Tracy said.

“That’s not so,” said Sandy, coloring slightly. “You may have confused me with one of my drinking buddies.”

“You want me to believe you never noticed my tits?”

“Do you need something, Sandy?” said Martha.

“Nothing that can’t wait,” he said. “I’ll stop by another time.”

“Okay. You are coming for Thanksgiving, aren’t you?”

“Of course! Wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’m bringing the turkey, remember?”

“Right. What about Ivan?”

“Ivan sends his regrets. He has to make a command performance at his parents’ house.”

“Oh, too bad. Well, see you then,” said Martha, ushering him out the door. She then resumed ministering to the crisis at hand.

#

4

Orphans’ Thanksgiving at Martha’s apartment had been a tradition going on four years. Martha was like a magnetic force field attracting strays of all denominations, so it made sense to her to convene all her friends and her friends’ friends who were not going home for the holiday. Those who knew Martha best and were keenly aware of her culinary disabilities recognized it was up to them to provide edible dishes. Sandy roasted an 18-pound turkey in his oven and carried it across the hall to be carved. Tracy made candied sweet potatoes in Martha’s oven, and by the time the orphans were all assembled, the buffet included a green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, green peas, bread stuffing, Italian bread, soft drinks, wine and two pies. Lewis, Sandy’s roommate, contributed what he called the “pre-prandial appetite stimulants.”

Sandy didn’t know half the people there, who included clinic volunteers, old friends of Martha, and possibly one or two strangers she swept up off the street because they looked hungry. There were even residents of their house he had only seen in passing – Amanda, who lived on the second floor with a roommate, and John and Roger, also on the second floor. Supposedly the third floor studio was also rented – the mailbox said simply “Tang” – but no one had ever seen a person enter or leave. “Maybe Chinese, maybe a synthetic orange beverage,” Sandy said.

Before eating and saying grace, Martha had her guests push all her living room furniture – the rocker, the sofa and a coffee table – into the corners of the room, so they could all  sit in a tight circle on the floor and introduce themselves by saying one thing they were thankful for.

“I’m Tracy, I’ve known Martha for years and years, and I’m thankful that I have such as wonderful friend as Martha. You’re the best, honey!”

“I’m Amanda. I live upstairs. I’m thankful to have a place to go for Thanksgiving so I don’t have to go home to see my parents.”

“I’m Lewis, and I’m immensely grateful to be included in this convivial gathering of hungry souls who truly appreciate good food, good friends, good music, and good weed.”

“I’m Roger, and I’m grateful to Lewis for sharing his weed.”

“Here here!”

“I’m Sandy. I’m thankful that Martha, my neighbor and my friend, finds a place in her heart, and in her apartment, for all of us. And I’m especially thankful that Martha has agreed we can all come back and do this again tomorrow.”

That got a good laugh and Martha, after a few seconds of being flustered, laughed along. “How about your apartment tomorrow?” she said.

It was a great Thanksgiving. In the warm embrace of weed and wine, Sandy felt happy, well fed, and accepted by old friends and new friends alike.

And though he should have known better, Sandy let Lewis convince him to continue the party in their own apartment. With half a dozen others, they toked, talked, listened to the latest additions to their respective record collections, and finally called it a night around 2 a.m.

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