Martha existed merely for that: to exist.
“Martha,” they’d say, they being him and her and he and she and all of them, but mostly her mother. “Maaaaartha, darling. What are you going to do with your life? Your existence is most depressing, Martha. Oh, Martha. Get out of that bed, will you child?”
And Martha would roll onto her side, making sure to face away from the doorway that framed her American mother with a fake British accent and hot rollers and musk ordered from Avon. Away from the clock that read noon. Away from the civilized household with forks and knives and spoons with all of their usage. Away from a father with the self-proclaimed title of ‘gentleman’ because he kisses the hand of every woman he meets before taking them to bed. Away from a hopeless sister with five different mirrors and a fear of carbs. Away from the maids and the butlers and the cooks and the falsehood of those who proclaim true love. She would face away from it all and look out her window.
Martha had never left the gates. They stood, an entryway to heaven. This analogy plagued Martha so that she feared the eternal afterlife, merely for that: the eternity of it all. With life comes sleep, and with sleep comes dreams. The forever sleep leaves a body, leaving behind sleep, keeping a soul. And her soul was quite unsatisfied.
“The eyes are the window to the soul,” a phrase Martha heard often while learning her Bible on sleepy Sunday mornings as a child. She once asked Miss Claudette what you would see if the soul were empty.
“Why, my child, you would be looking into the eyes of Satan.”
Martha didn’t sleep for a month, afraid she was the Devil in flesh. It was only when she asked her mother about it that she was reassured as to her human existence. “Ohhhh, Maaaaarthhha, darling,” she had said. “Maaaarthhhaaa. Your father and I are too high bred to have created a child that comes from so far below.”
Martha would lay in bed—especially early morning when the light was just right— staring out the window. In those moments, she’d feel something. Across the lawn, she could see nothing but green. Artificial, too-good-to-be-true green. Each blade of grass matched so perfectly in size, shape, and color. She hadn’t a clue why, but it hurt her eyes and that hurt her heart.
Then Martha would look beyond. The gold of the gates, majestic in their fifteen-foot stature, were bars to a barren land. A land of trees browning beyond their health. A land plagued by dying earth and unknown wildlife. Pebbles and rocks and boulders. Crumbling homes made of stone and wood. An apocolyptic scent wafting onto the Privileged Lands when the sun got too hot.
And people. People who were surrounded by death and managed to find a way to live. People who could not, under any circumstances, enter the manor of the wealthy. The ‘others,’ as her mother liked to call them, as if they were a small piece on a pie chart and not a group of living, breathing, suffering, yet surviving human beings.
It was in one of her staring fits—albeit the date or time or year of age—that she found her soul. It was not within Martha; she found it outside of that window. Beyond the gates, with people she’d never met. And in that unknown moment she understood: her eyes were not the window to her soul; it was, ironically, her bedroom window.
The dreams started when Martha was sleeping, but soon her mind would carry her away even in her waking hours. The dreams all began the same: she would be walking through the yard in a freshly bleached nightgown, toward the only entryway of the gate. Her steps contained no signs of hesitance. She was a young woman, determined. Fearless. Without boundaries. Martha gave herself permission to pass the threshold because in her dreams, she needn’t ask another soul.
It was at the gate that the dreams would always change. Sometimes, she’d be greeted by a barbaric man with a skirt made of leaves and a carved wooden spear. He was a cliche neanderthal in all respects. He’d grunt at her, trying to communicate. And the strangest part of it all was that somehow she understood. He wanted her to take his hand, and she did. From behind the bushes came more uncivilized men and women, covering their manhoods and womanhoods with dress made from nature. They would run to the gate and close it shut and join hands and make a circle around Martha. It didn’t make any sense, but somehow Martha knew for sure that these were her people.
The people changed each time she’d dream. Sometimes they were in flowered dresses and bandanas and smiles. Other times there’d be suits and a lingering smell of generic cleaner. There was even one time when the humans weren’t humans at all; they were simply colorful blobs without figure or sound, but she still woke feeling the same way: Martha was one of them, and she was welcomed.
One night, the dream ended as she woke. She opened her eyes, sure that she was awake for she had gone from dream to reality almost every night for as long as she could remember. The dream was done, but voices continued to echo through her skull. “Maaaaarthhaaa...” she heard. “Maaaarthhhaaa.” The voices sang as her mothers did, but not with the same tone of annoyance. It was as if they were calling to her to wake from her own reality and enter into theirs.
“Maaaarthhhaaa...” they continued to call. These voices contained all of the maternal tenderness she’d craved her entire life. All the familial intonations, the jovial vibrance of a voice belonging to a friend. To friends.
She lay in bed listening, first, letting the voices sooth her like a lullaby. But soon the tune morphed from Mozart to Bach, the beauty of the glorious tune overwhelming the ear, maddening its listener as the squeal of a broken record. Martha knew in her heart that she must follow the music and all of its warm insanity to the source. The way to stop it would be to join it.
Martha hadn’t used her feet much, but neither did she eat often. So her feet and frame of stature were delicate like glass, only in addition to her bleached white nightgown and Swedish nature, the analogy should stand as the stained glass of a church window. To simplify, Martha appeared utterly angelic.
She stumbled a bit as she stood, not quite sure when the last time she’d used her muscles were. It was as if she were gaining her sea legs, only there wasn’t an ocean for miles to blame. Soon enough, the infantile movements wore off, and she traveled through her childhood again with each step she gained. It took her approximately three minutes to walk to the stairs, although they were not more than thirty feet from the threshold of her bedroom. She looked down the steps with a new sense of determination, knowing that the threshold of the gates was strong and smooth, not a single inch higher than leveled ground.
Martha held tightly onto the banister, the garland that snaked the oak feeling awkward in her hands as it looked awkward for the month of July. She awkwardly squatted down, until the thin red carpet touched her bottom. Using both of her arms and all of her might, she inched herself forward with the combined forces of her pelvis and her legs. There weren’t more than twenty steps, but by the end of the voyage, Martha needed a break.
She regrouped for ten minutes, resting on the bottom step. She listened, but not a sound was heard. Everyone, everywhere, in every inch of the house, slept as if they were dead. Or carefree. There isn’t much of a difference between being dead and carefree, as both do not tend to exist for the living.
After catching her first breath, the second, and the seven-hundredth, Martha knew she could handle the rest. She walked to the front door, which seemed all too simple. But the Privileged were as simple as they were lazy, and the lock clicked open, and the door clicked open, and Martha’s feet went click, click, click on the stone path that led through the grass.
She closed her eyes and counted to ten.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
And she closed her eyes and counted to ten. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
Martha repeated this process, calming her nerves all the way to the gate. It only took her fifteen sets of ten to reach the golden gate, and one extra ‘1. 2. 3.’ By this point, Martha’s nerves were exhausted, and in their place, adrenaline surged. She had made it. Nobody had stopped her. Nothing had happened. And most importantly, the voices were here.
She reached a shaking hand toward the metal rod that held closed the gate. When hand met element, the gold began to glow. Martha had been long-awaited. Martha was special. Martha had been chosen.
She lifted the rod, entrenched in her new, holy power. The minute it was released, and unearthly force sprung forward, pushing the gates away from Martha and into the Forbidden Land. She stepped forward, as a Messiah greeting her people for the first time.
Nobody appeared at first, but then came one. A girl. About Martha’s age, Martha’s height, and Martha’s small frame. She had eyes like Martha, those straight from a Margaret Keane painting. Blue and large and lovely and sad. And her hair was like Martha’s, wispy and light as if her child hairs had never grown. She could, in fact, be a sister of Martha’s if she had not known any better.
Then others joined, boys and girls, men and women. Some different in size and complexion, but all looking quite like Martha. It was the First Martha that was not Martha that said it first. “Maaaaarthhaa.” And then another. And another. Until each person joined in the harmony that became a symphony that soon sounded like one amplified voice.
They circled Martha, the chant soaking her veins with the power that comes with acceptance, one that brings on a vomit-worthy joy. The so-happy-I-could-die type of feeling. Martha felt like she could die.
The circle tightened until Martha was the pit of a giant plum. A big, giant, human plum. And she enjoyed the contact, the level of warmth different on each new set of skin. All she’d felt her whole life were cold hands, the ones you feel when the doctor checks your heart. She embraced the warmth, embraced the strangers, embraced her status as prodigal daughter.
She even embraced the warmth of her own blood when shock prevented her from feeling the wound.
It wasn’t until Martha sensed her feet were not touching the ground that she noticed it: a wooden spear had pierced her abdomen, and her sisters and brothers carried her toward the trees. Through them, she could see a blazing fire, a fire much warmer than the skin and her fresh blood.
Martha began to struggle, but it was a worthless fight. She did not have her window to look to for escape. This was her window, in front of her. And as they staked her body above the fire and began to rotate her flesh, she stared each and every one of them in the eye.
She did not scream. She did not cry. This was Martha’s fate.
And for the first time in, well...a very long time, her people would have a proper meal.