Martha McCobb was always a quiet woman. The women she worked with whispered about her, speculated about her, but even after attempts, were unable to discover anything about her personal life. The men she worked with noticed her with a pinch of curiosity, but found it easy to dismiss any questions they had. During the warm months of the year, she took her lunches at the picnic table in the front lawn under the shade of her wide brim hat. During the colder months she ate quietly at her desk, turning page after page.
She was a woman of routine. She woke up at precisely 6:30 am on workdays and off days. Two over easy eggs with a slice of toasted rye and a glass of water were the only items on the morning menu. On workdays she left for work at exactly 7:32 am. 18 minutes later she would arrive at work. It would take her 3 minutes to walk from her vehicle, through the lobby, and to the kitchen where it would take her 2 minutes to put her ham and cheese sandwich in the fridge and pour a cup of coffee with 1 teaspoon of sugar and 2 teaspoons of creamer. It would then take her 2 minutes to travel up 3 floors and past 10 cubes to her own desk, leaving 3 minutes to start her computer and login. She always took the stairs, less chance of interaction.
After work she drove the 18 minutes home, only stopping for gas on Wednesdays. Once home, she would make dinner then sit on the one chair in her living room, next to the only lamp, using the only dinner tray. She would sit in that chair until 9:00 when she would get ready for bed, asleep by 9:30. Dinner was the only thing she truly took joy in. She planned her meals on the first of each month. Every Saturday she would shop for the meals of the following week. Dinner was the only variant in her life. She liked to try new foods. Martha was only truly happy when she was in the middle of her kitchen. From 6:30 am to around 6:00 pm her life was more bland than most people could tolerate.
Her mom had passed away in a vehicle accident when she was 19. She had just started college and even though she had been left an inheritance enough that she would never need to work again she kept going to classes. It was a means of coping. Martha continued her education, graduating top of her class, and then it was only natural to move into the work field. She didn’t have any other family to spend time with, she didn’t have grandparents to look after. She closed herself off to the world when her parents died and focused only on school and work. Her mother had been a cook at a local restaurant and she remembered nights spent hearing her mother’s voice carrying through the walls as the smell of sauce carried through the air.
She has never known her father and her mother didn’t like to talk about him, so they didn’t. For all Martha knew, she had already met him and never known it. She clung to the memory of her mother and continued to cook using recipes written on index cards.
Tonight she was cooking a single filet of tilapia with a side of asparagus as she sipped a glass of wine. She hummed as she stirred her butter garlic sauce.
There was a knock on her front door. Her humming stopped. She looked at the clock on her oven – 7:56 pm on Thursday. There was another, more insistent series of knocks. She opened the door as wide as the chain lock would allow, letting the night air drift in.
“Let me in, quick.” The woman on the other side looked frantic. She had a bruise over her left eye and blood under her nails. “Please!”
“I don’t know you.” Martha responded trying to look passed the woman.
“Lucy! Where the hell are you?!” The slurred voice of a drunken man could be heard down the block.
“Please!” The woman begged.
“Fine.” Martha opened the door, closing it quietly, locking the deadbolt and sliding the chain back into place. She pressed her ear to the door and heard the man’s voice carrying loudly. Looking through the peephole she saw him staggering down the road. She watched as he moved out of view, unaware his Lucy had taken haven in the home of a recluse.
As Martha turned back around she was wrapped in the arms of the woman.
“Oh thank you!” Martha wasn’t sure what to do so she just lightly patted the woman’s shoulder. “He’s only like this when he’s drunk. He’ll be fine in the morning once he’s sobered up.” Lucy stepped back and looked around the sparsely decorated living room. “Woah… You must live alone.”
“My name’s Martha. And yes, I do.” Martha said extending her hand.
“Sorry, I’m Lucy.” Lucy took Martha’s hand and gave it a firm shake.
“How long before you can leave?” Martha said abruptly causing Lucy to take a step back.
“Um. I guess an hour or so.”
“Fine. You can have a seat, I’ll be in my study.” Lucy looked at Martha as if she was the one intruding.
“That’s it. You don’t want to ask questions, know who I am or what is going on?”
“I know your name and that’s all I need since you’ll be leaving soon. It’s none of my business what’s going on and judging by the blood under your nails you can obviously fight back enough to get away from whoever that is.” Lucy looked down at her hands as Martha started to walk back into the kitchen. Lucy followed her and began washing her hands in the sink.
Martha went back to cooking her single serving meal, but she snuck a few glances toward Lucy when she could. Lucy was a bit shorter than Martha and in contrast to Martha’s brunette waves, Lucy’s hair fell in straight blond strands. Martha’s green eyes connected with Lucy’s blue for a second before she turned back to her food and part of her wanted to ask all those questions, but her introverted ways held her back.
Lucy announced she was going to watch TV in the living room and disappeared around the corner. Martha carried her meal into her study and read a book while eating instead of watching TV like she normally did.
At 8:45 Martha stood and walked into the living room.
“I think it’s time for you to leave.” Lucy jumped at the sudden presence of Martha.
“Oh, yeah, OK.” She stood and moved toward the door. She looked through the peephole. “I guess he’s probably calmed down a little by now.” She turned back to Martha. “Thanks again. You didn’t have to let me in and I just wanted to say I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome.” Martha replied simply. Lucy shrugged and, after unlocking the door, slipped quietly outside. Martha watched through the peephole until Lucy was out of sight before locking the door. She turned away and was in bed by her usual 9:00.