Thursday, April 10

Martha’s Tearooms is a Place

BEFORE MY HUSBAND divorced me, I would visit the Great Muddy tearooms almost every day; certainly every weekday, and, on occasions when I found myself nearby and with a small amount of time to kill, the weekends, too. Because it is the only tearoom in the village, it has come to be known as simply ‘the tearooms’, though the none-too-modest owner, Martha, still bears, I think, a great deal of dissatisfaction that its—and her—name is not mentioned when people speak of it. Do not look up when the tearooms first opened; you will not learn it. There are no cars parked around it. The outside is painted magnolia and the windows are half-hung with lace, beyond which lips flutter and twist dirty tales and tea is sipped like Big Ben ticking. I first went there on a lunch with a friend. The friend, who I had bumped into quite by accident, organised the meet somewhat begrudgingly and who, afterwards, did not contact me again. Since that lunch I had desired to go in there daily, to sip tea and sit there; fortunately I never again caught my friend in there, unawares, and we were spared an awkward reunion. I felt very good in there, on the poorly-fitting carpet so that one bounced with every step. My mind was only to wonder.
Peace, a deserved sense of peace.
It is strange because you become recognised, and I am not one who is overly keen on being recognised. I spent most of my marriage—twenty-three years—of it in the city, so for a stranger to know my name and face is most peculiar, unsettling, I might add, but unavoidable. I was a familiar face in there; Martha spoke to me in the end—small questions—and so did her staff. They, sensing my mood, left me alone, really, to sit there in silence. Peace, a grand sense of peace. Only an hour, rarely more. It was warm in there, and when it was summer, Martha left the till to open the door, folded the mat over to prop it open, a good breeze came in; at such times, I would sit by the door, taken alive by the cool. I would nod Martha good-bye and go back to my house and there I would sit, still, waiting voicelessly for my husband to come home.
I don’t wish to talk about my divorce; if you want, you may ask of my neighbours who have all their stories that they pour as water onto the flowers of nearby ears.
After the divorce, I was very poor. Everything was stripped back. Every penny had to be accounted for. I had to get a job as well as take care of the house and speak to my children who blamed me for a number of things that I considered myself innocent, but I, too tired to argue, simply let myself hear their voice, feeling a slight twinge of joy. Those were times when the house, now empty, felt bigger. To just run to the tearooms but couldn’t. The things that money could buy me… and I would list the things the money could buy me. My twelfth interview was for the position of sales assistant and I got it; a women’s clothes shop in the town over. It was some effort getting my finances back on track, paying outstanding bills—some of the companies had been very understanding, once they’d spoken to my solicitor—and one day, when I was in a good mood, I found just over three pound in the pocket of a jacket I had to wear for work.
I put the money aside.
A Monday off.
A Monday off and the world is returning to work. I lay in late, masturbated because I had had a particularly interesting dream, and went out into Great Muddy where all of the neighbours were trimming their lawns and looking talking at me. When I went to the tearooms, everything came undone. Martha was not there—‘We haven’t changed the sign yet,’ and all those familiar faces who knew me. I was just someone to them, and felt like four letters, or three letters and a question mark. Not one single person I recognised. Some of the d├ęcor was being undone. All the feelings of comfort and of belonging that had drawn me there before were gone. Even the breeze through the door was colder and a woman I did not know was sitting in the seat I used to pull up in front of it.
‘Actually, can I cancel that, please? Sorry … so sorry … I didn’t mean … I just remembered … thanks. I think my friend meant to meet me in the other tearooms.’ And I hurried out. I thought that I would save the money for something else.

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