Martha. She hated her name. The grating sound of her tongue slapping against her teeth. Mar-THUH. Or it was the low whistle that accompanied her throughout adolescence that was neither cute nor endearing and earned her more than her fair share of cruel words and daunting nicknames. “Whistle lips” was her least favorite. It was uninspired, but popular among the dimwitted and uncreative of her class. Her personal favorite was “The Whistler.” It made her sound...dangerous. But, the one that irked her the most was “that girl with the lisp.” It seemed at times most everyone called her that when she was at close proximity, but still too invisible to notice.
But this year was going to be different. The hours of endless speech therapy worked. She was no longer going to be “whistle lips” and “smackle mouth” or “that girl with the lisp.” But, more importantly, she was no longer going to be Mar-THUH.
She had decided early in spring that she would christen herself with a new name, a nicer name (despite how her mother insisted that Martha was pretty, timeless even) It was midsummer now and she desperately wanted to make the change official.
She cut through the woods when she left Julie’s house. It was faster than walking the streets and she preferred the sound of the brook over her own footsteps echoing in the quiet, suburban neighborhood. The air was still damp from the morning rain and caused her thick brown hair to explode with frizz. Resigned, she slipped a black scrunchy from her left wrist and pulled her shoulder length hair into a frazzled ponytail.
She chewed her lip, carefully considering how she would begin the conversation with her mom. Madelaine Garrett was a difficult person on the best of days. She was controlling and anal and could not be wrong. She wasn’t argumentative, but was so avoidant of disagreements, Martha often wished that she was. Madelaine’s flippancy of her daughter’s thoughts often left Martha with a quiet existential dread and an acute awareness of her lack of importance.
She shook her head and climbed the mild slope of the hill that led up to her driveway. Her keys jangled as she fished them out of her pocket. She twisted the key, mumbling curses under her breath as she struggled with the sticky locks. Frustrated, she stopped, jaw grating, and beat the door. She waited for her mother’s slouched shadow to shuffle by the window, but it never came. Martha sighed, shoulders slumped. With a grunt, she finally forced the door open.
The air was stale with marijuana.
“Mom!” she called, “I’m home!”
She flipped on the kitchen lights.
There was no answer. She walked into the living room and peered through the curtains.
The car was still in the driveway. Martha’s brows pinched. She moved through the dark, narrow hallway and stopped at her mom’s door. She knocked quietly and pushed open the door.
“Mom?” she called quietly.
The room was dark, the blinds drawn shut and the bed left unmade. Martha closed the door. She walked into the kitchen briefly considering where her mom could have gone as she rummaged through the fridge. She pulled out a slice of pizza carefully wrapped in crinkled foil and popped the cap off of a bottle of beer. She happily nestled herself into the corner of the couch, propping her feet up on the coffee table. She bit into the cold pizza, leaning back into the arm of the couch as she flipped on the tv. She giggled between bites as cartoons played distorted through the snowy static. Martha rested her head on a flattened pillow and pulled a throw over her body. Her eyes became heavy as the beer filled her gut.
She didn’t remember falling asleep. She jolted awake to a dark empty house and the sound of knocking. She blinked groggily at the TV which dimly illuminated her face, emphasizing her bags and blemishes and essentially everything she resented about her poor complexion. The knocks were heavy and steady, calm yet seemed to shake the door with the urgent need to be answered.
Slowly, Martha stood and peeped through the eyehole. Two officers, one tall and broad with a stubbly chin and receding hairline, the other young and stout, but sturdy, stood at the door. Martha’s brows pulled. She cracked open the door, peeking out into the wet, summer night. It had just rained.
“Can I help you, Officers?”
The tall cop offered her a smile, but it did nothing to soften the seriousness that came with a sturdy square jaw and glinting badge.
“My name is Officer McGrady. This is my partner, Officer Dole. Are you,” he glanced down at his notepad, “Martha Garrett?”
She nodded slowly.
“Your mother is Madelaine Garrett?”
Martha perked, panic quickly spreading through her body. “Is she okay?”
He folded the notepad and tucked it away into his back pocket. He was careful, his expression solemn.
“Your mother is okay. She is currently in custody for questioning.”
Martha’s heart sank into her stomach. She stared wide-eyed at Officer McGrady who continued with the ease of a man seasoned from years of delivering bad news.
“We’ve already contacted your uncle -”
“My uncle?” she asked, dazed.
“Yes,” Officer McGrady confirmed. “He has agreed to take temporary custody while we question your mother. He lives in Greenly County about three hours from here. A social worker will take you tomorrow morning.”
Martha blinked, confused.
“I know this is a lot,” Officer Dole said softly. “Is there anyone you can stay with tonight?”
“I can’t stay here?” she said quietly, almost in a whimper.
Officer Dole shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”
Martha stared down at her feet. Her eyes stung. She blinked hard, roughly rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. She sucked in a deep breath.
“I know someone.”
“Collect your things. Take your time. We’ll be right here, okay?”
Martha nodded slowly. She began to close the door, then paused. Her forehead wrinkled. She looked seriously at the officers, her tongue heavy with a thousand questions, but only one found its way passed her lips.
“What did she do?” she asked finally.
Officer McGrady answered carefully, deliberate and calm. “I’m sorry, we cannot share that information with you.”
She stared wordlessly, mouth agape. She swallowed her disbelief and quietly thanked the officers before closing the door. Martha smiled humorlessly, her hand still resting on the knob. She chortled, an awkward, choking sound that mingled in her throat with the tears and shame that bubbled inside her. What disbelief she should have felt was quickly hardened by a callus cynicism, the kind that rots faith with the awfulness of reality and the reality was that Madelaine Garrett was stupid and kind, selfish and naive and was reckless beyond repair.
Martha searched the dark for her phone. She had one missed call from an unknown number. Her stomach wrenched. She ignored the blur in her eyes and dialed Julie. She picked up on the third ring, her voice gravelly from sleep.
“Girl, do you know what time it is?”
She didn’t. Julie perked on the other end.
“Yo, you there? Did you butt dial me again? Hello? Hello?”
Martha’s voice cracked, “My mom was arrested. Can I stay with you tonight?”