Chapter one – Martha meets Charlie

It was a chilly Sunday evening. Exactly one year and two days since Martha and Thomas had renewed their vows. Martha had just brushed her teeth and was looking forward to resting after a stressful weekend. So much can happen in such a short space of time she thought to herself, pulling the duvet and slithering in between the sheets beside Thomas, her husband. Her foot scouted for her partner’s matching limb, always so warm, and her arms cuddled him tight.

When returning from work around noon last week Friday, on their anniversary, she initially felt exhausted at the start of the weekend. Her dog, Kenny had been barking at the neighbour’s cat the entire Thursday night. Poor Kenny, he was such a minute creature, with waddling legs barely aiding the dog with any agility. His best attempt at hunting down the cat was to run around the yard, annoyed at his weakness and barking his plans on what he would do to the cat if he caught it. Often her neighbour, Janice, spoke to her cat and tell it not to fear ‘the naughty little teddy with teeth, barking away at night’. On the odd occasion, Martha had often plotted ways to torture Janice’s cat, and always dismissed the thoughts as quick as they came. Instead she stroked the little fur that Kenny had and told him he was the most beautiful dog in the whole world and he often barked back with belief.

Martha arrived home that Friday, jaded and etiolated after a relentless five days’ worth of rain, however, her fatigue and weariness was only exacerbated further after she had plumped herself on the comfy couch. Martha was so engrossed in her weekly TV series when she heard a violent mechanical screech. She pulled back a curtain to observe the scene and noticed the neighbours did the same, a few neighbours were brave enough to leave their houses and so was she.
Once outside she realised her car was no longer in its usual spot. The only evidence she came across were the skid marks etched into the road, rubber still hot. Stolen from right under her nose.

After a two hour long wait at the Police station Martha was finally helped. Her case was dealt with so fast that she questioned why she had originally waited in such a long queue for so extensively when the police station was apparently well manned and the service so speedy. On her way out, Martha caught a glance at a group of police men and woman playing a game of cards at a round wooden table, one of whom was the chief, the police officer who had assisted her earlier, laughing, holding hands and patting his squadron members on the back. Civil service at its best Martha thought to herself with no enthusiasm at all.

Thomas had sent her an instant message saying that he was home and that he had taken care of dinner. The text was accompanied by a photograph of an immaculate table, well set out, with a large bowl of Italian style Alfredo and a bottle of white wine with two empty wine glasses, two plates and cutlery opposite one another. There in the background sat the desert duplicitously. Thomas had also made one of her favourite dishes, which was a speciality of his, caramel pecan pie. Martha was starving and the photograph made her mouth water. She queued at the local bus stop and waited patiently knowing there would be a warm bowl of food in her belly soon. That she could drown her sorrows in a bottle of crystal clear white wine and have her sweet tooth polished.

When Martha arrived home, expecting a warm meal to satisfy her growing hunger, she was greeted by a draconian scene.
Upon opening the small garden gate she could see Thomas preparing the finishing touches on celebratory meal. She paused to admire her husband through the lace curtain but she sensed something ominous was lurking. After realising Kenny had not welcomed her safe arrival home, she begun to get suspicious and panned the premises for her loyal friend. After rummaging through shrubs and weeds and callig Thomas for help they found him floating in the swimming pool. Kenny was frothing at the mouth. Martha squealed and let out a siren cry. She could not move even though she wanted to. To help Kenny, somehow, anyhow. The loss of a friend had stung her deeply and the following day at the veterinarian, the animal clinic’s doctor had said that Kenny was poisoned with sleeping tablets, although the dosage was not lethal, numbed by synthetic pharmaceuticals, Kenny waddled into the pool and drowned to his death the doctor said.

The following day Martha decided to buy a case of wine and snapped at her husband when he protested. She already decided that she wanted to drink herself into stupor and she was never one to settle on half-arsing any task of any nature. After Martha and Thomas had consumed five bottles of the twelve, they sung odes of thanks and love to their dear departed friend. Thomas dug a grave the size of a big shoe box, gently placing Kenny in, and buried him three feet under. Martha had insisted on providing a eulogy for the canine. She gulped down the remainder of her glass and exclaimed “This one is for you Kenny” before refilling her glass, passing out seconds later, failimg to give Kenny the eulogy all together.

Looking back Martha was glad the weekend was over and longing for the coming week to bring her a new sensation of luck that her weekly horoscope had told her to keep an eye out for. Her mother had always told her that when bad luck visits it would be preceded by good luck in an equal quantity to balance the workings of the world governed by Mother Nature. She hoped Mother Nature would empathise with her and govern the onslaught of her headache. Her body felt frail.

Martha quickly discarded the omen her mother had taught her and focused on her coming week at work. Martha is a mathematics literacy teacher at, Valleyville High, the town’s local high school and her old classroom had recently been knocked down as part of a renovation project the principal, Mr Devon Hancock, had signed off to increase the intake of students at the school. While Martha encouraged the growth of the school, she had sulked on several occasions after she had not managed to find a spare room to teach her students and was forced to frequently let them have a free period, chasing after one another and creating a racket, on the cricket pitch.

Switching off her side lamp on the bed post she turned over and kissed Thomas goodnight, who replied with an untimely grunt. He was already asleep, curled into a ball. She began focusing on the better days to come. Martha squeezed herself into Thomas, seeking the warmth of his baby beer belly. Maybe her mother was right after all. When bad things happen the world seeks out a way to fix the tipping scale. And with that in mind Martha drifted off to sleep. After all, she had Thomas.

When she rose, Martha realised that Thomas was not by her side and when she acknowledged the soft ray of sunlight that peeked through her window, she quickly got geared for a jog before work. Waking up when the sun was out was an uncommon occurrence for her. She had more often than not made sure that she had been out of the house in the dark hours of dawn to watch the sunrise while making her way back home after a ten kilometre run. A routine she completed every weekday morning religiously or substituted it with a visit to the local gym down the road. She splayed the curtains and opened a window to rid the room of the stale air. The morning air would cool body as she ran but the wind pierced her skin like sharp icicle shards until it was almost unbearable and closed the windows at the first gush of wind. So she decided that tomorrow morning she would visit the gym instead as she kissed Thomas goodbye on the cheek before she began her run, leaving him to continue cooking a savoury smelling omelette.

Once back she rushed all her morning chores to ensure she arrived to work on time and in her hurried frenzy realised that she had left her lunch that Thomas had made and packed on the kitchen counter table as she climbed the local bus service. The bus would take the scenic root around town, a twenty minute long tour of three kilometres worth of driving. Her hair was untidy, skin dry from lack of lotion and she was already twenty minutes late into the first lesson she was meant to present her students with today. Focusing on the rogue strands of hair swaying in front of her eye lids she huffed out the corner of her mouth, attempting to push back the disobedient clump of hair without lifting a finger as she tried to keep her hands warm.

Martha arrived at work thirty seven minutes late, the rest of the school well into the second period of the day, dropped off her bag in her allocated locker near the kitchen entrance of the staff room and motioned silently towards the exit after spotting Mr Hancock in conversation. He politely asked Mr Swart if they could pick up their conversation another time before he walked over with raised hand and a crooked finger, “Please could I have a word Mrs Thatcher?” which was more of a command with a beseeching undertone.

“You’re late” stating the obvious as he raised an eyebrow. His watch read 09:40 and ticking. Clearly he was looking for an explanation, yet he hadn’t asked for one.

“I know Mr Hancock, I apologise. I had a rough weekend. My vehicle was stolen on Friday afternoon and a family member of mine was poisoned and then drowned to death after falling unconscious in a swimming pool” Martha wailed “I’m really sorry Mr Hancock, it won’t happen again, you know I’m usually an early bird.” She mulled over what she had told Mr Hancock questioning the truth and she reassured herself that though Kenny was a canine, he was indeed family.

“I’m sorry to hear that. My dearest condolences to you and your family” Mr Hancock murmured unsure how to reasonably reply. Mr Hancock lost his mother during her fight against cancer, or so the rumour went, and a short cut for staff being pardoned by their boss was to appeal to his weaker, soft nature. “I hope you manage to sort out your vehicle as well. Did you have any insurance on it?” he asked gently. Martha shook her head and sunk her crown. “Well then, I called you over to initially inform you that your classroom has been completed. All chairs, desks, a teacher table and chair and a chalk board have been arranged to be set up for you temporarily in order to commence classes right away. Seeing as you were late I called in Ms Cameron to fill in for you, so I guess you have the second lesson free. Also Mrs Dlamini found your mug broken on the floor this morning and there is a brown stain that won’t come out of the carpets, do be more careful. And lastly please call me Devon, Martha?” he gave Martha an amiable with beaming teeth as bright as the dome that lay above his ginger hair

“Yes Mr Hancock” Martha blurted out and covered her mouth, embarrassed by her instinctual reply. Mr Hancock departed with a nod and carried his plump body across the staff room towards his office. Martha only had one tea mug that she kept at work and was renowned for it. A Square cow cup with an udder for a handle that tickled the inside of her palms. Thomas had bought it as a gift for her after she told him she would love to play with the under belly of a cow, just to know what it felt like. Thomas had her in stitches the very next day when he gave it to her.

After opening the door Martha was amazed at the sight of her new classroom, it was big enough to cater for sixty students, the school capped the classroom capacity at thirty-five, and had comfortable chairs that curved with the body as opposed to the flat wooden relics they had before. Her desk was triple the size of the any other in the class and she wondered how she would manage all the space. On top of the desk were an array of posters, Martha noticed that one of them explained simple and compound interest, and she made a mental note to get the children to stick them up around the classroom for her. Eventually after boredom kicked in, Martha decided she would do the job she was getting paid to do and hung the posters up herself.

When she had completed pinning the posters up to the boards, Martha decided she was going to write her name on the board. Ms Richter had recently taken her maternity leave and she received three extra classes to teach. She stared at her name on the wall and realised it was more especially for the grade eights, who were fickle in nature and feeble in memory. Not all, but some. It would make the communication process at school a lot easier and would create difficulties with her social media life with students constantly trying to get a sneak preview at what their teachers lifestyles are like.

After underlining her name in bold, Martha noticed that there was a piece of paper that was stuck to the top corner of the chalk board, flapping gracefully in the wind. Curious, Martha grabbed hold of the note and read:

It is with great joy

That I renounce you from your pain.

Let us begin anew.

But start this adventure

With the pain and pleasantries of the past.

Let us build bridges.

Constructing, with our passion for life,

An object of desired inspiration.

Let us manipulate time.

By creating a movement, of love, of action

That will withstand centuries.
Please accept the tulips on your desk as a gift,

I know you love the scent the flowers give off.
Beside the tulips is a box of white chalk sticks.

Use them to ask me what it is that you truly seek.
Write away, your thoughts, and live freely.
My person

Martha’s face flushed, she could feel her body fuzzing up with warmth. Thomas was always such a thoughtful gift giver.

Martha recalled a moment at their first wedding when he had called her ‘My Person’ for the first time. On their first wedding night.
After the reception, the newly wed opened up the dance floor with a kiss when Butterflies by Alicia Keys concluded, inducing cheers and whistles that then sent a dancing fever which had spread to all the guests. Song after song the crowd beckoned the deejay to continue and motivated him with their doggery movements. Martha could label and name precisely who among the crowd were drunk and inebriated beyond belief yet still sought to part take in the celebration. A fear of missing out. Martha had danced to her hearts content in her extravagant, cream silk dress and looked good doing it in the skin tight dress that betrayed her curves and abundant cleavage. The diamantes sparkled as her spouse spun her round and round joyfully. She danced on and on changing her rhythm to fit the genre and tempo of each coming song until she eventually thought her legs would gave way. Finally, she had seized a chance to rest her legs when she was soon after asked to dance by an exuberant old man, whom was among the handful she had not been familiar with. He offered the traditional out stretched arm with open palm and a magnificent smile to match. He wore a well fitted, eccentric blue suit that complemented his solid eyes. His hair was kept long and well groomed, silver strands glittered in the disco lit reception. Her body wanted to reject the request yet her heart admired the gentleman’s energy and accepted with a polite smile. One more dance and she would rest. They swayed to songs of jazzy tunes.
“You truly do look lovely this evening, I’m Big Bill, and who do they call you?”

“I’m Martha Thatcher” she said with pride.

“I can definitely see the beauty of a Thatcher woman blossoming out of you. You have the sharp facial features, jet black hair and a pair of chocolate brown eyes that could only belong to a goddess”

The song changed and Big Bill seamlessly changed his footing and guided her with his hand firmly placed on her lower back.

“That’s very kind of you, thank you” she loosened her grip, not wanting to be too close.

“You know, if you wanted, we could head to back to my place. I could take care of you and your needs. I understand that a woman has a desire for sexual habits as deep as any other man who approaches her”

Martha scrutinised the man before deciding to continue, playing at his game “what makes you think I’m not the type to pursue what it is I’m truly after”

“You’re far too aware of the implications of your beauty. To say that you’re ‘in every way perfect’ would be an underdone phrase” Big Bills hand slid down spine cupping her backside “you are worthy of so much more”

That was the final straw. Having played enough Martha pushed against Big Bills chest, separating the two of the immediately.

“Get away from me, pervert!” Martha yelled. Does he not know that I am the bride of this wedding Martha had thought. Surely this man had seen her with Thomas at the altar exchanging vows and rings to solidify them, cutting the cake and opening the dance floor. She crossed her arms and turned her back to her dance partner, annoyed by such utterly disrespectful behaviour.

“Lady, keep calm. I didn’t mean to offend you” walking forward with both hands up proposing supposed safety and comfort amid his arms. “Losing the trust of a goddess such as yourself, would only do me harm in the future”

“I’m a person, you – !”

“You’re my Person” Thomas interrupted Martha, touching her shoulder. His voice instantly soothed her “Do you mind if I nab her away from you for a bit Uncle Bill?”

“Of course son” replied Big Bill

Thomas was not asking for permission. He hadn’t waited for his response and grabbed his spouse around the waist making her feel as light as a floe, as if her body were resting on the surface in a pool of euphoria. She had already forgotten but not forgiven the doings of the perverted bum grabbing uncle. Leaning into her neck for a kiss, Thomas then whispered in her ear “I have something for you”. Excitement flittered in her heart and she breathed in slowly as she sensed a need to be present. Thomas pulled her through the sliding doors and out onto the deck that overlooked the vast openness of Magaliesberg, for her the dry mountainous terrain shared sentiments of honesty never hiding its detrimental peaks and curves. He told her to cover her eyes, spun her around and adorned her with the most beautiful neck piece with earrings to match, embedded in a simply designed ostentatious box. She gazed at her mirrored image in the glass doors. A golden snake chain beaded with pearls as white as snow and two identical pearl balls enveloped by a designed, intricately cut film of gold plating. We look worthy of being the centrefold of a wedding magazine thought Martha as she leaned back into Thomas’ chest

Stunned, Martha choked on her words “Thomas… I can’t believe… They’re beautiful” eventually satisfied with how she had expressed herself. She had it all, the house, the car, the husband, a husband with a job who catered to her habits of shopping, series binging and drinking while she pursued her passion to teach. “I just got promoted last week, I thought I’d surprise you on our big night” chanted Thomas with a level pride that only a Thatcher could muster.

“Well you’re doing a darn good job, I’m so proud of you my love.”

“No. My Person” Thomas opposed “You’re mine till the sun swallows this Earth slow. No one else can have you and vice versa”

Overwhelmed with love and gratitude for the man in her life she could now legally call her husband, she showcased her feelings with a tight embrace that made Thomas gasped for air.

Martha woke from her reverie realising that she was staring at the letter on the table. She stood up from her chair and walked around her new classroom, thinking about her husband and the life they had once had, from late night dates random road trips to odd places in Free State, Mpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal and their act of giving back, helping the homeless on many Sundays of the year. But in the twenty-first century being over qualified was as good as possessing little or no schooling at all. Soon after their wedding Thomas had lost his job as an Operations Manager for Barclays and had been unsuccessful at finding a job ever since. Sometimes Martha thought he didn’t try hard enough, not truly wanting to work again, but she would dismiss the thought and encourage her partner as best she could.

If so much can happen in a weekend, imagine five years thought Martha to herself. She was now the bread winner of the household that was near sinking in financial debt and a house filled with hoarded items of little to no financial value. The letter was a comforting gesture that helped her find a tranquil space in her over active brain. The pain of losing her loyal dog and family member and her car shook her, testing her stability. All Martha truly wanted at that moment was to find closure in knowing how Kenny died, who stole her car and a large sum of money so her and Thomas could go on holiday and they could live again, like they did in her memories. She had agreed to stick around, even in the bad times. Though she could not see it now, she knew Thomas was a hardworking and once ambitious man. She just needed to bring it out in him once more.

The school bell let out a shrilling ring signalling a class rotation. Martha marched to her desk remembering she hadn’t prepped for the class’s she was to teach.

After a long and a rather hot day in the middle of winter, Martha guzzled down the remainder of her bottled water folded her arms and glared her empty classroom with a satisfactory smile. Her day had gone well despite the hiccup of her being late that morning and not preparing her teaching material for the day. She folded her arms behind her head and leaned back in her new black chair that was still coated with the scent leather and inhaled deeply. She caught a whiff of the Tulips, off a breeze that passed through the windows, looked at the vase and remembered: the box of chalk sticks, the note on the chalk board.

Martha had been thinking about three things consistently for each hour she spent at work, her dog, her car and spoiling her husband. She read the letter once more and allowed her thoughts to simmer. Moved by the contents of the letter, she opted for the box, pulled out a chalk stick and wrote in bold:

I want to know that death is not final, that material objects don’t truly matter and why life presents us with people we don’t deserve.

Martha stood back and chuckled at the result of her crazy outburst. She had let out her inner most thoughts and feelings and no less to a chalk board. The letter from Thomas was right, she felt as if writing it down had alleviated some of the hurt. She wouldn’t say the feeling was ‘joy’. That will come with time she told herself.

Suddenly the words on the board erased themselves. The dust from the words had fallen to the floor like gravity no longer acted on them and new words formed in their place. The self-scribed chalk etched as if it were a crafty artist with an invisible hand and wrote:

“One thing is certain, death is only final if you die while living. I have never found the need to believe in accumulating things that others induce us to want but I am sure that life introduces us to the people that we need in our lives not the ones we want.”

Martha shifted her vision around the classroom and analysed the windows in particular, someone had to be playing a prank on her. How was it possible that a chalk board was responding to what she had written? Martha remained fixed and glared at the board with amusement. Is this Thomas’ doing? she asked herself. But how? she added. Maybe the children in her class or even Mr Hancock. She waited, unsure for what exactly, and like the first time the dust aired off the board and onto the floor, and the invisible hand had moved again.

“I’m sorry Martha, I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted to be as open and honest with you as possible. If you’d prefer, I could tone it down?”

“What do you mean” Martha said to the chalk board

Like both times before the chalk drizzled to the floor and a new inscription took its place.

“I can only hear you if you write on the board but I can feel your emotions.”

Martha searched for the chalk stick she noticed she had dropped. Abashed for not recognising the common connection between the chalk and the chalk board she paused with the chalk stick hovering against the board before writing.

“I don’t understand. How is it possible that you can talk to me? Who, what are you?”

“I’m Chalk-Board, Charlie Chalk-Board” and had continued to write “I am what you asked for. I was created by you. I have been trying to communicate with you desperately, since last week. But when I knocked the over the cup of tea in the teachers office you hadn’t – ”

So it was Charlie Chalk-Board who had knocked over her tea mug. Amazed at the capabilities that she had discovered this Chalk-Board possessed she wrote, interrupting Charlie

“What do you mean I created you? So it was you who knocked over my mug? What have you been trying to contact me about that is so important?”

“I am a manifestation of your desire, such a force can make impossible things come true. Sadly you have already lived the life of this past weekend. Your senses warned you of the doom you were about to walk into unwillingly, creating me to serve as a medium, but I did not manage to help and for that I am ever so sorry”

Martha felt at ease after she read the writing on the board and her feelings reinforced when she saw Charlie had added “I truly am” She felt a touch of sympathy had developed between them after reading that.

“Thank you Charlie” she wrote, breaking the awkward silence between her and the board “You said you were created to help me. What is it exactly that you can help me with?” the flakes of chalk fell and Martha waited patiently for Charlie to respond, which felt dragged out due to her anxiety for an answer.

“I am here to bring you joy, unexplored territories and to show you how to leave a legacy behind. I am created from the pool of consciousness, your consciousness, and I know all the answers to life you may seek although on this visitation I must inform you I am more of a guide”

There had been only three things that had been circumventing an answer in Martha’s mind the entire day. Her dog, car and her husband.

Charlie’s words gave way the moment Martha raised her hand to write on the board.

“Who killed Kenny? Who stole my car? Will my husband and I be together till death?”

Charlie replied immediately his movements swift and suggestive.

“Unfortunately I cannot answers those questions. Like I had explained I am more of a guide at this moment, leading you to a safe path. My priority changes when a burning desire within you truly wants to know something, only then is the answer presented to me”

Martha was disappointed, she had gathered a large amount of faith in Charlie in a short space of time and it was thrown away as fast as it had come. She knew very clearly what she wanted and was annoyed that Charlie was unable to see or feel it too. She noticed that Charlie continued to write.

“I do have an impression that has been present for a while and grown in desire. Your desire for money. I have two ways in which you may come into contact with a large sum of money. Would you like the slowest of fastest route?”

Martha thought for a moment. She hadn’t really wanted money right then and thought about where this desire had come from or how it started. Curious she then scribbled in capital letters “FASTEST”

“Tomorrow morning a key and a cup of tea will lead you to what you want. Don’t forget to add two spoons of sugar to sweeten your day”

A key and a cup of tea? thought Martha to herself

“Your husband will be home in ten minutes. You should head home. PS: use me sparingly”

The words swooshed from the board and a mound of white chalk dust accumulated on the floor. Martha swept up the mess, straightened the desks and pushed in the chairs before leaving and chuckled “what a funny day” closing the classroom door. Home bound to her husband.


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