Martin: A Short Story by Luke Orlando

There’s a cold wind coming in from the North; there’s always a cold wind when Martin comes by. I can feel it in the bones of this old Maine house, whittling the warmth of the wood away in gusts and howls. Its brittle joints creak and moan as crevices in the ancient beams let streams of air flow through them. Chilled by the November breeze, I wrap myself in a thin, scratchy blanket my grandmother gave me when I was nine. It used to be sky blue but is now faded and smudged like an old ink stain. I absentmindedly pick the rivulets of cotton and dust that spring up endlessly out of its forty-year-old fibers, and I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to keep up this habit before it tears a hole through the blanket and begins letting the air in. 

A strong gust rattles the loose window and I gasp in surprise which sends me into one of my fits of coughing. Luckily I’m close to the kitchen. Staggering to the sink, I spit yellow mucus away and wash it down, down, down the drain. I watch it spin around, swirling, sinking, spiraling out of control and I can’t help but wish to follow it. I wish I could be it. I’m sure being flushed down the drain wouldn’t feel much worse than this.

The orange paisley rug of the living room itches my feet as I escape the freezing linoleum of the yellowing kitchen floor. Brittle wallpaper flakes off near the door as I lean up against it. The flecks stick in my blanket and I pick them out, carefully dropping them into the trash can.

As if it were following me, the wind blows open the windows and I’m forced into combat them. They struggle, I give, they give, and I struggle. It’s a never ending battle with the cold…there’s always a cold wind coming through when Martin comes by. Finally, with my aching old hands and all, I manage to shut them. I am left with a couple bruises, blue and already showing, but they’ll yellow-out in no time and get lost on my skin. 

It must be soon now. There are still some bits of wallpaper in the blanket so I pick them out. They fall like whirlybirds to the floor where they become forever entrenched in the tough fibers of the carpet. I’m too tired to bring them back to the trashcan. I try to read while curling up on the grey sofa but it’s no good. It smells like Travis, my Great Dane, now gone. My breath rattles in my chest, wheezes through my lips and stinks of eggs and toast; I should have brushed my teeth. And now here I am, thinking about Martin again. Forgetting him is like trying to forget an advertising jingle-impossible.

The door bell buzzes weakly, but I hear it and adjust the bandana on my bald head before answering. I want to look my best. 

I open the door and there he is, with eyes so brown they’re almost black, skin falling off his old bones just like mine. Okay, maybe not as bad as mine. He has a detached but practiced smile on. It warms most people, but not me. 

“Hey Martin, how are you?” I ask breathlessly, then cough, wrapping the blanket around me tighter. 

“Hi Carol, nice day today huh?” he asks despite the biting wind that flings frost into our eyes. His wide and crooked nose is rosy red in the frigid air––he might have a cold. 

“Not really Martin, no,” I have to answer.

“Uhm, well yeah, I guess you’re right. Anyway, here is your package. More meds?” he guesses by the size and weight. He should know by now; he’s been delivering my antibiotics for almost two years. Two years since he fell off that damned roof, hit his head, and forgot all about me. Two years since I walked away from his hospital bed and let him go live a new life, one without a wife. 

“No, no, these are just some vitamins, keep me strong for the grandkids, you know,” I lied, we never had children. We didn’t know why we couldn’t for a long time of course, but by then it was too late. Now I have to keep him from knowing that I was ever a part of his life. It’s not his fault he lost parts of his memory… but why did it have to be memories of me? Like a damned Lifetime movie. 

“Well, I’ll see you Martin,” I said, slamming the door shut as the wind picks up and forces me inside. I shouldn’t have let him take that job at the post office. I don’t need to have him coming by every day but Sunday to remind me of the worst mistake I ever made. 

Yet still… I watch him leave the porch and head to the little white truck at the end of the driveway. Even now, even after forgetting everything, he still flicks the lowest branches of the mulberry tree on the way down. I guess some things are never forgotten. I can’t help but notice he looks a little disappointed. I’m disappointed too, and maybe… angry. I can feel the harsh line of my lips pressing tighter on these old teeth till they feel like they’re going to pop. I’ve never watched him walk away this long before––I can’t stand seeing so much of my past go sauntering off unawares. However, today was different. He seemed so… interested, and I shoved him off again. I suppose it’s only fair.

The impossible happens. He turns around and looks right at me, right through the cracked window, just like he always used to do before work. And, for a moment, I can see him throwing his bag to the ground and running back to me, remembering everything. I can imagine his embrace, the constant smell of wood chips and gas in his hair, the way he always tickled my neck with his stubble. Oh I remember the nights I spent rubbing his tired ankles, rippled with the long-red imprint of his tube socks stuffed under boots all day. I remember how in the cold Maine nights he would stoke up the fire at two in the morning just to make sure I was comfortable when I woke up.

 And I remember the bad times too, the way he’d mumble and sulk after hitting his finger with a hammer like the clumsy fool he always was. I could almost, in that moment as he stood there, imagine him hanging his hat on the mulberry branch and whistling for Travis. The pup would come whizzing out from the back yard and tackle poor Martin to the ground!

 Of course he doesn’t do any of this, but he stands there looking back at the house for a long time. Longer even than I’m willing to sit by the window in the jet of wind that sneaks through the crack. I turn away and huddle on Travis’s smelly couch. I pick the book back up, trying to distract myself once again but I read the same words over and over. I seem unable advance a chapter, or turn a page, or even finish a line. It’s hardly less than a minute before I hear a knock at the door. I don’t know what to feel, amazed, horrified, freezing, ecstatic?

“Come in! It’s unlocked…” I call hoarsely, pulling the blanket up tighter around my shoulders. 

Sheepishly, Martin enters the door and closes it, stomping his feet on the mat like he used to; left, right, left, left, right. 

“Hey Carol, I just wanted to let you know. Me and some of the folks down at the office have been worried about you. It’s a small town and we know you don’t get any post other than medicine, bills, and retirement pay. And I don’t want this to sound wrong… I don’t know what I want it to sound like at all actually. Sorry, I’m not making much sense.” He holds his bag awkwardly, “Well Carol, we want you to come down for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.”

Thanksgiving’s tomorrow? I completely forgot, how could I forget? Martin always overcooked the turkey, the potatoes were practically raw and the cranberry sauce was basically a sugar tart but it was our time. It was a day we could wrap ourselves up next to a fire and remember the thing that made life worth living, having each other. 

“Yes,” I finally answer. “Yes, I think I would like that very much. Thank you.”

“Great!” he says and smiles far too enthusiastically, forcing me to laugh. It wasn’t a fake and practiced laugh like I’ve been giving for two long years and he wasn’t smiling a fake and practiced smile like he’d been forced to give for so many deliveries. “I’ll pick you up at four, sound okay?” 

It sounds perfect.

“That sounds fine,” I say with as much control as I can muster. 

“Great,” he says again, then stands by the door, unsure of what to do. He picks at a seam in the wallpaper absentmindedly. I hated the way the contractor covered up my old walls. I probably could have done a better job papering them myself.

“Wall paper, huh?” he says. 

Come on Martin, if you’re going to make idle conversation even the weather is a better topic than wallpaper.

“You know; I think these walls would look better in blue. Would match the sky in the hills out there, you know? It’s such a great view from up here.”

I sat speechless, and maybe even a little afraid. The walls were blue, back when he and I were… together. And he should know, he painted them himself! Covering up those beautiful blue walls was the first thing I did after the accident, after I said goodbye. I say nothing to him now. I can feel my eyes, as wide as well-caps, staring at him. Water is welling up in them, threatening to burst out in a flood of tears, but thankfully he moves towards the door, breaking my gaze. 

He turns around one last time in an awkward half circle to tip his dark blue postman’s hat towards me. Rather than turning back, he decides on leaving backwards, smacking his bag loudly on the door frame and chuckling to himself. He says a quick “bye-bye now,” and shuts the door. 

Ecstatic. Gleeful! I pick myself up out of the couch and hike up the dark wooden stairs. It takes me two whole minutes to reach my bedroom. I can hear the leaves fluttering against my bedroom window. I’m sweating from the effort of climbing the stairs, so I open the window and let the breeze in as I try on dress after dress, but they’re all too big now. I’ve lost so much weight that I don’t have a thing to wear; a silver lining wrapped in a curse. 

I remember everything: The way Martin would dress me up like a doll just to go out for dinner, the ridiculous ways I would do my hair, the makeup and hundreds of dollars of jewelry that we couldn’t afford… it was all so wonderful! It had all been locked away in a trunk in the closet.  I had forgotten it completely, but now it is out on my bed, unlocked, and the contents strewn about the room like so many leaves. Dress after dress after polyester dress comes flying out of the trunk and onto my feeble bones, and in a moment of pure magic I find myself in the white flower dress I wore on my first date with Martin. Laughing, I look myself up and down in the mirror, twirling about like a school girl as a scarf billows around my head, almost like my hair used to move, in the cold Maine wind. ■

This story appeared in the December 2018 issue of Books ‘N Pieces Magazine. Read the full issue HERE

About the Author:

Luke Orlando was born and raised in Pennsylvania. He received his bachelors in English from Penn State where he was an active member of the Disciplemakers’ Social Committee, Board Game Club and Magic Club. He has been continuing his education at East Stroudsburg University. He is an avid Star Trek fan, D&D player, and creative fiction writer. He is also a camp-fire guitar player who likes to sing Bob Dylan covers when no one is home. Unable to escape the charm of his home state, he now lives in a quiet community in the Pocono Mountains, where he is a high school English teacher and loves absolutely every minute of it. 

Story Photo Credit: Katarzyna Białasiewicz