by Amanda Todisco
Martha existed merely for that: to exist.
“Martha,” they’d say, they being him and her and he and she and all of them, but mostly her mother. “Maaaaartha,
darling. What are you going to do with your life? Your existence is
most depressing, Martha. Oh, Martha. Get out of that bed, will you
And Martha would roll onto her side, making sure to face away from the
doorway that framed her American mother with a fake British accent and
hot rollers and musk ordered from Avon. Away from the clock that read
noon. Away from the civilized household with forks and knives and
spoons with all of their usage. Away from a father with the
self-proclaimed title of ‘gentleman’ because he kisses the hand of
every woman he meets before taking them to bed. Away from a hopeless
sister with five different mirrors and a fear of carbs. Away from the
maids and the butlers and the cooks and the falsehood of those who
proclaim true love. She would face away from it all and look out her
Martha had never left the gates. They stood, an entryway to heaven.
This analogy plagued Martha so that she feared the eternal afterlife,
merely for that: the eternity of it all. With life comes sleep, and
with sleep comes dreams. The forever sleep leaves a body, leaving
behind sleep, keeping a soul. And her soul was quite unsatisfied.
“The eyes are the window to the soul,” a phrase Martha heard often
while learning her Bible on sleepy Sunday mornings as a child. She once
asked Miss Claudette what you would see if the soul were empty.
“Why, my child, you would be looking into the eyes of Satan.”
Martha didn’t sleep for a month, afraid she was the Devil in flesh. It
was only when she asked her mother about it that she was reassured as
to her human existence. “Ohhhh, Maaaaarthhha, darling,” she had said.
“Maaaarthhhaaa. Your father and I are too high bred to have created a
child that comes from so far below.”
Martha would lay in bed—especially early morning when the light was
just right— staring out the window. In those moments, she’d feel
something. Across the lawn, she could see nothing but green.
Artificial, too-good-to-be-true green. Each blade of grass matched so
perfectly in size, shape, and color. She hadn’t a clue why, but it hurt
her eyes and that hurt her heart.
Then Martha would look beyond. The gold of the gates, majestic in their
fifteen-foot stature, were bars to a barren land. A land of trees
browning beyond their health. A land plagued by dying earth and unknown
wildlife. Pebbles and rocks and boulders. Crumbling homes made of stone
and wood. An apocalyptic scent wafting onto the Privileged Lands when
the sun got too hot.
And people. People who were surrounded by death and managed to find a
way to live. People who could not, under any circumstances, enter the
manor of the wealthy. The ‘others,’ as her mother liked to call them,
as if they were a small piece on a pie chart and not a group of living,
breathing, suffering, yet surviving human beings.
It was in one of her staring fits—albeit the date or time or year of
age—that she found her soul. It was not within Martha; she found it
outside of that window. Beyond the gates, with people she’d never met.
And in that unknown moment she understood: her eyes were not the window
to her soul; it was, ironically, her bedroom window.
The dreams started when Martha was sleeping, but soon her mind would
carry her away even in her waking hours. The dreams all began the same:
she would be walking through the yard in a freshly bleached nightgown,
toward the only entryway of the gate. Her steps contained no signs of
hesitance. She was a young woman, determined. Fearless. Without
boundaries. Martha gave herself permission to pass the threshold
because in her dreams, she needn’t ask another soul.
It was at the gate that the dreams would always change. Sometimes,
she’d be greeted by a barbaric man with a skirt made of leaves and a
carved wooden spear. He was a cliche neanderthal in all respects. He’d
grunt at her, trying to communicate. And the strangest part of it all
was that somehow she understood. He wanted her to take his hand, and
she did. From behind the bushes came more uncivilized men and women,
covering their manhoods and womanhoods with dress made from nature.
They would run to the gate and close it shut and join hands and make a
circle around Martha. It didn’t make any sense, but somehow Martha knew
for sure that these were her people.
The people changed each time she’d dream. Sometimes they were in
flowered dresses and bandanas and smiles. Other times there’d be suits
and a lingering smell of generic cleaner. There was even one time when
the humans weren’t humans at all; they were simply colorful blobs
without figure or sound, but she still woke feeling the same way:
Martha was one of them, and she was welcomed.
One night, the dream ended as she woke. She opened her eyes, sure that
she was awake for she had gone from dream to reality almost every night
for as long as she could remember. The dream was done, but voices
continued to echo through her skull. “Maaaaarthhaaa...” she heard.
“Maaaarthhhaaa.” The voices sang as her mothers did, but not with the
same tone of annoyance. It was as if they were calling to her to wake
from her own reality and enter into theirs.
“Maaaarthhhaaa...” they continued to call. These voices contained all
of the maternal tenderness she’d craved her entire life. All the
familial intonations, the jovial vibrance of a voice belonging to a
friend. To friends.
She lay in bed listening, first, letting the voices sooth her like a
lullaby. But soon the tune morphed from Mozart to Bach, the beauty of
the glorious tune overwhelming the ear, maddening its listener as the
squeal of a broken record. Martha knew in her heart that she must
follow the music and all of its warm insanity to the source. The way to
stop it would be to join it.
Martha hadn’t used her feet much, but neither did she eat often. So her
feet and frame of stature were delicate like glass, only in addition to
her bleached white nightgown and Swedish nature, the analogy should
stand as the stained glass of a church window. To simplify, Martha
appeared utterly angelic.
She stumbled a bit as she stood, not quite sure when the last time
she’d used her muscles were. It was as if she were gaining her sea
legs, only there wasn’t an ocean for miles to blame. Soon enough, the
infantile movements wore off, and she traveled through her childhood
again with each step she gained. It took her approximately three
minutes to walk to the stairs, although they were not more than thirty
feet from the threshold of her bedroom. She looked down the steps with
a new sense of determination, knowing that the threshold of the gates
was strong and smooth, not a single inch higher than leveled ground.
Martha held tightly onto the banister, the garland that snaked the oak
feeling awkward in her hands as it looked awkward for the month of
July. She awkwardly squatted down, until the thin red carpet touched
her bottom. Using both of her arms and all of her might, she inched
herself forward with the combined forces of her pelvis and her legs.
There weren’t more than twenty steps, but by the end of the voyage,
Martha needed a break.
She regrouped for ten minutes, resting on the bottom step. She
listened, but not a sound was heard. Everyone, everywhere, in every
inch of the house, slept as if they were dead. Or carefree. There isn’t
much of a difference between being dead and carefree, as both do not
tend to exist for the living.
After catching her first breath, the second, and the seven-hundredth,
Martha knew she could handle the rest. She walked to the front door,
which seemed all too simple. But the Privileged were as simple as they
were lazy, and the lock clicked open, and the door clicked open, and
Martha’s feet went click, click, click on the stone path that led
through the grass.
She closed her eyes and counted to ten.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
And she closed her eyes and counted to ten. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
Martha repeated this process, calming her nerves all the way to the
gate. It only took her fifteen sets of ten to reach the golden gate,
and one extra ‘1. 2. 3.’ By this point, Martha’s nerves were exhausted,
and in their place, adrenaline surged. She had made it. Nobody had
stopped her. Nothing had happened. And most importantly, the voices
She reached a shaking hand toward the metal rod that held closed the
gate. When hand met element, the gold began to glow. Martha had been
long-awaited. Martha was special. Martha had been chosen.
She lifted the rod, entrenched in her new, holy power. The minute it
was released, and unearthly force sprung forward, pushing the gates
away from Martha and into the Forbidden Land. She stepped forward, as a
Messiah greeting her people for the first time.
Nobody appeared at first, but then came one. A girl. About Martha’s
age, Martha’s height, and Martha’s small frame. She had eyes like
Martha, those straight from a Margaret Keane painting. Blue and large
and lovely and sad. And her hair was like Martha’s, wispy and light as
if her child hairs had never grown. She could, in fact, be a sister of
Martha’s if she had not known any better.
Then others joined, boys and girls, men and women. Some different in
size and complexion, but all looking quite like Martha. It was the
First Martha that was not Martha that said it first. “Maaaaarthhaa.”
And then another. And another. Until each person joined in the harmony
that became a symphony that soon sounded like one amplified voice.
They circled Martha, the chant soaking her veins with the power that
comes with acceptance, one that brings on a vomit-worthy joy. The
so-happy-I-could-die type of feeling. Martha felt like she could die.
The circle tightened until Martha was the pit of a giant plum. A big,
giant, human plum. And she enjoyed the contact, the level of warmth
different on each new set of skin. All she’d felt her whole life were
cold hands, the ones you feel when the doctor checks your heart. She
embraced the warmth, embraced the strangers, embraced her status as
She even embraced the warmth of her own blood when shock prevented her from feeling the wound.
It wasn’t until Martha sensed her feet were not touching the ground
that she noticed it: a wooden spear had pierced her abdomen, and her
sisters and brothers carried her toward the trees. Through them, she
could see a blazing fire, a fire much warmer than the skin and her
Martha began to struggle, but it was a worthless fight. She did not
have her window to look to for escape. This was her window, in front of
her. And as they staked her body above the fire and began to rotate her
flesh, she stared each and every one of them in the eye.
She did not scream. She did not cry. This was Martha’s fate.
And for the first time in, well...a very long time, her people would have a proper meal.
© 2019 Amanda Todisco
Bio: Amanda Todisco is a writer and filmmaker from Boston, MA.
She has a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts -
Amherst. Her films can be found on Amazon in the US and a handful of
other countries. When she’s not working, she is home in bed with her
three fur beasts.
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.