Today's Reading

CHAPTER TWO
The Little Book

As Martha picked the book up from the floor, she tried to focus, thinking if she'd seen it before. Zelda's name and her message somersaulted in her head. However, her brain seemed to be functioning on low power, unable to make sense of this strange discovery. A shiver ran down her spine and she placed the battered book back down on the table.

Her shoulders jerked in surprise when the cuckoo popped out of the clock on the wall and sang nine times. Turning and heading for the back door, Martha was keen to take in some fresh air.

Outside, a sharp gust of wind whipped her hair and she rescued strands from her slightly too-wide mouth. Her thick walnut curls had graying streaks that gave her hair a zebra-like appearance, and her eyes were so dark you might assume they were brown, not seaweed green.

Her paisley skirt and her supermarket-bought embroidered T-shirt gave little protection against the chilly night. Fancy clothes weren't much use when you lived on top of a windy cliff, and sensible shoes were a must. She was a big fan of a sparkly hair slide, though. A tiny bit of shininess nestled in her curls.

Walking to the end of the garden, Martha wrapped her arms across her chest. When she was younger, she used to sit on the cliff edge with her legs dangling, as the sea crashed and swirled below. She'd rest a writing pad on her knees and think of ways to describe the moon.

It looks like a bottle top, a platinum disk, a bullet hole in black velvet, a silver coin flipped into the sky...

She'd write a short story to share with Zelda.

"Yes," her nana would proclaim with zeal. "Love it. Clever girl."

But now, as Martha stared up at the sky, the moon was just the moon. The stars were only stars.

She'd lost the desire and ability to create stories, long ago, when Zelda died, taking Martha's hopes and dreams with her.

***

Martha tried not to think about the message in the book, but it gnawed inside her.

It was too late to ring Chamberlain's bookstore and she didn't like to disturb Lilian during her favorite TV program, Hot Houses. It was her sister's guilty pleasure, the equivalent of an hour in a spa away from her kids, Will and Rose. But she was the only person Martha had to speak to.

She nodded to herself, headed back inside the house and picked up the receiver.

As the phone rang, Martha imagined her sister with her feet curled up on her aubergine velvet sofa. She worked from home as a buyer for an online fashion store and would be wearing her usual outfit of white stretch jeans, mohair sweater and bronze pumps. Her hair was always blow dried into a shiny honey bob.

Her call was rewarded with a prolonged yawn. "It's Friday evening, Martha." Lilian's diamond rings chinked against the phone.

"I know. Sorry."

"You don't usually call at this time."

Martha swallowed as she glanced at the mysterious book. "Um, I know. I'm just hemming Will's trousers, but something strange has happened."

Lilian gave a disinterested hmm. "Can you drop them off for me as soon as you've finished? They're too short and he's going to school looking like a pirate. And did you reserve that new Cecelia Ahern for me?"

"Yes. I've put it to one side. About this strange thing—"

"I could do with a nice read, you know? Something relaxing. The kids are really sulky at the moment. And Paul is, well..." She trailed her words away. "You're lucky, not having anyone else to worry about."

"It might be nice to have someone," Martha mused, as she surveyed her bags and boxes and the dragon's head. "What were you going to say, about Paul?"

"Oh. Nothing," Lilian mumbled. "I thought you liked living on your own, that's all."

Martha chewed the side of her thumbnail and didn't reply.

Lilian and Paul had been married for twenty years. In the same year they walked down the aisle, Martha moved back into the family home to help their parents out. Only intending it to be for a short while, they grew more and more reliant on her. She'd ended up caring for them for fifteen years, until they died.
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