I have always liked Tom Waits’ song, Martha. I wonder if it is autobiographical by Tom, or just fantasy. Here is my fantasy version of the backstory to Martha.

I sat looking at the phone. It was one of the old, black, rotary dial phones that no one uses anymore. I know most people now use the new push button phones, but I remember, long ago, talking for hours on end on that old black phone. It sat on the round oak table in the hallway and I would run the cord through the bannister rails as I sat on the stairs. I spent nearly every night there, at least, on those nights I wasn’t out with Martha.

I picked up the handset and dialed “0”.

“Operator? Operator? Can you help me find a number, please?”

“What is the name and location of the party you wish to reach?”

“I don’t know her last name now, I’m sorry. Her name is Martha and she lives in North Brook. She used to be Sullivan, back when I knew her, Martha Sullivan.”

“I am sorry, sir. There are many Marthas living in North Brook. Do you have an address?”

“No, I don’t, but I know it would be in a good part of town. Martha only wanted the best. Do you have a listing in the good part of town, where the large houses and mansions are? Somewhere on the other side of the tracks where I would live. I never wanted the best. It was just never important to me.”

“Well, I cannot help you if you don’t have a last name or address. I’m sorry Sir.”

“Operator, wait! Operator? Are you still there? Is there a listing for Martha Grant? That may be her name now. She left me and ran off with a guy named Grant.”

“I have an Isaac Grant on Spring Street in North Brook? Could that be it?

“It could be. Please connect me. Martha would recognize my voice. I just hope I can hold back my tears, when I say hello.”

“Yes, Sir. I am ringing it now.”

“Hello? Hello? Is this Martha? This is old Tom Frost. Do you remember me?”

“Hello? Yes, this is Martha. Did you say you are Tom Frost? Tom Frost from our school days?”

“Yes. Yes, Martha. This is old Tom. I just called to say hello and see how you are now. It’s been fourteen years since I last heard your voice, but you sound just the same.”

“Tom? Well, its wonderful to hear from you. I haven’t thought about those days in years and years. How have you been, Tom?”

“Life has treated me as well as I deserved, Martha. Did you know I got married a few of years after you left?”

“Oh, that’s nice. I didn’t know. You know I got married also. Do you remember Isaac? We took a road trip together and ended up in Vegas. We got married at one of those little chapels. It was nice, but I always wished we waited and had a big wedding back home. Tom, is this a local call? Long distance is so expensive now.”

“No, it is long distance, but don’t worry about the cost. It is worth every dime to me. Well, my marriage just didn’t work out. She left me a few years ago and there hasn’t been anyone else since then.”

“I’m sorry, Tom. That’s a long time to be alone. I don’t know what I would do if Isaac ever left. I would hate to be alone.”

“It’s ok, Martha. I guess I just couldn’t settle for second best and she couldn’t settle knowing that is what she was. Those were good days you and I had, weren’t they Martha.”

“Yes, Tom. They were. I remember drinking wine in the warm afternoon sunshine and laughing and singing. Do you still sing, Tom?”

“Not much anymore, Martha. Something drained the music from me. Life I guess.”

“That’s a shame. You always had that beautiful deep, gravely, bass voice. I loved lying there, next to you in the rose garden hammock just listening as you sang quietly to me.”

“Those were good days, Martha, but I am afraid they are all gone now. Do you remember promising each other we would live for the moment and ignore our troubles, promising not worry about them until some rainy day?”

“But the rain never came, did it Tom? We still have those old troubles. We never dealt with them, did we?”

“Do you have kids, Martha? How are they? Are they as amazing as you?”
“They are my life, Tom. I don’t know what I would do without them. Two girls. Abby and Joan, and a boy… Thomas.”

“And your husband? He is good to, and for you? I truly am glad you found someone who could make you feel safe and secure. I was just too focused on being the man I thought I should be, and never once considered what kind of man you wanted or needed. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, Tom. It just wasn’t meant to be, and now we are grown, matured and so much wiser. I guess our being together just wasn’t meant to be.”

“Hey, Martha! Would you like to go out for a cup of coffee where we could talk about all the old days? Just coffee.”

“Still impulsive old Tom, aren’t you? I am not sure that would be a good idea, Tom. Water under the bridge and all that. I… I don’t think Isaac would understand.”

“Yes, I always was impulsive, Martha, I guess that I still am. Do you know what I remember the most? When we lay in the hammock and I would sing to you? The best time of my life was lying there, trembling close to you. I love you still, Martha, can’t you see? I never stopped. Martha? Martha? I love you, don’t you see?”

martha cover


About Dave Oney

Dave Oney was born mid last century in Middlebury, Vermont. He received his BS in Chemistry and worked as a polymer chemist in Massachusetts and New Jersey. He became a microscopist (someone who studies little bitty things using a microscope) and photomicrographer (someone who photographs little bitty things) before settling into a 35-year career in technical sales of scientific imaging equipment (the science of digitally recording itty bitty things, sending the image to a computer for analysis.) He designed and created a number of products contributing to this field. He is (was) proficient in several computer languages and is currently working on mastering English. After making a few more paradigm shift career changes Dave and his wife, Fran, retired and moved closer to their children and granddaughters and now live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.
This entry was posted in fiction, Lyric Alternative Backstory, short story. Bookmark the permalink.

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