Category Archives: Martha Williams

Within You Without by Martha Williams

There’s a moment when you pray, mouth and eyes open like a lost child. Your back arches, your body engulfed in pain that swells from a slow moan to breathless silence… every fibre screaming that the agony should peak and slide but it burns on, until there’s nowhere to turn but up.

And in the sky you see the moments. The first day; disbelief, joy, the arms and laughs of lovers intertwined. Weeks of sick and swell. Smiles and cards, and hands that reach out when you walk in. So many voices, have they always been there?

The pain subsides and you return to the eyes before you. They watched your waters flow in the night, when you knew time beyond clocks. You’d speak, but it’s coming back and you can only moan. His arms are the last thing to melt into the black beyond pain as you thrash, tear, and spray his flesh with your blood.


As you make him a father, his face opens like a child.

Around you, happiness falls like rain into a river. For one strange moment, the congratulations stab your belly with the grief of a pregnancy gone; the life within you without. Your hands fall…

…and into them he delivers your child, whose fingers curl around yours with the tightness of a promise.

Your fingers are steady as you type the message that will arch your mother’s back and lift her face to the sky.

“Now we are three.”


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Granny’s Mouth by Martha Williams

Her lips are sealed but I can hear her voice.

Bugger you! Look at you, with your rolling eyes and arse-pokey lips, thinking I’m too stupid to know what’s coming — how I did a sinful thing so you must take my baby. Poor you, the burden on your morning, have a biscuit with your sigh. Thank God you’re never wrong, eh? Well, bugger you.

They didn’t lock her up, nor take her baby. Instead my mum was born and raised within the family, edged from household into married household until Grandad arrived and Mum could land Granny’s nest.

Granny’s laugh, Can’t believe what came out o’ my own mouth, that day…

Now Mum, who doesn’t know her own beginnings, sees Granny sucking biscuity teeth while her shrunken hands pluck, pluck, pluck at her blanket.

“Mother, you need help. St Mary’s have a room.” A sitting‑circle of old folk with their heads on one side, bags of pee bulging at their knees.

I wait for Granny’s reply, bugger that... or for Mum to say we’ll visit every Sunday.
Mum steps closer, “Mother, did you hear me?”

Granny sits, wheezing crumbs. Age has done what no man could; she is placid, “Eh?”
“Granny, you’re coming to live with us.”


I stare at Granny, wondering where my words came from… wondering if she even heard? Mum gapes… and Granny turns.

Her eyes bore into mine, as if examining a mirror, and her lips part in a gurgling, thunderous laugh.


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NESH by Martha Williams

She had the ache of an arse upon her face again, that Mrs Riley, cuz the dog got out and fouled her path and she only went out in her slippers to shout at the boys in the field again, what with her having a greenhouse and them having a ball, and they were good slippers but even if they were boiled to hell, she’d not want them on her toes again for her feet to smell of dog… and even thinking on it reminded her, her corn needed doing. It should’ve been done before Christmas but the croppodist, she couldn’t come, cuz of the snow, wannit. As if anyone should call it snow, she’s seen bigger drifts of dust in church, pitiful it is, how down here they can’t cope with the smallest bit of ice or cold — they’d be called ‘nesh’ up north, tho’ doubt anyone knows what that even means down here, being as soft in the head as they are with the cold. So her corn’s all big and her foot’s all smelly and what with thinking about it all and trying to see where the dog went and the flying balls and expensive greenhouse, whose plants are all burned brown now anyway on account of the open window and the frost – soft, that gardener – well, that’s how she didn’t see the step and so she fell head-over and now she’s dead.


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There You Are by Martha Williams

It’s like a waterfall, the cascade of names. The busiest time is always evening, when Clara can’t keep up with the words as they’re washed away in a tsunami of messages. As if these are really her friends.

As if.

When did they last press warm flesh together? When did they last look into each other’s eyes? How many even made it to Marty’s send-off… ten? Twenty? Not the two hundred whose avatars now stampede across her reflection, her face a rock beneath their butterfly wings. Who are they now, these long lost, truncated names surrounded by their pixelated children?

Be my friend.

Like me.

But do not phone, nor bang on my back door. Do not presume to sit and eat with me.

It wasn’t as bad with Marty, the gregarious one who drew people to their table. But after he died, perhaps she was an odd number… or just a sad one. Maybe she just noticed it more.

On the loneliest nights she’d wondered, would anyone come to her funeral? She picked her epitaph one night, half laughing, half crying. Put it in her will. A tombstone engraved with a hand, pointing down, and the words, “Oh, there you are!”

Tonight, she neither smiles nor cries. Just sits, slumped, as the names flicker across her skin. By the end, she figured she’d be lucky to get five.

Assuming, of course, that anyone even finds her.


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Eighty-Eight by Martha Williams

“I like yellow and I want to live ‘til I’m eighty-eight.”

“Is yellow your favourite colour?”


“Mine’s pink, and I want to live ‘til I’m eighty-eight, too.”

“You can’t pick the same age as me.”

“Why not?”

“OK, you can.”

But Susie moved house, so they didn’t live to eighty-eight together.

“I’m going to live ‘til I’m eighty-eight…” She felt daft. “Like Gran.”

He heard and as she babbled on about her first kiss and Auntie Jean being Dad’s real mum, she realised that things you can’t prove can be more intimate than things that are true.

He smiled, “I kissed a bloke once, on a school trip. And I’m going to live ‘til I’m eighty-eight, too.”

He was serious. She traced her fingertip around the contour of his lips and decided to marry him.

When he slept, and she was about to, she did the maths. Not every night. But on their honeymoon she figured they’d manage a silver wedding. When the girls were born, she guessed she’d be a granny, maybe great-granny. When he died, she counted seven years alone.

Eighty-seven was a busy year, getting ready. Eighty-eight a reflective one, bathed in nostalgia… her youth, their youth… and the reality of a new life: Great-granny after all. She gazed at her albums, mementos, certificates and certainties, and gave thanks for each and every one.

Then, the day before her eighty-ninth birthday, she woke as curious, as alive, and as expectant as she had ever been.

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The Next Step by Martha Williams

His heels are hanging over the edge, he is clinging to stay on. She grimaces.
He’ll be a climber, her mother said.
She can’t think of anything worse. She wants him to be a housewife, a pianist, a baker. No Everest, no cliffs.

He reaches for the next shelf, pudgy toes scrambling for a hold, fat fingers barely long enough to grip. One toe on and up. Peachy face set skywards, baby eyes fierce with determination.
He won’t be a housewife – he always seeks the next step, standing in his high chair, scrambling up the stairs… his balance perfect, her terror sickening. Not a baker.

He’s going for the third shelf. He has to lean backwards to reach, sliding his hands along to find a section not covered in books. He will fall, if not this shelf then the next.

His fingers skid, a foot slides free. She hears his gasp.
She can’t let him fall. She leaps forward.
She can’t let his first fall be Everest. She stops.
She must keep him safe.
She must teach him about falls.
She grips her own mouth.
His second foot slips and he is dangling from the sweaty fingers of one hand, “Maaaaaaa…!”

She shuts her eyes.

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Sand by Martha Williams

He bounced over the beach, twirling and leaping as sunlight warmed the breeze on his belly, like when he and Janie were six. His jacket slid down his arms into a Batman cape and he laughed, skidding to a stop and crashing onto his back, mouth open and eyes wide.

“In’t they lovely…”

A voice made him jump. He twisted to see two women tucked beneath the dunes, soaking up the sight of three tiny sisters stampeding sandcastles.
“Aw, dumplin’s…”

Caramel puddings sticky with salt, the youngest looked past her mother right into his eyes so he beamed and mouthed, “Janie?”

She beamed back.

“Carrie! Here.” Woman, leaping up with sand running in rivulets over her frock. Glaring at the man with the scar who grinned at little girls. Herding her daughters in a furious flap. Frosty silence until his smile faded and he stood, backed away, tried to go forward, backed away again, hypnotised by the pulse of forwards, backwards, forwards so that he carried on rocking even as the mother bustled her brood away.

Murmurs, “…off his head.”

He watched them go. Woman and small girl out of reach. Like the day the truck took Mum and Janie. Leaving him to dance a child’s step all alone, heal the hole in his head, try to move forward, back, forward, back, never understanding the stares nor why his fingers could not keep hold of sand.


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