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Benjamin is leaving now, in that old ford pickup. There are ropes running across the bed of the truck, tying down the odds and ends of his possessions. Most noticeable is the loveseat, white, with a floral pattern. One of the cushions is turned upside down to hide a coffee stain. It is a lovely couch really, Martha herself picked it out. She’s sitting on the steps of the porch, watching Benjamin as he tightens the ropes so he won’t lose anything on the drive there.
Benjamin stops every now and then to glance at Martha, who sits and smokes her lucky strike. She has black curls that fall to her shoulders and wears cat eye sunglasses. Benjamin is remembering the first time he met Martha. The neighborhood was having a block party, Martha was new to town. Most of the houses on the block had newly married families, usually with no kids yet. Benjamin and Martha were both in Sally and Walter Waters’ backyard. There was an inflated kiddie pool with crawfish in it.
Martha had already befriended Meghan Caulfield and they sat a picnic table with Meghan’s husband and his friends. Benjamin watched her. He stood drinking a beer, talking to Walter. He noticed that she was sitting at a table of married men, it didn’t matter, they still watched her as if envisioning her in their beds tonight. Walter pointed out to Benjamin that he and Martha were the only single people there. He suggested he go talk to her. Benjamin smiled, looking at the pretty woman, and took another sip of his beer
Meghan had already pointed out Benjamin to Martha. “He’s standing over there, next to Sally’s husband. You should go talk to him.” Meghan gestured towards a scruffy looking man, he had a beard and was wearing jeans and a green t-shirt. Meghan leaned in towards Martha, “He’s single,” she said with a wink.
Martha got up to go use the bathroom in the house. Benjamin had moved to sitting at a table eating crawfish with an older couple whose house he had renovated earlier that year. He watched Martha walk across the yard in her Levi’s and a white shirt that had lace on the sleeves. It was rather convenient that at this moment Sally Waters came over and asked Benjamin, being a muscular sort of man, if he could bring out the ice bags from the freezer. Benjamin walked into the house with a small hope that he might talk to Martha.
Benjamin flicked the light on in the kitchen. He reached into the freezer and lifted out a big bag of ice. There was a hole in the bottom of the bag and several ice cubes fell out and slid across the floor. Benjamin found some paper towels, they had pictures of bears on them. He began to clean the ice up when he heard the back door open and someone walk into the kitchen. Benjamin looked up. It was Jason Caulfield, Meghan’s husband.
He appeared to be very drunk, stumbling through the kitchen with glassy eyes and a foolish smile. Just then, Martha came through the kitchen door from the bathroom. She gave a friendly nod to Jason and began to walk back outside. Then Jason yelled, “Hey Marthy, come back in here for a second.” Martha took a few steps back into the kitchen.
She raised her eyebrows, noticing he was drunk, “Yes?” she asked. Jason said nothing but stepped forward and kissed Martha full on the mouth. She pushed him off. Neither of them had noticed Benjamin was on the floor, he was behind an island of counters. They did notice when he jumped up and pushed Jason back away from Martha. Jason fell back against the wall. He cursed, stood up and stumbled into another room. Benjamin turned to Martha, “I’m sorry. He’s a drunk.”
Martha’s eyes were wide but she looked composed. “Well, certainly an interesting welcome to the neighborhood. I’m Martha by the way,” she said as she fixed her curls that Jason had disheveled.
“Benjamin,” he said and shook her hand.
Martha then got out a compact mirror and reapplied her dark red lipstick. She snapped the mirror shut and turned towards Benjamin “Let’s get out of here, Ben,” she said. Benjamin was surprised at her forwardness, but he liked her so he nodded and they walked to his car.
In the driveway, Benjamin helped Martha into his truck. It had gotten darker now but the neighborhood parties were still lively. Benjamin could hear a band coming from the Fairfax’s house. He started the engine and they turned out of the neighborhood.
“Where do you want to go?” Benjamin asked. Martha lit a cigarette.
“Go to my house,” she said as she exhaled smoke. Ben looped around and drove back through the street. Towards the end of the block the houses were dark, he knew which one was Martha’s but he asked her anyway. “It’s the green one, with the flower wreath on the door,” she said. He parked on the curb, and got out. He walked around to open the door for Martha but she was already getting out.
“Do you want me to walk you to the door?” Benjamin asked.
“Well I was going to make some coffee, so I’d like you to come in,” she said while rattling her keys.
Benjamin was under the car now, tuning it before his long drive. He thought about that moment before he decided to go in the house. Of course he never really decided. Martha always knew what she wanted, and Benjamin would try his hardest to give to her. He had walked through that door and fallen in love with her. He watched her water all of her flowers; she tended to them like children. They would listen to Duran, Duran and sing along together. She liked to watch him read, she would laugh saying he made faces at the pages.
And then he got transferred to a place far away from here. That’s what he was packing for now, what he was fixing the car for. Martha didn’t want to leave her green house and Benjamin would always give her what she wanted. If he stayed here with no job he wouldn’t be able to give her anything at all. Martha comes off the steps to stay goodbye. She kisses Benjamin on the cheek and he closes his eyes. Ben gets in the truck and drives away.
Down the highway Benjamin breathes in Martha’s lingering floral perfume. He doesn’t watch the rearview mirror as one of the ropes tied around his truck bed snaps. He doesn’t notice the way his possessions are now sliding around freely. Not until he hits a pothole and watches as the floral couch flies out from his truck. Not until then does he realize what he should do.
Martha is in her house. She is on her seventh cigarette of the day. She sits away from her flowers, they look wilted. She lies down and puts a pillow over her face. Her cat eye sunglasses are off, resting on her wicker nightstand. Martha hears loud knocking on her door. She only wishes it would be one person and she knows it won’t be him, so she is slow to answer it.
“Benjamin?” she’s confused to see him and waits for him to say something. She then notices the broken loveseat in the back of his car. “What happened?” she asks.
Ben looks at the truck and then back at her, “It fell out on the highway and broke. But you gave it to me, so I wanted to keep it.” Benjamin looks Martha in the eye. “I want you to come with me Martha. I want to keep you too.” It is this moment that Martha realizes she loves him. She wants to make him happy more than she cares about anything, even herself.
“I’ll go,” she says.