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"Martha" by John Gower

Gary Miller

When I was young, I was in love with Martha McMasters. It was first grade and to me Martha was the crown jewel of the class. The Tarzan show was popular then and so was Zorro, both heroic characters that groomed me through our new Zenith television on how to behave as a man. One late afternoon while Tarzan played and lazy little stars of dust filtered through the family room blinds I asked myself; would I swim across a canal of alligators to save Martha? The answer pulsed through me into a Yes, yes, a glorious yes. Of course I would, I loved her! And before the day was up my mother had set up an after-school play date.  

Later that week when Martha’s mother pulled away my mind took off like a rocket and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. After my mother served us cookies and juice I escorted Martha to our back yard under the guise of showing her our old oak tree. This is also the only place in the yard that was hidden from the kitchen window by large bushes and low hanging limbs. In this place my mind was no longer held in check by my mother’s rational presence. It is where I was at my best, where clouds became alive, where creative exploration flowed through the air and all I had to do was breath it in. So naturally this is where I took Martha to make my move. Martha made it easy but still, it took courage. I looked Martha in the eyes and we both leaned in and quickly kissed right on the lips. Later after she had gone home I thought to myself, Yes, yes; we kissed. She is mine now. Me and Zorro and Tarzan we were all in this together.

The next day empowered by what I had accomplished I thought it only right to acknowledge our fate, our destiny, our kiss, so I wrote dear Martha a note. I declared in handsome block letters all that needed to be said, namely; I Love You, Martha- no signature needed. Then as the bell rang and we entered our class I swiftly lifted the top of her desk as I walked past and placed the note tightly wrapped with two rubber bands, one red, and one green, carefully on top of her other items so it would be the first thing she saw when she started her day’s lesson. All the while as I packaged my note I had visualized the delight in her eyes, the turning of her head and the coy little smile she would give me two rows back to let me know that she too had been transformed into another sort of person by yesterday’s special kiss, but, to my astonishment when she opened her desk and saw the note she didn’t turn around, she looked straight ahead, and raised her hand to alert the tall teacher that there was something strange in her desk that didn’t belong there.  

The teacher walked over to her desk, took the note from Martha’s hand, released the rubber bands, and after slowly reading the contents she looked right down at me and said; John, did you write this? By this time my face appeared to have caught fire and my limbs had become little numb sticks of ice. I don’t know how she knew but I had to think fast or faint. Some how, some way, at any cost I had to distract the teacher’s attention away from my declared love for Martha to something else, anything else, and so, I said, no, that’s not mine but I can show you a trick with those two rubber bands. I then proceeded to take the two rubber bands from her outstretched hand and demonstrated to her and the class how, if the red and green rubber bands are wrapped around the fingers in a certain way and held in a fist, when you opened your fist the red and green rubber bands jumped to the other two fingers. Tah dah!!!  

Martha and the class never found out what was in the note but they surely knew the note was mine. Soon after that Martha began to keep her distance and I began to view Tarzan with a more skeptical eye.

Many years later when my marriage ended and I eventually returned to gather my old dusty things from the attic I found among the useless trash my elementary school pictures. Sadly I noticed that at some point I had taken a ruby red crayon and scratched it across Martha’s face in the class picture trying no doubt to erase the pain I had experienced through my first encounter with love. While I sat in the cramped dirty attic I stared and stared through the red crayon at this black and white photo of Martha and it occurred to me that my ex-wife looked like Martha; she had the same blond hair and blue eyes, the same attributes and sensibilities. Apparently under that tree, in that special place, I had been imprinted all those years ago to seek out just this sort of woman. What if, what if… we had never kissed…  I might have sought out someone nice, someone kind, a friendly sort of woman perhaps, a woman who at least would have read the fucking note instead of giving it to the teacher.

And now, what is next for me, what other images from my past will demand my attention today. As you know, we don’t will or wish or want what we are attracted to, it just happens, and perhaps because it is out of our control is what makes it all so glorious. However, attraction goes away the same way it came. Poof it’s gone and all that’s left is to scratch through our old hopes and dreams the best we can and act like we didn’t care. I wonder, if Martha ever thinks of me. Oh, if only a ruby red crayon really worked.