The Library of Lost and Found | Chapter 32 of 46

Author: Phaedra Patrick | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 18326 Views | Add a Review

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“Let me get this right,” Martha said as she counted on her fingertips. “You want to do a Read and Run, at Sandshift football ground, this afternoon? And you want me to accompany you?”

“Yes.” Zelda nodded firmly.

“But I have the kids to look after...”

“They can join us. They’ll love it.”

Martha’s heart thumped wildly. What on earth would Lilian think if she knew Will and Rose were accompanying their great-grandmother to a football match?”

“You look a little woozy,” Zelda said. “Have you been drinking again?”

“No, I haven’t,” Martha said sharply. “I told you, I don’t want to do this.”

“I know, but it’s my dy—”

“Yes, I know. Your dying wish. Why can’t you have a normal one, like going to Disneyland, or lunch at the Ritz?”

Zelda’s eyelids flickered. “We don’t have to do it.” She paused with a sniff. “I’m sure Harry will understand, if you tell him.”

“Um, Harry?”

“I’ve arranged it with him.”

Martha held her head in her hands. “And does Gina know about this?”

Zelda cast her eyes down.

“I thought not,” Martha said and let out a long sigh.

The chant, “Sandshift United, rah rah rah. Sandshift United, rah rah rah,” rung gladiatorial-like through the air as Martha, Zelda, Will and Rose approached the football ground.

Martha felt a bead of sweat form on her forehead and she brushed it away. She’d made an effort with her outfit today and wore Betty’s green sweater and beige wool coat again. It made her underarms hot and prickly as she pushed Zelda’s chair up the steep slope.

“I can do it. Let go of the handles,” Zelda kept shouting.

But Martha sustained a firm grip. It gave her a focus, so she didn’t panic about her nana’s plan for another Read and Run. She’d heard of knees knocking but didn’t think it actually happened. However, her knees were reverberating as they reached and entered the small reception area.

Harry was waiting for them, and Martha worried that the palm of her hand might feel clammy when he gave it a shake. “Martha,” he said and kissed her on the cheek, too. “Ye’re looking well. I’m glad ye ladies could make it.” He grinned.

Will and Rose smiled hello and started to circle the room, looking at the photographs on the wall of the Sandshift United teams over the years. Martha had introduced Zelda to them as “An old friend of the family,” and they hadn’t asked any questions.

“We’re raring to go,” Zelda said. “Just try stopping us.”

Martha smiled nervously from under her stripy hair.

“I’ve arranged for ye to go on the football pitch before the match. One of the lads from the accounts department wants to be a stand-up comedian, so he’s having a go first. Then ye’re on.”

“So...” Martha’s voice shook as she spoke. “We just walk out on the pitch, and Zelda reads aloud?”

Harry nodded. “She’ll have a microphone, so the crowd can hear her.”

“How many people are there?”

“Usually around two thousand.”

“Two?” Martha pressed a hand to her neck.

“Sometimes three, for a big match. For a wee football team they attract a lot of supporters.”

Zelda shoulders shrank. She fingered the blanket on her lap. “My throat is a little croaky,” she said, glancing away. “I hope I’ll be okay.”

Martha fixed her with a glare. “Yes, you will,” she said.

The accounts-person-come-comedian stood in the center of the pitch. From the tunnel, Martha couldn’t hear his words properly. She could see him gesturing with his hands, waving them around and standing with them on his hips. The rhythm of his patter stopped for a while as he waited for a response to his last joke. Martha listened out for laughter but there was only a mild titter.

Her stomach churned as he finished his set and shuffled past her, his back hunched. “I think I’ll stick with invoicing,” he said.

Will and Rose had opted for a tour of the grounds, offered by one of Harry’s workmates, and Zelda and Harry were deep in conversation a few meters away. Zelda had a copy of Blue Skies and Stormy Seas set on her lap.

As she waited for their turn, Martha found that her feet wouldn’t stay still. With a life of their own they shuffled and danced on the spot. She kept checking her watch and a sense of dread flooded over her as the seconds ticked away.

Giggles filled the corridor and a team of cheerleaders appeared around the corner. Slumping against the nearest wall, they chewed gum and stared at each other’s phones. They all wore the same white satin shorts, heavily penciled-in eyebrows and hair in bunches.

One of them stared in her direction, slowly running her eyes over Martha’s curly hair, her coat and then shoes. “Is she going to sing?” she whispered loudly to her friend. “Not exactly Beyoncé, is she?”

“More like Susan Boyle.”

Martha looked for the exit but the girls had blocked the corridor, obscuring her view of Zelda. She stood on her tiptoes and her breathing quickened. Harry squeezed through the plethora of pom-poms toward her. “Don’t be nervous. Ye’ll be fine,” he said, patting her arm. “It’s a shame about Zelda’s sore throat, but I’ll tell ye what to do.”

Martha’s entire body stiffened. “Me?” she exclaimed.

Harry shrugged a shoulder. “She said that ye’ll be doing the reading.”

Martha shook her head wildly. “No. Definitely not. Please wait a minute...” She excused her way through the cheerleaders to where her nana sat, smiling sheepishly in her chair.

“What is this about?” Martha gestured with her hands. “Harry says you’re not doing your reading. You claimed it was your dying wish.”

Zelda looked up through her sparse eyelashes. “It is. I want to share the stories from the book.” She glanced towards the pitch.

Martha narrowed her eyes. “Harry said you have a sore throat.”

“I do.” Zelda licked her top lip. “And there’s more people than I thought, out there.”

“You should have thought about that before you set this up.” Martha lowered her voice to a hiss.

“Three minutes, ladies,” Harry said as he joined them. “Time to get into position.”

Martha rubbed her forehead. “I cannot do this on my own,” she said.

“Please, Martha,” Zelda said. “‘The Tiger and the Unicorn’ is an important story to me.”

“Then you do it.”

“I can’t. Not today. I’m sorry.” Zelda took hold of her hand and stroked the back of it. “To other people, our book might be just a few battered old pages, words and pictures. But when we read the stories, we remember how we felt when we told them. It may sound crazy, but the more people who hear them, the less I connect them to our family history. Do you understand what I mean?”

Martha clenched her teeth. She looked out at all the people in the crowd. and the blood running through her veins felt cold. She gave the slightest nod. “I think so...but...”

Zelda pursed her lips. “Please do this, and I promise I’ll tell you the story behind the book.”

Martha met her nana’s eyes and blinked. “What? Everything? You’ll tell me how and why it came to be?”

“Yes,” Zelda said. “Absolutely everything.”

Martha’s heart thumped so loudly she was sure the microphone would pick it up. Her chest was tight and she could hardly breathe. As she walked out onto the pitch, the turf felt bouncy beneath her feet, and she concentrated on taking one step forward and then another, as she followed the cheerleaders. She blinked as she left the dark of the tunnel behind and squinted against the hazy white sky and emerald-green grass. She held one hand up against the weak sun as the noise of the crowd singing crackled in her ears.

Harry walked at the side of her. He turned this way and that, waving with both hands as if he was washing windows. Martha kept her own hands pressed to her sides. She could feel vomit rising in her throat and she swallowed it away.

Don’t be sick. Don’t be sick, she chanted to herself.

She reached under her coat and plucked at her sweater as she and Harry neared a microphone stand. As she swayed a little, he reached out a steadying hand. “Are ye okay?”

Martha glanced over to the side of the pitch, to where her nana sat in her wheelchair. With every nerve in her body, she sensed Zelda willing her to do this. Martha stood stiffly, her body trembling, before she gave a short nod. “I’m fine,” she squeaked.

The football team stood in a line with their hands behind their backs. One yawned and there were a few sets of glazed eyes.

“Ye just take hold of the microphone. I’ll switch it on. Good luck and enjoy yerself.” Harry smiled at her.

Martha gave a rictus grin back. She took a few deep breaths and blew out through pursed lips. She glanced back at her nana one last time before she stuck out her chin and reached for the microphone. Her fingers fumbled and it slipped through them, as if it was coated in butter. Electronic feedback screeched around the arena and ripples of laughter rang around the ground. Martha scrunched up her shoulders against the noise.

“Get her off. Get her off. Get her off,” a chant started. It gathered momentum until it echoed and surrounded her. “Get her OFF.”

“Ignore them. They even sing that to their own team,” Harry said beside her. He bent down, picked up the microphone and repositioned it. “Ye go for it. And I have some cake for ye and Zelda afterwards. A new fruity recipe.”

Martha nodded. She touched the microphone lightly and cleared her throat a couple of times. “Um, hello,” she croaked.

“Get her off. Get her off,” the crowd sang in reply.

“Speak up. Ye’re talking to two thousand people,” Harry said and he moved away.

Martha massaged the back of her neck and felt her bottom lip wobble. She was on the verge of bursting into tears. Useless. That’s how she felt. As useless as Clive Folds insinuated she was, as useless as her father often made her feel. Panic took hold of her legs, making them bow and wobble. She shuffled closer to the microphone stand but her feet were leaden. She stood still for a long time, wishing the football team would forget she was there and start the match without her. Then she could slink away and flee from the ground.

She peeked around again at Zelda, and her nana leaned forward in her wheelchair, giving her a double thumbs-up. “I love you, Martha,” she shouted, cupping her hands to her mouth. “You are glorious.”

Martha looked away quickly as tears sprang to her eyes. Glorious was something she was when she was with Joe, before she looked after her parents. Glorious was something she was when she wrote her stories.

Not now.

She looked around at the hundreds of multicolored speckles of faces surrounding her and she struggled for air. Her fingers spasmed and she reached up, nervously pushing her glittery slide higher and tighter in her hair.

This matters to Zelda, she told herself. Would you prefer to be here, or stuck at home washing chandeliers and hemming trousers?

She imagined if her mother was here, Betty would encourage her, too. She’d want her to do something that wasn’t dictated by Thomas.

She finally summoned the strength to speak. “Good afternoon,” she said, and she was surprised at how loud and clear her voice sounded, amplified through the mike.

The cheerleaders stopped talking. They still chewed gum but they looked at her rather than at each other.

As Martha waited, the roar of the crowd died down.

She raised her copy of Blue Skies and Stormy Seas and her fingers scrabbled to find “The Tiger and the Unicorn.” She waited a few beats to see if the words “Get her off” rose again, but all she heard was a bout of good-natured singing.

“I’m Martha Storm, from Sandshift library,” she said. “My grandmother, Zelda, would like me to tell you a story I wrote when I was a young girl, because it’s important to our family history.” She paused again, wondering how shaky her words sounded to the audience. She tried to picture the football supporters as rows of cabbages, or minus their clothes. Harry stood a few meters away and she averted her eyes, so her mind didn’t picture him naked, too.

After the blast of an air horn, she began to read.

Her first few words tumbled out and she stuttered a little, but she found her flow. She concentrated on the page, on the white paper and the dark gray words. Her surroundings faded away and she became only aware of the book and her own voice.

Stories could always take her elsewhere and she allowed this one to do it now.

She imagined herself in her teens, her feet kicking against the cliff at the end of the garden, and of Zelda twirling on the grass in a flowing dress. She saw herself crawling on the library floor, and Zelda making a claw of her hand as Martha described the tiger threatening the unicorn.

A feeling of peacefulness filtered over her, warming her skin like spring sunshine through a window. Her heartbeat slowed and she began to feel stronger, as if the words were somehow soaking into and strengthening her bones.

As she read, she felt she was giving this story a new life of its own. It was no longer a reflection of her childhood and whatever happened within the Storm family. It was just a story, to be shared and enjoyed.

When she finished it, she felt almost sad to reach the end and she closed the book. She took a moment before she said, “Thank you for listening, everybody.”

Her hip knocked against the microphone stand and a small screech pierced the air.

Zelda had already stuck a yellow note to the back cover that said, “Read me. I’m yours.” Martha’s hand shook as she placed the book on the turf and stepped away.

Harry led with a round of applause, clapping his hands together flamboyantly. The cheerleaders raised their pom-poms and shook them in the air. One of the footballers reached up and surreptitiously wiped his eye with his finger.

As Martha walked off the pitch, her heart began to race again, but this time it wasn’t from fear. If she had to put a name to it, then she might call it pride in herself, that she had been able to read to all those people and share the story for her nana.

A small round of applause sounded around the ground, growing louder. Glancing back, Martha watched a football player pick up the book and open it.

Zelda sat, waiting. “You did it,” she said, her eyes swimming with tears. “You were bloody glorious.”

Martha nodded. For once, she actually felt it.

“You were ah-mazing.”

“Thank you.” Martha closed her eyes and took a moment to listen to the crowd and the cheerleaders chanting. She let the feeling wash over her and enjoyed the tingly sensation it triggered in her fingers and toes. She grinned and, when she opened her eyes again, Zelda was still nodding her approval.

“Shall we go?” Zelda said. “Harry has some cake waiting for us.”

Martha took hold of the back of her nana’s chair and began to turn her around. “Cake would be lovely,” she said firmly. “But first of all, you owe me your own story. About the book...”

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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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