Martha was a ghost of a woman. She disappeared into her surroundings, blending in as if she were no more than a sheet of wallpaper, sporting bras, hose, and socks, pasted behind the pegs of merchandise she stocked. Like a chameleon, her form merged with her environment.
Day after day, her soft, pasty body trudged up and down the lingerie aisles of the superstore, pushing a shopping cart bristling with a flashy array of leopard-print panties, bright red teddies, and other exotic intimate apparel; but unlike the garments she put out for sale, Martha was anything but colorful.
Thin, straight hair the shade of week-old coffee hung dull and lifeless to her shoulders. Stringy tendrils obscured her downturned face. Pale and rounded and malleable, she was kneaded dough, punched down and waiting for a rise that never happened. When she spoke to a customer—and she only did that when forced to—Martha’s eyes stayed on the wood-laminated floor. Even her “May I help you?” and “Have a nice day.” were smothered things spoken barely above a whisper on good days, and on bad days, a tired, almost-inaudible sigh of sound.
And there were plenty of bad days, days when her head felt as if it were a ball of unmitigated pain that had been created for no other purpose than to punisher her because she wasn’t a good enough daughter, a good enough wife, but most of all, a good enough mother. Martha endured the frequent migraines without complaint, a firm believer that her suffering was atonement for past mistakes, and when God thought she had paid enough, the attacks would cease. And though she told none of her coworkers when she was in the throes of a migraine, a glimpse of her features told the tale—red-rimmed eyes sunk into dark hollows on an otherwise skim milk face.
But regardless of how she felt, Martha plodded through the days, doing her job and doing it well so that at the end of the week she could collect her meager paycheck. Not for herself, but for her two grown daughters and their children. She was determined that her daughters would never do without as she had. Yes, she would always be there for them, paying their rent, buying their groceries, providing whatever their respective husbands didn’t for as long as she had a breath left in her body.
Martha’s children and grandchildren were her life. Only in their presence did her eyes sparkle, her lips curve in a smile, her round shoulders square. Other employees took note of Martha’s transformation when her daughters came into the store; it was like seeing her for the first time. One worker said, “You know, I never realized it before, but Martha’s kind of pretty.” And another remarked on the lovely green shade of her eyes.
Then her family would leave, and Martha would fade away once more, becoming as translucent as the pantyhose tucked inside the packages she placed neatly on shelves. A see-through woman. Barely there at all.
©️2019 KT Workman
Photo via Pixabay