A late autumn sun met the early winter frost, then vanished in a brief moment of fiery glory behind the hills at the far end of the valley.
October provender crunched underfoot in a satisfying way, the frosty air carried an acid whiff of bonfires. Down the lane, mullioned windows reflected the crimson blaze of the sun’s passing, and gleamed wickedly at Martha as she took a quick look at the outside world before bolting her front door against the evils lurking in the solemn trees and hedgerows.
This was a night she did not like. Even the warmly lit room she loved so dearly could not ease her discomfort; nor the multi-coloured flames from the apple-wood fire bring the circulation back to her dead, white fingers.
All she could do now was wait. Pulling the curtains together with more overlap than usual she sat straight-backed in her comfiest chair, denying herself the luxury of sinking into its plummy depths with her customary relaxed enjoyment.
She thought of her solitary state as a boon and took no exception to her isolation. The villagers hardly ever called on her, unless from necessity. They respected her, her posture demanded it, and they were never impolite, but no-one ever sought her views on anything - apart from the weather, and her demeanour never solicited inconsequential chatter, or uninvited guests.
They acknowledged her presence in the shops, and smiled a greeting in the street, but that was all. Her familiar figure in its camel-hair coat and sensible shoes seemed part of the scenery. For years she had entered the same shops at the same times, and bought the same items
”Where’s Martha today?” They would comment on her absence - yet finding her presence invisible in its regularity.
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