I almost called this essay “Martha Stopped By Again Today,” because we are that close. I pretty much never refer to her by last name. In fact, I use her nickname.
She parked her helicopter, walked up my front porch steps, and knocked on the door. As much as she likes to pretend she’s into “manners” and “etiquette,” guess who didn’t call first? That’s right: she just showed up.
I hate people that just show up. It makes me physically ill. I panic and think, Oh my God, I didn’t clean the bathroom this year, or When is the last time I put the recycling out, or Is my bed even made?
She knocked on the door (because the doorbell is broken) and I answered immediately (I’d heard the helicopter). She was wearing what looked like a cashmere poncho thing in sort of an apricot-orangey color, khaki pants, red shoes (but it worked), and all topped off with a chunky, vintage-looking, sterling necklace. I was in my pajamas. The flannel ones with the skiing ducks.
There was no time to be embarrassed, Martha was standing on my front porch. “Come on in!” Honestly, she’s seen me in worse.
“MOV, I love the seashell wreath on the front door! How much did that cost?”
I briefly thought about lying and saying I made it, but she’d see right through that. “More than I should have paid, ha ha,” I replied lamely.
She leaned in for a hug. I inhaled her perfume, which smelled like a Neiman Marcus counter with a dash of cherry cough drop thrown in. “It’s been a while, MOV. What has it been? A week?”
She was right. It had been a week, maybe five days since I’d seen her last. I braced myself for what was coming next.
“MOV, what is the deal with these dead worms on your front porch?” It was exactly what I expected her to say, because it’s what she said last time. She surprised me, though, and said something else: “Do you have any freshly squeezed orange juice?”
I ushered her in, past the front console table littered with mail, catalogs, unfinished homework, library books, old magazines, batteries, keys, cat toys, and stray gloves. I was internally saying, Don’t comment on the entryway, Martha, don’t do it, and she didn’t seem to notice it this time.
Once in the kitchen, I was berating myself for not offering to take her poncho thing and hang it up for her. It initially seemed like it was part of the outfit, but now she just looked hot. She kept fanning herself. On the bright side, though, maybe her keeping the poncho on meant she wouldn’t stay as long.
“Here you go, Mar-Mar,” I said, handing her a juice box left over from one of the kids lunches. “It might be lemonade flavor. Or apple. I can’t read that teeny tiny writing.”
“Who can?” she laughed, taking her reading glasses out of some crevice in her poncho. “Ah, white grape. That will do.”
She sat down at the dining room table, and I was now chastising myself for not refinishing it, painting it, or at least clearing off last night’s dishes. She was a trouper, though; she merely pushed aside the plate with the dried-on spaghetti (I think it was Tall’s plate, he always picks out the olives) and dove right into why she was here.
“You need a job, MOV, a real job.”
I cringed. Who likes to be criticized? It was like she was trying to tell me what to do, like my boss, or husband, or mom, or next-door neighbor, or the check-out guy at Target. Why did everyone have to be such a busybody?
“I know, Mar-Mar, I know … you’re right.” I wanted to give her a million excuses, I wanted to say, I’m a mom! Isn’t that a job? or I used to work at the high-end kitchen store, or You know I just wrote a book, but none of those words came out of my mouth.
She looked at me expectantly. “You could get your own TV show,” she suggested.
Oh brother, was she going to go there again? “Mar-Mar, really?” I gave a big, overly-dramatic sigh. “Unlike you, I don’t have my own production company.”
“True. True.” She gave a Mona Lisa smile and took another sip of her juice box.
The silence filled the room, like the scent of last night’s oregano.
“But … you could …” her voice trailed off.
“I could what?”
“I forgot.” She sounded exactly like Short when I asked him what they did at school that day.
My cell phone rang. I looked around for it, not remembering where I had put it last. It didn’t matter, because it turns out it was her phone anyway.
“Martha Stewart Multimedia Omnimedia Inc, this is Martha,” she answered.
I waited for a few minutes while she gave detailed instructions to some underling on the phone about next month’s magazine layout. “That is not the font we discussed,” she said tersely, “Put Annalise on the phone.”
I felt like an extra on a stage set, like there was not really anyone on the phone with her and she was only acting in a play.
She slammed her phone shut.
“Sorry, MOV, I gotta go. It’s an emergency.”
Everything was an emergency with her; it was annoying. But I was used to it by now.
She walked toward the front door and now I was glad I had not hung up her poncho after all. She probably would’ve had me iron it, knowing her.
“MOV, I will email you.” She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Hey, Mar-Mar, don’t forward any more of those prayer chain-mails, or political emails, or jokes I don’t get.” I forced a tight smile.
“I know, I know, you told me last time,” she rolled her eyes.
“I’m going to miss you,” I squeaked.
“No, no you won’t, MOV. I’m always right here with you. In here,” she tapped the side of my head for emphasis. “Anytime you think you are doing something wrong, I will point it out.”
She turned and stepped on a dead worm. She didn’t say a word. She didn’t have to.
("Martha Or Variation")