part one: martha
At first she is startling in her let-it-all-hang-out rotundity. "Why," my sister asks after meeting her the first time, "is her belly so big and low?"; a question I, being more liberal and accepting than my sister (who it should be noted feels the need to criticize and find fault with everyone and everything: "looking good, honey," she says mockingly of every female we pass while driving in her car, or, "there's a guy for you," of every male we pass), have never asked, assuming her unfortunate shape has something to do with genetics and having given birth to five children, starting at the age of 15. But the question does not surprise; she is shaped exactly like a toy top I had as a child--which toy top was incidentally in the form of a person shaped exactly like Martha; how I always loved to wind that thing up by the cranium and watch it go. It is because of this that I wince and brace myself every time Martha comes down the stairs with an armload of something, for I have already envisioned in my mind her calamitous fall. Of all of us she is the most likely for this to happen to--even more likely than my manager, Don, whose back has an amusing habit of giving out from time to time, causing him to cease up in pain and then have to spend the rest of the afternoon lying on the floor as people step over him--and i have already accepted it as inevitable. Like Elizabeth, she is not free of delusion. Some days she stands in front of the mirror--the one I myself find much too dissatisfying to look into--cradling her globular girth, and lamenting that she still needs to "lose ten pounds".....Mornings with Martha I am forced to channel my inner buddhist monk, practicing the qualities of patience and tolerance, as time stands still and the only sound is her sloppy wet breathing, to which she is oblivious; and as i try not to gape in horror as she drops egg from her tim hortons breakfast sandwich all over her shirt.
She is not charming, or demure or even tactful; her voice is deep, not lilting; she smells of sweat and cheese; she makes frequent trips to the bathroom; and all of what you might call her knowledge and wisdom is made up of tales and superstitions from her village, things like "stick your hair in your eye to make it grow". Yet, she is the most approachable of all of us, and the one that people naturally gravitate towards (just as naturally as they gravitate away from Elizabeth). I assume they trust in her steady earthiness, her lack of ethereal wispiness, and take this for some sort of authourity. Despite who is actually the most knowledgeable on the subject at hand, despite who has actually been the most help, all thanks always goes to her, and at first I thought this was simply because people felt sorry for her, but recently a new theory has taken shape in my mind: people like roundness, soft edges. Her complete lack of any edge (even her voice could never be made sharp or icy; if she were angry the best you might get out of her is a comically absurd indignation), makes people comfortable. They naturally ease into her presence the way a large bowl of greasy cookie dough practically begs you to ease your hands into it.
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