ㅤIn a tiny apartment above a sprawling city, Martha Grint was eating a bowl of cornflakes and watching the evening news. Around her, celebrity gossip magazines were piled several feet high on every surface. A workspace had been cleared in the centre of the coffee table, now covered in paper scraps, a large pair of scissors and an industrial size bottle of craft glue. A bulging scrapbook sat in the middle of it all.
ㅤHundreds of photographs of one man populated the book’s pages. The man was attractive, in his mid-forties. The scrapbook contained holiday photos and movie stills, interviews and character profiles. A few of the photos were taken on a polaroid camera; smoking on a balcony and walking down a driveway with a full trash bag.
ㅤThe scrapbook was open to the most recent page, a centrefold pullout pasted into it. ‘STAR COUPLE SPLIT AFTER WINTERS’ AFFAIR’ was printed in bold yellow text across the top of both pages. In the photo underneath, the man walked with a well dressed woman away from a courthouse. The woman’s face had been scribbled out with a thick red pen and ‘CHEATER’ was scrawled on the page next to her. The caption read: ‘Ethan Orlando and ex-wife Naomi Winters have asked their fans to “respect their privacy during this difficult time.”’
ㅤMartha turned the volume up on the television as the entertainment segment began.
ㅤ“Tomorrow night the Westgate Theatre will host the red carpet premiere of Poison Love, the latest thriller from director Scott Crutchfield. Attending the event will be co-stars Ethan Orlando and Naomi Winters. The now-ex-couple met on the set of Crutchfield’s last film, but recently separated. I wouldn’t want to be sat between those two.”
ㅤThe next day, Martha took the bus into town. In her seat, she donned a reflective hi-vis jacket. The corner furthest from the entrance of the Westgate Theatre parking lot was a convenient blind spot, and a dumpster would hide her from the view of the road. She laid a discarded wooden pallet against the side of the fence and climbed up, lowering herself down on the other side.
ㅤShe could see half a dozen limo drivers on the other side of the parking lot, all of them smoking cigarettes. She tried her best to keep a steady pace as she walked across the lot and behind a pillar that obscured her from view. There, she dropped to the ground and continued on her hands and knees. She had studied Naomi’s car in photos, and knew to look for the tiny dent in the passenger door. From her pocket, she pulled a screwdriver.
ㅤPressed between two cars, it was an awkward angle to reach the pressure release valve, but a satisfying hiss of escaping air told her that the tool had found its mark. Not enough air that the driver would notice, at least not until it was too late and a blowout on the highway had the car spinning out of control.
ㅤMartha tossed her high-vis jacket in a trash can as she walked down the street away from the parking lot. The sound of excited murmuring reached a crescendo as she turned the corner and saw the buzzing crowd gathered around the theatre, the doors of which were still firmly shut. Fans with posters and sharpies pressed themselves against metal fences ready to scream and beg for an autograph as the stars walked back down the red carpet. Security guards had to shout over the noise into their earpieces. Paparazzi photographers fought for elbow space in a taped off section of the sidewalk. In front of them, a woman balanced a huge television camera on her shoulder, guiding a reporter through a series of microphone checks.
ㅤMartha let herself be absorbed by the crowd, not screaming, but listening. She weaved through the crowd, near to one of the security guards. He spoke into his earpiece, so Martha could only catch every other word he said.
ㅤ“ … talent … two minutes … and ready … transport … bring them around … on your signal.”
ㅤMartha felt her heart beat faster. She could hear the security guard counting down.
ㅤ“3… 2… 1…”
ㅤThe doors opened and the crowd screamed as one. Ethan came out first. His hair and beard had specks of grey in them. Martha made a mental note to send him some scented candles. No doubt the stress of the breakup was getting to him. Ethan turned back towards the door and held out a hand. Someone from inside reached out to take it. Naomi Winters stepped into the light and smiled. With her free hand she gave an effortless wave to the crowd.
ㅤMartha’s knuckles were white against the railing. Naomi hooked her arm around Ethan’s and kissed his cheek, lingering for a moment so the photographers could capture the image. The crowd cheered and whistled.
ㅤThe reporter beckoned Ethan and Naomi towards the camera. Martha leaned further over the fence so she could hear the interview.
ㅤ“Wow, look at you two. You both look gorgeous tonight.”
ㅤ“Thank you,” Naomi said, gripping Ethan’s arm.
ㅤ“Now if you don’t mind me saying, we did not expect to see you two walking out together.” Naomi looked to Ethan.
ㅤ“Do you want to tell them?”
ㅤ“Sure.” Ethan placed a hand onto hers. “We had a long conversation about our relationship and we both agreed that we aren’t willing to give up on it yet. It’s going to be tough to rebuild, but I think we’re going to come back stronger because of it.” The two stars looked into each other’s eyes. They leaned in to kiss and the crowd screamed louder than ever. Martha grabbed two fistfuls of her hair and screwed up her face.
ㅤ“No, no, no.” Then she shouted. “No! No!” Her anguished cries were drowned out by the noise of the crowd. She shut her eyes tight and shook her head side to side. He deserved so much better than this.
ㅤWhen she opened her eyes the TV crew were winding up their interview. “I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of the two of you together. Have a wonderful night, both of you.”
ㅤ“Thank you.” Naomi smiled sweetly.
ㅤThe couple walked off, arm in arm, towards their limousine. Martha’s breath caught in her throat as she saw the dent in the passenger door. Naomi got in first. Ethan gave a final wave and a grin to the crowd and climbed in himself.
ㅤMartha knew she had to get Ethan out of that car before it drove away. She jumped over the railing and made a break for the limousine. She would drag him from the car herself if she had to. She had taken two steps on the carpet when she felt her feet hitting nothing but air. The security guard she had been watching earlier had both of his arms around her waist and had lifted her into the air. Martha struggled against his grip.
ㅤ“You don’t understand, I have to-“
ㅤ“Oh, I understand alright. Steve, give me a hand here,” he called to one of the other security guards.
ㅤ“He’s in danger. Ethan, he’s in danger. He needs me.” Martha kicked her legs and scratched at the guard’s arms. She heard the hum of the limousine’s engine starting. “Let me go. I have to stop them. I have to stop them.”
ㅤ“Alright darling, take it easy.” Steve took hold of her legs. Together, the two guards carried her around the back of the crowd and away from the theatre doors and threw her roughly to the sidewalk. Between the legs of the security guards, she saw the limousine drive off. Martha scrambled to her feet. She sidestepped the guards and took off in a sprint. Running down the centre of the boulevard, shouting and waving her arms, she wanted nothing more than to see Ethan stop the car and for him to catch her in his arms and say thank you, thank you, thank you, you saved me. The limousine, however, showed no signs of slowing down, and drove over the crest of a hill and out of sight. Martha stumbled and collapsed onto the concrete. There she sat, still and quiet, as the orchestra of horns played on.
ㅤMartha didn’t get to see Poison Love that day or on any other day for the next two and a half years. A rerun came on in the TV room at the Riverside Women’s Correctional Facility, as Beverly the Arsonist flicked through channels.
ㅤ“I love this one,” Beverly said to Martha, who swept the floor nearby. “Did you hear what happened to him?”
ㅤ“Mm,” Martha replied, nodding.
ㅤ“He was a real looker, don’t you think?” Martha stopped sweeping and looked up at the screen. Ethan Orlando was wearing a perfectly pressed suit and riding a jet ski. Martha frowned.
ㅤ“Not my type.”