Martha woke early from a fitful sleep, dressed herself and made her way downstairs. She carefully drew back the edge of the flower-printed curtain and peered out of the window at another sunless English day. She saw James, one of her young neighbours, kiss his pretty wife goodbye as he set off to work. James spotted Martha and waved, grinning heartily. Martha returned the wave with a half-hearted smile which turned into a despondent sigh as soon as the curtain was back in place.
Unfair as it seemed, life seemed to be just carrying on as normal in the world but the house just seemed too empty and quiet without Pat. Even the silence seemed too loud. Martha could hardly believe he was gone. Every morning as she woke up, she saw the empty flat space beside her in the bed, remembered anew that he was no longer there, and a feeling of melancholy settled upon her.
They had diagnosed the cancer one terrible day and it had just seemed to eat away and weaken Pat more and more until one day he never woke up again. Martha was unused to being alone and felt lost in her big house. She missed Pat with all her heart - he had been her whole life.
Martha thought she would never get used to being by herself. It was a skill she simply didn't have. She hated the quietness and despised the solitude.
Just as she was wondering what to do with herself, the shrill ring of the telephone pierced right through Martha's thoughts and made her jump with surprise.
"Hello Mum, how are you feeling?" asked the warm and friendly voice of Sophie, Martha's only child. Sophie meant well but had a tendency to worry too much about others, especially her mother, whom she was very protective of.
"I'm fine thanks, love," lied Martha, trying to maintain a carefree tone of voice and disguise her sadness. Sophie had a busy life of her own to get on with - a job in the city, a husband and a beautiful new baby girl to care for.
Sophie was a happy girl with a bright and promising future and Martha was reluctant to burden the girl with her problems, although Sophie would have gladly offered a shoulder to cry on if Martha had only asked. However, Martha didn't want to talk about Pat or she would get herself upset again and she didn't want to worry Sophie.
"Well, why don't I come round? asked Sophie "I was planning to go to the shops and I just wondered if I could get you anything while I was there."
"No love, I don't need anything. You just see to yourself. I'm all right," Martha could imagine the vast quantities of groceries Sophie would be buying for her family and didn't want to add to the inconvenience, although she could have done with a few bits and pieces herself. Replacing the receiver, Martha hoped Sophie wasn't worrying about her.
She turned round and caught sight of her beloved Pat in a photo on the mantelpiece. The photo was mounted in a silver heart-shaped frame and had been taken on holiday last year at a campsite in Cornwall. What a wonderful holiday that had been – Martha, Pat, Sophie and Sophie’s husband Ray. They had had such fun and the weather had been fantastic. What a great week and what lovely memories. It all seemed so long ago now. The year had passed in an instant but it seemed like forever since Martha had seen Pat. Martha smiled wistfully at Pat’s soulful brown eyes, wishing he were with her now.
"Oh Pat, I'm so lonely without you," Martha sighed, tearing her eyes reluctantly from the picture. She half-filled the kettle in the kitchen and flicked the switch. No sooner had she dropped a teabag into a cup than the phone rang again.
"Oh, hi again, Mum, it's me. I was just wondering whether you wanted to come to the bingo with me tonight. We used to go all the time and I know we haven't been for a few weeks now since... since... well, you know, and, er..."
"No," replied Martha, a bit more abruptly than she meant to, "I mean, I really don't feel much like going out tonight. In fact I think I might be coming down with something - I don't feel too well, so I think I'll just stay in, just in case. You go without me."
Sophie seemed disappointed but Martha just couldn't think about going out just yet. All she wanted was some time to herself so she could grieve, some peace and quiet, some -
"I don't believe it!" exclaimed Martha, as the phone started to ring yet again, shattering the silence. She wished she’d have left it off the hook.
"Mum, it's me again," Sophie sounded stern this time, "I'm worried about you and I'm coming over. I'll be with you in ten minutes and I'm bringing a bundle of joy to cheer you up."
Martha put the phone down in disbelief. Why wouldn't people just leave her be? How could anyone possibly understand how she was feeling? It was sweet of Sophie to offer to bring the baby round but, to be honest, Martha would have preferred her own company. She would learn to be okay again, she would...
When the doorbell rang, Martha opened the front door gingerly, ready to give Sophie a piece of her mind. Martha opened her mouth to speak... but just froze.
Sophie had a hopeful smile on her face as she held out a small bundle to her mother.
"I know he's not exactly the same as Pat," began Sophie apprehensively, "but I was desperate to cheer you up somehow."
Martha accepted the tiny wriggling puppy and as soon as she gazed into his soulful brown eyes, her heart melted. He was much younger than Pat and a different breed but Martha realised now there would be life and joy in her house once more. Since she had been widowed ten years previously, Pat had been her beloved and constant companion.
But now she had another reason to be happy. A second chance, as it were. The half-learned skill of surviving a lonely life could now be discarded. Martha smiled gratefully at her daughter, with tears of love in her eyes, her happy face saying more than words ever could.