Martha Hudson had always been adamant that she was not a lonely woman, but three weeks after Sherlock’s passing she found herself sitting at her kitchen table with a tray in front of her, crying until she couldn’t think straight.
It took her a while, but then she wiped her face and had a glass of water, and she poured the pot of tea down the sink and put away the two teacups, but she kept the biscuits out and ate them, one by one. She told herself, over and over that night, that she would not forget again.
The phone rang almost a month later, and she looked at the teacups in front of her and dried her eyes. She answered it on the eighth ring and she felt hopeful, so hopeful that it might be John.
“Oh, you poor thing.” It wasn’t a voice that Martha immediately recognized, but it came back to her slowly as the other woman continued to comfort her.
They had met only once, over a quick cup of tea upstairs while they waited for Sherlock to come home. Mrs Holmes had told her about Sherlock’s childhood, how he would stand in the rose garden and hold out his hand in hope that a bee might land on it. She told Martha how he’d smiled when he’d been stung, how he’d stayed there amongst them until her husband had pulled him away. “He wasn’t even three at the time,” she’d said, and Martha had smiled. There had been footsteps on the stairs, and Mrs Holmes had sighed and set her cup down.
She came over the next day, though Martha couldn’t quite remember a point in the phone call when she had put out an invite, but it was no matter and Martha was glad for it. She watched Mrs Holmes set down the vase in the middle of her kitchen table, and she looked at the beautiful white flowers and smiled. “Jasmine,” Mrs Holmes said brightly. “From my garden.”
Martha set out two teacups on the table, and she poured with her right hand and gripped her wrist with her left to stop herself from shaking. They drank tea and talked about the weather, talked about gardening, and they skirted the issue until Martha had to give in. “How do you stand the pain?” she asked.
“I don’t,” Mrs Holmes said simply. It wasn’t the answer Martha was looking for, but she knew it was the only one Mrs Holmes had.
She stayed an hour at most before Martha walked her to the front door, and she leaned in to kiss Mrs Holmes on the cheek and paused. “Oh dear, I’m sorry,” Martha said, and she felt so terribly embarrassed for it. “I’ve forgotten your first name.”
“Does it matter?” Mrs Holmes responded, and the smile on her face left Martha feeling completely lost. It was the eyes mostly that reminded her of him, and she let her cheek be kissed and watched the door swing shut, and she almost couldn’t breathe.
It became a monthly visit after that, and Mrs Holmes brought more flowers and more stories about her rose garden, and soon she turned to stories about Sherlock. Her voice was strong and when Martha cried, Mrs Holmes reached across the table and took her hand. “We understand each other, you and I,” she said, and Martha only cried harder.
She was forever losing time and she very nearly missed the date. She stared at the calendar and wondered where the year had gone and it took her a good while to find the courage to pick up the phone. It rang out and she listened to the message, the familiar voice that warmed her, and she waited for the beep. “Hello dear,” she said, and she hoped that she sounded bright. She talked for a while, saying the silliest things she was sure, and she’d never been very good at answering machines. “I thought that I might go out to the cemetery today,” she said finally. “It would be lovely if you could come, John.”
He never called her back, and Martha couldn’t quite find it in herself to leave the flat, and she hoped that he could forgive her.
Mrs Holmes didn’t bring flowers on her next visit, and Martha hid the empty vase in the cupboard while she waited for the kettle to boil. There wasn’t much to say really, and Mrs Holmes set aside her cup with a sigh and looked at the curtains. She watched them shift and there was a slight smile on her face when she looked back at Martha. “I don’t just come here for the tea and chit chat, Mrs Hudson.”
Martha didn’t quite understand but she smiled back anyway, and when Mrs Holmes took her hand and pulled her to her feet, realization hit her and she felt a little faint. “Oh,” she said, and her smile grew wider.
There were no more flowers after that, and Martha found that she didn’t mind that much. She tried to hide her body, hide away her imperfections, and she laughed loudly when Mrs Holmes pushed her hands away. “How lonely you must be, here all on your own,” she said one night, and Martha shook her head.
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” she said brightly. “I get by.”
She came home one afternoon to a message on her answering machine, and she set her bags down on the table and pressed play. It was John, and he sounded almost like his old self again. “I was thinking about coming to see you one day, if that’s alright,” he said, and Martha sat down at the table with her cheek in her hand. “Look, I might give you a ring tomorrow, alright?”
She waited the entire next day but the phone didn’t ring, and she left it another two days before giving in and calling him back. It rang out and she listened to the message, and she hung up when the beep sounded. She told herself that she would try again later, but she was forever losing time and as it got closer and closer to another year down, she swore to herself that she would go to the cemetery and make it right.
“Can you believe how long it’s been?” she asked one night, and Mrs Holmes smiled wearily at her and pressed her palm flat against Martha’s chest until her heart beat faster.
“It wears on you after a while,” was all she said. There was something more there, something that she wasn’t saying. Martha could see it in her eyes, in the way she never lingered under the covers, and she knew Mrs Holmes better than one might have thought. Martha wanted to tell her that, wanted Mrs Holmes to tell her more, but she never got the chance.
Her hands shook as she prepared the tray, and she couldn’t quite get rid of the smile on her face as she made her way up the stairs and pushed open the door. “I made you some tea, dear,” she said and Sherlock looked up at her.
“Well, I see nothing much has changed here,” he said, and Martha set the tray down quickly before she dropped it. He was right in a way, and he was also wrong, and she wondered how long it would take before he figured it out. It was the thing about Sherlock that always amused her, how he could see everything in a single glance and yet still miss so much.
She lingered for too long, picking things up and putting them where they belonged, and she had to stop herself from standing there and just staring at him, and she thought her heart might burst straight out of her chest. She couldn’t remember being so happy in all her life, and she didn’t quite know what to do with the feeling.
Mrs Holmes brought lilies on her next visit, and Martha tried to hide her surprise. There had not been any flowers for quite some time, and she smiled at Mrs Holmes and ushered her inside.
She pulled the vase out of the cupboard and gave it a dusting before filling it in the kitchen sink, and she arranged the flowers while the kettle boiled and brought the vase out with the tea. She set the vase to the side and paused when Mrs Holmes shifted it to the middle, and she poured the tea and sat down with a sigh.
They talked about ordinary things like the weather and the lines at the supermarket, and Martha felt anxious to move on and say what she was really thinking. It took her a while to find the courage, and when she asked her about Sherlock, Mrs Holmes just sat back in her seat and smiled into her teacup. “It’s so wonderful having him back,” she said. “I know it was hard for you.”
“And you,” Martha said after a pause. Mrs Holmes turned away from her far too quickly, and Martha knew. “You know, I’m not stupid.”
“No, I know that,” Mrs Holmes murmured. “You’re rather brilliant actually.” Her eyes were bright when she glanced back at Martha, and Martha looked at the vase. It was wearing on her; the whole thing was wearing her and she wasn’t sure exactly what else to do.
She reached out a hand and shifted the vase to the side, and she shrugged her shoulders at Mrs Holmes. “I never much cared for lilies,” she said.