Martha’s nakedness had only ever been for her husband. Before and after they were married, their cosy embraces had led to clumsy unfolding, unzipping, brushing, tugging until finally she was bare. She was timid in those moments, almost never standing or crossing the room. She was usually already on her back on the big soft bed, her body quickly covered by her husband’s hands. Afterwards she was covered by the sheets. So her nakedness was a manner of speaking but never explicit. It was, if anything, surreptitious.
Even during the stifling, humid summer, Martha was always clothed. There were concessions – she carefully hiked up her skirt and rolled her sleeves back to nothing. She may have undone buttons but her underclothes were certainly always in place, and if her husband peaked down her shirt with a slightly wolfish grin, she would blush. Even after years of marriage, she would avoid eye contact and shyly put her hand to her throat, raise her arm across her chest. Her instinct was to bar the way. Even at night, after making love, she slipped on her simple cotton nightgown before turning to sleep. She was grateful for layers.Being naked always felt overwhelming.
Her husband had never been interested in the whole of her. He kissed her behind her ears and brushed the back of her knees, but they were concentrated moments of seduction.She rarely reclined or arched her back, sprawled and lovely so that he could admire her, so that he could rest a chin in his hand and lust over her. She still had fine limbs, despite her middle age. Her skin was still supple and pleasant enough for sleeveless tops. Maybe her bottom was no longer snug in her shorts – a little bit squashy instead. Her hands were still delicate, her nails buffed and healthy. Her hair was cut short and bouncy, the odd grey hardly
visible in the light brown gold. In short, in anyone’s eyes Martha could still be called desirable.
He was never the sort of husband who ravished her, or had the insatiable carnal desire of romance novels. True, his eyes were glossy, his palms hot when he wanted her, but he was always easily and quickly satisfied. He never asked if she wanted to make love. She never asked herself either. There were few affectionate words between them during these moments.But there was nothing in their marriage in general that indicated discord, dissatisfaction or discontent.
And yet, he had left her for another woman. Another set of eyes, hands, breasts, legs.Pieces of a whole. She wondered if he did anything different for her, with her. Did he pause a moment, for her? Or did he carry on blindly as usual until sated? Did he leave Martha because of all the layers she wore?
All this she thought whilst sitting at her kitchen table. That she felt indifferent was more disturbing than the event itself. Oh she had cried quietly, and the shame of it made her hang her head and wonder how she’d be able to go to the local shops again. They would blame it on her, she knew, even though she felt reasonably sure she had done her best. But in the background, she knew she should feel more than this vague disappointment and restlessness. It was as though she was impatient for the next thing in her life to occur.
She glanced out the window. Next door she could just see Mr Anderson watering his geraniums. They were wilting in the intense summer heat. A fan clicked and whirred on her kitchen bench, the breeze of it fluttering the hem of her dress. She lifted the fabric to expose a knee and the fan air ballooned her dress under her thighs. She shivered at the sensation. She raised her dress a little higher. Both legs were exposed. Looking down at her sandals, turning her feet this way and that to admire them, she also noticed the plump skin of her thigh and the sheen of her calves. Suddenly, she stood, raised her dress above her head and took it off altogether. She stood there shocked. She was still. Careful. There was something vaguely forbidden about it. The window didn’t even have a curtain.
She looked down at her body and smoothed her hands over her hips, across her bottom, up her arms and down again across her stomach and breasts. It was nothing then, to take her bra off. After all, she took that off to go to bed at night. Her underpants were another thing altogether. She took a deep breath and slipped them off, quickly and quietly. She folded them on a chair as though she were about to take a shower. But she wasn’t taking a shower. She was in her kitchen in broad day light, with the fan going, the window open and without a curtain, and Mr Anderson watering the geraniums. And now she was fully naked. She snickered and snorted, then covered her mouth guiltily. But after a moment she began to smile and giggle and then raise her arms and pirouette around the kitchen table. She felt the fan breeze on her naked bottom and laughed harder, out loud, without covering her mouth.An internal song moved her arms above her head. She tossed her head back and her swayed her hips. She was naked. Gloriously naked. It was as though this was the first time she had ever been so and something bubbled away inside her and overflowed with innocent joy. For certain, her husband had never seen her like that.
And her nakedness was now for her.