This Wretched Heart

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'I see a mountain at my gates.'

Mountain At My Gates by Foals.


He couldn’t actually believe that Peter had followed through on the cinema thing. He had thought that it was just drunken banter and had agreed to it in passing. He looked in the mirror and tried to flatten his unruly hair but failed as usual. Feeling really nervous he left the house, kissing his mother’s cheek as he passed through the kitchen. It was taco night and his parents had the Frida Kahlo movie soundtrack blaring in the background. His father was out the front, trying to find foliage for the table and he waved merrily as Sam walked down the drive.

'You look very nervous son, hot date?’He shouted after him. Choosing to ignore this remark he meandered down the road and pondered the evening ahead. He thought that dinner had gone well in the sense that Peter wasn’t suspicious of anything. He prayed that he hadn’t noticed any chemistry between him and Lara at dinner and was reassured that they were just friends. He didn’t even know why he was worried at all in fact. The guy wasn’t a mind reader.Lara’s annoyance at Peter’s off the cuff remark had taken him by surprise though. Did they regret the fact that they hadn’t had a chance to spread their wings? Being in a serious relationship since school must have been quite confining but they seemed content enough. Everyone had their regrets. His was his lack of direction.

He arrived at the cinema and looked around trying to find Peter who came up behind him and tapped his shoulder.

'Hey Sam.'His smile was as warm as before.

‘ Peter hey.’ They shook hands awkwardly and both struggled to come up with something to say. He really should have sunk a few beers before he came out. Ironically Lara’s presence might have made their conversation flow.

‘ I’m really glad you came.’ Peter then grinned and Sam felt relieved.

‘God that sounds like a date. You probably already think it’s weird that I asked you, being Lara’s friend first and all.’

Sam smiled thinking ‘Damn right!'

‘ It’s just..’ Peter continued ‘To be honest Lara has said that you’re a big movie buff and well... none of my mates are.’

He recalled that she had told him how Peter had found it hard to keep friends. All the late hours in the Bistro and stress had taken its toll on his social life. He on the other hand had a great social life but nothing to show for it. The book he had been writing since college was a mere collection of random ideas with no inclination towards a finished product.

‘That’s a pity about your friends. They don’t know what they’re missing, I hear this one is supposed to be awesome!’

‘Fuck yeah!’ They both chuckled.

God the guy was just in need of someone to go to the cinema with. Sam felt kind of sorry for him. He never had any difficulty finding someone to do anything with, ever. It was probably because he grew up in the city and all his friends had too. The older a man was, the harder it was to form new friendships. You couldn’t help but feel like you were ‘coming on’ to someone at this age if you asked them to a movie. Football was fine ‘ See you at the pub yeah?’ was all that had to be said and there you were with a hundred other guys, all with the same interest.

‘ Peter’s not really into sport.’ Lara had told him. He had been shocked. They had resumed their running after the dinner. She had apologized again for their mini spat. She proceeded to tell him that they had been walking recently in the park past a group of guys playing football. The rogue ball had which had rolled over their way , nearly caused them both to lose their minds with embarrassment at the prospect of trying to kick it back. She laughed as she recalled how Peter had tentatively picked up the muddied ball and proceeded to roll it back like a bowling ball instead of kicking it. Her face had flushed as she recalled the sniggers of the players in the background.

‘ It’s not that I feel bad that I don’t like sports but just that sometimes I feel disconnected from the human race’. She had clearly given it a lot of thought.

‘ We’ve tried going to matches but we just feel like big frauds and end up leaving early to catch a film’.

‘ At least you’re not a football widow!’ Sam who had seen his friends drop everything including wives and babies for a Semi final, thought this might comfort her.

‘ I think though that it’s a good way to get rid of aggression … not that Peter is aggressive he’s more frustrated I suppose with work and money’.

Maybe she was right. The aggression that people vocalized during a game was such a throwback to gladiatorial times . At least supporting a team was a more natural and safe way of getting it all out.

‘ Although how does that explain all football hooligans?’ She grinned. Lara and Peter were probably more evolved than the rest of them. Still though.

‘ Not any sport?’ He had to ask again. Later he had felt foolish for that question it wasn’t as if he was Mr. Sporty either, apart from the odd weekend kick about in the park. He had however grown up with rugby and football and wondered what life would be like without it.

‘ No none at all , we’re two of a kind in that respect.’ She grinned at his ,open mouth.

‘ Not even a home game?’ He was teasing her.

‘ Not even’.

It was going to be strange not mentioning any sport to Peter. It was always a good fallback. The adverts started in the theatre just as they went in, so luckily there was no need for awkward chit-chat. The film was brilliant. Just the right mix of violence and superb dialogue. He and Peter turned to each other in mock awe at one point , as the protagonist unleashed her fury in a bloodbath that rivalled any horror he had ever seen.They exited the building like two excited schoolboys.

‘ Jesus that was bloody fantastic, in every sense of the word.’ Peter was beaming as Sam chuckled at his enthusiasm.

‘ Fancy a beer ?’ He agreed and they headed towards the nearest pub. They sat in a booth and ordered some beers from an attractive if scowling barmaid.The next hour was spent analyzing and dissecting all the movies they had ever enjoyed. Peter really was a film buff and a half and aware of so many hidden meanings and messages within films, that left him reeling.

‘ The picture in ‘ The Silence of the Lambs? Really ? ‘ He hadn’t noticed.‘ You really do love your movies !’

‘ Yeah I know it’s a bit sad really. Lara and I have a room upstairs, ceiling to floor with our favorite DVD’s, we’ve built quite the collection over the years’.

Ah so that explained the poor choice of films he had witnessed in their living room. He was both relieved and strangely saddened at the same time. Not that he judged women solely on the type of films they watched but he did find it a little unnerving if all they watched were chick flicks. On the flip side the girls who pretended to love certain genres was pretty transparent. It was the same with books. He had gotten used to the blank stares of semi-drunk women when he referred to his favorite authors. Not that he was reading Joyce and Beckett but something with a bit more depth than ‘ Flight of the Girls,’ the latest in so called women’s empowerment reading.The sad thing was that when he wrote something it ended up reading like chick- lit.

‘ What do you mean chick- lit?’ His Mother had asked him when he had come in frustrated from another attempt at writing.

‘ Just you know, the kind of books that well you read’. He grinned.

‘ You mean the ones with the great plots and dialogue , that make me laugh and cry and which I enjoy when I don’t have the energy to mull over Ulysses?’

‘ Yeah those ones. Do they actually make you think Mum ? Do they contribute anything more to mankind other than whether Chad will eventually get his act together and date Crystal?’

‘They make my friends and me happy for starters dear so I would have to say yes’. She had winked at him and resumed her book.

Was she right ? Was he just being a literary snob? He wanted to create simple stories with universal themes but in a way that swooped into people’s souls and stuck. He didn’t want his words to skim but to anchor in the deep oceans of thought, suspended forever with other great writers. His Mother however seemed to truly love the type of fiction he stuck his nose up at and well that was something.

‘ It’s great being out on a weeknight. ’ Peter had just come back from the Men's room. Joe he had explained, was looking after the ghost town Bistro tonight.

‘ It’s not that unusual for me, I must admit’ He regretted saying that immediately, why did he need to highlight how easy a life he had in comparison.

‘ Isn’t it well for some’. There was no malice in Peter’s words, his grin wouldn’t allow it. Sam pulled his phone out of his pocket quickly to check for messages.

‘ Wow you got the new iPhone’ Peter remarked with glee and envy. He forgot that most guys got off on gadgets. He had been writing recently what should have been a simple piece about men and their attachment to all things wireless and compact. He had done the research about the latest technologies and tech gadgetry that one apparently couldn’t live without but couldn’t muster the enthusiasm he was trying to convey. He told himself that he couldn’t expect every article he was asked to do , to resonate deeply with him. Yes If the magazine he was currently writing for asked him to review one of the many places he had traveled, he would be at an advantage. The parties at Phuket , the stomach curdling stench of the Ganges , the haunting silence of snowy peaks, these were things he could write about with conviction. Gadgets on the other hand, were beyond him. He had the latest phone of course thanks to his mum but beyond its obvious functional use he couldn’t give two hoots as to whether it had a 5 MB hard drive or Bluetooth.

‘ Yeah I got it for Christmas from my mum.’ Jesus that had sounded pretty lame he realized.

‘ Ya lucky thing, mine gives me socks every year’. Peter grinned but he could tell that the rich boy, poor boy chasm wasn’t lost on him.

‘ Yeah she gets a good deal on them caus she knows the guy’ this was a complete lie but he didn’t want Peter to think of him as a complete prick who had all the latest gadgetry thrown at him and couldn’t care less.

‘ God sometimes I just wish I ..’ Peter stopped and looked up from the phone ‘ sorry never mind I’m being a child’ he shrugged ‘well at least that’s what Lara says’.

Sam didn’t want to sound like a psychologist so he tried casually

‘What do you wish ? That your mum and dad gave you the latest gadgets and that you still lived with them so that no one ever took you seriously and that your one dream to be a serious writer was being wasted by writing shitty small time articles for a men’s magazine?’

Peter was surprised ‘ Yeah you’re right,your life is way worse than mine’

They both chortled.

‘ Ah no seriously I just sometimes wish things came easier for us is all’ He was squeezing the beermat in his hands and Sam could tell that he was struggling to share these feelings. He was feeling pretty weird himself after his last outburst.

‘ Yeah but look at what you have Peter , you co-own your own Bistro and you have your lovely home and … ‘ he gulped a little and prayed this hadn’t been noticed ‘ well you have Lara’. Beautiful, wonderful Lara he wanted to add but didn’t think that would go down well.

‘ God I know , I know all this , it’s just that sometimes I feel so settled and well I hate to sound like a typical man but well sometimes I can’t help but feel trapped’

‘ By Lara ?’ Sam’s mind was blown, He could tell that Peter had, had a few too many but at the same time couldn’t resist to get his side on their relationship. He felt like a shit but couldn’t help himself.

‘ God no !’ Peter’s eyes were bright, was he actually going to cry ? ‘ She’s the one thing that keeps me going ’

Of course she is what did he expect Peter to say ? ‘ Yes she is trapping me would you mind taking her off my hands mate ?’ Sam nearly sniggered but remembered himself.

‘ By work, by a stupid pre-downturn mortgage, by my decisions’ It was like a gate had opened

‘ I just feel like I aimed for so long to own a Bistro and have my own house that I kind of missed out on the fun along the way. I’ve never done the travelling thing or the partying for days on end. Yes part of that was Lara and her jealousy ..’

Yikes thought Sam. He felt disloyal to Lara by hearing this alone. Even though Peter hadn’t said anything she hadn’t already told him, he was afraid of what might be revealed. Lara had explained to him about her dark days but it was strange to hear it from Peter’s perspective. The impact that these mood swings might have on those around her hadn’t really occurred to him.His sympathy had always been hers. Peter continued to unfold,

‘ But it’s really more to do with me and how I have never really been free to just do my own thing. I’ve always had to watch every penny and sometimes I just want to splurge like a big dumb-ass’

‘ Ah well yeah but you know at the end of the day stuff doesn’t buy you happiness’ Why was he sounding so lame tonight ? That was probably the worst thing he could have said especially coming from someone who had so so much stuff.

‘Look I know you look at me and think what does this guy know about hardship? He lives with his rich parents blah blah’ He wasn’t going to be lame this time and say that all the things he owned weren’t filling void. He might as well pass Peter a puke bucket for that. Instead he tried to open up himself

‘ What I’m trying to say is that you can’t have it all I guess’ He looked up to make sure Peter was listening despite his depleted state, although at that moment it didn’t really matter he felt he just needed to vent. Peter who was listening nodded for him to continue

‘ Well if you had done the travelling thing like I did and spent your days with hangovers , none of which I regret by the way, but well you wouldn’t have what you have now’

‘ A shitload of self- pity ?’ he smirked

‘ A great Bistro and an amazing girl’ He gulped ’ It’s hard everyday to look at fucking Facebook and catch glimpses of what everyone has achieved. So many of my college friends have had books published and I just feel like I’ve been writing my bloody articles for shitty newspapers and going nowhere. I mean if I have to hit the ‘like’ button for another success story I will shoot myself’.’

He couldn’t stop.

‘ What’s worse is that despite what I’ve just said some of them DO bloody seem to have it all ! Successful careers, wife and kids and I have to explain that yes I still live with my parents for no good reason but because I don’t want to be alone’

The last word of the sentenced seemed to jump out of his mouth and bounce around the room then land flat on its face in front of him. It suddenly dawned on him that this was the truth of it all. He could cope with not having brilliantly written pieces if he could just come home in the evening and complain to someone who really cared. He couldn’t miss the irony of the current light bulb moment. Lara was amazing but she was taken and maybe he should be a bit more proactive about that side of his life instead of trying to focus all of his attention on his writing.

‘ You’re lucky to have someone to come home to, on the flip side of travelling , you can end up free but homeless’

‘ Yeah I know what you’re saying and I suppose I can be a bit of ‘ the grass is always greener’ kind of guy’ He looked directly at Sam ‘ I’ve misjudged you mate, from what Lara has said I thought you were this lad who had it all with no worries’

He stopped suddenly when he saw Sam’ face ‘ Oh God no she didn’t say anything like that , I read between the lines and got it wrong’

‘ You mean I’m not this poor little rich kid?’ Sam smirked

‘ Well you are in fairness but I can see that you are trying to make something of yourself . I’m just jealous I suppose of the chances you got to do so many things, especially the travelling thing. It’s never been the right time for me’.

He nodded sympathetically but his mind was suddenly set alight by a new idea. He wanted to look into it first before he said anything for certain.

‘ Anyway speaking of time, I better get going but why don’t you pop over to ours for one more ?’

Sam was really surprised ‘ Will Lara not be in bed?’

‘ Oh not at all, she’s catching up with her old mate from college, they haven’t seen each other in years’

‘Oh yeah ?’ Lara hadn’t mentioned anything to him when they were jogging. It was strange how their conversations sometimes had nothing to do with everyday life.

‘ Poor girl left the hubbie in Dubai and came home. You think we have issues!’ They laughed and stood to leave.

The walk home was quiet and much less intense than in the pub. Sam mulled over his outburst and hoped that Peter wouldn’t say it to Lara. Although he would say these things to her , he tried usually to be more upbeat about life. He loved his life in so many ways and realised he was lucky not to have to answer to anyone. It had shocked him in the pub however when he realised also how lonely he had been feeling. There were huge gaps of time between keeping busy and meeting friends when he would just lie on his bed and stare at the ceiling and wish that someone was leaning their head on his shoulder. Guiltily he admitted more recently , that the gentle weight of that head had taken Lara’s form. Her auburn hair, her green eyes the way she laughed at his jokes was taking its toll on his will to find anyone else.

They arrived and he could see to his relief and slight apprehension that the lights were still on. Would she be surprised that he came back ? Annoyed maybe that they were interrupting her catch up? He had caught a glimpse of what annoyed looked like on her. He knew it had been reigned in because of his presence. He wondered how she and Peter fought when there was no audience ? Did she scream at him or worse he at her ? He couldn’t fathom it . She would probably break if he did. She was, he had come to know, so fragile and unsure of herself. He couldn’t understand how someone so beautiful and talented at so many things , could be so scared of life. There had been hints of something in the past but she had never shared and he could tell that this was off bounds. The curiosity sometimes could kill him. Had she been abused or bullied in school . He couldn’t and didn’t want to think about it. All he knew was that she was full of strange contradictions. She had baked him biscuits recently and confidently waited for his approval. His nose had inhaled the spicy aroma and he had smiled gratefully, relieved that he liked them. She hadn’t been surprised or over modest but when he suggested she should sell them at the local market , she visibly blanched.

‘ Oh God no I couldn’t I mean, no’.

‘ Of course you could , people would love them’ He didn’t add ‘ And the men would queue up for hours just so that you would smile at them’.

‘ No Sam I enjoy baking too much to ruin it with pressure like that’. He hadn’t pushed it any more but he was surprised. Everything that he had been any good at in life he had thrown out there for the world to see. In school he had made a bird table for their garden and was so impressed with himself that he had sold them in the park on Saturdays right through school. In college he had set up a small business writing witty card blurbs for students because he had been told that he was a great card writer by his friends. He had made loads of money from it for a while but had to give up as finals loomed on the horizon. All these things he had done without a second thought. What was the point of being good at something if you couldn’t share it with the world? Lara’s view was completely the opposite. She was happy to share her talents but in a tiny circle. She didn’t crave the same kind of attention he did. He couldn’t understand this and tried not to see it as a waste. It added to the mystery of her personality. All these things revealed and more to uncover. As they entered the hallway his stomach began its all too familiar churn

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