This Wretched Heart

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‘What are you my blood ? You affect me like you are my blood’.

Flinch by Alanis Morissette


She had tried really hard to get her mood back to normal before the guys and her father got home. She had scrubbed the kitchen floor until it sparkled, and scoured the worktops until they shimmered in the sunlight. She couldn’t however brush away the memories that had enveloped her. Tears streamed down her face as she peeled the carrots and she prayed that the melancholy wouldn’t envelope the food and bring everyone down. She found that her food was never as good if she cooked it in a bad mood so she was feeling more and more apprehensive. What was going on with her ? Why was she thinking about all these things? She fought the urge to take one of her antidepressants. She had been doing well for so long without them, she was bound to have a bad day. Why though did it have to be the day that the three men in her life would be there to see her ?

She hurriedly wiped her face and applied fresh eyeliner just in time because she heard them walking up the path. She ran down to open the door so they would definitely not suspect anything was wrong with her. She knew her Dad always worried about her moods so she definitely wasn’t going to show him that anything was wrong. Seeing them all laughing at the front door should have made her feel happy but instead it hit her how today she wasn’t going to feel like she belonged to the human race. Peter and her Dad didn’t notice anything amiss and she was relieved as they passed on through to the living room where Peter proceeded to offer her Dad his usual hot whiskey. Sam knew. She hugged him quickly, willing him not to ask her if she was ok. She was surprised at the urge she felt not to let him go.

‘ So Sam tells me you know each other from work?’ Taken aback that he hadn’t asked her how she was, Lara gulped slightly.

‘ Yeah well kind of, he fixed my PC’. She smiled at Sam who grinned back so widely she felt as if she had just given him an award.

‘ We actually got to know each other later by chance when we met each other jogging’. She never realised how strange that sounded until her Dad said ‘ What a coincidence’.

‘ Yeah Sam’. Peter smiled jovially ‘ Were you stalking my woman ?’

Lara’s stomach flipped and she saw Sam’s face drop.

‘ God no’. He looked completely uncomfortable ‘ I always jog there, it’s right by my house’.

‘ Hey mate I’m just teasing’. Peter looked puzzled ‘ obviously I’m just messing’.

Her dad said nothing but sipped his drink thoughtfully. She knew she was having an off day and she reminded herself that everyone’s behaviour always seemed strange to her when she was in this kind of mood. Her Dad was just curious because he knew she didn’t have many close friends. In fairness it was strange that now they both happened to be getting along so well with Sam and that he was now joining them for a Sunday dinner. Maybe her Dad felt wary of talking about anything in front of a stranger.

Peter served up the dinner she had prepared because she loved the way he managed to make everything look so presentable. The chef in him could never just splodge out the mashed carrots and parsnips or plop out a roast potato haphazardly. Every piece of food had its own proper place on the plate and although she had tried millions of times to imitate his presentation she couldn’t quite get it just right.

‘ Wow Sarah this looks delicious.’ Sam tucked into his roast potatoes with the gusto of a man who had not eaten for days.

Her dad waited to taste the food before commenting. ‘ It’s very tasty Lara’. This would have pleased anyone else but again she sensed a strangeness in his tone. This time she was sure it wasn’t her imagination and Peter’s raised eyebrows confirmed her unease . Had something happened in the car ? Had Sam rubbed her Dad up the wrong way ? She couldn’t imagine how, but then her view of the guy was pretty biased. She blushed a little thinking about him and nearly choked on a roastie when he started talking.

‘ Your Dad told us about his love for gardening’. Sam smiled over at him and she was relieved to see her Dad’s face light up.

‘ I was just thinking of the beautiful Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech and how much he would love them’, he beamed brightly and Lara willed him not to say anymore ‘ We’ll have to take lots of photos when we go over there’.

‘ We?’ Her father looked directly at her, his smile had disappeared. She knew it was silly that they hadn’t told him. It wasn’t that she was keeping it from him but in a way she hadn’t really believed that it was going to happen. Her father who was overly cautious by nature was bound to have a million worries about them travelling to a Muslim country with a practical stranger as far as he was concerned.


‘ Yeah Sam has very kindly invited us to spend a week in his family’s villa’. Peter chimed in over her stammer.

‘ Wow that’s generous’. His face was not reflecting the statement.

‘ Yeah Dad it is.’ She was getting annoyed now ‘Peter and I haven’t been able to get away for a while so it really is nice’. She knew he understood their financial situation so she wasn’t going to say anymore.

‘ Will it not be awkward for you Sam?’ God he really was on fire. She had never seen him be so passive aggressive.

‘ You mean will I feel like a third wheel?’ Sam was smiling as usual. Maybe he didn’t pick up on the strange vibe . At least she hoped he didn’t.

‘ Ah no, I’m used to being around these two’. This wasn’t strictly a lie. He had been around them at the same time only a handful of times but she was glad he had said it.

‘ Well rather you than me’.

‘What’s that supposed to mean ?’ She couldn’t help herself.

‘ I just mean that I wouldn’t love to go on holiday with a couple, I would feel left out’.

‘ We’ll make sure he doesn’t feel left out.’ Peter winked at Sam and they all giggled nervously except her Dad who excused himself from the table.

‘What’s wrong with him?’ She knew she shouldn’t in front of Sam but her curiosity couldn’t wait till later.

‘ Who knows ?’ Peter wasn’t telling her something.

‘ Did you say something to him?’ She directed this at Peter but she gave Sam a sideways glance hoping he would shed some light.

‘ Ah he’s just living on his own too long, you know what he’s like’.

‘ Yeah well I wish he’d stop being rude, sorry Sam’. She knew this dinner was going to be strange but this had been more down to her own stupid jitteriness around Sam. Instead her Dad was being bizarrely unfriendly.

‘ I’m just going to see if he’s ok’.

He wasn’t in the living room so she walked out to the kitchen. The breeze from the slightly open patio door was blowing the curtain outwards as if someone was hiding behind it. She smiled imagining her Dad standing waiting like a toddler, his feet sticking out. Instead she knew he had gone to where he felt most at home, the garden.

‘ Dad ? You ok ?’ He was turned away from her looking out into space. She was shocked at how old he seemed . He had a hunch to his back she hadn’t noticed before and his trousers hung more loosely than they should. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she closed her eyes because she couldn’t bare to think of him ageing so quickly. His cold fingers, found hers and he turned to smile at her but she could see their was a darkness about his eyes.

‘ Dad I’m sorry Peter brought Sam along to dinner, we thought you wouldn’t mind.’ She felt bad when she thought about it. She hadn’t spent any quality time with him in ages and now they had someone else there who they were going on holidays with. God maybe he had wanted them to ask him away instead. How could she have been so callous ? He had no one to travel with and they had never thought of asking him.

‘ He wouldn’t anyway’ That’s what Peter would say. It’s what she would have thought but maybe he just wanted to be asked. All the reminders to check on the elderly and to make sure they weren’t lonely and she had never realised that her own father had slowly slipped into that marginalised category.

‘It’s not Sam’. He paused and she could see a conflict happening in front of her and she knew he had more to say.

‘ Dad please, what’s wrong ? Are you sick?’. She held her breath because she wasn’t sure if she was able to hear the answer. Maybe this was why she had such a sense of foreboding today.

‘ Lara, I have thought about whether to tell you this for a very long time’. He took her hand from his shoulder and held it with both his cold hands.

‘ I know this isn’t the time or the place but for fourteen years I have waited for it and there has never seem to be quite the right moment to tell you’. Her blood had run cold and was ringing in her ears. Her mother had died fourteen years ago so of course her mind honed in on it. Oh God. Her mind raced with a million possibilities but one was screaming out for her attention.

‘ Dad..’. She gulped as everything she ever knew might be dashed ‘ Did you... ?’ The words ‘ kill mum’ couldn’t make it out and she stood there feeling like she might dissolve. She was horrified that she had even thought it. Perhaps she had never really believed that her own mother would choose to leave them.

‘ Did I...?’ He was looking confused and she might have felt sorry for him on any other occasion.

‘ Did you, hurt mum?’ He looked even more confused and then the shock of what she was implying dawned on him.

‘ Did I kill your mum?’ He dropped her hand ‘ Lara are you really asking me that ?’

‘ Well what Dad please tell me, you’re scaring me’. She felt both ridiculously stupid for having even thought it but she also felt completely angry at his having led her to this conclusion. It was a ridiculous question, she realised,now that she knew it wasn’t true. To think, that for even a second she had contemplated that he was capable of slitting her mother’s wrists reminded her of just how warped her mind was.

‘ Can we sit down for this?’ They made their way to the bench at the back of the garden. Normally she would have pointed out all the plants she and Peter had added recently but this time impressing him was the last thing on her mind.

‘ I loved your mother more than anything else Lara I just want you to know , before I go any further’.

‘ I know that, of course I know that’. She had just asked him had he killed her so she realised why he might want to reiterate his love.

‘ Well she was a very highly strung person, I don’t know if you remember that?’

If by highly strung, he meant that there were days she had let her stay home from school to watch videos and make biscuits and other times when she couldn’t get out of bed. Of course she remembered.

‘ She found it hard being a stay at home mum, and I don’t mean that as any reflection on you’. He squeezed her hand but she found little comfort in it and willed him to continue.

‘ She wanted to be at home, when you were a baby of course and she had always found the working world hard and well you know yourself .. less than understanding of her ups and downs’.

She felt unnerved as she saw the parallel between hers and her mother’s lives.

‘ So everything was good for a while . Yes of course she had her bad days but generally we were happy. You were happy’.

The word ‘ happy’ seemed ridiculous to her now. She felt more comfortable with the less ‘clappy hands’ versions of the word. ‘Content’, ‘satisfied’ she could imagine those. ‘Happy’ belonged to the world of pink clouds and fairies.

‘ Then things began to change, when you.. ’

‘ Got depressed ?’ she interrupted him because she had to take ownership.

‘ I was going to say when you started school’.

‘ Oh’.

‘ Well we had always thought we’d have more children but it just wouldn’t happen and I think your mother felt she had failed at her ‘ career choice’ if you like. She had been out of work so long she couldn’t face going back.She tried the odd evening course but she said she felt like a frivolous housewife’.

Lara vaguely remembered her mother leaving some evenings with bags of wool and needles for her knitting class or paint and brushes for art. She couldn’t remember seeing any jumpers of paintings.

‘ She kept justifying herself to people if we went out together. She felt silly saying she was a stay at home mum when there was no one home so she used to avoid telling people what she did’. He stopped and she could see the grief make its jagged way through his body.

‘ She stopped going out then and well you remember that..’

She remembered but she knew also that at the time it hadn’t really made much of a difference to her apart from being irritated that she never had the TV to herself it also meant that their house was always the cleanest of all her friends and that she never came home to some money on the counter for a takeaway.

‘ The silly thing was that everyone loved being around her. No one cared whether she worked or not. She was one of the most interesting people to be around.’

‘ Did it depress her that I was depressed?’ Having never asked him that, she knew that it must have. Was this what he was telling her ? Was he confirming what she knew all along and what he had tried to tell her was not her fault?

‘ To be honest Lara ...’ Oh God here it was confirmation of all the fears she had tried to tell herself weren’t true.

‘ We hadn’t realised you were depressed, we thought you were just at that age’.

‘ You mean I wasn’t a nightmare to be around?’

‘ You were moody but you’re mother’s behaviour was so erratic it took up most of my time and she well, she was caught up a lot in her own insecurities’.

‘ Oh God Dad , I don’t know if you realise what this means to me ?’ His surprised face indicated he didn’t. The relief that her depression had not been the cause of her mother’s flooded her body. A slight residue of anger that they hadn’t realised she had been depressed all those years settled in her veins but relief won out.

‘ I thought it was my fault, all those years I thought it was my depression that had made her .. well that had brought her to that point’.

‘ Oh my Lara , my poor Lara , why did you think that ? how could you think that ?’

‘ But then why did you say it wasn’t my fault, when they brought her away?’

‘ What ?’

‘ You said ‘ It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault’ over and over’.

This time the pain was too much for him and he leaned over holding his head in hands.

‘ Oh Dad I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you, I just don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me’. She stood up to go back inside.

‘ Maybe we can talk this over another time’.

‘ Lara , please sit down, I have to tell you now.’

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