This Wretched Heart

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Lost

‘Yes I have lost myself again’

Breathe Me by Sia.

Lara

That day, she had taken a different route, feeling a certain recklessness that wasn’t familiar to her. Face clear of false color but rosy from exertion, this was her time, where no one would be close enough to see her imperfections or smell the fresh sweat that dripped down her back and in between her legs. It wasn’t a time for thinking or reflecting but rather a chance to empty her mind of the meaningless clutter of numbers and pointless chit chat. It was the only time of day when she felt some semblance of living a real life that wasn’t just a train to and from the city each day, one long boring journey occasionally broken by fitful sleeping and coffee breaks. The constant pressure to feel happy that she had a job was wearing her down as she felt like the world was against her. But when she jogged, nature and the universe became her allies. Every gust of wind a gentle nudge of encouragement and every sun beam a smile from Mother Nature herself. She was the heroine, the leading lady of her story. She could fade into the background during the day but come alive and shine during those moments. Sometimes she felt that if she just kept running the momentum would propel her into the life she was meant to lead where she could decide her own fate. But then, as always, her legs would grow weary as would her soul and she would trudge slowly home.

The trees were gently shedding their colours and the sun created a magical evening sparkle which trickled down through the boughs of the birch and oak casting soothing shadows on the ill-defined paths. The tunnel of partially clothed branches beckoned her and she moved with ease into the wooded path. At that moment she wasn’t scared of anything. Endorphins were coursing through her system. She mused that if death were to take her at that moment it would probably let her run forever between the shadow shows, her energy forever entwined with the branches and mulch covered ground. The birds’ erratic chirping gently permeated the music from her headset and she relaxed, laughing at her earlier apprehension at taking this route.

Lara was an overly cautious person by nature. Even as a child she had lacked the recklessness that saw toddlers wander off into the bushes. Her parents had tried to encourage her to climb monkey bars in the playground but she was scared of heights. She would watch as the other children bounded up, up and away until they became beaming Cheshire cats lounging on bars high overhead filling her with envy and shame. Her father would pat her shoulder sympathetically, further fuelling her inadequacy. The irony of someone like her, who had such a tenuous relationship with life, having such a fear losing it, did not elude her. When she thought about it, death itself did not terrify her. The pain she might experience in the run up to her death frightened her the most. The agony that could take over her body and worse, the blood she might see flowing out of it. She closed her eyes for a moment as she was brought back as always to that day. All the red, streaming swirls of it. Why? Why did she always go back there?

The steady thud of feet behind her jolted her into a more primal state of fear. Her body stiffened and for a moment she thought she heard a voice penetrating the music but then put it down to her imagination. The sudden warmth of skin on her arm sent chills to her bone and she turned sharply to face her attacker, fists clenched in preparation. A fleeting regret for taking this route crossed her mind and then she looked up and saw him. Dwarfed like a little Alice by his height while glued to the ground by eyes that seemed unnaturally blue and immediately washed away any thoughts of red.

‘Oh God, sorry to scare you.’ His smile sent shivers down the back of her neck. ‘Remember me?’

Her forehead must have been crinkled as she racked her memory because his discomfort changed to relief as she smiled. He had worked in the IT section of her company and she had spoken to him a number of times while he had talked her through rebooting her PC or changing one of the endless passwords she needed to access all the various applications. He had come up to her desk one day when his over-the-phone instructions had somehow resulted in her freezing the screen. It had struck her as unusually kind of him as the IT gang didn’t have the friendliest of reputations and were prone to the overused favorite of ′ Turn it on and off again’.′

She hadn’t realized how blue his eyes were as he sat in her seat, expertly navigating his way around the labyrinth of programs and folders. She had been quite depressed at the time, which seemed to have made her blind to the allure of any male other than Peter her fiance, and even then that could be wanting. The stress of her job and her eagerness to access her PC meant she had given the guy no further thought. He had left a few months later and sent out the generic mail to everyone about drinks in the local pub. She obviously hadn’t attended as she barely knew him and avoided work nights out when she could. She was surprised that he had recognized her in running gear and couldn’t help but notice that he was very good-looking despite not being her type. Admittedly her ‘type’, up to recently, had been no one but Peter. His dark and brooding ways had made her fall in love in the beginning, but what was exciting and enticing at first had led to uncontrollable jealousy later. He was everything a husband should be. They could talk about most things. They both shared a passion for cooking and spending nights in front of the fire. The only thing she felt she missed out on was a shared love for reading. The snob in her couldn’t understand how someone didn’t enjoy cracking open a book every now and then. There was a whole dimension out there to be reveled in and Peter was oblivious. She longed to debate the realities of ‘Brave New World’ with him, or explain the overwhelming feeling of loss she felt every time she read ‘The Time Traveler's Wife’.

‘I don’t need to escape the way you do’ he would tell her gently ‘I’m ok in this world.’

She knew what he meant but it still didn’t stop her trying to convince him. He did try to humor her but he could never find the time. He would rather watch a film to unwind after a hard day’s work.

‘Why read when you can lay back and watch it in color?’ he would tease when he saw her frustration.

No, reading was not Peter’s thing but then that wasn’t a huge complaint and overall they were perfectly matched as far as she was concerned. After all she hadn’t wanted to marry herself. The giant fair-haired boy who stood in front of her was nothing like Peter, not visibly anyway. The familiarity with which he smiled at her made her wonder had their brief encounter somehow been more significant? Her nostrils were met with the smell of laundry detergent mixed with fresh sweat wafting from his white T-shirt.

He (she couldn’t remember his name) had pulled out his earphones and they lay wrapped around his neck in a reckless but somehow sexy fashion. She had always found men’s necks attractive, something vulnerable about that area of flesh peeking out of his T-shirt. She felt her neck tingle with a blush as she realized the direction her thoughts were taking her.

‘I’m so sorry, this is embarrassing but I can’t remember your name.’ Her blush deepened.

He grinned ‘Sam, I feel a bit more embarrassed because I remember yours, Lara right?’

‘Yeah, spot on’ she was surprised.

‘Doctor Zhivago is one of my favorite movies’ this made her feel relieved and she wasn’t sure why.

’It was my mum’s favorite too; I would have been ‘Yuri’ if I had been a boy.’ They both chuckled then fell silent, an uncomfortable one to say the least. Lara, as usual, felt the need to fill these moments with pointless babble, no matter what the situation. She had been known to say the most inane statements at such times and this was no exception.

‘So you jog here too?’ Superb stating of the obvious she thought and gave in to another wave of crimson crossing her face.

He grinned; she was sure, at this stupid remark.

‘Yeah, I live nearby so I’m here a lot. I love it especially at it this time of year though.’

This unhinged her a little, and she wondered had he read her mind. She knew she was being silly; her love of autumn wasn’t exactly original.

‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.’ She blurted this out without thinking.

‘ Close bosom- friend of the maturing sun’ was what she had half hoped he would respond with but that kind of thing only happened in movies and she might have gagged a little if he had.

‘When yellow leaves or few, or none do hang upon those boughs which shake against the cold.’ He smirked ‘Wrong poem I know but the pressure to say something clever got to me’.

Gag reflex unperturbed she found herself beaming wildly with delight and had to tone it down before she reached the manic smiling mode Peter told her she was prone to when she got excited.

‘Do you live near here too?’ he grinned again, an almost bold grin which lit up his face and made her feel immediately guilty.

‘I do indeed, just around the corner, I come here most evenings.’ Superfluous information, but the thought that she might run into him again gave her a warm but churning feeling of anticipation.

‘You should be careful jogging on your own especially with weirdoes like me jumping out of the bushes.’

She chuckled nervously ‘ True you did startle me but I’m well able to defend myself’ Where was this strong woman crap coming from? Lara knew she was a wimp, but for some unknown reason at this moment she wanted to seem strong and capable. Enough people had seen her vulnerable side and she was trying to change this. The old ‘people see what you want them to see.’ saying, flitted into her thoughts.

‘I’m sure you are.’ He was probably being kind as she was certain he had seen the brief terror in her face...

‘Look, I know this is presumptuous of me but if you like we could be jogging buddies?’ He paused to assess her reaction which she hoped remained open to suggestion.

‘You seem to be at the same pace as me’ he hesitated ‘Well, maybe a little faster, I had a hard time catching up with you.’ He rubbed the back of his neck and she caught a glimpse of his smooth flat stomach as his T- shirt rode up leaving her shocked by the jolt this gave her. This guy she barely knew had interrupted her run and was now offering to keep her safe by running with her! She didn’t know what to say. It was only a moment’s hesitation but her mind rapidly flitted over the years of her jealousy and rules she had created for both herself and Peter to avoid temptation of any kind. This was the point where she would normally make her excuses and say that she was never here at the same every day. It was true that only after she could tear herself away from her workloads, make her way home, cook dinner while catching up with Peter, could she eventually throw on her sweats and dash out the door into the fading day. She surprised herself when instead she smiled and agreed to his company. The park was well lit even in the evenings but the thoughts of someone with her gave her comfort despite the fact that she enjoyed the bliss of being on her own. She had convinced Peter that it was safe and that she need this ‘alone time’ but she hadn’t quite felt at ease as the evenings became darker earlier and earlier. At least she would have the weekends like today to jog on her own in the sun. It wasn’t as if he was a complete stranger.

‘Great so how does tomorrow suit you? ’ Wow he was enthusiastic. Putting aside the list of reports she had to write and all the work that had no doubt piled up on her desk she found herself saying

‘Yeah great I can finish early, so would say six be OK?’

‘Lovely stuff’ he seemed genuinely delighted, which gave her a funny tingle in her throat.

They said their goodbyes and she tried not to act like teenager who had just been asked out. She put her earphones back in but instead of the usual relief of her brain emptying itself and focusing on the rhythm of her footstep, it was writhing with questions. Had this been a spontaneous suggestion or had he planned to ask her to jog before he even stopped her? Was this the kind of thing all guys did? Would Peter randomly ask a woman to be his jogging partner? She was so out of touch with what was normal behavior between males and females having been out of the game for so long. Not that she had ever been in the game.This was perfectly innocent but she was perturbed and scintillated all at once and the images of what had just occurred and what might possibly occur were flitting before her like a puppet pantomime. They teased and mocked her and for the first time in a very long while she felt that the path on which she carefully tread had brought her to the chasm she had been waiting for.

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