This Wretched Heart

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'You want a revelation , some kinda resolution.'

'No Light No Light' by Florence and the Machine


She was waiting up for him when he got home and he knew it was something serious. She loved her sleep and had to be in bed by a certain time every night so that she could function the next day. He would have loved it if she was up more often when he got home so that they could catch up. Her expression however was telling him that this was much more than just a chit chat. His stomach churned as he poured them both a glass of wine.

‘ Peter I need to tell you something’.

He sat down opposite her at the kitchen table. She had missed a few pumpkin seeds on the table and he couldn’t help but brush them aside out of his line of vision. He didn’t say anything , he couldn’t.

‘ Peter ?’ She was expecting him to react somehow. To know what she was going to say. He knew. He wasn’t going to let her off that easy. He stared at her willing her to speak.

‘ I have been thinking alot about everything recently, about how we have been together for so long, how we’ve only ever been with each other’. She gazed into his eyes and smiled nervously. Why would she smile ?

‘ You asked me a while ago about Sam, about whether there was anything between us?’

He stood up suddenly and walked over to the sink. He couldn’t look at her face and hear what she was about to say come out of her mouth. He was also worried he was going to vomit

‘ Peter please wait , nothing has happened , I mean well ..’

‘ For fuck’s sake Lara will you get to the fucking point ? Pardon the pun’. He turned towards her his nausea replaced with fury.

‘ Did you sleep with him then?’ He couldn’t believe that he was actually asking her this. How had they gotten to this point? She had already reassured him that there was nothing between her and Sam and he had tried to believe her. He had wanted so badly to think it was true. She hadn’t seemed too bothered when she had seen him with Jane. God could she really have been such a mistress of deceit. When he thought about how she managed to hide her depression from people at work,he realised that she was well versed in the art of suppression. She was crying now and he felt nothing but anger.

‘ So when did it happen ? Last night or was it in Marrakech ? Were you even at a gig with Jane ? Did you fuck him here in our bed ? Stop crying and tell me or I’ll fucking walk out of here and never come back’.

‘ Peter please I didn’t sleep with him I swear I swear we’ve never done anything like that’.

‘ So what are you telling me ? That you love him ? That you want to leave me? Is that it ? He was crying now and his nose was running. He hadn’t cried in years. He hadn’t even cried as his father’s funeral. Lara looked aghast. ‘ Good’ he thought ‘ Let her fucking feel bad’.

‘ Peter please Oh God please don’t cry, I love you I don’t want to leave you, I want to be with you forever , you’re my husband it’s just I have to tell you how I feel, I have to tell you because it’s taking over my mind’.

‘ Well sorry if I don’t feel thrilled that you’ve decided to tell me that you love Sam … I mean you do love him don’t you ? You’re not making us go through this ordeal just because you fancy him a little?’

This seemed to stop her in her tracks. Jesus was she actually putting him through this just because she was attracted to Sam? He would have assumed to found him to be good looking but surely she was telling him that there was more to it than that.

‘ I can’t say I love him Peter , I mean I like him, I like him a lot and I’m so sorry to say this but I find myself thinking about him a lot more than I should be or is healthy and I suppose I want to talk to you because although I don’t want to leave you, I can’t go on keeping this from you because I’m afraid something will happen’.

‘ Well thanks for the heads up’ He was being facetious but she was pulling apart their marriage for these ‘feelings’ she was having for Sam.

‘ I mean what happened to self control ? What happened to ‘ until death do us part?’ Do you not remember the shit you put me through for even talking to another woman and now you’re telling me we’ve been hanging out with this guy that you have feelings for ? I mean for fuck’s sake we went on holidays together ? How could you let this happen ?

She went on to tell him how she had been confused from the start about how she felt attracted to him but she had thought that maybe she was being ridiculous cutting him out just because of a silly crush. She had re-emphasised the fact that she didn’t have any intention of doing anything but that she felt guilty even considering it. She told him that Sam had confirmed that he had feelings for her when they were on holidays but that she had been the one to ask him. In a strange way it was as if she was trying to make sure he didn’t blame Sam for any of this.

‘ So you’re telling me that Sam didn’t get close to me so that he could get in your pants?’

‘ Please Peter don’t be crude and no he really likes you and he doesn’t want to do anything to hurt you’.

‘ Wow what a trooper, maybe I’ll ring him and say thanks’. What the fuck was the whole point of this conversation? She should have stayed in counselling and then maybe she wouldn’t be annoying him with this pointless shit. At the same time though a part of him was glad she was telling him. He could stop thinking he was paranoid, he could stop feeling guilty about cutting Sam out of their lives.

‘ So what made you decide to tell me about this, did something happen yesterday?’

He felt sick again as she told him the details of the gig, about how they had chatted at the bar. He felt the most awful urge to smack her across the face when she told him how she felt when Sam had stood so close to her. She wept as she told him but his own tears had dried up. He felt a fury within him that he had never felt before. Not even in those first tumultuous years of their relationship. Maybe this was how Lara had felt when she was constantly suspicious. He might have felt sorry for her but the rage was blinding him. He looked around for something to throw or hit and saw the pumpkin on the counter, its stupid smile leering at him. He grabbed it and threw it full force at the wall, breaking it into chunky pieces which slid pathetically to the floor. He stood glued to the spot and stared from the mess to Lara who was frozen like him. He wasn’t sure who started first but all of a sudden they were both laughing hysterically. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he looked at the broken silly mush on the floor. Lara had stopped and she was now looking concerned as he crouched down his head in his hands.

‘ Brings a new meaning to Smashing Pumpkins’ she whispered this and they both broke out again.

‘ Oh Lara why is this happening ? Is it something I’ve done ?’ He felt pathetic but he wondered was it because of his weird work schedule. Was she not attracted enough to him anymore ? He had never been a gym goer but he thought he was keeping fit enough by running around the kitchen. Maybe he had let himself go for a while. When was the last time he had bought her flowers? All these questions fluttered about like moths , whirling around him making him dizzy.

He sat back against the counter, depleted.

‘ Peter this is what I’m trying to tell you’ She sat beside him not touching but close enough that he could feel her heat. She didn’t look at him but continued.

‘ I don’t know how else to say it but it’s nothing you’ve done, it’s nothing you haven’t done’.

‘ Please don’t say it Lara .. Please don’t say ‘ it’s not you it’s me’ I feel like I’m in some cheesy soap opera already’.

She smiled thinly ‘ It’s weird how I’ve watched all those story lines for so many years and felt so detached from all those corny lines but now for once in my life I feel somehow .. ’

‘ Normal ?’

She looked at him then.

‘ I know that sounds completely ridiculous but yeah normal. I mean everything at home , us getting together so young and then being married forever, it’s never been run of the mill has it ?’

He sighed not wanting to agree with her as this would somehow make this whole thing ok.

‘ And then there was Sam ?’

‘ Yeah then there was Sam’.

‘ Lara I know we’re not having this conversation so that you can cut him out of your life. I’m not stupid. I know you would have done this already and we wouldn’t be sitting here. Why are we having this conversation if nothing has happened between you ?’

He could hear a rhythmic thumping and realised it was his foot on the linoleum. He stopped it focusing on what was to come.

‘ How do you feel about trying an open relationship ?’

‘ With my hands open and my eyes open , I just keep hoping that your heart opens’ Hands Open by Snow Patrol

‘ WHAT .. THE … FUCK …?’ Peter was staring at her with his red eyes and she squirmed uncomfortably, feeling like those prawns she had seen him tear apart in the Bistro.

‘ Are you for fucking real ?’ He stood up and walked towards the door and she thought he was about to leave, but he stopped.

‘ I mean are you , Lara Bell actually suggesting that we - you and I - have an open relationship?’ He began to laugh, a sound that filled her with dread because she knew it was manically hollow.

‘ Don’t you just mean that you want to sleep with Sam and I should be ok with it ?’ He looked at her in a way she had never seen before. Disgust mixed with confusion.

‘ God Lara maybe you should go back on your meds’.

This made her stand up furiously. It was one thing saying things like ‘Oh finish your period already’ but this was too far.

‘ Don’t throw that in my face Peter. I have never been more sane in my life and if you would just listen to me you might understand where I’m coming from’.

‘ Okay I’m listening’ He stopped waiting for her to explain. She felt foolish then. She felt like she had in college when she had to present in front of her class something she didn’t quite understand. All those expectant faces made her feel like a fraud.

‘ Have you never regretted the fact that you never got the chance to sleep with someone else ? Have you not wondered that you were missing out on something that everyone else has experienced?’

‘ Promiscuity you mean ?’

‘ No I just mean connecting with someone other than me?’

He was shaking his head.

’ Lara everyone looks for what we have. The reason they ‘connect’ as you put it with so many people is because they’re looking for the right one’. He stepped closer towards her and she felt relieved that he was open to this conversation at least.

‘ We were just lucky that we got it right first time around’ A whisper of a smile crossed his lips ‘ At least I thought we were lucky’.

‘ Peter we were lucky, we are lucky and I don’t for one second regret the road we’ve taken together. But recently I have found that I’m more and more curious about the thoughts of physically being with someone else. I mean surely you have thought about it ?’

‘ Is this a trick question Lara. I mean common for so many years you’ve made me think that, that would be the worst possible thing I could ever do or even think, I mean if you are asking me have I ever been attracted to anyone else then yes of course I have, I’m not blind’

‘ And what has stopped you acting on that attraction ?’

‘ Well apart from the fact you would probably castrate me the big obvious reason is that I love you and don’t want to hurt you ’.

‘ Exactly and yes it would have hurt me if you slept with someone else. It would have killed me Peter and you never did and I never did. Through all the shit we’ve been through we’ve been faithful to each other’.

‘ Well I have’. He was right she might have been faithful but she hadn’t been completely loyal of late.

‘ What I’m saying is that after more than a decade together I know you love me. You’ve shown me you love me and you know I love you. I don’t want that to change. You’re my soulmate Peter I really can’t live without you’.

‘ Right so end of conversation ?’ He was pleading with her now but she knew she had to go on, she knew she couldn’t live like this anymore.

‘ I want more..’ It was harder to explain than she had thought. Of course it was, It wasn’t the kind of conversation anyone she had ever known would have or would seriously contemplate. She was asking her husband, the love of her life to open up their relationship. She, who had been the queen of jealousy was now willing to let Peter sleep with another woman. Was all of this just so she could sleep with Sam ?

‘ You want to have your cake and eat it Lara. You want to shag Sam but if it doesn’t work out , you want me to do the same with someone else ? I mean isn’t that right, I’m not missing the point am I ?’

‘ Yes I mean no. Oh God Peter I know this sounds ridiculous, I know this sounds like it’s just come out of the blue but I swear I have thought about it’.

She had done nothing but think about it. It may have just entered her thoughts on the tram that day but it had been flowing through her blood since and needed to be bled out.

‘ So how would this work? I say yes and you run off to Sam ?’ It was strange that he was even talking like this. She kept waiting for him to explode at her. What would she have done if it had been him who suggested it ?

‘ It’d be all new to me Peter so I think we need to talk and think about this carefully’. The potential that he might actually agree to this was hitting her and she hadn’t actually thought this far ahead. She had thought of all the reasons that they should do it. How it would be exciting to open up that side of their lives again. How Peter could be with another woman without the fear of her leaving him. But now the actual realisation that he might have sex with someone else was making her dizzy. The image of his body pressed against someone elses was becoming too real.

‘ Maybe you’re right maybe this is ridiculous’. She went over to the kitchen table and sat down. She looked up and hoped she would see relief but she couldn’t read the expression. She took a sip of her wine and allowed herself to breathe. To breathe and think. Peter sat down too and they were both lost in quiet thought.

Was she going to put her marriage at risk just so that she could be with Sam? Yes she wanted to so badly to touch his skin. Yes yes she wanted to feel more than his hips against her. She wanted all of this without the horrible guilt but everything came at a cost and her marriage was bearing the price tag. But what was the alternative. She just switched off the light? She went back to not feeling all of this? She wandered through life, enjoying its predictability ? She kept herself in her comfy cage and never even tried to change things. Her life was so fucking mundane when she thought about it. Being with Sam had added that sparkle it had brought her back to when she was a teenager.In between the dark she had seen endless possibilities. Falling into Peter’s arms that day had been both spectacularly magical but had created an impenetrable force field to around her and the male of the human race.

If Peter said yes she could now wander around and admire. She would now be able to flirt. It wouldn’t be the fear that Peter would be angry but it would be that she could stop being so hard on herself. When she had analysed ‘jealousy’ she had come to the conclusion that although it would be strange to imagine Peter with someone else it wouldn’t be the same as if he had an affair in secret. It was dishonesty at the end of the day that would tear them apart. It was dishonesty that hurt her mother. She didn’t want to be her father. She felt she was already involved with Sam and already she had been keeping this from Peter.

‘ I just don’t know how I would feel’ She was startled by Peter’s statement, his body language was different. Less angry, less defensive.

‘ I mean I hear what you’re saying, I know on some level it makes sense. We intend to be together forever and maybe it is stupid to think it would work when we have never really tested ourselves in that way. But I don’t know how I could be ok with someone else being with you in that way, it makes me feel physically sick’.

‘ I know me too but I’m afraid of the alternative, I’m afraid of always wondering. I want to be with you when we’re together but my mind will keep drifting. I mean it might not just be Sam it could be someone else for you and for me’.

‘ The odds are against us I suppose. I just thought we could be the ones to beat them. We could be the statistic that skews the rest of them up’.

‘ It means though that we both have to shut that side of ourselves off. It means that we are constantly fighting against it.’

‘ Isn’t that what marriage is ? Fighting temptation ?’

‘ But why waste our energy fighting it all the time. Why can’t we be with other people physically. I mean we’d still be married we’d still live together. I don’t intend on changing any of that’.

‘ Except that on some nights you stay at Sam’s or I stay at some random girl’s house?’

She could hear how strange it sounded. It went against anything they had ever been taught. It had danger written all over it. But so did ignoring what was going on. Sweeping it under the carpet as her father had done all those years ago.

‘ And would I still come first?’

‘ Of course. If it becomes too hard we can stop’. This sounded easy and she hoped it would be. Perhaps once she got it out of her system she wouldn’t want to be with anyone again. Once she could be with Sam maybe the attraction would fizzle out. Maybe. It was hard to unravel the physical attraction she felt for him and the part of her that enjoyed being with him as a person.

‘Should I start wearing pyjamas all the time?’

‘ What ?’

‘ Like Hugh Hefner ?’ Peter smiled and she could feel her chest stop constricting.

‘ I know what you mean I keep imagining us moving to a commune wearing nothing but love beads and just having big orgies’ She laughed because this is exactly what she would think if someone told her they were in an open relationship. She would think they were highly sexed , sleazy even. This wasn’t just about sex. This was about rediscovering what it was like to be with a man other than Peter. Rediscover was in fact the wrong way to think about it as she had never ever been with anyone else.

‘ I also assume this means you want to have a threesome?’ Peter grinned.

‘ I think it’s time you thought long and hard about ending it mate’. Joe pushed a shot of tequila towards him and downed his own. It was the end of their shift and they were alone in the Bistro. They had sent the waitress home and had cleaned up themselves. Peter had told Joe about Lara’s ‘open relationship’ idea and was already regretting it. Had he actually imagined Joe would think this was a good idea?

‘ You shouldn’t stay together out of habit. My parents did that and it them no favours. Or us for that matter but that’s a different story’.

‘ Of course I’ve thought about that. I’ve done nothing but think the last few days’. It was true and he was feeling more mentally exhausted than he had ever felt before. His life was so entwined with Lara’s, he couldn’t conceive of it without her. If he ended their marriage it would be like a death. He would be killing her from his life because the alternative of just ‘being friends’ was impossible. He had pictured bumping into her with Sam in the supermarket. He had tried to wonder how that conversation would go. How he would walk away from them both as they continued their shop and life together. He couldn’t do it and by ending it with Lara now he would be sending her straight into Sam’s arms. She wouldn’t be able to be alone he knew that. If she couldn’t have him she would move on to the next best thing and that would be Sam.

‘ Look you don’t understand Joe, you haven’t been in a long term relationship like we have’.

He felt like a shit immediately for that one. ‘ I’m sorry that came out wrong. I just mean .. crap , I don’t know what I mean’.

‘ So you are actually considering this ?’ Joe had let his unintentional insult slide by. ‘ Are you kidding me?’

He knew what Joe must be thinking. He knew he sounded pathetic and that he was ok with Lara walking all over him. But Joe hadn’t seen the pain in her eyes. It had emanated from her with such force that he had wanted to both choke and comfort her at the same time.

‘ It means that I can sleep with other women too’. He was trying to speak to Joe’s ‘One of the guys’ side.

‘ Do you think you could?’ He was surprised that Joe would ask this question. Joe who thought nothing of sleeping with as many women as possible.

‘ It’ll be weird but yeah I’m sure I could make myself have sex with other women’, They both chuckled.

‘ I bet you could man. Geez after all these years you could do with seeing a new pair of tits’.

Peter cringed inwardly but he was also relieved that the conversation had taken a lighter note. He was going to talk to Lara later and tell her that he was actually going to ‘go along’ with this idea. What did he have to lose really at this stage ? His marriage was at risk one way or another.

‘ We’ll have to organise a night out, you’ll need a wingman to catch you a bird ’. Was Joe trying to put him off ?

‘ One step at a time there fella’

‘ Common you can’t sit at home while she goes off to meet Sam. You’ll be in bits. You need to get out there and get laid. Then at least you’ll both be on an even playing ground’.

It wasn’t a game he wanted to shout but it felt more and more like one.

Lara was fast asleep when he got home and he watched her lovely face in the twilight. She had sudocreme in different spots where she had been picking and he smiled to think of her letting anyone else but him see this. She was wearing one of his big jumpers and there was a pool of drool on the pillow beside her. He didn’t take for granted these things. These were what a marriage was about. The letting down of your guard with another human being. Would sleeping with other people change they were together? He prayed not. She would still be his Lara. She would still come home to him and he to her.

’ What about children? He had asked her the day before. He had not yet given her his answer but had spent the last few days working out the ins and outs of such an arrangement.

‘ What about them ?’

‘ Common Lara for fuck’s sake what if you got pregnant?’

‘ I’ll go on the pill and use condoms’ Fair enough but what if that didn’t work. What would he do if she became pregnant with Sam’s baby ?

‘ Please Peter believe me I’ll be careful and you have to be too’.

‘ We’d have to go get tested for STD’s’. He knew this would put a different slant on this whole situation.

‘ Yeah I’ve thought about that too and you’re right’. She really had given this a lot of thought. But he felt that she was also whitewashing the nitty gritty details of what this would entail.

‘ What about when we decide to have kids?’

‘ You know how I feel about that Peter I’m not ready to have kids yet’. She must have felt bad then because she came over and tried to hug him.

‘ When and if we do have kids we will rethink this whole thing’.

‘ Do you think it will be that easy?’

‘ Of course I don’t but we need to take a chance’.

‘ On love ??’ He was being sarcastic but he couldn’t stop himself. The more he talked about it the more potential problems were arising. But also the more he thought about it the more appealing it was all becoming. He had missed out on all the experiences men his age had gone through. It was hard to relate to others when he couldn’t just talk about a shag in the same casual way they did. Unlike Lara he hadn’t been as forthcoming with friends about his lack of sexual variety. He had eventually told Joe who knew better than to laugh at his friend over such a revelation.

‘ I think it’s great’ He’s said ‘ Great but weird’

Story of his life it seemed.

He told Lara over breakfast the next day. She had taken a few days off so they would have time to talk this through. Their Halloween had been spooky this year in every sense of the word. But it wasn’t the ghosts and ghouls that were sending chills to their bones. They didn’t tell ghost stories like they always did but fear was created only this time the living were to blame.

‘ I think we should do it’.

‘ Really?’ Her face was staying neutral. She probably didn’t want to seem too enthusiastic or maybe he had called her bluff and she would actually back out of it. Funny thing was, that now the option was there he didn’t want her to change her mind. He was still reeling from the fact that she would be pursuing something with Sam. If the guy wasn’t scared off that is. But he was now really taken with the thoughts of going on a night out with Joe and seeing what happened.

‘ Are you sure?’

‘ I’m positive. I’ve done nothing but think about it and I think you’re right. I think we need to do this if nothing else but to get it all out of our system’.

‘ We can stop whenever you want’.

‘ Or whenever You want’. He wondered had she really thought much about the fact that he too was going to be ‘opening’ up. God that sounded strange. They would both be wide open. Wide open to potential experiences but wide open to threats.

‘ Do you want me to tell you about it ?’ Fuck what was she asking?

‘ About having sex with someone else?’ This had worked for them on a fantasy level before but he wasn’t sure it would be the same now.

‘ No. I mean I don’t know. Can we play it by ear?’ They both grinned at each other and he felt like they were planning some sort of heist. Deliciously wicked but paralysingly terrifying.

‘ So can I talk to Sam ?’

‘I suppose you should’. It was still sending him to an angry place when she mentioned his name but he was better able to manage it than before. He might smash a pumpkin or two later.

‘ I love you Peter, I’ve never loved you more and this whole week has shown me that I picked the right guy to marry’.

He didn’t want to say ‘ The pushover you mean?’ so he didn’t because the truth was the he didn’t feel like he was being coerced anymore. He had when she had first suggested it but he had come around to it and he could see that she really did want to have his approval on this. Would she cheat on him anyway if he said no ? He didn’t think so but he knew what she had meant when she said that the ‘longing’ would have been like a third person in their marriage anyway. He couldn’t go back to normal, knowing that she was pining for Sam. He worried though that if things went awry what it could do to her. She had been so ‘normal’ for so long that he hoped this wouldn’t start another dark period in her life. She had said that she thought there was no point starting with just kissing that they should dive right in. This translated as ‘ I want to have sex with Sam now’. It had made him want to call the whole thing off so she had agreed to not sleeping with Sam first.

‘ I feel weird even saying this. He probably won’t want anything to do with me anyway. he’ll probably think we’re freaks’.

‘ Aren’t we?’ She had seemed hurt by that.

‘ I mean a freak of nature, or at least a freak of conformity. It’s not like I can name anyone else who is doing this’.

‘ No but I’m sure you can name people who have cheated on each other. Just caus we’re being honest about the whole thing doesn’t make us wrong’.

‘ So you think that this set up is what everyone should be going for?’ He imagined them both in the city centre waving placards chanting ‘ Open your minds, open your relationships’. Somehow he couldn’t see them being met with much agreement.

‘ Have you told anyone ?’ She knew he had discussed it with Joe the night before.

‘ No. I don’t really want to. I just know how people will react and I don’t need to hear it’.

‘ It’s weird feeling like we’re doing something really wrong isn’t it. I think I’d nearly feel better saying you cheated on me than this.' This was kind of true, it was all beginning to feel so contrived he was finding it hard to breathe. She must have felt the same because she reassured him.

‘ I know this all feels wrong Peter but we needed to talk it out. I want to be honest with each other. It will all hopefully stop being so strange.' He doubted that.

‘ I’m going to text Sam later and ask him to meet me tomorrow. Is that ok?’

He wanted to shout 'Noooooooooooooo stay with me, let’s curl up in front of the T.V. lets pretend that we never talked about any of this, let’s be just Lara and Peter for another while, please.

‘ Uh yeah I suppose’.

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