This Wretched Heart

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'There's sugar on your soul, you're like no one I know'

'Sugar' by Editors


She hadn’t been surprised that Sam agreed to meet her. He had never struck her as the type of guy who would shy away from weird situations. Over the last week he had transformed from person to concept. He was the reason she was putting her entire marriage at the cliff edge and she felt more than a little apprehensive that the magic hue that had always surrounded him would evaporate. Had it all become too possible? She had heard that the forbidden element was what made a lot of people cheat on their partners. The excitement of doing wrong. Maybe she hadn’t been any different. Maybe Sam had been her forbidden fruit, her fantasy now ruined by taking it into reality.She was thinking all of this as she walked briskly to the park. It was dusky and she could smell the rain in the air. Part of her wanted to run home and climb into bed with Peter.He was going out with Joe tonight ‘on the pull’ as he had put it ironically. She had left him looking morose in the hall.

‘ Are you sure you’re ok with this?’ She had asked him for the hundredth time that week.

‘ Of course I’m not ok Lara but I will be. I’ll have to be.' Why was he being like this now.

‘ Maybe I’ll cancel, maybe we need more time.'She had half wished he would agree.

‘ No no please go. Go to him.’ In an awful way she had wanted to laugh out loud at this. It was as if he were the mother in a fairy tale telling her princess daughter to go be with her Prince.

‘ Ok but call me if you change your mind.’

‘ You too.' They had hugged and he had kissed her lightly on the lips. It felt wrong somehow to passionately embrace in that moment.

As the door closed she felt both incredibly free and terribly alone. She had worn running gear for some reason. She couldn’t decide on what kind of outfit said ‘ My husband has agreed to an open relationship. Welcome inside.' She was wearing what she had worn the first time they met and she wondered would he notice. She saw him in the distance and her fears began to melt.

'Hey how's things.' His smile was cautious.

‘ It’s been a very strange week for me to be honest’ She looked up into his eyes ‘ And I think it’s going to get stranger’.

This was what she had practiced saying at home and it sounded even more ridiculous when spoken out loud.

Sam’s face was bemused. ‘ Errmmm ok. You’re making me nervous.' His laugh reflected this and all of a sudden he seemed like a complete stranger. He was the guy that she had spent a few days with over all. What the hell was she doing?

‘ Will we go for a jog?’ He said this and she understood exactly what he meant. He wanted things to be normal between them for just a while more and when it came to it so did she. They took the route they always had but the silence was not soothing as it had always been. It was demanding to be filled with answers and she was the one who had to do it. It had started to drizzle lightly and she felt like this was her chance to talk to him.

‘Will we go to the gazebo?’ It sounded like a line from a cheesy song.‘ Do you know the way to San Jose’ She followed with and they both laughed. She had forgotten how great it was when he laughed at her jokes.

‘ Yep good thinking.' The rain was getting heavier and although she normally liked this kind of weather she couldn’t help but wonder whether it was ominous.To her relief there were no other sheltering joggers. The gazebo looked out onto a lake which was covered in old leaves and twigs and the occasional duck. It was eerily still except for the splash of the raindrops and the odd wing flutter. Sam had sat down on the bench and was looking at her expectantly. She felt like she had with Peter. It was time for another presentation.

‘ So what’s going on Lara?’ What indeed! She wasn’t sure she knew any more than he did.

‘ I need to know whether you still have feelings for me.' She saw anger for the first time since she had known him, flash across his face.

‘ You’re not telling me you dragged me all the way here to ask me that again?’

‘ Please Sam. Please answer me.'

‘ Yes. I mean duh Lara. I have more than just feelings for you.’

She was going to continue but he hadn’t stopped there.

‘ I think about you constantly. I wake up and you’re on my mind. I don’t even think you stop being there when I sleep.' He looked up with pained eyes.

‘ Do you know what it feels like to carry you around all the time? I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling like this. I start to get used to it and then I see you again and it’s like you get heavier all over. You’re weighing me down and you’re not even there. You go home to your husband and I’m nothing but a coat rack weighted down by imaginary coats’. He paused for breath.‘ I’m sorry but that’s how I feel.’

She couldn’t have said it better herself. She had been surprised when he said he was hoping to write a book. It had never come across in the way he expressed himself. He had never used flowery language . Not until now. She walked over and gently sat beside him. The clean clothes smell was still there and its complete familiarity cemented her resolve. Reaching out her hand she touched his unshaven cheek and cupped his jaw in her hand. He didn’t move but just looked into her eyes and in that moment there was nothing else. Her mother had never killed herself, her father had never cheated and she and Peter belonged to another planet. In that moment there was just Sam and the gentle prickle of stubble in her palm. He reached out and pulled her towards him. She thought he was going to kiss her but he just held her for a while. His mouth was in her hair and it felt like he was trying to inhale her.

‘ Oh Lara tell me it’s not over. Tell me this isn’t the last time I get to hold you.' He pulled away and looked into her eyes, his hands resting on her lap making her feel weaker by the second. ‘ I thought I could deal with it if this was goodbye but now I feel I’ll jump into the lake if it is.'

‘ Sam!’ She was shocked by those words. She had always found suicidal sayings so strange. People saying things like ‘ I think I’ll hang myself’ or ‘ slit my wrists now’ made her whole body go numb. What was worse about this was that she feared Sam was being serious. She hadn’t realized the profundity of his emotions for her. Part of her felt delighted that she was going to say ‘ No this isn’t it’. But then another realization occurred to her. She was only giving him part of her. When she had imagined him denying this whole set up it had been because of the absurdity of the concept. She hadn’t envisaged that it might be, because he would only be getting her part-time. She felt guilty that his emotions had been last on her list of priorities. It had all been about her and Peter but poor Sam was vested too. How would he feel when she left him to go back to Peter?

‘Come home with me.’ His words should have filled her with joy but instead she felt sadness settle in the air between them.

‘ I just want you to spend time with me. Away from here. I want to talk somewhere else.'

‘ Ok.' She smiled at his obvious delight and he reached out and took her hand.


‘ Cheer up mate!’ Joe smacked him on the back, causing him to nearly pour his pint down his shirt. Half wishing he had, he smiled grimly at his friend.

‘ This is supposed to be fun Peter, drink up and you’ll be laughing’. Joe was about two pints ahead and nodding his head enthusiastically to the music. They had started in the pub and moved into the adjoining night club. The first thing that struck Peter was that it had really gotten so expensive to go on a night out. He nearly keeled over at the entry fee to the nightclub. The next thing was that he felt ancient. There was flesh on display everywhere. Bottom cheeks were the new cleavage as girls wobbled about on heels so high they were taller than most of the boys. Lara would be tiny beside them in her own little wedges. He was feeling really miserable if he was honest with himself. Although the few beers at home had lightened him up a little, her text that Sam was thinking things over had sobered him up. This was becoming too real for him now and he felt as if there was still a chance of going back. It was funny that now the option to sleep with any woman was on the table all he wanted to was to cuddle up next to Lara and breathe her in.

‘ You don’t have to do anything’ Joe was clearly reading his expression ‘ But at least enjoy the night out’.

‘ Yeah maybe I’ll hold off doing anything. Lara is at home’.

‘ Oh really now ?’ Joe’s raised eyebrows needed further explanation.

‘ What ? What’s with the face?’

‘ Well I don’t think you should wait until she’s been with Sam. I think this is your chance and you should take it. Just because her night didn’t work out, doesn’t mean you should feel bad being here. I mean this is what you both want ?’

There was the million dollar question. Did he really want this ? He felt he didn’t know anything anymore. The tunnel that had been his future was growing outward and he was being flooded with so much light he felt blind, disorientated. Here he was, a seemingly happily married man out on the pull.

‘ You should take that off’. Joe was looking at his wedding band. ‘ Although I hear some women like it’.

He hadn’t even thought about taking off the ring. He never took it off. Even when he was working in the kitchen he put gloves on instead. Lara took hers off when she was in the kitchen sometimes and often forgot to put it back on. He had stopped wondering whether this was Freudian when he saw the amount of things she forgot. Keys in the fridge, milk in the hallway, bras in her pockets. Everywhere she went she left a trail of misplaced items. Misplaced. That was exactly how he felt.

‘ Hey can we join you guys?’ Two women carrying cocktails were looking longingly at their half empty moon shaped booth.

‘ Yeah of course ladies hop in’. Joe scooted over and his wide eyes implored Peter to follow suit.

They wafted down into the seat beside him, a mix of cloying perfumes and that strange biscuit smell that Lara told him was fake tan. They were older than a lot of the girls here and Peter figured they were in their late twenties. He left his wedding ring on, just in case.

‘ I think we should be honest with other people about our situation’. Lara had said. ‘ We don’t want to mislead anyone’. That was easy for her to say. Sam knew she was married and he had thought until tonight that the guy was just waiting to pounce on his wife. He felt a little guilty. Maybe the guy hadn’t been out to steal Lara from him after all.

‘ So are you going to be with other guys as well as Sam ?’ She had blushed when he asked her that.

‘ Umm one step at a time I think. I mean just because we’re doing this, doesn’t mean I’ve turned into someone promiscuous overnight’. He didn’t know what she had turned into lately. She was so different these days. Jealousy had colored so much of their relationship that its apparent absence was unnerving to say the least. He wasn’t sure what he would say to a potential one night stand about his situation. Maybe he didn’t need to say anything. It was after all a one night thing. No strings, no explanations. This filled him with some comfort. Joe brought the conversation along nicely and Peter found himself relaxing into the night. The two women turned out to be teachers. One of them was divorced, the other was single. As the night went on he found himself naturally drawn to the divorcee. Karen was attractive enough and happy to chat to him about his job as well as her own.

'Are you married?’She had spotted the ring and his stomach lurched. It would sound completely implausible if he told her the truth.

‘ Divorced too.' He feigned sheepishness ‘ Very recently’.

‘ I wore mine too for a few months’. She patted his hand. ‘ It takes a while pet’. He smiled at her ‘teacher’ attitude. She grinned shyly at him and he liked the way her lips curled upwards. She had a great cleavage too and he could see from the proximity of where she was sitting that she was wearing a red lacy bras. He was shocked and equally relieved to find himself getting aroused. Maybe he would be able to do this. It was feeling easier by the minute, as was he. Joe who was deep in conversation with her friend about government cutbacks, rolled his eyes but then winked.

‘ Do you want to dance?’ Peter felt he should ask. They both looked out at the choc-a-bloc dance floor full of bumping and grinding seventeen year olds and grinned.

‘ Maybe later’ Karen laughed ‘ I might bump into one of my students there.'

‘ Do you feel as old as I do?’ He gazed around the room.

‘ Every Saturday.' He chuckled enjoying her company.

‘It’s ridiculous isn’t it ? I mean we’re in our late twenties for fuck’s sake’ He felt he was ranting but couldn’t stop ‘ We’re not even middle aged and yet I feel like my youth is gone ’.Karen seemed a little uncomfortable at this outburst so he stopped talking. Talking was overrated anyway. He and Lara could talk. Right now he could do pointless jibber jabber.

‘ You have nice eyes.'

He couldn’t really remember much after that. Flashes of Joe buying some strange mix of spirits in glasses would haunt him later. The night passed in a blur. One thing that did stick out was the text he got from Lara later saying she was going back to Sam’s after all. It was funny how alcohol put things into a strange perspective. He knew he should feel anxious, terrified even of what that meant but instead everything was becoming kind of blurry and Karen’s cleavage seemed the only vision that was grounding him.

He woke up the next day, with a sandpaper mouth and slightly sore head. He turned to Lara but then it all came back. Everything. He had never suffered from drinker’s amnesia and this was no exception. They had eventually made it onto the dance floor. Whatever drinks Joe had bought seemed to do the trick and all their inhibitions were left sitting in the booth watching them with disapproval. Peter hadn’t danced with such abandon in years. He and Lara had good nights together but she was quite shy about dancing and very cringey about his. Karen seemed to think he was Fred Astaire and this made him only dance more and more. Oh God if only that was where the cringe-worthy memories stopped. He wasn’t sure exactly how it happened but his mouth had found Karen’s and they made out like teenagers next to the DJ’s booth, the bass pounding in rhythm to their tongues. He had been too drunk at the time to think about how surreal it was to be kissing another woman. It felt completely different and yet strangely familiar. It didn’t turn him on however and kissing Lara had always turned him on.

Karen had asked him back to hers and he had agreed. He had shouted his plans over the music to Joe who for the hundredth time that night gave him the thumbs up. The cold night air had done nothing to sober him up and he wasn’t sure how he managed to flag down a taxi but he did. Karen was all over him in the cab and her hands managed to arouse him where her probing tongue had failed. She hadn’t made any attempt at small talk when they got to her small apartment and he was grateful because he might have run away from it all. He had lain on her bed completely worried that the drink would hinder his performance. It had happened with Lara but it didn’t matter because she knew he could please her. The pressure was getting to him and he fought the desire to run from Karen’s apartment. What was taking her so long anyway ? She was in the bathroom for at least fifteen minutes and he wondered had she fallen asleep on the toilet. He couldn’t help but think of his bedtime routine which involved falling into bed sometimes without even brushing their teeth. Poor Lara he thought she probably wished he put in more effort. He shook away any thoughts of his wife, any thoughts of what she might be doing at this moment. He knew that would definitely hinder his performance or worse make him sick. He began to worry about his body. He wasn’t fat but he wasn’t exactly buff either. He really should try and fit the gym into his lifestyle. What about his cock? Lara had always told him he was ‘big’ but then she had nothing to compare it too. God what if Sam’s was bigger than his ? What if Sam was better in bed? He hadn’t really thought about this until now. He had been too busy wondering whether this should happen at all that he hadn’t gotten down to the nitty gritty. Shit shit shit. He wanted to call Lara and tell her he didn’t want to go through with this. He was just about to reach for his phone when Karen called out

‘ Sorry sorry will just be another second’. He breathed in deeply and thought that he was probably too late anyways. Lara was probably rolling around with Sam that minute. He sat up and realized he hadn’t even bothered to take his shoes off. He couldn’t face being naked when she came out, the image alone made him want to guffaw. He sat nervously on the edge of the bed and looked at her bed stand which held a pile of copy books which she must correct in bed. There was also a hand cream which he decided to pick up and sniff just as Karen’s voluptuous frame cast its shadow on him. He quickly wiped off the residue which was on his nose and smiled shyly. She looked sexy as hell in this black silky dress thing and all his fears and insecurities evaporated.

The sex had been good. Not spectacular but not terrible. Karen had been a bit rough with him and he had to tell her to gently stroke his testicles instead of pull them. Little things like that had made the night stranger than it already was. She wanted him at one stage to smack her bottom quite roughly and he had felt foolish doing so. He was no Christian Gray. Still at the end of it all he had come all over her boobs which she had been more than eager to proffer for the occasion. Stranger than the sex itself had been the post coital end of things. These were the things he would have paid attention to when he was a teenager. Things like whether to cuddle or to make conversation as you lay in a stranger’s bedroom after having sex with them. These had been the things he hadn’t had to think about with Lara. Ever. It had always been natural, whether they both fell asleep or stayed up for hours chatting, it had never been an issue. He had felt bad but he had to get up and pee and when he came back Karen was passed out on her side of the bed. It was strangely anti-climatic and he felt like a wimp because he felt disappointed. He had wanted to put on his clothes and go home but he couldn’t face lying in his own bed while Lara was away with Sam. He would be too alone with his thoughts then. Instead he fell into an uncomfortable sleep and was now feeling its aftermath. He knew he should wake Karen but what would he say ?

‘ So I’m off then ?’ No he would just leave. She probably wanted it that way. He wanted it that way. As he closed the door behind him he felt something he hadn’t felt in a very long time. Homesick. He walked quickly down the road not sure where he was in the city, waiting for the next cab.

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