This Wretched Heart

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No Light

'It don't seem fair, you seemed to like it here.'

Light Years by Pearl Jam.

She was lying on the bench in their garden looking up at the fading airplane lines crisscrossing the blue. She had been daydreaming about Sam as usual. Funny how history repeated itself. All the daydreaming fodder that Peter had given her teen years were now replenished by Sam. She was careful of course not to adopt that faraway look too much around Peter. It was tricky to manage because everything at the moment brought him rushing around her brain. The fading light was giving her a slight chill so she got up to go inside. Peter would be home soon so she felt she should at least make him a nice dinner. He had left her a stack of pancakes that morning before she went and had guiltily eaten them with Sam, who had reluctantly come inside with her after she made sure Peter had left. It was surreal having him in the house again and she couldn’t shake the guilt away. Peter had never told her not to have him in the house but at the same time she would never have made love with Sam under her husband’s roof. Giggling at this weird normalizing of a completely unique situation.

Just as she stood up a spider landed on her arm and she was reluctantly reminded of her last conversation with her father. He had called on numerous occasions but she had either ignored it or asked Peter to say that she was out.

‘ Why don’t you try to sort it out?’ Peter had pleaded the tenth time he had to lie to his father in law.

‘ I told you what he did. I just can’t forgive him. I can’t stand thinking about my poor mum and finding out that he was cheating with her. I know it was more than just that that killed her but I’m sure it didn’t help’.

‘ We’re all human Lara. I mean look at us’.

‘ I’m not cheating on you. I never did’. This felt a little hypocritical. At least though she had tried to be honest. She had changed the situation and molded something very unlikely into something that seemed to be work for them at least . This wasn’t a lifestyle she was going to recommend for everyone but then theirs had always been a different path. How many girls nowadays married their first kiss? She knew she would have to forgive him eventually. He was her only parent after all and she wouldn’t be able to live her life with their acrimony hanging over her. She just needed time to process it herself. She had learned this from counselling. Instead of acting in a way that was expected she would instead take her time and deal with it in her own time. Her father would just have to wait like she had done with the weight of guilt hanging over him. Even as she thought this she felt cruel it wouldn’t change the hurt he had caused her for all those years.

She felt jittery as she peeled vegetables for dinner. She knew she would have to tell Peter that Sam had been in the house and she was afraid of how he might react. The key turned in the door and he came into the kitchen looking stressed. Maybe now wasn’t the time.

‘Hey honey what’s up ? Is your mum ok ?’ His mother hadn’t been in the best of health of late but then that wasn’t new. She hadn’t stopped complaining about all her ailments since her husband died.

‘ She’s just focusing her grief on something else’. Lara had explained to her concerned husband 'That’s what I did when mum died’. Lara had avoided food for years after her mother died. Later she would recognize the link between her mother’s presence and the presence of food. They were both so tied up with one another that when one was gone it had been too painful to continue with other. Thankfully meeting Peter had taken care of that. She knew a counselor would say that her life was made up of distraction after distraction and that Sam was the latest in a long line. if he was then so be it. She had tired of analyzing the reasons behind her behavior. Sam in fact was teaching her the wonderful art of going with the flow.

‘ You always seem so chilled.’ She had thrown this at him almost like an insult as she had fretted yet again about passing his house and not saying hi to his parents.

‘ I mean they must think I’m weird or something.'

‘ Don’t worry, you can meet them eventually. I just want you all to myself now’. Hugging her had taken the worry away but she sometimes felt that he didn’t take life seriously like she did. That was something she loved about Peter. That feeling that he saw the world in a similar way to her. Not that they were the same person but that their version of life was more akin to that of Sam’s. Perhaps it was a ‘money or lack thereof ’ thing but it made her feel uncomfortable when Sam treated life and what happened so casually. It was easy, she supposed when there was money to bail you out if everything went belly up.

‘ Mum seemed really unwell today. She actually looked sick for a change’. Peter’s stressed face brought her back to the moment.

‘ Oh I’m sorry to hear that honey, how’s Lisa coping ?’ Lara wondered how his sister dealt with having her ailing mother around the house all day with two kids running around as well. Some people seemed able to take everything life threw at them. Lara was not one of those that was certain. Her mobile rang from the sitting room.

‘ Go on go get it’. Peter smiled at her and slapped her bottom as walked out the door.

‘ Lara ?’ A man’s unfamiliar voice greeted her.

‘ Yes speaking’ .

‘ Lara this is Denis.. Sam’s dad’. This was strange were they finally asking her for dinner ?

‘ Oh hi Mr Goodwin , I’ve been meaning to introduce myself for ages but Sam wanted to wait and ..’ She was babbling and the line sounded dead so she stopped suddenly.

‘ Lara I am so sorry that this is the first time we are speaking but I am ringing to tell you that Sam ..’ His voice broke and Lara looked up as Peter walked into the room.

‘ Lara …?’ Both Peter’s voice and Mr Goodwin’s rang her ears.

‘ Yes’ Her heart was slowing down and she could hear it thumping in her ears as she had all those years ago, her legs went weak and she flopped down on the floor.

‘ I’m so sorry Lara, Sam our dear boy. Oh God. Oh Jesus our dear boy is dead’.


'No light no light in your bright blue eyes. I never knew that life could be so violent’

No Light No Light by Florence and the machine

Peter

Later he would have to explain to her what had happened when he walked into the room and saw her flop to the ground like a rag-doll. He thought it was his mother and ran to grab the phone. ‘ Lara ?’ A man’s concerned voice broke through.

‘ Hello ? Who is this ?’ For a horrible moment he thought it was Sam. He knew then that horrible moments were relative.Suppressing the urge to vomit he held it together and knelt down next to his wife who was in some kind of shock like trance. He had managed to get the details of where they had Sam and he didn’t know whether he should bring Lara there or wait here until they heard further news.

‘ Where is he ?’ Her voice was cold.

‘ Where is he ?’

‘ He’s in St. Luke’s’. He didn’t know what to do and was waiting on Lara’s instructions.

‘ Bring me there Peter. I’m sorry but please I need to be there’.

‘ Of course. Of course’. He scooped her up from the ground as he would a child and carried her out to the car.

They traveled in silence and she just stared out the window into the darkening sky. As they passed through the city , Peter let his mind do what he had not allowed it to for nearly a year. He let it form the picture of Sam’s face. His smiling eyes appeared first, followed by his grin and he saw him as he had that day he walked into the Bistro, inviting them both to go to Morocco. He couldn’t stop them then, all the memories he had cast aside came flooding back and he was awash with grief as the tears fell down his cheeks and into his lap. Lara continued to stare out the window, enveloped in her own memories.

They walked down the long corridor as he had done all those years ago when his own father had lain in one of the many chambers. He had never passed a hospital since without thinking of all the lifeless bodies dotted within their folds. Sam’s dad greeted them with a malformed smile, his ashen face revealing only a slight resemblance to his son. His breath stopped mid air when they were brought into a room and he saw a woman sitting by a bed holding a limp hand in her own, her features so familiar yet alien with their anguish. She stood up to greet them and Peter was humbled that in their grief they still managed a level of courtesy he found at times hard to muster on a good day.

‘ Lara my darling. Our beautiful boy. Our beautiful boy’. She took her hand as if they had known each other forever and guided her over to the bed. He saw her look down slowly and reach her hand towards Sam’s face. He moved closer so that he could see the image that would haunt him for the rest of his days. That of his wife cupping her lifeless lover’s jaw. It was done with such tenderness that all the images he had tried hard not form of them together were now forged forever in his psyche. There was nothing but a slight swelling on his temple to indicate that he was not just sleeping and that this was nothing but a strange chapter in their story. The sound he heard next would join those haunting images.It was that of his beautiful wife wailing into the arms of Sam’s mother who comforted a girl she had never mete over the death of a man they both loved. He had, he recognized then, always known she loved him but denying it now was impossible. He and Denis Goodwin stood like two shadows behind them and he felt then the need to leave this room and all its mixed up grief.Locking himself up in a toilet cubicle he wept harder than he had ever wept even at his own father’s funeral. He cried because he had lost his once good friend, he cried because he hadn’t been able to stay friends with him but most of all he cried because he knew that his loss was only beginning.

He had brought Lara home her face swollen vacant. She had run upstairs and locked herself in the bathroom and he had waited until the image of her mother in the bath all those years ago had refused to let him wait any longer. He could hear her sobbing through the door.

‘Lara are you ok in there?’ He knew she wasn’t but he just wanted to hear her voice.

‘ I just need some space please, I’m ok, I just need some time’.

He didn’t know what to do. He was afraid to leave her in there. He asked whether she wanted to go to bed but she was adamant. She must have guessed his fears because she promised him she wouldn’t do anything stupid. Reluctantly he went downstairs and sat on his own in the living room wondering what to do next. He had a shift the next morning and he didn’t know whether to give his wife the space to mourn Sam or to stay with her and comfort her. Should he go to the funeral even ?

‘I’m Sam’s, lover’s husband’. That wouldn’t roll off the tongue. Suddenly he felt overwhelmed with anger. She had put him in this position. Why hadn’t they foreseen something like this ? His once reasonable inner voice turned Grinch like and leapt around him, mocking his stupidity , taunting him.

‘You didn’t really think this would work out did you ?’


Lara

She couldn’t remember getting to the hospital. Peter had driven them and she must have spaced out because somehow they ended up in the room with his parents. The moments that followed would push the memories of a bath full of blood out of the way.A new haunting would begin when she looked down on the lifeless face of one of the men she loved.

She recalled vaguely that Sam’s parents had told her they would be in contact regarding the funeral. The way his mother hugged her reminded her of when she had first seen Sam in the park. This familiarity with strangers was something he must have inherited from her along with bright blue eyes. It had always struck her how strange it was when you knew someone for a long time to then meet their relatives. It was like meeting a badly drawn version of them, with some of the features being accurate but all together forming a misshapen whole. This was how it felt looking into Margaret’s eyes. They were so like Sam’s as was her nose but then it was all weird and she looked away for fear of being obvious.

She had lain on the bathroom floor for hours, the stench of her own vomit on the floor eventually becoming unbearable.

‘ Do you mind if I use your loo?’ Sam had asked her warily that morning ‘ I know it’s weird but I really need a piss’.

She usually used the downstairs bathroom and Peter had been gone all day so when she saw the yellow tinged water she remembered. This was Sam’s. This was the last coffee they had shared that morning. It had run down his beautiful neck and torso filling him with extra life and now it was all she had left of him.

‘ Lara I’m coming in’. Peter’s voice sounded really worried and he unlocked the door from the outside, a feature she had always found annoying.

‘ It’s for when we have kids’ He had explained.

‘ Are you sure it’s not so you can perve on me ?’

Now she was the child, helpless and causing him to worry. He came in gently and she felt like she had done when her father had accidentally seen her get changed all those years ago, ashamed and angry.

‘ I need my space Peter, I told you’.

‘ You’re lying beside your own vomit Lara. I think you need to go to bed’. He walked towards her and what he did next was so casual that she nearly didn’t notice. Nearly. She heard a screaming noise echo around the room and saw hands hit her husband’s chest.

‘ Lara Lara stop stop, what’s going on?’. He had her by her wrists and she was fighting him with the little strength she had left.

‘ Why did you do that ?’ She was livid.

‘ Do what ?’

‘ Flush the toilet?’ She couldn’t hear how nonsensical this must have appeared.

‘ What the fuck?’

’ Nothing, nothing please just leave me alone. His dejected face would have normally left her feeling guilty but tonight she had no room for anything except grief. It was taking up every atom of her being and she felt she might burst with it. She couldn’t stand it for another minute, she couldn’t sit still with it needling its way out her pores. She ran down the stairs and out the door and ran like she had done so many times before, her fuel - the black viscous coal of anger with a ,vapour core of sadness. It propelled her forward, it stopped her thoughts. She knew where she was going but it wasn’t her choosing. She wasn’t going back to the beginning she was being taken to the end.

‘ Lara ?’ Blue exhausted eyes only registered surprise for a moment. ‘ Come in my darling, I’m glad you’re here’.

She sat in the plush living room as Margaret who was wearing the fluffiest dressing gown she had ever seen went to get her a cup of tea. She wondered where Sam’s father was but didn’t dare ask.

‘ A couple of Sam’s friends just called but they didn’t stay long’. Margaret sighed as she left. ‘ I didn’t really know what to do with them to be honest.’

Lara didn’t have the slightest idea who they might be. She had been a part of Sam’s life that was divided from the real world.

She continued to sit for what seemed like a very long time to get tea ready when the waft of something cooking met her nostrils. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast that morning with Sam. Croissants and coffees he had collected from their local bakery. She followed the scent into a dimly lit kitchen.

‘ Ah Lara sorry my dear I thought you must be hungry so I’m making you something that always cheered Sam up’. She turned around and smiled the smile of numbness. The numbness that had entered her own body. She remembered wondering how grief was so underground and invisible. Her own when her mother died had manifested itself in other ways. She would never have considered herself numb. Now she must have been because she had the irrepressible urge to eat the big plate of Egg’s Benedict that had just been placed before her at the kitchen island. She ate in silence smiling occasionally at the woman who until that evening had been nothing more than an anecdote in Sam’s many tales of Margaret and Denis Goodwin. Now they were her only physical connection to him. His body which was still in the hospital wasn’t Sam and would never be. She wouldn’t go and look at him in the coffin. She was certain of that. When she had left the hospital earlier that evening she knew that would be the last time she would ever touch his face, the last time she would ever touch his hand. She wasn’t as numb as she had thought because she tasted the salt of her tears mixed with the lemon tang of the most delicious Hollandaise sauce she had ever tasted.

‘ Sam really loved this ‘. She wanted to say something now. ‘ He told me about this meal a couple of times’.

Margaret who had seemed vacant for a moment was back in the room.

‘ He certainly did. It’s been awhile since I made it though, he’s been so happy for the last few months’. She paused for a moment as if weighing the next few words.

‘ You made him very happy Lara. He was completely in love with you’.

Those words lifted whatever semblance of numbness she had been feeling and she cried again in the presence of this woman. They sat together for the next hour talking about Sam and Lara could tell how little time they had spent with him of late. She was trying not to feel guilty about that but she knew their unique situation had made him avoid them for so long. Although she didn’t spell it out, Margaret had guessed that Lara was still with Peter and somehow also with Sam. She probably thought she was having a secret affair with him that had now been unveiled. Lara wasn’t going to tell her the truth tonight. Their conversation had ebbed gradually into silence when Margaret gently spoke again.

‘ I’m sorry to ask you Lara but shouldn’t you ring your husband? He must be quite worried’.

More guilt at how she treated Peter flooded through and she nodded sheepishly as Margaret showed her the house phone.

‘ Peter? I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have treated you that way. I’m here at Sam’s house with his mum. I had to see them. I had to be somewhere that knew him the way I did’. She felt bad saying this but at this rate nothing could make her feel worse than she already did.

‘ Lara it’s ok. I mean it’s not ok but I get it. Fuck I always seem to get it’. She didn’t know how to respond to that.

‘ Are you at home ?’

‘ No I’m outside’. She was surprised.

‘ I figured this was obviously where you’d come’.

‘ I’ll be out in a few’. She hung up and breathed in deeply unsure of whether she ever wanted to leave this house.

‘ Is he ok ?’ Margaret’s soft voice entered the hallway.

‘ Not really. But he’s outside’.

‘ Well that’s a good sign. Look before you go the funeral will be in two days but if you want to come back here tomorrow and look through Sam’s house you’re more than welcome. I know it’s quite soon but he was working as you know on a book and well..’

‘ You’d like me to figure out where he kept it on his P.C ?’ She hoped this was what Margaret meant and that she wasn’t being hugely patronising and ageist.

‘Exactly yes thank you. If you could print out whatever he has done we can see what to do with it’.

‘ Of course ’.

‘ Oh and if you want to take anything of his. Well I know he’d want you to..’. Margaret’s blue eyes overflowed and Lara hugged her as she had done what seemed like a lifetime ago beside the lifeless vessel of their beautiful boy.

‘ Lara ?’

‘ Yes?’

‘You never asked us what happened ?’ The words weren’t accusing but questioning.Her mind must have shut those questions out. She knew he had been knocked down and that was enough. She didn’t need to know the graphic details. She had known all of those when her mother had died and it didn’t help.

‘ I’m sorry I didn’t want to ...’ She. was going to say ‘know’ but that would have sounded callous.

‘ I didn’t want to ask you’.

‘ It’s ok. Of course you have to know. He was going to the park for a run. I saw him before he left and he was in great form. The driver said he never even looked as he crossed the road. He just ...’. She closed her eyes and Lara shared with her the awful image.

‘ He just ran out. The poor guy said he looked like he was waving at someone’.

‘ What ?’ She was confused.

‘ I know I didn’t understand either but the driver said it was as if he were running towards something. The poor chap was in shock so maybe he imagined that bit but anyway it was instant at least.’ They stood in the hallway lost in their thoughts. Lara tried not to think of all the times Sam had met her at the gates. She tried not to think of him tumbling through the air. She tried to wipe out the silly image of a caricature smile pasted on his flying face. She knew that if she laughed now she would never stop.

‘ I have to go Margaret. Thank you for everything. I will see you tomorrow.’

They hugged again and she went out into the night.

Peter sat facing forward as she got into the car and she knew she should try and talk to him but words were now the last thing she could form. As they drove down the winding driveway she spotted a ghostly figure sitting on a bench by the pond.


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