This Wretched Heart

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‘Dead Sea, you said you’d never sink with me.’

Dead Sea by The Lumineers


Peter kissed and wrapped her in a huge bear hug when she got home from the park, crashing her back to reality.

’You OK Lara Bell? The way he said her name clanged in her heart. ‘Cuppa tea?’

Warm tenderness coursed through her body as she looked up at his concerned face, followed by a feeling of stupidity at being so childish.

‘Just going to grab a quick shower’. She kissed him lightly and ran up the stairs, drowning out everything in hotter than necessary water. Wrapped up in cosy pajamas, her long hair hidden in a towel, she came back into the kitchen.

‘I bumped into this guy who used to work in my company.’ She threw it out there unburdening herself of any potential guilt.

‘Oh yeah?’ He was standing by the cooker stirring a seafood chowder he had made while she was out.

‘Yeah, he kind of snuck up on me.’ Her hands were fidgeting with the salt cellar as she sat at the kitchen table ‘Gave me a bit of a fright actually.’

‘Well that was nice of him.’ Peter came over to her with a spoon full of steaming soup ‘Taste this, tell me what you think? I’m serving it next week in the Bistro.’ Peter was a chef who co-owned a little restaurant with his college-friend Joe. Although this meant that he often tested dishes at home much to Lara’s delight, it also meant that she did most of the cooking during the week because he couldn’t face it after a day in the kitchen.

‘Mmmm yum Peter’ Smiling at how his eyes always still lit up when she approved.

‘Well anyway, he suggested we become running buddies’ She looked up slowly at him expecting a surprised reaction but as usual he surprised her. ‘I said I would go tomorrow but I can cancel if you don’t think it’s a good idea’

’I think it’s a great idea, as long as you’re sure he’s not a weirdo? Good point she didn’t really know anything about this stranger but she didn’t feel any strange vibe from him. Other vibes definitely but nothing creepy.

‘You know I don’t like you jogging in the evenings on your own.’ He turned back to stirring ‘You always say you need more male friends’

This was true. Lara stood up suddenly from the table and gave Peter a big hug.

‘What? What cute thing have I said this time?’ Chuckling he gazed at her, his brown eyes delving into the pasture green of hers. She hugged him tightly and tried to stop the whirring that was going on in her stomach. Later that night, they made love tenderly and for once instead of rolling away, she fell asleep on his chest and listened to the deep resonating breaths which made her eyelashes flutter

Earlier than usual the next day she found herself wide awake and instead of forcing herself out of bed, she didn’t even have to think about it. Her plan was to finish early, get home, get a shower, go for her walk earlier than usual and then get home to spend time with Peter who had promised to cook that night. She had vaguely explained her plans to him that morning as he lay half dozing on the pillow beside her while she drank her morning cup of coffee and got croissants crumbs all over the bed. He had nodded and hummed positives but she knew that he would have forgotten when he woke up properly. He would call her when she wasn’t home at her usual time and she would say ‘ but I told you this morning’ to which he would sheepishly respond with‘ You know you should never tell me things when I’m not fully awake, we’re not all morning sunshine like you’, causing them both to giggle at this ever repetitive conversation. This was one of their ‘bits’ that although irritating were comforting too in their predictability. She couldn’t envisage ever accepting any other reaction from anyone else.

Fear would grab hold of her sometimes at the thoughts of losing him. She would become breathless and panicked if he was home late from work and didn’t answer his phone. She would imagine the million different ways he could have been hurt. Would she be numb she wondered at first perhaps? People always seemed blank in their grief. She had always wondered how the paths weren’t taken up by people weeping their way to and from their daily chores. How the sound of wailing didn’t form the natural background hum of a city or town, the way the honking of horns or eerie turning sounds of ambulance warnings. It probably did but self-preservation shut it out. Surely the world was full of grieving people and yet the signs were underground and not present in the obvious chest banging hair pulling way one would imagine. Grief resided in the eyes and breath and clung to limp hair and monotone conversation. It was rarely vomited out, because that would be too real and too much of a spectacle. She was sure that if Peter died she would be so consumed in her grief, she wouldn’t care who heard her sob and wail. She could see herself running through the city her clothes askew screaming out his name. How would she even imagine going back to work or functioning normally? The numbers about which her career pivoted would fly up in the air like the cards in Alice’s wonderland. She could see it all blow away insignificantly, the impact of her loss a tornado to their flimsy meaning. Her past dealings with grief had taught her that it was better out than in.But then of course Peter came home and she would be irritated that he was late or had forgotten to buy milk. It was funny she mused, that the only way she could gain perspective was by imagining a catastrophic situation. Why couldn’t she give her life that perspective now? Why did she let her job take over her life so often? Only by imagining the death of her soul-mate could she even contemplate not taking it so seriously. Then she promised herself she would be able to cast it aside as she would be too distraught to care unlike the other bereaved who for some reason were able to slot themselves back into the toil.

‘Some people use work as a distraction Lara’ Peter had pointed out as he was quite capable of waltzing off the Bistro and forgetting about everything even if they had a gigantic argument. To Lara, work was a giant all-encompassing interruption to her life and to her emotions. In the office she appeared calm and collected and she was able to maintain this persona for long spells at a time. But then she would have a gigantic row with Peter and would have to call in sick, her face too swollen from crying, her mind too exhausted to even fathom facing the working day and the pretension of being in good form. On those days no distraction would be found.

She would sit for hours imagining life without him. The house empty of his physical presence, she would picture his clothes and possessions gathering dust because she was sure she would never be able to pack them away or give them to a charity shop the way they did in the movies. Would she move elsewhere to share with other people? What would it be like to have to get to know a new way of manoeuvring through a space divided without the comfort of being able to share a toothbrush or slap a bum as they passed in the hallway? It terrified her. She feared that the dark world she sometimes inhabited would grow so big that she would never again return to light.

Perversely she fantasised about losing him to something less traumatic than death. What if they split up or he cheated on her? Would she be able to move on and let a man run his fingers through her pubic hair and not curl up with shame? Peter had accepted her body with wonderment and adoration in the earlier days of their blossoming relationship. His hands had traced never ending patterns on her arms and legs, his tongue had longingly followed suit. He had cupped her delicate breasts and gently teased her flat nipples into mini pink prunes. He hadn’t gasped in disgust the first time he felt her unshaven leg or realised she waxed her arms. He seemed to adore these variations and gloated in his ability to know how long it had been since she last took his razor to her legs. Her body was not a constant source of contempt and displeasure but rather a familiar and ever changing haven. Lara knew she should never, ever, take that for granted.All these thoughts floated in her periphery that day as she muddled through her daily work tasks.

She wasn’t sure whether she imagined the raised eyebrows as she left work earlier than usual that evening. She had come in earlier to make up for it and yet the guilt nudged at her gut and made want to snap around and shout ‘WHAT? Anyone gotta a problem with me leaving at four?’ in a Hollywood style drawl.

Instead she made her way through the closely woven desks and tried to control the nausea that overcame her. It was after all just a jog with someone she used to work with. Peter wasn’t the jealous one in their relationship. Sometimes she felt that this was a reflection of how he took her for granted and was content that no one would possibly come and sweep her off her feet. She had voiced these feelings to him and he always responded the same way.

‘ I know you would never cheat on me so that’s why I don’t need to be jealous, obviously you think I’m an arsehole and would run off with any floozy who came my way.’

Another pang of guilt shook her body as she realised that his trust in her had never really been tested before and that until Sam had grabbed her arm in park she had never really been tempted. She realised how ridiculous this sounded but she really hadn’t felt a jolt like that with anyone else since Peter and was unnerved that such a brief moment could throw her mind into disarray. She wondered if she was even capable of ever feeling passion for someone in the way she had felt it for Peter and the way she still did when they weren’t arguing over trivial housekeeping matters. It was a different type of passion to the kind that had led them to having oral sex in the train toilets or in the garden at the back of her house. These days it was a subdued pet that lay quiet in the corner until beckoned forth. Mostly controlled, it could break loose when the fear of losing each other to the uncontrollable forces of life would threaten its realm. Then it would wrap its cord around them, rolling them over and over like a blind coming undone.

Ejected by the swinging doors of the building she felt uncertain and tentative like an animal let out of captivity for the first time. The street was quiet as all the other mice continued their daily circle of toil and it would be at least another hour or so before they left the false heat of the various offices to make the familiar trudge home. She breathed in deeply the ever so slightly chilled air, and made her way to the station to get the early train home.

The house felt eerie as if surprised by her early return, the dirty dishes haphazard on the sideboard as though they were stopped mid waltz, the dishcloth languidly lying on the couch as though fallen from flight. Peter had clearly woken up late because otherwise the dishes would have been washed. He moved through life with a gentle neatness that left its simple non-judgemental mark. From the neatly folded coffee packets to the uniformly stacked spices, everything he did was completed with a quiet meticulousness which she was unable to duplicate. She was a plodding clown by comparison. Scrunched up paper, discarded packets which missed the bin clutter in every corner. The chaos which ran inside her mind always escaped outwards reminding her how far away from ‘sorted’ she ever was. Today however she wasn’t going to feel guilty about anything else.

She found herself taking a shower, blushing a little because this was not her normal practice. She could of course convince herself that she had had a long day and that even if she were jogging with a friend she wouldn’t want the build-up of sweat to waft over as they jogged. But she knew this wasn’t the case and that for some reason she was acting out of character. This made her turn up the heat dial on the shower as she tried to drown out the noise in her head and focus on the prickling and satisfying flow down her shoulder blades.

She left the house fresh and smelling of her favourite perfume with citrus undertones. Dusk was forming and the smell of chimney smoke brought her back to her childhood walks home from school singing songs with her then best friend Sue. These were the walks that taught her the weird and at first unbelievable facts of life which Sue had managed to get in bulletin form from various conversations overheard by a hot ear pressed against her older sister’s door. Lara had learned of blow jobs and anal sex before the actual act itself and this had made her first imaginations quite warped for someone so young.

Turning down the street towards the park she felt her chest tighten as she reached the gate and for a horrible moment she thought that he might stand her up and her cheeks grew warm with mortification. It wasn’t as if this was a date just because her intentions were somewhat ambiguous didn’t mean that his were. Not that she would ever cheat on Peter but somehow this felt dishonest.

‘God get a grip Lara you freak’ ,she wasn’t so deluded as not to realize that her version of cheating was ridiculous but it was difficult to get things into perspective given her history of outrageous insecurity.

‘Jogging partners.’ She told herself ‘Jogging partners, jogging partners!’ For a moment her resolve returned but then she saw him.

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