This Wretched Heart

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What's Real?

‘I don’t know what’s right or what’s real anymore and I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore’

The Fear by Lilly Allen.

Lara

Somehow he managed to look completely different to how she remembered him and it had only been one day. She recalled how it had taken her ages to glue Peter’s face to her memory. When they had been apart, his features were like a dream she couldn’t quite catch, looming at the edges of her mind, a constant but wispy presence... His eyes by day had a slight golden back-glow, like dying embers. At night they appeared dark, endlessly dark, like melted chocolate. Even after a couple of dates, the first sight of him walking towards her in his school uniform or red hoodie would send a jolts through her. Now she was reminded of those instances as her stomach wound itself into knots.

Sam was wearing a green woollen jumper and grey sweatpants and had a hint of fair stubble. She was glad to see that he had not brought his earphones. Had he put any effort as into looking so effortlessly attractive? A part of her hoped he hadn’t. She had opted for a cream hoodie which Peter told her made her look angelic and sexy at the same time. Her jogging pants were black and nondescript but she thought they gave her ‘ass, good definition,’ a phrase she had heard on a fitness DVD.

‘Hey there.’ His smile came easy and so did hers, along with the first of what she knew would be many blushes.

‘Hey Sam, sorry I’m a bit late – busy day.’ She hoped this made her look as if she had not given their outing much thought but did not want to seem impolite

‘No worries. I just got here so it’s all good.’ He grinned and her throat involuntarily gulped. She took a sip from her bottle and had never been so conscious of how sexually it could be interpreted. God forbid she ever tried eating a banana around him.

‘Shall we then?’ His question startled her.

‘Jog?’ She was obviously looking confused.

They agreed to take the long route around the park and although at first she slowed her pace she could tell that he was able to keep up with ease so she sped up a little. No point wasting this chance to get the endorphins flowing. Their running was carried out in silence punctuated occasionally by his observations about a slippery mud patch or by her asking him if their pace was ok. This time the silence was gentle and comfortable as if they had been doing this for years. The gurgle of birds created a natural and calm ambiance as they moved swiftly and relentlessly many times around the park and through the woods until they were both awoken from their reverie by the park warden’s clanging bell.

They stood in silence outside, sipping from their water flasks and smiling at each other. The urge to run her hand under his jumper and touch his sweaty torso made her dizzy with possibility and guilt and she felt as though the world was about to end at the thoughts of saying goodbye. Her face must have betrayed her dismay, as his blue eyes clouded over and he asked her was she feeling ok.

‘Fine yeah, sorry just a bit dizzy. I should have had a bigger lunch’ The truth was, she had barely touched her tuna and cheese Panini that day as the butterflies in her stomach swooped and whirled creating havoc.

‘In fairness we had a fairly long session, longer than I’m used to anyway! We can slow down next time?’ His hand moved to her arm and squeezed. It was as though all the fluid in her body at that moment was running south leaving her mouth dry and her throat constricted.

It took all her effort to manage to say,

‘Yeah next time we’ll take it more slowly.’ She let out a strange burst of laughter which seemed to bounce off the darkness and echo down the street.

‘Same time, Thursday?’ She jogged a few times a week anyway on her own but hoped that the proximity of the date didn’t sound like a desperate ploy to see him again soon.

‘Wow Thursday? Well normally I only jog Monday and weekends but yep sounds good, I could do with an extra day.’ For a moment he looked like he remembered he had plans

‘Actually will we exchange numbers just in case there’s a change?’

‘Yes that would make sense.’ Laughing at the obvious which she had overlooked, her mind busy racing with a mixture of exhilaration and unease.

As they parted ways she was glad to have her mind to herself and she spent it telling herself that there was absolutely nothing to worry about...

She grabbed a shower when she got in and was relieved that Peter was busy cooking.

‘I’ll be down in a bit.’ she called cheerfully and blew him a kiss.

She needed a few moments to bring herself down from the high she was feeling. The smell of cinnamon wafted into the bedroom and the faint hum of Peter’s voice reassured her mind that her home was here and that she would never willingly leave. She just wished the electricity pulsing through her body would listen.

‘How was your run?’ He asked without the slightest hint of suspicion as she kissed the back of his neck.

‘Good, good’. Elaborating would just draw attention to her strange mood.

Later they sat opposite each other at the small wooden kitchen table, sipping the red wine he had poured them and eating the tasty lamb stew. Candles were lit, not an unusual occurrence but meant that Peter was probably hoping for more than a ‘Thank you’ for dinner. She had thought he might ask her about her jogging partner but he didn’t. His mind was always less suspicious than hers but she had expected he might be curious given her history. His bemusement in the past, when she had queried his whereabouts or his propensity for finishing work later than normal was testament to this. Now she felt like a huge hypocrite and had to remind herself yet again that she had done nothing wrong, she had told him for God’s sake. She was starting to feel hot and bothered by the alcohol and the tea lights dotted about the kitchen. Peter didn’t notice but continued to chat about his and Joe’s latest culinary creation. As she watched his animated, handsome face she didn’t for one second doubt that he was her soul mate. She loved him with an intensity that had frightened her from the start. Their relationship was often placed on a pedestal by her single friends who longed for an intimacy such as theirs and felt both envy and hope spending time with this love struck couple. Her friend Kate couldn’t bear being around them for a while when she had temporarily parted with her now husband. The way Peter brushed her hair away from her eyes or gently rubbed her lower back as they all sat in the pub could make even the biggest cynic, pine. Theirs was an uncontrived intimacy that years of togetherness had created. Even their often public bickering didn’t seem to erode this. In fact she liked to think that it meant that they were still passionate about one another. None of their friends doubted that tears were patched up lovingly and carefully. They had after all managed to see their relationship through years and years of ups and downs. She couldn’t enjoy anyone else’s company the way she did his. He could make her laugh uncontrollably with his dry comments and cry relentlessly with his insensitivity. He formed the seasons of her emotions, ever changing and ever renewing. They were now products of one another as only close couples or friends could be. They even expressed themselves similarly, using the same catch phrases which made their friends laugh and who had at one stage, taken to calling them ‘tweedle dum and tweedle dee’. All of this and yet a chance encounter in the park, could throw all of her ideas up in the air and make them fall back down and break into little confused fragments. She had promised Peter she would spend the rest of her life with him. The ring on her finger which she kept playing with, said so. That night she allowed herself dive into the sensuous and familiar caresses of Peter’s tender hands. She lay afterward in the bliss of his embrace, the gentle smell of cinnamon in her hair and between her legs. The park and the blue eyes seemed to belong to another her and to the light and shade of dreams.

The next few days were a haze of work and a return to the routine of her life which was comforting in its bland way. She cancelled her jog with Sam citing work commitments and he had text back ‘no prob, text me when you free’, perfectly casual, perfectly innocent. Perhaps she was not ready after all for a male friend, especially not one who had sent her fantasising immediately about touching him. Her days were once again filled with spreadsheets and figures and she resumed her evening habits and jogged (unshowered) on her own hoping she would not bump into him. Despite this, the sense of looming doubt in her peripheral vision was nudging at her arm and woke her up in the middle of the night, filling her stomach with unusual twinges. She began to mull the fact that over the years she had, unconsciously, cut out all possible threats of ever being in the way of temptation. She had created a life which she was certain must look strange to other people. She had no male friends of her own. This had a lot to do with the fact that she often found male company tedious and lacking in the soul to soul conversations she could have with her female friends. When she had tried in college , much too often they had gotten the wrong end of the stick and there would inevitably be the awkward explanation that she just wanted to be friends and that she was totally and completely in love with her boyfriend and that ‘no all those coffee meetings had not been intended to lead them on’. She would feel dread at having to explain it to Peter who would undoubtedly think she must have behaved inappropriately.

‘I swear I didn’t lead him on. Do men really think I will sleep with them just because we had coffee?’

‘Of course they do numbnut’ Peter had teased her, ‘Especially a gorgeous woman like you’.

‘But they know I have a boyfriend’.

‘Doesn’t matter they won’t say no’.

It made it easier in the end not to bother trying and that hadn’t made much of a difference to her. The only guy she really enjoyed spending time with, was Peter who fulfilled all her male friend needs but had none of the bullshit machismo crap about him. He was often referred to as ‘metrosexual’ by some of their mutual friends, not because he was camp, but because he was so completely at ease in the company of the female race. He had spent a lot of time with his older sister and Mother which had instilled a respect for the emotional ups and downs of women. It made him incapable of joining in the rants that many men had about their other halves over a few beers because when it came to the battle of the sexes, Peter always played Devil’s advocate. This was a trait many male friends had found unnerving and meant that Peter’s friendships had always been scarce on the ground. It had created problems at the start of their own relationship, as he would hang out mainly with gaggles of women who appreciated being able to get a man’s perspective on personal issues. Lara had been extremely jealous and angry as he relayed to her his sympathetic conversation about Celine’s inverted nipples. She didn’t want him thinking about other women in that way and couldn’t erase the image of clothes being discarded during these conversations so that Celine could prove her point. Jenny’s ovaries could fuck off as far she was concerned and she couldn’t comprehend how he failed to see her point and how puzzled he had become at her reaction when yet again he relayed another tale of female body anguish or dilemma to her. Eventually she had threatened to leave him if he didn’t create the boundaries she felt were necessary.

’How would you feel if some guy-friend of mine was telling me about his erections for God’s sake?

This was the right tack. He promised her his friendships were platonic he also knew what other men were like and the thoughts of her remotely alluding to another man about his cock made him physically sick. He had sheepishly apologised and promised to stop to being an ‘honorary girlfriend’ to all these women. Lara in turn explained that she wasn’t trying to be difficult but couldn’t help but feel undermined by his behaviour.

‘I will never talk to another woman if it hurts you that much Lara. I love you and I don’t need anybody else’.

She had never questioned whether this was healthy behaviour, whether forcing women out of his life was fair. All she knew at the time was that the only way to control the green monster was to cut out all the things which made it rear its ugly head. Slowly over time they both avoided situations that would cause the other grief and would only socialise with members of the opposite sex was when they were together. Years passed and as the intensity of their own passion diminished so too had the intensity of her jealousy. She was in a good place now and didn’t see Peter talking to other women as a sign of imminent danger. Their lives were so entwined at this stage, that breaking apart was not even an option. Not that all jealousy was gone of course. There were still her occasional black days where the least thing would set her off. A text from a female work colleague or a comment about another woman’s breasts would reignite a rage inside her which she had forgotten. The difference now was that she had coping strategies. It was strange how she could be two completely different people. Lara of the light and shade Peter called her and she would feel awful because she didn’t know how he put up with her. Sometimes in the dark days that she felt that he would be better off without her.

‘You’re an amazing wife Lara please don’t be so hard on yourself’. Peter reassured her when she voiced these insecurities. It was true that she did try her best to be a good ‘wife’ most of the time but always felt that her depression could sabotage her at any moment and wipe away all the hard work she had done.

‘You can’t change the past Lara’ her therapist kept telling her. ‘You are in a good place and that’s what counts. Stop worrying about everything’.

On good days this all made sense but it turned into meaningless jargon when the dusky hue of her depression would colour all her hopes. The art of stopping the dusk from turning to night was hard learned but she was getting better at it over time. Small things like avoiding the news because it always sent her into a state of helplessness. She would feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world when she cried big sobby tears watching the children in Iraq crouch over their father’s’ lifeless bodies or when a reporter explained how a family was still homeless a year after hurricane Katriona. What was the point of taking in all the misery just to switch if off and go make a piece of toast? What was the point in wallowing in other people’s misery if you weren’t going to help? They couldn’t feel her tears or sympathy. All this information was not good for the human spirit. Being bombarded with the misery of the world on a daily basis isn’t always conducive to solutions but rather an insidious spreading of the black. It wasn’t politically correct but Lara hated that everyone was so eager to throw their opinions out there about matters they couldn’t truly understand. How could she criticize the quest for oil by the US when she often turns on the heat instead of putting on an extra jumper? She wasn’t sure what to believe anymore. Everyone had an agenda and she felt overwhelmed trying to decipher truth from all babble.So she tried her best to close out the misery. She wouldn’t watch violent films or read violent books.

‘But Tarantino is different’ Peter tried to convince her unsuccessfully. ‘You can’t live with your head up your arse’. Was another favourite point he made.

‘Well you’re catching shit either way’. She had responded, delighted with her wit.

She stood by her methods and could feel her spirit get stronger, unattacked as it was by all the ugliness of the world. She had stopped being a sieve letting all the misery flow through her and being left with sediment sticking in her gut. It wasn’t shallow; she felt she had to explain to Kate who seemed to get exactly what she was doing.

‘I know Hun. When I was unemployed I stopped watching TV too caus if I heard another dig about being lazy or cutting benefits I thought I’d go mad.’ Kate was the least lazy person in the world. She had left her previous job because she a shit head of a boss who had brought her to tears daily and to near nervous breakdown.

‘I just found it hard to get the courage to get another job so yes I did get Social Welfare. I paid enough taxes over the years. I won’t resent someone else doing the same now I’m back in work. You just have to live your own life and shut out the shit. ’

She hadn’t realised it then but this captured the very essence of what Lara was going to do.

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