“A person’s world is only as big as their heart” – Tanya A Moore. This, the theme for the 2017 SA Writers College Short Stories competition. Here’s my entry, which according to my son, had a 53% chance of making it to the shortlist – gotta love the confidence my child has in me!
Constrictive Hearts did not make the shortlist, which is great, because I can now publish it on my blog and share it with you!
It was done without intention, yet there he stood with a smirk on his face, unable to comprehend the poisonous venom in his words. His direct manner astounded her even on the best of days. “I hate you! You, stupid ugly person! Just go away, leave me alone.” She held back her tears as she stood her ground, counting to ten and then she turned around and let him be. Alone in his corner, angry.
“Jane, I really don’t know how much more of this I can take. It makes no sense, he goes from 1 – 10 within seconds. AM I GOING MAD!?” read the message from Ann as I sat with my laptop, catching up on emails and social media. I too struggled to understand what was going on. I’ve been friends with Ann since College, and whenever I saw her she was so composed, patient and kind. Not once did I see this frustration, yet, here I am reading this message.
“I just don’t know what to do. It’s becoming more extreme, and each day I question my own abilities while others keep complementing – it’s like I live in an upside-down world where everything contradicts. I know you probably don’t get it, but I just need to get this off my chest. Thanks for letting me vent sweets. How was your day?” – the quick shift in Ann’s message was a tell-tale sign that she was ready to just have a normal chat, she’s put her frustrations out into the world, and there was no expectation for me to respond. This is what I loved about Ann, her ability to deal, in her own special way.
“Hey friend, sorry to hear that you’re having one of those evenings again. No problem – just vent away whenever you need to. My day was okay, nothing eventful, apart from some asshole who almost drove me off the M3 in back-to-back traffic!” Then our chat ended.
I continued checking Facebook, scrolling through groups and catching up on everyone’s newsfeeds. My mind however kept drifting back to Ann, I really don’t know how she managed to keep it all together. Sometimes I wondered if perhaps, she was imagining things, but I knew better not to question because the last thing I wanted to do was alienate her. She already had such a small circle of friends, and often would not connect with people outside of work for weeks! An introvert, but an amazing person, dependable and compassionate beyond words.
The pillow felt rough under my cheek as I awoke to my alarm as I shielded my eyes from the bright light blinking at 05:45. Gosh, I must have fallen asleep while scrolling through my messages, my laptop tossed on the side of the bed – my battery dead.
“Hey sweets, sorry I fell asleep. Have a great day, chat later” A reminder that I needed to call Ann, I’ve not spoken to her in weeks! Chat messages aside, I needed to hear her voice – she always said the right things . . .
It was 5pm, when I realised that I’ve not called Ann, work was too busy to worry about personal to do’s. Especially when you are the PA for the CEO of an Investment firm, often the cause of my sleepless nights, the constant stress . . . the worry. My second test, a couple of days ago, again confirmed a positive result.
Rushing home through peak hour traffic, my mind numb as I thought about my future – a single female, an only child – an orphan at the age of 20. Now, in my mid-thirties, my world about to implode if I do not seek the help that I know I need. But my pride, the only barrier between me picking up the phone and making that call. I needed to gather some courage to make that important call. The sudden hooting, screeching tyres and shattered glass brought me back to the now, as I swerved to the left and narrowly missed the three-car pile-up behind me. I lost consciousness, briefly, as the airbag deployed into my chest.
It must have been only a few minutes after the accident, there she was, Ann, swinging open my door – professional concern etched on her face as she pulled me from my vehicle, while her colleague took control of the scene. “Jane, Jane, can you hear me. Squeeze my hand if you can hear me honey?” I tried to laugh, her voice sounded hilarious – just to think that all day I’ve been meaning to call her, and now here she is, literally saving me! “Jane! Jane! Squeeze my hand if you can hear me. PLEASE JANE!”
I heard her voice, clear as daylight, but for the life of me I just could not squeeze her hand! I opened my eyes, I blinked. Something was wrong. Horribly wrong . . .
Two weeks later, I still find myself in hospital, recovering from a stroke – I caused the accident. At the age of 37, my health resulted in the death of someone’s grandfather and the paralysis of another. I am slowly regaining the sensation on my right side, when all I want to do is die. Here I am, slightly confused, a hospital room full of flowers, fighting an image of the pregnancy test I took a few weeks ago.
Reaching out with my left hand, switching on my phone, hundreds of Facebook messages, emails, voicemails and WhatsApps. Messages of concern and get well wishes. My dear friend Ann, sitting next to my bed, her silence, like a warm hug full of love. Did she know? Is it possible?
Frustrated at my incapacity, hating myself for the destruction that I’ve caused, confused and thirsty. Shoving my phone under the bed covers, reaching over for the water bottle, I knocked over a vase of flowers, as the tears streamed down my face, like a raging flood of unwanted emotions. I felt her hand gently stroking my hair, still she sat there in silence, allowing me to just be.
A few hours later, after Ann had left, I found myself wondering how it is possible to feel so broken and empty when you’ve never truly been whole? Surely it should not hurt as much. How is it possible to feel such loss for something that I never wanted – let alone something that I planned on giving away?
Some say that “a person’s world is only as big as their hearts’’ – then surely this must mean that I don’t belong? How can I belong in this world when I seem to not have a heart? No, surely the medication must be going to my head, my thoughts are far too deep for my consciousness!
I reached over, and collected all the “Get Well” cards, the irony – everyone wanted me to get well, whilst I lay in bed wishing my life away. I caused such devastation and loss, to others and myself!
“Dear Jane, we are praying for you to get well soon”
“Lovely Jane, get well soon, we miss you at the office!”
“Jane, may God be with you in your time of pain and bring you healing”
“Hi Jane, I miss our chats, please reply to my messages when you are ready. I am here, let me be your ear . . . “
The last message, an excerpt from Ann’s letter, made me reach down for my phone under the covers. There it was, many messages from Ann. Slowly I read through her WhatsApps, and listened to her voice notes.
“Jane, honey, when I responded to the accident scene and saw your car, my heart stopped. My world shattered, because it is in that moment that I could no longer deny my feelings for you. I miss you, please don’t give up, please fight to get well.”
“Jane, sweets, I know. Since you noted me as your emergency contact, the Doctor’s been keeping me informed of your progress. I know honey, but I will wait until you are ready to tell me”
These messages. Each one of them hinted that Ann, my best friend, knew. She knew that I was violated. She knew that this violation of me left me with the one thing that I’ve always yearned for, a child. There is nothing quite like a hospital bed in the pitch dark of the night to get one to contemplate life! Ann, caught in an abusive marriage, my best friend – the love of my life . . .
I finally found the courage:
“Ann, I was going to call you on the day of the accident. I think. I need you to know that I love you, always have and always will. Throughout our friendship, I’ve wrestled with this love that I have for you.” I hesitated, and then pressed the send button.
I did not expect such an immediate response, it was after all almost midnight!
“I love you too. I love you in a way that I’ve been denying myself for almost a decade. I no longer want to fit in, losing you is something that I can’t live with. You are my world, you are my heart. I’ve asked Donovan for a divorce.”
I stared as the screen as it lit up my heart, and woke me up to a new world. Ann loved me, she loved me in an intimate and romantic way – my soulmate is no longer hiding behind the cloak of other’s expectations.
Tonight, I mourn the loss of my unborn child, I grief the loss of others at the hand of my ill health, and I forgive the man who violated me in an attempt to “fix” me. Tonight, I go to bed feeling loved and accepted. Tomorrow is a new day, tomorrow I wake up with a heart full of happiness. My heart beats stronger, knowing that I too, am Ann’s world from this moment onwards.
I wrote this story on the same day of the entry deadline and allowed the story to craft itself as I typed, like I did in 2016 with Isolated Malignancy. Let me know what you think?