Stroke of Heart

Submitted into Contest #2 in response to: Write a story about someone who's haunted by their past.... view prompt

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Not again! The third night in a row, I awoke screaming, face wet from tears.

Meow?

A wet nose was pushed in my face, whiskers tickling my ear.

“I’m all right, Tumble,” I whispered. My black and white tomcat didn’t understand, but he knew I was lying. Who was I trying to fool?

Tumble settled on my lap, front paws between my breasts, treading in continuous motion as if trying to give CPR to his favorite can opener. How could he know this was exactly the spot that was hurting?

The pain eased as I scratched his chin, finding the spot he loved most. A deep, soothing rumble was the answer to my ministrations, the subsonic purr calming my mind, making me sink back into exhausted slumber. I woke much too early. Despite several hours of dreamless sleep, I felt horrible. Cradling my cup of coffee, I finally allowed my mind to return to the moment triggering those memories.

*******

“Jenna? Is that you?”

A voice from the past made me flinch, the familiar lisp of Mike’s baritone coming from behind. I almost jumped my skin. I was waiting in line to pay my groceries, without a chance to run. Out of options, I turned slowly, my movements feeling wooden. I didn’t want to confirm it was Mike. But there he was, two customers behind me, grinning at me with his crooked smile.

“Wait, please!”

I stood rooted to the spot, unable to move.

“Next please,” the cashier called, ripping me out of my shock.

I couldn’t recall paying, or waiting for him. I woke from trance when his arms wrapped around me, hugging me tight. He hadn’t changed a bit in the eighteen years since we had met last. As always, he seemed oblivious to my feelings, words pouring out of his mouth in a steady stream. I listened, immobile, while he tried to put the events of the last eighteen years into a few sentences.

Daniel and Beatrice were married, living a few miles from here with their two kids. Anne and Gerald had moved together, buying a house in the mountains. He himself, was still looking for the right wife…

He paused, waiting for the most impact, before speaking the name that would rip open my heart again.

“Rob had a stroke. He has been dead for eight years now.”

The world around me froze as his words registered in my brain, head spinning from lack of oxygen. Then his hands were on my shoulders, shaking me roughly.

“Breathe, Jenna, breathe goddammit!”

When control returned to my limbs, I balked and ran, leaving him and my bag of groceries behind. I fled the parking lot with screeching tires, without recollection of driving home.

An eerie wail grating in my ears returned me to my senses. I was sitting in my car, the motor idling. The sound was escaping from my own lips. Somehow, I managed to return to my apartment, calling in sick for the week.

*******

It had happened four days ago. Four days of walking around absent-minded like a zombie on sleeping pills, of running in circles, refusing to face the truth. The love of my life was dead. Had been for eight years now. And I hadn’t known about it.

Part of me screamed he had deserved it, leaving me without reason, ripping my heart open all the way. He had returned weeks later, claiming to check if I had gotten over him already. I hadn’t, of course! Instead, I had thrown myself into his arms. We ended up having sex on the mattress I used for a bed, making me hope I could change his mind. After taking me roughly, he had pulled up his pants with the comment that had dominated the last eighteen years of my life.

“Thank you for the experience, now I know how it feels to fuck someone I don’t love, Whore.”

From that day on, I had never hugged another man again. I had deadened my feelings, turned my bleeding heart to stone, feeling only hatred for all men. The only being I loved was my tomcat Tumble. He loved me back unconditionally, would never betray me or rip out my heart.

Walls around me came crashing down as I faced the truth. The object of my love, and hatred, was dead, gone forever. I told myself I should rejoice, he got what he deserved. I couldn’t.

Washing my face with icy water to clear my thoughts, I grabbed my car keys from the counter. I knew exactly where I needed to go.

I was looking at a plain headstone, moss growing on one side, staring at his name with tears running down my face. The grave was overgrown, without personal touch. He had obviously died alone, now lying forgotten. The pain suppressed for so long once again blossomed in my chest, ripping me apart. Nobody deserved to die like this.

Footfalls behind me made me turn. Mike was standing there, flowers in his hands.

“I knew you would come,” he mumbled, pressing the flowers in my shaking hands. I knelt, placing them on the grave. He held out his hand, pulling me up, then close.

“He was an asshole, but I know you loved him dearly,” he whispered in my ear, arms wrapped around me in understanding.

Something inside me changed. I hugged him back, head settling comfortably on his chest. His hands trailed gently down my spine, his thumbs brushed the wetness from my cheeks. He didn’t say anything, yet the gleam in his eyes was telling me all there was to say.

“What made you wait so long?” words from the depth of my freed soul escaped my lips.

He pulled me closer with a groan, kissing the top of my head. I stood there, in his arms, in silence, for a long time, listening to the steady beating of his gentle heart. After eighteen years, I had finally found home.

August 14, 2019 14:06

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