The Happiness of the Heart (March story)

The Happiness of the Heart

February short story

I’ve tried, Lord knows I’ve tried. If they gave prizes for trying I’d be right up there on the winner’s podium. But life’s not like that is it? Life has a habit of kicking you in the teeth just when you think you’ve got it sussed.

Marc was my first wake up call to life’s reality. We met at Uni. He possessed a rare intelligence, wit and enough charm to make roses bloom in December. We were made for each other. He was Romeo to my Juliet, Lancelot to my Guinevere, Mark-Antony to my Cleopatra. We talked, laughed and planned our life’s paths together watching the sun set over our urban city sprawl. His path detoured when he met Melanie, a bottle-blonde who battled to get her staple-gun claws into him from the moment they met. He broke my heart into a million pieces.

I took a job teaching English to business men on the Costa Brava. I rented a small apartment overlooking the harbour of the little town. I’d always been drawn to the sea. It was heaven. Then I met Miguel, one of my students. His body, musky and warm, smelt of possibilities and pleasures unknown. My feelings spiralled out of control. I drowned in his swimming pool eyes and curled lashes, swept away by the warmth of his honey-smooth voice and beguiling desire to please. We wined and dined by candlelight and walked on moonlit beaches beneath a vast canopy of stars. His burning kisses stayed with me until morning. He mended my fractured heart. In his passionate embrace I believed his whispered promises.

He left me for what he called ‘new challenges’. I felt like a country that had been invaded, conquered and abandoned. My heart was bruised but not broken.

Next came the scuba-diving instructor, Paulo a sun-bronzed Adonis with bulging biceps and a mega-watt smile. He was so gorgeous I thought he could walk on water, never mind teach me to swim beneath it. We ate oysters fresh from the sea and cooked crayfish over embers on the beach to the sound of the sea lapping the shore. His burning desire and lust rush only lasted as long as I was wearing a rubber suit. Have you any idea how hot it gets in those suits? I left him, heart intact.

In Greece I met a fisherman who seduced me with knowledge and insight. He quoted Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato sitting under olive trees to the sound of crickets chirping in long grass. We read poetry among ancient ruins beneath a sky drenched with stars. In my heart I knew it couldn’t last.

I moved on to Italy. What can I tell you about Italian men? They love their food, their football, their clothes and their mothers, in that order. I taught classes in the morning and had the afternoons free to wander along to the harbour and watch the boats bobbing on the sparkling waves. There’s something soothing, timeless and eternal about women mending nets and fishermen unloading their catch, the sea lapping against the boats; a sense of permanence, continuity and agelessness.

I sat on the harbour wall reading and hardly noticed the young man with his easel and paints, until he caught my eye.

“Bellissima, “he said, “Please do not move. I have nearly finished.”

I frowned.

“Please, he said. “Un momento.”

I waited. He pulled the picture from his easel and passed it to me: a sketch of me gazing out to sea as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa. “You are very beautiful,” he said. “Please sit for me again.”

I sat for him the following afternoon until the golden sun sunk low over the horizon bathing the sky in its sulphur glow. He was young, innocent and incredibly polite. He took me home to meet his mother, Maria. She welcomed me into her home like a long lost daughter, crushing me in her gigantic arms. We became firm friends.

In the warmth of her kitchen, surrounded by the heavenly aroma of baking, spices and flavoured oils, we drank coffee and talked. She told me about her family, fierce pride and love shining in her eyes, creasing her crinkled, mahogany-tan face. Her determination was clear when talked about Gino and her plans for him. “He will be an artist,” she said. “He will marry into a fine Italian family and have lots of bambinos.” I was no threat.

She was teaching me to make pasta when I told her about Marc and his betrayal. I didn’t mention his sapphire blue eyes, his lopsided smile and heart-wrenching grin, his perfect teeth and his habit of chewing his bottom lip when he was concentrating, or running his fingers through his blonde waves when he was perturbed. I didn’t even mention how my heart fluttered whenever I saw him, the thrill I got when his lips brushed mine nor the shiver that ran down my spine when his fingers touched my skin. In fact, I hardly mentioned him at all.

“Hmph,” she said, slamming a lump of pasta dough on the floured table. “Men, they’re like children, always going after the newest shiniest toys when in their hearts it’s their favourite old teddy bears they love the best. You have to be blind in the eye.” She turned the dough over, and looked up at me. “Bitterness lives in the head,” she said. “Happiness lives in the heart when the heart forgives.” She banged the dough on the table again and kneaded it savagely with her enormous fists.

I left Italy without sadness. I’m on my way home and not before time. Marc will be at the airport to meet me. He said so in his last e-mail, the two hundredth he’s sent since I left. He’s asked me to marry him and I’ve said yes. He’s a trier too and Maria was right, the heart overflows with happiness when it forgives.

If you enjoyed this story there are plenty more in my short story collections available here.

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