Love Hurts by Michael Keenaghan

I got home from work and put down my briefcase. Immediately I sensed something was different.

 

“Somebody’s been here,” I said to Amy. “In this house – you’ve had someone here.”

 

She sat flicking through a magazine, the TV on low.

 

“What?”

 

I repeated myself.

 

“Your imagination,” she said, carrying on reading.

 

I grabbed the magazine out of her hands.

 

“Who was it this time? Graham from the club? Bill from the gym? Come on, tell me?”

 

“Take a fucking chill pill – you’ve lost it.”

 

She got up and walked down the hall. She was wearing tight shorts and a cut-off T-shirt.

 

“I’m having a shower,” she said. Then she turned round. “And one thing – when I come back, be normal, yeah?”

 

I sat down and loosened my tie. Amy was twenty-three – ten years younger than me. In the past, that hadn’t seemed to matter, but ever since she’d cheated on me there seemed a whole lifetime between us. I couldn’t trust her. How many other men had there been?

 

But in a way, it was all my fault. Too many long hours at work, not enough time together, and then the week-long business trip had been one straw too many. When I discovered her infidelity she said she’d been lonely, she couldn’t help it, and besides, it was just physical, it meant nothing. But then she got arrogant and said it wasn’t as if we were married or anything, so what difference did it make anyway? We had the biggest row ever, but when she said she was going to leave me I ended up in tears practically begging her to stay.

 

Afterwards on the bed (where we normally resolved our troubles) I realised just how skilful she was at reversing roles. But I could forgive her for that. In fact, I could forgive her for most things. Things were never really normal in our relationship anyway. And things were never really normal in my life. Or at least hadn’t been for many years.

 

When I was twenty-one I was in an accident that almost killed me. It happened on the night I got my degree. Out on the town, my whole life ahead of me, and then I stepped out in front of a speeding car. I was critical for three weeks and had several operations, but a year or so later I was right as rain – or at least as right as I was ever going to be.

 

But life has its compensations. My career in the City was everything I was born for. And finally meeting someone to love and share my everything with, brought me happiness like I’d never known.

 

I first met Amy when I’d been out celebrating a deal. It was a Friday night. She was standing at the bar in a figure-hugging red dress, beautiful beyond words.

 

“Go on, I dare you,” Jeff Logan said, nodding over.

 

“No way. Too classy for me.”

 

“Never. Get in there.”

 

I strode over expecting to be sent packing in a second – especially with my corny one-liner – but something happened. We just clicked.

 

Amy Cheung. I’ll never forget the way she looked that night. Cleopatra hair, sultry red lips and eyes so alluring I was mesmerised. I fell in love.

 

She told me she was temping for Bryant Goldberg, a law firm on Fleet Street, and lived with friends in a flat in Marylebone. But I never saw the place because that weekend we spent every moment together – mostly at mine in Borough – and by Monday she’d moved in with me.

 

That first night as we laughed and kissed our way to the bed, I told her – between hiccups – that I had a confession to make – or at least something to reveal that she might not like.

 

“Surprise me,” she said.

 

I rolled up my trousers then disattached my leg.

 

She put her hands to her mouth then fell onto the bed in a fit of laughter. “That’s brilliant,” she said. “You’re so funny, I love it.”

 

Then we had the best sex ever.

 

It turned out that Amy had never worked for Bryant Goldberg at all, and was in fact coasting along between jobs. But what did I care? We were in love.

 

For those first few months, things were fun and exciting. We’d go out to bars and clubs till all hours, mixing with friends, living life to the full. Yet all along I looked forward to settling down.

 

One night during a candlelit meal I asked her, “What’s your plans for the future?”

 

“Kids,” she said. “Not exactly now, but soon maybe.”

 

I’d met the woman of my dreams.

 

For years, despite the success of my career and the wonders of modern prostheses, I’d remained deeply insecure. After several short-lived relationships, I wondered what sort of woman would want to commit to me – or if one would at all. I craved a future of normality – wife, two kids, a nice house in Surrey. It was my dream. With Amy I thought I’d found that.

 

As time went on and my workload increased, Amy began to see her friends without me. They were a hard-partying crowd that never stopped, but I trusted Amy at least. I often had to spend evenings entertaining clients myself, so it was a two-way thing. But my favourite times were with Amy at home. Being together, being a couple.

 

Once when she’d gone out four nights on the trot, I said, “Can’t you just say in tonight – a quiet night in together?”

 

She stopped at the door and turned round.

 

“Do you want me chained to the kitchen sink?” she said. “Is that what you want?”

 

“No, of course not.”

 

“Yes you do.” She walked towards me, and from her eyes I could tell she’d already had a snort of coke.

 

She came up close. “That’s what all you English men want, isn’t it? A nice little Asian girl indoors to cook your meals and perform in bed, isn’t that right?”

 

Suddenly she grabbed my crotch and started to squeeze. “I’m simply seeing my friends, trying to have a life outside of these four walls and you won’t even give me that.”

 

“Amy, let go … you’re getting this all wrong … please, let go.”

 

“You with your big job … I need some kind of life too you know,” she said, squeezing a little harder before letting go.

 

“What was that for?” I gasped, doubled over.

 

“Misogynist fuck,” she said, walking away.

 

She slammed the door behind her.

 

“Amy!” I called. But she was gone.

 

I’d never seen her like that before.

 

Another time we argued about money. Or certainly Amy did. I didn’t mind her not working, and I didn’t mind her spending my money. I bought her clothes and gifts all the time, and gave her a weekly allowance on a card – if anything, I lavished her. But once after she’d complained of being bored and I suggested she maybe get a job, even part-time, just to fill her days, she flipped.

 

“So you want me to pay my way now?” she snapped. “It’s not enough that I satisfy you in the bedroom and keep the place spotless, you want me to work as well?”

 

“I never said that.”

 

“Okay, I’ll clean toilets and mop floors and clear away people’s dirty plates, is that good enough for you? Then I’ll come home and do the same here. I’ll be a slave, your own little woman slave, just how you like it.”

 

I tried to get a word in but she wouldn’t let me.

 

“I’ll tell you what you are,” she said. “You’re just a one-legged loser with one ball.”

 

I was shocked, I couldn’t believe she’d just said that. After being smashed up in the accident, one of my operations had involved the removal of a testicle. I had a plastic one now, but everything worked fine. Men don’t need two balls. It’s like your kidneys – one, two, it makes no difference. Still, her words cut me.

 

“Amy, that’s low.”

 

“No, what’s low is you,” she said. “Take a look at yourself.”

 

Suddenly she started mimicking a cripple who could hardly walk. I’d been having some trouble with my hip recently – but now all her sympathy had vanished.

 

“You’re not even a man,” she said. “You’re just half a man. A freak with no leg and a limp dick.”

 

I slapped her across the face.

 

Her face shot to the side, then she slowly turned back to me, the two of us wide-eyed in disbelief at what I’d just done.

 

“I’m sorry…” I said. “I’m so sorry…”

 

I tried to touch her but she backed away from me. Then she did something that I least expected. Bowing her head, she started to cry. All of a sudden she looked so weak, so vulnerable.

 

“You hit me,” she uttered between sobs. “You hit me.”

 

“Amy, listen, I never meant to hurt you…”

 

She rushed to the bedroom and locked herself in.

 

“I’m sorry,” I said at the door. “You have to believe me … please …”

 

She didn’t answer.

 

I sat with my head in my hands. I didn’t know what to do. I soon curled up on the couch, utterly depressed. Somehow I dozed off.

 

I woke with Amy standing above me holding a duvet. There was a bruise on her cheekbone. Jesus Christ, had I really done that?

 

“Here,” she said, throwing the blanket in my face. “Woman-beating scum.”

 

The next morning I would have given anything to take the day off to make it up to her, but it just wasn’t possible. When I came home I noticed several ads cut from magazines left purposely by the phone. “Anger Management” one said; another “Domestic Abuse”. Amy had again locked herself in the bedroom.

 

I stood by the door, practically in tears, promising it would never happen again.

 

Finally she emerged in a little black dress. Her bruise was covered but her lipstick was bright red.

 

“Up my allowance,” she said. “Double it.”

 

Then she left the flat and didn’t return until 5 a.m.

 

Those were the bad times. But you must remember, there were good times too.

 

Sometimes after one of her nights out, she’d return pumped full of Ecstasy and we’d have the best time in bed ever. It was difficult to pull myself away to get to work. She made me feel like a teenager again.

 

“How’s the Thai bride?” a friend at work once said during an evening slagging session at the Olde Cheshire Cheese.

 

The other blokes went silent; they could see my face. I lunged for him. They had to hold me back.

 

I loved Amy. I wouldn’t hear a bad word spoken about her. It was as simple as that.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said the next day. “I was out of order.”

 

We shook hands.

 

I was again promoted. This was great, but on the downside it meant even less time with Amy. Finally I had to go away to New York on business for a week. I returned a few hours earlier than planned and, arriving home, there she was on the bed with another man.

 

I stood there speechless.

 

Amy turned away and curled into the duvet as the man got dressed, muttering a token apology as he left the flat.

 

I sat down in the living room and poured myself a Scotch. Amy put her hand on my shoulder saying she was sorry. I still couldn’t say a word.

 

Eventually we argued, battled it out, but as I mentioned earlier, I ended up begging her to stay.

 

Thinking about it, even with her cruelty and lies, I’d probably still be with Amy now, because quite truly I didn’t want to be with anyone else.

 

But one day returning from work, she wasn’t there. All her clothes and jewellery were gone, along with much of the contents of the flat. The place felt stripped bare.

 

“Sorry it had to end this way,” the note said. “Love, Amy.”

 

Standing out on the ledge that night, London looked strangely alluring, stretching to the horizon like a sparkling sea. All I had to do was take one step, fly out into it and all my woes would be gone. While down below me, things seemed almost celebratory – police cars, fire engines, crowds. Like a carnival. Except it was freezing cold winter and my teeth were rattling like bones.

 

After six weeks in a clinic I was fine. Suicide had been a bad option. The negotiators who had talked me down were right. I still did have things to live for. In fact, the future holds promise. I’ve taken an extended break from work. I’m planning to head East. Two, three weeks max. I won’t be coming home alone.

 

*

Michael Keenaghan lives in London. His short stories lay scattered across the web. Visit him here www.myspace.com/michaelkeenaghan or www.twitter.com/mkeenaghan.

 

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