#AtoZChallenge — H is for Heartbreak

H

Manny makes another appearance today. (Here’s the first.)

1057 words, infidelity, car accident. Please leave a comment if you like what you read. 😊

Heartbreak

If he hadn’t gotten out of work early, it wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have pulled up next to an unfamiliar car in the driveway, wouldn’t have gone in and seen the two empty wine glasses on the coffee table, wouldn’t have walked to the bedroom and seen his wife with another man. In that first instant that was all Manny could think — that he might never have known, if only. Then it really hit him, crashed into him with a physical force that nearly knocked him back into the hall. That was his wife. That was his Claudia straddling another man, sweat glistening on her bare back, her eyes closed and head thrown back in pleasure.

His heart broke with such force that it shook loose something inside of him, something that came out as a noise halfway between groan and primal scream, startling the two of them. Claudia scrambled to get out of bed, stumbled to him saying words that didn’t penetrate the fog of betrayal and hurt spinning in his head, while the stranger groped around for clothes. Manny inhaled the smell of sex as she came closer and tried to push her away, but his hand moved quickly and she was already too close. The unintended blow caught her across the jaw and she stumbled back. She was caught by the stranger, who shoved her dress into her hands and urged her towards the other door on the far side of the bedroom.

They ran from him. He chased.

“Emmanuel Cowell?” The police officer crouched down in front of him in the pool of yellow street-lamp light, trying to get his attention. “I know it’s been a long night, but I’m going to have to ask you a few questions” He pulled a pencil from his pocket and held it poised over the notepad in his hand. “Manny… Can I call you Manny?”

Manny looked up from his seat on the curb and met the officer’s gaze with bleary eyes. Ever since he’d been a kid he’d hated the shortened version of his name. His father had called him that, and it seemed as though that had branded it onto his forehead for everyone to see and use for the rest of his life. Manny sighed and closed his eyes. “Sure.”

“Okay Manny. Can you tell me your relationship with the deceased?” The officer looked like a nice enough person, it probably wasn’t fair of Manny that is first impulse was to tell him to fuck off.

“She’s my wife.” He looked down at his hands, draped uselessly over his knees. “She was the passenger.”

“And you saw what happened? You called the ambulance?”

He chased them out the back door and around the side of the house, crashing through the gate that they’d left open in their haste. Manny didn’t even know why he was following, didn’t know what he would do if he caught up, didn’t know anything beyond the ache in his chest.

The one person he’d trusted, who’d coaxed him into trusting when it didn’t come easily to him and never had… He got close enough to see her one more time, still trying to yank her dress down to cover her naked body, before they were in the car.

Tires screeched as the car backed hastily out the driveway, with Manny fumbling after it and yelling curses at her, at him, at the sky, at everything. He stumbled, and by the time he regained his balance and looked up there wasn’t time to do anything but watch the car back directly into the path of an oncoming pickup truck. And the horrible vindictive ‘Good’ that had surged through him for a fraction of a second, just before the sound of the crash of the truck plowing into the passenger side door.

He shuddered. “Yeah, I saw.”

“Did you know the driver?”

“No.”

There was a pause while they worked through two separate sets of implications. The officer made a note on his pad that the only witness was the husband of a woman who’d been in a car driven by another man in the middle of the night. Manny realized that the present tense no longer applied.

The third thing that tore through Manny was, as he ran towards the accident, and the truck driver stumbled out on the far side holding his head, was a memory.

It was so powerful that he could smell her perfume. He heard her voice coaxing him to dance, pulling him into position even while he protested weakly that he had two left feet and couldn’t dance to save his life. “It’s okay,” she’d said, “trust me.” He heard his own voice still fumbling over excuses even as he let her drag him through the first steps of a waltz.

Even with her help, he still couldn’t dance. But she hadn’t given up on teaching him the basic steps no matter how many times he stepped clumsily on her feet, and when he’d finally gotten it right she’d laughed and kissed him. That was the moment he’d fallen in love with her, when he’d first realized that he even could fall in love with anyone.

Now she would never dance again.

Manny cooperated numbly through the rest of the interview, answering question after question. No, he didn’t know where they’d been going. Yes, he’d come home from work early and surprised them. No, he hadn’t laid a hand on anyone, just yelled. Yes, he’d followed them out of the house. No, he’d still been in the driveway when it happened. Yes, he’d called 911 immediately. No, his wife didn’t have any other family in the area. No, she wasn’t an organ donor as far as he knew… And on and on. In the end, the officer closed the notebook and told he was sorry for Manny’s loss.

The sympathy in his voice made Manny want to hit something. Violence was another thing his father had given him, not a brand but something pounded in deep beneath the surface, and that made him feel almost as sick as thinking Good when he heard the impact.

As soon as they let him go for the night he walked a mile to the nearest bar and had his first drink since he was fifteen.

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