The smoke comes in from the east and the fog comes in from the west. Either way, my vision is clouded, my senses impaired. I breathe in, I breathe out. My child is growing up, my father is dying. That’s my moment. I breathe in, I breathe out. Will the sun come out today? This week? It’s not clear. Does my son notice how hard it is to see? Maybe it’s not hard for him, maybe this feels all normal. He looks at me. I wonder if he notices how confused I am. My father sleeps most of the day, with shallow breaths and quiet heartbeats. He breathes in, he breathes out. He could last months longer, he could be gone by dawn, if there is a dawn. My son sits by his bed and holds his hand. Seeing them together makes sense. Finally, something makes sense.
I used to go out and pick up the morning paper off of the porch. Now I flip on the computer. The weather report says clear skies will return next year. We should all go back to bed if we can. But we can’t. I make breakfast for my son, I check on my dad, give him his pills, help him in the bathroom. The caregiver will be here this afternoon. Then I mask up and go to work. Four hours a day making deliveries for Meals on Wheels. They pay me minimum wage and mileage. Combined with my social security, and pension, I can get by, as long as my truck holds out. I knock on people’s doors, leave the food in the corridor or on the porch. Sometimes I wait for them to open the door. I like seeing their faces. I used to go inside and say a few words. No more. Can’t breathe in, can’t breathe out when I’m near these folks. They probably don’t have the virus, since they never go anywhere, but you can never tell. Maybe they have a friend who comes by for coffee and breathes all over the place. It’s a relief to get back outside, but I don’t take a deep breath until I’m back in the truck. I breathe in, I breathe out. Safe, I hope, in my bubble. When I get home, the caregiver is giving my dad a bath. My son has done some homework, he asks me to take a look. Sines and cosines. I think he got it right, that’s about as far as I got in math. By next semester, he’ll be ahead of me, he’ll be on his own. As if he weren’t already. His next class is in ten minutes, he fixes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He still hates the crusts, but he’s old enough now to cut them off himself. But he still leaves a mess.
The smoke comes in from the east and the fog comes in from the west. Dad asks for the nature channel. Death on the Serengheti. How Yellowstone Foxes Survive Winter. The Perilous Journey of the Sea Turtle. He asks for strawberry ice cream. Why not, the doctors say. I buy it by the gallon at the Dollar Store. America’s Choice Tub o’ Strawberry. Awash in Red Dye #2. He gobbles it up and watches the cheetah come in for the kill.
By sundown there is a slight copper glow overhead. Ah yes, the earth is still rotating, the sun still moves across the sky even if we can’t see it. I go out to get a better look. It’s silent. No birds, very little traffic. There is a thin coating of ash on the plastic outdoor furniture. You could draw letters in it with your finger. I write the word “today.”
Dad is asleep but I sit in his room and watch Saving the Wild Otter. My son is playing League of Legends with his friend across town. With his headset and joystick he looks like a pilot. They chat with each other as they play…tournaments, videos, friends. He’s too young for sexting, but that will come soon. I guess that’s better than no romance at all. Who knows? He asks me what’s for dinner. I think about the usual, mac and cheese or hamburger surprise. I think about him eventually talking to girls. Why not make something special? I get out a cookbook and find a recipe. I fuss for two hours, and dirty up the whole kitchen. It’s an Asian curry dish. It tastes, well, at least it’s different. My son makes a face when he eats it. He asks for more rice. Then I overhear him laughing on the phone and telling his friend about what his Dad did. Nice to hear him laugh.
By Tia OBrien
On September 26, 2020
Exceptional writing. I love the sparse power of each sentence, painting vivid images and emotions that all us who’ve lived our own version Respiration can relate to. Beautifully crafted.