Space entered them. It filled their skins as air blown into them until they were stretched as taut as balloons. It was not a comfortable situation. They did not know why they were born and filled with such space. Nor were they aware of the air that filled them. Still, they were made up of the same parts of any other human being. Unknown to them, there were inside them spaces everywhere, in the cells of their liver and kidneys, in their bloodstream, and in the pupils of their eyes.
They were a pair sitting at a pasta restaurant in Rome, eating spongy and soft white focaccia baked with olives and topped with cheese.
Each felt that something was amiss. One considered the flavor of the olives was off. The other considered a regret from the previous day, which had occupied much of their mind from the time they had woken and until that moment of chewing and swallowing the bread.
They did not understand that with each passing second, the air was leaking out of them. In fact, the place where the air was leaking out of them constantly itched. It was a perpetual source of irritation which they could not name. They tried most of all to appear that were not confounded by the itching sensation to which they had been bound since birth. Hiding the itch had become a preoccupation for both of them. Such itching was the impulse most active in the reptilian cortex of their brains. To any observer, it would appear that they were fully engaged in eating pasta which had arrived at the table in an aluminum cooking pan as if it had just come from the stovetop, though it was only a ploy used to impress the image of freshness.
Neither enjoyed the pasta, though none could say why it was that this was so. There was nothing wrong with the pasta. Nor with the restaurant, which had wooden beams on the interior and white plaster walls adorned with statues of mother Mary.
Rolling the spaghetti around the tines of the silver fork, one of the pair felt the very place the air was leaking out. It was under her arm, just below her armpit. She put her hand up to it and felt a steady and slow stream of air blowing over her fingers, like a car air conditioner. Just feeling the air on her fingers came as a shock to her, and yet the shock was not destabilizing. It caused for a moment the itch to stop. She was no longer preoccupied with the memory. Everything in the restaurant seemed to pause for a moment, diners in mid-bite, forks and glasses aloft in the air. She was no longer hungry for the pasta that remained spiraled around her fork. It was as if there was no longer anything against which her thoughts could push. She felt that it was uncomfortable to be blown up as they were. She did not know how to explain what it was she was experiencing. Nor did she understand that this air pervaded everything, even time. She only knew that the question had been wrong, and she tried to come up with a new question, one that would point back to this air to which she had been hereto oblivious. Though there was no way to comprehend it, she wanted to give it a word, to trap whatever it was she was experiencing into the structure of a sentence so she could understand it, scrutinize it, and hold to it firmly.
It was at that moment that the room started to move with ordinary restaurant activities again. She couldn’t remember what it was that she had been thinking, nor the question she was trying to formulate. She bit down hard on the pasta as if the fat of the cream would block the weight of the intrusive memory. Still, she knew there was something else she was trying to remember. She chewed rapidly as her skin itched with the effort of remembering.
The other person at the table was telling her a complaint to which she sympathized. As she breathed out in speech, the air moving over her tongue sparked her memory, in which she felt the shape of red balloons inside her arms. She smiled at her companion.