I Realize I’m Holding My Breath
Fiction by KRISTIN E. LANDFIELD
I scoot across the floor, noticing lint and hair and some dirt on this 32-year-old beige carpet. Normally I would feel guilty that I haven’t cleaned it. Today, though, I just roll over on my stomach and look up at the clunky hospital bed, a shoddy contraption with wheels and a crank that has been my father’s whole world for months now. I want to be on the floor near the bed rather than across the room or in the chair right next to it. I don’t know what else to do with myself. I’m on the floor and so is furry Sam, spread out and sleeping. Twilight Sam, who no longer wants to be lifted or held, but likewise wants to feel close and safe, grounded on the floor and holding watch.
All day, a pesky lump keeps rising in my throat. It presses tears to my eyes. I don’t altogether mind it: there is a welcome consonance to its subtle burn. Tightness rises in my body, sometimes slowly with heat, sometimes with a leap that forces its way to my throat, constricts the space, and pushes tears to form puddles in my eyes. That leap catches me involuntarily, like a cough or a sneeze or a yawn, maybe even like an unexpected laugh. I’m watching my father breathe, wondering about his tightened throat. Just now, a rare stillness inhabits his limbs. Along with the rise and fall in his chest, this signifies an increasingly fleeting moment of rest. I realize I’m holding my own breath.
Occasionally he starts, and his brittle fists wave around on enervated arms, shaking and tense, almost as though lamenting the air right in front of him. They can’t shake up at the sky, the vantage of which is long since shrouded by his rigid neck and nearly blind eyes. Instead, his quaking—with taut fists unable to loosen their grasp—erupts in a tremor of protest at this physical prison where he lies. He’s now fully shackled after being dragged behind Parkinson’s pillaging march for 25 years. In these new paroxysms of pain there is an agony in his face that I haven’t seen before. He shakes violently. I freeze in fear. When the convulsions abate, his arms drop, hands still clenched. Unlike many of his episodes, today when the tremors subside, he reverts to sleep—sleep not from comfort but from utter depletion. A sleep that scares me. I realize I’m holding my breath.
My mother comes into the room after taking a nap. Her small body moves with kind steps. With coffee in hand, she’s careful not to step on Sam. I raise a finger to my lips. We don’t say anything. She sets down her coffee and turns to the sofa for a blanket. She folds it just so then sets the fleece on the floor. My mother bends down, places a hand on the carpet and joins us—closest to the bed—listening through her faded hearing for my father’s breath. I realize I’m holding my breath.