One Breath

By Kirsten Clodfelter


bebeThere is something haunting and calm about the bottom of the pool, about the near-silence underneath water. Lacerations of light have cracked along the cement, and the sunlight is filtered, muted. There is something lonely, too, about the way sound seems to be an echo of the past, perhaps not sound at all, but only the apparition of sound. This is the place where I am the most comfortable, like in the earliest parts of morning, like in the empty car of a train, where I can steal just a minute of solitude, quiet. A place where I can think.

It’s been two months today since Adam and I converted the nursery into an office, though I can’t stand to cross the threshold into the room now, so it’s really just Adam’s office. The walls have been repainted, yellow to white.

I have never been an especially good swimmer, but I can hold my breath the full length of the pool, and this is what I’m doing now; I’ve just pushed off the wall. I pull myself through the water, learning the lightness of my body, the way the water glosses over my skin, until it becomes familiar—something I’ve been doing all along.

A little past the halfway mark, I push all of the air I’ve been holding out of my lungs. Now I have to hurry, I’m running out of time. We left the nursery for five years. Then I came home one day from the bank and Adam was upstairs with a toolbox, taking apart the crib.

In the water, it gets so that I can think of nothing else but the burning in my chest. The panic in my body starts to rise from the lack of oxygen, becomes more persistent, a throbbing just above my ears; my own heartbeat coursing blood through veins. I told Adam I didn’t want an office, didn’t want to put the knitted blanket in a box in the back of our closet. He put down the screwdriver he was holding to pull me against him, to hold me close while he said, “I think it’s time we move on.”

I kick my legs harder—the final push. It burns. And burns. And burns. At the wall, I use my hands to break the crisp surface of the water, and I glide my body up through the blue, through the space I’ve made for myself, to open my mouth and take one deep, clean breath, the air filling my lungs.

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