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Lungs

I remember being unhappy for no reason. I remember feeling hollow and worthless, an empty shell kicked around by the world. I remember birth, and death, and everything in between, life. Life is what brought the unhappiness, the feelings of emptiness and worthlessness. Life is, essentially, death, and death is life, for death brings light, and light is life.

I have something to look forward to. My time is coming, I can feel it. Death is growing weary; it’s heavy upon my shoulders, an exhausted onus ready to be released. I’m ready to live.

Here I am, hidden within the labyrinth of wheelchairs and nursing stations, the stink of old age and disease. I’m here, hidden within my mind, unable to communicate my thoughts and feelings. This is death, being trapped within myself.

Nubs pump oxygen into my shriveled cellophane lungs, and I struggle to raise my chest. Shouldn’t have smoked so much in my younger years, I think as raspy cough squeezes all of the air from my body. Temples pounding like the prattling of thousands of bullets.

“Hello, darling,” my wife, young and smooth, pats my bedraggled, drooping cheek with a manicured hand. Her thumb traces the stubble along my jaw, an outdated gesture; I haven’t felt this kind of touch in years.

One of my crinkled mitts creaks to my cheek to cup her hand beneath my palm, but I find myself caressing my own face, and my heart deflates. Emptiness ravages my innards like genocide, killing every ounce of hope provided by her memory.

I exhale, hoping to wring the death from my lungs, but the bags expand again. I’m still trapped within this balding, spotted head. I want to live. I want to see her again.

“Hey, Callan, how are you doing, buddy?” a young soldier asks, pulling his hat off as he enters the room. Close cropped and dark, his hair is smoothed by his callow hand.

“Hey, Walt, I haven’t seen you in years!” I say, but no words come from my mouth. My eyebrows simply furrow, and my eyes water. They leak bits of sadness, hoping to relieve the ache, but if anything, it grows worse. Much worse.

As Walt approaches, his features sharpen. His skin is white, deathly white, the color of a bridal gown. I gasp, for his lips are bloody and torn. This is how I last saw him. Dead. No, not dead. He’s alive. I’m dead.

He stands before me, trapped in a state of in-between. Neither living nor dead; he simply is.

“When are you coming to visit me?” Walt asks, extending a hand to me. I reach out to him, hoping to grasp his hand, hoping he will pull me along at his heels to a new life. My bones are wrapped in sagging skin, melting like wax. Our hands should touch, but my fingers stroke air. Walt isn’t here; he never has been.

He’s trapped in a state of in-between.

“I’ll come with you now,” I try to say. The words are empty from my lips; they echo through my head and ricochet off the sides of my skull, mocking me. You have no control of this, I remind myself maliciously. You cannot do anything about this. You are trapped, dead. There is no way you can bring yourself to life.

“I have to go, Callan,” he says, dark eyes crinkling.

“No,” I exhale, no sound emanates from my vocal chords. Rather, a strained wheeze bubbles from my lips; coughing ensues. Crumpled lungs rattle around in my abdomen, struggling to inflate. Air. Air. I need air.

Walt is fading like my struggling. The oxygen tank next to my bed kicks in, my body monitors bleep, and nurses rush into the room. He backs away, allowing them to surround my bed, to wall me in.

“Walt!” I yell; my voice is silent, more coughing.

“Hang in there, Mr. Webster,” a dark skinned woman says, soothing. Her face is soft, round. Comforting. My eyes lock on hers, honey lozenges. Sweet and innocent.

A mask covers my mouth, forces oxygen into the cellophane. I’m inflated, forced back to death. I was almost there, I think. Tears snake out of my eyes and pool against the sides of the face mask. My lungs are inflating and deflating. Inflating and deflating. Up and down, my chest goes up and down.

There is movement, but there is no moving. I am trapped in death, trapped within myself. I’m breathing, and the circle of nurses is receding. Walt is gone; life is gone.
. . .

Somewhere, hidden deep, I lie young and happy in the corners of my mind. Dusty and cobwebbed, I’m smiling. I’m smiling because I feel like I’m living; I’m feigning light. She’s here, my wife, young and smooth. I hold her close, pressed together from forehead to toes.

“Annie,” I whisper, brushing a tendril of raven from the side of her face and hooking it behind her ear. Eyes closed and smiling, she nestles into my shoulder and lets out a satisfied sigh. “I love you, my precious girl.”
. . .

Air is stale and burns my nostrils like poisonous gas; every breath is a mountain. As I inhale, I must hike up the steep, jagged slope, claw my way to the peak. Upon exhale, I tumble down the other side, falling beaten and broken to a rest at the nadir. The process is ceaseless and inescapable. If I can’t perform the necessity on my own, I have a team of nurses to push me to the top of the mound.

I just want it to stop, I think. It hurts too much.

It hurts too much.

So I stop. I lay resting at the base of the mountain, flat on my back with my eyes fixed on the stormy gray sky. The clouds, the faces, rain looks of concern on my bliss. It hurts for a moment, only a moment, as the skies open up and pour out their concern.

“Come on, Mr. Webster,” a voice pierces the veil of clouds, a beam of sunlight. Honey lozenges. “You’re okay.”

They try to pick me up and carry me, but I put my foot down. I want to stay here, in the valley. I like the grass and the sky. I want to live.

They tug on my arms and legs, trying to drag me up against my will. Without breath, I should grow weak, but I grow strong. The asphyxiation is chafing death. Death is dying. Life is being born.

The strain on my limbs diminishes. Clouds fade from the sky to reveal a vibrant, blue blanket, brighter than anything I’ve seen in death. I taste the air. The air. It’s deliciously rich and full; each breath fills every pore like an ice cold glass of water. I shiver from the sheer delight. This must be life.


I remember being unhappy for no reason. I remember feeling hollow and worthless, an empty shell kicked around by the world. I remember birth, and death, and everything in between, life. Life is what brought the unhappiness, the feelings of emptiness and worthlessness. Life is, essentially, death, and death is life, for death brings light, and light is life.



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