She is sleeping beside me, and finally, she appears at peace. In her waking hours, a mist seems to appear, even on the hottest, driest day. Clings close, wraps itself around her. Never a breath of clean air finds its way into her lungs.

She's constantly mistaken for a smoker.

I never allow myself to sleep before she does. Listening to air filling her lungs is worth hours of rest. Hearing her quiet murmurs allows me to refrain from holding my breath.

At least until the morning.

At times, I feel as though I can see through her chest, I can see her lungs expanding. And always, they stop just short of completely full. She is never allowed the relief, the tightness, of taking a total, complete breath. That point where you believe you can't take any more in, before that final, sweet expansion takes in just a little bit more.

I see her approach that point, before a firm hand presses on her ribs, firmly pushing down. I used to see her fighting against it, I used to see the evidence of it in the skin surrounding her eyes, in the strain of her forehead.

She's never been able to understand what I mean when I try to describe this feeling to her.

I don't try to explain it any more.

Once, I looked straight into her, and saw the last time she had truly breathed. Nine years old, and running. Her slender legs were flying, her body barely able to keep up. Jonathon was his name, and she had boasted that he could never catch her. He had succumbed to a stitch after not long at all...her faint disappointment that he'd not caught her soon fell away, as she just kept on running. Lost in the exhilaration of the moment. So she just kept on running. Running until her legs gave way underneath her, and she came tumbling to the ground. Lying flat on her back, hardly able to stand for the next ten minutes.

I only asked her about this once. As the words passed my lips, I saw her ribs turn to stone.

I won't ask her about this again.

One day, I'm going to find a flat piece of ground, on a cold winter day. I'm going to bet her that she cannot catch me.

You try to define a self for years, exercising a mind and body which seem oddly rebellious ginst the self they comprise. A third party is not forthcoming. Your most cerebral moments are interrupted by hunger - and in the gasp of stubbing a toe on the way downstairs in search of bread or peanut butter, ideas burst like rockets in the black sky of a pain-blanked mind. This division is inherent in every language you've inherited, so much so that you dream of introducing them, bringing them together, hoping they'll hit it off and wed two entities into one; a union as effortless as silvery indivisible fish, dancing through the water they both inhabit and breathe.

Breathe, to nourish yourself. Breathe, to help with the pain. There is this much you can do to pull yourself out of panic. The life you circumscribed is asserting itself and this, this is the last time your bodies will work in concert and this is pain. Hands squeeze yours from beyond a haze - indistinct or too distinct. They urge you to breathe - they have nothing else to say, understanding is limited and language never did help - breathe. It won't go on forever. There are some things you can control, but not stop. Closed eyes make all sounds clearer, and the sensations inside and out that say, now. now. now. now. time to stop wondering, that's when.

When the child was a child, words like 'enskinned' and 'circumscribe' sounded like a different language - and perhaps they were. The limbs and voices of others were just as alien and familiar as yours.

Your fingers clench without thinking on the warm skin of the beloved. His back. Words useless, just the sounds of ragged breathing, encouragement, endearment. I am most at home when my body plays against your body.

Body play -
Remember testing the reflexes? The utterly laughable mystery of the struck knee kicking skyward. Watching closely a fallen child to see shock and amazement pucker and finally burst into red-faced shrieking bloom? It is experimentation - look what can be predicted, not controlled. Standing on hot asphalt, barefoot, to see who could resist jumping off longest. Fingers in flame. And of course, underwater endurance. Perhaps with eyes open and imagining a life below, examining suddenly-spectral fingers and fuzzed-over rocks and slanting sun - all this to distract, try to fool the body into forgetting that growing explosive urge. Then bursting back into the sun, eyes watery and unclear, ears full of now-distinct surface noises & the sounds the water and your gaping makes.

Makes you wonder, sometimes, how living within it you hardly notice the balance struck, how flexible and permeable the boundaries. Today you are ready to die. Yet another new thing. It's almost as a presence within you, moving with you, breathing with you, finally you.

Walt Whitman wrote of the body electric. I frequently suffer from the body static; a condition of increased systemic noise. A body suffering from static cannot register faint signals, such as vaguely nostalgic music playing on the radio, or the momentous rustling of leaves of the nearby trees. It wallows in self-generated non-meaning, vacillating between stupor and hysteria, blocking the outside world behind a screen of a throbbing pulse or a rumbling stomach. A burdened brain can produce a cloud of noxious vapour that obstructs the intake of most external impulses.

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