Before we end this, I want to talk about breathing. I want to try to explain how I’ve been getting along all this time, because if you want to know me, you will need to understand this. If you understand this, I’ll know you’re staying because you want to. In a moment, I want you to take a long, slow, deep breath and hold it, and don’t release it until I say.
Imagine that you are underwater. Choose a body that suits your mood, and slip beneath the surface. Your lungs make you buoyant, so if you want to go deeper, you can’t just sink – you must swim. If you paddle hard enough to reach thirty-three feet beneath the surface, the pressure doubles, and your lungs shrink to half their size. Just four more strokes and something shifts. At forty feet below, your body reaches a gravity-free zone, a place deep divers call “the doorway to the deep.” At forty feet below, the lungs no longer hold you up and the water begins pulling you down. And if you’re willing to let go, sinking is no effort at all.
For five hundred thirty-two days, I have been holding my breath.
For five hundred thirty-two days, I have been forty feet below, looking up.
If the leak hadn’t started, maybe I would have stayed like that. Beneath. Maybe the house knew.
At the end of the hall, Tala leans over the sink she fixed and splashes her face, legs bare and long and strong.
In pleasure, the breath is shallow. It quickens when the sensations increase, hands clench and reach, lips bitten pink, cheeks flushed. Imagine yourself in that place. Do you breathe when you’re on the brink, or do you hold back? What would happen if you let go?
She runs one long finger along my collarbone, traces it down my sternum, drums her fingers along my ribs. “Should we watch it before we mail it?”
When Tala brought the boltcutter, the lock fell off the door in one sharp cut, giving way to a small safe behind the door. Aunt Linda has called me on my birthday every year since I can remember, so the combination to the safe was easy. The door swung free.
“Yes. But first,” I reach for my phone. “There are some people I need to call.”
I start with Val.
Lol. um, hello?
I mean it.
You disappear for over a
yearand then you want me
to come over.
I’ve got the pee tape.
I believe you.
give me an hour.
do me a favor –
I’ll bring booze
and a plastic sheet.
By seven-thirty, Val is pouring the champagne while Anya and Katie pass around takeout korma. Katie’s hair is like the fourth of July, and they’re talking so fast I can’t keep up. Anya raises her hands above her head and twirls to demonstrate I don’t know what, and Val yanks the back of her overalls and swats her with a dishtowel. Tala comes from the kitchen with a pile of paper napkins and holds out her hand to Val.
“You must be the plumber.” Val winks beneath her glasses.
“You must be the ex.” Tala leans her back against the couch and drapes her arm around my shoulders, smiling, and the cat purrs and winds around my feet. I’m slipping the thumb drive in my laptop when the doorbell rings and I jump at Ludwig’s bark – but it’s just the others, Dianah and Ellen, still wearing her work suit, followed by a grinning Charlie and an equally beaming Suki, her belly ripe and round beneath a sparkly purple dress. The last time we were together, all of us were dressed in white, waiting for what we thought was inevitable.
(Do you remember that night?
Or have your lungs betrayed you, too?)
My laptop whirs as the thumbdrive loads, and everyone leans forward.
“You’re sure?” Katie whispers.
I nod and reach for my glass, and Tala reaches for my hand.
When the file opens, it's just a simple Word document with a link.
I right click and the window opens.
For a long time, no one says anything.
Val breaks the silence. “Well fuck it. Who needs a drink?”
And that’s it. Ellen reaches for the wine and Dianah makes a beeline for Suki’s belly, cooing. Tala rubs my hands, holds one to her mouth and kisses it, very lightly. She stands and fixes herself a plate.
Sometime around ten, when the wine’s kicked and the food’s all gone, Charlie and Suki are the first to go.
“We’ll call you for dinner,” Suki says. She reaches for Tala's hand. “It was really great to meet you.”
“You too,” Tala nods. “I’ll give you a call about the washer hookup in a couple of days.”
“Great,” Suki says, and ducks out.
“Invite your new girlfriend,” Charlie whispers and gives me a hug. “She’s cool.”
I laugh and give him a kick.
Dianah, Ellen and Val are in the kitchen, packing up the rest of the takeout. “So here’s the thing,” Val says. “We’ve all accepted that you’re going through this hermit phase, and we’re fine with it, but we need you.”
“Maybe Val needs you,” Ellen laughs, “but I just miss you. Let’s make plans again soon.”
Dianah comes at me slowly, eyes first, like she always has. Tracking me, not in a creepy way, but in the way that says I-know-what-you’re-up-to. She places her hands on either side of my face, does some movement with her fingers and places a hand on my back. “Your chakras are totally out of whack,” she says sadly. “Probably your alignment, too.” She shakes her head. “It’s no wonder. But I can fit you in on Friday – come by my office for a tune-up. It’s on the house.”
I laugh, “Sure, OK.”
Tala and I walk them to the door, and Val is the last to go.
Val studies me. “I believed you, you know.”
I shrug. “Me too.”
I let Val hug me, maybe a little too long, and then she’s gone.
Tala leans against the door, watching me. “I like your friends,” she says. “I like the way they see you.”
I nod. “They’ve seen a lot.” Ludwig pushes his big yellow head against my leg. “What,” I say. He does it again, and when I don’t respond, he trots into the kitchen and comes back, carrying his leash.
“I’ll call you in the morning,” Tala laughs. She reaches for my hands, turns them over in hers, wraps them around her waist, and brushes her lips against my ear. “Be hungry.”
Ludwig, the cat and I watch Tala go, her features a broken patchwork through the screen door. When her truck has pulled away, Ludwig gives a small whimper and looks up, his face a question.
I hook up his leash and wrap it around my wrist. Creak open the door and close and lock it behind me. Both feet planted on the porch, listening to the night.
“Let’s go,” I call, and we step out.
The air is April cool, the smell of lilac sweet and crisp. Across the street, a neighbor is putting out the trash. Movement at the windows of another house, light flickering at the edges of the blinds.
No matter how we may seem, never forget:
We breathe water, air and fire, and we are coming for you.
Leigh Hopkins is the Guest Curator of Corporeal Clamor. The latest installment of her ongoing column, "Secret Circus," is a 6-month hybrid series of serial fiction and music. In 2010, Leigh left a career in public education reform to move to Brazil, where she founded Viva Institute by rigging a satellite dish to a boulder in a banana field. Her writing can be found in Elephant Journal, ENTROPY Magazine, The Manifest-Station, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Viva Institute, and on her website. Leigh has written a memoir and is completing a novel. She may or may not have the pee tape.