Within a Single Breath

Originally submitted here.

Locked away in the safe confines of her apartment where the noise and activity of the outside world had become muted behind the well insulated walls Monica, sitting in a lotus position upon her yoga mat closed her eyes an inhaled with her whole diaphragm. The sun had long set and only the soft glow of candles illuminates her room. Her breath slow and controlled, she felt the chilled air of her apartment fill her lungs. There is no initial sense of relief, no sudden clear headedness. It’s not until the lungs empty do the stresses and waste of the day begin to go away. But ever breath begins with an inhalation. She takes her time, letting her diaphragm pull in as much air as her lungs will allow. As Monica inhales the world breaths with her.

Somewhere down the street and young man Cody, is sitting at a cocktail bar with an elevated heart rate. His palm is in his hair, still unsure of the texture of the product Sam had convinced him to put it in. He pulls his hand way worried that the sweat upon his hands might mess with the gel. He’s dressed in a button down and jeans, wondering if he’d look too uptight and mid-western with the shirt tucked in. Sam’s words, not his. Cody likes it tucked in, mostly because Hannah liked it that way. But Hannah’s not here any more, she hadn’t been around in years. He knows that, and he has to move on. He worries that when he finally sees the mysterious woman Sam had set him up with that Hannah will slip away from him forever. She’s late, the mystery woman. Cody worries that she stood him up, and yet there’s a part of him that wishes she did. The door on the far end rings, Cody turns to look if the mystery woman had finally arrived.

Far away in a distant city where the sun had just began kissing the edge of the horizon Lauren is toiling away at her desk. She stuck behind in the guise of doing extra work. Working late to get a good bonus, or so Ethan joked as he passed her cubical a few moments ago to his deep in the back and not far away from the break room. Of course he’d think that. He always thought that whenever somebody stayed late. Mister unofficial employee of the month every month who’s willing to come in early and work deep in the night every day just to make a few extra dollars and appease their corporate overlords who would rather keep to their towers on the other coast rather than come here. Their office was nothing but a satellite to keep the lights on in the company a little longer while those in the East went home. Just another place to siphon off a few bucks so they could expand their corporate HQ even better, while all they got in these offices was nothing more than an extra Kurig or a monthly pizza party. No Lauren is not here to get those extra bucks. She’s done with this place. Would rather see it burn down rather than endure another one of Ethan’s dumb conversations about his “Excel-fu.” The only reason why she’s staying late in the first is because her apartment had lost internet and wasn’t scheduled to be back online for another three days due to “scheduling conflicts” with the contractors. She’s only here so she could refresh her emails to see if the job offer finally came through. As Ethan walks by she maximizes an empty spreadsheet, hoping he wouldn’t notice.

Deep in the middle of the country within a state that nobody bothered traveling except for two reasons: to visit family, or to pass through on their way to their actual destination, Rick is whistling as loud as he can. The sun faded not too long ago and only the violet twilight hung over the sky, dotted by a few stars bright enough to be seen in the early hours of the night but he pays no attention to those. His attention is focused towards the forest as he whistles between his teeth, calling out to Gemma as loud as he can. It hadn’t been long since she darted out the door as fast as her four legs could carrier her as she chased a critter into the woods, he just hopes that she snaps out of her “squirrel brain” as he called it and listen to the sounds of his whistle. As much as he wants to chase after her he doesn’t dare set foot in the woods at night. No matter how long he’s lived next to them a deep primal fear still lingers deep in the back of his brain. He’s halfway through his whistle when he hears a rustling in the deep forest.

On the southern coast a thirty something year old couple walks down the surf while their young son dashes ahead. The three equipped with their own flashlights that bobble with every step, turning across the sand towards any novel shape that lines the beach. Like walking lighthouses the beams of their lights shift back and forth between the sands and out into the ocean. They’re hungry and they’re tired, but they’re happy to be there. Finally able to take their son to the beach for the first time in his five short years of life. Their son, now far ahead lets out a scream.

Back in the apartment above the city in the dark of the night, her diaphragm is fully extended and her lungs are full. Monica relaxes deeper and exhales, taking the day’s stresses away.

The couple dashes over to their son who’s hunched over. The beams of the flash lights dance around him, warping his shadows into long distorted forms that make him look like a wraith agains the beach. He’s looking down at something by his foot, a shell. A big one. The father asks if he’s alright, yet his son doesn’t know how to answer. He pulls him away. The son points to the shell and says he saw something in it. The mother lets out a soft laugh, trying to keep it inaudible and approaches the shell picking it up. Shinning her light in it she spots the shy exoskeleton of a hermit crab. She smiles and shakes her head. There’s a lot about the beach her son needs to experience.

Back at the edge of the woods Rick stares into the forest. His body tenses and his knuckles curl. Not sure if he’d have to dash away from or fight whatever came out of deep. He wonders if he could fight a bear. He’d been in a few bar fights before with men much bigger than him, so perhaps. A figure emerges, not bigger than cougar and hunched over on four legs. Its mouth is not the long snarl he would expect of a wolf or coyote, but instead droops with two large inflamed mounds on either side, although one side is longer than the other, draping down like a bushy rope. Rick is willing to take on whatever monster emerged when it finally steps into the light and he release his breath in relief. Gemma is standing there with a proud look in her eyes, like a child trying to impress her parents at her good work. A lifeless squirrel hangs from her jaws. Rick doesn’t want her hunting squirrels but it’s a much better sight than not seeing her at all. She trots over to him ready for pets for being such a good huntress.

On the sunset coast behind the office walls and deep within the cubicle farm Lauren minimizes her spreadsheet and refreshes her email one more time. It’s a hit! She opens the email and begins skimming it. Three paragraphs long, but she’s a fast reader. However she doesn’t get far into the first paragraph before her heart sinks. Another rejections. She closes her eyes and shakes her head, if Ethan wasn’t still her she would pound her desk. But she keeps her composure. She’s better than that, she knows this. She remembers that this is no different than the gym, she just needs to keep on pushing if she wants to lift more. Exhaling she opens her eyes and looks at the screen and opens up another tab and logs into a job site. Screw corporate, she thinks to herself, and begins shooting off another round of applications.

A woman did arrive. She looks nothing like Hannah, which relieves Cody a bit. He wonders if this is the mystery woman Sam set him up with. His suspicions are quickly confirmed when she looks at him and smiles, giving him a gentle wave. As she approaches Cody relaxes. She doesn’t need to be her, she can’t be her, he thinks to himself. There will be no replacing for Hannah, he knows that, but she would want him to be happy, even if that meant moving on. He takes a deep breath and exhales, his head clear. Perhaps this date will workout, perhaps it won’t. What matters is that he’s taking the first steps.

Monica’s lungs are empty now, her stresses and concerns of her day taken away with her breath. For the first time all day she’s felt clear headed. Taking another breath she inhales ready to clear her mind even further.

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