Breathing Room

Micah Perks

This is how it is at six-thirty in the morning: her first thought upon waking is of him. The Buddhists say, First thought, best thought. And maybe it is the most Buddhist of thoughts, because it is not about desire, or the quelling of desire, it is simply image: deep set blue (sometimes green) eyes, flared nose, a mouth full of startlingly white teeth, fat earlobes.

This is how it is from ten-thirty until noon: a slow build towards euphoria. They are biking together down the hill, and she realizes that she has everything she needs. Her sweet, huge-eyed son. Her husband, who has brown eyes, for whom she is necessary in a thick, muffled way. 
    They're on their way to her son's karate lesson.  At the beginning of the class the boy rocks on his haunches, a dreaming eight year old, mouth agape, finger wiggling his loose front tooth. 
    Then up and center. He's being tested today for his blue belt, and she is supposed to take pictures of the form, but she is so busy watching him that the camera lowers and it's just her eyes on him as he changes, becomes someone else. Knife hand. Cat stance. His precision, his grace, how can a child understand the edges of his body so completely? 
    Her husband beside her, pats her leg, they both love this boy so much that maybe it's enough. It is enough, when you add in that other love. Maybe it never gets better than this--any change at all and her son might lose his balance. 
    Afterwards her son's sensei whispers in his ear, You can be any size you want to be, big or small, strong or weak, you choose.  That's karate.

By noon they are at a restaurant, waiting in line, and something begins to edge into her heart. Suddenly she is thronged by his absence. It's her choice, she reminds herself, she can be happy if she chooses, but her heart wont stop its spasms. Something needs appeasing. 

    Her husband notices immediately. What's wrong?
    --I thought things were better.
    --I don't know.
    --But we've decided this is too important, right? We're committed to making it work.
    --I said I'll try.
    How can they talk? Their son is right here, eating, climbing trees, begging for a popsicle, spilling soda.
    Her husband leaves and returns with Tulips and a small chocolate heart covered over in red foil for each person in the family. 
    He says, A lot of women like flowers and chocolates.
    I like them, she says, but this gesture is wasted on her. 
Biking back up the hill it is just about body, breath and sweat. She is as thoughtless and efficient as a mortar and pestle. 

At home, the boy grabs his Superman cape and heads for the door, says he's in search of a phone booth. 
    She undresses to take a shower. 
    Her husband says he wants one, too.
    She says, I'll just be a second.
    He says, why are you holding your towel so close? It's like you're shy.
    I am.
    His face curdles. It's okay, he says. 
    The shower is unbearably hot, but she cannot steam the feeling out. Afterwards, she tries the bedroom, even closes the door, but there is nowhere in the house that she can be. Nothing is her own, not the phone, not the computer, not even paper and pen. 
    She says she's going out for an hour or two, and her husband gives her this look, you would cry for him if you saw that look, but she does not cry. She opens the door, walks out, closes it, and thinks, Maybe I'm a monster. 

Maybe she is. Monster: 1) an organism formed of various animals in combination, like a centaur or griffin. 2) anyone grotesquely deviating from the normal shape or character. 3) anything with abnormal form or structure. 

She's by herself now, so the rest of the story can come. It starts with his smile, so big and white it threatens to topple everything, an earthquake smile. And his hands, hands that comb her hair, that break a loose string from her collar, those hands might kill her with their gentle insistence, like the press of his hand on her shoulder when he enters her from behind. 

    There is also the way his kiss shocks her clitoris, every time.     

    She had a dream once, of drinking the sweat off a god. He's five-eight and a fifth grade public school teacher, and once when he was at the blackboard, all the kids began to snicker. He turned to hush them, and one of the girls raised her hand and said, Mr. Simone, you have a long red sock hanging out of the back of your pants. Plus she had this god dream years ago, before she met him, but still. The dream was about him.     

So there it is. There was the wife part and the mother part, they fit together nicely, two symmetrical halves, the double arms, the two legs, etceteras, but now this other part has emerged from the ardent center, a fetal thing, but not fragile. Its head is already pressed against the ceiling, its elbows cracking through the plastered walls.

There is no end to this.