The Insolence of Air
I had been seventy-five years old for a week when Paul went into hospice.
Morphine drips. Memories drift. Moments slip away.
“I want to die in my own bed,” he said.
I’m selfish. I’d sleep in that bed after he was gone. No furniture store would sell me a mattress that held fifty-two years of fucking and crying, occasionally at the same time. I needed that bed to be free of death.
When I visited at hospice, he slept so deeply I assumed he’d already gone. “I’m not ready for…,” I told the nurse.
“Nobody ever is.” She dragged his shoulders up onto the pillow.
My sister, Olivia Wright, R.N., remained at my house that night. I heard her pace down the hall. Hospital nurse steps. Officious and loud, the just-barge-in type, always has been. Without her cataract glasses, she squinted in the light of forty watts.
“Heard you talking in your sleep, just like old times.” She groaned as she slid onto his side of the creaking mattress. “Does Paul talk in his sleep? Snore?” she asked.
A smile almost stuck. “Bang, the snoring starts. If he’s deep-asleep, there’s no peace.”
She slid up against my back. Her arms encircled my fist-tight body.
That night, Olivia reminded me of how our dad slept in his recliner, snoring like a drunken Marine. Air pulled in, then thrust out.
I listened to my big sister’s snuffles. She still wore Ambush, the same perfume we stole from Mom when we were twelve. She still tucked the blanket up under her chin as though her shoulders feared the light.
Someday soon, my eighty-three year-old sister will die, and I’ll still be here. Her heart will pump, and lungs will inflate, and then they’ll stop, and I’ll still be here. I‘m the youngest, no kids.
For now, she lays with me, sideways staring at the ceiling, breathing in time.
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Embe Charpentier teaches by day and writes by night. Her novel “Beloved Dead” is published by Kellan Books. Her short stories have been published online in diverse literary magazines, including “Polychrome Ink”, “Indianola Review”, “Poydras Reivew”, and “The Quotable”. Her work has also been included in two YA anthologies. She invites you to visit her website, www.embecharpentier.com, and to follow her on Twitter, @embecharpentier.
4 thoughts on “The Insolence of Air”
A somber piece with lots of potential power. The dialogue is spot on. The flickers of memory very evocative. Some of the action is hard to visualize. A gem worth polishing. AGB
I absolutely love this piece, and think it is spot on. Great images–the bed the wife doesn’t want to abandon, and the sister/nurse stomping down the hall. Kudos.
I understand the want of the mattress but surely the poor sod wanting to die at home would trump that. Good piece, though.
Captured the scene perfectly, except for one unfortunate word-choice. This isn’t from a prudish stance, but from one of aesthetics. “Fucking” jars against the whole mood – it is not a word generally associated with sentiment. I know that “lovemaking” may be old-fashioned, but so is being over 80.
Apart from that, it’s perfect from title to fade.