Airway. When you plunge into cold water there is a rising: heart rate, fear, darkness. The water, pushing down, surface tension dented by your body, until the water breaks over the top. A catch in your breath—no breath.
Crushing pressure suddenly released; smile in death: a relaxing of the face, the mouth pulled by the weight of the cheeks. Black marble slabs were used to display the dead found in the river, dredged from the water. The bodies would be laid out for public viewing, identification. No one came for her. Unknown. Woman from the Seine.
Stricken by her beauty, her slight smile, the ivory color of her death, a mortician paid the Lorenzi Model Makers to make a plaster cast. The modeler cast her face then sold copies. Replicas of the original, and maybe even the original, still hang from their walls. The Unknown Woman of the Seine.
Breathing. Tore Lærdal was found lifeless in the water. No breath. His father found him on the shore. I can imagine how the fear was physical. A blow. A sickening, even. But how did he move forward toward the body? Tore was only two years old. Did he remember closing the distance until the boy’s wet limbs were wrapped in his own? Did he feel a pulse? Whisper a breath? The father was lucky, he saved the boy. Not everyone gets saved.
A toymaker, the father would design a doll. Resusci Annie. Her face, Noyee de la Seine. Her face: Serene. White plaster. Smooth. She is young, thought only to be sixteen when she was found drowned in the river. There are no wrinkles or blemishes to her skin. Her hair, immaculate, parted in the middle must’ve been sculpted; I just can’t imagine a strand or two wouldn’t have pulled free in the currents. How much of her is fabricated with imagination?
With the sculptor’s hand? Her eyes are, naturally, closed. Why do masks make it seem like sleep and not death? Why is it white plaster doesn’t feel as cold as death? Her cheeks are round, and her nose is smooth. Her chin and jaw line are framed by her neck. Not every mask has a neck. This adds to her elegance, keeps her from feeling so disembodied. Maybe that is why she caught the eye of so many; she seemed too young, too perfect to be dead. Even in her stillness she lives.
Circulation. Put on display, “Annie are you okay?”
I try to separate myself from this moment. I can’t find a pulse. This is just plastic. I tilt the head back, chin up, pulled so the mouth opens. Two hands, one over the other, compress the diaphragm. And again.
Thirty times. Check the airway. With a baby, a toddler like Tore, I’d use my pinky to scoop inside the mouth to clear the tongue, check for the blockage. Here, I just make sure she isn’t choking on the absent tongue. No heartbeat. No breath. Her body is cold. Half breaths won’t be enough, I need to calm down. Check out; so, I don’t have to choke back a sob. Everyone is watching me as I demonstrate proper procedure. I place my mouth over hers, over the plastic and breathe. I pull away and measure the distance, two fingers down, compress. The trainer, a certified EMT, married to one of the others, looks over my shoulder and doesn’t say a word.
Zachary received his MFA in creative writing from Eastern Washington University (2016). He loves playing with his four children, exploring new places, and just general movement of any kind. Born in the West, he dreams of the mountains in summer and in the deser in wintert. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Texas Tech University. You can follow him on Twitter @ostraffz or view his joint website with his artist partner at ostraffworks.com.