Spiderweb Lungs

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Eight

She was rolling a cigarette when I found her, licking the ivory paper, spitting pith onto the earth, her pepper hair stringy over her eyes in a desiccated waterfall, dryer lint rolled in balls on her shirt, dandruff flakes dusting her shoulders, one leg bobbing cross-legged over the other in a particular rhythm. The strawberry full moon hung high and luminous, so I wondered about her qualifications at a festival under such mysterious light. She had a permit though, scotch-taped to the table: right there. I wheezed, and her gaze taunted me to hire her services. Pink eyes, regarding me. The air opening up her lungs must be like unsheathing corn husks, peeling and rewrapping a dead harvest, almost as dried out as the rest of her.

My money itched fleeing my hand to find hers.

But I have trust issues, that’s what a meditation teacher once told me, after I screamed at her for failing me and my enlightenment. My lungs collapsed under her tutelage, unable to bear the weight of the world.

The dry woman stood up and pulled back her hair with a piece of twine, skittering around the card table with its coffee rings sticky on the surface, little black flies trapped there.

I was taught to breathe by a nest of baby spiders un-hatching across my chest, she said, pressing leather billfold hands to my sternum. No one is proficient at breathing right away, not after a few weeks, or a decade, or even a lifetime, not without assistance. Breathing is a scam, you see, without a mentor.

She pressed hard under my ribs. Breathe like you would for someone else, like you imagine birds do in flight, then breathe like you do when you forget you’re breathing. Forget the air, she insisted, as infinite newborn legs beat an acupuncture rhythm on my torso, here, there, here, there, here here here everywhere, her fingers playing a melody on me, Breathe for me, I said, she said —

and my meditation teacher’s face reared up, if she were a sparrow, flying away, and we were soaring, her and I, with all the available breath in the sky, one two three four, I can breathe, finally, inhaling, soaring, one two three, exhaling, falling, four five, I’m choking, stars popping in sparks, the air will not support me, these wings are not my body, one, five, two, eight, she tried so hard to teach me but I never could breathe all on my own, the earth flies up to meet me, please, teacher help me, help, help,

HELP, I was screaming in the night market, under the dry woman’s hands.

You fear rupture, the dry woman declared, stepping back. Break your breath in two.

That last time I spoke to my meditation teacher, I cursed her for her failure, then curled on the floor and sobbed, her absence so present in every shock of oxygen I sucked inside my body. Breathing was a process of perpetual grief, taking the world as it stands, over and over, but I never could let go. My old teacher swelled up like a spasm, and I let her fly away on the breeze. No cursing. No crying. I inhaled on my own, lightly, like spiders scurrying on gossamer webbing.

The dry woman took out the rolled cigarette and lit it, flicking her fingernail across her corduroy pants, but despite her finger dance of silk-spinning, my lungs still wheezed. All that time breathing to prove lung capacity, I remained a lone asthmatic. The dry woman eyed me, waiting. There was no test anymore, no meditation lesson. Ventilation was my responsibility and my right. I broke the air in my throat, and my breath snap

                                                            ped in half, on an in

                                                            hale, an ex

                                                            hale, then a

                                                            gain, a

                                                            gain, a


                                                            I broke the pat

                                                            tern in these buck

                                                            led lungs, and an ancient tox

                                                            ic sludge loosened, gasp

                                                            ing open at the rush of


                                                                                                            I was a

                                                                                                                 pair of

                                                                                                                    lungs, breath-

                                                                                                                 ing alone.

                                    I miss




                                                I should



                                                            ed you

                                                             for your stub



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