How to Breathe by Jack Garrett

Her trachea: that had been sliced. As the skin of her neck was drawn tight by shaky fingers, the gristly tube was sectioned by a penknife blade, and a plastic one, ripped viciously from her little boy’s science project The Purification of Water in the back seat, was poked in, blood sucked out through grimacing lips, and air––right there, ready––fell down into her and saved her life.

Had he ever asked anyone about a scar? No, pretend it wasn’t there. (He’d once met a man with a hole in his head, just above the left eyebrow, pea-sized. Not a word.) But this was her neck, her party, her Christmas tree that weighed 300 pounds and had puked itself. And her back was turned and her shoulders high so he shouldered his way back to her.

The man ran a filling station. He had siphoned gasoline many times with those lips but her bloody phlegm made him grimace. Had he been a lumberjack, he might well have made a cleaner, neater incision and left a smaller, lovelier scar.

From beneath the tree, his eyes, inches from her ankles, began again with those blue-veined anchors, climbed the egg-white calves darkening into her skirt, jumped to her arms, black-downed and crossed beneath a proud mother’s bosom, crept up her sternum, jumped again to hair bending damp around an ear like a long, black C, her newsprint cheek powdered over rugged traces of acne, ancient and fresh; her mouth, grayish red, gaping over a chin that plunged down to ruin.

Her little boy had sulked in the car with his broken project, prevented from going to her, a violent flip of the grease monkey’s hand enough to dissuade him. On her back on the blacktop she waited, taking air through the little spout, hands by her eyes, framing a square of blue sky. Into it leaned her hero, frowning. She would thank him but could barely make her lips move, show her teeth. He shook his head, wiping his hands on a rag.

The party broke up. She found him in the basement, chain from the ceiling bulb wrapped in his fist, up against the washer. She latched the door, kicked at some laundry, lay down.

In the ambulance, her boy sat with his back to her, moping, dreaming of trickling water. The song “I’m a Little Teapot” crossed her mind but he was too old for it and she couldn’t even hum. Besides, there was the siren. She was home in a day but the boy wouldn’t look at her for a month. Despite the specialist’s encouragement she would always refuse the simple procedure to clean it up.

On the street there was no one. He walked away with his hands in his pockets, turned a corner, went by a playground, and dropped to his knees. The street wet. The night nearly gone. Open his mouth. Open his eyes again. Stand him up straight, see him go.


Jack Garrett has worked in radio in the southwest and performed off-off Broadway in New York. His writing has appeared in The Literary Review, The New Orleans Review, Fugue, Natural Bridge, The Portland Review, The Santa Monica Review, Quarter After Eight, The Los Angeles Review, Monkey Bicycle and Witness. He is also a voice actor.