“Breathe” by Linda Simoni-Wastila

We’d like to present our first Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. Our story this week poses the question: How can a woman ‘just breathe’ if she has never learned how?

Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Breathe” by Linda Simoni-Wastila:

I float in the dark, a raft of breaths surrounding me. Other women inhale and exhale in unison, but my breathing sounds off kilter, an echo or beat behind. I try to relax–after all, that is why I am lying on the floor to learn to relax–but the towel bunches under my lower back, distracting me. Gurgles rise from my stomach, the result of another too-meager lunch. My fingertips tent over my belly-button to quell the churning beneath, but resting so close to my fallow insides, my hands remind me why I am here. My arms drop to my sides. The instructor’s voice floats disembodied over our heads.

“Remember to breathe.”

Breathe. My yoga teacher says the same thing every Thursday night. How ridiculous. Breathing is an autonomic function, buried deep in the lower brain stem, as instinctual as apple pie and motherhood. Or perhaps not, since motherhood eludes me and is the reason why I am lying in corpse pose in an after-hours waiting room with a dozen other infertiles all trying to envision the same thing: a tiny sperm swimming up the fallopian canal, making its touchdown, the fertilized egg wafting like a feather to rest in the womb. Maybe I should heed my instructor’s warning to breathe. Maybe these three years we’ve focused on the wrong body part – maybe my lungs need fixing, not my baby-making organs.

“Greet your thoughts – and let them go.” The instructor whispers from across the room. “Breathe in the positive energy, breathe out the negative.”

The rug smells, a slight detergent scent that does not quite cover something darker, something I hope is only ground-in dirt from the hundreds of shoes tapping with impatience, the pinpricks of blood, the tears and snot after hearing disappointing lab results. I shiver, even though the radiator belches out constant heat, and want to return to the meadow, the one the instructor walked us through a few minutes ago, the one carpeted with sunshine and daisies and tall, waving grasses. I imagine myself in a dress the pale pink of a pearl oyster’s inside, the gauze floating behind me as I run barefoot in slow motion towards my first lover from years ago, a tall man with long wavy hair. In my meditation he looks a bit like Jesus, a silvery halo tarnishing his head. In reality, he was an emotional sadist. But his hair! How I loved running my fingers through the copper-flecked brown, braiding it in baby dreadlocks after making love in his loft. Stroking his hair calmed me. Bring me his head, I think. That will help me relax. I giggle in the quiet.

The instructor wavers over me. Even with eyes shut, I sense the cool of her shadow draping over me. She touches my shoulder.

“Anything wrong?” she whispers, and I shake my head, mortified to be singled out. “Then just breathe,” she says.

Just breathe. Just relax. As if relaxing will fix my faulty womb. The hormones from hell haven’t, nor the nightly progesterone shots in my posterior, nor the surgeries transplanting our beautiful, delicate embryos into their prepared beds of nourishing tissue. Not the bank loan making all this joy possible. As if the reason for my miscarriages is because I have not breathed, I have not fucking relaxed. I don’t have time to relax. I should be grocery shopping, the only milk in the refrigerator smells like sour cream. I should be roasting chickens or making lasagna to eat later this week, or paying bills, or grading the two dozen midterms in my briefcase, not lying on the floor staring at the back of my eyelids.

“Inhale deep,” she tells us. “From your belly. Breathe from your uterus, breathe from the deepest part of you. Bathe your growing cells in positive energy. Breathe in that golden sunshine from the meadow.”

I concentrate on the three 4-week embryos cleaving to my uterine wall, sucking up my fluids, dividing from one cell to two, four, eight, sixteen, ripening into a blotch the size of a dime, a peanut, a golf ball. A head emerges, small stubbly limbs poke out, the spinal cord glistens white in the ultrasound. Hello, I say to my future child. I love you. Tiny fingers wave in amniotic fluid and for an instant everything goes white, goes warm, and I float with my baby in a calm sea.

“Breathe deep.” The instructor passes and the floor shudders beneath me.

I breathe in, to keep us in that golden light. The embryos are so tiny, so fragile, mere cells surrounded by foreign proteins and bacteria ready to attack, doomed by chromosomal aberrations and statistical improbability. My throat clenches. Damn me for being a doctor — I know too much.

Air wooshes from my mouth. My hands fist. I inhale again one, two, and on three my breath clutches again, the air leaks out, shallow without substance, I cannot hold it, so I breathe, faster, faster, and my baby disappears in a jagged flash of white, the honeyed waving grass melts, my pink dress fades, and in the room someone gasps, someone cries, and the instructor kneels beside me, the heat from her body replaces the sunshine, and she holds me, she rocks me, and I want the floor to split open and swallow me, a useless woman who cannot make babies, who cannot even breathe.

Linda Simoni-Wastila crunches numbers by day and churns words at night. Her short stories, poems, and novels explore health, in particular the societal and personal facets of medication and medicating. You can find her poems and stories in The Sun, Thunderclap!, Monkeybicycle, Eclectic Flash, Nanoism, Tattoo Highway, Camroc Press Review, Right Hand Pointing, BluePrint Review, Istanbul Literary Review, The Shine Journal, and Boston Literary Magazine, among others. She lives and loves and mothers in Baltimore, a town where her Northern birthright and Southern breeding comfortably comingle. You can find her at her website “LeftBrainWrite.”

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  1. What a fantastic story this is. I have read it – and loved it – before. The anguish this poor woman feels is understandable and, the way Linda writes it, completely believable.

    Congratulations on the new site!

  2. Wonderful flash. This mom’s beautifully desperate situation is highlighted with bold imagery and soft, emotional nuance.

    Well done, Linda.

  3. Such a powerful story, the last paragraph was stunning. I loved also how it wrong footed me at the start as I assumed it was a pregnancy/birthing class.

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