I was surprised at how adept I had become at breathing. The hotel was in old San Juan and people’s voices imprinted the air and car alarms went off and there were metallic slurries. Unaccountable groans from the bathroom. The pipes? Earlier, housekeeping had knocked and in amusement, I knocked back. She was terrified. She explained about the ghost of the girl from the elementary school. El niño.
Three hundred dollars for a room with hot shower issues and when we left no one at the reception desk to invoice me for our stay. I determined to check my American Express card when we got to New York. The room itself had been beautiful. Belonged to a fashion designer and the receptionist said it had been aimed at couples. This had me thinking differently about the variously sized taffeta cushions. My husband was indifferent to the minutiae while he went to the conservatory during the day and hung out at the bars checking local music talent. He was invited by a stranger to teach trumpet students how to breathe. He said the most talented was lazy with his breath. I noticed this as well with the yoga teacher who consulted me about flexibility. She was getting a green smoothie at the Wellness Space. I noticed her perfect pose and her straightness. She couldn’t breathe either. I said I was on holiday but we could do email consultations. She said how amazed she was by my youthfulness. What kind of moisturizer do you use?
After she’d sucked as much as she could from the encounter, she gave me a variety of contact details. I went back up to my room. I turned off the air conditioning that had been put back on and had a shower, packed the suitcases naked. Most of my clothes had been stained. The heat was exhilarating. The air came into my body and I made an effort to lie passive as it arrived, curiously.
I couldn’t imagine being finished with this place but I had.
On the F train, I was intent on figuring out my route when I noticed the girl. She was young. Kidney, I whispered to my husband, and look at her nose, her heart is compromised. As if she is running out of lifespan. In her hand, Chaucer.
We had watched a sci-fi movie on one of the transatlantic flights, where time was a currency that the haves took from the have-nots. Seemed to me suddenly there was a flaw in such a concept. People traded their life-span away for other reasons. I don’t believe it is involuntary but rather some kind of devil’s pact. My Sufi master believes the earth is populated by living dead whose actions repeat. He deconstructed the novels I liked to read, and the movies. He insisted on my attention because he believed in my character. Listen, you see what I mean?
I thought I understood. I began to watch my breath, evidence. I stopped caring where I lived. However, pain was unavoidable. I didn’t like that. Or, it appears, cold showers. When I emerged through the Houston subway, it was snowing in the middle of spring.
Girija Tropp’s fiction has appeared in several Best Australian Short Stories editions, and recently in New World Writing and Cherry Tree. She has published in The Boston Review, Agni, and has also won or been short-listed for major awards. Her work has been anthologized in Café Irreal and SmokeLong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years. She lives in Australia where she studies Traditional Chinese Medicine.