BREATHE | Peyton Hines

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I can see you, sitting there. I stare in from the yard at the back of your head, through the living room window. The window that you once smashed to pieces with bare knuckles and angry shouts when dinner wasn’t on the table before you arrived home. Your large frame is sprawled across the old sofa, where I have scrubbed at dark red stains until my fingers ached. The large frame that towered above my own, your silhouette bent down towards me as if to scream the words directly into my mouth, my chest, my entire body.

You seem relaxed there, in the dim lights that stream in from the kitchen. Are you relaxed, my love?

When I took the first breathful of dirt into my lungs, it was your heavy hands that I pictured clasped around my skull, palms holding my mouth shut and nails clawing at my cheeks. Breathe, you whispered while laughing quietly, taunting me. You weren’t really there withme, though. Not then, after burying me in the backyard just the night before. You had no reason to be there inside the shallow grave you had dug for me, only for me. I wouldn’t be a problem, not anymore. A burden lifted off your chest, as if it had been me striking you night after night, me forcing all of my weight onto your chest and leaving you breathless, me carving deep marks into your arms and legs, shoved into sleeved shirts and long pants, even in the warm months.

You take a swig of your beer, and I watch as your adam’s apple bobs in the light of the television screen, a small drop escaping the corner of your mouth and travelling down your throat and out of sight. I look down at my hands, which have turned a ghoulish grey under the light of the moon. I clench my fists, carving small crescent-shaped marks into my palms.

When I open them, there is no blood, no darkness breaking the surface. Just the same lifeless grey. There’s no pain, just numbness. There’s nothing inside of me for you to take, not anymore.

I move closer to the window.

A branch snaps under my foot, and although it stabs into my heel, there’s no blood there, either. You hear something, though, something moving outside. Your head snaps up, attention no longer on the TV in front of you. You’ve been jumpy, ever since you placed the worn shovel into the back of your truck, your head whipping in each direction on the street, the lampost near our home flickering slightly above you. Don’t worry. No one saw you, no one knows that the shovel was used to beat my body deeper into the earth when I wouldn’t fit in the way you wanted. After a while, when my bones yielded to the blows and you were left only with silence and the sounds of your panting breaths, you were able to cover me, force the dirt into submission just as you were prone to do with many things.

I used to think that maybe that was all you knew, that you loved me in spite of those darker parts of you. Now, I wonder if it was simply the act of hurting, of causing pain to another person, that you were really in love with.

I’ve reached the window now, my palm pressed flat against the glass. I can’t feel the coolness of the surface, but I know it’s there. Much like how you know something is here with you now, something outside that wants in.

You’re standing now, the football match on the screen behind you still playing, and for once (FOR ONCE) you’re focused on something else completely. You’re searching around for the source of an unknown terror in your home that circles, the hairs on your arms standing straight up. You’re scared, close to pissing yourself in the middle of our living room. Scared of – you don’t even know what. Surely not of your wife and your prisoner, your lover and your enemy.

I bend down, and what used to be my kneecaps crack and shatter under a fragile layer of skin. I feel none of it, but the sound is rather unpleasing. My fingers clench around a handful of dirt, pieces embeddeding themselves under shredded nails.

When I make it to the front door, I don’t bother to knock. I push right in. You never did bother to lock it behind you, so sure that nothing would creep its way in right behind you, slipping through the gap and burrowing inside the chest, the heart of this house.

As I make my way down the hall, I trail a rotted hand along the wall, just underneath picture frames of smiling faces. I smile along with them, trying to stretch my grin to match theirs with my thumbs. I watch in the reflection of the frame as the skin gives underneath, my lips tearing into a permanent gleeful expression. I eye it for a moment before continuing forward, towards the living room.

I’m getting closer, my love. I practically smell you from here, my nose deformed and warped, but not completely broken.

I don’t find you in that same spot in the living room, you’ve moved into the kitchen. I see your same massive silhoutte turned meek as you cower on the far side of the room, back to the counter and two hands planted on both sides of the sink, right where you slammed my skull into the granite. I see now that it’s devoid of my blood, meaning you cleaned up in here. I imagine you now, on hands and knees, scrubbing at the tile where the dark liquid trailed down to from the counter. I imagine you wearing my long yellow gloves, my scrub brush tight in your grip, little beads of sweat forming on your forehead. I wonder how it felt to be down on your knees, for once being the one who cleans up the stains left from my bruised body.

As I approach, you don’t move. Christ, you wouldn’t dare, would you? Not now, with the quiver of your bottom lip, the grip you have on the sink, the shortness of your breath. When you were burying me, the panting was in relief. Now the breathing is ragged, small whimpers escaping every so often.

A trail of dirt follows me in from the yard, from where you laid my broken body in unrest.

I bring myself right up to you, I invade your space. I bring a hand up to your cheek, my thumb softly stroking your temple. You think to yourself how gentle I am, even in death, even in the fragmented state you left me in. You think of how this is why you chose me in the first place, how easy it was to get me to love you, even when you did everything you could to crush the gleam you saw in my eyes. You would’ve done anything to have it, and so you took it from me by force, when you should’ve known, should’ve been smart enough to realize.

I would’ve given it to you for free.

When my hand moves from your cheek to the soft spot at the back of your head, you don’t struggle. I’ve only ever loved you. When my grip around you tightens slightly, you sigh with relief, you’ve been forgiven. How could I be the one doing the hurting? It’s only when my other hand comes into view in front of your eyes, filled with dirt and rock, do your eyes widen slightly. My palm finally turns, cupping over your mouth, already opened in disbelief. I tip your head back, my grasp firm. I paint a picture this way, of the image of you I saw when I rose from the ground. This, my love, is what carried me up throughout the darkness, up and out of the earth all around me. It was you.

I lean forward, your soft grunts and muffled choking from behind my hand quieting for a moment. I touch my forehead to yours, wide and horrified eyes meeting calm and glassy ones. My mouth opens, the sounds passing through my crushed windpipe are broken and soft as I whisper to you.

“Breathe, my love,” I choke out, as tears trail down your reddening face, the low glow from the kitchen light above painting shadows across stunned features. There’s only a single thought that comes to each of us in turn, before the sound of a body hitting the cold tile.

If only you had dug a bit deeper.

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