The Next Breath

by Dustin Pellegrini

Tonight, like too many other nights, there was the feel of his arm, long and heavy, pressed down over her hip and the wide berth of her thigh. His fingers, in their usual spot, chose not to move, which meant they chose not to let her move.

But then there was also the light in the corner. A tiny clown face with a red Rudolph nose. It sat on the floor, nearly swallowed up by his clothes, the rough pile he always left them in so close to the door. Shoes, then belt, then pants shirt underwear. His socks were down past her feet, hogging their own heat, too far for her to reach and get warm. She hated the AC when he came over, cranked up to where it spit out droplets that hit the hardwood and pooled there, turning it an uglier brown until she could finally get up in the morning, mop it up with his old t-shirt. The one he had forgotten and she had, months ago, hoarded.

She remembered holding it close to her the morning after he left it, crumpled between the bed and her head, his smell coming into her, staying inside. She shut her eyes thinking of it now, going red even in the cold of the room. She couldn’t wait to get up and wipe her floor with it. With him.

That would be all she could do, she knew. So it would have to be enough.

But there was the clown light in the corner that she could find, focus on, no matter what time it was when she woke up.

She remembered his voice biting into her, his fist against her kitchen counter, pounding like a train switching tracks. POOM POOM POOM POOM.

The cabinet swung like a shot put. The things smashed. Her shirt torn from her like a weak trash bag losing its handles in his grip.

But there was also her breath. Strong. So strong she could take in the World, fill herself up with it, and push his arm, heavy like an anchor, up and away.

She took big breaths all night just to feel it, feel it go away, feel her body working as one thing apart from him.

But there was only so high she could lift it, hold it, before she would deflate. Everything would come back down, forced by the impossible weight of his arm, and there she’d be, empty, covered by him. Wearing him. His weight. His words. The constant feeling of him in the room. Even when he’s showering, or on his way over there’s the thunderclap sound of the water splashing down him, his footsteps coming up the stairs. Even during the day, when he’s gone at work, there’s his moppy shirt, his crushed cans in her recycling bin, her dented kitchen counter and the cabinet door hanging limp from his grip.

But then there was also the next breath.


Dustin Pellegrini is a writer living in Chicago. He studied Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago, has had his work read at Chicago’s Story Week Festival and currently works at a nonprofit. You can find more of his writing at dustinpellegrini.com

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