She is sleeping beside me, and finally, she appears at peace. In her waking hours, a mist seems to appear, even on the hottest, driest day. Clings close, wraps itself around her. Never a breath of clean air finds its way into her lungs.
She's constantly mistaken for a smoker.
I never allow myself to sleep before she does. Listening to air filling her lungs is worth hours of rest. Hearing her quiet murmurs allows me to refrain from holding my breath.
At least until the morning.
At times, I feel as though I can see through her chest, I can see her lungs expanding. And always, they stop just short of completely full. She is never allowed the relief, the tightness, of taking a total, complete breath. That point where you believe you can't take any more in, before that final, sweet expansion takes in just a little bit more.
I see her approach that point, before a firm hand presses on her ribs, firmly pushing down. I used to see her fighting against it, I used to see the evidence of it in the skin surrounding her eyes, in the strain of her forehead.
She's never been able to understand what I mean when I try to describe this feeling to her.
I don't try to explain it any more.
Once, I looked straight into her, and saw the last time she had truly breathed. Nine years old, and running. Her slender legs were flying, her body barely able to keep up. Jonathon was his name, and she had boasted that he could never catch her. He had succumbed to a stitch after not long at all...her faint disappointment that he'd not caught her soon fell away, as she just kept on running. Lost in the exhilaration of the moment. So she just kept on running. Running until her legs gave way underneath her, and she came tumbling to the ground. Lying flat on her back, hardly able to stand for the next ten minutes.
I only asked her about this once. As the words passed my lips, I saw her ribs turn to stone.
I won't ask her about this again.
One day, I'm going to find a flat piece of ground, on a cold winter day. I'm going to bet her that she cannot catch me.