Breathing In, I Calm My Body
… Breathing out, I smile: I silently chant these words in the living room’s pre-dawn haze. It’s Saturday, our family day, just the four of us. I am first out of bed.
Breathing in, I calm my body. I have come to believe that Saturdays – not Sundays, not Monday mornings – set the tone for the week to come. When I spend a Saturday cleaning the kitchen, mowing the lawn, running errands, then I invariably lurch through Sunday in a state of exhaustion. So this time I slid from bed and came to the living room to gather myself. To plant the seeds for a peaceful day, in which I will neither work too hard nor lose my temper. Breathing out, I smile.
Though I lack a proper cushion and have neither crossed my legs into the lotus position nor curled my hands into each other in years, it all comes back to me. The gut I mean to lose swells as I inhale. I settle my gaze on a dark spot in the carpet halfway across the room. It’s probably a food stain or a dog poop stain, but now it is my focal point. I look into it as I would into the eyes of the Buddha. I inhale and calm my body. Thoughts come and go. The rumble of an engine starts on our street. It’s a truck. Tom, next door, has a big, red, expensive one – far beyond what we could afford. Wherever it is, the truck drives away. Silence returns.
I stare into the stain, exhale, and force a smile.
Then everything shudders – the carpet, the walls, the earth, everything. The floor jolts beneath my cushion. The house seethes upward for a moment then slams down. I hear a low, rumbling crack from somewhere in the foundation.
Breathing in, I calm my mind. When we moved to Oklahoma in 2007, for a job, there were three or four medium-sized earthquakes per year. Now, with fracking and wastewater injection wells, we average five to seven per day. Headlines have screamed that Oklahoma is now the earthquake capital of the world. I release these thoughts and follow my breath. Breathing out, I smile at the earthquake.
In the moments that follow the tremor, silence. Calm after the storm. I take my next breath. Then my next – each breath the only breath there is – until a whisper of legs moves into the room. It’s my son. He stands beside me in blue pajamas.
“What are you doing?” he says.
“It’s when you sit and do nothing but follow your breath.”
“Does that make loud noises?”
“No,” I say and I return my gaze to the stain on the floor. “Meditation is quiet.”
“Then what made that noise a couple minutes ago?”
“An earthquake,” I say.
“Seriously? I didn’t feel it. But the noise woke me up.”
Breathing in, I calm my mind. “Everything is OK. You can go back to sleep, kiddo.” I concentrate on the spot in the floor. More legs move into the room; it’s my daughter.
“What happened?” she asks.
“Earthquake,” her little brother says with authority, as if he’d known all along.
Breathing out, I smile.
“Papa?” she says.
“He’s medicating,” he says.
“Meditating,” I say.
There’s motion in the hallway. My wife is up out of bed, and she has taken down the baby gate that holds the dogs in our bedroom. They patter into the living room now to greet the kids. The big dog sniffs my face and licks my cheek. The little dog climbs into my lap and curls up there, where my hands had been.
“What’s going on?” my wife asks.
“There was an earthquake,” my daughter says.
I reach under the dog to fish my glasses from the gap between my lotus-folded legs.
“Were you meditating?” my wife asks.
I put on my glasses and nod. The room looks less hazy now. My son’s Legos are piled in the corner. My daughter settles into the couch, and the little dog relocates to her lap. The dark spot on the floor, which had been blurry, turns out to be a mouse. But it doesn’t move, doesn’t breathe. A dead mouse. The big dog sniffs it, licks it, and pulls away.
I stand and swipe a tissue from the box on the end table. I lift and cradle the soft, stiff mouse, then carry it to the kitchen. In the window, beyond basil clippings that grow roots in jars of water, past dried and drooping roses in an empty vase, the sun hovers atop the neighbors’ fence. I place the mouse on a cereal box atop the kitchen trash bin. The box tips over, and the mouse lands with a thump among torn wrappers, soggy pasta, and moldy coffee grounds. I breathe and forget to notice that I’m doing it.
Eric Bosse is the author of Magnificent Mistakes (Ravenna Press, 2011). He has published short stories in The Sun, Zoetrope, Hobart, The Collagist, Wigleaf, New World Writing, and many other journals. He lives, writes, and teaches in Norman, Oklahoma.
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