How to Breathe Underwater
Mornings, I draw a bath for him, follow his footprints around the house calling out so as not to distress him.
Where have you been? Out swimming? I can smell the river on you.
He doesn’t answer. Eats toast over a map of Europe, buys a pair of hiking boots, disappears for three months.
He posts pictures of the Alps. He meets a girl named Martina. She likes to swim, too. She teaches him how to breathe underwater.
He comes home the day the planetarium closes down. We go to see the last performance: a slideshow of the cosmos. This is how the morning star travels, in a crooked arc across the sky. The stars are never perfectly aligned despite what you might think. Things are happening outside our galaxy, he says. Big important things. He holds my hand and switches seats with me when the woman beside me starts weeping.
At 28 he’s too old for dancing. I go out alone, meet a girl by the toilets, suck crystals off her hand.
Where is he, your friend? she asks.
Men in white jeans descend the stairs above us. Are you ever tempted, they want to know. The girl stretches out her legs and lays her head on my lap.
I’ve lost all my friends, she says. On one of these floors.
Sit with me for as long as you like, I tell her. And she does.
In the morning, I open the windows. Let the river in.
Last night I met Martina, I tell him. She asked me a lot of questions.
Who’s Martina? He laughs, frightened. That’s impossible.
I begin swimming laps at the public pool. The water’s warm and smells of men’s sweat, though there are hardly ever any men around. One afternoon I spot Martina. She’s wearing a one piece and has almost no breasts, just a steady flat line running over the hook of her ribs. Her armpits sprout miraculous black hair. I hover on the edge of the pool in my goggles and watch her spear the water in a perfect crawl.
The next time I see her she’s teaching kids backstroke. She’s taller this time and larger and her hair is pulled back in a sharp tipped ponytail. She removes the inflatable rings from the kids’ arms so they float weightless. Their bodies barely dent the surface. They don’t always float. Sometimes they go under and she scoops them out, and tells them not to overact, which is something he tells me when I mention that I’ve seen her.
You’re imagining things, he says.
You used to like that about me, I say. I’ll stop imagining her if you give me the facts.
There are no such things as facts, he says. Only moments.
In the New Year he throws a party for his friends and announces that he’s moving to Japan. He’s always wanted to go. It is the closest thing we have to the future, he says.
I thought you didn’t believe in the future, I say.
I don’t. That’s why I want to see it.
No one argues with him.
In recent months I’ve met people who look like him, others that don’t but sound like him, exactly like him, even in foreign languages. “Kosmos” translates to ornament, he explains or someone explains in his voice. We are the ornaments of the universe.
He posts a picture of his new room. The walls are made of rice paper. A roll-up mat, canter of rice wine. Everything’s made of rice, even the trees.
In Japan your only luxury is the length of your hair. He’s grown his past his shoulders.
There’s even a tax on dreams, he tells me. All your dreams must fit into a teacup.
What if they don’t, I ask. What if they don’t fit?
Then you have no other choice, he says, but to stay awake.
Kasia Juno is a writer, teacher, and aspiring comic book artist. Kasia studied literature and creative writing at Concordia University and the University of Toronto. Her work has appeared in Maisonneuve Magazine, The Hart House Review, The Puritan, and The Rumpus.net. In 2009, Kasia received the Quebec Writer's Federation prize for short fiction. Kasia is currently at work on a book of short stories.
Photo credit: Ashlea Smith.