“Is he breathing?” She asks the question without panic, without fear, much like she’d ask, “Is it raining outside?”
“Is he breathing?” she asks, but in that pregnant question, she sees more than 50 years of life. She sees the olive green military Army uniform that he was wearing when she first met him. She hears his voice and his laughter. She feels his strong hand on her hip at night as she curls into their familiar cocoon to slumber. She smells his Old Spice aftershave and again feels the irritation she would get when he would track up her kitchen with his muddy shoes after working in the garden or when he would scrub the motor grease off of his hands in the kitchen sink.
She stands next to his bed, gently stroking his forehead and watching him sleep as her daughters stare at their phones, waiting for his food tray. One daughter’s phone dings with a text message. The other daughter stands and stretches. A nurse comes in, checks his vitals, and pricks his finger to get his sugar level. He’s breathing. For now, he’s okay. His mouth is agape, his eyes closed, chest gently rising and falling rhythmically. He’s breathing. She sits back in her chair, sighs deeply, and rubs her right temple. She sees him teaching her girls how to bait the hook at the lake. She sees him with her girls at the shop, asking for them to hand him a 7/8 inch wrench. She pictures him roofing their house and teaching her to back up a truck with a trailer in tow. Every breath conjures a memory. She clings to each one.
The nurse comes in with a shot of insulin. He doesn’t respond when she gives him the injection. She checks the IV and messes with the equipment. She says that the doctor will be in after a while. The daughters continue to scroll Facebook and text their kids. She continues to watch his breathing. In and out. In and out. She matches her breathing rate to his and she waits. As long as he’s breathing, she will wait.
Sheila Arnold was born and raised in rural West Tennessee into a hard working tenant farming family. A retired educator, she earned degrees from Union University in Jackson, TN and from the University of Memphis. She now lives in Jackson, TN with her husband, Bobby and their dog, Louie. She is the mother of two and grandmother to six. She is an avid supporter of local artists and an advocate for improving the livability of her community and the literacy and educational opportunities for locals