day five: breath
The house was too quiet. She could hear the hum of the refrigerator, the ticking of a button or snap as the washing went round and round the machine. In the distance she could hear voices – neighbours chatting in the street or on their front lawns – and she could hear the birds through the open kitchen window. The birds.
What she could not hear was the sound of Wayne’s breathing, laboured, his breath making its way out into the room through the husk that remained of his windpipe; the occasional blast, like air being pumped into a tire, as he tried to take in a deeper breath, tried to take in, not only air, but life – the things that weren’t breath that were still keeping him alive. Still keeping him with her.
With some encouragement, they had both agreed to give respite a go. She needed a break from caring for him (they said), and he needed the chance to improve his quality of life – they both did.
He knew all this, of course. His lungs might be shredded but his brain was completely intact. Your wife was not supposed to become your carer. It was not a context in which closeness equalled intimacy. Intimacy had become something else in their house since he had taken ill: a reminder to take his medication, scheduled bathing time, help to the bathroom.