Here is the second installment of the short story I posted yesterday...
I focused on my breathing after I had finished the puff of my cigarette. My therapist had gone over several breathing exercises with me shortly after it all happened. She urged me to focus on each breath I took, and to isolate all I was taking in and all I was releasing. She suggested that I name what I was giving away and taking in, and she even suggested putting a color to what I was releasing if I was unable to put words to it. I remembered the training and thought about all the things I had released into the air in the past few years. In the beginning I wanted so badly to release the pain I was feeling, and I wished it could be released by something so simple as breathing. I just wanted all my grief and guilt and anger to fade into the darkness like the smoke from the end of my cigarette. I found it was not the breathing that was the problem; rather, I wanted to let go of the pain before it was time. I needed time to sit with the pain and learn from it, and for it to show me things about who I was, and it did.
I was breathing heavy now, remembering the first breath I took after it happened. The cold air that escaped from the window that day stung as it entered my lungs. My chest was home to that cold air for a long while. Eventually I learned how to breathe again and how to let the warmth from the air fill my chest. It took a bit of time, but I learned that time was necessary. As I sat by the fire that night I released more pain out of my chest into the darkness.
I got up to piss. I had been sitting for a long time and had drunk a few cups of wine. Jack saw what I was doing so he got up from his chair and followed me, and we both picked out a tree and marked our territory. Somehow he took longer than I did even though he hadn’t had any of the wine, so I went in the house to grab a flannel. I came back outside and picked up Jack and brought him over to my chair. Jack had a funny way of curling up next to me whenever he sat on my chair. He always stuffed his head right between my back and the chair, which I never understood the reasoning for, and left no room for me to sit. Damn dog. I didn’t mind so much now that it was colder and I could lean in closer to the fire.
I think it hit Jack harder than it hit me. He used to have more spunk in him before it happened. He moped around with me for those first few months and slept more than usual. He still sleeps more than he used to but that’s not it—he is lost like I was. Well maybe he is just older now. After it happened I thought about getting another dog, but Jack wasn’t into the idea. He was happy with just me, and I realized I was happy with just him.
I got up from the chair and chopped some more wood for the fire; it wasn’t dying but I was restless. Jack woke up and followed me over to the side yard again.
“What are you doing, old dog?” I said to him. “Every time I get up you come sniffing around making sure everything is okay. Can I chop this wood? Huh? Is that okay with you, boy?”
Jack said nothing. He just stared up at me like I was a moron. I finished chopping the wood and carried it back over to the fire.
The rhythm from the hatchet was beating in my chest again. It was stronger now. It was steady. The fire was blazing and the red glow from coals resting underneath the wood scowled at me. I stared into the fire for a moment and tried to follow the pattern of the flames. My eyes followed from the bottom to the tips of the flames, but I could never stay with them. Their movement was too fast for my eyes.
I was growing tired and I could tell Jack was too. We had been sitting out there by the fire for hours—it was a little game we played each night. I think we play it because she used to love sitting by the fire with Jack curled up next to her. She loved to sing with me, but I think at times she adored Jack more than she adored me. I don’t mind though. Jack’s all right.