Toss… turn… kick at the blanket… flop on the belly… bury the head in the pillow. Henry’s arm pokes out from under the covers. He pats the mattress, feeling for his phone somewhere along the edge of the bed. His hand finds it, drags it under the pillow. Henry opens one sluggish eye, peeks at the time. Four thirty-eight. He’s been in bed since eleven. Tossing and turning, flipping and flopping. For the dozenth time, he yells to his brain, Sleep, godammit!
Henry flops onto his back, straightens his legs, props a pillow under his knees. With one hand on his chest and the other on his stomach, he slows his breathing, counts his breaths. In through the nose… out through the mouth. Inhale… exhale… The exhales last longer than the inhales.
Soon the breathing is pushed into the background, and Henry is sketching buildings and bridges—a whole city—in his mind. The practice has often calmed him, given him peace. Now he colors in the buildings, adds some landscaping, draws the happy people he imagines would be living in his designs.
But it’s not working. And this is his third try. He must be trying too hard.
He stops the construction in his mind and opens his eyes. Stares at the ceiling. Once again, Henry tries to slow his breathing. Please… he begs his brain. He checks the time: five twenty-one. Please, please… Instead, the more he pleads, the more his breathing quickens, shallow and short-winded, until great tremors quake in his chest.
A wounded animal howls; Henry is taken aback by the strangeness of his voice. The quaking has dislodged something, and now the solid mass fissures, releasing an anguish that has clung to the bedrock of his soul, refusing to yield. Now it tears toward the ceiling of his chest and trembles at the surface until it finally escapes the barriers of his body. For a moment it hovers over Henry’s face, soggy with tears. And then, it vanishes.
Henry’s breathing slows into deep, protracted sobs heaved from an unfathomable well through difficult passages. The strange sphere of hardened mass had held all his heaviness, and now he longs for it, so used to its chain; chained to little Henry, with his rosy cherub cheeks, five years old, playing with his sister. Playing with his father’s shiny pistol while his sister laughed and tossed her halo of curls before the deafening sound of the world ending.
The first glimmer of dawn creeps through the edges of the curtains. Henry dozes off at last, grateful to forget.
M. Ocampo McIvor was born in the Philippines, raised in Toronto, Canada, and currently lives in Seattle. After a career in technology, Ocampo McIvor has returned to her roots to follow her calling in literature. Her work has been featured in The Bangalore Review, Conclave Journal, and Storgy Magazine. She is the author of Ugly Things We Hide (uglythingswehide.com).