Breathe

Edited by Brian J. White

June 2017

There are worse ways to go.

There’s that bullshit thought again, circling back around for another try. It’s not true anyway. There’s one much better way to go.

Is that the headache? It’s a headache, but is it the headache?

Does it matter?

And exhaustion. Makes sense I’m exhausted. It had been a seven-and-a-half-hour walk. The true test would be to put my feet on something solid, see if my knees held.

Laughing burns oxygen faster.

Thirty, by my estimate. Thirty minutes. The longest thirty minutes of my life.

The last thirty minutes of my life.

I could enjoy the view. I feel like that’s what somebody on Facebook who prescribes “a walk in nature” as a cure for depression would suggest. “Feel blessed you went out with such a great view!”

I could do that. Or the view could go get fucked. It’s not going to change anything anyway.

Yeah, the view would be great if I were 90, full of drugs, and orbiting in the station. This? Orbiting the Earth, a satellite myself, one big human Popsicle in a million-dollar spacesuit? Takes a little of the charm out of the view, I’d say.

Bucket list.

Fuck Everest, I can tell you that much. Dying on mountains is stupid.

I’ve always wanted to try surfing. I’ve never been in a fist fight.

Fuck space movies, too. In space movies, there’s always some Hail Mary that comes through right before all hope is lost. Sandra Bullock gets back to Earth. Matt Damon grows potatoes and jettisons himself into space.

You know who’s coming for me? Nobody. There’s nobody to come. NASA probably assumes I’m dead already. And if not, we all know I soon will be.

I wonder if they’ve called my family yet?

There’s something for my bucket list. Wipe the tears off my baby girl’s face one more time.

Keep my promise to her to come home safe.

I hope Lauren’s mom is around to help with the kid. Lauren will be useless after this. If I know her, and I do, she’ll blame herself. I’ve never met anybody who internalized all that butterfly effect bullshit to such a degree.

Here’s how it’ll go in Lauren’s mind: Because we fought the night before, it changed my actions during the launch. My change rippled out to my crewmates. Her quietly screamed “Fuck you” grew and grew until all of our timing on the station was altered. Those two little words, to Lauren, will be the reason I was standing in that exact spot when whatever it was hurtled through and cut my tether.

If we hadn’t fought, would I have been standing somewhere else?

Probably.

Does that make this her fault?

No. But try convincing her of that. God, I hope NASA tries to convince her of that.

I’ve always wanted a parrot. I never wanted a cat. They’re awful creatures, cats. Destructive, too. Parrots, however, are brilliant and contained. Never got one. I didn’t want something that would outlive me.

Joke’s on me, I guess. Lauren’s cat will still be alive in an hour.

Crying burns oxygen faster.

I never had a garden, but gardening feels like one of those things I want only in principle. I’ve never been home enough to grow anything.

I’ll never be home enough.

My heart feels like it’s gone from beats into a steady hum, though it stutters now and again. Premature ventricular contraction it’s called. Beat, beat, beat, pause, thud. The rhythm of the rest of my life.

Running out of oxygen feels like desperation. But what do I do? I’m not choosing to pant. There’s no better option here. If I slow my breathing, I won’t expel the CO2 from my lungs, and I’ll die faster. If my breathing speeds up, I’ll burn through my remaining oxygen, and I’ll die faster.

This is what it feels like to begin dying.

It’ll be nice not to be tired.

My head throbs. It is the headache.

I don’t have to do this. This part could go on a while. Maybe. The panic’s rising in my chest already. I breathe and breathe and breathe and get no air.

Calm down, I think, but why? To what end?

Fuck this, I have to do it. It’ll be over in ten seconds. Fifteen tops.

Dammit. My arms will barely lift to my suit and even that make me pant.

Panting. Pant, like a dog. I’ve always been neutral about dogs.

Cats, though. Cats are awful creatures. They eat native birds. Do cats pant?

I can’t help but think of the dogs they sent to space. We have this in common now, dying above the earth, but I can’t breathe, did they know they couldn’t breathe?

I need to do it. Did I wait too long? My arms will barely lift to my suit and even that makes me pant.

Fish out of water, fish out of water. I’ve had fish. They all died.

This is what it feels like to die.

I waited too long and I can’t get my arms to my suit. The earth is sparkly. It isn’t but I see it, cracks and pops of light.

I don’t want to die like this. I have to do it but my arms don’t want to move. I can’t breathe any harder and my lungs fill but with nothing. Christ this hurts why didn’t they tell me it would hurt so bad, I wouldn’t have waited this long.

I can’t I can’t I can’t but if I can get my helmet off, maybe I can breathe.

I don’t remember getting my arms to my neck but there’s the latch pull the latch pull it pull

Depressurization

Space is too cold to feel like relief, but you can’t gasp as your lungs freeze. Only a few seconds, a few dozen heartbeats of my tongue boiling, of air bubbles forming in my eyes.

It’s coming, the blackness

Breathe

About the author

R.D. lives in Northern California with her family and two firmly mediocre dogs where she runs a subcontracting business. Her work has been featured at Fireside Fiction, Shotgun Honey and the upcoming anthology, Killing Malmon. When not writing, working, or winning athletic contests against her six-year-old to ‘build his character,’ R.D. enjoys performing standup and producing short videos. Try to keep up on twitter: @_TheRussian. Her grandmother would like you to know she’s the source of R.D.’s talent.

© 2017 R.D. Sullivan