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Breath Play

by Sacha Bissonnette

Jesse watches me go under. He likes this part. He knows how competitive I am.

15 seconds.

He knows I would live down here if I could. Under pressure. Chlorinated, always clean.
He knows I want gills. That I hate my limitations. That I prefer down here.

32 seconds.

He knows I’ll only give up once my lungs boil in my chest and I’m forced to break surface and suck in like a vacuum. 

39 seconds.

He watches me thrash and push away from his translucent body. He looks warped. Like those funhouse mirrors.
My air has left.
I push longer, lower. The opposite of drowning. 

50 seconds.

He kicks at me. I broke my personal best.
I’m forced to come back up, to break surface.
He’s there. He was always there.
“My turn,” he says.
“Watch this,” he brags before even going under.
He sits calmly at the bottom of the pool.
He is a water shaman.
He comes up. 

1 minute 7 seconds

He proudly grins. Exposing his perfect teeth
I hate him for it, but I love him.
He comes close, whispers.
“Why can’t we just do laps like the other kids?” 


My Dad’s newest girlfriend bought me a swimsuit this spring.
The Star-Spangled Banner for her “little American princess,” she says.
My boyfriend Matt loves it.
He says “I like when you wear it baby,”
and also says,
“You look so fucking sexy in it.”
Matt is as subtle as his frat boy jaw allows.
He loves to lay by the pool.
Sometimes I think that’s all he can do.
He tries to tan the small spaces between his bulging six-pack.
Until my tight teen body interrupts his efforts.
He watches me enter the water. I do it slowly.
His eyes cross the stars on my breast and then they lower,
moving south down the lines of the flag.
South like Alabama.
He fixates there, holds his breath.
The suburbs choke me.
But I have created this game for us.


I lure him in like a mermaid. 


When he gets close enough,
close enough to smell the sweat and body spray mix, I wrap my legs around him. 
I’ve got him good. 
I straddle him and kiss him deep because he’s mine for now. Maybe not for always, like Jesse, but for right now. He knows the rules. 


I spin around and attach to his back, like those parasitic fish.
I tap twice on his right shoulder.
He knows the command.
He dives deep and dives long.
Hold your breath like Jesse, I think.
Beat me at breathing so I can hate you for it later.
But he isn’t Jesse.
He can’t last long.
I hate him for not trying as hard, so I stay under longer.
His jaw loosens, I’m scaring him.
He isn’t often afraid.
He dives in to pull me back up.
I spit out water. 

1 minute 15 seconds. 

Two summers are spent like this. 


My father told me the job makes the man, but he worked himself to death so
I have Jason and Jason has a good enough job.
Jason works with his hands. They are callused from the stone he lays.
We had no pool when we moved in so I asked him to put one in.
It took him only 3 months.
He did much of the work himself and rarely complained.
He is quiet like that. Often fixated on the smaller details of things.
Like clean cut edges or the birthmark below my lip.
He is home at six sharp every night.
He grabs a beer and showers off the day. That world is not for me to smell or feel.
So I play my game.


I slide dinner in the oven and picture his callused hands on me, around my neck. 


But Jason holds me like the squirrels he runs out to rescue from drowning.
The way Matt thought of me, eager yet breakable.
Jason holds me now. Hard to tell if forever. 


I snap out from my daydream.
The quiche is burning. I smell smoke as the oven beeps.
I can only think of my pool.
Of Jesse and of sometimes Matt. Of not having breath.
I dive down to the drain at the bottom.
I am a water shaman.
Peaceful and wet.
Chlorinated and calm.
My ears ring as the world echoes above me.

 1 minute 33 seconds. 

A new personal best. 

Sacha Bissonnette is a poet and short story writer from Ottawa, Can. He is currently participating in the poets-in-residence program at Arc Poetry Magazine with mentor Stevie Howell. His poetry has been published throughout the United States and Canada. His fiction has appeared in Litro UK, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Emerson Review, and Torrid. He has upcoming short fiction in Lalitamba and The Maine Review. He can be reached online @sjohnb9.

Lead image: “Breaking the Web” (via Flickr user andressolo)