Shelley couldn’t believe Tracy had just left the chair in the back alley like that. That chair that had been her mother’s. She had sat upon that very chair for six years of college degree completion. The chair that after it’s first messy repair job had stayed out on the front porch and became Shelley’s smoking chair, until she quit when Brandy passed away. Shelley mourned the loss of the chair, and her only daughter, from her life three years ago when she put it out next to the trash can in a rage. She hadn’t really wanted to get rid of it but was purging everything from her life that had come to her before her daughter passed away. She only wanted to be surrounded by new things, not ones with countless stories tied up in the fabric and the wood.
Tracy, her neighbor until yesterday, had snatched up the chair before the trash truck arrived. Shelley saw her take it in through her back door. She felt relieved and betrayed at the same time. Relieved the chair wouldn’t rot in a landfill as soon as she had thought it might, and betrayed because the release she was seeking wouldn’t happen with the roar of the garbage truck condensing the chair into little bits like she imagined.
For three years she had watched from her kitchen window as Tracy was courted by David and then married. Tracy had given birth to their son, Cyrus, in their bathtub a little over a year ago. Shelley always was a polite neighbor, but harbored deep jealousy of the seemingly perfect life being lived next door.
One day Tracy had brought the chair to the back porch to sit in the sun. Shelley decided to pay it a clandestine visit.
“Hi, Tracy” said Shelley, “It’s so great to see the sun after all that rain, huh”?
“Oh Man, is it ever! I couldn’t keep Cyrus from jumping off the walls after the third of fourth day. He actually took a tumble off of this chair pretending to be a helicopter, and we nailed it back together just last night”
Shelley didn’t let on that the chair had been hers – that it was laden with so many memories.
“He didn’t hurt himself, I hope”?
“Nope, just a couple of little bruises. I swear that kid must be made of teflon”
Tracy cocked her head when Shelley said, “You know, household accidents are one of the leading causes of death of children. You’d better keep a close eye on that little whirlwind of a boy you got” She stretched her arms above her head and turned to walk inside.
“Uh…..yeah…..thanks for the warning”
Six months later Shelley began to hear Tracy and David fighting a lot. Every time it was something different – money, lack of sex, how to raise a toddler – all the usual stuff. Her kitchen window was placed strategically in such a way that if their windows were cracked even a little, she heard everything from their living room, kitchen and master bedroom. She took a tiny amount of pleasure in the fact that their perfect life wasn’t so perfect after all. She felt a little guilty about that, but it didn’t stop her.
Then yesterday, she saw the Uhaul trailer parked in front of their flat. She went out to investigate. Tracy said she and David were separating, and started to cry. Shelley knew this had been coming but, of course, didn’t say anything.
The next day the chair was out in the alley, nowhere near the trash cans. Seeing that chair, alone, sitting in the alley, next to the overgrown grass, and the beer bottle shards, Shelley couldn’t help but tear up at the thoughts of all the hours that chair had been useful to someone. She contemplated taking it back, making new memories with it, but decided against it. This time, someone she doesn’t know will take it and she won’t be bothered by the sadness. She could let it go now.
Calcification had been building here for aeons. Stalactites and stalagmites, and dripping pools of limpid water that never seemed to evaporate. I continued exploring the caverns and rooms, always wondering what I would see around the next bend. What I saw was slowly breathtaking – I actually did hold my breath when I realized what I was looking at. I wound around the tunnels and caverns, seeing that the calcification slowly had begun to crack away from what was apparently the massive body of a living thing.
Chunks of off-white, crusty layers that smelled astringent and desiccated were everywhere in piles now, and the walls had begun to breathe. That’s right, I said breathe.
What looked like limestone walls were, upon touch, pliable, smooth and expanding and contracting rhythmically. Slow expansion and slow decrease, I wouldn’t have noticed had I continued exploring the way I usually do, looking forever for the next turn in the road to satisfy my wanderlust. How to wrap my head around this stunning find? What WAS this body? What was breathing and slowly dropping hunks of what kept it firmly in place for so long, like shedding a dry, constraining skin?
It had been hours now, and I knew that I had to choose to stay here overnight or turn around and head out into the waning twilight. I chose to stay.
I went another fifty yards or so and found a large pool in a large room. Here, most of the encasement was already dropped to the ground and I could faintly hear a slow swooshing of air being brought in and expelled, from where I didn’t know. I decided to light a small fire and make a meal then try to sleep in this miracle of a place.
As I moved toward the water to put some through my water filter, I was surprised to see that the liquid was frozen. Perfectly glass-like on the surface and hard as rock to the touch. I chipped some out of the pool, hoping that there were no contaminates or radioactivity that I needed to worry about. As I put my small hammer to the work, the rhythm of the breathing walls all around me start to accelerate.
I put the chunks of frozen water in a small pan and waited for it to melt. The rhythm seemed to maintain the faster pace. In five minutes the ice in the pan had fully melted, I dropped in the freeze-dried food and waited. As the fire crackled I thought I could hear a cracking noise. I wondered if the last of the calcified skin was going to come down around me, but the cracking was coming from the pool of frozen water. I turned to see cracks lengthening and pings of sound now moving all through the large cavern. I wondered if my fire had caused this thaw.
By the time I was finished with my meal, the pool was completely liquid. The breathing of the walls was continuous, steady, and I was lulled into a deep sleep I hadn’t known in many years.
When I awoke I was clearly in a different place. None of the calcification remained on the walls of this big room. There was only the rhythm of breath in synch with my own breath. I felt as if the walls were a bellows, causing my lungs to open and close through no effort of my own. I sat quietly in this entrainment for a long while, not really wanting to move, much less begin my journey back to the outside.
The walk back out of the caverns was a sad one. I realized no one would believe what I had witnessed. I would keep this place and this experience a secret, a moment out of time, for my own contemplation and the sanctity of the large body who’s breath caused my own to be so effortless.