We’re delighted to have another great short story to read from one of our regular writers, Victoria Walsh. Breath of Air explores the contrast between the confinement of being inside and the luxurious freedom that comes from being outside. Walsh’s insight allows us to understand that this short story is more than a piece on our constant desire to ‘go outside’ and ‘enjoy the fresh air’, but an exploration into the pain that comes from meditating on that which we cannot have.
Breath of Air
Only a thin sheet of glass barred Maria from the outdoor world, but it might have been a barricade. Confined inside the office where the air hung stale and pungent and oppressive warmth cloaked the room, her mind had begun to slow down. The whirring cogs were grinding to a gradual halt as if eventually all thought might simply cease to flow. Dense and blurred by her tired gaze, the papers on her desk no longer seemed to hold any meaning. Stalemate.
Sunshine filtered in through the one narrow window from which she now gazed. The world outside bloomed vibrant, lush, beautiful – everything that inside was not. She longed to escape: for the scent of grass and spring to touch her nostrils, to feel the breeze caress her skin and tug her hair. Reaching across her desk in a sluggish movement, she pushed the window open just a crack, letting a wisp of air wind into the stifling room.
Inhaling, Maria closed her eyes. In her mind, she imagined her escape to paradise as she stepped outside the room and outside herself. She left behind the stench of the office and remembered what it felt like to run, feet pounding on the ground, wind sweeping the hair back from her face. The winding path to the beach down which she had enjoyed many a childhood walk became the setting of her inner journey. She could hear the gulls crying out in triumph overhead, celebrating her victory as she swallowed with sweet delight the salty air blowing in from the sea. With each gulp she felt more alive, as if she could run and run and never stop. She cast off her shoes, manacles of dreary daily life, and savoured the feeling of each grain of sand beneath her toes.
When she reached the shore, she slowed to a standstill. As a child she would have hopped and leaped, giggling and breathless, over the breaking waves as they gushed towards her, but now she waited, unmoving, until the first cool laps of water began to pool round her feet, foaming white then shrinking back before rushing at her again and again. Ever determined, unrelenting – she envied the sea its endless zeal. Still unmoving, she felt herself sink into the sand, little by little. She was at once one with all around her. The sky was cloudless and the horizon a brilliant expanse of dancing waves, ecstatic in the beaming sun.
A rap on the office door shattered her vision. Eyes opening, Maria collapsed back to the present moment – trapped in a chair at a desk in a room where she did not want to be. The familiar face of one of her co-workers appeared around the door with an inquiry about the progress of the report she was supposed to be writing. Responding, she attempted to force some fervour into her voice and a monotonous conversation passed between them. When the door finally shut behind her colleague, Maria released a drawn out sigh. The outdoor air was calling her name, but duty bound her in place.