When your son is on a ventilator, you need someone to say it’s just a precaution. In the space those words would fill, I tuck his man-hand along with the answers I didn’t have when I brought his limp body to this place. How much has he had to drink? Always too much. I stroke the long fingers, trace the stubby lines on the palm, listen to the suck and pull of oxygen through the tube. In. Out.

I match my breaths to his just like when I taught him to swim, how to take enough breath to keep the lungs earth-bound. If you breathe underwater, you must rise and choke out the interloping fluid until the body remembers where it was born to belong. Stay down too long, and you might never come up. He was always slow to learn, gagging again and again and now again on everything I’ve begged him not to swallow.

A nurse, the nice one, the one whose eyes don’t stab judgments about what kind of mother lets this happen, puts a hand on my shoulder on her way out. I fold and refold his shirt, damp with its slurry of rum-vomit and loneliness. I straighten the sheet. I touch the bruise blooming above his right eyebrow, fist-shaped and fury-purple. I keep breathing with him. I’m lightheaded because the rhythm is not mine, but I will match our inhalations and exhalations, waiting for him to break the surface.

Andrea Rinard is a former high school English teacher who left that classroom to earn her MFA from the University of South Florida. She’s the author of Murmurations, a collection of short stories from EastOver Press. She’s had multiple nominations for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions and reads for Fractured Literary Magazine. A native Floridian who wears shoes against her will, Andrea lives in Tampa with her 1988 Prom date. You can find her at www.writerinard.com and on Instagram @andrearinard.

Artwork by Marvin Liberman