It was another day
indistinguishable from the last, having just sat down with a coffee to edit a
proposal for a new bridge, and so why wouldn't she notice until more than an
hour into the day? Living alone, and having no meetings scheduled either, she'd
had no occasion to speak.
At 9 a.m., the
door buzzer rang. She knew what it was, a delivery, of what in particular she
could not recall, there being two or three a week.
By the time she
got out of her chair and to the intercom, it was buzzing for the second time.
She pressed the button to open the door, and to speak, the delivery man announcing
himself, and when she tried to reply, she then knew something was wrong.
She opened her
mouth and made the appropriate movements, but nothing came out. Her voice was
gone? No, it was more. There was nothing to create voice. There was nothing
there, nothing to carry the voice. There was no air.
She tried to
breathe in, through nose or mouth, but it was impossible. It was not that there
was a blockage, or insufficient flow; it was that there was no mechanism to
make it happen.
She put her hands
to her throat, to her chest.
A focussed storm of panic arrived, her mind
spiralling with possibilities: that she was choking, that she was having a
heart attack. She pounded her chest with a fist to dislodge the foreign object
that wasn’t there. She sat on the couch and put her head between her knees and
attempted to breathe deeply. Attempts to breathe were only a slight backward
movement of her head. He chest remained still, did not expand or contract.
Breathing was like
trying to throw a punch without an arm. She sat scared with her head between
her knees, trying to come up with what to do next, knowing she would be unable
to call 911 for lack of a voice to explain the problem.
She got off the
couch and went back to her computer, sat down, and opened a dialog box. But as
she began to type, and some of the panic was pushed to another part of her mind
to accommodate the task at hand, the totality of situation dawned upon her.
She was unable to
breathe. But she did not need to.
The dialog box she
opened was with her best friend, Stan, but she had yet to type a message.
She met Stan
almost every Thursday at Castle's for dinner or drinks, depending on their mood.
They had a standing reservation for the same table, on the second floor, by the
window, overlooking the street. Sometimes, they only had drinks. Sometimes they
shared appetizers, or a wood fired pizza, the smell of slightly charred dough
hitting the nose as soon as you entered the restaurant.
Formerly a bank,
the vault still in place, the second floor had been converted into a giant loft,
the large concrete blocks of the walls and iron rafters in the ceiling left
exposed. The restaurant was always busy. The chatter of a full dining room
offered privacy to the conversation when they needed it, or exhibitionism when
they had a few extra cocktails.
had been her friend for fifteen years. They had been roommates through most of
their twenties. He still lived in the same apartment—he wouldn’t let go of that
location and rent until he had to—now with a new roommate, also female, someone
Marin was initially jealous of but had learned to like in the way one learns to
like a friend's husband or partner: a secondary relationship, one that probably
would not continue if they separated, and so was not worth thinking about too
The jealousy was
born of the fact that Marin had moved out for a relationship that did not end
well. In hindsight, she recognized her years living with Stan as if not the
best, for relative lack of wealth and stuttering attempts at launching a
career, then certainly the most fun period of her life.
Back then, she
occasionally dated, or had someone to have semi-regular sex with, or enjoyed
the occasional one-night stand, but her homelife was stable and drama-free.
Now, she hadn't dated in over a year, lived alone, spent most of her work and
free time on the internet, and though would not label herself as depressed, she
admitted to herself, and Stan, that she was stagnating at best.
They'd had this
same conversation several times before, and though Stan would listen intently
every time she told her sob story, even if it were one million more, he would
also not hesitate to tell her exactly what he thought. She was stubborn,
sometimes even hard-headed, in that once she had formed a belief, it was hard
to change it.
“How’s that different
than anyone else?” she said the last time they’d met, three days earlier.
over this, Marin," Stan said, taking her by the hand across the table.
"Quit the job, do something else."
to take me right now?" Marin said.
different conversation," Stan said, waving a dismissive hand.
“Well what about
you? It’s not like you’re the happiest person in the world!”
Stan laughed, then
had another sip of his negroni.
“I’m allowed to
vent too!” Stan said.
“So am I!” Marin
change internally, or you can change externally,” Stan said. “That's all there
is to it. Change your mindset, or change your job, your house, your clothes.
Your haircut. Just change something."
Aurelius,” Marin said.
undecided. Her work as an inhouse editor and copywriter for an engineering firm
was no longer fulfilling, and in truth never really had been. The money was,
though. But she had run out of things to buy or care about, never having been
particularly admired of material objects, at least beyond the base rate
everyone else on earth also currently experienced. If she needed something new,
clothes, an appliance, furniture, she did a bit of research and bought
something of quality that would last. She had a closet and dresser full of nice
clothes, some expensive, but was by no means a shopaholic. She gave away items
she no longer used every time she bought something new. She worked, and when
she wasn't working, she ate, drank, watched television shows, typed in chat
rooms, ate delivered meals of varying quality, the same as everyone else did.
message to Stan sat abandoned in the dialog box. Marin laid on the bed, her
hands examining her chest. She had calmed down some and her heart now beat
normally. Her chest did not rise or fall.
The light stucco
of the ceiling offered no answers. After long and careful examination, it only
reassured her that she was not dreaming, not hallucinating. She was alive, in
her apartment, on her bed, with no use for breath.
It was December,
and the sun setting in the late afternoon was all that alerted her to the fact
that she had spent the entire day lying on her bed, contemplating her new
existence. When the light coming through the window disappeared, she got out of
her bed and returned to her computer. A litany of messages from work were queued
in her inbox and chats.
“Are you going to
send whatever you’re typing eventually or…” a message from Stan said.
“Oops, no, it’s
nothing,” she replied, then closed the app, and every other one, turned off the
computer entirely, and went back to bed.
had occurred on a Monday. She spent the next three days coming up with excuses
not to take meetings, a task not particularly difficult to pull off for one
week but would soon become impossible.
She went for
walks, to get groceries or just for exercise, avoiding restaurants, cafes, takeout,
afraid of having to communicate. She wondered what had happened, and why. She
had not taken a breath in three days, but the rest of her body functioned as
normal. Ate, slept, pissed, shit.
She thought about
her lungs, and what they were doing, and came up with nothing.
She spent part of
the evenings learning sign language, learning about the lives of people who
could not speak.
Never did she
search her condition. It would only cause her to panic; long ago she had
decided to never self-diagnose, after convincing herself what turned out to be eczema
was cancer. Doctors couldn’t be trusted either. The opposite experienced killed
her sister five years earlier: Clara insisting there was something wrong, the
doctors finding nothing, the giant cell myocarditis killing
her soon after.
All she could do
was live her life.
On Thursday, she
“How about dinner
at my place tonight, as a change of pace?”
“Your house is so
far!” Stan said.
“I know, but just
this once. We can do your place another time. We’ve both been too rigid about
travel times anyway, right? We said that last time.”
They had. Nobody
wanted to travel any farther than they had to, but it was good to do it for
friends from time to time. It was good to have friends into your home.
She made another
trip to the grocery store. It was a new experience, a new state of being, and
she was acutely aware that she was not breathing. As she walked the aisles,
filling her basket with what she needed for dinner, she paid close attention to
The sensation of
choking had disappeared after the first day, as did the straining of the throat
and mouth, something like the contractions of a fish out of water. It was not
that she was gasping for air; it was that she thought she should be. Even the
tightness of chest had taken on a new
significance: this was panic, anxiety, at a breathlessness that did not matter.
Marin stopped in
the middle of an aisle, and paid attention. She had already wondered if she
were dead, a ghost, but if so she was a ghost that could been seen: her
colleagues replied to her messages and emails, cashiers at the store acknowledged
her presence, accepted her payment, didn't pay much mind that her only response
was a nod, half of the customers never said anything, anyway.
Her existence was reconfirmed
by another customer in the aisle. At first Marin thought the woman was
examining her, to see what was wrong, and again Marin considered that she might
be dead. But when Marin took her eyes away from the shelves and turned to the
woman, she saw she was looking at her as if she were an immovable object.
"Can I get by
or what?" the woman said.
Marin nodded and
The elevated doors
in her building opened and she was greeted with herself. She entered the
elevator, let the doors close behind her, and remained facing the mirror on the
back wall. She leaned on the gold rail with one hand to take a closer look.
There was nothing
wrong with her face. Her colour was as flush as ever, from regular walks in the
cold and a healthy appetite, one that had not suffered in the last few days at
arrived at her floor, and she entered her apartment. She set the paper bag of
groceries on the kitchen counter, took off her coat, and got to work preparing
A few things left
on tables or chairs needed to be put in their proper place, and the floors needed
a good sweeping, but that was as messy as the apartment ever got.
She swept first,
then set the table and put out a bottle of wine. She had considered telling him
earlier that her voice was gone but was worried perhaps he might not come. She
needed him to come, she needed someone to know, now, and if it was to be
anyone, it was to be Stan.
Likely, he would
not even believe her. She had merely lost her voice and was otherwise pulling
some sort of practical joke. But she would take his hand and lay it on her
chest and hold it there, and hold it there, and have him put his ear close to
her mouth, and he would understand.
He would become
frightened and try to pull away, and she would laugh, soundlessly, and write
that she would be fine. He would insist they go to the hospital, and she would
This is what she
expected: for Stan to be scared, and for her to enjoy it. She could not say
why, but she knew that was what she was looking forward to, the fear in his
eyes, and then assuaging it.
As she set a
notepad and pen on the coffee table, she noticed the box.
A nearly plain
cardboard box with the company's distinctive tape sealing it closed sat on the
armchair by the door, where it had been since she brought it up.
The delivery man,
either frustrated with no one answering him over the intercom, or never caring
if anyone did to begin with, had left the package in the building lobby by the
mailboxes. It wasn’t until she left the house the next day that she remembered
it was there, reminded by seeing it, and brought it back up to the apartment.
The box was
heavy—from the weights she lifted in her living room, she guessed it to be
almost 20 lbs—and the contents shifted only slightly as she lifted it from the
armchair. She set the box on the dining table and picked up one of the knives
she had set out for dinner.
As she slid the
knife along the tape on the top of the box, then across it on either side, she
mentally scrolled through her recent orders, wondering what it could be. She
opened the flaps, removed some of the plain brown packing paper, and looked
The shape and size
were appropriate, and of course she had seen images of them before, but what
had been delivered did not immediately register. The colour and texture were
wrong— dull grey and stippled, giving the appearance of concrete—but when she
lifted the larger one out of the box, its lobes sagged as they should, and the
whole thing began to expand and contract, expand and contract, and her face
gave the appearance of a scream.
Kloepfer’s novel, Cheap Thrills, was published by Now or Never
Publishing in 2019. His writing has also appeared in The Rumpus, Hacksaw
Literary, and Spank the Carp. He works as a library technologist in
a university library's special collections and rare book department.