Breathing Space by Joanna Campbell
The little dog is tethered in the sun. From a distance, she has a rough coat. But when I’m close enough to stroke her, inside the pool of her reflection on the slow-baked sand, she is soft.
You tell me not to touch. “Fleas, Simon,” you say.
I drag your case up the hill. So many clothes. All from the cheap shop so you can justify their number, their casual disposability. I hoped you would spend all week in your white swimming costume. But you want changes, multiple changes.
The room disappoints you. The humming fridge disturbs your sleep. The toilet gasps and gurgles. The ceiling fan struggles to stir air thicker than Brown Windsor soup.
“I can’t breathe,” you say.
The little dog cries all night.
You burn on the beach, so you stay in the room. You smother your skin with cream, but refuse to let me baste you. I buy you more lotion—"Too watery, too melon scented"—from the shabby shop. Down the hill, up the hill. You want stifado in a carton. Down to the jaded restaurant, up again. You want medicine to send you to sleep. I brought some along.
No one has changed the dog’s water.
You slam the blind shut, flimsy slats flinching like ice-lolly sticks on a string. I wait for further instructions—sparkling water, orange sweets, a book with hundreds of cheap, unchallenging pages—and begin the descent again.
Sky-blue crowns of churches, iced minarets, milk-white walls with peeling, thirsty doors and far below, the satin ribbon of the sea where the little dog strains on her leash, waiting for my hand to stroke her warm head.
You spend the week planning sweeping changes, to be implemented upon return. You will landscape our garden, open a bistro, learn to stuff an ox-heart. I make my plan within the resin-breath of cooling pine groves.
By the eve of departure day, a heap of redundant viscose cringes in the corner of the room, the hard case empty. I carry your bulky holdall this time and sit on the sand all night, to be certain of catching the dawn flight. I gave you the stronger medicine last night.
On the plane, the scenery below is less beautiful than the empty sky, the pure, unhindered sense of distance.
You are quiet. I am thankful.
At home, I open your holdall. The zipper was not fully closed. I left space for air. When I fold back the flap, you let out a shy, grateful yelp as I cup your warm, soft face in my hands.