Gasping for Purchase

Katharine Blair

Too big, was her first thought. All this air in one room and no one to breathe it.


That had been Friday? Or Monday? Or maybe on Tuesday, the way days slipped now, she couldn’t be sure. Before the bananas turned, that much she knew. The bananas because she’d been slicing one when she first felt the shift. Just an inkling that—the bit about bigger—like her breaths had cut halfwise and she’d never make do. All this air. What was it thinking?


It was after that, had to be—so rare to remember something that hasn’t yet come—when she’d first caught them at it, the wall behind the deep freeze taking that sneaky step to the side when she was meant to be busy. Clever wall, if she’s honest. She’s never gotten the hang of the watched pot deal, still stands there regardless and watches it boil. Except that day bananas, now wasting past yellow and a twinge about freezing them—thought, turn, look, as if confirming the means—and truthfully, fortuitous her guilt, given that the wall had taken that one chance to move.


The next day, or after, the fridge was caught floating, and she knew they had moved past the need to pretend. Walls moved when she turned and stilled just as often. She grew mad with the effort of trying to keep up. Walls she’d been sure of for decades or longer, and now what? Would anything stay solid  now that she needed it most? Her ‘forever home’, her mother had called it. What mother? What home?, she thought now, alone, in this alien space.


A week, maybe more, found her tracing corners and edges in the grooves of the floorboards before heading to bed. An attempt at deciphering the changes that came in the night, but she fumbled the chalk more often than not. A month in she’d stopped leaving at all. So much air now, it was impossible to keep up. Space with no limits, just open, and open, more open beyond. Even thinking about the heft of it sent her gawping… groping… Grasping!, the word she’d been reaching for flicked fast through her head. The word or the action, but never the timing. Damn it all to hell, this is getting infuriating, she muttered while grasping for the nearest solid surface to steady herself.


In time those would betray her too. She turned at some point, maybe in daylight?, from the fridge, cheese in hand, but the counter had shifted. Cheese straight on the floor where a plate had just been. No waste, really, given that she couldn’t imagine what happened with eating, but cheese on the floor still wouldn’t do. Waste not, want not, she’d always been told. She resolved to hold one thing while doing another which carried her fairly well through the end of that day. Hold the cabinet, fill the kettle; the faucet and pour tea. By morning, though, the spaces had grown, or she had shrunk—oh, god, am I shrinking?—and no two things fit in one span of arms. The thought sent her reeling, then nothing but breathing. Gasping and choking. Frantic and panicked. So much air, so, so much air all of it clumping and none of it sticking.


After that things get hazy. Some scratching, a cry just sour of laughter, the sound of a chainsaw mocking a log. She thinks there was crawling, some frenzied commotion, she knows that someone broke the red bowl, her nana’s, her mother’s now hers. And after that silence. After that stillness. Then nothing, then breathing, then nothing again.


Later they’d find her, and wake her, and ask her. And later she’d tell them she didn’t quite know. The walls moved, bananas, the air was so big then, oh, goodness, her mother, has she already been told? In time they’d stop asking. In time she’d forget them. In time she’d stop trembling and watching the walls.




Katharine Blair is a queer, gender ambivalent, Canadian poet currently living in California. Her work investigates human relationships, mental health, and the intersection of childhood trauma and body identity. Katharine’s most recent work can be found in Anti-Heroin Chic. She tweets @katharine_blair.