First Breath:Last Breath
Scream you out. Eelsmooth, plum purple; naked and bloody. Your liquid self empties into my outstretched arms. A girl; with ancient, dark eyes and unfurling, milk-pale fingers. Her skin cells detect a cool, new world and blood vessels react to soaring carbon dioxide. She is nearer death than life in this critical minute. Her hot-wired primal nervous system launches a first, irresistible breath and triggers tiny, drenched lungs to inflate. Their miniscule alveoli sacs puff like popcorn, oiled by surfactant, that smoothes tension-bound tissue. I gaze at her airy gulp and pinkness diffuses her skin. As the champagne of oxygen fizzes arteries, pressure plummets on the right side of her sweet heart, then the left. It forces two delicate flaps of skin to neatly fold and interlock across her heart's temporary trap-door valve. Soon, cells will form and fuse over this foramen ovale. In response to delivery’s trauma, her stretched umbilical cord floods with adrenalin which powerfully constricts and disengages the slender veins attached near her finger-nail sized liver. In a year, these fragile internal structures will become stabilizing ligaments. Three minutes now, and the placenta’s two-way, pulsing blood flow is so perfused with harvested air, it detaches and slips loose. With all pain forgotten, I inhale her sweet, downy skin and cradle her breath-filled perfection.
Hushed, cathedral-quiet. Sheet-white and dirt-grey; there’s only his blurred, gargoyle face and fleshless hands to kiss and caress. His ribbed chest's fast, laboured breathing slows, stops, for seconds; then a minute. Like the bow of a ship rising but falling deeper. The pattern holds for two days; as long as my daughter’s delivery. Then he shifts to a choked, congested change with the rattle, gurgle of un-swallowed throat secretions. We stroke his forehead and murmur words of longing, at the edge of impossible. His breath shallows and quietens to a long drawn-out emptying. There are soft, audible sighs, as air passes across relaxed, vibrating vocal cords. His drugged eyes flutter and lower jaw moves; wordless now for such a word-filled man. His vital organs shutting; so breathing lightens to accommodate lesser requirements. Blood pools at the base of his marbled spine in dark, purple-yellow patches. There is a disturbing acrid, acetone-reek. His breathing suddenly stutters, stops and we listen. He’s gone; like an empty envelope or coracle gliding on. Gold light fills the room and the heaviness only clears when the nurse opens a misted window. We breathe in pure silence.