He heard the bells coming, one…then another. They all had the same tone, repeated vibrancy, their ring calling the participants back to the room. As he came to, he was aware of a dull ache in his right knee, an chronic running injury. The lack of self-consciousness lifted now that everyone was present, glancing around, some more wrapped up in their thoughts than others. He smelled pinon pine and another fragrance he couldn’t place. Cedar?

The leader of the session, Lakota, sat legs crossed on a raised platform. His eyes were closed. Head tilted, his long black hair cascaded, he appeared to be listening to a reedy woodwind instrument coming from a corner of the room.

“Find a pillow, and circle up,” Lakota said in his baritone voice.

Chip glanced around, he’d forgotten to bring a pillow.

“I brought two,” the frizzy haired woman said. She handed him the tye-dye one that had Grateful Dead written on one side. He chose that side, sat next to her.

“I’m Gloria,” she said. “I’m your Mom.” She smiled, her coffee stained teeth didn’t detract from her shining glow. Her frizzy hair seemed to be sparkling, dancing.

Chip nodded, still deep in the experience he’d just had.

They’d been invited  to lay down on mats, each participant was assigned a trained assistant.

“Close your eyes, and follow your breath,” Lakota had instructed.

At first Chip thought, so what? I do this naturally, don’t I? But after some time passed, he felt a person close, moving around his body. Not touching him, so he squinted, even though they were asked to keep eyes shut. The woman was doing a form of a dance over him, like a massage without touch. And suddenly, powerful visions of his mother came to him. He closed his eyes, breathing harder, deeper, he felt his heart racing.

He felt pulled across a wide open tundra, at first daunting, then magical. It was dream- like, other-wordly and yet familiar. Then he saw her.

His mom stood beside a fast, furious river. The sound of the rapids was so loud that Chip couldn’t hear what she was saying. It was as if her mouth was moving, but silent simultaneously. The images jumped: now he was inside a mosque in a temperate location, running through a narrow hallway, from or toward something, he didn’t know. Perhaps both. He was opening doors on both sides but the rooms held only air. He was looking, searching, but for whom? The heat intensified, and the sweat poured down his face. He opened the last door, inside it was a coffin. He walked toward it, and as he did, he started to fly. Up into the wooden rafters of the building and out over the vast waters of the Mediterranean.

The next thing he remembered was being cradled like a baby, in a fetal position, but by whom? It was his mother, who started cooing to him as if he were an infant. Rocking him. She sang softly, a favorite nursery rhyme from his youth.  He smelled lavender, her skin immediately after her daily baths. It gave him chills, a blanket was placed around their cocoon. He wanted to stay there forever, inside this image, hearing her song. For him. It felt like hours passed.

Then he heard the bells.

About Robert Vaughan

Originally from NY, Robert leads week long writing retreats at sites like Synergia Ranch, Mabel Dodge Luhan House and The Clearing. His poems and fiction are published in over 600 print and online magazines, such as Necessary Fiction, BlazeVOX, Los Angeles Weekly, Literary Orphans, and Smokelong Quarterly. He is Editor-in-Chief at Bending Genres and leads round- tables for Redoak Writing in Milwaukee. He is nine times a Pushcart Prize Nominee and his fiction and poetry have won awards, including a Micro-Fiction runner-up (2012) and twice a finalist in the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award (2013-14). His flash fiction was selected for Best Small Fictions 2016 and 2019. His books are: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps); Addicts & Basements (Civil Coping Mechanisms); RIFT, co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press), and FUNHOUSE (Unknown Press).
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11 Responses to Breath

  1. Dr. Crunk says:

    The whirlwind pace of many a dream was recreated with such fidelity that I found myself lost as if following a movie sequence. The purity of the pain in the author’s voice moistened my eyes.

  2. Andrea says:

    Totally engrossing and wonderful imagery. It left me wanting more.

  3. Andrea says:


  4. Angela says:

    That was beautiful! You are so talented, and I am SO loving this! I didn’t want this one to end.

  5. theprayerlady says:

    Sweet but I don’t have coffee stained teeth.

  6. Beverly says:

    This is a wonderful story and an insightful journey! Well done.

  7. Walter says:

    I like the circularness of this piece, end to beginning, and over again, lack of awareness to actualization and back. Nice job!

  8. It’s a sensory experience, this — from the dull ache in the knee to the dreamlike feel to the comforting cooing. And the the ringing, of course, framing it all. Nice one, Robert. Thanks for sending this my way for this month’s Language and Place Blog Carnival!

  9. Entrancing. The sensory details in this are exquisite.

  10. Pingback: June Bug « One Writer's Life

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