Aspirations

Anthony Westenkirchner


            Always drown in warm water. Cold water submersion triggers the mammalian diving reflex. The heart rate slows and peripheral vasoconstriction restricts blood flow to limbs redirecting it to increase the oxygen supply to vital organs. Blood volume within the thoracic cavity increases to prevent lung collapse.
            Addy knocks on the bathroom door, “Almost done?”
            Seated naked on the edge of the tub with thick ropes of wet hair plastered across my forehead and cheeks, my phone jumps back and forth between my hands.
            “Almost.”
            Like drowning in open air, inhalation of carbon monoxide converts hemoglobin to carboxyhemoglobin. Rather than binding with and delivering oxygen, it instead compromises the myoglobin and halts cell respiration. Basic cellular functions cease operation and essential body processes slow, soon stopping altogether.
            A second knock from Addy, “I need to pee. How long does it take to dry off?”
            Thick loop pile from the pale green bathmat oozes between my toes like clumps of fibrous worms. My pruned pink heels rest against the cool tub wall.
            “Just a minute.”
            Exsanguination derives from the Latin exsanguinatus, meaning bloodless; an abstruse euphemism for blood loss sufficient to trigger death commonly affected via incision along the radial or ulnar arteries along the Sagittal plane. Imbibe a blood thinner prior to self-surgery—Concord grape juice for example—and render the fluid flow exponentially more efficient.
            “Addy needs to go, Cord,” my mother this time. “Hurry up,”
            I flop my hand onto the sink and set my phone on the ledge next to my hairbrush.
            “Brushing my hair. Five minutes.”
            Acetaminophen is toxic to the liver in high doses; more so if taken in stages. Proper over-dosage subjects the liver to a frenetic pharmaceutical beat down and should induce coma faster than the body triggers vomiting. Fail to timely achieve acute liver failure though and asphyxiation on your own yarf—pulmonary aspiration—is still a remote possibility.
            Addy rattles the doorknob again, “Hurry up!”
            “I’m flying.”
            Mortality is simple arithmetic. A two-pound pistol with an eight-pound trigger pull requires quadruple the weapon weight to fire. For an efficient discharge: stare down the barrel, interlace fingers around the handle, and squeeze both thumbs against the trigger instead of pulling upside down with your index fingers. Kickback of 20-degrees or more is still a risk, so bite the barrel and aim the muzzle toward your throat-back at an angle of 25 degrees with the sight pressed into the soft palate. This directs the bullet trajectory through the hard palate, then Temporal and Parietal Lobes, ultimately emerging via the rear Occipital Lobe and Crest, respectively. Memory, language, and vision detonate—in that order.
            Muffled huffs and creaky footsteps filter through the door.
            “Really need to go, Cord!” says Addy.“Nearly there, I—”
            “Fuck it. I’ll get the key.”
            The door creaks and Addy’s footsteps disappear.
            Electric shock smacks the heart out of rhythm; seven milliamps for three consecutive seconds does the job permanently. A 9-volt battery is lethal with direct access to the heart. Unfortunately, the human body is layers of flesh and sandwiched tissue tiers engineered to mitigate electric transmissions.  Real-world electrocution requires more juice than the average junk drawer can muster.
            Footsteps again. A key snaps into the lock.
            “Last chance,” says Addy. “If you’re doing anything weird I’ll tell everyone.”
            “Almost done masturbating.”
            Addy jiggles the key in the lock and whispers, “Everyone.”
            I grab my phone and reread the draft group-text one more time.
            Sorry if the fuses blow before my heart.
            I tap send and toss the phone into the tub. It cuts quietly below the surface, spirals downward, and lands with a muted thud. Thin coils of bubbles rise up as the screen snaps black. Water resistant to three meters for up to thirty minutes, my ass.
            “I’m coming in,” says Addy.
            Warded locks open with a skeleton key. Slide the pin end into the channel-shaped lock and thrust inward, past the throating and collar, until half the shaft remains visible. The bit contains a punched key ward which matches the internal lock lever that grips the mechanism to turn it. Classic design easily thwarted by a keyhole full of wood putty.
            The faceted glass doorknob flinches; the latch clicks but refuses turn.
            “What the hell?” says Addy.
            My fingers crawl along the smooth pistol grip of the blow dryer; a precision tool engineered to deliver perfect blowouts every time. Available in a variety of wild and stylish colors—like this glossy canary yellow model—it boasts three temperature and two speed settings, all operating at 120-volts and powered by an impressive 1,875-watt motor. Embossed in flowing purple cursive the word Maxxine! circles the fan housing.
            Maxxine! trails after me—held in a loose thumb over forefinger grip—as we sink backward into the tub. Her braided black electrical cord worms from its base, winds up and over the sink, and joins the outlet below the medicine cabinet. The back of my head reclines against hard tile. Ruddy knees repose across the tub skirt as my bare feet float over the edge like tethered, fleshy Helium-filled sacks. Hover-toe silhouettes eclipse the pale light from the domed ceiling fixture as thin streams of water edge over the tub and cascade down to the white floor.
            Addy clicks the latch again, “Cord!”
            Wet twists of dark brown hair flit across the water surface and mingle with the crinkled plastic tag affixed to the base of Maxxine!’s insulated rubber tail.
            DANGER, KEEP AWAY FROM WATER.
            Her rocker switch rolls beneath my thumb and Maxxine! begins to hum a hoarse dirge. High speed paired with low temp seems appropriate.
            The doors latch rattles again.
            “Open up,” says Addy.
            An intricate weave of delicate wires twist and waffle together across Maxxine!’s open nozzle. A tepid breath of burnt metal coats my cheeks. My eyes wrinkle into a reflexive squint as the pleasant stream first cools, then warms, my damp skin.
            DO NOT STORE WHERE DRYER CAN FALL INTO TUB, TOILET OR SINK.
            The door rattles in its frame. The latch clacks again. And again.
            Addy is breathing hard, “The fuck Cord?”
            Deep within Maxxine!’s dark core the slender heating elements zigzag throughout the yellow housing—warm, orange, and aglow. As kids Addy and I would scale the kitchen counter to watch English muffins brown inside the toaster. The heat seared our nostrils and dried our eyes as we stared, mystified by the radiant orange coils.
            ‘What are they Addy?’ I’d say.
            ‘Lasers,’ she’d respond.
            Funny the stuff that sticks to your brain like molasses.
            The water caresses me like moist hands as my arms rise above my head. My abdominal muscles tighten as a fart escapes and bubbles up with a satisfying gurgle. A faint vanilla scent taints the air.
            DO NOT USE WHILE BATHING.
            The latch pops and turns over. The bathroom door swings wide and bounces hard against the wall.
            “If that punched a hole in the drywall Dad’s gonna be pissed.”
            “Cord?” says Addy.
            IF DRYER FALLS INTO WATER, UNPLUG IMMEDIATELY.
            Damp air penetrates my sinuses and spills into my lungs. Fingers relax. A pale amber glow flickers inside my eyelids. Maxxine! plunges below the shallow water surface and splashes hard against my stomach. Braided electrical cord nestles like a snake between my breasts, tiny loops bobbing against my sternum like trash in the tide. Maxxine! snuggles up to my submerged abdomen; the room silent except for the rhythmic liquid slap against the bathtub walls. Wafts of subtly acrid air, like sniffing an old battery caked in clumps of potassium hydroxide, fill my skull. The room tilts and snaps from pixelated analog noise back into hazy focus. Every follicle stands erect across my body. A thin thread of gray smoke lingers in the air above me, defying gravity as it curls toward the mold-pocked ceiling.
            Heaven looks exactly like a shitty bathroom.
            Seated on the toilet pigeon-toed—back hunched, elbows on her knees, and a small loop of braided black cord wound around her little finger with the naked plug hung loose down the side of her calf—is Addy. The arches of my upraised feet frame her blank face. Chipped purple polish toes form quotation marks around her head. Maxxine!’s laminated white safety tag ripples just beneath the water surface in rhythm with the ebb and flow of the tub.
            Addy releases the cord and the plug smacks against the tile floor. She stands and shuts the door.
            “I think I broke the lock,” she says. “The key too.”
            Below the water, the thin slab of flesh sandwiched between my coccyx and dead phone begins to numb, “I think I drowned my phone.”
            “Still need to pee,” she says.
            “I won’t stop you.”
            Addy lifts the toilet lid, recoils, and wrinkles her nose, “You didn’t flush.”
            “Water conservation.”
            “Gross,” she says.
            “I’m a friend to the Earth.”
            Addy slips her shorts down and seats herself. Her eyes fix to the floor and her toes flex into fists, “This is awkward.”
            I shift left to right in the water, sliding my phone along the bottom like a sled, “We’re sisters.”
            “Not what I meant,” she says.
            The water begins to slosh in unison with me, “My butt is numb.”
            “Remember when we bathed together as kids?” Addy sighs.
            “That was a long time ago.”
            “Yep,” she says. Her pale cheeks are flush, her green eyes wet.
            The door swings open and our mother leans in, her slender fingers grip the doorknob like the legs of a large insect, “Dinner’s ready. What is going on in here—”

* * * * *

            Every blink, my eyelashes rake the pillow like spider legs.
            “You awake?” says Addy.
            “Yes.”
            She leans against me, the side of her hip pressed into my spine. Her elbow rests on my pillow and against the back of my head. The weight tilts my head back toward her and the blanket drops off of my shoulder. Addy adjusts it back.
            “Tired?” she says.
            “Yes.”
            “Hungry?”
            “No. What’d we have for dinner?”
            “Don’t remember. No one ate much.”
            “Did Mom and Dad ask you to come in here?”
            “No.”
            “Are you lying?”
            “No.”
            “Would you lie to me?”
            “Yes. They really didn’t though.”
            My right forearm begins to prickle under the weight of my body. I shift to relieve it and tug the blanket up under my chin with balled fists, “Can I be alone?”
            “No.”
            “How are they?”
            “Mom and Dad?”
            “Yep.”
            “Confused,” Addy’s breath tickles the hairs on the back of my neck. “We all are.”
            “I’m sorry.”
            “It’s okay.”
            “It’s not.”
            “I’m sorry too.”
            “Why?”
            “Just because.”
            “Talk about something else.”
            “Like what?”
            “Anything.”
            “Think we’ll have school tomorrow?”
            “Unlikely,” I chuckle. “You’re welcome.”
            Addy leans into me and presses her head on my shoulder, “Not funny.”
            “What now?”
            “Go to sleep,” she says.
            “What time is it?”
            “10:15.”
            “Tired?”
            “No.”
            “Are you going to lay on me like a cat all night?”
            “Maybe.”
            “That makes you a big pussy.”
            Addy sighs, “Don’t be vulgar. Go to sleep.”
            “What are you going to do while I sleep?”
            “Listen to you breathe.”
            “That’s creepy.”
            “We’re sisters.”
            “Getting creepier.”
            “We used to bathe together,”
            “Now that’s creepy too.”
            Addy’s breath slows, “Remember the blue plastic whale that—”
            “Dolphin.”
            “—squirted water from its blowhole?”
            “It was a dolphin and every time you squirted my back you told me it was pee.”
            “I was little.”
            “It’s what I remember.”
            “Remember the lasers inside the toaster?”
            “No.”
            “Can I ask you something about tonight?”
            “No.”
            “Okay,” she exhales, the cadence of her breath matching mine.
            “Love you.”
            “Ditto,” she says.
            We inhale.
            “I’m sorry.”
            “Don’t be. Just breathe,” she says.
            We exhale, “You don’t have to stay with me.”
            “I know,” she says.
            We inhale, “Thank you.”
            “You’re welcome,” she says.
            We exhale, “I’m sorry.”
            We inhale, “Just keep breathing,” she says.


Anthony R. Westenkirchner once killed a man in self-defense with an Oxford comma. His work has appeared in Smorgasbord Poetry JournalApparatus Magazine, The Pink Attic Review, and will be featured in a forthcoming anthology of multi-modal fiction published by Twelve Winters Press. His award-winning short story, Somewhere Left of Purgatory, was recognized by the Union League Club of Chicago. A graduate of Loyola University Chicago, Anthony is a voracious reader who enjoys alpine skiing and witty condescension. He currently lives with his wife and their three children in Kansas City, Missouri.