Issue 8, January 2011
Nathan and his Family Love Each Other: Listen to Robert Eccles read this story
Nathan and His Family Love Each Other
By Brian T. Cooper
From his room Nathan could hear his mother and father downstairs laughing that fake laugh they used when they entertained company. Ice clinked against the sides of their glasses and tapped out a familiar melody heard when one is having, or pretending to have, fun.
The Johnson boy, ten years older than Nathan and the son of the laughing neighbors, was in the playroom, down the hall from Nathan, complaining that there was nothing to do.
With the neighbor boy in the playroom and his parents downstairs, Nathan was alone.
When one inhales, air is brought in. Air is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen and other trace elements.
The recent parent-teacher conference between Nathan's mother and Mrs. Mondegren had centered around Nathan's enormous capacity and social inability. Nathan, in Mrs. Mondegren's professional opinion, was locked away from everyone, somewhere behind his "tangle of black hair" or so she said.
After that, his mother told him to take his letter cube D,A,B,C with him, whenever she wasn't there, to soothe him. Something familiar, something safe. It was awkward in his pant's pockets, the sharp angles noticeable, the bulk making it difficult to sit. So he carried it with him. In one hand or the other. The letter D of the cube used to be a jaunty orange but time had worn the color away into a faded whisper of its former color. The wood of the cube was marred with gashes, his teeth punching into it during stressful moments.
Although both the mouth and nose can be used to gather oxygen, it is the nose which is considered the superior delivery method of air to the lungs.
Nathan turned on the music his mother pre-loaded into his CD player. The boy was listening to Chopin's Nocturne and looking out the window as the faded blue jean sky was growing dark with stars and other stray punctuation.
He did not hear his father coming up the steps.
When air passes through the nose or mouth, it travels down the pharynx and larynx (in that order) which contains hair-like cilla. These cilla continuously sweep in an upward motion to draw dust and bacteria away from the respiratory system, to be expelled later.
His father leaned against the door frame, his hair scattered across his head, a part of his shirt was pulled out of the waistband and hung limp. "Come play," Nathan's father said.
The boy looked at him. The headphones made a mute of his father.
"Come play," his father said again, as his wife appeared at his side, her hands anxious on his shoulder, "Come play your piano for the Johnsons."
Nathan looked blankly at his father before he turned around to look at the night sky. With the music in his ears he was weightless and drifting. Watching his home grow smaller and smaller as he floated away.
The trachea shepherds air into the lungs. There is another area—directly above the trachea—called the epiglottis. The epiglottis stops food or water from entering the trachea and from further distribution into either of the lungs.
Nathan's mother said, "He doesn't want to, Walter. Let him be."
The father whipped his head toward his wife, "What good is a prodigy if you can't show him off?"
From the living room Alan (the father of the Johnsons) called upstairs, "Walt, Lynn, we should be going. Thanks for having us over. Walt, call me. We should see the Matisse before the exhibition closes."
Nathan's mother jumped at the chance. "See, they're leaving. Nathan doesn't need to play."
"Hold on, Alan," Walter called, "Nathan wants to play you something." Walter took two steps toward the boy. "Take off those headphones. Do what I say."
Very slightly the boy shook his head. He turned around towards his father and shook his head again.
"Oh, Walter, please don't," Nathan's mother said.
Walter's face flashed an ugly color—maroon with purple beating veins in the forehead and neck-- and he rushed at Nathan whose back was to him. Walter's rough, big hands quickly found Nathan. His thumbs reached around Nathan's neck as the rest of the fingers pried at the ear phones.
Nathan opened his mouth to scream but his father's fingers slipped in to shut the sound. As he bit down, he could taste alcohol on the fingertips.
His father let out a great curse and grabbed hold of Nathan's shoulders, then flung him down.
Nathan's mother jumped in front of her son. "No more," she said.
Walter swayed in front of them and took a step with his heavy hand raised before his eyes caught the doorway.
There stood Simon, the Johnson boy, his mouth agape.
"Is everything all right up there?" Alan said from downstairs.
Walter said, "Fine. Fine, " as he took his upturned hand and smoothed his hair.
Within the lungs are bronchus which further delivers the air. It is at the end of individual bronchioles where alveoli is found. This is where the exchange between spent carbon dioxide and fresh oxygen takes place.
The Johnsons left without a word.
In the house was mother, father, and son.
Before his mother headed downstairs to clear the dishes, Nathan put the headphones back on and took in his small, strong hand the letter cube D,A,B,C.
His mother came back to kiss him again and again and again. At the door she faced her son and almost said something before turning away and going downstairs, to the kitchen where her husband was.
The respiratory system is delicate. The process is done mostly without conscious thought. However, it can be controlled manually, should the need arise, e.g. recovering from strenuous activity, smoking, or if free will should dictate.
Soon an argument began. It reached an apex with one of his parent's screaming at the other. Then came the decrescendo after the strike and crash of cymbals.
His mother's hurt sobs came as coda to the familiar duet.
Nathan put the letter cube in his mouth and cut his teeth on the soft wood.
Through the closed bedroom door, he could hear his father's angry muttering as he clomped up the stairs. Nathan bit down hard on the cube until Walter passed without coming in.
The house stayed silent until Nathan could hear his father running down the steps. Nathan was about to take the letter cube D,A,B,C out of his mouth when Nathan's mother screamed.
A spasm in Nathan's diaphragm caused a small gasp of air to escape. At the same time, he breathed in. The breath brought the wooden letter cube D,A,B,C along with the oxygen. The cube went into the trachea. The oxygen ahead of the obstruction found its way into the lungs. Any air after was held in waiting.
An average adult will take anywhere between 288 breaths to 480 breaths during the day. For children the number is 480 to 720 times a day.
Nathan's small, strong hands are at his throat. A cry for his mother is a ragged, absent noise. Underneath his fingers he could almost feel the worn wood of the letter cube, could nearly trace the letter imprinted on that side.
Nathan has turned red.
Generalized hypoxia is a condition in which there is an inadequate supply of oxygen in the body.
Silence has detonated across Nathan's known world except for the wet, sucking sound his mouth makes.
Eupnea. Dyspnea. Tachypnea. Bradypnea.
The stars in the lifeless sky outside the window turn off. First one by one then all of a sudden, together.
BIO: Brian T. Cooper found at an early age that he was good at nothing. Nothing at all. He was eventually informed that he had to do something. So, to fill the time between doing nothing and doing something he writes. And writes. And re-writes. He lives here or there and hopes to maybe settle down somewhere.