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   a c c i d e n t

--- L I S A   B A K E R

In this room everything inhales.

An airfilter breathes for my lover. His lungs are stuffed with allergies. This is not a joke, he says. This is not funny.

And you think I'm laughing? I say.

I keep my dustrags in sealed jars. Our special vacuum cleaner bags with Bactrastat capture germs, bacteria, mildew, mold. I swear I've washed the pillows this week, not just their cases. And I've moved the spider plant, which wasn't easy. It gets so ornery when I remove it from the front window. We've covered our mattress and boxspring with giant, plastic bags. I should be incontinent.

Do you have any comprehension of the numbers? my lover asks me. The staggering figure of airborne particles?

My lover is not unusual. He wears sensible shoes. I have watched him manipulate a garden hose. At night, we eat. We watch movies, except those in which the walls breathe. He cleans the guinea pig pen if I ask him once, nicely. He hates being prodded and who can blame him? After dinned, he clips closed open foods, and once a week he organizes recyclables.

Of course we buy tissues in bulk and nose sprays and inhalers. Eye drops and the red pills, too. My lover sneezes in fours. I've withheld the statistic that 65% of highway automobile accidents are caused by drivers sneezing suddenly, successively. He would become irrational to know such a fact, which in itself might cause an accident.

They say that in urban environments on humid days, air is horrid. It's not just the dust anymore collecting on the stereo. We are dying at the hands of something life-sustaining, something we can't see.

My lover calls it agony.

The only way we will survive, my lover says, is if we keep careful inventory. If we account for all that gives our individual lives substance, we might discover some kind of peace at the end. My lover keeps private files in his desk, which are very likely his own inventories. Occasionally, after a particularly brutal attack, he retreats to his desk.

Would you believe, my lover says, that your very skin is home to billions of parasites? Like a tick in fur.

What's worst, he says, is what's down there. He points.

My cooch? I whisper.

He nods his head. Down there, you are infiltrated.

We stay away from it. Once, before we undersood the risk, he caught a violent skin rash from going down there, and then his lungs filled up. It was wicked to watch him gasp for air. I'm sure I screamed.

I wear tight underwear now underneath my nightgown at night. There is nothing more perious than airing myself out, my lover says. We make sure our mouths are clean before bed, brushed and flourided.

There are mouths in this room. Mine, my lover's. There is the thin constant hum of the air filter, purifying the air we breathe and the air we exhale. My mother looks at us from the photograph on the dresser. She is in a tank dress, ocean-side. I hear the fizz and burps of the ocean, too. The dressers on hangers move in the closet. Captured inside the mattress, the mites scratch and suck. The worst part is that you know. There are germs down there everywhere, even though I spend extra time scrubbing.

We must account for everything, my lover says.

A is for my lover's attacks.

A is for enemy attacks.

A is for all is vulnerable. All is perilous.

In winter, when I get a cold, I am certain my lover will kill me. He'll zip me inside an airtight bag. Smother my airways with my own underwear. The idea keeps me up at night. I say, next time, I promise I'll wash my hands after I handle money. Next time, I promise I won't scratch where it itches.

But then, I think, what would my lover do with my body? Nothing attracts more parasites than the deceased. Think of the rapid accumulation of toxins just in the time it would take for him to decide on my disposal!

I know it wouldn't be difficult to take those dresses and the guinea pig and go to the ocean. In books, people with failing health return to the ocean. Salt air is good for the heart. I could sit in a chair on the sand and breathe. I could swim. They used salt water to clean battle wounds in wartime.

Perhaps my lover would grow lonely, but he can't swim.

Can't get it, can't get it! I would yell from the water. Account for this! I would yell. He can't take a tease. I call it good-natured fun. I call it a vacation by the sea shore. I would make him so mad, he would have to come in the water after me.

* * *

At night, when my lover is tucked safely asleep, I am aquatic. I tempt unsuspecting air-breathers to my cool, dark depths.

I suggest to my lover that we get a fishtank and fish. For what possible reason, he says. Wouldn't you like to forget air all together? I say. Fish need air, he reminds me. Gills.

The only living thing that doesn't need air to live is a certain type of anaerobic bacteria, he says.

At night, I am anaerobic bacteria. On the back of an inhale, I enter the mouth of my lover. There are miles of wet tunnels inside. I nestle into a warm, soft opening. I breed.

Please, I whisper. In this dirty world, this is all we have left.

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