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How To Breathe Without Thinking About It
I guess Tim was right when he said I had it coming. If anyone were going to end up on their way to the stomach of the largest rhinoceros that ever could have lived, it would be me. I didn’t have the best intentions.
I honestly thought it was a dinosaur. I even said that. I said, “Holy shit, that’s a dinosaur.” It wasn’t though. Tim said that he could see its horns and the way its skin folded on its shoulders. “Joe!” Tim yelled. But I was half inside its mouth by that time. I don’t know anything about rhinos, or any other animal for that matter. I don’t like to fill my mind with things I’ll never use. What if the rhino information replaced my how to breathe without thinking about it information? I would be in a worse situation than I am now, and that’s saying something considering I am almost in the stomach of a rhino. Almost, because I am still larger than its abnormally large throat. It’s trying though. I’m making my way there.
My Mom told me a crazy story about my Dad. She said he died because a wild African animal assaulted him. She said this when I was young. Like when your Mom said your Dad was an astronaut and was floating through space collecting data and that he would return a year older, but we would all be dead. Like that. So when I was young I had this vendetta against African animals—all of them because she was never specific. And let’s be honest, when you are ten years old and a boy, African animals are the only kind, so I stopped liking all animals. I glared at the neighbor’s dog. With time I forgot why I hated animals because math and some other stuff I learned in school covered it up. I remember now though because I forgot all the math stuff.
Yes, I’m older and yes I understand that probably didn’t happen, but I was bored and my Dad kind of died even if it was only to me. So, I went to find the animal, or at least what kind of animal. I figured lion. I mean, if your Dad had to die wouldn’t that be a good way? The space thing is cool, but he’s not really dead that way is he?
I thought there would be clues. I thought I would find some guide and he would say, “Oh yes, your father? A legend.” And then he would show me the beast and I would kill it or something. But when I got there all I found was a hotel and hundreds of open jeeps. I was disappointed.
I told my story to other men in the jeep, except for the part where it’s probably not true, and they were all sympathetic and one said the same thing happened to his Dad. That was Tim and I still don’t believe him. After that it was only a few minutes before the rhino thing. It was someone yelling, “Look!” and me looking and then me saying the dinosaur thing and then me feeling really warm and then really depressed. Now that I’m almost in its stomach though it’s not so bad. I can hear Tim yelling at me like he is right up next to the rhino. I yell at him, “Yes, I hear its heart.” The smell is of spicy earth, sharp and green.
I think I can see into the stomach, too. I don’t know what or where else it could be. I think my father might be there. I try to make out shapes, a face in the darkness. The wet heat enters my mouth, forcing its way down my throat. I wonder what is in my own stomach, what quivers so tightly.
The throat undulates softly then in quick bursts. I worry my skeleton won’t hold—the slick muscles pressing my kidneys in close, contorting my neck and hips. I start feeling myself being pulled away by the ankles. I reach my arms forward toward the pit of its stomach, but before I can touch a thing, before I can even dread the trip back up I am already laying on the ground, dryer and cleaner than you would think. I look and see Tim leaning against the rhino, which must have collapsed on its side from all the effort of trying to swallow me. There’s some pride in that. I see that Tim has my shoes in his hands. That was nice of him to pull me out, and I tell him so. He asks, “Do you think that’s what killed your father?” I tell him I think it could be but that it doesn’t really matter since I am sort of sad that I almost killed the rhino. He asks, “Should I call someone?” I tell him, “Yes, this is a pretty big deal,” but I also tell him to wait until the rhino wakes up and can lumber out on its way.
Now that I know this, I wonder about all I’ve forgotten.
Christine Texeira‘s short fiction has appeared in Moss, and The Conium Review. She lives in Seattle, and works at Hugo House.