Lifts are fine. Cupboards, too, if the door is open. The warm space beneath the covers is safe if you can wiggle a foot free. Ball pits aren’t, though. Or sleeping bags zipped all the way up. Neither is thinking too long about avalanches. The snow packed in on all sides and you don’t know which way is up, which way to dig. What if you dig further in? What if you don’t have the strength to dig at all?
It started with asthma. Not being able to catch your breath. It got worse with chest infections and that time with whooping cough. Not having any breath to catch. Going blind with lack of oxygen. The taste of thick mucus drowning you. Small spaces became the space between breaths. When you didn’t know if you’d take another. That space between the choking out of air and the open-mouthed drag of more.
It’s not necessarily small spaces, anymore. It’s the thought of being trapped in one. The thought of being held down by someone stronger. Heaviness. Their bulk on your back and the sound of their breath in the spaces between yours. You breathe deeper to call out, but their weight drops and you wheeze against the gritty tarmac instead.
Sometimes there’s safety in small places, but only if you can get out. The cave beneath your desk where you can hunch and hide from the work above. Blanket forts that diffuse the light, even if it’s just a sheet hung to dry. The corner booth in a café where you can see the rest of the room but they can’t see you. The space in someone’s arms where you can hide your face in their neck and take a moment to forget.
It started with asthma, but now the space between breaths is remembering. You can’t cough this infection out in slimy chunks. It’s woven between your ribs, under over, leaving less room for air. Lifts are fine, but only if they’re empty; if someone else gets in, you take the stairs. You’ve survived an avalanche and every way is up so you dig in all directions. You’re digging and in the space between breaths, you talk.
Emma Hutson is completing a PhD in trans theory and literature. She is an associate lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University and has previous fiction published in The C Word: An anthology of writing from Cardiff, Severine Literary and Arts Journal, and CrabFat Magazine. She may be found on Twitter @Emma_S_Hutson.