Use these words in a story: asphyxiate, contraption, cherry
Here’s my own response to this!
Imagine A Breath
There were whistles and bells and blades and gears and string and everything that a bored twelve-year-old could think of. Terry’s contraption looked less like a machine and more like a Brooklynite’s senior thesis art installation. But Terry, dressed in a plaid button-down and dirty khakis, had no more awareness of his awesome power for sculpture than his parents had of his operations. He wasn’t working in his own garage, but at the empty one belonging to his aunt, Lena.
Lena was the kind of woman who believed in unsupervised play. She wore feathers braided in her hair and spent the majority of every day measuring, pouring, mashing and mixing fruit smoothies that she believed would cure what she was almost certain was breast cancer. She was puzzling out the last few steps of a cherry-muesli-aniseed recipe while Terry worked on the final additions to his invention.
He didn’t know that his Aunt Lena was a hippie. He didn’t know his parents were old hippies as well, and smoked marijuana during the long afternoons that he was away from home. Terry didn’t understand the language of adults, and when they – his parents, Lena, his teachers – tried to subtly tell him things, he would stare at their nostrils until they got uncomfortable and told him right out what it was they’d meant to say. His parents had recently begun telling him he should get out and play more, and so he did, but not before he’d made the deal with Lena. He would use her garage for whatever he wanted, and in return, he wouldn’t tell his parents that she was regularly being visited by a man she called “the witch doctor”, and who Terry was pretty certain was the alternate teacher he’d had once, in third grade, for math class.
Terry carried an inhaler with him. He had severe asthma, according to his pediatrician, but the inhaler didn’t really help. When ever he felt he was going to asphyxiate, he would take two puffs of it, as instructed, and then he’d sit down and wheeze for a few minutes, leaning his head into the dark space between his curled up knees and his hunched back, until he could breathe again. He hadn’t gotten a severe attack in almost two weeks, and he knew, at the back of his mind, that he was about due for one. He tried to keep his airways open and clear while also not breathing the dust of the garage in too deeply, a feat difficult to accomplish when his mind was so preoccupied by the finishing touches he was making to his bladed and belled machine.
When he was finally finished, he looked at the whole thing from far away, and he figured out immediately that something was missing. All good machines needed a switch, a lever, something to make them go, and Terry’s was sorely lacking one. It had a cardboard bellows, several cereal-box rings tying various parts together in an ingenious fashion, and various compartments that Terry could pull back to see the inner workings and make adjustments. But there was no switch.
Come to think of it, and Terry realized this with a tightness in his chest and throat that told him that the time had come, he wasn’t quite sure what it would all do, even if he did find the right place to start it from. Should it move from right to left or top to bottom or diagonally? He pulled out his inhaler and balled his free hand up to keep his fingers from contorting with the loss of circulation. Would the machine even work? Did it have a purpose? It looked like it must. Terry puffed on the inhaler and pulled his t-shirt away from his neck, which felt swollen and raw. Maybe he could use the machine to breathe. He squeezed on the bellows and made the butter knives tied in front shiver a little, but nothing else happened. Terry felt the tears running down his cheeks with exertion and turned his back on the thing he’d built. He walked towards the door that cut the garage off from the house and opened it.
Inside the house, Lena had turned on the blender, and the sound zoomed into Terry’s ears. He twitched.. He sat down in the doorway and shut his eyes, burying his head in his arms. If he concentrated hard, and pretended with all his might, he could almost convince himself that the blender’s noise was coming from his own machine. Slowly, his breathing steadied.