“Instrucciones para no respirar”

An original work of flash fiction in Spanish

Not too long ago I shared an original work of flash fiction in Spanish entitled “Inhala, exhala.” My son thought it was funny that I would write a story “just about breathing!” I told him that it wasn’t so hard, and that I could probably write even more stories on the same topic. So, today’s microrrelato is another work about breathing, or to be more precise, not breathing. I don’t think there’s necessarily a relation between this work and the previous one, although the protagonists do have some things in common. Maybe they could be seen as the same person in different stages of life. I’m including the original Spanish story, along with an English translation. If you’re bilingual, you’ll notice that the English translation of the title is bit different from the Spanish one. The Spanish title is influenced somewhat by Julio Cortázar’s series of difficult-to-categorize texts that begin with the words “Instrucciones para…”, which are a part of his book, Historias de cronopios y de famas. There are titles like: “Instructions on How to Wind a Watch,” “Instructions on How to Climb Stairs,” or “Instructions on How to Cry,” etc., which I’ve always enjoyed reading and contemplating.


“Instrucciones para no respirar”

Llegó al punto en que él tenía que recordarse a sí mismo a respirar. Ya no era una función automática, como parpadear o rascarse cuando algo le pica. Sentarse, estar quieto, y mirar fijamente al vacío le resultaba cada vez más fácil. Antes de que se diera cuenta de ello, una cierta cantidad de tiempo había pasado y su cerebro le mandaba la señal a la nariz y a los pulmones a inhalar, no porque él quisiera hacerlo ni porque sintiera que lo tenía que hacer, sino porque recordaba que respirar era algo que los seres humanos debían hacer. Y él era humano después de todo, ¿no? La inhalación después era larga, laboriosa, y lo opuesto de refrescante. Le daba miedo. Y pasaba más y más.

Poco a poco, no respirar llegaba a ser su configuración por defecto. Le era más fácil dejar de respirar por la noche. Su cuarto era pequeño, oscuro, y bastante silencioso, como un tanque de privación sensorial sin el agua. Un crucifijo pequeño se colgaba sobre la cama, precariamente clavado a la pared de manera que parecía que se caería con cualquier vibración leve. Incluso empezó a disfrutar de la sensación de no respirar. Hacía una selección aleatoria en su máquina de ruido blanco, se tapaba con la manta, y empezaba a contar. Luego, todo se desvanecía. Se olvidaba de todo: de su exesposa controladora que intentaba hacer que su hijo y perro se pusieran en contra de él, su carrera que estaba en peligro de extinción, su cabeza que perdía más y más pelo, su casa ruinosa, sus deudas demoledoras. Su cuerpo, antes atlético, ahora casi obeso, parecía flotar cuando no respiraba. En este estado de trance, percibía energías de diferentes colores que se arremolinaban y zumbaban a su lado. Parecían compasivos, como si lo invitaran a otra existencia, en otra dimensión.

Se dio cuenta que estos episodios duraban más y más. Lo único que los interrumpía eran las visitas de su hijo y perro los fines de semana. Los tres dormían en la misma habitación, iluminada solamente por la pequeña luz de su hijo, que, junto con su respiración rítmica audible, prevenían cualquier visita a dimensiones alternativas. Un lametón del perro o el sonido de su jadeo fuerte lo traía del borde del vacío. Él se quedaba despierto durante la mayoría de estas visitas, simplemente observando el ambiente, intentando hacer que sus respiros coincidieran con los de su hijo, para sentirse unido con otro ser.

Un domingo por la tarde, mientras se despedía de su hijo y de su perro, su exesposa le anunció que se iba a volver a casar y que se iban a mudar a otra parte del país. Ella pensaba pedir custodia exclusiva de las únicas conexiones que él tenía con este reino. Había tanto que él quiso decirle – que todavía la quería, que estaba arrepentido de todo el daño que había causado, que reconocía que todo era su culpa – pero no le salían las ideas. Estaba sin palabras, y sin aliento. Lo único que sentía era una tensión en su pecho y abdomen, ya vacíos.

Se sentó en el sofá, alcanzó el control remoto, y lo apuntó al estéreo. Los grandes éxitos de Pink Floyd se empezaron a tocar. La letra de “Comfortably Numb” rebotaban en su armazón vacío. Los últimos versos de “Wish You Were Here” le parecían una invitación. El sonido del viento que se oye soplando al final hacían eco en él incluso después de que la canción terminó.

Esa noche decidió hacer un récord personal. Se acostó temprano y se acomodó en la cama. El sol invernal su puso temprano, lo cual le había ayudado. Cerró los ojos. Empezó a contar – “Uno, dos, tres…” – y ya se alejaba.

Una semana después lo encontraron sin movimiento y sin respiración, con los ojos cerrados, y con una mirada que podría interpretarse como tranquila. El crucifijo se había caído de la pared y descansaba a su lado. Más tarde, el forense erróneamente lo declararía fallecido por arritmia cardíaca, complicada por apnea del sueño, a pesar del ruido blanco, científicamente inexplicable, que se escuchaba, aunque débilmente, emanando de su cavidad torácica.


“How Not to Breathe” (English translation of “Instrucciones para no respirar”)

It got to the point where he had to remind himself to breathe. It wasn’t an automatic function any more, like blinking or scratching an itch. Sitting still and staring into the void came easily for him. Before he knew it, a significant amount of time had passed and his brain would send the signal to his nose and lungs to inhale, not because he wanted to or felt like he had to, but because he remembered that breathing was something humans were supposed to do. And he was a human after all, wasn’t he? The inhalation afterwards was long, labored, and the opposite of refreshing. It scared him. And it was happening more and more. 

Little by little, not breathing became his default mode. It was easiest to stop breathing at night. His bedroom was small, dark, and mostly quiet, like a sensory depravation tank without the water. A small crucifix hung above the bed, precariously attached to the wall on a nail that seemed like it would fall with the slightest vibration. He even started to enjoy the experience of not breathing. He would select a random track on his white noise machine, pull the blankets over his head, and start to count. Then, everything just faded away. He forgot about it all: his controlling ex-wife who was trying to turn their son and dog against him, his extinct career, his balding scalp, his increasingly dilapidated home, his crushing debts. His formerly athletic body, now borderline obese, felt weightless when not breathing. In this trance-like condition he perceived swirling, humming energies of different colors flying around him. They seemed compassionate, as if they were calling him to another existence, in another dimension.

He became aware that these episodes would last longer and longer. They only would be interrupted when his son and dog would visit on the weekends. They all slept in the same room, illuminated by his young son’s small nightlight, which, along with the boy’s audible rhythmic breathing, prevented any visit to alternate dimensions. A lick from the dog or the sound of her loud, shallow panting would also bring him back from the void. He would stay awake most of the night during their visits, merely observing the scene, trying to match his breathing to that of his boy, to feel at one with another being.

One Sunday afternoon, while saying goodbye to his son and dog, the ex-wife announced that she was going to remarry and move to another part of the country. She intended to seek sole custody of his only connections to this realm. There was so much he wanted to say to her – that he still loved her, that he was repentant for all the damage he had caused, that he recognized that everything was his fault – but the words didn’t come out. He was left speechless, unable to breathe. He felt only tightness in his ever-empty chest and abdomen. 

He sat down, reached for the remote control, and pointed it at the stereo. Pink Floyd’s Greatest Hits came on. The lyrics to “Comfortably Numb” bounced off the walls of his hollow edifice. The last words of “Wish You Were Here” felt like an invitation. The sound of the blowing wind at the end of the track echoed through him even after the stereo turned off.

That night he decided to go for a personal record. He went to bed early and got comfortable. The winter sun had helped by checking out early. He closed his eyes, started to count – “One, two, three…” – and drifted away. A week later, he was found motionless and breathless, eyes closed, and with an expression on his face that could be interpreted as calm. The crucifix had fallen off the wall, resting at his side. Shortly thereafter, the coroner would mistakenly declare him deceased from cardiac arrhythmia, complicated by sleep apnea, in spite of the scientifically inexplicable white noise that was heard, albeit faintly, emanating from his thoracic cavity.


If you’re unfamiliar with the songs mentioned in the work, you can hear them below:

“Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd

Let me know what you think in the comments below. If you liked this post, please consider sharing it on your favorite social media. ¡Gracias!

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