You feel a gradual welling up of pleasure, or boredom, or melancholy. Whatever the emotion, it’s more abundant than you ever dreamed. You can no more contain it than your hands can cup a lake. And so you surrender and suck the air.

Your esophagus opens, diaphragm expands. Poised at the crest of an exhalation, your body is about to be unburdened, second by second, cell by cell. A kettle hisses. A balloon deflates.

Your shoulders fall like two ripe pears, muscles slack at last.

My mother stared out the kitchen window, ashes from her cigarette dribbling into the sink. A sentry guarding her solitude, she’d turned her back on the rest of the house. I’d tiptoe across the linoleum and make my lunch without making a sound. Sometimes I saw her back expand, then heard her let loose one plummeting note, a sigh so long and weary it might have been her last. Beyond our backyard, above telephone poles and apartment buildings, rose the brown horizon of the city; across it glided an occasional bird…