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Alison Theresa Gibson

My little brother was afraid of air. His skinny fingers wrapped around his nose and mouth, his eyes burned in fear, and he fought the instinct to breathe. My mother watched, annoyed, embarrassed when her family raised their eyebrows, tsked. Until, after a year of gasping, the fear crept into her eyes as well. She was not built to be helpless, but there were no arguments to rationalise the fear away. Like a wolf at the door, she could hear the growls too.

***

One day, she met a man with a cellar full of canned foods, and a love of dusty war paraphernalia. He sounded mad, but his words were sane.

***

The plastic suctioned onto my brother’s face, his eyes blurred behind their shield. His breathing was mechanised through a nozzle. It calmed his terror about the pollutants in the air melting until a thick tar dripped down his throat into his soft, vulnerable insides.

Mother bought masks for us too, and there was comfort in the protection, especially when the world began to rotate in lukewarm alarm. I was not afraid, not like him, but my eyes had begun to burn.

***

At first, years ago, when we walked down the street, there were stares. Children pulled at the nozzles and babies cried at the faceless monsters whose breathing echoed like machines from the past. Parents tsked at my mother for pandering to panic. Teach your children to hope, one old man shouted. But that was a long time ago.

Yesterday, someone asked my mother for the number of the man with all the canned foods and the love of dusty war paraphernalia.

***

He keeps the nozzles clean, and watches the pollutants drip through the air. He knows his words were always sane.


Alison Theresa Gibson grew up in Canberra, the illusive capital of Australia, and currently lives in Birmingham, UK. She has words in a number of publications, including Litro, Crack the Spine, Ellipsis Zine, and MIROnline, and she won the Furious Gazelle Spring Writing Contest in June 2019. She is currently completing her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham while working at University College London. Find her @AlisonTheresa87 and alisontheresa.com.