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'Oxygen' by Miriam N. Kotzin

I shifted my weight and watched her breathe, wondering if her oxygen tube needed adjusting. For the first few months she'd been given the oxygen, she'd kept refusing to use it. I stood watching my Aunt Rose sleep.

She'd moved into this apartment a year ago. That is, her children moved her things here while she was in
Florida. Whenever I'd visit she'd tell me how happy she was with all of the decisions they'd made about what to take from her apartment and how they set up her new home in the retirement community.

One day she told me that before my father died, he'd asked her, his baby sister, to look after me, and she'd accepted the responsibility. Now she was nearly ninety. Emphysema had drawn the perimeter of her physical world and shrunk it to the edges of her bed.

Each week I visited. She'd tell me I was poorly dressed. She'd tell me of my mother's faults. She'd tell me it was just as well I had no children as I would have been a terrible mother. She told me that I ought to consider that perhaps my poetry hadn't been accepted for publication because it just wasn't good enough. I reminded myself that my father had asked her to look after me and she had agreed. I swallowed my hurt and kept on visiting, bringing flowers and things she liked to eat. I believed that my father, who was protective and loving, had a reason for entrusting my care to her.

Each week she became more frail, napping often. That particular day I found her sleeping when I arrived. I had other things to do and wanted to leave, but I hesitated to wake her. I knew that I wouldn't see her many more times. So I stood, watching for the slight movement of her chest. And I waited. Some wary part of me wondered what lesson she would offer that day.

And then she opened her eyes. She saw me and smiled. Her face radiant, she said, "Each time I wake up it's like a whole, new little life."

By that time she was so weak that she couldn't sit up without help. Still, she delighted in the "new little life" she'd been granted and able to recognize. That was the lesson I'd been waiting for, maybe the reason my father had asked her to look after me. A lesson I try to remember when I find the noose tighten and think about what it will mean to me when reading the form letter with the words "mammogram:" and "findings."


Miriam N. Kotzin, Miriam N. Kotzin teaches creative writing and literature at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA where she directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing. Her poetry and fiction have been published widely. In 2004 she received two nominations for a Pushcart Prize for her poetry. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in such places as Boulevard, Southern Humanities Review, Three Candles, Salome, Slow Trains, Fiction Warehouse, Carve and Carnelian. She also writes fiction with Bill Turner.

Oxygen | Feathers, Cages, and the Chicken-Hearted
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