Mr. Ambrosio Is an Idiot by George Choundas
Mr. Ambrosio in N252 says if you hold your breath long enough, you’ll pass away. He admits this does nothing for most people, swears and swears it works for those of extreme age. “The superannuated,” he says, show-off. Not true. That is the plan of a child, she is sure. Mr. Ambrosio is an idiot, she is sure.
Men have the heart problems. Women have estrogen in their corner. But she was the one diagnosed with a heart problem at age forty-eight. She had every right to go before he did. These medications, they list every side effect. Except keeping you hardy for five funerals a month.
J.T.’s the one who keeps her swimming in pills. Nice as can be, and asks lots of questions, and when she says “secondary insomnia” and lets her voice crack a little he doesn’t stand a chance. Once she saw his name on a staff manifest and knows it’s not J.T. It’s Juan Tobar Encarnación. She’s the only one who calls him Juan. The only challenge is to remember to save them, and to hide them well, because really he doesn’t stand a chance.
Her grandchildren sometimes visit on Saturdays. Maybe on Sundays. Almost never on Saturdays or Sundays. But it’s possible they could come on a Sunday. So she’ll do it on a Monday, because that leaves the most time until their next visit. No sense in their getting caught by surprise. Or—yes. Time for arrangements and notifications. Because that would be cruel, wouldn’t that be cruel?
The pills are small. Thirty-four white pills she can handle. Lord knows she’s been training for years with fourteen, fifteen a day. Their last vacation together was in Denver, Colorado. They both got light-headed from the elevation. The roof on that airport has thirty-four white peaks representing the Rocky Mountains. It would be nice to swallow them forever. (Monday it is.)
The woman in the bed across from her has shoulder-length hair and sleeps day and night. They’re always letting in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are very, very, very nice women, but what business do they have going into people’s rooms? These are their homes. They ask, “What’s her name?” Both names are right there on the placard on the hallway wall, just below the room number, but she humors them. “They need to cut Vivian’s hair,” the unsmiling one says. “Vivian looks like a jungle woman,” the smiling one says.
Forget Mr. Ambrosio. This is the secret. What you do is hold your breath while thinking of how much you’ve lost. Now that works. You can’t stop breathing long enough to think of everything. So you fail, and you pant. And sitting there, a sweating, panting failure, you’re suddenly as human and alive as you ever were.
George Choundas was the winner of the New Millennium Award for Fiction in the winter of 2014-2015, and the author of The Pirate Primer: Mastering the Language of Swashbucklers and Rogues (F+W 2007). He has fiction and nonfiction appearing or forthcoming in The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The American Reader, Mid-American Review, Subtropics, and elsewhere.