Oxygen Tank by Vina Nguyen

Oct 14, 2019

It weighs as much as a grown man’s leg. Its shape, a torpedo. Imagine hauling a torpedo behind you on a stick with wheels, and with a swath of heat or hit of pressure, it can explode and destroy everything. 

But this torpedo gives me each step, each sentence, each meal, each trip to and from the bathroom. We watch the news and share supper in silence. I hold it in my arms, now and then, to feel the weight of company. And at night, it sleeps beside me in the bed.


I didn’t always have a torpedo. I used to have a man. A husband. For thirty-four years he smoked on the balcony at least three times a day, sliding the door open then shutting it closed behind him without any trouble. That is, until the morning he fell off the sixth floor.

A stranded cat had been mewling outside since dawn. I opened my eyes, exasperated. Our bedroom glowed pink-orange. Grapefruit, I thought. 

He huffed and puffed out of bed and said, “Gotta save that darn cat,” dragged on some pants, picked up his cane, and disappeared down the dim hallway. 

“Wait for the firemen,” I yelled after him, wrapping my robe around me. “Who d’you think you are? A wheezy, arthritic Superman?” The balcony door stood wide open. The morning air was frigid enough to make your lungs collapse. I went into the kitchen and puttered around. Soon, the aroma of coffee beans filled our apartment. I strode up to the balcony jamb and lingered behind him with crossed arms. “Don’t break your back. That cat ain’t worth a month’s physio.” 

“So close. Darn cat you gotta get an inch closer …” he grunted, straining on his toes, his cane on the floor.

I went back in, turned for a second to fill a coffee mug, and returned to the balcony to see no one. I froze in the middle of that living room, toes pressing into the carpet, fist clenching the mug, forcing myself not to blink. It was still the same morning. Everything in the room the paisley rug, the scratched dining table, his favourite footstool was tinted the palest grapefruit.

For a cat. For a mug of coffee. For what.

He died trying to save a cat, and I get his lung cancer. Stage three.


We didn’t have children. Not saying I only want kids now that I’m alone at sixty-seven, but some days, it takes all I’ve got to huff and puff out of bed, drag on some pants, pick up my torpedo, and disappear down the dark hallway. The balcony door stays locked as I sit in front of it, staring out at the eyes of the complex across the way, and at the thin slice of grapefruit sky. 

When I start to miss him too much, I reach down and pat my torpedo gently. Rubbing its neck, I say, “There, there. You’re enough for me.”

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