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Image by Harshil Gudka

Rachel Miranda

Air Hunger



The results of the scan pop up on my phone

Just in time for my appointment

And before dread has time to unfurl

I admire the bewildering beauty of the words


Mosaic lung attenuation

Architectural distortion

Diffuse geographic ground-glass opacities

Scattered calcified granulomas

Traction bronchiectasis in the lingula

Peripheral reticulations

Subpleural fibrotic changes

Air trapping


Scrabbling against the tidal rush

My mind jumps first to Serena’s mosaic installations

Kaleidoscope walls made of tiny jewel-toned pieces of glass

That my daughter has designed

To adorn buildings with evocations of warmth, celebration, unity—

Permanent reminders of joy.



I land hard on the last line of the report:

Findings consistent with interstitial lung disease.


I try to resist the search engines but it’s no use

A group of rare disorders that cause progressive inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue

Sufferers have an average life expectancy of three to five years.


My eyes skitter away

As I try out the calculus

True, I’m a diligent worker, but will that really be enough time

To birth a novel, buy a little house by the sea, and find my unfaltering love?


I scroll through the report again

Notice this:

No honeycombing.

Is that good?

Or will I need honeycombing to be believed?

I wonder

Even as fat fingers of fear squeeze the air out of the thought.



Before the scan

I was so sure I would be dismissed

That I had rehearsed my lines for the lung guy

Like I had for the young nurse practitioner

Who thought she would be treating run-of-the-mill asthma.

“I know we’ve only just met but I’m not usually like this”

I’d rasped, mewing out sudden sobs because

I didn’t have the air to cry any harder.

“Of course not,” she said. “I can see you’re in real distress.”

A welcome change from the asthma guy

Who concluded my shortness of breath was due to an “anxious personality.”


The asthma guy was by no means the first

To suggest that I was exaggerating a symptom or

Falsely reporting my health regimen

It’s understood

At least by those guys

That if they can’t find a reason after all their years of training

Then the fault must lie with me


But now relief competes with panic for space in my chest.

The scan is all the defense I will need against

A diagnosis of hysterical female.



Wrap your mouth around the tube

Exhale to the count of seven

Inhale to the count of five

Try not to cough.

I’m sorry, we couldn’t capture it

Let’s try again.

Wait until I tell you

Try to hold the cough until you finish the exhale

Blow – 2 – 3 – keep blowing – 4 – 5

No, I’m sorry we couldn’t capture it.

One more try.

Blow – 2 – 3 – keep blowing – 4 –


Why don’t we take a break?

We can try again when you catch your breath.


I nod, speechless with exertion

Eyes bulging.

When will that be? I ask silently.



Even without the poetic scan or

The failed pulmonary function test

The lung guy would not need me to tell him

That I can’t utter a sentence

Without stopping for air

Just walking into his office will make my pulse soar

Make me fight for the space to inhale

My lungs retracting spasmodically

As they have for thirty-eight days now

Every time I walk from the bedroom to the bathroom

From the living room to the kitchen

The cough bending me over

Wringing me out like a grey spaghetti mop

While Serena watches, fingers gripping her chair

Whispering on the phone to her siblings

Trying to decide if she should mention to me yet again that

This is not okay.



So now it has a name.

My children want to know what it portends

And I want to give them answers

Or at least a safe scaffold

As I have always done when they come to me with their scary questions.


Only, what sort of safety is there in this distorted framework?

There is ground glass adorning my lungs

And it’s nothing like Serena’s mosaic walls

Or the kaleidoscope of my finished novel waiting to be born.

The wasted tissue is shredding to papier mâché

Between my ribs

Floating through the interstices

Where the air I hunger for must be trapped

Leaving me breathless


The architecture of my future opaque and

Scattered out of reach.



I ride the indigo sea of my sofa

Drifting far from shore

Heart flailing as I grasp for the only anchor

I thumb through my phone

Nervous, edgy to find it

As if this mooring, too, might be my own dramatic invention


I scroll and scrabble

My breath catching on a knife’s edge

Until—finally! There it is—

I allow myself an unstinting sigh.

The image is real and true, their faces full of the future

This radiant, fretful, generous tribe

That I made.


You’re here, they whisper.

You’re still here.

About Rachel Miranda

Rachel Miranda received her MFA in Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars; she is a freelance editor specializing in non-native English and translated literature and the recipient of a Literature Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is the author of a narrative cookbook titled The World at Our Table: A Euro-American Cookbook of Family Favorites (Via Publishing, 2021), and her creative writing has been published in the online journal Necessary Fiction, and in the anthology, Seeking Its Own Level (MotesBooks 2014), nominated for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards’ Best Anthology of 2015. She is currently completing a coming-of-age historical novel about the immigrant experience and the stealthy persistence of antisemitism in post-Holocaust America.

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