Stories No. 34 – Emily Bertholf

by Emily Bertholf

Reis lies in bed, cocks her head. She hears breathing all around her and, from another room, a muffled weeping. The breathing doesn’t match the rhythm of her husband’s breath beside her. She envisions an old woman in a green babushka crying in her bathroom. Of course, that makes no sense. There’s no woman in her bathroom, no other woman in her house. In fact, she’s never seen that woman before. It must be her daughter she tells herself and gets up to check on her.

Her daughter’s bedroom door is closed. No light escapes the crack above the floor. There’s no sound other than the breathing.

She turns the knob and sees her daughter, a swirl of blankets and hair. Down the hall, she checks on her twin sons. They lie with their arms by their heads, one son facing up, one son facing down, mirrored images even in sleep.

She checks the rest of the house. Downstairs, the dog whimpers from the corner and follows Reis on her round. The windows and doors are all locked. The curtains drawn tight.

“All clear, ey, Sophie?” Reis scratches the dog behind her ear and heads upstairs.

She pauses outside the dark shadow of the bathroom door, only half convinced that the weeping woman won’t be there. The light above the vanity reveals an empty, spotless bathroom that smells like Comet. Relieved, she turns the light off, leaving the room just how she found it, dark and undisturbed.

A red light strobes through her bedroom window. She pulls the curtain back. O-P-E-N- OPEN-OPEN-OPEN flashes like a mantra. BEER CIGARETTES LOTTERY scrolls through the night like a red, luminous Morse code.

As she leans her head to the cool glass, she sees her husband’s sleeping body, the gun case, her own reflection. One car, the clerk’s car, sits alone in the parking lot across the street.

Back in bed, she reaches for her husband. He turns away. She remembers the look her doctor and husband exchanged after the doctor asked if she saw shadows. “You don’t?” she replied, unable to stop herself.

Her hand rests on the mound of her husband’s cocooned body, rises and falls in his trodden rhythm, undoubtedly slower than the breathing around her. She puts her hand on her own chest; her breathing is too fast. Closing her eyes, she wills her breathing to sync with the enigmatic sound of air being sucked in and pushed out. She opens her eyes.

The walls seem to glisten in the neon-lit bedroom. She sits up. The walls push out, recede in, swelling and shifting in perfect time to the breathing.

She turns around. Her hand crosses her chest and touches the wall behind her. The warm, smooth touch, like the velvet kiss of a lover’s tongue, startles her. She thinks of her husband and children peacefully asleep, and she, herself so tired. She wonders if a house can digest someone, closes her eyes, and leans in.




Emily Bertholf’s words have appeared in publications such as Negative Suck, Lost in Thought, Litsnack, and vox poetica. She lives in Milwaukee, where she draws inspiration from the waves of Lake Michigan and sometimes tangos alone in her living room. Links to her work can be found at


Stories @ Digging Through the Fat: Volume 2, Issue 15
May 27, 2015
Photography by: Gessy Alvarez