The enemy forces arrive so stealthily. You can’t see them, but you know they’re there. They’ve crept in with the shadows, from the dark corners and the dusty windowsills of the room. You know this, though your eyes may try to tell you otherwise, because you can feel them wrapping your torso in thick bandages. They start just above your belly, creating a secure seal around your bottom rib, penning in your diaphragm. Then inch by inch, loop by loop, they create a corset, pinning down your breasts, choking in your collarbone. It’s uncomfortable, but no worse than a restrictive dress, tightening around the body after you ate too many free appetizers at an awkward party.
Then they bring out the elephant. You’ve seen him before every now and then, floating around the room, glimpsed briefly in your peripheral vision. He seems nice enough, and it’s not his fault he’s here, is it? You asked him in, like a chubby vampire invited across the threshold. And now the soldiers carry him forward and you have somehow accidentally ingested him. It seems impossible, doesn’t it? For that giant beast to be contained underneath your skin. But there’s no other explanation for it. The bandages squeeze in closer with each inhalation, and Dumbo kicks out swiftly, sharply, right into the centre of your breast plate.
There’s a shortage of space, and so the body starts an immediate evacuation. Salt water flows, and the good old nose hair gang is propelled into action, bailing out bucketfuls of mucous with unprecedented speed. The lungs expel every ounce of breath faster than a popped balloon; two twins fighting each other to survive instead of attempting to work together. The face is in full blush, embarrassed by the ridiculous display of its entire squadron, and the limbs are basically useless. Grasping at straws, grasping at walls. The tiny worker pulling the many levers of the brain tries to hold down the fort for a while, but he’s no match for this kind of battle. And so, with one final leap across the circuit board, he pulls the cord to sound the alarm. Reinforcements. Backup. Relief forces!
It’s ultimately a simple set of commands from the body’s comrade that restores it to working order. “Okay … relax … breathe … will all work out.” Why the control centre could not provide these basic inputs on its own remains a longstanding mystery. The lungs re-inflate, panting but alive. The floodwaters recede; the elephant is extracted and returned to his native habitat. The opposing soldiers unwind their endless strips of fabric and roll them into tidy bundles for re-use on another unsuspecting Tuesday.
The tiny worker breathes a sigh of relief and returns to the control tower with heightened vigilance. No more cruise control tonight. The boss is going to be furious about all of this.