Bellows. Flash fiction by Suzanne Conboy-Hill

Mercifully, the music stops. She is fond of Bob Marley but you can have too much of a good thing. The boom-cha boom is replaced by different sensations – the smell of smoky coffee, evocative of deep arms, warm breath and a rough chin; scraping sounds and charcoal – burned toast? They bring mornings to mind; the scrambling and rushing of bodies jostling in the bedroom, the bathroom, then the bus and the tube. She thinks of breath: his, hers, other people’s too close for comfort.

Suddenly a lighthouse startles her, its brilliance flickering side to side in her eyes, and she tastes salt instead, and oily fish, and winkles sweating in bags at a harbour stall with only one pin between the two of them to get them out. The light passes but she has been washed up on rocks and one assaults her repeatedly atop her eyebrows, another in her chest just below the notch where the two collar bones emerge and where air rushes by as if pushed and pulled by a train in a tunnel. Like the Piccadilly line with its hot noise, flashing dark, and smell of … Cold water fills her ears, first one then the other; ice and a slice but no slice, unless she is it. She thinks she feels the slicing and the cutting and the screeching it’s wrapped in, and she tries to hold the thought to consider its meaning. But it slips sideways as a sea mist crawls over her; in and out, back and forth, whooshing and wheezing and pulling her down with the deep sucking sound of bellows in mud.

Marley starts up again: No Woman No Cry, but she does.


Past psychologist, present writer and trainee picture painter. Also a past ICU nurse looking after patients breathing on ‘bellows’. Bellows appeared briefly via a mobile app that has now folded. Website.


  1. Brilliant writing-so evocative of something I’m trying desperately to avoid, ditto my dear husband and daughter, as we all have serious health issues that make us extremely vulnerable if we catch Coronavirus. Can you tell me, is it usual to medicate patients, so that they remain unconscious during ICU treatment on ventilators nowadays, or do they remain fully conscious all through the ventilation treatment?

    1. Thank you, I think so many people are trying to avoid this and trying to live their lives at the same time. Patients were always sedated and paralysed when they were ventilated – paralysed so their own reflexes didn’t ‘fight’ the ventilator, and sedated so that they were unaware of any of this. My experience was many years ago now but I can’t see it being any different today. Supported breathing is different, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), needs the patient to be conscious and able to breathe, it just pushes oxygen into the lungs more forcibly than a normal breath does and helps it get through into the blood stream. Some people using CPAP would be in ICU for close monitoring. Let’s hope none of us has to find out from close quarters. Stay safe 🙂

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