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The Sun Magazine

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Essays, Memoirs, and True Stories

Mark O’Brien’s Days

Mark O’Brien spends virtually every moment of every day encased in an iron lung in a room eleven feet wide and twenty feet long and seven and a half feet high. A single window fronts an alley and gets little light. The air in the room has a damp weight and smells sour, like the laden air of a closed space in which people have slept. Certain sounds are constant: the graduated chant and metallic rattle of the iron lung’s small electric motor; the regulated hiss of its leather bellows; the crumpling of a nylon collar around Mark’s neck as air from the lung fills and leaves it; and the soft intermittent clatter in Mark’s mouth and nose and throat: sighs, gasps, wheezes, whistles.

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