Study Guide

Life in the Air Ocean

by Syvlia Foley

Life in the Air Ocean Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Iris Mowry spends her days sitting on the edge of the roof of her home drinking wine and keeping an eye on her newborn daughter, Ruth, in a carriage below. Her husband, Daniel, a refrigeration engineer, was once in the military and stationed at the nearby missile base. Now, he occupies himself with building the cellar in their home in his free time and with thoughts of moving to Colombia, where his expertise in refrigeration would be well received. Meanwhile, Iris drifts in an emotional and spiritual limbo, preoccupied with the birds that represent to her flight and freedom and with the meat that she has purchased at the local supermarket and packed into the baby’s carriage. When she presses the meat with her finger, it turns gray. The image stays with her all day as she sits on the roof drinking wine. It returns to her thoughts along with strains of Mexican music and thoughts of going to Colombia. When Daniel comes home from work, she realizes that he now has gray teeth and is gray on the inside, like the meat. He tries coaxing her from the rooftop, but she leaps onto the lawn below, breaking her arm.

Relaxing beside the pool at a neighbor’s home a few days later, her arm now in a cast, Iris continues to be preoccupied with thoughts of helplessness, aimlessness, and failure. She leaves her baby with her neighbor and goes to return some overdue books to the library. Finding herself beside the tar pits that lie at the edge of her neighborhood, she is overcome with dark thoughts; bubbles rising to the surface remind her of little mouths trying to suck in air. On an impulse, she throws the library books into the tar pits, one of them the volume of the Book of Knowledge that contains an entry on Colombia. As she peers into the black tar pit, she seems to see the medical team that aided her when she leaped from the roof, only now it is rushing past her to another emergency.