The Sweetness of His Breath by Kristen Lambertin

*Featured Image by Mali Fischer

On a wooded lane between onion and corn fields, I walked through rows of pear trees.

The fruits of their summer labor lay in waste, scattered in batches on the ground.
First, I stepped around them for fear of falling. My puppy up ahead pulling at the leash, anticipating home.

But there were too many and one gave way under my foot. I didn’t expect that satisfying softness, like fresh mud. Like wet sand. And then the sickly sweet smell of the flesh. Like the smell of my son’s breath all those years ago.


“Didn’t you smell the sweetness on his breath?” the nurse asked, as if she couldn’t fathom that we might have missed it.

“You’d better smell it now, so that you never make that mistake again,” she implored us, rolling her eyes and walking away. I leaned in towards my son’s worried face, breathing in the smell of rotten pears.


The flesh of pears, so close under my feet. Unmistakably sweet.


In those tiny moments, before we knew for sure what was wrong, we listened to the beat of our hearts in our ears. We watched our son searching our eyes for any sign that it would all be okay. That everything was still okay.

And then the doctor spoke out what we were trying to hold back, “Your son has Type One Diabetes.”


The puppy strained against his leash, lunging at birds out in the fields. “No,” I told him. “Stay. I might lose you if you go.”


My son looked so small in the hospital bed. “Will this change my life? Will I still be able to play soccer?” he asked.

“Yes and yes,” I said, “but not necessarily in bad ways”.


Puppy picked up a pear with his teeth, running away from me. “Will you play with me?” he would have said if he could. “Not now, I’m too old and tired. It’s too much,” I would have told him.


Early the next morning, I watched my son while he still slept. The sunlight just beginning to touch the round softness of his face. I sat there in the stillness, feeling the grittiness of my teeth against my tongue, the stale smell of dried anxious sweat in the crumpled clothing I’d worn the day before.


We reached the end of the pear path and the young dog looked back to be sure I was still coming.

“Good boy,” I told him. “We did it.” He showed me his pink tongue, looking satisfied with what he’d accomplished.



My son woke up wide-eyed, searching the room for clues of where he was. Followed by the fast slap of recognition. He took a deep breath and let it go and the way he exhaled sounded to me like acceptance.

“You know, mom. We know not what is good and what is bad,” he said, quoting my favorite Chinese proverb.

And my heart swelled with pride for this child who had become a man overnight. “Yes, that’s so true, we know not.”


“Let’s go home,” I told the dog. “We’ve had enough sweetness for one day.”


Kristen Lambertin was born in Wimbledon, England and raised (mostly) in the United States. In the early 1990’s, Kristen taught English as a Fulbright Scholar in South Korea and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Eritrea, Africa. Inspired by an acupuncture treatment she had while living in South Korea, she eventually became an acupuncturist herself. She currently lives in Switzerland with her husband and their dog, Bernie (aka: Mr. B), and is working on a memoir about how she met her husband, a German, on the Great Wall of China. She is the very proud mother of a remarkable young man who has taught her more about life than she has ever learned elsewhere. “The Sweetness of His Breath” is her first publication.

Mali Fischer is an illustrator living in Portland, OR. She grew up on a small island in Washington and later moved to Vancouver BC, where she attended Emily Carr University of Art & Design. Since graduating in 2014, Mali has illustrated for artists, brands, and individuals alike using her signature comforting style. She is known for emotional, therapeutic scenes.

1 Comment

  1. This is a little gem of a story, and your son sounds like a gem of a person.

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