Michelle Brianna Ropp
They say that once, a thousand stars sparkled across the night sky in a ribbon of silver. I stare out the hospital window, and try to picture it. The pale moon stares back, its light blighted and orange with the smog. Sometimes I wonder if the stories are really true. If birds sang to greet the dawn, or if there really were flying flowers called "butterflies". I wonder if people ever really had eight children. Back then—were most children stillborn, too? Now only the lucky couples are graced with one. I was that lucky. Once.
It seems impossible that people lived to be eighty, or more outrageous: a hundred. I feel cheated, counting out my last moments in a bleak white room so close to my fortieth birthday. Cancer. It's the leviathan that awaits us all, now. It hangs over each life, a tainted specter that claims some sooner than others. It stole my daughter, first. She had just turned seventeen. I'll never forget her paint-splattered hands and her sideways smile, or the way she buried herself in books in search of hidden treasure.
It took my husband next. The shadow of her death hung over our lives. Things were never the same. The quick grin that once lit up his eyes with mirth faded. He smiled, but it never reached his eyes again.
Cancer waited, scythe in hand, to claim me next. It waited for me to suffer through the loss of everything I loved, watched my life unravel, and stood beside me as I fell to pieces in the office bathroom. It hovered nearby as I put on the mask of a false smile and told everyone I was alright when I felt like my insides were a sea of broken glass and salty tears.
Some say it's in the food we eat. In the spotless produce with a brand-named genome. In the colorful cereal and boxed lunches full of preservatives and pesticides. I don't know what to believe anymore. It killed the birds, and maybe now it's killing me. What I do know is that I'm tired of living in a toxic world, of having my soul and body poisoned. I'm tired of wearing a smiling mask as I slave away for a paycheck that barely covers the debt I've been buried in. I'm just... tired.
I close my eyes, daydreaming of clear blue skies that I've never seen, of birds and bees and flying flowers. I daydream of my little Kylie, gone too soon from this world, and imagine her laughing and running through a field of grass and bright blossoms. I dream of trees that tower taller than the mightiest skyscraper in a forest full of life, even though I know the Redwoods are only a myth.
The hospital machines scream in alarm somewhere far away as I run through the Redwood forest and breathe cool, clean air that I’ve never known.
About the Author: Michelle Ropp is a writer based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She currently writes articles for an animal advocacy group, Their Voice, and has had poetry published in Hadrosaur Tales. She is editing two of her novels to prepare them for publication and is perpetually distracted by writing other, new stories. When she isn’t busy writing, Michelle builds violins and raises butterflies.