There is much to be said for the light of the stars, for the rose-clouds over the setting sun, for the taste of newness in the early morning air. There is much to be said and even more to be missed, but there is so little time. I think I will miss most the memory of the curve of your mouth, the crinkle of your cheeks right before you smile. It’s impossible to know, really, until I have been kissed by the light of the stars for centuries and wake up someday in a new world.
I do not know many things, but I know that the worst punishment will be to live in a world that does not know a molecule of you, that has no part of you in it except for that part of you which stays with me. They tell me that the world I will wake up in has two suns, that I will be surrounded by light for the rest of my days. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the brightness in my life has stemmed from you all these years. I am afraid to find out.
The pounding of fists against the door. “Open up, NOW!”
Searching for an escape and finding the windows sealed shut. Unable to breathe as I realize the truth: I can’t run anymore. My heartbeat, painfully loud in my ears.
I want you to know that this isn't what I wanted for you. It’s cliché, I know. But I don’t know what else to say as I sit here, dreaming about the weightlessness of floating in the ocean, the taste of salt clinging to my lips and the sun secretly burning on my skin. Imagining all the things we could have done together if life hadn’t stolen it all away.
I am trying to remember the way your hand felt in mine, the slender warmth of your small fingers, but the memory is fading already. Time has robbed me of many things. I wish I could say that it was time that robbed me of you, but we both know it was my hand that dealt these cards. For that, I am sorry.
The door breaking in, the feeling of hands grabbing me, pulling me to the ground, restraining me, dragging me outside. The sudden, burning shame of knowing that I will not have the dignity of walking myself out of the house for the last time.
Your voice stabs me, sharper in its sweetness than all the hateful words ever spoken. I am broken by the innocence in your teary eyes as you watch them take me. I wonder if you will ever forgive me for this. The last I time I ever see you, you are holding your favorite blue bunny so tightly in your impossibly small hands, you cannot wave goodbye.
You, always as entrancing to me as the dance of light refracting in moving water. You, the only person I have ever really loved. I am sure they told you as you grew up that I am a criminal, that I deserve my sentence and worse. I won't waste your time trying to convince you otherwise. But I do hope that one day you believe me when I tell you that I did it all for you. To protect you.
The hand of justice moves slowly, they say. I say the hands of gods move even slower, as imperceptibly as the growth of a thousand-year-old tree whose roots are so long-established that it has forgotten the urgency of mere survival. It has taken two decades for my sentencing to be carried out. I have forgotten how to pray. They tell me I should be proud, that I am paying my debt to society many times over. They tell me that I am important, that I could be the reason the human race survives.
I believe in second chances, but I don’t know that humanity deserves a second chance. I’ve seen too much to believe that we will do better next time, in another world. If there is another world. I suppose in about 254 years, I’ll find out.
The cell door slams behind me. A cold, empty space greets me, filled with concrete and metal that grins and glints in the flickering fluorescent lights. My only belongings: a thin pillow in a blue-and-white striped case, a rough gray blanket, and starlit thoughts of you.
The judge’s words still ring in my ears all through the first night in the cell: guilty of all charges. The first week, my lawyer tells me not to give up hope, tells me to keep fighting, but I am tired of being told my own story, of the disbelief on the faces of the jury when I say I did what I had to do. It is the twenty-second century and the court still doubts the word of a woman who was out of choices. I am not ashamed of what I did, even as I learn to respond to “Inmate 41” and not “Laura,” even as I begin to doubt that there is humanity left in me. I would kill again in a heartbeat for you, my daughter.
My first month in prison is a dark one as I try to remember how to live without you to fill my days. I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, the smell of your feathery hair lingering in my memory. You haunt me, but I am the one who is a ghost.
There is a day, I don’t remember exactly which day, when I wake up and realize that I would do anything to hold you again. I tell my lawyer that I want to fight, for you. And we do, for over a decade.
Our last battle is on the day before your fourteenth birthday. I have almost forgotten how to hope, but I think for a moment that this might be it. There is a strange tangibility to freedom when it has been denied you for too long. It brushed at the tips of my fingers, just out of reach on a shelf one centimeter too high. Then they tell me that instead of a life sentence, I am being added to The List, and the hope inside me leaves and I am empty.
They say that one day soon I will be put into stasis and sent off alone to a planet in a nearby system to test its habitability. They say I will help humanity find a new and better world, that my sacrifice will be remembered.
I tell them to go to hell. Or better yet, to go to the planet themselves.
They send me back to my cell and I wait. For seven long years.
I am writing this letter to you to say goodbye, dearest Stella. I know that it is selfish of me to think that you will want to read this and that if I were a good mother, I would let you forget me. But they told me I could write one letter before they put me into the chamber tomorrow, and the only person I could think of was you. Know that as I drift in the starlight, I will dream of the thing that has kept me alive these past twenty years. When I close my eyes to sleep, I will be holding you one last time.
All my love,
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Ok, so you don't know much about me but I am an old softie as my dad used to say. I'm the guy that tears up at both sad movies and happy ones. I try to hide it because, well, men don't cry. But I do when I am moved and I did reading this story, this letter. I don't know if you have children but you write as if you know the pain of the loss of a child and this is the loss of a child. To know you will fall asleep and when you wake your child will be gone is heart wrenching. This was perfect. You are amazingly talented. I am blessed to ...
My heart is breaking!! Honestly!! You have writing I wish I could aspire to!! Amazing job!!
You're too kind, thank you!!
Hoooooly cow, Claire. This had me HOOKED by the first paragraph. Beautiful descriptions, word choice--just everything. Also, I LOVE 1) a second-person story, and 2) a dark story. YES. Amazing work here. I can definitely see a prequel/sequel to this, too! I hope this wins. I've read it three times already. :)
Hi Leilani, thank you so much for your comment! You absolutely made my day!
Of course! I'm glad! :)
This is like an emotional shotgun blast to the face. This should have won something.
Wow! This was very beautifully written. The line, "I know that the worst punishment will be to live in a world that does not know a molecule of you" hit me in the feels. I thought it was interesting you used stasis as a form of punishment - very imaginative. I'd love to know who she had to kill and why she was out of choices, so I second Leilani Lane on the prequel/ sequel idea!!!
Hi Arizona, thank you so much for your comment, it made me smile!
Very moving. Elegant Narration. Keep writing!
Hi Tempest, thank you for the kind comment!