unexpected intrusions of beauty
She’s about to die.
It’s been a long battle, but she can feel it ending, feel the sickness roaring loud and victorious in her lungs. Her body shudders and her mind flashes white, the last gunshots of war ringing out in her ears.
She draws in a shaky breath and thinks of how unprepared she is, how shamefully terrified. Even after endless warnings and doctors’ speeches and pitying looks; even after the breath of her son’s voice in her ear saying I love you, Mom; even after her daughter’s last touch, hand and tears warm against her arm; even after the bright, unassuming last wave goodbye of her grandchildren. She feels herself shaking and waits — isn’t her life supposed to flash before her eyes? Doesn’t she live it all over again? Isn’t she supposed to get once last chance to feel the sunlight stark on her cheek, hear the rustle of the leaves in russet tones, see the night sky bleed starlight?
She closes her eyes and she waits — but the waterfall of memories never draws her in. It’s just as she’s opening her eyes again when she feels the memory — just one — slam against her with startling force, colors sharp and contrast raised a hundred times over.
She’s six years old, at Disney World for the first time, waiting for the clock to hit 9:00 and the fireworks to start. Her eyes are bright and innocent against the dark, coloured with awe and wonder. Cinderella’s castle is alight with the hopes and dreams of a thousand people standing next to her, breaths held.
All of a sudden, she hears the voice of a young girl ring out. Starlight, starbright — first star I see tonight, she sings, and the words are strung together with the same amazement she feels rushing through her veins.
I wish – she starts to think, but just then, the first shot goes up, colors bleeding sharp and clear against the sky.
I wish – she starts to think, but the thought slips away with the echo of the firework, sound falling over the crowd like pixie dust.
She’s ninety three, now. Magic has turned into science and princess costumes have turned into hospital gowns and the magic that used to fill her veins has become five different times of medication and a triple dose of reality. She’s ninety three, now, and can feel her heart stilling. She’s ninety three, now, and she knows wishes don’t come true, knows magic wands are rubber and wood, knows fairy dust is glitter with a touch of illusion.
I wish – she starts to think, but she’s ninety three, now, and the heart monitor goes flat.