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Bone World

by Melissa Mulvihill

Once, just before I had to leave, I chucked a toy hippo at our hallway wall. It flew up the stairwell, it’s drooping belly and gaping mouth singing across the red rug and dividing the air to make it breathable. That was several diagnoses ago. I threw it because once you go, you can never come back. All of my people thought it was something else entirely that made me put a small hole in our drywall with a hippo, but I did it to breathe. Because my capillaries were in full bloom and I had to exhale. I had to just shove all of the oxygen out of my lungs and wrap myself in the cold and the dark and the lack of a horizon, and the temptation to say, look at that pathetically small sun that couldn’t possibly vaporize me into unfiltered cosmic radiation. There was a moment when the loss of external pressure started to cause the gas inside my lungs to expand, but I filled up with constellations until I couldn’t swallow any more. My body did not balloon to the point of exploding and that’s because my human skin was strong enough to hold in all of the planets and their moons and keep me from bursting. My muscles screamed and crashed and I wondered if most of me had gone, leaving only my bones, the bones that carry my heart which carries my brain which carries my hope. I tore through some atmospheres and choked on some dust and roamed around unstable orbits gasping for air until I finally realized that I can get used to moisture boiling on my tongue. I slipped away and listened to the sound of the earth preparing to speak, the pitched need in her bone world voice. I remembered that it was shining when we first met.


Since I have been sky, I say, once you go, you can never go back, and that’s because Earth’s gravity would just turn your bones to Jell-O. Your skeleton would liquify and you would leak out into the dirt and you would be pain there and there and there and there.

So, if you go, you have to stay gone.

About the Author

Melissa writes about living with progressive illness and the rituals that surround life and death. This year she has had essays published with Pangyrus Literary Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic Magazine, HerStry, and Months to Years Literary Magazine. Retired from homeschooling and counseling, Melissa lives with her husband in northeast Ohio. You can find her essays and poems at

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