The stars on the ceiling were pressed on, some cheap glue sticky enough to hold. We arranged a tent of sheets for our ship, and when my brother held me down and put a knee to the pillow over my nose, he said, this is what it feels like in space. I knew it wasn’t real, but in those moments beneath the glow in the dark from five-pointed dots clinging above, my vision going spotty, I thought I knew what it was like to die.
Even now, nineteen years later, this occupies my mind, it’s all I think of. Fascinates me, and hurts, too, because I already know about the anti-gravity machines and astronauts with cancer, their bone density destroyed, their Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, NASA’s mass torture of monkeys, people spouting on about Armstrong—how it’s just some fake moon landing shot in a cheap studio, it’s all so fake, can’t really be real.
But there’s one thing I do know that’s real: all the ways we’ve abandoned life on this planet, the heavy weight of our dead. I think of this constantly, most often of Sputnik 2, first in our legacy of cruelty. It’s all too much to think, so I find a quiet field and lie in the grass under the night sky, look up at the twinkling stars. I remember that old feeling from when I’d crawl in my ship, only this time I’ve set out to find the dog. It’s been so long, and the galaxy is too vast, and she’s just a little thing, maybe ten pounds. But she’s big to me, bigger those stick-on constellations, than Soviet missions to kill her and other space dogs, than all of Earth and its filth.
I’m wearing my plastic bag helmet and I don’t know if it’s my lungs or eyes going out as they swell and blur looking at all these fuzzy stars, but as my air depletes, all I can think of is Laika, panting hard and suffering, sent by herself to die in space—her body long dead and rotating somewhere around me in this endless universe. I want to tell Laika she’s the only thing that’s real. That humans are a disgrace, that she’s such a good girl, that no one should die alone.
Belicia Rhea was born under a waning crescent moon in the Sonoran Desert. You can find more of her work published in or forthcoming from Nightmare Magazine, Miracle Monocle, and Versification, among others.