The room is stale and dreary, pale and lifeless, and its off-white walls are bare and vacant and cracked like fractured eggshells. I lie swaddled in the itchy, powder blue linens of a hospital bed too short and too narrow for my crippled body—and the bed’s guardrails sprout up either side of me as if I were confined to a crib with nothing to do but look up toward the paint-chipped ceiling. Fluorescent lights blink back at me and glow a sickly green, fluttering constantly and buzzing like epileptic bumblebees. My neck is braced and bandaged in red-stained cotton, and I strain my eyes toward the room’s only window. There, the golden gleam of sunlight beams and glistens, fighting for some measure of real estate against the fluorescent flood.
An old, twisted maple tree sits soaking up the sun outside, its bark stripped and weathered, and its leaves as red and black as my battered eyes. It’s almost devoid of foliage, yet it stands tall and silent, relishing the lingering warmth of fall, and pondering the impending frosts of winter. What leaves it does have are worn and withered, and they shiver in the autumn breeze, trembling like trapeze artists resisting a faltering grip.
The sky above begins to blacken as the sun curtsies and dips below the horizon. Its flowing gown of pinks and golds blazes across the heavens before burning up and drifting down in rippling layers of orange and crimson. Curtains of navy and midnight blue unravel to the ground and blend with the fiery fabrics still sparkling in sheets across the smouldering skyline.
The fluorescent bulbs above me hum and drone a bitter lullaby, and my eyes begin to fade like the sunlight at my window. My chest aches with each shallow breath I take, and I can smell the putridly sweet stench of iodine and blood oozing from my sutured wounds. Yet, as the pain digs deeper and compels my teeth to clench, I dwell not on the freeway or the crash that brought me here, or the foul, fetid memories of fire and melting flesh. All I can think of are the maple tree and its leaves, and the evanescent sunset outside.
Why should I fear death when the maple tree is sure to bloom again in the spring? The last of its scarlet leaves have dropped now, and it stands a naked silhouette in the sun’s red afterglow. Dead it may seem, its long branches bare and black in the absence of light, but unless the heavens strike it with fire, it will endure the cold of winter and live to dress in leaves of green.
Why should I fear hell when the sun is promised to rise again in the morning? Can that same promise not pertain to me? Though some nights stretch on longer than others, the sun never fails to wake from its slumber, and its rays are always bright enough to rout the black of night. Yet if my resurrection is possible, and is anything like the rise and fall of the sun, will I wake to skies of darkness or to clouds of burning gold?