Boston, Massachusetts, 2122

littered plastic by sonja lippmann for All Of Us Are Dying.jpg

I sigh as I stand on the docks, waiting for Father, so I can help him unload the fish he catches. Or, at least, that’s what he tells me I’m supposed to do. I think we both know that I’m really just there so he can feel somewhat optimistic for a second when he rows into the harbor. There won’t be any fish. At least, not any edible ones and certainly not any live ones. He used to take me with him. The most usable ones we ever caught in a day were three. Eventually, he realized that there was really no point in taking me. But every day he sails out into the ocean, and every day he sails back to Boston Harbor with a sad face and an empty boat. The plastic killed the fish. And now it’s killing us.

There is plastic inside every one of us. Plastic poisoning has already wiped out millions if not billions of people. I have a feeling the rest of us won’t be far behind. Plastic destroyed our world. It destroyed it before I was even born. I blame all of those people a century ago, all of those people who could have done something, should have done something…and didn’t. They knew what could happen, what they’d be putting us through, and they didn’t stop it. For me, that is unforgivable. I stare down at my chestnut brown wrist, at the blood pumping through it. I can almost feel the microplastic mixed in with my blood cells. It’ll kill me someday, just like it’ll kill everyone on this dying planet.

Bioaccumulation. The all-too-familiar word passes through my brain. The plastic started in smaller organisms, like plankton, and slowly moved up the food web, with more and more plastic the farther up you get. That’s why Father never comes home with any fish, they were some of the first to go. I envy the fish. Us humans, we are dying slowly. Struggling for a way out. Only a few like me have accepted that there is no way out. And even if there is, it will come much too late for us. Our ancestors created a killing machine. Not only that, but one without flaws.

I glance around. I must have stood on this dock thousands, maybe millions of times in my life. Twice a day, almost every day of my life. And I’ve spent every day of my life here in Boston. Just around the block is Linden Day, where my brother goes to school. Two streets over from that is my high school. Then over on Lowe Street is the huge, cement building that my family’s tiny apartment is housed in. Right next to that is the supermarket and on the other side of that is the plastic collection center. To my right, on what used to be the beach, is the Olman Pollution Prevention Center. There are a few people around, but their faces are downcast and they move quickly. No one wants to be outside for long anymore, especially on days with rainy forecasts. Umbrellas became useless years ago. It’s windy today, and I’m regretting not tying my hair back. Long, black strands keep blowing in my face. I brush them back as I glance out at the sea. I can see a small rowboat on the horizon. Father must have given up for today. I watch as his oars struggle through the sea of bags and bottles, toys and toothbrushes. You can’t even see the water through all the trash anymore. And in the few patches left, it’s a clouded murky green. If the plastic doesn’t kill us first, then the water will. There are only a couple lakes where the water has remained uncontaminated. The world’s entire water supply comes from those few reservoirs. Sooner or later, we’re going to run out. Father’s boat reaches me. I rush over to help him tie it up.

“Any luck?” I ask. Father shakes his head regretfully.

“No, not today.” I’m not surprised. It’s been months since he brought home even one fish.

“Do you want to meet Mother and Dash before dinner?” Mother and my little brother have a stall in the market where they make pottery. It provides most of the money for our family as Father is too stubborn to give up on being a fisherman, and my shift at the coffee shop doesn’t pay great.

“Sure,” Father smiles a bit through his bushy beard, his eyes crinkling. Everyone smiles when Father smiles. Even if it’s a sad one. I grab his reel, and we set off through the plastic-strewn streets.

I stop for a second as we pass one of SpaceX’s testing sites. This area of Boston had become so packed with trash that everyone who lived here left a long time ago. SpaceX bought it to work on their new project—a spaceship to Mars carrying as many people as they can fit and enough supplies to start a colony on Mars. No plastic would be allowed on board. It’s the Earth’s last hope, but I think everyone in my family knows that we won’t make it to Mars, even if the ship is ready soon. We’re barely getting by as it is, and tickets will be incredibly expensive. Of course, the cost will lower over time, but by the time it gets down to something we could afford it’ll probably be too late. As we walk away, I occasionally turn my head back to see if I can catch them launching a rocket.

“One day,” Father says. “You will sail through the stars Edalena.”

“Dad…” my voice trails off. Father is always so full of hope, no one ever likes to crush it. He stares at me.

“I promise, Edalena. One day you will be up there.”

“Thanks,” I say, not sure how else to respond without saying that it’s next to impossible. We walk the rest of the way to the market without any sound but the thwack of me occasionally kicking litter to the side. When I was little I used to pick up all the garbage I saw and put into a collecting bin. Now I know there’s no point. It won’t make a difference. If I had been born a hundred years earlier, perhaps it would have. But I wasn’t. Before long, we reach Mother’s tent. Father starts talking to her about something in a low voice so I go over to Dash who’s glazing a vase.

“Hey Dash,” I say.

“Did Daddy catch anything?” he looks up at me with his big brown eyes.

“Not today.”

“Oh.” He pauses. “Are we going to be okay, Lena?” I put my hand on his shoulder, not wanting to answer.

“I–I don’t know.”

“I hate plastic,” he mutters angrily, dropping the vase. It hits the ground and shatters.

No. We will not be okay.

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Annika Liss lives in Durham, Connecticut, where she is a member of the class of 2025 at Coginchaug Regional High School. She loves playing the horn and the guitar, as well as reading, writing, D&D, and drawing. She also enjoys participating in her school's Model UN club and writing for the school newspaper. Annika is still in denial about Latin being a dead language; there's not much point in trying to convince her otherwise.
Accompanying photo: “Littered Plastic” by Sonja Lippman