She keeps the sun inside her pocket, front right, just underneath the Moon and Mars. If you ask to see it, she’ll smile and tell you to be careful and hold out her palm.
They won’t look that big, really, they’ll seem like nothing more than marbles, but she’ll lean back in her hospital bed, sterile white light paling her smooth bald head, and she’ll smile and close her tiny fragile fingers and laugh.
She may not really have the sun and the sky in her fingers, but when she smiles you believe her because she really does have everything important to you: everything that makes your heart shudder and your stomach sink and your eyes water and your chest quake.
The hospital gown’s pockets aren’t too deep, and it’s a wonder that so much could fit inside such small hands. Fingers like wisps of shadow slowly close around your finger. “This is her eleven,” you think. And you remember yours, and can’t help but compare the two.
You never gave her a forest to explore like you had as a kid: the brook at the edge of the wood where the deer would come to drink. Sometimes you’d find wolf prints in the mud and enough arrowheads to make a necklace and pretend to be an Indian chief. There were thorny brambles that hid fat purple berries you’d mix into love potions, and smoke huts that could have belonged to hunters or evil queen witches.
She has a jungle of tubes and wires, IV machinery and little electronic boxes. She has a bed that can raise or lower with a button, she’s not a princess but she has a servant that runs every time her heart stutters. You couldn’t give her your forest.
And you couldn’t give her the lake in summer where the small flat fish nibbled at the skin on your feet. You couldn’t give her diving off the dock and the rush of cold water on a searing day. You couldn’t give her the best friend that follows you everywhere and listens to all your wild dreams and helps you tie a raft of willow branches to sail “out to sea.”
You can’t really give her anything, nothing that matters at least. Only the frowning men with deep sad eyes and long white coats can promise her the world, and their promises don’t come cheap. And they stopped making them months ago.
As she leans back in her narrow hospital bed, you pull open the blinds. The sky is there, and so you promise her that, and every month that she makes it you’ll give her another planet. It’s all you have. Next month it’s Jupiter, you tell her, where the sky is a storm of color that never ends and the world is big enough for a thousand worlds to become as lost as that one time in the forest with your best friend…
You wonder if she’ll ever make memories like you did growing up, if your little baby girl will make memories at all. You can give her every star in the sky, but not the world outside and your promises mean nothing at all. But you keep making them.
You mute the television when she falls asleep holding the heavens in her hand and carefully pluck the sun and your heart from between her fingers and put them back inside her gowns front right pocket. Tomorrow is the first and you have to come up with how Mercury looks and you imagine it’s how you feel inside right now.
And then it hits you, these are the memories she’ll have, not forests and lakes and wild boys with handmade spears. Just you, sitting under a sharp white light telling her what the moons of other worlds look like while she maybe lives and maybe dies. So you better make the story good, dad, because she’ll either remember it forever, or it will be the only thing she ever has.
Ian Florida writes in Missouri, USA.