He was becoming a bit of a hoarder. Junk seemed to be pilling up more and more since his wife got sick. Up in the attic, boxes upon boxes of newspaper were scattered about and he didn’t understand why. Out back are car parts for cars that he doesn’t own. All he has is an outdated van, a rusty truck, and a camper.
The camper had two beds. When it was warm enough, he would open it up and her, his wife, and himself would sleep out back. Although they probably looked crazy, he knew what it meant to the girl.
She would pretend they were in a forest. She could look out the windows and actually see it. Trees towering over the camper, specks of light spotting the ground. Fairies flew by the windows. Bees whispered in her ear.
She was constantly in this realm that she had created in her head. Her eyes always darting and alight. Yet he didn’t need to imagine the beauty, it was laying right in front of him. Sometimes the child would sneak out of her side and whisper in his wife’s ear. She would groggily pull herself out from his warm covers, and into the girl’s.
They would lay there, an arms distance away, yet somewhere else entirely. His wife would complain about the iciness of her toes and she would giggle and snuggle closer. His wife closed her eyes while the girl’s were still looking out the mesh window. Seeing things that no one else could. His wife would pet the child’s head and sing about her sunshine. His wife’s cracking voice added to the otherworldliness of the moment.
As the child snuggled up to her, she had knocked his wife’s oxygen mask out of her nostrils. He would fix it once they both were sound asleep. Her voice trailed off and was replaced by a soft snoring. The cars had stopped. All that could be heard was a few lone crickets and the low hum of the oxygen. The girl didn’t understand why his wife’s hair had fallen out or why her skin seemed to cling to only bones. Instead, she just helped brush her wig and paint her nails. Right now, his wife had about an inch of hair that stuck up every way. But the treatments had started again so he knew it was only a matter of time until she lost it.
He focused on the child. Her eyes were moving more slowly. Her skin that was yet to be ravaged by the world, was glowing in the light of the lamp. She was entirely unaware of everything around her, her mind always somewhere else. He felt gratitude fill in his chest and felt honored that when she looked at him and his wife, her eyes fell on them; she saw him. Out of all the beautiful things she saw, she still beamed when she looked at them. He studied her face again and saw that her eyes had closed. They were completely still under her eyelids. He wondered if she ever dreamt when she slept since she was constantly dreaming while awake. If so, was it about the real world or her realm? Were her dreams filled of dying nanas and cracked sidewalks or fairies who danced on moonlight.
He looked at his wife. Her face was slightly wrinkled and completely covered in freckles, a complete contrast to the child’s pale skin. Her hair used to be long and shockingly red. That is what initially drew him to her. It was the reddest hair he had ever seen. In the recent years, before sickness, her hair had begun to gray. This is the second time it has grown back, and about to be the third time to lose it. Each time it had lost more and more gray and returned to it’s youthful red. It used to give him hope but now it killed him. He knew that there was no denying what was going to happen. Fifty years and he only felt more strongly for her, especially after watching her fight like this. He forced himself to stop thinking about the future and brought himself back. His eyes focused on the shaky, cadence of her breath. He watched intently. Praying that it wouldn’t stop.