There’s not a lot I remember.
It’s dreamy. That’s for sure. There was a hallway, filled with chalky yellow light—and a sky, choked with blues. Thousands of butterflies, all spindly bodies and papery wings . . . and there was a field of purple grain, wafting like an feathery ocean, soft dirt crumbling in my small hands.
There was a boy, also.
He was older than me, sprawled across the furry violet grain. In his hand were tails of ribbons attached to great yellow balloons above his head.
The voice is a young soprano, breaking through the vision.
“Lucy? Wake up.”
I stir, and the butterflies in the sky scatter.
My eyes open.
A little girl is sitting in front of me. A pretty girl, maybe ten years old, wearing a nightgown and no shoes.
She smiles at me and somehow She feels like an old friend.
“Where am I?”
The room is small, blank, and soft white, like someone rubbed everything over in bleach. I’m on the floor, cross-legged. There’s no one in the room but me and the girl. It’s warm in here, a little stuffy, smelling faintly of sugar, and to the left of us is a window exposing a rectangle of bright blue sky. A pleasant breeze rustles the tall cotton curtains.
The girl answers, “You’re home.”
“My home’s not like this.” I muse. “Am I . . . in heaven?”
“Maybe.” Her voice is springy. “Do you think you are?”
“Well, am I?”
“Who are you ?”
She smiles. “That’s the big question, isn’t it?”
I blink. “How long have you been in this place?”
She pauses to think. Then: “A very, very long time.”
“Are you dead?”
She doesn’t answer. Her solemn eyes raise to me. They’re too quiet for a child. Suddenly I have a feeling the little girl knows—a lot of things, about me, about us, and why we’re here. She’s waiting for me to figure it out.
After a moment, She says, “What do you remember, Lucy?”
“Oh. The dreamy things from earlier?” I pause. “Well . . . there was a boy . . . And I think he was my brother.”
“Yeah,” I say, certain now. “We were in a beautiful place together. And he was holding these balloons. . .” I hold out my hand to mimic the way he held the ribbons. “They were yellow. . .”
The memory is rustling back toward me, clearer and clearer. He and I were lying down in that wonderland of purple grain and above us was a glorious, flawless expanse of dark night, dusted with tiny white stars. The purple grain prickled my skin like an animal’s coat.
“Lucy,” the boy was saying, his balloons swaying above us, “isn’t it nice?”
“Yes, Tom.” My lungs felt tight. My voice was hoarse. “It is.”
“Aren’t you glad I brought you here?”
I was beginning to realize why my lungs felt tight—I didn’t have my machine with me. The one the doctor promised would keep my lungs happy.
“I’m glad,” I said quietly. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry we can’t do this more often.”
“We could from now on,” I said, only because his voice sounded so sad and I wanted it not to be.
That’s when he turned onto his side to face me. His face was wet. With tears?
“Close your eyes, Lucy.”
My lips were salty. “I don’t want to, Tom.” I coughed. “My chest hurts.”
“Just . . . just do it.” He exhaled. “When you wake up, it won’t hurt anymore.”
A heaviness settled over me. I saw the chalky hallway full of light, appearing behind my eyelids . . .
As I drifted off, the boy released his balloons, their thirteen yellow bodies fleeing into the sky.
When I open my eyes, the girl is watching me.
In Her hand, She’s holding the ribbon tails of thirteen yellow balloons.
“Happy birthday,” She says, holding them out.
I stare at them. My lungs feels loose, and airy.
“I’m dead, aren’t I?”
There’s no answer, but that’s answer enough.
A brief sadness shuttles over my heart. “What do I do now?”
My words are weary like an old traveler’s. And it’s true; I am a traveler. And I’ve reached the destination we’re all born for.
The girl nods toward the window. “The sky is yours, if you want it.”
The fresh breeze, smelling like powdered pastries from my childhood, tousles my hair. Then I’m climbing up onto the sill, bare toes curling against the edge. Everything in me feels floaty.
“Careful, now,” the girl says, coming beside me. “You have two choices.”
My eyes flicker up at the gorgeous sky, made of butterflies, yawning above us. Then my gaze tilts down. A planet curves beneath us, indigo and emerald, shrouded in mist. Tiny golden lights of cities glitter.
Understanding ripples through me. I could go back and live a life without a machine. A life with permanently happy lungs.
But my heart tugs in a different direction.
I crouch to jump off.
But first I pause. I look back at the girl.
“Are you God?”
Her eyes are warm and merry and full of sky. “Maybe.”
My gaze flickers to Her balloons. “When my brother gets here, tell him to meet me sometime. Somewhere. Okay?”
I turn back to the window. I take a long, deep breath—the first one I’ve ever had—and launch myself away into the blue.
Exhilaration pounds through me. I whoop in delight and tumble in cartwheel, falling up in endless sky. I’m so happy, I can’t breathe. Butterflies swarm to me, delicate wings like makeup brushes velvet on my skin—they’re whispering, join us—but for a moment, I twist onto my back to peer down.
The girl is still at the window, watching me.
I salute, then flip around, shutting my eyes, letting butterflies soak through my skin to make me one of them.
There’s not a lot I remember.