Millie Olsen ran home from her elementary school, and jumped into the elevator in her New York City apartment building. It was a warm Autumn day; school had just started and the leaves on the trees that resided on Millie’s street were starting to turn. She was so excited for Autumn, and wanted to make sure she enjoyed her favorite season, as well as the fact that her birthday was coming up in November. The slight winds would pick up her long read hair, and the sun would make her blue eyes shimmer. The freckles on her cheeks would compliment the wide grin that spread across her face when she ran through the crisp autumn air.
As she rode up the elevator, she could not wait to tell her mother, Anita, everything she had done at school, and what she was hoping to do tomorrow. Anita was a prim woman, with hair just like Millie’s, and eyes the color of the sea. Millie loved her for her fun-loving attitude, and she was also very responsible. Their apartment was always neat and tidy; she couldn’t stand to look at a mess. Eagerly awaiting Millie’s return from school, she sat at the countertop in their kitchen and read the weekly newspaper.
Millie burst through the door excitedly yelling, “Mama, you’ll never believe what we learned today!”
She proceeded to tell Anita, about all of her friends she spent time with, the cool experiment she did in science, all of the writing she did in English, the new Math concept she learned, and the new explorer she studied. Millie was in fourth grade, and absolutely loved every minute of school.
“Wow, that’s something,” her mother responded. She was always impressed with how excited Millie was about anything and everything she did.
However, about a week later, Millie came home from school rather nonchalantly, and didn’t have anything exciting to say; she didn’t even seem excited in general. This was rather strange, but Anita figured it may have been something small, and that she’d be over it by dinner.
Dinner came and went, without anything from Millie. Afterward, she simply moped off to bed without a peep. Her mother grew worried, but when she went to talk to her, Millie was already asleep. She kissed her on the forehead, closed the door, and went to bed herself.
Anita couldn’t help but worry about Millie all through the night. She couldn’t sleep; she stared at her pale, white ceiling, sweating like she had just ran a marathon. Millions of thoughts flashed through her mind like lightning bolts in a thunderstorm. She worried for her daughter, and hoped that by morning, Millie would once again be her bright, chipper self, eager to start the day. However, when Anita got up the next morning to make her favorite Friday morning breakfast, she heard Millie groaning in pain. She rushed into her room.
“Millie, sweetie, what’s wrong?” She asked frantically.
“My stomach hurts,” she wailed.
Her mother checked her temperature, and the thermometer read 99.4°F.
“Oh, my. Millie, I’m taking you to a doctor, something isn’t right. Just sit tight, okay? I’ll be right back.”
Millie wearily smiled as Anita rushed out, and rushed right back in. She helped Millie get dressed, and shuffled her out the door and into the car to Doctor Larson’s office. They arrived quickly to the only place Millie ever dreaded, and Anita carried Millie into the tall box-shaped building. They walked into the doctor’s room, which it was filled with medical tools of every shape and size. The walls were painted sky-blue, Millie’s favorite color, up until this visit. She sat down in an old, creaky rocking chair, and swung slowly back and forth, as they waited for the doctor’s arrival. A few minutes later, he marched into the room in his collared shirt and tie, then sat down at his old, dilapidated desk. After he typed a few things into his computer, the doctor examined Millie closely, and ran many tests. He checked her blood for any unusual sightings, and they waited for results. Millie had been there the entire day. By 6:00pm, he leaned back, bracing himself for the rough news he was about to deliver.
“Understand that it is always very difficult for me to deliver this news to families,” Doctor Larson began, “Millie, I’m afraid, is showing signs of Neuroblastoma,” he finished. “Cancer,” he said more firmly.
Anita, shocked with the news, began to cry. Millie sat silently.
Doctor Larson escourted them out of the office saying, “Get lots of rest, and I will send you an email as soon as you leave regarding treatment. Best of luck dealing with this; we will try as hard as we can to cure it.”
Anita carried a weak Millie outside of the office. Millie was asleep, and Anita didn’t want to bother her. When they arrived home, Anita read the letter that the doctor had sent, telling her Millie needed to come every week for checkups and another time for treatment. She would not go to school either.
Millie slept for the rest of that day. When she woke up the next morning, her mother sat next to her on the bed.
“Mom, can I tell you something?” Millie asked.
“Of course, what is it?”
“Well, when I sleep, little fairies come visit me, and they tell me everything will be okay, and that I will live with them some day. Isn’t that something?”
“Oh, sweetie, don’t listen to them. Fairies don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“I still believe them.”
* * *
The next day, Millie was sent to the hospital for further treatment by her doctor. She can barely walk now, she is so weak. Her face has lost color, and so has her personality. As they walked into the hospital, a wave of cold air rushed around them. The hallway was sterile; only a painting of a flower hung crooked on the wall, above worn waiting room chairs and a small wooden table with a vase of fake flowers. When they checked in, they were greeted by a lady in hospital attire, a big smile spread across her face like she was happy to send these suffering children through the worst weeks of their lives. Millie didn’t smile back.
Lying in the hospital cot, she spent many nights staring at the ceiling, and many days sleeping away. She was in constant pain, and was sick of being sent for tests and taking medication. She loved to sleep, because she saw the fairies in her dreams. Sometimes she wishes they would come join her in real life, so that she could prove to her mom that they were real, but she was not so silly to think that was possible. So she remained, when she slept, in her own little bubble of fairyland. Some form of happiness for her, as they fluttered their golden wings, and played with her in their shining halos. Everyday, she slept, every night, she slept.
One day, she asked her mother to come and talk again.
“Mom,” she started, “fairies are real, I just know it.”
“Sweetie, I don’t want to crush your dreams, but I don’t want you to believe in something fake.”
“Mom, you don’t understand. They are real. They come talk to me, they see me in my dreams, they love me. Please, all I ask is that you believe me,” her voice rose with every phrase.
“Okay, okay,” her mother huffed.
That night, Millie cried silently in her cot. She was in excruciating pain, and she didn’t even have her mom to believe her fantasies. She felt hopeless, like nothing could go right at this point. Every day was the same, and her symptoms were growing worse. She ached everywhere, her eyes were always droopy, and although she lost her appetite, her stomach bulged out of her shirt. It didn’t matter anyway, she only ever wore hospital robes. People walked around her in gloves and gauze face masks, like they thought if she breathed on them, the sickness would pervade, and they would get sick. Were they stupid enough to think cancer is contagious? She thought solemnly.
Days came, and days went; life went on, painfully so. Millie called her mom in again.
“What is it? Something bothering you?”
“Actually, never mind,” she rolled over.
“Something’s bothering you.”
“Tell me, I want to help you.”
Millie took a long breath, and closed her eyes. There was a long pause.
Suddenly she blurted out, “I just want to die. Okay? I’m sick of this.”
Anita looked as if she had the wind knocked out of her, “My, oh my god. Please, oh please don’t go,” she cried, “please don’t go.”
She walked out of the room, dumbfounded, as Millie rolled over in her hospital cot.
The next day, Millie’s mother dragged her out of bed, and into clean clothes. She felt fresh when clad with the new clothes; hospital robes were getting old. They started to leave the hospital, and a big smile, the first one in many weeks, spread across her face from ear to ear.
However, right when she started to think that the hospital was far out of sight, they pulled right into another one. Or, at least, what looked like one. Her mother dragged Millie out of the car, but Millie stood strong.
“No, I’m not going in another one of these. I’m done, Mom, I’m truly, and seriously, done.”
Anita picked her up and carried her into the psychologist’s office. Feeling charts and cheesy “You’ll get through this!” posters hung on the wall. Millie sat there, cross-legged, cross-armed, and didn’t make a sound.
The psychologist asked, “Millie, tell me how you’re feeling, dear. What’s troubling you?”
“I understand something serious is going on; talk to me.”
Silence. Then, “Just stop, okay? I want everyone to stop. Stop caring about me, alright? Just leave me alone, that’s all I ask.”
The psychologist continued on with the session, but that was the only thing Millie said the whole time. She suggested they come back again, but Millie merely shook her head, almost in tears, as her mother closed the creaky door behind them. They drove straight back to the hospital, where Millie was helped back into her robes by the masked nurses. She stepped up into her cot, and fell asleep.
In her dream, the fairies visited once again, and they sang her beautiful songs, and danced beautiful dances. They meant so much to her, as much as a best friend or sister would. They invited her to come “live” with them in their endless province of fairies and castles. They all circled around her, and while singing, their power lifted her up into the sky. She floated up through the clouds, up away from the world she wanted to forget. She arrived with the fairies in what seemed like a wonderland, free to do whatever she pleased. Free of pain, nurses, and hospitals.
Anita woke up the next morning, and walked to wake Millie for her first test of the day.
“Millie,” she tapped her shoulder gingerly, “time to wake up.” No response from a lifeless Millie. “Honey?” Anita rushed to grab the doctor.
Nurses gathered around, as one of them grabbed a stethoscope to test her pulse. They waited in suspense. “Nothing,” she said solemnly.
Anita began to cry in endless sobs; Millie, her only daughter, her only child, had just succumbed, gone, taken by a monster. Or was it fairies?
Back in her New York City apartment, Anita ran straight into her bed; exhausted from months at the hospital. As she lay asleep, she dreamed of fairies. The fairies Millie had described, playing with her in what looked like a heavenly kingdom in the clouds. Millie, wearing a halo and a huge smile, sat outside a castle, and looked like she was having the time of her life. Watching this mesmerised Anita, but suddenly, she was jolted awake by a realization. Out of breath and sweating, she whispered to herself, “Fairies are real,” and fell slowly back into a deep sleep.