One Last Wish
"How are you feeling?" Doctor Macy ran her fingers through Ruby's hair, her eyes glistening with a sadness the little girl had grown accustomed to. It'd been a while since Ruby arrived in the children's ward. Diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour spreading like wildfire, Ruby often heard the doctors around discussing her case. They used big words Ruby didn't understand, but she could tell by watching. The way her aunt would clutch her chest and lean onto her brother. The way her father would wrap his arms around his sister, his shoulders hinting at the fear he was desperate to hide. The way they would smile at her, a smile forced through the pain Ruby knew they felt for her. Then they would tell her she had nothing to worry about.
"Kids get sick all the time. Soon enough, you'll be out into the world eating ice cream with your friends. Don't you worry your little head, and just focus on getting better."
Ruby knew the truth though. She was dying, and the doctors couldn't fix her.
"The scheduled surgery..." Ruby heard her father say and she turned to look. His hair was disheveled, his glasses hung crooked on his face. The bush on his chin was evidence that he hadn't shaved in weeks, and his bloodshot eyes proof he'd not had any sleep. Ruby wished he wouldn't worry so much. She didn't have a mother, and seeing her father like this made her heart hurt.
If she were to leave, he wouldn't have anyone left.
"We just needed to run a few more tests to make sure everything was in accordance," Doctor Macy handed her father a document to sign. Ruby liked Doctor Macy. She was pretty, much like the barbie dolls Ruby had grown up playing with. "We'll be wheeling her to the OR in a moment."
"She's going to be fine." Her father asked, his voice whimpering with hope. "Right Doctor?"
"We're going to do the best we can." Doctor Macy smiled her sad smile again. Just how many parents did the Doctor have to assure this way? Ruby had seen other children in this part of the hospital, some with lighter cases but a few more severe than hers. How much pain, Ruby wondered, could Doctor Macy bear to see? More so with that sad smile of hers. If nothing else, Ruby felt pity for the Doctor.
Why should she pity anyone but herself in this moment?
The nurses came over to her bed then, and Ruby turned her gaze back to the ceiling. They lifted her body onto what felt like a different bed, and it began to move. She felt her father take her hand in his, and she turned to look at him.
"The doctor said you're going to be fine," her father lied as he clasped her hands tight. Ruby stared at the tears that threatened to fall from his eyes. She didn't want to see him cry. If he cried now, her heart would break and she knew she could not handle it. She stretched her lips into a sweet smile, but the oxygen mask thwarted her efforts. Her father leaned down and placed his forehead against Ruby's.
"When you are feeling better, I'll take you anywhere you want to go."
Ruby watched her father cry, and she began to cry as well. She didn't want to die- she'd not lived a long enough life to tell stories. She wanted to watch her rose garden blossom in the summer. She wanted to visit the skating rink with Tommy from next door. She wanted her mother to hold her and tell her everything would be okay.
But she knew that none of these would be possible.
"I want to visit the aquarium." Ruby uttered the first words she'd spoken in a while. Her father smiled through his tears, and kissed her temples softly. He nodded and used his fingers to wipe her stained cheeks.
"Once you're all better, lets go to the aquarium. We'll look at the jellyfish and watch a dolphin show!"
Ruby watched her father's figure slowly disappear as they wheeled her into an empty room. They removed the oxygen mask from her face and covered it with a new mask. Soon enough, her breathing slowed down and her vision blurred.
"I love you so much sweetheart." Ruby heard her father’s voice in her head, but she was unable to respond. Her eyelids were heavy, and although she fought to keep herself awake, her body felt like a weighted blanket had been placed over it.
"We'll see you when you wake up." Doctor Macy said with one last smile.
Then Ruby closed her eyes.
It was finally time. Her father was taking her to the aquarium!
"Slow down Rubes, you're going to fall!" Ruby heard her father call out for her, but she didn't care. The aquarium was bigger than Ruby had imagined. There were fishes everywhere! Clownfish, puffer fish, goldfish-
"Dad, look!" Ruby stopped before a tank and stared in awe. "It's jellyfish!"
The jellyfish moved as though time was slowed for them, drawing Ruby further in. The way their tentacles wriggled, as though they were saying their hellos to her, and the way their bodies glowed from within. Thanks to the jellyfish, her father finally caught up to her. He lifted her in his arms and nudged her nose with his.
"Please don't run off on your own Rubes," he said as he pecked her cheek. "I can't keep up."
"Sorry dad." Ruby smiled. She pointed down the hall as though in a hurry, and her dad chuckled. They soon encountered the penguins. The nice lady let her feed a baby penguin in the nursery, and she had her picture taken to prove it. They crawled through a tunnel that stretched across a dangerous reef, various types of sharks swimming around them. Then they visited the glass bottom boat adventure and the dolphin show. Ruby ran from glass to glass, the aquarium seeming to get bigger the more she explored.
"Hurry up, dad!" Ruby stopped and panted, turning around to look for her father.
"Dad?" Ruby called out for him, but her father was no where to be seen. She retraced her steps, walking down the now empty halls of fishes as she searched for him. Rather than her father, she encountered a woman.
That was when she heard the song.
It was a beautiful tune that enveloped Ruby like a warm blanket in the winter. The woman sang, her hair a bright blue that flowed like the homes of the fishes. She followed the woman as though in a trance, entering the mermaid cove in little steps.
"Little girl," the woman stopped singing and perched on a rock. She smiled and motioned Ruby over. Although shy, Ruby stalked over to the woman and tilted her head to the side. The woman fell back into the little pool of water behind her, and the most magical thing that Ruby had ever seen occurred. The woman's legs disappeared and a long beautiful tail appeared. It was a stunning blue, much like the woman's hair, adorned with many shades of purple, blue and silver scales.
"Woah!" Ruby rushed over to the water and gazed at the woman's tail. "Are you a mermaid?"
"Why yes, I am." The woman giggled. She pulled herself onto the rock, her tail hanging to the side like a magnificent skirt. She pulled her locs over her shoulder and began combing her fingers through the knots. "My name is Leia."
"You're beautiful, miss Leia." Ruby said out of breath as she reached over to the mermaid's tail. "Can I touch it?"
"But of course," Leia chuckled, pulling Ruby's hand onto the tail. The mermaid's tail although beautiful, was different than Ruby had imagined. The scales felt like sandpaper, but the tail itself was slimy and grossed her out.
"Eww," Ruby tittered. She wiped her hands on the side of her jeans and glanced up at Leia. "What are you doing here in the aquarium?"
Leia gazed at Ruby and placed a palm on the little girl's cheek. Ruby held her breath, a placid smile stretched on her lips.
"I'm here for you, Ruby Sage. Your dad's in a lot of pain."
The mermaid's tail swayed back and forth in the water, causing little circles of rainbows when the scales hit the light. "You can make his pain go away."
"I don't think so. Dad's always been in pain-" Ruby shook her head. She was sat on the edge of the pool, trying to catch the little rainbows in her palm. "ever since mom died."
"Do you miss your mom?"
"Sometimes," the little girl looked up at the mermaid, "especially now."
Leia watched Ruby as she played with the lights, and felt a tug in her heart. This lost child- the world had taken everything from her but she smiled in her innocence. Such a young child fated to live a painful life, it angered Leia.
"Can I become a mermaid like you?"
Leia was pulled from her thoughts and gazed at the little angel, her smile reassuring.
"Of course you can. You will have the most beautiful tale in all of the world, one that will be told in legends to come."
Ruby's eyes lit up with joy, envisioning herself as a mermaid. There would be no more pain, no more tears, and she could live with the fishes! How splendid that would be! She would tell the story of when her father took her to the aquarium and she met a real life mermaid! How she turned into a mermaid and swam alongside the jellyfish! Her father-
The instant she thought about her father, the one she would leave behind, she frowned.
"What about dad?"
"He would miss you very much," Leia reached over and patted Ruby's head, her stroke gentle as though she were petting the corals on a reef. "But you would be happy, and that's all he ever wanted."
"I couldn't possibly leave him behind," Ruby muttered. She picked at a stray thread in her t-shirt, avoiding the mermaid's gaze. If she became a mermaid, she would never see her father again. She would never feel the warmth of his hugs or hear the sounds of his laughter. Sounds she hadn't heard in a long while. If she were to leave him...Ruby couldn't bear the thought.
"He could come visit you at the aquarium!"
Hearing the mermaid say that, Ruby's heart was a bit relieved. That's right! Although she wouldn't live with him, her father could always come visit her at the aquarium. Ruby knew how much her sickness had caused her father to struggle. She'd watched him live a life that slowly deteriorated, and realized that if she lived as a mermaid, free from any sickness or pain, her father would be happier as well. He may be sad at first, but he would be free to live his life and not have to take care of a sick child.
Wouldn't that be better?
Ruby pursed her lips, deep in thought. Leia stared at Ruby, and her eyes began to water. The poor child- surely the Goddess would take pity on her in another life.
"Okay, I'll go with you."
Leia prayed for Ruby's soul. She hoped for the child to be born to loving parents who cherished her, and she would live the rest of her life by their side, without sickness or death. The mermaid placed her palm on Ruby's heart and muttered soft prayers- soon enough, a white light enveloped Ruby's legs.
"Woah!" Ruby beamed as she watched the transformation. Her jeans had disappeared along with her legs, and in it's place was a silvery pink tail. It swayed like silk floating in water, and was covered in clear scales that shone brightly. "It's beautiful!"
"The most beautiful tail I ever did see!" Leia booped Ruby's nose and the little mermaid giggled. Diving into the water, Ruby was fascinated with her new tail. She swirled around, doing backflips and front flips in the water, while Leia gazed at the child, her smile tender. Ruby swam back up to the surface and Leia pulled the child closer.
"Are you ready to go meet the fishes?"
"Yes!" Ruby exclaimed. She paused, looking up at Leia with uncertainty in her eyes.
"Can I say goodbye to my dad though?"
Leia sighed and shook her head. She placed her palm on the girl's head and patted her softly. "Your father will miss you very much, but he'll be in a happier place and so will you."
Leia wiped the little one's tears and pulled her into a hug, closing her eyes as the child sobbed. She was reminded of her past, how brutal and agonizing her journey had been, and she felt pity for the child. The human body lived with time and couldn't last forever, but it is said that the soul did. Leia knew, having crossed the line between life and death, that the suffering of one life would not carry onto the next. Soon enough, the memories of one's current existence would fade as their new one began- that was the beauty of life's circle. Leia began to sing, hugging the child tightly to her chest as they swirled in the water.
"My strong and brave little one,
You will be just fine.
Even though your time has come,
Swim free with a smile.
Your soul and theirs are intertwined,
The stars, they watch aligned.
My strong and brave little one,
You will be just fine."
Doctor Macy pulled a white sheet over the child's body, her heart sad and arms heavy. She took a deep breath, barely stopping her tears as she placed a palm on the child's heart.
8 years old.
Time of death,