Packing for the Moon
by Dean Francis Alfar
Sam’s eyes are closed, her small frame propped up against three pillows.
“Sam?” I knock softly at her door. “Are you sleeping already?”
Her eyes bolt open and her face breaks into a smile. “Dad,” she laughs. “If I were asleep then you’d have woken me up.”
I nod in agreement and sit on her bed. “You have to, soon. Big day tomorrow.”
“I know,” she answers, expelling a sigh. “But I get a story, right?” She blinks her brown eyes once, twice.
“No need for the puppy-dog look, Sam,” I tell her while rolling my eyes. “You get all the stories you want.”
“Maybe just one for tonight, Dad,” she says, stifling a yawn. “I’m kind of tired.”
“Okay, let me get the book.” For the past six months, since her seventh birthday, we’ve been making our way through Stories From Around the World, the hefty hardcover that I ordered online for her. “Now, where were we?”
“China,” she says. “We read the Lantern story and the Fishy story... and the one about the Wall. That was cool.”
I find our place in the book. “Well,” I say, looking at the illustration. “We could try another country.”
“No, no,” she says. “Let’s finish China. What’s the title of the next one?”
“The Princess and the Moon.” I show her the painting of a princess and what looks like a fireworks-powered rocket ship.
“Looks good.” She shifts position on the bed, squinting her eyes like she does when she’s concentrating — my cue to get started.
One of the things I love doing for Sam most is telling her stories. I clear my throat and begin to read, giving voice to the petulant princess who demanded from her father a trip to the moon. I speak for the imperial advisors, who tell her that the trip was impossible, that many many things will be needed and that the moon is no place for a young girl, much less the princess of the empire.
I tell Sam how the princess stamped her feet and held her breath until everyone gave way, and how the rocket ship was built, with firecrackers for propulsion — pausing to show her the illustration again, which made her laugh and say “I get it, Dad.”
I enumerate all the things that were needed to keep the princess safe and secure, well-fed and well-clothed, as well as entertained: crates full of marvelous mechanical soldiers armed to the teeth with various miniature weapons; silver trays and covered gold serving dishes of fruit, vegetables, and dainty sugary treats; teakwood chests filled with formal clothes in case the moon was cold, as well as an astounding number of parasols, fans and handkerchiefs in case the moon was untowardly warm; plus an exhaustive list of the princess’ favorite entertainers, in case the moon turned out to be boring, including acrobats, singers, falconers, storytellers, and the Chief Vizier’s little boy who played Go very well (he knew enough to always lose).
But with everything piled into the small rocket ship, there simply was no room for the princess. Her father, finally showing some backbone, canceled the trip and that was the end of that.
Sam crinkles her nose. “What a silly girl.”
“Why?” I ask, returning the book to the bottom of her night table.
“Well, she took too many things with her,” Sam says with conviction. “I’d take only what was really important. Let’s make a list, Dad. You know, of really important things to take. You make one and I make one.”
“We will when we get back from the hospital, okay?”
“Okay,” she mock-frowns before breaking into a smile. “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you, Sam.” I kiss her three times, once on each side of her face and once on her forehead. I look at my little fighter of a daughter and wish her the best dreams on earth.
* * *
Our projected overnight stay at the hospital extends into four days when her doctors order more tests; into two weeks when all of the tests say that the cancer has returned; into three months when they determine that it is only a matter of time.
She will get better. Because she’s Sam. Because she’s my daughter. Because I believe she will. She’s a fighter, my little fighter. She’s tougher than any kid I know. I know she will make it. There is no doubt in my mind. There can be no doubt.
The last time I see Sam, her breathing is slow and she cannot open her eyes. I sit next to her and tell her every story I can remember, all her favorites as well as the ones she didn’t really like.
I talk and do the voices of peasant boys and princesses and talking horses and everyone lets me, until hospital protocol requires them to take her away from me.
I cannot stop. I do not want to stop.
I drown instead, when the heaviness becomes too much, too real, too soon.
* * *
The house feels empty. My heart insists that she’s watching TV in the den, or reading a book upstairs, or brushing her teeth in the bathroom.
I sleep on the couch. I sleep for days. Until sleep retreats completely.
I climb the stairs and stand at the door of her bedroom. My hand on the doorknob is shaking. Let her be inside. Let her be in bed, with her feet snug and warm under the comforter. Let her be sleeping. Or awake. Let her be.
She’s not inside.
I don’t know how long I sit on her bed, feeling the hollowness inside me expand. I bury my face in her pillows.
I see the big book at the bottom of her night table and pick it up.
There is a piece of paper sticking out, in the section of China, at the end of “The Princess and the Moon.”
It’s a list. I only manage to read the first few items before my eyes become useless.
Important Things To Pack For The Moon
Copyright © 2012 by Dean Francis Alfar