mommy’s hands were cold and clammy on my skin. Like piano keys. I felt bad, because I didn’t really like she was touching me when I was all snuggled into my blanket, and so close to havin’ a nice sleep. It had been so long too. And my whole body was so tired. And I felt bad, because I could hear her tellin’ daddy I shouldn’t fall asleep yet. She hadn’t finished the story yet. But I was tired, I couldn’t help it. I felt bad, I didn’t even have enough energy after my whole day to tell her I was sorry she didn’t finish the story. I was so tired. I curled up on my side and felt her clammy hands let go of me. I could feel she felt like I was killing her. She made a sad noise, maybe it was angry too. Then I felt daddy’s lips on my forehead, and mommy’s lips on my cheek. They told me goodnight and I bet they turned off my big girl light and left on the Tinkerbelle nightlight by the door like usual, but my eyes were closed so firm I cant tell you for sure. I was so tired. I was ready to sleep. ************ The forest is a very deep and uncertain place, even a little girl’s own dreams. I am always honored to guide them. I held her hand, as she moved with more energy that she had possessed for months, and it was beautiful. We stopped every so often, and she picked up a stick, or pointed out a deer as we made our way deeper into the woods. I told her it was a long walk, when we stopped for lunch. She offered me part of a nutella and cucumber sandwich, and I rejected with a giggle. I stick primarily to the waters, wines and wheats of these woods. We sat underneath an Oak. We were just about the place where the trees tower too high to see above. Even if you have wings. I once asked my father where the tops lie, and he said only that I was lucky they didn’t disturb me at night. By afternoon we had made it past the tower her prior dreams had built to keep her from growing fond of her future. We climbed the stairs one by one hand in hand. When we reached the top and looked down at the forest she asked me about the snow that began to fall. Her face was pale and she stuck her torso out the tower window like a puppy does on a car ride. She tossed up arms up in the air, as if she was to worship and said to me with snow laced lashes: “This is the warmest I have felt in a long time.” And I remember, as I summon her face in my memory; why my job is such a beautiful thing. She loosened her mind, and the tower began to fall, brick by brick. Never forcefully, never too quick. They slid away like melting sugar crumbles of cotton candy. She and I stood, hand and hand, tasting the snow on our tongues as we fell. We weren’t dizzy like we would have been were we not yet this deep in the wood, and the change in altitude caused us no discomfort. When the walls she had once built to confine her imagination were belittled to a mere pedestal we stepped off into the snow and swam among the flakes even deeper into the woods. She would swear she felt a mermaid slink by, and she would ask me if I heard the dolphins chirp as we swam hand in hand. I reached down for her, into the depths of what had become a sea made of the snow flakes that were keeping her warm and I drew up a shell and whispered to her that the mermaids use them for barrettes. She asked me to tie it into her hair and I obliged, and told her that the sea would remember and welcome forever to come. Eventually she tired of swimming and held onto the dorsal of a dolphin. The beast pulled her along, up and down and up and down. When she would break the sea’s surface she would toss up her arms and touch tree branches and pet woodland creatures who kept safe above the water. I could hear her giggle, and it brought me pleasure. Her long blonde hair shook and waved below the water and she looked just like a mermaid with her shell in her hair. Eventually we were so deep in the sea that it began to shallow again and the dolphins had no room to sink back into the safety of their salty homes so they sprouted legs and tails and grew brown fur and we rode swimming horses, hand and hand, up and down and out of the sea. On land our stags solidified and began to circle. The snow persisted so an umbrella spouted and covered us and our circling companions and before she realized we were above the wooded ground riding a carousel up and down and up and down. And when the horses reached the highest point she would toss her hands up and feel the silk and velvet strips of umbrella that covered us. When night fell and the forest quieted I was ready to spend her night with her. We rode the sun on its way down from the heavens that were no longer out of reach and we slid down her rays like playground slides into big piles of dark and safe forest leaves. And eventually, like they usually do, she tired of running and playing and falling and frolicking and sat in her pile of leaves until they covered and kept her like the warmest and softest most lovely blanket could only dream of doing. I recalled seeing her beg the heavens to let her sleep for weeks before and I was moved to tears as I saw her small body lay before me in comfort and peace. The best part being I could know that she was really comfortable, that her child mind wasn’t fettered by thoughts of her breath and parents and pain anymore. I was pleased beyond all the glory we had seen in the day by the way that night had finally given to her what every child deserves. In the morning we woke with the sun. I was sad to know it was the end, and I feel like she knew we had reached the deepest depths of the woods as well. With the sun above us but not yet lit, and the moon beside it but turned off for the day, we waited in silence; hand and hand. I cant tell you how long passed before the unicorn met us. I didn’t hear her coming up the path, and usually I do. She snorts and sways a lot when she moves. I would too, if I had her job. I remember the girls face when she got close enough to come into focus. “Unicorn” she whispered. She stood and looked at me for permission to approach the beast. I smiled at her for the last time. Her shell barrette winked at me in the unicorn’s aura of light, and I held back tears I didn’t know I could produce. The girl’s skin wasn’t pale, her face wasn’t sad and I know that she could tell I wanted the story to go on but she was too tired for any more. I helped her on to the beast’s back, and she petted her long white mane. The horned horse nayed and slowly cantered away from our perfect place in the woods. My hands grew cold and clammy when they broke away from hers. She looked so beautiful riding off into everything beyond these woods. She tossed her hands up, as if in worship, and was gone out of sight. I missed her before I could fall to my knees in my white dress, dirtying it with mortal emotion and bow my head as if to pray. The long walk back out of these woods is lonely and there is no snow and no sea and no hand to hold. ********* The funeral home was cold and clammy. The piano keys were the only color in the room. I stood before the casket that held my seven year old baby on shaking heels. I held her cold and clammy hand in mine and looked at her blonde wavy hair one last time. I wanted her buried in the silly shell barrette I found her in the morning of her passing, although it didn’t match the dress we put her in. She had loved it and worn it all the time and I hoped that in whatever darkness between here and heaven she was enduring, it could bring her some comfort. I told her I was sorry I tried to keep her awake. I told her I was sorry it hurt. I told her that I loved her, and tucked the book she didn’t hear but knew the end of in beside her. Then one last time I felt my daughter’s cheek beneath my lip and my husband felt her forehead beneath his. The walk back to the churches benches was cold and wet with tears and we were fortunate only in that we could take it hand and hand.