Everyone in our neighborhood knew Angela. She was my curly-haired little girl with the energy of a rocket engine. She loved to play all sorts of games with the other first graders on our street. Days and evenings would be filled with laughter and joy as they played soccer in a nearby field, street hockey to the annoyance of motorists, and hide & seek which, in time, made the kids exceptional at hiding from their parents.
On a cool October day, I came home to the sweet smell of chocolate cookies, which was strong enough to be smelled from the front door. Instead of hoarding the cookies of her labor, Angela invited all of her friends over and shared them. With the trusty help of Lucie, my wife, Angela became nearly prodigious at baking. She rapidly progressed to muffins, banana bread and even pies. She would share her baking with the world when she was all grown-up, she said. I’ll never forget her saying, with a huge grin, “Eating my delicious apple pie makes everyone feel better!”
Lucie and I tucked in Angela after a rewarding Halloween plunder, and went to bed ourselves. I tossed and turned, and Lucie couldn’t sleep either.
“We need to tell her, Phil,” she said in a hush tone.
I shook my head. “We did. She knows.”
Lucie turned on the small nightstand lamp.
“She doesn’t know that it’s in the final stage. How long are we going to keep this from her? I don’t think it’s right, Phil,” she said.
I rubbed my wife’s shoulder, but she replaced my hand back on my side of the bed. I sighed.
“I don’t want Angela to live her last days in fear,” I raised my voice.
“She has a right to know!” Lucie countered.
“And I want her to be happy!” I felt my face heat up, and I realised I needed to lower my voice or Angela would have heard us. “Why did we take her off chemo? Because it wasn’t working and it made her feel miserable. Imagine telling her that she might only have days or weeks left to live—what will that do to her?”
“I’m not imagining. We need to tell her. Tomorrow. Phil, we need to confront this together, as a family, just as we did when we first learned about it.”
I grumbled. We talked for another hour, mulling over our options, and the consequences on Angela. In the end, we decided we would sit down and talk to Angela about it tomorrow.
It was the first of November—a cold, miserable day.
Lucie was up before me, and told me what she saw. She couldn’t bear to be in the house any longer and went outside to call the paramedics. Her voice shook and her body trembled, and the chilly morning air didn’t help.
We knew the day could come, but we refused to believe it. On that day, it hit us like a heavy hammer. That morning, I saw Angela lying in bed, her expression peaceful, as if in a deep sleep. I felt my entire world torn from its roots. I felt immaterial, like a weightless ghost. There was my little Angela, her hands cold and body rigid, and all color faded from her face. I sat on the edge of the bed, and it took a few minutes before the shock of it all settled in. Why her? What did my little girl do to deserve brain cancer?
Then my throat felt tight, my stomach tense and my eyes hot. The world was painted with watercolor. I cried and cried, until no more tears flowed, and shivered while grasping for air. No parent should ever see his or her child die.
I wiped my face on my sleeve, and wrapped my little Angela with the bed cover and saw a glimpse of her bare back, which was bruised dark with pooled blood. The image haunts me to this day.
Her curly hair brushed my cheek as I held her close in a final embrace. I remembered how happy she was to see her golden hair grow back after we stopped medication. I walked silently across the hallway. The door outside was open, and flooded the dark hallway with bright light.
Time stopped working, and it stretched and slowed as I held Angela’s cold body. I kept walking towards the door, though my legs felt weak and my pacing unbearably slow.
Lucie saw me, covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Emergency services were ready with a covered stretcher. I stood in front of it for a while, with the weight of the world in my arms.
I didn’t want to let her go.
Lucie came and rubbed my shoulder, telling me more with a gentle touch than words ever could, and brought me out of my paralysis. I gently placed our little angel on the stretcher. Lucie and I gave her a last kiss on the forehead. The paramedics wrapped her in a sheet, and in an instant, she was gone. Her body was covered from view, her bright blond curls hidden under the sheet.
Months afterwards, on a freezing cold winter day, I came home late after an overtime shift at work. As soon as I opened the door, the delicious smell of apple pie nearly overwhelmed me. It was the first time Lucie baked since Angela’s death. Warm slices sat on two plates, flanked by glasses of milk. We ate silently at first, then we started to talk about all the good memories we had with Angela, something we hadn’t done much since November. Remembering was difficult and painful at first. The wounds were still fresh, but talking made us feel better.
I recalled what Angela said about her apple pie, and for the first time in a long while, I smiled.