Escape Beyond the Sunset
His eyes lit up when she came into the room. Her princess dress flowed so perfectly to the floor and her beautiful blue eyes twinkled with joy. She played with the fabric of the dress and twirled around in it her long golden hair circling around her. She was like a beautiful princess dancing with her prince. “Gampa! Gampa! Gampa! This dress is bootiful!” She uttered using her three year old words, “All I need is my, Prince.” she giggled and blushed as she took her grandfather’s hands and danced with him.
“I’m glad you like it, Lily. Don’t tell your mom and dad I got it for you though. It will be our secret,” he smiled. He was so happy to spend any time he could with his granddaughter. She was everything to him and he was everything to her.
“Okieee, Gampa!” She said, rolling around playing with her dress. Her grandfather just watched her expectantly. What will she make of her life? Who will be the lucky guy to take her hand in marriage? How will she take the fact that I’m leaving her soon?
“Gampa! Gampa! What are you doing, Gampa?” She questioned as she ran to her grandfather. His eyes were sore and tired and his skin was rough and wrinkly. He had lived a full happy life, but he realized in that moment that he would never see his granddaughter reach her full potential. A tear fell off his cheek and Lily had noticed.
“It’s nothing, your majesty,” he curtsied as he played along with the princess game, “I just need to tell you something. Can you keep a secret?” Lily made an exaggerated nod. “Well – I’m going away for a while.”
“Whaaaattt? Away, Gampa? Like when Fishy went away?” She questioned as she tilted her head, not completely understanding what her grandfather was telling her.
“Yes, Lily. Remember when I told you about Fishy and how he went away to this magical place beyond the sunset? I’m going to go there too.” He shielded his eyes trying not to make the child see his tears.
“That’s not fair, Gampa! I want to go too! Why can’t I go?”
“No Lily, you can’t come. It isn’t your time yet. But one day, you’ll go beyond the sunset too and join me. That is when you will see me again, but that won’t be for a long time,” The grandfather said with sadness in his voice, “Here let me show you something. Can you keep another secret?” Lily nodded once again and the grandfather took her small innocent hand up and led her up into attic.
The attic was warm and dark, but the contents of the space illuminated the darkness. Stacked in the corner were bunches of old, dried oil paintings that the grandfather had once done while he was a young boy. The painting depicted different adventures in which he was the subject.
“To the touch they are just normal paintings, but to me each painting was a magical adventure.” He smiled and traced the contours of the canvas with his fingertips as he reminisced about all of the joys he had experienced in his long life.
My Sweet and Dear Princess Lily,
I am sorry that everything had to happen so soon, but this is not a goodbye. It is only a beginning for you my dear. Remember that secret long ago when I took you up into the attic? There was something even more special that I didn’t get the pleasure of showing you. Since I won’t need them any longer, I have given you the paints that I was given as a kid. Use them well and sparingly. I’m sorry that you’re receiving this letter on your twelfth birthday, but I wanted you to grow and learn to understand the importance of what I am giving to you. In this box, are the ingredients for happiness. All you have to do paint. Your imagination is endless, Lily. I love you.
Lily read the note again for the seventh time that night as she laid in bed. She knew that her grandpa was always there watching over her, because he was constantly a force that moved her to create the adventures in her paintings. She moved slowly out of the comforts of her bed and crawled over to her blank canvas and started to begin a new story
She imagined a beautiful sky full of greens and violets with fairies flying every which way ready to adorn her with their magical gifts. There were happy dancing elves and indigo butterflies dancing in the wind. The daffodils smelled like roses and the tulips smelled like lilacs. The trees were every color imaginable starting with red and ending in turquoise. She was lying in the grass, counting the stars, and naming the constellations. She was at peace and didn’t worry about the weakness of her knees and the coldness of her breath. She painted what she desired and what she desired came true.
These paints she received for her twelfth birthday were nothing like the ordinary. As Lily painted, the sky lit up as she painted it and when she painted the ocean, the smell of the tide filled her sickened lungs. When her paints touched the canvas, the scene immediately became real to her. It was like a drug induced haze that surrounded her when she painted. These images of fantasy filled her bedroom creating an effervescent veil around her.
She received the paints on her twelfth birthday. Her grandfather wanted it that way as written in his will. He had them in his attic stowed away and covered in dust. The paint was old, but its oily pigments still produced vibrant and magical colors. They blended and mixed with ease and Lily loved them with all her heart. They were a getaway from all the problems she was faced with in her premature life.
Lily was diagnosed with cancer after her grandfather’s death in the early years of life and was never the same since. Sometimes she would freeze up and couldn’t move and sometimes she coughed so hard she couldn’t breathe. She was so weak and frail that her doctor ordered her to stay inside her bedroom. She didn’t ever attend school. She had no friends. She was an only child. Her long golden hair was only a figment of her imagination. The only sunlight she got was from the window by her bed. She knew there would come a day that she wouldn’t be able to move at all and enjoy all the miracles she had created, so she painted everyday like it would be her last.
One day she painted a friend and they went to a playground together and they played on the swings. The wind blew so fast and swift through her golden hair that she forgot that she was sick. The air moved easily through her lungs with nostalgic smells of her childhood. The sounds of children laughing filled her heart and made it want to fall out of her chest. She shared in the laughter. In that moment she was one of the normal twelve year old little girls.
Waking up from her painting was the hardest part. She fell in love with the happiness she could have in her paintings because she made friends, had pets, and went on any adventure imaginable. She painted nearly every day unless she was tired from her chemo treatments. When she was done with a painting, she laid it down on the plush carpet that helped cushion her aching feet. The carpet was decorated with the purples, reds, and greens of the magical paint that missed the canvas. The floor in her room filled quickly as she finished a new canvas each and every day. Her mother began taking the dried pieces of her work and storing them away in the attic in a familiar way that reflected Lily’s experience of seeing how her grandfather’s works were stored.
Lily painted till her arm got tired and her body went numb. She would stop and collapse on her bed and sleep. When the paint was dry in the morning, she would start a new dream and paint until she would fall asleep. This routine went on for another six months until one morning when her worst nightmares became a reality.
She opened her eyes, looked over to her easel and smiled like it was a normal day of her “perfect” life. She wiggled her fingers then her toes, but when she tried to move her legs, nothing happened. When she tried her arms, nothing either. She was immobilized and looked around the room frantically, her heart racing. Her eyes were wet with tears as she screamed for her parents until her voice got too weak.
Her parents rushed in and tried to calm her, but they knew they couldn’t say or do anything that was going to make Lily feel better. She wanted to paint. They knew that. So, they took her into the doctors the next day.
Her mother wheeled her into the lobby of the office with her dad following behind. As Lily stared at the approaching building, she started to weep quietly. She didn’t want to hear the inevitable news. She just wanted to make believe and pretend that this was one of her paintings that she could just wait for to dry, and then disappear. But she knew she wouldn’t ever paint a miserable scene like this. All of her dreams were happy, fun, exciting, and full of so much life –
Life. That was something that she knew would be escaping her grasp soon. She was too weak to hold on to it especially since it slipped so easily through oily, painterly hands. Her paints were almost gone too. When they are gone, the magic and essence of her life will leave with it. She would soon follow and leave this world and join her grandfather in the world beyond the sunset. She knew her grandfather would think this time would be too early for her, but her fate was already written in the stars. She would miss her parents, even though they gave her so little care and love.
Since birth, Lily’s parents have always been overprotective. They would barely let her go outside and play as a little girl, for fear she would get sick. With the illness now, things have reached a breaking point. The mom and dad work nonstop in order to pay medical expenses, but when they are home, things are distant. Her parents are cautious about having contact with her, because they don’t want Lily to get worse. They love her with all their hearts. They all eat dinner together in Lily’s room and they go for car rides together for doctor appointments. But other than these instances and occasional other ones, she was mostly all alone.
When Lily’s name was called, her parents wheeled her into the small room that was decorated with flowered print wallpaper that contrasted with the white paint. The image calmed her as she thought back to the last painting she made before she couldn’t move:
She skipped through a field of flowers following a little boy into a cove that twinkled with diamond. There, the boy turned around and asked Lily, “If I told you a secret, would you promise me you wouldn’t tell anyone?” Lily nodded, smiled, and pinky swore. The boy smiled and opened his mouth, “Follow me.” He took Lily’s pale hand and led her into a small room.
In the room, the walls were adorned with paintings, several of them. There were paintings of princesses and kingdoms, of fairies and purple skies, and of butterflies dancing in the wind. They were all beautiful and unique.
Lily stared at all of the paintings that surrounded her and didn’t know what to say. She just stared at them, unmoving, and then looked at a single space that was barren on the wall. The space was big enough to place one more piece of art.
“This artwork… is it really all mine?” She stood and looked amazed.
“Yes, Lily. Doesn’t it all look breathtaking? It is like they are all from a dream,” the little boy said as he touched the first painting Lily ever painted. Painted on the canvas was a beautiful sky full of greens and violets with a little girl lying in the grass and looking up admiring the sky.
Lily gently traced lines on her masterpiece with her finger feeling the ridges of texture of the dried oil paint. It felt soothing on the skin and so familiar to her, “This was when I wished on the brightest star in the sky,” she said.
“What did you wish for? Your secret is safe with me,” the little boy smiled a smile familiar to her grandfather’s.
“I wished to be with you. Forever and ever,” Lily smiled.
Her daydream was interrupted when the door of the doctor’s office slowly creaked open and in walked a man in a white coat. The image was frightening to her. It ruined every ounce of happy thoughts that had once danced in her head. In his hands, were the results that were going to destroy any hope that was still alive in Lily’s heart. His face was straight and his fingers and hands were shaky. He looked at her parents and shook his head and then gazed into Lily’s eyes. They were timid and innocent and held so much potential, but would never have the strength to carry out a happy ending, “Lily, it doesn’t look good. I know you don’t like all of these treatments we have been giving you, but we have no choice to start you on a new treatment plan immediately. You won’t be able to move, but at least it will make you comfortable and take away some of the aches and pains you’ve been experiencing,” the doctor said.
“But, what about my paintings?” Lily asked with a very concerned voice that was on the verge of tears.
The doctor shook his head sadly, “There is no possible way you could do that. The motion just kills your body more, Lily. With this new treatment, you won’t be able to move at all. It is going to paralyze your muscles and make it easier on your heart. If you don’t take it, I’m almost 100% sure the strain on your heart would be too much. Lily, I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do,” the doctor handed her a pill bottle. “This is for you. I understand that it is your choice on whether we pursue this or not. So, take this home and think about it or talk to your parents about it. This pill will prepare you for the treatment.”
Lily stared blankly as she kept running through her thoughts of the last painting she did before she couldn’t move. She knew she needed to fill that last empty space and she knew she had enough paint left in the tubes to do so.
But what about her parents? They loved her so much and didn’t want to let go of their baby girl. Lily wanted to live as well. She wanted to be able to look out her window and smile at the sun as its light sparkled on her face each and every morning. She wanted to wake up and see her easel and smell the dry paint. She wanted to hear the I love you’s escape the mouths of her parents as they set down her meals. She wanted to pretend that her life was worth living and that this facade was worth fighting for. She couldn’t let it go –
She arrived home from the hospital in her father’s arms. He took her up to her room and laid her on her bed. “Goodnight sweetheart,” her father said with tears in his eyes. Lily couldn’t help but cry too, as this was the first time she has ever seen her father this way even after the diagnosis.
“Goodnight dad. Have a good day at work tomorrow,” she said with a bittersweet smile on her face.
Her body had withered since she had received the paints six months ago. She couldn’t stand, couldn’t walk, and now she was ordered to have as little movement as possible.
Lily slowly grabbed the pill bottle that rested in her pocket. She studied the pills, then looked at the last blank canvas her mother had bought for her. The pill bottle fell to the floor, her hand failing to grasp it any longer. She slowly got up and maneuvered herself over to her canvas and selected her paints. She fought with everything she had left in her to get the last bits of paint out of every single tube. She dipped her brushes in the paints mixing and blending the colors. Then she placed her brush on the canvas.
Her arm moved in fluid movements as if it forgot that she was ill. Lily smiled. She began to paint white fluffy clouds on the canvas and she drew herself as if she was floating. She dipped her brush in the yellow and painted golden hair on her head. Golden gates welcomed her floating apparition. She added blue so she could paint the sky that surrounded her body and helped guide her through the gates. She mixed white and red together so she could paint the princess dress on her body that her grandfather bought her a long time ago. She dipped her brush in the peach and painted the hand that was reaching out to her. It was a gentle hand that she knew would take care of her. With the final strokes, she painted her hand outstretched with a smile on her beautiful face.