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  • "She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door." Alice looked up from the book and bent over to brush Emily's brow with her lips. "That's enough story for now. It's late"

    Emily's eyes winked open. "Can't you read a little more, Mama, please? I can't sleep."

    She closed the book and kissed Emily again. "Try to sleep. Tomorrow will be a big day." Alice wasn't sure she would be able to sleep either.

    Through the bedroom door Alice could hear water being run, shut off, soft footsteps, retreating, and then just a slow wheezy cadence wafting from down the hallway, mechanical but somehow soothing.

    Emily propped herself up in bed. "Can I have a glass of water?" she asked. "I forgot before."

    Alice sucked in a breath, suddenly feeling compressed -- like another Alice, peering up at a golden key to a locked door perched impossibly high on a glass tabletop. She found herself saying, "It might end ... in my going out altogether, like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?"

    "Mama, what are you talking about?"

    Alice exhaled. She glimpsed herself cuddled in bed, listening to her father read. "For some reason I thought of Alice in Wonderland. Maybe because you asked for water. I was repeating what she said..."

    The girl interrupted her. "You mean when she got little after drinking something?"

    "Yes, that's it," Alice answered, still feeling small. "I'll bring you some water."

    She got up. Noticing she still held Emily's book, she placed it on the night table and went out to the hallway. As she passed by the next bedroom on her way to the kitchen, she glanced in. The nurse was in the rocking chair, reading a magazine. The only sound was the soft hum and regular whooshing of air from the respirator. The old man in the bed had his eyes shut. He too seemed to have gotten smaller.

    She poured spring water into a mug gaily festooned with a dancing cow and lettering that read "May I have some moo please?" It had been hers, long ago. Returning to Emily's room, she handed over the mug and sat on the edge of the bed. She watched as Emily sipped the water. She closed her eyes, recollecting.

    She was about Emily's age when her dad took her camping in the state forest, just the two of them. She recalled them lying prone on boulders in the brook by their campsite, watching the water tumble and sparkle, craning their necks to catch splashes of it in their mouths. After that, and adolescence, they didn't hang out together much.

    "Mama, are you crying? Is it because of Grandpa?" Emily's words broke her reverie. She wiped her eyes with a corner of the bedspread. Quietly, as if no one should overhear, Alice murmured "I was just thinking how much I love you and grandpa and how I want to take you camping like he and I once did."

    Emily didn't say anything. Inhaling again, Alice got up. "Let's all sleep now. Sweet dreams, dear child." Kissing Emily again, she tucked the bedclothes around her and switched off the light. Her ears sensed that the whooshing had become less regular. It wouldn't be long now.

    "'Come, there's no use in crying like that!' said Alice to herself, rather sharply." She stood still in the dark, waiting to grow tall again. Finally, she walked through the door, closing it softly behind her.
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