“I know something is wrong but I am not ready to let go yet,” Anna searches the old man’s face with her eyes. He doesn’t give much away as he glances down at Phulka who was resting on his paws, his eyes closed yet exuding more than the old man’s. Anna places one palm in front of Phulka’s nose as she had done countless times over the last few weeks. She had been suspended somewhere between expecting the worst and refusing to accept what was in front of her. She felt the warmth of Phulka’s breath on her hand but the effort was undeniable. Anna felt her chest squeeze tighter and suddenly had the urge to pee. Her bladder seemed to always want to run away from things, even when she knew better.
The old man, his salt and pepper beard aging what looked to very young eyes, grabbed Phulka’s tail and tugged at it. Phulka winced and Anna’s bladder sprung into action. He then flopped up Phulka’s right ear and stuck the tip of a white feather in it. The feather tip returned the color of the midnight sky. The old man then muttered something to himself and without an explanation scurried out.
Anna looked around the empty room as if it could explain the mystery. But nothing had changed; the ceiling was the color of emeralds, the walls the color of sand. Tubes of potions in colors brighter than a rainbow lined the walls. Anna was in the middle of the room, pressed up against the silver palanquin that held Phulka, heaving against it. Anna felt her eyes burn as she saw the bones sticking close to Phulka’s indigo skin. She had a daily tug of war with Phulka trying to get him to eat and lately she had been losing the battle. A month ago, Phulka would devour anything that resembled or didn’t resemble food. Anna was often pulling meteor shrapnel and stardust from his mouth or waiting for it to show up in his poop the next day. But lately, he hadn’t been interested in eating anything other than his favorite gold carrot stick. But she couldn’t give him as much of it as he wanted, she knew; the gold wasn’t good for him in large quantities.
Phulka let out a yelp and Anna shrunk back like she had been punched. Suddenly she noticed the ceiling turning the color of Mars, the color of rust and age. Anna pushed back the sleeves of her oversized robe, the first thing she could find to put on this morning as she had rushed to see the old man. He was a miracle worker, she had been told. She needed a miracle. She didn’t know or want to know a life without Phulka.
“Phulka, my baby, what’s wrong?” Anna whispered while bending down to muzzle her head close to Phulka’s. She was shocked at how warm his skin was. “It’s ok,” she said, more to herself than to Phulka, “there is a miracle coming. You will be ok.” It had to. She couldn’t go back to the loneliness of her life before Phulka came into it.
The old man barged back into the room and without even meeting Anna’s eyes, scurried over to the potion wall and grabbed a tube with a cobalt-colored potion. Walking over toward them, he poured the liquid into Phulka’s right ear and stepped back as if waiting for something to erupt. Anna stood still, holding her breath and her bladder.
Finally, after what seemed like a lightyear, the old man bowed his head and then looked up at Anna, his eyes alight with warmth. A million stars seemed to be swimming in them.
“Phulka is not doing well. He’s hurting; the longer we let this move on, the longer it will hurt. You need to decide if you want to hold on, or let him go peacefully.”
Anna suddenly felt like she was in a dark closet that blocked out any sound. She couldn’t hear a thing. She blinked her eyes as if to wake herself up. What was this old man saying? He was supposed to fix everything; this wasn’t a miracle. She hadn’t prepared for any outcome other than a miracle.
“I...I…you,” Anna stammered, “I don’t understand. Don’t you have some medicines in this giant cabinet of yours?” she gestured toward the potions. “Look I know,” her ears felt unblocked again and she felt a rush of adrenaline, “Phulka isn’t well. But I can nurse him back to health for as long as it takes. I don’t need him to be completely well now. I just…I just need you to stop…stop his suffering.” Anna didn’t even know she was crying until she felt the salt on her lips.
“The only way to stop the suffering now is to let him go, Anna.” the old man suddenly seemed older, like the weight of the galaxy in his eyes pressed upon him. “Phulka is terminal. There is nothing you or I can do.”
“But there is so much we have to do,” Anna pleaded with the old man. She had envisioned that when Phulka was old enough, they would fly away to faraway galaxies and explore together. They would hike craters. Her favorite place to camp was on the moon and she had been waiting to take Phulka with her. They were meant for a life of adventure together; it couldn’t end like this.
Phulka stirred and stretched out a paw. His baby wings lay formless on his back. His coat seemed blacker than ever before. Anna had always found glints of copper and silver mixed in with it as she brushed his coat every night. Just as Phulka seemed poised to raise his head to meet his paw, he drew his paw back in and nestled his head under it. Anna’s heart broke further. Even as unbelievable as it all seemed, she knew deep within that Phulka wasn’t going to get better. She had known for a while. She had known it every time he threw up sage-colored bile. She knew it when he stopped trying to play with her or his toys. He hadn’t even touched his favorite one, a baby unicorn like himself but the color of snow. She knew.
The old man walked over to the potion wall again and this time returned with the color of the sky at first light. New dawn. He handed Anna the vial and said, “Release him. Free him of what you need from him. Surrender to what he wants for himself.”
Anna looked at the vial and then at Phulka, and in her mind’s eye, felt the glass bottles of their future together shatter as if hit by an earthquake. She had to let go. “Phulka, my baby,” she gently tousled his fur and placed the vial near his mouth poised to pour the liquid into it. “I am releasing you from my hopes and dreams. You are no longer beholden to them; feel the weight of those lift off you. What’s left is what you want for yourself. Go little one, be free of what I need from you.”
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