Illustrated by Monica Johnson
The elevator was quiet when they stepped in, except for the soft piano melody playing from a hidden speaker and the creak of the elevator adjusting under their weight. It smelled of metal and mold, but it appeared to be rather clean. Their reflections graced the metallic walls, each from a different angle. He pressed the button for the seventh floor, and the elevator shuddered into movement. They stood in silence for a moment, the little girl gripping the railing in one hand and clutching a faded, old toy robot in the other.
“What’s that, Daddy?” Maya asked, her mocha brown eyes bright as she stared up at the bundle in her father’s arms.
“Just a little something I picked up from the toy store earlier,” he said with a chuckle, tapping the front of her patterned, magenta winter coat.
“For me? Can I see it now?” she asked, grinning.
He laughed. “Not until we get home. You know Mama will want to see it, too.”
She nodded and bounced up and down where she stood. The elevator shook with her bouncing, so she stopped and gripped the railing tighter. “Do you think it will make her feel better?” she asked.
Her father paused before answering. “I think it will. But you know what?”
“What?” She smiled.
“I think you help her feel better, more than anything else.” He reached his hand out to her.
She giggled and grabbed his hand twice in their secret handshake.
He smiled down at Maya, tears blurring his vision. His wife had experienced another rough morning. She couldn’t muster the energy to rise from her bed and he had spent most of the night comforting her as she coughed and vomited up spatters of blood. He couldn’t bear to tell his daughter the whole truth, that her mother’s vitality was fading and that she suffered from cancer. It would break her little heart. It had certainly broken his. He brushed the tears from his eyes before Maya could notice.
Her soft voice spoke up. “What’s wrong, Daddy?”
“Oh, these are happy tears, sweetheart. I’m just so happy to have you and Mama,” he replied. He couldn’t tell her. Not now. He would when the time was right. The elevator arrived at the seventh floor, shuddering to a halt. The doors squeaked as they opened. “Let’s go surprise her now, okay?”