There was once a little girl who spent her days in her room. The little girl had sickly lungs, and her body couldn’t move about too much without becoming tired. When this happened, she had to sleep. She slept more than most people her age.
The girl didn’t mind, however. She had a lovely room, all decorated in yellow and grey, just as she had asked her parents. She was surrounded by all the books that she loved to read, as when one’s body cannot adventure, books allow one’s mind to do so. She could read, make up stories, and draw, all from her little sanctuary. When, on occasion, she would hear noises of play and would look outside to see the neighbours’ son chasing a football in his garden, or running until he collapsed, or swinging on his swing, she would only feel sad for as long as it took to open up a favourite story and immerse herself again.
The room had two large windows, and she could see out of both of them from her bed. One overlooked the neighbours’ garden, and the other overlooked her own. The garden was long, and had apple and pear trees at the bottom, and one huge chestnut tree at the very end, where the garden backed onto the local park. The chestnut tree was very old and very large. The girl liked to think of it as her Guardian. She would look at it as she lay in bed, imagining the branches moving in the wind as it waving to her and letting her know she was not alone.
One day, the girl’s sickly lungs became much worse. When she breathed, it sounded as though she had three people trapped inside her, all moaning at once. Her lungs itched from the inside out, and the girl imagined this to be these people scratching at her as they tried to escape. The girl tried to scratch the itch by drawing her hairbrush up and down her back, but it only drew blood, and didn’t stop it.
After the itch, the pain began. The girl could no longer lie happily in bed reading, as she felt as though a giant had his hands around her chest and was slowly squeezing, tighter and tighter, and that she could not breathe without her lungs hitting his hands, so that she never took a breath that was deep or adequate enough.
Her parents called the doctor, who put her on a machine with a big mask that went over her nose and mouth. The machine made a lot of noise and smelt funny, but it did seem to loosen the giant’s hands. The doctor said she must go back to hospital immediately. The girl didn’t want to go to hospital. She had been there lots before, and had seen people around her lose their breath and die. She was frightened. She cried and argued with her parents and the doctor. She wanted to stay in her room, where the Guardian’s branches were swaying outside the window. She argued, but her strength left her. Her vision faded to a tunnel as she lost consciousness, and as she gazed up at the window, for a moment it looked as though the tree has moved closer and was holding out its branches towards her, as if to catch her as she fell. Then all went black.
She woke up to a bright light and a blocked feeling in her throat. She looked around, unable to see properly, and made out a blurry shape. The shape spoke in her mother’s voice, telling her she was in hospital, and that everything was alright. It told her that she was waiting for a new pair of lungs and a new heart, as her old ones had stopped working now. The girl tried to answer, but no sound came out of her mouth. Her mother told her she couldn’t speak, as there was a tube going into her throat which was attached to the big machine by her side. The machine was breathing for her. As the girl listened, she could make out its noises – a click and a whoosh as it breathed in, and again as it breathed out. She tried to move her hands to show her mother she understood, but realised there were wires attached to them. There were more wires on her chest, connected to another beeping machine, and she could feel yet more in her nose. She remembered her favourite books, and began to imagine herself as a robot under construction, still attached to the mainframe, as yet unfinished, awaiting the final component of heart and lungs. Tears ran down her cheek as she fell asleep.
The Guardian Tree was lonely. It had been weeks since the little girl who used to gaze so lovingly out at it had been in her room. She wasn’t the only one to look at its branches, but she had been the only one to do so every day, and with such wonder. It had liked the attention. It could no longer see her through the window. It moved its branches when the wind came, shedding leaves almost as though they were tears.