Her small fingers moved over the paper delicately, making the folds as perfect and straight as possible. She had done this a thousand times (well, she amended with a giggle, this would be the thousandth time), and the motions came naturally to her now. The paper she had chosen this time was printed in a dark, vibrant red with tiny little flowers in the palest yellow. She had picked it especially, because it was her favorite from the box her sister had given her, and she had wanted to save it for last.
She continued with the process, the rough texture of the tray in her lap an odd contrast to the smooth, silky feel of the paper. Everything here was rough, she had noticed; the bedclothes, the furniture, the doctors who stood at her bedside and peered down at her with stern faces. No smoothness to the place, no comfort in the atmosphere of the hospital.
She finished with one fold and moved on to the next, her mind wandering as her hands worked. She had been here since spring began, her friends finding less and less time to come visit once school got into full swing, but she could see the cherry trees from her window, and every now and then she would see a boy sitting under it, playing a flute.
She wanted to know what that flute would sound like, playing in the rough hospital room that acted as a cage for her, but the nurses she had mentioned it to had never been able to find the boy when they went looking. She wondered if maybe he was a spirit, trying to tempt other girls down under the branches laden with fat, pink blossoms in order to whisk them away. Perhaps that was the real reason for his mysterious appearances.
She snorted softly at her own imagination and flipped the paper over, her motions still careful so as to not damage the vibrant paper. She only had one sheet of it, after all.
Boys with flutes aside, she wanted to climb that cherry tree that she could see from her window. The tallest, the one she had called Beauty since she had gotten into the hospital and realized she’d see it bloom from her perch on the second story. She wanted to lose herself in all that pink, all those fragrant blossoms that danced in the wind. She wanted to look up at the sky, and see blue through the cracks in the pink and green, watch the world drift by from those branches.
She finished the final fold, pulling the paper wings of her finished crane gently away from the body and smiling brightly when it stood proudly, with its head held high, on the rough surface of the tray. She looked past it, to where her legs were hidden from view by the blankets on her bed, and felt her mirth diminish slightly. She wouldn’t be able to climb that tree with legs like these.
She picked the crane up gently, examining it for a moment before she closed her eyes and sighed. It was her thousandth crane, her final one while she remained in the rough hospital and waited for the doctors to find a cure. She inhaled, gave the wings another gentle tug, and let her wish fill her up, from the tips of her immovable toes to the crown of her head.
She wished with all her might, wished because she wanted to hear that flute, see the sky through those branches, run through the fields of flowers back home… She wished, because she wanted to be free again. She held the wish in her mind, held it tight and close and warm before she let it go, let it soar up and out of her mind, ready to fly away on paper wings, ready to be granted by her thousandth crane.