Day 6, folks. This was a difficult day for writing, and I had to drag this idea out, a syllable at a time.

The opening epigram is something I was spitballing for ideas, and I liked the rhythm of it. Doesn’t exactly fit with what followed, but it did inspire it somewhat.

Not my best work – apologies. But I’m keeping up with my challenge.

Fear, elation, duty, obligation. Where is the joy amongst these things?

She lifted her daughter from the bed, resting the girl’s chin against her own shoulder. Gentle fingers, Marta untied the gown at Chloe’s neck and eased the gown open. The fragile music of the water from the sponge as it trickled down into the basin. She squeezed the sponge, the trickle increased to a temporary torrent. With firm strokes, she circled the warm sponge down the length of her daughter’s back.

Damp breaths warmed the skin of her shoulder. Marta grasped for some joy there. At least her daughter was alive.

Trading the sponge for a fluffy towel, she dried Chloe’s back. She shifted the weight and laid her daughter back against the pillows. Marta smoothed Chloe’s hair from her face, searching the girl’s eyes for some recognition. Blank grey stared back, showing a dull infinity.

She checked over her shoulder to ensure the door was closed behind her, and swept the hospital gown off. Firm but swift, Marta washed Chloe’s arms, torso and legs, pausing to dry each part, patting with tender care. She dressed her daughter, resentful of the institutional gown, convinced that this kept Chloe from returning to her.

If only she could bring Chloe’s own pyjamas in, her favourite blanket. Marta knew that these familiar objects would remind Chloe of the life she left behind. Her heart pounded in anticipation of arguing with the nurses again, and she even stood up from the edge of the bed. Memories of previous arguments resurfaced, and Marta sat down again, resigned. At least she didn’t lose those minutes with her daughter.

Sunshine filled the room, turning the dingy grey walls buttery with its light. It touched Chloe’s hair and the blonde blazed into honey gold. Marta watched, breath stopped, and witnessed Chloe turn her head to the light. Her face, a sunflower.

Marta picked up the old hairbrush from the bedside table, and shuffled closer to her Chloe. She picked up a lock of honey gold, and the brush glided through it, gilded by the sun. Marta hummed an old lullaby as she brushed her daughter’s hair, remembering when she was only five and fought against the brush. A smile warped the hum for a moment, and a tear travelled unchecked from Marta’s eye to the bed sheet.

She brushed and brushed until Chloe’s hair looked like spun gold, and Marta half-expected Rumpelstiltsken to appear in a puff of magic next to the bed, demanding her secrets. Marta parted Chloe’s hair, and smoothed the left side behind her ear. Gently, tenderly, and with accusatory regret, Marta brushed the right side over Chloe’s cheek, to hide the burned ruin of the girl’s profile.