I am doing the post-holiday dishes at my mother’s. Antique crystal, water tepid, not hot, Ivory soap, and even though the champagne glasses, alas, were not based on Marie Antoinette’s bosom (I’d liked that story, and she did commission milk cups inspired by her left) they are breasts in my hands today, the day you meet the oncologist. They are warm, soapy, valued, fragile. My clumsy hand flexing inside the bowl could shatter them. Christmas Eve, when I heard it had spread from your gone breast to the other, lymph, and liver, the choir’s glad tidings of great joy, pine scent, broke my brain. Pure beauty starved me, making me crave more descants, imagining your kind heart despairing at the prospect of darkness and silence, missing midnight masses. Later, I hear that your son wonders why the Chemo Princess gets all the attention. Teenagers can be as toxic as any drug dripping through a port-a-cath. I help with the research from three time zones away, learn magic words, pertuzumab, trastuzumab. Pray. If I daydream, will I miss a fact that could help prolong a life? Can words, can the word, work? As I close the file I’ve named for you, the computer tells me “Word is saving Anna.”
Tina Kelley’s Rise Wildly appeared in 2020 from CavanKerry Press, joining Abloom & Awry, Precise, and The Gospel of Galore, a Washington State Book Award winner. She co-authored Breaking Barriers: How P-TECH Schools Create a Pathway from High School to College to Career and Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope and reported for a decade for The New York Times. She and her husband have two children and live in Maplewood, NJ.