“Pick up your lip.” Daddy said
that night during a phone call.

It was the day I got pulled
out early
from school after mom’s

I held the receiver to my ear
and reached to pull
an invisible dangling cord
beneath my chin;

I imagined shutters
on a cartoon character’s eyelids;

I hoped it might stop my crying.

“Your mom has cancer.”
My step-dad said that day
in the car
from the driver’s seat as we drove away,

and I wished to be a big
yellow bus broken down

outside of this town far from home.

I held my mom’s hand
as a blind passenger

behind her seat.
She patted at it.

I could tell it was genuine
like a genie
that wanted to rub three wishes
from the back of my hand

but had no idea how.

They cut it out.
They sewed it shut.
They spared her the chemo,

and she got to keep her hair.

“Ha, ha, ha.” My step-mom said,
“That is what she gets for having
breast implants.”
I blamed myself for ever telling.

“Ha, ha, ha.” My step-dad said
when I collapsed from crying

because mom was bleeding
into a plastic bulb
with a drain at an alarming rate.
I wailed as wheels
screamed under the hospital bed

that took her away;

a nurse I didn’t know gave me
a hug and Juicy Juice.
My step-dad left the room
he couldn’t be sarcastic long enough

to hide his own panic or hold mine,
because they said she might die.

Why are you so sad? Everyone thinks.
Why are you so morbid? Everyone says.
Why are you you? Everyone asks insincere.

“Go find your mom.” Daddy said
that morning through the phone.

It was the day he found my sister
dead in the garage,
a dog leash around her neck.

I held the receiver to my ear,
and somehow
I couldn’t hear over the ringing
for my feet to move.

I imagined my legs floating to find
my mom, my voice

speaking under water like an oil
spill, polluting everything pure.

Why are you you? I ask myself.
Why are you so morbid? I wonder.
Why are you so sad? I want to know.

“Your step-mom might have breast cancer.” Daddy said.

It was the day he wanted
empathy. I said,

“Ha, ha, ha.”

Everyone got offended.

Selected byJordan Trethewey
Image credit:Kyle Broad

Kaci Skiles Laws is a closet cat-lady and creative writer who reads and writes voraciously in the quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn's Disease. She was a 2023 winner for Button Poetry's short form contest, and her short story Eugene was nominated for a pushcart prize in 2022 by Dead Skunk Mag. Her most recent poetry has appeared in 3Elements Review, River Teeth Journal, Blood Tree Literature, and elsewhere. Her poetry books, "Strange Beauty" and "Summer Storms" are available on Amazon, and her most recent chapbook, "Smile, Child" is available from Bottlecap Press.