Christopher Sessums CC
She was eight years old when she sat under the kitchen table petting her cousin’s Irish setter, listening to her aunts worry. Summer meant a long drive to see family. It also meant stories— uncensored and transformative. She inhaled the fibers of their talk while her head rested on the dog’s belly, marveling at the juxtaposition of its calm warmth and her aunts’ frenetic chill. How could these two worlds exist separated only by a rectangular plane of pinewood, six glasses of iced tea, and a song of cigarette smoke. Like asbestos, these six sisters seemed resistant to the heat, electricity, and corrosion of life.
The lining between childhood and adolescence is a thin pleura easily breached by things like words. The girl felt her DNA shift with the latest story: Aunt Audrey and Uncle Dick were fighting again. He told her she’d eat shit before he’d ever let her divorce him. Aunt Debbie’s voice deepened as she exhaled and my hand to God Audrey woke up the next day with the taste of shit on her tongue. Forty years later and she still can’t trust men.
Audrey died of skin cancer— Dick also lost his lungs. He had spent decades supporting his family by installing asbestos. While the houses of rural Rhode Island were now well insulated from the elements, her uncle’s lungs were not. Nor were her ears, repeatedly permeated with such tales told by six sisters each summer.
When she sees advertisements to join mesothelioma class action suits, she wants to call and ask if it were the cancer meds that caused the terrible taste in her aunt’s mouth. Instead, she sings the melted ice in six glasses on a summer table, a decaying dog under the earth’s pinewood, her two marriages gone to shit. She just changes the channel.
CANDICE KELSEY is an educator and poet living in Georgia. She serves as a creative writing mentor with PEN America's Prison & Justice Writing Program; her work appears in Grub Street, Poet Lore, Lumiere Review, Hawai'i Pacific Review, and Poetry South among other journals. She is the author of Still I am Pushing (2020) and won the Two Sisters Micro Fiction Contest (2021). Recently, she was chosen as a finalist in Cutthroat's Joy Harjo Poetry Prize. Find her @candicekelsey1 and www.candicemkelseypoet.com.
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