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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 11: January 2022
Flash CNF: 546 words
By Kayann Short

Chemo Chat


At Dad’s first chemo appointment, Mom and I get him settled in the comfy recliner next to the window with water, pillow, and blanket. While we look around at the faces that will become familiar over the next six months as folks come and go from the chemo room, the nurse hooks the tube to the port under Dad’s sport shirt, sets the dosage, and smiles that she’ll be back in time for the next drip. Someday this all will seem routine, but right now we’re in a lottery where the prize is either a jackpot or a death sentence.

As if this were any day in a room like any room, I ask Dad whether he wants some coffee, but he says he’s fine. Mom checks the machine to make sure it’s pumping toxins into his unfortunate chest and then leaves to schedule the next treatment three weeks from now.

Dad’s usually pretty quiet, so I’m not sure what we’re going to talk about, just the two of us, but as soon as Mom is gone, he leans towards me and says, “For the last couple years, I’ve been giving money to...”

He doesn’t even make it to the end of the sentence before my heart starts pounding. Money? To someone? What could he be going to say? And why did he wait until Mom left the room to mention it? Does he have another family? Other children somewhere? Is that why he’s giving away money?

Quicker than a blink of the eye, I realize my mind is off on a crazy track. What is wrong with me? How could I think such a thing? Just because no one ever figured out why a relative gave money to a library in a neighboring town doesn’t mean my Dad has a secret family.

Wait. Wait. Suddenly I realize he has finished his sentence with something other than what I thought he might say.

What, in fact, he has said is...“breast cancer.”

But I can’t even feel relieved that I don’t have half-siblings somewhere before I’m spinning off in uncharted territory again.

Dad said breast. I’ve never heard him say breast before. Breast is not a word I’ve ever heard come out of his mouth and now here it is.

None of this must show on my face because Dad goes on to explain that the last time he got a call, he heard a lot of noise in the background on the phone and he thought it wasn’t a real organization so he hung up and didn’t give them anything.

My mind must be back in my body because I smile and nod. “Yes, yes, that was probably the right thing to do, Dad. You just don’t know about calls like that anymore. Better not to give money to something unless you’re sure who you’re giving it to.”


The world aligns on its axis. A phone call is just a phone call; a room is just a room.

Sitting there in his big chemo chair with tubes sticking out of his chest, Dad grins at me like I’ve just ridden my bike without training wheels. We might not beat this thing, but for now, life’s as normal as it ever was.

Kayann Short
Issue 11, January 2022

Writer, farmer, teacher, and activist Kayann Short, Ph.D., is the author of the Nautilus award-winning memoir A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography (Torrey House Press). Her work appears in journals such as Midwest Review, Burningword, Hawk & Handsaw, The Hopper, Colorado Magazine, Dash, Pilgrimage, and New Flash Fiction Review, and in the anthologies Dirt: A Love Story and Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Non-Fiction. Dr. Short runs a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and organizes community writing events at Stonebridge Farm on Colorado’s Front Range.

Author’s website: https://kayannshort.com/

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