Only after her husband died did Tappy notice “the pepperoni” on her leg. She tried to pick it off, but it wouldn’t lift. Blood oozed. She ignored it, but her daughter didn’t.
“Could be cancer, Mom,” Monica said.
“Squamous cell carcinoma,” the dermatologist said.
“I told you so,” Monica said.
Tappy was scheduled for Mohs surgery.
As she sat by the courts with her racket, watching friends play, she joked that she was having “scrape ’n bake.”
Monica said the cancer was probably from all the time Tappy and Brent had spent outdoors, “soaking up the sun. It has to go somewhere.”
Tappy flicked her hand. “It’s good for you,” she said. “Vitamin D. And T.”
She didn’t smile, so she must’ve believed there was such a substance. Brent and she had been married seventy years. Husband, father of three kids, and for the last thirty years, tennis partner and pool-lane shadow. He reached ninety, and died. She was two years shy of that milestone. She wasn’t sure she would make it, or if she even should.
Brent always waited with his racket by the door for her to lace her shoes. Nobody waited now. Nobody wanted to play with her, to take Brent’s place. They didn’t have to say why.
“They think I’m infectious,” she told Monica. “Truth is? They know I would beat them.”
Tappy and Brent left teaching jobs and moved to a condo in Tucson. They shared the costs and use of a pool and tennis courts and a meeting room where residents traded bad casseroles.
“Really bad,” Tappy told Monica, and Monica tried the buffet one Sunday and agreed she would “get the Colonel next time.”
After the doctor scraped off the “last layer,” Tappy’s flesh glowed from beneath the pepperoni. Blinding light spilled forth, until he put a bandage over it.
She showed the wound around, light still spilling from beneath the gauze.
At night, it was like a flashlight, guiding her along the sidewalk.
Other pepperoni slices emerged. On her neck, her arms, her chest where the scoop-necked tennis blouse didn’t cover. The doctor removed them all. More light spilled from these openings.
“I’m like a sieve,” she said to Monica.
“Your skin is whiter,” Monica replied. “Maybe your tan is draining out?”
Tappy flicked her hand dismissively. Alone in bed, she started to wonder. She couldn’t sleep, all the light that had leaked from her wounds now pooling around her shrinking frame. When she got up to use the lavatory, she felt diminished, childlike as she kicked through a puddle of light, shards and beams splashing up like leaves of gold.
Monica found her one morning, a lifeless infant mummy in her bed. Barely recognizable but for the crusty spots all over her corpse. It was dark in the room. All that stored-up sunlight gone, leaked off under the doors. She called the funeral home, then went outside.
She couldn’t be sure, but the day seemed brighter than she could remember. As if everything had an extra sparkle. As if the sky had a fresh wax job. She wiped her eyes, and stared up into the brilliant blue expanse of her mother.
wrote for newspapers in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland. For fun and low pay, he and his wife later owned two restaurants. His writing is in more than thirty publications, including Barzakh, Bending Genres, Five South, Flash Boulevard, Grey Sparrow Journal, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Montana Mouthful, Mystery Tribune, Pulp Modern Flash, Reckon Review, Revolution John, Sledgehammer Lit, The Writing Disorder, and Yolk. He lives in Oregon, with his wife and their amazing dog.
Author’s website: https://chiselchips.com/