by J Saler Drees 

The star-shaped glob in my nephew’s brainstem is called an astrocytoma, a malignant type. It’s not fair! My little boy, my sister says every time I see her. She’s saying it now as we cast towels down on the beach. I nod behind my dark shades hiding the redness of the joint I smoked in the parking lot, a must before hitting the sand to meet my strung-up sister and three-year-old nephew, who is currently dashing toward the surf. Jacob’s a sturdy child, thick-limbed, not like these scrawny kids I keep seeing around like their mothers didn’t nurse them enough, not one you’d guess has a brain tumor, except that his left eye looks outward, what we thought at first was a lazy eye.

Popping another mint in my mouth, I nod again as my sister goes on about possible treatment plans—the surgery or maybe radiation? And what of the family medical records?

I don’t mention my Google search last night, that only five percent of brain tumors are hereditary. Besides, she’s off frantically running towards my nephew, yelling he’s going too close to the waves, and I start slathering on banana scented sunscreen, just in case I smell like ganja. I lie down on the towel, soaking up the sunned air, the perpetual summer of San Diego, the chattering voices of others on their blankets and under umbrellas, each in their oasis of beach. A faint boombox beat vibrates as the crash of waves pounds a rhythm for my heart, which I can really get down into, get down into the blood of it, the life of it, what makes someone live. And then my sister’s back, saying, Where was I? Oh, you know Mom blames his family gene pool.

Of course she would. Mom’s still scratching her head at what happened to her daughters, her eldest having a child out of wedlock with a deadbeat who took off, and me not wanting children at all, or a man for that matter. Lord, Mom keeps asking, what went wrong?

She’s off kneeling in the pews for her only grandchild originated in sin, and she’s begging, Lord, save our little boy. And isn’t it a shame Jesus didn’t have children, that there aren’t more of those Jesus genes running around, being passed down? Imagine, people today with divine DNA, healing the sick, walking on water, rising again, undead. Except if Jesus had kids, everyone would want a piece of that, so the Jesuses—Jesi?—give us this day our sperm and egg. To the poor, of course, and everyone has miracle genes, and no more tumors—

Hey, my sister says again. She’s waving her hand in my face, so demanding lately. Are you even listening to me?

I nod.

You high again?


Right. You are. Do you even care what I’m going through?

Well, I’m here. I squint up at her behind my glasses, not telling her it’s because I do care, but it’s just too hard to face her like this: a mother, a mother to a sick child, no less. We were once close, before the baby, but this whole motherhood thing has taken her from me, and I don’t know how to reconnect back to the sisters we once were, sneaking out our window, telling lies for each other to Mom, giggling at those naughty jokes. Motherhood has made my sister old-fashioned, from another time, her love and pain like an era I can’t experience.

Fooled me. She huffs and stomps off down to the damp sand where Jacob is gathering seashells, the sun so bright it blots out where one thing ends and another begins. I shut my eyes.

Sometime later, I feel the breeze shift, hear gull wings flapping, and through cracked lids see two beings floating down from the sky, their backs awash in light, faces sparkling mist, skin shining like something holy, and I’m ready to sing Hallelujah. But it’s just my sister and nephew come over for potato chips, the bag crinkling, Jacob saying, Auntie sleeping?

My sister shushes, Leave her be, so I go on pretending, unable to scrub the heavenly image from my mind. If only I could touch them, feel on their level, and even though I haven’t in years, in this moment, I’m praying.

J Saler Drees currently resides in San Diego, land of the Kumeyaay People, with her partner, two children, cat, and chickens. Her MFA in writing was earned at Pacific University. She works as a respite care provider, bicycles, and hosts several book clubs. Even though not active on social media, if interested, her recent works have appeared in Dillydoun ReviewEmerge, Litbreak, Literally Stories, K’inPermafrost, Rain Taxi and Yolk.