Stage 2
Colleen Kearney Rich

It is too much, he thinks as he crushes the shopping list in his hand, then he realizes he must have said it out loud because the woman with a hairnet is staring at him from across the chrome counter, holding the slices of turkey in her hand. She tilts her head and looks at him expectantly.

"No, that's fine," he says, and she puts the honey-baked turkey on the scale—it is the boy who eats the honey turkey, not smoked; his daughter who prefers peanut butter and jelly, but not just any jelly, it must be grape jam, and she knows the difference.

At first, he thought to hell with it, they are kids, what do they know about brands of turkey and the making of jelly, but he came to realize he was the one who didn't know.

When Liz was first diagnosed, people clucked and said what a fighter she was, and he repeated what they said, wanting to believe that they were right about her, this Liz who collected projects like stamps, sweaters she never finished knitting, half-done crossword puzzles left on the kitchen table, thirsty herbs on the terrace, this Liz he had only ever seen quit things.

When she quit for good, just before the chemo series ended, they clucked again, thinking—he was sure of it—that it was just her time, that God needed another angel, that He didn't give people more than they could bear.

He takes the deli meat and thanks the woman, swallowing the anger that rises in his throat, threatening, like a bone, to choke him, the anger that the books all tell him is OK, but that isn't—not in his book.

Colleen Kearney Rich has had stories in matchbook, SmokeLong Quarterly, and others. She's a founding editor of So To Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art. She lives in Virginia.

Read her postcard.

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