“Zippy, slow down.”
“I don’t want to.”
“You’ll get a stomach ache.”
“I don’t care.”
Even before the cancer started eating away at her bones, my mom was super tiny, like me. Her long,auburn hair was pulled into a ponytail that warm September night, flies dive-bombing into her pools of sweat. My brothers had just left for a weeklong mission, and my dad was in Kansas City for a business meeting. It was just my mom and me at the house.
She nibbled at her dinner, like a bird searching for the perfect kernel. “I should’ve cooked the chicken longer. It’s not hot enough.”
I stabbed my fork into the tomatoes, the melted cheese, the chicken, and shoved it all in my mouth. “What are you talking about? It’s perfect.”
I had just returned from soccer practice. I was covered in grime, and my pits smelled like hardboiled eggs, but my mom let me eat dinner before I took my shower.
“How was it today?” she asked. “I’m sorry I couldn’t stay for the whole practice.”
“That’s okay.” It was difficult saying much with my mouth stuffed with food.
“I can’t wait to see your first game. Are you making friends?”
I finished swallowing. “Uhh, some.”
“Be honest with me.”
“I’d probably be more popular if you hadn’t named me Zipporah.”
She shook her head. “What? Why would you say that? You have a beautiful name.”
“I’m not saying I don’t like it. It just makes me sound… I don’t know… old-fashioned?”
“It does not. There’s nothing old-fashioned about you.”
“But didn’t you and Dad consider anything else? Like what about Sarah? Or Kelly? Even Margaret I could have lived with.”
My mother set her fork down and took a sharp breath, like she was about to upchuck the small amount of food she’d been able to get down. I knew she was sick, but I didn't know how sick—I was eleven years old and still believed life went on forever.
“Are you okay, Mom?”
She picked up her plate and set it in the kitchen sink. “Fine. I’m just worried about you.”
“Yes, you, silly.”
She sat on the chair next to me and placed her cold, soft palm on top of mine the only way a mother could. I missed that touch.
“Zippy, you know you can do and be whatever you want, right?”
I narrowed my eyes a little. “Uh huh.”
“Your father means well. But he doesn’t get you the way I do. I know you’re meant to do great things. You’ve always been an ellipsis with a question mark at the end.”
“I'm a what?”
She grabbed my plate. Istopped her.
“Wait, I’m not done,” I said.
“But you ate every last crumb.”
“Not yet.” I ran my tongue all the way up the center of the plate.
My mother laughed and snatched it away from me. “You’re not old-fashioned. You’re unique. And you know what? I wouldn’t have you any other way.”
She walked across the kitchen. But before she reached the sink, my mom stopped, like she hit an imaginary wall. She wrapped her arms around her belly.
“Mom?” I said. “Are you all right?”
The plate dropped to the floor. Shattered.
“Oh… oh no,” she said.
She tumbled forward andstruck her head against the silverware drawer.
“Mom?” I jumped out of my chair. “Oh my God! Mommy?”
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