Monday, November 26, 2012

Counting the Ways

            No, I don’t love you. Not at all. Not one bit. Never did.  
            Like? Maybe. Yes. Well, some. Of course, I like you. Who wouldn’t like you? That crooked smile.
            Yes--that's it! How do you do that? Get part of your lip to curve, the other side straight. It’s unnatural, yet enough of a smile, a near smile, to show those teeth. And those teeth. Unnaturally perfect. Do you bleach them? 
            No. I did not, repeat, did not say you were perfect. Just your teeth, for which you can take no credit. It was the first thing I liked about you—those teeth.
            First implies a second? Well, yes. I can be fair. You’re right about that one thing. Having a first thing I liked about you implies a second—unless it was an only.
            No, I didn’t say it was an only.
So the second thing. . . .Well, if I’m honest, and Lord knows, I try to be, the second thing was your voice. Low male voice.
Well, obviously you’re a guy, but your voice has a richness, an expressiveness that most men don’t have.
            You didn’t know that? Well, yes, it’s true.
            Yes, there was a third thing. The third thing was . . . .well, how to say it in the kindest way possible? You’re nice to a fault.
            Is that the same as boring? Good point. Could be, but I choose never to be bored.
            So why don’t I love you?
            Long pause.
            Let me count the ways.
            Yes, I know the poem, and yes it’s about the ways she does love him, but you were asking the opposite. Also quantifiable. Ways I don’t love you.
            The first list was ways I like you. Not ways I love you.
            Anything to add to that list? Well, (speaking quickly, impatiently, nearly shouting) you are funny, generous to a fault, and when you look at me sometimes—only sometimes—I have this falling feeling in my chest.
            Maybe falling for you, in love with you? I didn’t say that. Don’t put words in my mouth.
Well, that’s true. You do know how to listen. I like that about you.
            A lot.

©  2012 Kathleen Coskran

Monday, November 19, 2012


            “Give me your car keys.”
            “What makes you think I have a car?”
            “You’re walking in a parking lot full of cars.”
            “So are you.”
            Pause. “Yes. I need your car.”
            “Why do you think I have a car?” She’s walking fast. He’s puffing to keep up. He’s not young. Neither is she, but she is still a step ahead, even with his hand on her left arm, like a tentative effort at affection or connection.
            “Do you have a car?”
            “I have owned cars,” she says.
            “Now!” He’s shouting. “Do you have a car now in this parking lot?”
            She laughs. “Do you like riddles? Asking them or answering them?” They’re still walking, fast, together, diagonally across the mall parking lot towards the lot exit.
            “I’m getting tired of this.” He’s shouting louder now. His grip on her arm tightens.
            She laughs again. “You’re getting tired! Think how I feel. Already late for work and now this.”
            “You’re going to work?”
            “Where did you think I was going?”
            “Home. You look like a lady going home.”
            “I wish,” she says. They’re still walking, nearly at the road, close to the intersection. “I’m late and still have to change.”
            “My uniform.” Twenty feet from the corner, his hand a vise on her arm, but moving half a step behind her. She can smell his breath. No alcohol, but something else, not tobacco. Drugs? She decides not to think about that.
            “What kind of uniform? You a waitress?”
            “Waitresses don’t wear uniforms these days.” The light is red. They stop. He’s breathing heavily. She’s holding her breath, wonders if he can feel her pulse under his grip. She flashes on her Prius they just passed. The light changes.
            “Let’s go,” she says, and they cross the street together, his arm now linked in hers, pressing hard. Still she knows they look like a mismatched couple. She hasn’t looked at his face yet, doesn’t want to see his eyes, glances at his chin—as nervous as she is—not that young which she had already guessed by the tremor in his voice.
            “Shit,” he says. “You don’t have a car.” The hospital looms ahead of them, all eight floors. “What do you do? You clean?”
            She nods. “The average person wouldn’t believe what’s involved.”
            “Shit,” he says again. “You don’t have a car.”
            “Never said I did.” His hand on her arm slackens. He’s still breathing heavily, but his voice has changed.  She stops abruptly, faces him full on. He’s better looking than she would have guessed, square jaw, blue eyes—dilated—needs a shave, matted hair, missing a bottom molar, forty plus, scrap of scarf at his neck. She smiles, slips out of his grasp by taking a step away from him. “Been nice talking to you,” she says and turns to go, both of them aware that he won’t stop her. “Really nice,” she says again.
            “I’m sorry,” he says.
            “I know,” she shouts back, but she is already hurrying up the drive to the Physician’s Only entrance. She is late for rounds and won’t have time to call the police.

©2012 Kathleen Coskran

Monday, November 12, 2012

Soft Landing

            He grabbed for the handrail, felt his fingers flick along the curve, fail to grip, splay as his focus went to his right foot in mid-air, not on the stair tread, sinking past the first step, past the second, he feared—that sinking feeling in his stomach as the foot sank into air and the hand grabbed and failed to find its hold, past the third step, struck the fourth hard, his knee hinged to the left, hand still scrambling for the railing. What was the other foot doing? Why wasn’t it helping? And he had two hands. Couldn’t the other do something, make itself useful? But there was no railing on the left side, in spite of what Marge had wanted.
            Marge was dead, and he would be too if he didn’t find someplace but thin air for his body, some solid purchase on the fourth or fifth tread at least, and that right hand on the handrail. He had a strong grip, a firm handshake, a steady gaze.
            Godamnit. The hand missed again as if the rail had been greased and lifted just beyond his reach. He grabbed—coyote yelps coming from somewhere—the sinking feeling still in his gut, and his whole body now going down, down, down. Nothing solid except the landing at the turn in the stairs, that triangle of carpet.
            He’d hated that carpet, hated covering the planed oak planks, one of the highlights of the house. If you have an old house, built by a craftsman, you don’t cover it up. He said.
            She said. You’re old fashioned. Behind the times. Don’t know how people are living now, and she hired a kid—a boy younger than their own children to carpet the whole damn thing in shag—what the hell was shag? and in a godawful color that was neither blue nor green.
            Aqua, she said. Like the ocean.
            That’s what he slipped on, caught the edge of his slipper at the top and started on his current journey down. She would say, if she were alive, that he was merely floating, not falling, and all would be fine. Glass half-full.
            Well, he hoped so. Aqua shag was looking good to him just now. He quit struggling, closed his eyes, and hoped the ocean would have him.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Normal Life

            She was asleep, and he was not. He slid out of bed by imagining himself a snake sliding out of its skin or some unexpected gift being slipped out of its package without disturbing the wrapping, leaving it for another’s use, her use. She was a frequently proclaimed light sleeper, and he didn’t want to wake her.
            He had imagined his extrication from the marital bed for several minutes before actually attempting it: the slow straightening of his curled body, easing his long torso to the cold edge of the bed, away from her coiled body and out-flung arm. He rested on the edge of the mattress for a full minute before beginning the peel of sheet, blanket, comforter—more a lifting than a peel really, just enough so he could slide one bare foot out, touching the floor, the body following, one knee hitting the bedstead hard enough that he would have cried out if he hadn’t been so perfectly controlled.
            He knelt briefly on the mat beside the bed—he’d wanted carpet, wall to wall, so pleasant to step out on on a winter night, he’d said. She wanted the hard wood floors, loved the naturalness, she said, and the rattan mat, also natural, much more aesthetic than the plush rug he’d bought at Walmart.
            Don’t need it. Don’t want it, she said, and it disappeared.
            He was out now, straightening up, reaching for his robe which was allowed to be draped over the chair at night—in a darkened room—their eyes were closed, nobody to see it, he’d said. She’d eventually agreed.
            No slippers—they flopped and slapped on the floor. He was in the hall now, then down the stairs to the kitchen.
            An hour later he took a picture of the gaping bread bag, the crumbs on the tile, the smear of jam on the sink, the misfolded newspaper, the coffee grounds on the counter, the debris of an hour of normal life, took the picture with his phone, slipped it in his robe pocket and cleaned up, smiling, imagining his re-entry, the re-sliding he called it—into the matrimonial bed—her none the wiser, he content.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran