Tuesday, December 25, 2012


            Two days before Christmas and she is returning things she bought last week—the sweater, the shirt he would have liked but not with that tie, the electronic gizmo that nobody needs but looked so . . . what? . . . modern? contemporary? What is that other word? Geeky? but in a good way.
            She stands in the return-only line feeling slightly smug because the queue is short, and she knows the day after Christmas it will snake past the organizing ropes. She’s beat the rush, returning gifts before giving them, things nobody will want, not even her son who loves her or her ex, who, apparently, doesn’t.
            What is the protocol here? Gifts to a man who has left, a man she loves but who has grown tired of her, weary, out of love, not in to her anymore. What kind of excuse is that? And no, it wasn’t meant to be a sexual explanation, he said with that slanted smile that deepened the dimple in his right cheek. I just don’t want to be married any more—and we’re all adults. Right?
            He meant their son, twenty-one years old on June 21st, golden boy on his golden birthday. The boy was launched, and Colin was free. He didn’t say it like that, but look at what happened.
            She bought him the shirt without thinking or wanting to think. She’d bought him a blue Oxford cloth shirt every year of their married lives. They met in Oxford, both on a Fulbright. She was sentimental, he humored her, wore the shirt every year on the 26th when they went to three movies in a row—another tradition.

            Well, she bought the shirt, and now she was returning it early, before she weakened, wrapped it in brown paper, and shipped it to the apartment he said he loved—so urban—so much better—yadda, yadda, yadda.
            The line moved forward. Maybe she should send it to him. He was still human. He’d hold the package, smile that smile, turn it over, slit the tape with his Swiss army knife, open it, see the Oxford cloth shirt and—what? Feel the pang that had paralyzed her for the last six months?
            “Next,” the cashier said.
She stepped forward.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Monday, December 17, 2012


            Winter. Winter again. Always winter. White white winter. She thought it beautiful, but she thought everything was beautiful. One could not trust her on questions of aesthetics. The shoes made his point. Red with a blue buckle bow contraption on each toe. Shoes she wore to work, to the grocery store, to church, God forbid—which He probably did. One could hope that He never looked as low as one’s feet.
            Well, she couldn’t wear those shoes in the winter, snow and ice on the sidewalks, hazards everywhere. She couldn’t get to the car at the curb in those shoes, much less across a parking lot.
            He told her that much.
            She laughed. “I’ll go barefoot then, until I’m safely inside.” A joke. He knew she didn’t mean it.
            “You’ll be arrested,” he said, and changed his voice to that ironic tone he saved for special occasions. “Headline: Aging suburban woman arrested for going barefoot in sub zero weather—a danger to herself.
            “Will I get my picture in the paper?” she said. “I hope so.” She looked so happy at the prospect, he could hardly look at her. He’d have told her to wipe that smile off her face if he were the type of man who spoke crudely which he was not. She should thank her lucky stars.
            “I am just pointing out how . . . “ he paused, to get the exact word, to say it just right, so that instead of grinning or laughing, she would nod in agreement or bend her head in acquiescence, just this once. “.  .  .  just pointing out how . . . how unnecessary it is for you to risk life and limb for . . . “
            “Shoes.” She finished the sentence, supplied the word and even nodded as if she understood and agreed. Then she crossed the room, sat down next to him, a bit too close, crossed her legs, pulled her skirt above her knee, stuck the top leg out—long, slim, full at the calf, narrow to the ankle--and let the gaudy red shoe dangle from her toe. “Not bad for an old lady,” she said.
            “Well, yes, but that’s not the point.”
            “The point is . . . ?” The shoe swayed back and forth. “The point is . . .?”

            “Pointless,” he whispered and lurched to catch the shoe as it fell.
© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Monday, December 10, 2012


            She just wanted to stop thinking. Over thinking—that was her problem, her life-long problem. What should she wear? What frock should she wear? Yes, her mother had insisted on calling the most ordinary dress a frock. Well, she wouldn’t be wearing a frock to Prissy's conference.
            Maybe that was the origin of her troubles, her anxieties, the word frock. Nobody in 1982 dressed their child in a frock. Except for Lois’s mother. So old country. So pretentious. So . . . so foreign.
            Well, here she was. 2012—thirty years later, and still embarrassed by her mother, the chignon at the nape of her neck, the heavy mascara, the red circles of rouge on both cheeks. What about blush, Mama?
Blush? Her mother didn’t listen, didn’t care, didn’t hear, didn’t think, so Lois had to do all the thinking for both of them. Oh, those damn frocks, smocked frocks in the sixth grade. The horror!

            She shook her head at the memory, forced herself to laugh, to pretend it didn’t matter, to concentrate on the problem at hand, what to wear to Prissy’s junior high conference. Prissy. Yes, her daughter hated that name, but it did fit her.
            Mom, Prissy whined, My name is Priscilla. I just want you to use my real name.
            You just want! Well, you don’t always get what you want, Lois had said and stuck a pencil in her balloon of hair.
            Your hair looks like a helmet, Prissy said.
            Lois heard the tone, not the words. Everybody knew teenagers needed something to complain about—and Prissy had almost nothing—she didn’t know how lucky she was to have a mother who didn't embarrass her every step of the way.

Well, back to the closet. What to wear to the parent conference? She pulled out the orange bellbottoms and held them up to her waist. Perfect! A good pair of pants never went out of style.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Dance

            “Let’s go home, “ he said.
            “I’m not ready,” she said.
            “I see that.” He sighed—physically, not audibly. His shoulders slumped, mouth tightened, eyes glazed, muscles in his face clenched just enough to hollow the skin below those high cheekbones. She almost touched his face in apology, put her hand on the high, hard bone of his left cheek, to say not too much longer. Let me stay just a few more minutes.
            Which would have been a lie, so she didn’t do it. She wanted an hour or hours, not minutes. She wasn’t ready to go, not even close. Which he probably knew. She met his eyes briefly—blue as the sky is blue and so clear. Open. Vulnerable. He was a big man, Stopped measuring at six feet five, he said. Felt like a freak, so I didn’t want to know. Big, broad frame, no fat, nothing extra. What you see is what you get, he’d said that first day over coffee in the shop with the chairs and tables too small for him. He looked out of place, uncomfortable but there to meet her. She was exactly in place. She knew how well her body suited the chair and table, knew what happened to her blouse when she leaned towards him, how bright her smile, how lovely her voice. She knew, and he saw and stayed in that awkward chair with his back to the door where the wind rushed in every time it opened. It lifted his hair, and she knew he was cold. She didn’t feel it. His big body shielded her from the cold.
            She remembered all that in the flash of his tightened cheek and was sorry, but she couldn’t go. The music had started again. Somebody would ask her to dance—it always happened—her glass of wine, her third glass, was half full. He only drank one—one of my rules, he said, which were numerous.
            “Let’s go home,” he said just as she rose to dance. Jerome Somebody.  Not much to look at, but he could dance. And that’s what she wanted just now, dancing, dancing, dancing.
            "Why so sad, Sweetheart?” Jerome’s wide hand on her waist held her to him.
            She blinked and smiled, the smile that always worked. “I’m not sad when I’m dancing,” she said and wished it were still true.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

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

Monday, October 29, 2012


The orange tree was a perfect fan of brilliance outside her window. She depended on that tree. It had been a deep lustrous green when she moved into the apartment—the one clean, cool presence in a dingy efficiency. She never pulled the shade or bought a curtain because of the tree.
“You need drapes,” her mother said the one time she visited. “Either that or move.”
            Piper had pointed to the tree, said it was her spot of beauty, and curtains would block it.
            “It’s only an maple,” her mother said, “and maples are diseased. Maple wilt. You can have the drapes from your room if you want.”
            Piper laughed at that, a true laugh from the belly at the thought of her childhood “drapes:” Doc, Sneezey, Goofy et al standing around the bed of sleeping and, perhaps, dead, Snow White.
            “You chose them,” her mother said.
            “I was five.”
Her mother wouldn’t be coming again. “It’s too depressing, and I choose to be happy,” she said. She had stopped there, didn’t say another word—literally not another word—but it was one of those up-to-the-brim pauses where they both knew the unsaid words were and you do not. I choose to be happy . . . and you do not. Her mother had never liked her, and one dutiful visit was enough for both of them.

            The light from the tree bathed her small space in a cloak of color. On windy days the color waved over her. On still days she found herself standing at the window drinking in the beauty of the living tree for minutes on end. A meditation on the life of one tree, she wrote in her journal.
            And now the leaves were falling. Not many—the tree was still lovely, but the color was going and the foliage thinning—the ribs of branches still spread to the sky, but the street had as many leaves as the tree, and the rest would fall.
            Soon her window would show only the tree’s skeleton, proud, strong, but bare nonetheless. Would she cover the window then? Her mother wouldn’t be back, and she met friends only in coffee shops. Nobody saw the space she lived in.
            She was standing at the window—well, it was hard to be anywhere in that small place that wasn’t near the window—when a burst of wind shook the tree to its roots, and all the leaves flew off, coating the ground in orange. The tree was still there, hardly moving in the wind, and not going anywhere.
            Good. Neither was she.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Sunday, October 21, 2012


            He’s building a deck, decking the whole yard, the whole f- yard, he would say, but I’m not talking to him, at least not now, not at this very moment, just watching him prance about, digging holes for the posts, laying the planks out.
            “Why don’t we just have a patio?” I said. I don't say it now. I’m quiet now. I said it two weeks ago, before the truck arrived with a million dollars worth of lumber, nails, stuff.
            “You exaggerate everything,” he said.
            “Somebody has to,” I said. It wasn’t a million dollars. Who has a million dollars, but it was thousands, took two guys an hour—an hour!—to unload it—and who has thousands of dollars?
            No answer. He was already digging holes.
            So I’m watching from the house as my yard disappears. Will the tulips come up under the deck, thinking there will be light until it’s too late?
            And why the whole yard?
            “The whole f--- yard,” he says.
            The lawn mower is on the front curb. Big sign. FREE.
            I pull the shade, can’t watch. There’s a saw going now, wonder what he’s cutting—the lumber or his hand off; the sound is the same.
            In case it’s not clear, I don’t want a f--- deck. A little patio, with a table, four chairs, a place for flowers, tulips in spring, marigolds all summer—like we had, except it was grass and no table, no chairs.
            We can walk right out the door onto the deck. Our feet will never touch the ground. Nothing to mow. No weeds. Two weeks ago, him smiling as he said it, me pouring the first cup of coffee, no idea what he’s talking about. First I’d heard that he hated grass.
            So. We saw a yard once that had been paved. Front and back concrete.
            “Now there’s an idea,” he had said and laughed. “Low maintenance.”
            “But it’s so ugly,” I said. We both laughed, and held hands. We were young.
            I remember that awful yard, those two people—us—walking by, the feel of his soft hand, the one raised eyebrow when he saw that weed-free yard of cement. I remember how cute he was and raise the shade to see him now, an old man, hands gone to calluses, measuring the lumber, cutting the boards, making a beautiful deck, happy to be making a f--- beautiful deck.
            I can learn to sit on a deck.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Sunday, October 14, 2012

One Hand

            “What happens to the pens? I buy a ten-pack of cheap pens on Monday. By Friday they’re gone.” No response. His daughter is sprawled on the floor, buried in. . . . a book? Her young mind captured by the power of the written word? Oh, no, she’s hunched over her phone, both thumbs flying—texting? tweeting? playing a mindless game? but not reading.
            “Are you eating them?”
            Her head raises slowly as if from a trance, the phone makes a metallic sound, then a swish, then the sound of applause. The phrase one hand clapping flits through his head—that sound exactly.
            “Eating what?” she says, looking at him wide-eyed with that face he has loved for 14 years, that baby’s face, wide brown eyes, his nose—he was always sorry about that—once thought of apologizing, the child’s face now more woman than he is ready for. “Eating what?” she says again. “I had toast for breakfast.”
            Now he feels silly, standing there holding the empty cellophane wrapper that the pens came in, that he’d found on the floor next to his desk. She could have at least taken the half step to the trashcan, thrown the evidence of her teenage sloppiness away.
            “Eating what?” she says again, for the third time, interested now, those bright eyes alert as if she knows she caught him in an irrational burst of anger.
            “The pens,” he says with enough edge to his voice so she knows it was a reasonable question when he first asked it.
            “The pens?” she says. “Am I eating the pens? Nope, not me. I don’t like the taste.” Her thumbs are moving on the phone again, a bell sounds in her hands, then another. He’s still standing there. She looks up. “Ask Mom.  She’s weird like you.”
            “Okay,” he says. “Right.”
            Her thumbs are really moving now. There’s music. “Good job,” a female voice says as he turns to go. Applause. One hand clapping.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Sunday, October 7, 2012


When lightning struck the old tree, it didn’t wake them. But in the morning Elise knew to go to the window and look out at the elm, split in half as if God’s cleaver had descended neatly, cleanly dividing the tree they planted the year they bought the house.
            Elm trees are neighborhood trees, he had said. Our children will play in the shade of this tree.
            And climb it too, she had said.
            He paused in the planting. No. Too hard to climb.
            Not for our children, she’d said and laughed.
            He chided her for her competitiveness, and then pointed out she could never beat him. He'd won the prize, he said, getting the best deal in the marriage.
            She'd held the little tree straight as he filled in around it. Think of how an elm grows, he said. Arms raised up, no spread branches to climb. We should have gotten an oak or maple if that’s what you wanted.
            Well, I want this, she had said and meant every bit of this: the patch of sun on their square of yard, her young husband kneeling before the hole he’d dug, scooping black soil around the ball of roots, then standing to tamp the dirt down, planting the first tree in their new garden. They’d also planted flowers that day, black-eyed Susans, cone flowers, bleeding hearts. The flowers spread so fast, she’d had to rip them out and still they came every summer until their tree shaded the yard so thoroughly that the garden was reduced to impatients and hosta.
            Sun was her first thought as she stared at the newly divided tree, we'll have more sun and flowers again. The left half dipped across the fence into the next yard—too mangled a confusion of branches to know if the fence still stood—and the heavier half fanned to the right, taking that stretch of fence to the ground and cloaking the Peterson’s yard completely.
            “Yes?” he said—still in bed, rolled over on his back, looking at her stare out the window, ignorant of the split elm, oblivious to the power of lightening, to the charge of electricity that would preoccupy him for the next week. She could already hear the chain saw and see the troop of men hired to clean it up, him in the lead. She’d have to insist he get help without saying he was too old to do it himself and, eventually, he’d agree.
            But now he was lying on his back with the pillow folded under his head, grinning at her and about to tell her to come back to bed, just for a moment, where it was warm, where they could each feel the other along the whole length of their body before splitting for the day.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Slow Going

            It wasn’t the first rabbit she’d ever seen . . . or maybe it was. At least the first rabbit in the wild. The first real rabbit trying so hard to disappear, frozen there at the edge of the path, not a twitch showing in its body.
            It must have been the sound of her footsteps that warned the rabbit. It wasn’t looking at her—or watching the path as far as she could tell. The head faced away, the eye didn’t move, but, perhaps it still saw.
            Minnie froze too. I’ll become a rabbit. If she mimicked the animal exactly, she’d learn what it felt like to be rabbit, she’d absorb the essential rabbitness of the creature. A wave of unease swept through her—shouldn’t she know the scientific name? or even the common name of this particular rabbit?
            No, it didn’t matter. The rabbit didn’t have that information herself. Himself? Itself? and still maintained its rabbitness. Should she know the gender before she gave over to imitation? Did it matter? It wasn’t gender she was after, but otherness, other creatureness. That’s what started the whole project: the slow roam to see what one could see.
            Jake’s idea, but a good one. What he said he did all the time. She knew it would bring her closer to him, and she’d begin to understand him better. She said she wanted go into the woods with him, become one with an animal.
            He raised an eyebrow at that. “No, I go alone. Two people are too much energy for an animal.” Rejecting her.
            So she was there, alone, motionless, cold, fascinated, staring a rabbit down, a rabbit that wouldn’t look at her. If she moved, it would go. That much she knew. And if it moved, she would go. Reciprocity.
            If she didn’t move, she would never touch it, never get closer to it, never feel the fur or the warm throb of the body. The longer she stood there, the more she wanted to enfold the rabbit in her arms, to whisper in its silky ear, to love it forever. But if she made that move, she’d lose it.
           Just like Jake.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran