Thursday, January 26, 2012


The blue car had been there all night. All night and all day. Parked right in front of his sidewalk. He wouldn’t be able to get around it when Jenny came.

He stood at the window all morning, staring at the ramp to his sidewalk, carefully shoveled, salted, ice free, snow free, right up to the passenger door of the blue car. The snow was stacked neatly on either side of the walk, piled like bricks by the snow blower. The service was quick, efficient, arrived before dawn every snow day. He’d heard the clang of the snow blower dragged off the trailer, the rumble of the motor and could see now that they’d had to haul the thing up the Bransons’ sidewalk to get to his. Blue car in the way.

It was a foreign car. Obviously. Nothing recognizable. Couldn’t see the plate. Who to call? The police? It had only been there a day, not even twenty-four hours. Probably not abandoned. Yet.

He leaned on his walker and mentally walked down the ramp to the sidewalk, and over to the Bransons’. An inch of snow and their walk not yet shoveled. Probably not slippery. But he couldn’t get boots on his useless feet. Have to do it in his slippers.

Take an extra pair. Dry ones in the pouch.

No. Put them in his pocket, one on each side. He wouldn’t have junk hanging off his walker like some old lady. Neat and tidy. His whole life.

The slippers wouldn’t fit in the pockets. Too big. Get a bag, an opaque plastic bag. A surprise, he’d say to Jenny. Just you wait.

Oh, Dad, she’d say. She loved him.

Now he was crying. Sentimental fool. Of course she loved him.

He closed his eyes and saw himself, stupid old man, hunched over his walker staring at some rude stranger’s car, an obstacle he couldn’t get around. Spent his morning on the problem of the blue car. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

He turned around and walked—not shuffled—walked over to his chair and sat down, carefully, in control. Don’t just drop down—Jenny’s voice in his head.

He was down. Couldn’t see the street or the blue car.

His first car was blue, a deep navy blue, with a silver stripe on the fin. Yes, it had big fins.

He saw himself run out the front door, tossing the keys up, catching them with one hand, tossing them up again, leaping over the snow bank, opening the car door, swinging in, starting the big blue car with fins, rolling down the street and around the corner before you could count to ten. Smooth. Easy. All man. That’s who he was.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Friday, January 20, 2012


She ran after the truck, calling his name, yelling Stop, oh, please, stop, but he never looked back, never checked the rearview mirror, never slowed. He paused at the highway, turned, and was gone.

She ran a few more feet, then stopped to catch her breath. It was 10 below with a wind from the north. Might snow today, he’d said at breakfast, Got to get going early, and then he’d left without his hat and gloves, was out the door and in the truck with half a cup of coffee still warm on the counter. She stood in the empty road, pulled her robe around her, and started back to the house. It was cold. She put his hat on—it was too big but relieved the sting in her ears—and pulled the gloves over her tiny hands, balling her hands inside the gloves and letting the fingers flop.

The back door was locked. He was going to fix it—something about the way the hook swung and caught the loop if you weren’t careful and let the door slam, if you hurried too much. You could lock yourself out without even trying, he had said.

Who would try?

You know what I mean.

Now it had happened, ten below, in her bathrobe, slippers, his hat and gloves. She slipped off a glove and tugged at the door. It didn’t move. She went around to the side door, the one they never used, never unlocked. There was no front door. He’d built the house without a front door because a front door was an invitation to visit, to drop by, to stop in for a minute, and they didn’t want random visitors, people so unknown to them that they’d use a front door. The side door was locked.

The first floor windows were closed tight and shuttered. She waded through the snow, tried each shutter, none of them moved. She pulled the cap over her ears. It was a warm hat, the warmest one he’d ever had. She’d made it to his specifications, from pure, unprocessed wool, all the lanolin and natural oils still there. He was genuinely happy with that cap. She didn’t know how he could have forgotten it. He was going to be in the woods most of the day. He needed the hat. He probably had an old pair of gloves in the truck, but he needed the hat.

It was cold. She unrolled the cuff of the cap, pulled it down to her neck, and retied her robe. She went back to the locked door, pulled at it again, hard and harder, tugging at it with her eyes closed. She imagined the metal hook slowly straightening out, releasing its grip on the loop. She could will the hook to bend just enough to slip out—or maybe the screws would loosen.

Not likely. He made everything to last, secure, tight. The hook would come straight before one of his screws would pull out.

The wind picked up the hem of her robe and sliced across her bare ankles. Her slippers had stiffened in the cold and the wind—she was losing feeling in her feet.

He didn’t trust neighbors. They had moved to the country—peace of Eden, he called it—to live the way the Lord intended and forbade her to leave their one acre without his permission. Thou shalt not, he said and kissed her. His last words every morning. Stay home and I’ll be back. Even in his rush this morning, he had said those words. Stay home. Words of comfort.

Until now. If she stayed home, only her frozen body would be there to greet him. If she left, if she went for help—although where she would go was not clear to her—if she found a neighbor—then what? She didn’t know what he would do, and a neighbor couldn’t get the door open either. She’d have to stay with the neighbor until nightfall. Thou shalt not.

She pulled on the door again, with all her strength, screaming at the lock, Open, open, open, then sank down so her robe flowered around her feet. She slipped her arms out of the sleeves, hugged her body under the robe, and pulled her head in like a turtle so the edge of the cap rested on the collar of the robe, a mound of pink huddled against the door.

The wind blew snow around her. She didn’t mind. Snow is insulation, he said when he showed her how he wanted the snow mounded against the house when she shoveled the walk.

He was right as always. The snow piled up around her, keeping her warm until she fell asleep.

© 2011 Kathleen Coskran

Monday, January 16, 2012

Vitamin F

He only ate peanut butter when she was gone, dug it straight out of the jar with a spoon or a knife, once his finger—well, twice. If he had time, and she’d left bread on the counter, he’d spread a thick layer on a single slice, easier to eat on the run.

Peanut butter is a perfect food, his mother had said, or so he claimed. Complete protein, good fat, vitamins ABC.

Doesn’t have vitamins ABC, she would say.

Well, it’s got F, he said, knowing there was no vitamin F, wondering why the vitamin nomenclaturists stopped at E, then leapt to the lone K. Vitamin F always made her smile.

And she told everybody: He only eats peanut butter when I’m gone. Dramatic pause. For the vitamin F.

It was now an article of faith with them. He knew she’d make sure a full jar was on the refrigerator door before she left.

I hate it cold, he said.

Natural organic peanut butter has to be refrigerated, she said. Preserves the F vitamins. Told him he could buy it himself, the smooth, whipped Skippy’s of his childhood, but they both knew he never would.

So, there he was, Friday night, late October, nearly dark outside, standing in the kitchen lit by the refrigerator door, looking for the PB. Not on the door where it should be, not on the top shelf, not in the middle, not anywhere really. He moved the milk, the OJ, not much else to move, the refrigerator was bare. She was gone until Sunday.

He let the door close, stood in the darkened kitchen for a minute, decided he wasn’t that hungry, walked through the dining room to the big window in the living room to catch the last rays of the sun settling over the lake. Almost too late. A single streak of red sun lined the horizon—he bent to see it better—and out of the corner of his eye caught the curve of a jar on the low window sill at the edge of the curtain, where nobody would see it unless he was standing at the window ready for that last moment of wonder, that glimpse of beauty, that marvel that is the sun.

She loved that view, stood there every night—and now he did too because of her. But the jar of peanut butter—how did she know he would see it? Why had she put it there? It didn’t matter. She knew him, loved him, and had left his dinner where he would find it. He picked up the jar and saw she had written over the label with a sharpie: Vitamin F Peanut Butter. Perfect. He could already taste it.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Man Who Didn't Play Pool

He hadn’t been dead long. They found him under a bent dogwood tree, the white flowers petaling his face and old shoulders like a soft dew or the sprinkle of a small girl preparing the way for a bride. The warmth of his body softened the petals so they clung to his cheek and chin and neck. He was so recently shaven that his face was as smooth as bowling ball.

“Billiard ball,” Harv said.

Gayle raised her head and looked at him with those round cow eyes of hers, the gaze that had said what are you talking about? to him too many times.

“I’ve seen him,” Harv said. “He was one of those old guys hanging around Mack’s. You know the kind that wants a game, tries to con you, but nobody ever played him. Man couldn’t hold a cue steady.”

Gayle continued to kneel by the dead man. She had slipped her hand in his shirt pocket and each of his jeans pockets, but found nothing. She’d done it gingerly, never letting her finger rest against the warmth of his body, holding the fabric up just enough to check for ID.

They both knew that one of them should walk back to the car and drive to a phone, call the police, get some help, but the presence of the man’s body covered with the sharp white petals of the dogwood paralyzed them, made them whisper, softened their own harsh edges.

Gayle had found him, literally stumbled over his bare foot stretched across the path like a prank. She was walking fast, fast and faster, away from Harv and their latest argument. ”Just a discussion,” he had said. “I’m entitled to a different point of view.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she had said and hurried away, head up so he wouldn’t know the tears were already running down her face. The shuffle of leaves and twigs in the path muffled her first oh of surprise so Harv didn’t know why she had stopped, why she was bending over, what she was looking at.

He had a flash of her kneeling before him, throwing her arms about his legs, apologizing, even as he knew that was impossible. Gayle was the head in the air that he could recognize a hundred yards away, not a sudden stooping in the middle of a path.

He pulled two quarters out of his pocket. “Here,” he said. “For his eyes.”

She took the quarters without looking at him, but couldn’t put them on the old man’s eyes, not yet. The eyes were the sky blue color some old people get just before cataracts glaze them white. She knew she should close them and finally did put her hand on the crinkly lids and forced them down.

“Now what?” Harv said.

Gayle stood. “I don’t know."

“We need to tell somebody.”

She nodded, whispered, “Not yet.”

They could hardly hear each other over the low rustle of wind through the trees and the insistent call and response of a pair of ravens.

“Let’s make him comfortable,” she said.

“Before. . .” Harv said.

“Yes,” she said, “before he becomes rigid.” While the bent knee and out flung arm could be moved back in place.

He had stiffened just enough to offer a little resistance as they pulled his leg straight and tugged his arm along his side.

“I should have played with him,” Harv whispered suddenly, “should have bought him a beer or bet him a beer and played him.”

“But you said….”

“I know. But he was old. I could have done it once.”

Gayle looked at the man lying on his back in the bed of dogwood blossoms, two new quarters on his eyes, his jaw smooth. She straightened his shirt, buttoned the top button, crossed his hands on his stomach just above the silver belt buckle. “Find his shoes,” she said.

They both looked. Each of them found one soft soled shoe and slipped them on his feet. They moved slowly, the two of them laying out the old man, preparing him for the ordeal ahead, the police with their orange tape and cameras and forms to fill out.

When he was ready, Gayle found a slip of paper in her pocket and wrote Do Not Disturb on it and slid it between the old man’s fingers. Then she leaned into Harv, and they went down the path for help.

2012 Kathleen Coskran

Monday, January 2, 2012

Aloha Man

The old man was on the lava wall before daybreak every morning, feet planted wide, grey T-shirt, white cap, white socks, white Keds, a word for everybody who passed by. Aloha, he said, as if he knew who they were or wanted to.
Kevin was annoyed by his very presence. Karen, predictably, was charmed. She loved constancy, admired routine, thrived on opening a door or drawer and knowing exactly what would be there and in what order—wooden spoons on the left, peelers and graters in the middle, rubber scrapers and that rubber brush nobody needed on the right.

The second week Kevin crossed the street on their morning walk so he wouldn’t have to acknowledge the old guy. Karen plowed on. Aloha, she said.
Aloha, the old guy said.
You don’t even speak the language, Kevin said when they merged at the Islander Inn crosswalk.
What language? Aloha is what you say here—hello and goodbye.
I don’t, Kevin said.
That much was clear.

Karen was already on the balcony when Kevin got up Sunday morning, New Year’s Day. Something’s wrong, she said. Look.
The man was there, as usual, same outfit, same posture, elbows on his knees.
Look at his head, she said.
Hard night, Kevin said. He knew the feeling. Had the feeling. They’d brought in the new year in style, Mai Tai style, and his head rocked with it. He wasn’t surprised to see the old guy looking the way he felt.
Something’s wrong, she said again.
Forget it, he said. Old aloha man is hung over. The guy’s daily appearance on the wall made sense to Kevin now—a stop on his way home to a woman who noticed too much, rearranged everything he’d ever set down, was always fixing things. He felt a surge of unexpected admiration for the old guy—and was about to say that when he heard the door close behind Karen and a minute later saw her cross the road to the man slumped on the wall.
Let him be, he said to himself, but he watched as his wife bent to aloha man, talking earnestly, her hand on his shoulder, her lips nearly touching his ear. Saw him sway, saw her catch him with one hand, raise her other hand to her ear, cell phone at the ready, 911 on speed dial.
He almost shouted let him be, but he needed coffee first, needed to brush his teeth, needed to shower, needed to get dressed, needed to turn away, but instead he stood watching, irritated, perplexed, finally sat down on the stool on the balcony when she sat down next to the old man, watched her take his hand in hers, saw the guy shudder when she leaned into him, whispering, Kevin knew, that everything would be all right.
Which, knowing Karen, would prove to be true and, Kevin, reluctantly, but to his credit, hoped would be so.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran