Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five Syllables

            She drank yesterday’s coffee.  He complained. That’s how it started.
            Small things. She left the cupboard doors ajar, drawers open, the dishwasher gaping. He hated the way she brushed her teeth, the splatters on the mirror, the snake of her floss in the trashcan.
            At night, in bed, she breathed audibly—too low to be called a snore—but he could never forget she was there. It was more than the hump of her body, her heat, the curl of her back, the tug of the sheet balled in her fist.
She suggested marriage counseling. Her idea like everything else, so he was rehearsing his part, making a list. He couldn’t rattle on mindlessly as she could, laying down a stream of words in no particular order, thought leap-frogging thought, so that when she finally stopped with that brilliant smile, he had no idea what she’d just said.
He wrote down: “That smile.” Top of the list. How to explain? That smile pulled him in the first day, lassoed him, made him pause at her table in the library, bend his head to her book where she was pointing at a phrase: The ineluctability of being, smiling and saying, in the voice of a siren—another complaint, the subversive rhythm of her voice—she was saying, “How do you say that and what does it mean?
Ineluctability, he had said. “Seven syllables. You must say each one to get it right.” He pronounced the word again, and she stared at his lips, absorbing every movement, her hazel eyes almost touching him with their luminescence.
Should he add the disturbing eyes to his list?
No. Maybe that was the one thing she couldn’t change.
In-e-luc-ta-bil-i-ty. Her lips—oh, those lips—write it down. Her lips tasted every syllable, slowly, with his, and then again, a little faster, then in a rush—ineluctability— ineluctability—twice, fast—and then that laugh again, the laugh of delight. He was being fair. Her delight had delighted him, but it still felt like a trick, one of her tricks.
He wrote down trick.
“But what does it mean—ineluctability?”
“It’s something that can’t be avoided or resisted,” he had said. “Something inevitable.”
Ah, I see,” she said. The laugh again. The eyes. The smile. “I perceive,” she had said, “the ineluctability of coffee with you.”

He crumpled the list. What was the use? They were together. Ineluctably. Five syllables.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran  first appeared in Water~Stone Review 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


            It was too late to call so she got in the car and drove over there. The house was dark, but she knew he was home. She parked in the driveway, got out, locked the car—an automatic reaction—then unlocked it. What if she needed a fast getaway? She should have parked on the street. It would be more casual, less obvious that her destination was this particular house. But she didn’t know anybody else on the block—where else would she be going?
            She stood on the porch. The house was quiet—no sounds of anybody moving inside, no screen glow from any of the rooms, no water running from a bath or toilet. They were in bed, definitely in bed, possibly asleep.
            She should have called.
But, it was too late to call and if it was too late to call, it certainly was too late to drop by, to say she was just passing and wondered . . . wondered what?
            Well, she could borrow something. A cup of sugar. But she’d driven past two grocery stores and a 7-11 on her way over.
            Why was she there?
            To talk. A simple conversation, maybe a game of Cribbage, a glass of wine. She remembered his love of games, his competitiveness, that light in his eye when he dealt the cards or lined up the Monopoly money. He’d always loved games. Well, she did too. She loved games.
            Perhaps this was a giant game she was playing now. Drew the card that said Call Robert, don’t . . . Don’t what? Don’t drive over there.
            Well, it was too late for that. She was there, standing on the front porch, starting to tremble, although she preferred to say she was just shivering a little, got cold so early these days.
            She pushed the button to illuminate the dial on her watch. 11:45. Later than she thought. What the hell should she do? Ring the doorbell, say Hi, I couldn’t sleep and wondered if you had a cup of sugar I could borrow and would you like a quick game of gin rummy?
            That’s it. That’s what she’d say.
            He’d laugh. She was sure it would be he who would answer the door—and he’d say, sure, come on in. I’ll get the sugar and would you like a cup of tea to go with it? Which she surely would.
            They’d play gin. He’d win. She’d let him win. Then he’d put an extra blanket on the guest bed—he knew how cold she got—and take her car keys to move the car so he could get out to go to work in the morning.
            When she thought it through like that, she didn’t feel so stupid standing on the porch at quarter to twelve. It would be fine, just fine.
            She rang the bell.

©2012 Kathleen Coskran

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Writing Lesson

She watched him before speaking, watched him quite a while in fact, stared at his head resting on his left hand, pen clutched in right, posed over the nearly blank page of his Moleskin journal, thinking, thinking, thinking.
“Just write,” she said.
He didn’t hear her or chose not to.
“Quit thinking and write,” she said again and leaned over the narrow table so he couldn’t miss her insistent voice or imperious green eyes.
 His chin lifted slightly at the second interruption, and his lips formed the word, what, but he didn’t speak.
 “You’re killing yourself with thought,” she said. “Just write. It doesn’t matter what.”
“Your eyes,” he said.
 “Contacts,” she said, “Emerald green contacts to get the attention of guys like you, over-thinkers, men who get stuck between could and should, god-damn perfectionists."
“You’re swearing."
“I know. Another attention getter.” She stood up. “I’m going,” she said. “Write.”

 He waited for her the next day and the next, sat at the same table, black Moleskin, Bic pen, nothing to say, nothing to write about but the green-eyed vixen with the imperious voice and lips like . . . like what?"
Watermelon? Too soft.
Ripe cantaloupe? His writing teacher said to go for the odd phrase, the unexpected.
Blood orange lips? That’s it! Dripping blood orange lips, lips you wanted to press against, eyes that speared your heart, then injected a serum into your very bloodstream, that melted cartilage, burned the fiber of your being until all you could do was write, write, write in the hopes that she . . .

“Well, praise Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, will you look at that? He’s writing.”
He finished the sentence before looking up, afraid it was some other shrew, not his green-eyed vixen. He wrote to the very end of the page.
“Writing crap, are you?”
He paused then, met her emerald gaze, nodded. “Yes. Only crap.”
“Good,” she said, and touched her fingers to her apricot lips. 
Persimmon lips. 
The dripping invitation of watermelon lips
The rosy hue of a ripe peach
No, not peach—and cherries were too cliché. He was back to the dripping invitation of watermelon lips, when she said, “Oh, for god’s sake. I’m waiting, and you’re still writing. You can’t get anything right.”
He knew she was gone by the scrape of her chair and momentarily regretted her departure, but she was wrong—he could get it right. Her lips were an invitation of moist watermelon, or pomegranate red rimmed with a hint of plum, ripe as a Georgia peach
Too cliché.
Ripe as a dangling peach.
Too much movement. Her lips were an invitation of moist watermelon, bright as a pomegranate, and soft as a slowly decaying Georgia peach.


© 2012 Kathleen Coskran



Monday, May 7, 2012

New Car

     The car was red and big, too big. She’d imagined something sleek and even sporty—maybe a convertible or something with a sun roof—an opening she could stick her hand out and wave at the gawkers as she made the turn into the school parking lot.
      No retractable roof. No sun roof. Hardly a window that rolled down all the way. The passenger window was stuck half open. Just needs oil, her father said. A little WD 40 will fix it right up.
     His answer to everything. WD-40, the all purpose lubricant. Well, WD 40 wouldn’t roll the roof back, wouldn’t cover the duct tape on the fender, wouldn’t buff the scrape along the door. Was it in an accident?
     Not necessarily, he said. Just shows a little wear.
     As he did. She looked at her dad, hair gone grey, what was left of it, thin cheeks, scrawny arms with broad wrists from 60 years of hauling, digging, climbing, hoisting. A man who’s a man has to work.
     Shows a lot of wear, she said.
     He nodded tentatively.
     Means it's been somewhere, she said. Done something.
     My point exactly.
     She read the relief on his face, the beginning of that smile that never broke open until he was sure how it would be received.
     She walked around the car one more time, kicked a rear tire to make him laugh, opened the passenger door—the one that showed less wear—let it slam shut. Sounds good, she said. Ran her hand along the dented fender. My favorite color, she said which was almost true.
     She paused, gazing at the car, not her father. I love it. Thank you. 
     Which was also almost true. She couldn’t look at him and say it, but she said it and loud enough for him to hear. Good enough.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Event

   In the event of my death, bury me. Was that clear enough? Should she say no burning, no cremation, no urn. She didn’t even care about a marker or casket—a simple pine box cost more than a used car these days. Just bury me, that’s it, wrap me in a sheet, use that awful floral set Agnes gave us—it’s in the wedding-presents-we’d-never-use closet. The sheets are hundred percent cotton, bought before the wave of polyester swept through. They’ll decompose with the body. Dust to dust. Get it? Dust to dust.
            That’s all she wanted. Couldn’t say it more clearly.
            Mom, don’t be morbid. Her daughter.
            Whatever you want, Mom. Her son, the pacifier, not to be believed. He’d always done what he wanted, they all had, no change on the horizon.
            She could add a postscript. Bury me next to Ernie, but Ernie was now in a brown cardboard box, 12 by 12 by 12 inches, one square foot of Ernie 6 feet under. Wasn’t going to happen to her.
            It was a beautiful funeral. Her granddaughter, oldest grandchild, a dewy twenty, all legs, arms, and breasts, mostly showing, slid into a black tube of a dress for the funeral. You told me to wear a dress.
            Maybe it had been. Beautiful. Emma didn’t remember it, not at all, just a dream: music, people standing, singing, sitting, somebody sobbing, the minister who showed up in the pulpit the week after Ernie stopped going to church, talking about a man he never knew. What could anyone say about a man in a cardboard box? She hadn’t listened.
            What could anyone say? She had nothing to say to anyone. Nothing at all. Didn’t want it to happen to her. Not now. Not yet. Not ever.
            In the event of my death . . . death as an event, a happening, a final action. In the event of my death. The words held it out only as a possibility, not as a sure thing. Just a prudent statement, the wise woman covering all the bases. Avoidable, especially if well planned for.
            In the event of my death, bury me. All she needed to say and probably not necessary. Might not happen.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran