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