Monday, November 25, 2013

Birthday Wishes

            Spent my birthday in prison. Again. How many years? The same bars. Different guy in the next cot. At least this one isn’t crazy, sick, schizo. Said “Happy birthday” when I told him.
            Rich kid. White collar crime. Has manners. Is polite. Reads some. Doesn’t talk. Well, yes, he talks, but what’s he going to say? Have a nice day. Looks like rain from our peep hole to the sky. What’s your position on Obama care? All our health care needs are taken care of. That’s one thing about being in rather than out. Full service government health care plan. Food plan too if you are on a carbohydrate diet. Fry this. Fry that. Protein? Bologne and American cheese. All American cheese.
            Cheez, no wonder he doesn’t have much to say.
            Glad he’s not a shouter.
            I was a shouter once. Rattled the cage like a gorilla. Was so pissed. Scared. Lonely. Terrified. Yelled and cursed until they put me in the hole. Which shut me up. When was that? 20 birthdays ago? 30? Who’s counting? Well, I am, but nobody else. I’m 57 years old, a writer now, not a talker. Wrote my cellie a note. My birthday, I wrote.
            He looked surprised. Real expression on his face, and I would say a tear in his eye, but hard to say. The light isn’t that good, but he’s young—20 something. In here with an old guy celebrating his birthday. How sad is that? Would make me tear up if I still could. Which I can’t.
            Which is good.
            Is there anyway to say Happy Birthday without saying happy?
            Maybe glad you’re still here another year. I am glad about that, not happy, but relieved. Yes, that’s it.
            Relieved not to be dead. Dying in prison, the ultimate shame that keeps me knocking off the birthdays. Once I’m out, I can die free.
            That’s what I want for my birthday. The promise of a good death.

© 2013 Kathleen Coskran

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


            Their relationship consisted
            In discussing if it existed.[1]

            “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
            “What?” he said. “You always want to talk about it.”
            “Not now,” she said.
            “Why not now?” he said. “Because I want to. Talk about it. Now.”
            “No,” she said. “Not now.” She didn’t say “because I’m busy,” but she busied herself with the nail file, smoothing and shaping her long pinkie nail that caught on everything: his sweater, the cushions on the sofa, even on the dish towels so she couldn’t dry the dishes. He once suggested she cut it, but she didn’t seem to hear him—a better explanation than that she ignored his perfectly reasonable, sensible, and practical request.
            “It’s just common sense,” he had said.
            “Yes, common,” she had said and continued curating the nail. It was the only one she painted. My mark of distinction and she turned to it in times of stress. Like now. He didn’t really want to talk about it, it being their relationship, not the damnable fingernail, but he knew that was what adults did—talk about it—that’s what she always said—how mature; let’s talk about it.
            So there he was, exposed, ready to talk and she wasn’t—couldn’t? Wouldn’t? Who knew? He thought she was always ready to talk. There were times—so many times—when the words poured out of her, geysered out, and covered him with their heat and stench, words, words, words, and he had to close his eyes and cover his ears. Hiding, she said.
            Yes, that was right. But no more. No more hiding. He was ready. “Let’s just talk.” Emphasis on “just.”
            Her head bobbed as he said that, so she heard him, so he said it again and her head bent over the one damn nail (his private name for it), bobbed again, and he saw that the file was wet, her hands were wet, and when he touched her chin and turned her face towards his, her face was wet, silent tears falling across that incredible skin, that beautiful face that he did, in fact, love.
            Nothing to talk about there.
            “I love you,” he said and took her face in his two hands so she had to look at him, wet face, eyes cupping those tears that rose so easily. “I love you,” he said again, “and we don't have to talk about it.”
            “What! What happened to this story?” she said. “I thought you were going to break my nail and make me talk.”
            “I meant to,” he said. “I really did, but then . . ." He shrugged, mute. 
            “But then I cried," she said and went back to sharpening the damn nail.

©2013 Kathleen Coskran

[1] Thom Gunn

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


            She says she’s tired, but not sick, not really. “Oh, no. Just a little cough, a sniffle, but I’m fine, just fine. Feeling great!” That’s what she says, then hunches over her crossword, alone at a table across the room.
            She doesn’t look great, but then she never did. That’s what we whisper to each other. She was a plain child, we remember. Never a pretty woman. “Probably a fussy baby,” Fran says, and we laugh.
“Hard, must be hard to be so . . . so . . . plain,” Ellen says, and we all cluck sympathetically.
            Cluck. I think that’s the right word for what we do. The perfect word. Exactly right.           
            Cluck. Cluck. Cluck.
            But quietly. Kindly. Almost.
            “She really doesn’t look at all well,” Marge says.
            “But then,” begins Ellen.
            “She never did,” I finish and laugh with the others. I want to be in, not out, and I too was never a pretty woman. Professional, Ellen calls me. You look best in a suit. I notice she doesn’t say I look good in a suit.
            But she looks like a Halloween jester in a suit, like a char lady in a dress, a scarecrow in pants, and she would never wear jeans.
            We can hear her muffled cough at the next table, Kleenex to her mouth, other hand at her
forehead. We’re all watching her, waiting for her to look our way so we can nod sympathetically. Maybe one of us will smile before we go back to our clucking, and she to her crossword.
            I’m ashamed, but I don’t do anything. 

© 2013 Kathleen Coskran

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


She was tired, and he was not. He walked fast; she strolled. He looked ahead; she looked down. They were clearly incompatible. It was obvious in the coffee shop a week ago. Their first meeting. Even though their personals ads were almost identical. His: Straight m seeks humor and ice cream. Hers: Straight f seeks stories and root beer floats.
            They met at Izzy’s. He was eating a double cone, raspberry chocolate swirl with mint jalapeño when she arrived. He waved her over as soon as she bought the float.
            “I’d know you anywhere.” His first words. Then he offered her a taste of his cone before she could speak.
            So it had been easy—too easy—“So easy it scares me,” she told Rachel. “I don’t know what to do with a nice man.”

            And now it was raveling. She could hardly keep up. He was almost running—his sandals slapping on the path as he plowed up the hill. “Come on! Come on,” he called. He had an unusual lightness for a big man. The passion for ice cream showed itself on his body: the belly, the big arms, the round face.
“Yes, he’s fat, but he’s so . . .”
“. . . nice.” Rachel finished the sentence for her.

            The root beer floats (diet root beer) didn’t show on Ana. She had the waist of a damselfly, the flutter of a moth, the radiance of a dragonfly—his words. “My butterfly,” he’d said that first day when she sat down at his table.
            “Beauty needs a taste,” he’d said and held the cone out. She touched it to her tongue—thinking pistachio, blinked at the cool jalapeño burn, then smiled without meaning to. Nobody had ever called her beautiful before.

            “He’s fat, I’m not beautiful, not fun, I get tired . . .”
            “Do you like him?”
            “Well, yes. I told you. He’s nice.”

            One more time—Rachel’s rule, a last date, just a little walk, so here she was trudging to catch up with the nicest man who’d ever liked her. The only man.
            Where was the problem?
            Lot’s of problems, she thought, and was about to list them, but now they were at the top of the hill, and he was smiling and holding out his hand to her.
            She sighed and took it.

© 2013 Kathleen Coskran