“Families — Four Stories” by Kathy Coskran (Ethiopia)


Families — Four Stories

by Kathy Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67)


Kathy Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67)

Families are complicated. We all have them, somewhere, somehow. Families are formed in many ways, none are perfect, all are heartfelt—and the heart feels pain as well as joy, anxiety as well as comfort, gratitude as well as resentment. There is no one way to portray a family; no idealized family; no perfect family. So these little stories offer snapshots of the idiosyncratic joys and complications of families.




  The earrings were all she took from her mother’s meager estate and now she had lost one. They were a wedding present from her father to her mother, tiny, perfect pearls set in gold and glued to an earring clip. She wore the earrings almost daily when she was a child. They were the central ornament in her dress-up fantasies, a gift from the king, she would proclaim in an exaggerated accent nobody could place. Her mother didn’t wear them, and her father never commented on the fact that his bride had turned his wedding gift into a toy. Maybe he didn’t care or notice.

Or, more likely, he wasn’t many weeks into the marriage before he realized that the pearl, round, smooth, white and pure, was not the most appropriate gift for a buxom, wide-mouthed redhead named Ruby.

Rubies would have been too obvious, he told her later, long after Ruby was gone, and it was just the two of them. “The earrings are yours,” he said. “Perfect for you.”

They hurt, the way clip-ons do. She could have converted them to studs, but she liked the pinch to her earlobe and the eventual throb that had her removing one and then the other, rubbing her lobe. It reminded her of Ruby, the beauty and the pain.

“Ruby was a package,” her father said. “You got it all.” He paused and looked at her, abashed and embarrassed. “I wanted it all.”

“Masochist,” she said.

“No,” he said. “I got you too. The best part.”

How like him to give pearls to the one woman who not only would never wear them, but would resent them as an overt attempt to define her. Ruby must have loved him briefly—who wouldn’t love that sweet man?—but she bored quickly and was gone before Garnett turned ten.

Garnett checked the pocket of her coat, her jacket, every compartment of her purse. She’d probably taken it off midway through dinner, when the sharp stab was too much, held it in her hand, thinking she’d snap it back on, and then didn’t.

Just like her mother—who said she would do something and then didn’t. I’ll pick you up on Saturday. We’ll go to the zoo or the movies or Grant Park and feed the ducks. Garnet would wait, in her clean clothes, hair brushed, ready when the call came, running late, can’t make it, Sweetheart, next time, next time. The pain was a quick sharp stab of disappointment and expectation. If it bothered her father, he never said anything and always had an extra hour to take a kite to the vacant lot or to walk down to the creek and catch tadpoles. Nothing her mother would ever suggest.

He was the pearl, polished by irritation perhaps, but smooth and beautiful. She didn’t need two of everything. She had the one that mattered.


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 rises 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 three steps to the trashcan,.

“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.



Don’t see him again. That’s what I said to her, not that she was listening, but somebody had to say it and so I did. The chosen one. That’s me. Something got to be said and I say it. Blurt it out, get it over with, all the cards on the table, slam, dunk, and unappreciated.

Deeply unappreciated. That’s me also. That’s I if I’m to be grammatically correct, but who ever says That’s I? Predicate nominative.  The nominative case of the pronoun. Another example of saying what’s right, what’s correct even though it’s uncomfortable, deeply uncomfortable.

Don’t ever see him again. And it’s her—it’s she—I’ll never see again, not until she flounces back in here tonight, just missing dinner as I’m pushing back from the table, daring me to ask where she’s been. I’m the mother. She’s 18. Enough said.

My words are still heavy in my head. It’s as if I wrote them on the kitchen shades, on the door she slammed when she left, on her tire tracks in the driveway. How else to say it? He’s no good. He’s shifty-eyed, lying, surface slick. Oh, yes I know the attraction, but she doesn’t need to go there. Her father taught her that. She must have learned something, saw something, noticed at least.

Shit. Hell. Damn. Why can’t I keep my mouth shut? I turn on the water, get a drink, look out the window. She’s coming back, huddled around herself, forgot something no doubt, won’t look at me when she storms in, swoops by, grabs her purse or her phone or the scarf she forgot, zips past as if I’m a ghost. That’s what she’ll do, and I won’t watch. As if I’m too busy. As if I don’t care.


I look out the window again. She’s out of the car. I hear her on the step. I have time. I put my glass on the counter. I turn to the door. I smile. I even open my arms. I open them wide as the door opens. And she comes to me without a word, both of us finally silent.



“One of you will lie,” he said, giving me advice the way big brothers are wont to do — his explanation and a favorite phrase — are won’t to — as in parents are wont to worry when their little girl. . .

I’m not a little girl!

When their little girl goes out with a man . .

A man? Joe’s . . .

A man 8 years older than her, a bearded man who shows up in leathers and a Harley. . .

            A Honda.

            . . . . motorcycle to meet them.

            He was wearing a helmet.

            But he only brought one as reckless men are wont to do.

            I have my own.

            You do! End of monologue. He’s staring at me, waiting for me to produce the helmet, no doubt, which I can’t do since we’re in his car on our way to Mom and Dad’s for Easter.

It’s at home, I say, in my dorm. I just didn’t have it that day.

            Convenient explanation, he says. And your boy friend—emphasis on boy—is a man.

Of course he’s right about that. I hadn’t really thought it through. I’d been going out with boys until Joe came along. Joe, tall, blond, handsome, just a hint of beard really. He keeps it trimmed.

My brother starts again. One of you will lie. That’s all I mean to say. One of you will lie.

I wonder if I’m the one. The liar. We’re almost there—two more stoplights. We never make them both so I have a minute to decide: who will lie?

I can’t tell her, I say at the first light. Omission isn’t really a lie.

            Liars are wont to say that, he says as the light changes.

The second light mercifully is red. I think he slowed down so we’d catch it. If I tell her, she’ll lie and say she’s so happy—a lie. . . . Which makes me tear up because my mother would lie to spare me, to make it a nice day for us all. If I lie, everybody will know I’m lying, but it won’t ruin the day, at least not publicly.

We’re there. I’m out of the car, walking towards Mom, in her slim, green dress, smiling, arms out, noting my tights, the blousy tunic, the slight bulge.

Oh, Darlings, she says, meaning us both. I’m so glad to see you. She looks at me, the usual up and down—and . . . and . . . I see you have something to tell us.

            I nod, and we both burst into tears, neither of us lying. My brother was wrong as he is wont to be, but I see him nod and smile—glad to be wrong for once in his life.



Four Stories is from pocketstories-kcoskran.blogspot.com.

Kathy Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Copyright © 2022. Peace Corps Worldwide.