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Volume 3 Number 2 • Fall 2011

Rudy Koshar


The man approaches as I stop the lawn mower and take off the safety glasses that make me look like a creature from a '50s sci-fi movie. He is twenty-something, as tall as I am but huskier, bare arms covered in red-black tattoos. The bill on his over-large Raiders cap is wide and paper-flat, jogged to the left.

"Car problems?"

"Outta' gas." Twenty-something doesn't look at me, but down and to my right.

"I have a tank in the garage. There's maybe a gallon left."

Two minutes later I'm in the street and he stands against the car, driver's side, gas lid open. It's a defeated car, an Olds, from the '90s. Mississippi plates. While I hold the tank to pour the gas, I look through the back window. On the passenger side there is a huge, elderly woman, a rolled mass of dark flesh dressed in pink and orange. Her gray hair is flat on top but splayed into fuzzed tendrils on either side.

"Mississippi's a long way from Wisconsin," I say to the man. Then I think, do I sound suspicious?

"Got family on the west side." The young man still does not look at me, but he smiles.

I search for more words, but I notice the tank has emptied, and I draw the nozzle away from the gas lid. "Do you have the cap?"

"Ain't no cap." He looks at me for the first time and frowns.

"We should start it up and see if it runs."

The young man gets behind the wheel. There are candy wrappers and an empty Doritos bag on the passenger seat. An empty Coke in the bottle holder. The ashtray overflows with cigarette butts. The key turns but the engine only cranks. Another try, then again. He looks up at me, a furrowed expression.

"Better not run down the battery," I say, leaning down. "Wait a minute, and try again. If it doesn't start, I have jumper cables."

I look into the back seat. "Afternoon, ma'am." I smile.

She looks away, staring at my house. There is a tattered blue blanket and a small pillow. On the floor, yellowed newspaper. Behind her, on the rear window tray, I see a stuffed animal, brown, a teddy bear or maybe a dog, with matted fur and one eye missing. I look back at her. She doesn't acknowledge me.

Twenty-something turns the key again. The engine starts and blue smoke hazes up from the exhaust pipe.

"You're set to go," I say, too cheerily.

"Could use some cash, man. To buy more gas."

"Jerold, that man has helped you already," rasps the woman. Her voice abrades the July air.

"Here," I say, before the man responds. "I happen to have a ten on me."

"Thanks, sir."

I walk to the other side of the car, which drives away as I look into the back seat and wave.

The old woman glares at me, and I have to turn away.

R.J. Koshar teaches history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has published four books of academic history, but he is now writing fiction. In the next year he hopes to finish one of the two novels he has written.

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