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Something Breaks

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

I wrote this post a few days after my uncle died. That's Uncle Charles's hat on the wall; before taking the picture, I added the roses, leftovers from a floral arrangement. When he died, my uncle was living with his sister, my aunt Ruth. His bedroom was the one in the front, with the nice view. Charles H. Cooley died on November 3, 2017. He was 91. When the morticians came for his body, Huckleberry growled; he didn't want them to enter the bedroom. I used the prompt "Something breaks" in a writing group that met at Randolph House in the spring and fall of 2017.

Randolph Center, Vermont. Aunt Ruth’s house is full of people. For a solid week, her Mr. Coffee machine makes pot after pot of coffee. The cousins from California like dark roast. They give me money and send me to Shaw’s. “Just get something good,” they say. I come back with Peet’s. They are impressed. “You have that here?” they say. “In Randolph?”

The refrigerator fills and overflows with food—soup and spaghetti sauce and cheese and cold cuts and vegetables that turn brown and get thrown out. People come through the door carrying Tupperware dishes, and I put them outside on the deck to get them out of the way and hope the squirrels will make the store-bought cupcakes and muffins and coffeecake disappear.

Orlando, my Puerto Rican cousin-in-law, stands at the stove, making frittatas and some kind of hash. “Not more food!” cries Aunt Ruth. “Oh, dear!” She slumps in her chair.

Every time somebody leaves the house I make them take something. Bags of recyclables. A portable potty and a memory foam mattress leave in various cars.

“Do you want this?” I say to my younger sister. I am holding a box of Stevia sugar substitute that somebody purchased and never opened.

“No,” she says. She looks at me. “I mean yes. Yes, I want that. Give it to me.”

Just before everyone leaves, the coffeemaker breaks. I run vinegar through it, but it is beyond cleaning, beyond repair.

“Here, take this,” I say to my sister’s husband, handing him the coffeemaker. Then I go to Bisbee’s, which is going out of biz.

“I think we’re out,” says Ken. “Do you want a used one?”

“How used is it?”

“Not very. We prefer to drive to Cumby’s. It’s only a dollar a cup.”

He hands me a little five-cup Mr. Coffee machine. Five of Mr. Coffee’s cups are more like two for most people. “Take it,” he says. “It’s yours.”

The next morning, I make two cups. One for Aunt Ruth and one for me.

The house is quiet.

Exercise: Write a scene in which something breaks.


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