This story was originally published online on Gloom Cupboard.
I drive my taxi to Mr. Cooper’s house. 1436 N. Olsen. Mr. Cooper takes my taxi once a week. The difficult thing about Mr. Cooper is the fact that he’s 98 years old. He’s about 5 feet 3 and narrow as a bird in his gray cotton pants and blue flannel. He uses an aluminum walker and watching him move is like watching the seasons change.
I can’t believe it’s October already.
In tired agony Mr. Cooper climbs into the front seat of the cab and gets as comfortable as possible on his frail old bones. His hands are twisted red claws and his left twitches sometimes and when it does he brings it up to his breast pocket. In his pocket lives a bottle of prescription medication and when he feels the bottle he is reassured and his hand lowers calmly back to his lap.
It’s 11 a.m. and the Tucson skies are blue and warm.
“Morning Mr. Cooper,” I say. “How are you?”
“Fair to middlin,” he says. “Nice weather isn’t it?”
“Better than Minnesota?” I say.
Mr. Cooper was a high school math teacher in Minnesota in his younger days. His wife died many years ago.
"I lived in Minnesota for 65 years,” he says.
I pull out of the driveway and tool through the old man’s neighborhood. It’s one of those rare Tucson neighborhoods that doesn’t pretend to care for the typical architecture and color scheme of a desert town. There is no puppy-shit stucco, no lonely cacti, no rock gardens, no ocotillo fences, no terra cotta tiles, no courtyards. Instead, simple red brick houses ho-hum along gently curving streets. The houses have small tidy yards covered in real honest-to-goodness grass, bordered by miniature white painted fences and decorated with an American flag, a fake deer and a birdbath.
I stop the cab at a stop sign and Mr. Cooper and I watch a toddler walking down the side of the road. All he has on is a pair of diapers. The road is otherwise deserted. The fact that he’s a boy is apparent in the square wobble of his strut, the tousled hair, the fat little arms at the ready.
I pull up slowly beside him. He scowls at me through the sun.
“Hello there,” I say.
He keeps walking. He’s determined to get somewhere. I slowly inch along hanging my arm out the window. Mr. Cooper strains to look.
“What’s your name?”
“Ranny,” he says in a little boy voice, growling with irritation.
“Where’s your mom, Randy?”
“Don’t know,” he says.
“Where’s your dad?”
He looks at me as if I’m wasting his time.
“Don’t know,” he says.
“Aren’t you scared to be out here by yourself?” I say.
“Where do you live?” I say, looking around for any sign of a parent. He narrows his eyes.
“Don’t know,” he says. He’s wise to me. It’s taken him an hour to break out of the house and he isn’t about to be taken back home so easy.
Mr. Cooper leans toward me, listening to every word. He has a huge grin on his wrinkled face.
“Where are you going?” I say to the kid.
“Goin’ bear huntin,” he says.
“What?” Mr. Cooper says. “What’s he doing?”
“He’s going bear hunting,” I say.
“I think you forgot your gun,” I say. “What are you going to kill the bears with?”
He stops walking. I stop the cab. He looks at me as if he’s studying the theory of relativity. Then he shrugs and keeps walking.
“Widda a rock,” he says.
“A rock?” I say. “How far can you throw a rock?”
He leans down and with his tiny chubby hand picks up a small rock from the side of the road. He rears back and with the whole of his 40 pound, 3 foot tall frame, hurls it toward the horizon. The rock sails about 5 feet and lands quietly. He looks at me to judge my astonishment.
“Good one,” I say. He dusts his hands together in satisfaction and keeps walking.
“You know,” I say. “I think I saw a bear up around this next corner, so you better be careful.”
He stops again and looks up at me. His eyes are wide as an animal’s and his mouth is hanging open. Mr. Cooper laughs his old man’s tenor laugh and thumps his skinny knee. I wink at him.
Then we hear a woman shrieking.
“RANDY! RANDY! RAAANDYY!!”
She runs into the road, feathers flying, and swoops him off his feet. She glares at me.
“What are you doing out here, honey?” she says to him, hugging him and rocking him side to side. He looks at me as if I was responsible for everything.
“He was going bear hunting,” I say.
She doesn’t respond, just turns and races back to her house with Randy in her arms.
I drive on.
Mr. Cooper has a smile on his face all the way to the grocery store. The grocery store is the only place Mr. Cooper ever goes.
When I pull up to the grocery store I get out and get Mr. Cooper’s walker out of the back seat and open his door and stand the walker there for him. He grips the walker with his gnarled red hands and stands up and slowly heads for the store’s front door.
“Watch out for bears,” I say.
“Will do,” he says.
One time a few weeks ago I was waiting for Mr. Cooper to come out of the store, and I had to go to the bathroom, and so I left the cab and went inside. Inside I saw him standing with his walker which had a little basket hooked onto it; he was gazing at the deli with its hot yellow lights and good greasy smells. He looked carefully and happily at all the foods, the brown and crispy fried chicken and the pink ham and black and pink roast beef and the red and orange and green salads. He stood there and watched all the people pick out their favorites, nodding in affirmation each time. Mr. Cooper always spends at least 30 minutes in the store, and he always comes out with the same thing: a small sack containing a box of saltine crackers and a quart of skim milk.
Today I watch him inch across the walkway and finally disappear inside the grocery store. The meter clicks higher as I wait in the sun. Somewhere out there is a bear with Mr. Cooper’s name on it, and one with my name too. Another cab comes up behind me, so I turn my hazard lights on. The lights blink and blink until he gets the message and drives around me.