This is West – Stubborn Old Man


“You like coffee?” Catherine asked Curtis as he placed her medication on the kitchen counter.

The kettle on the stove-top steamed.

“Yes, with cream and sugar,” Curtis said, moving to the dining room table.

Catherine frowned and heaped spoonfuls of beans into the grinder.

“Abigail, please tell me you still drink your coffee like a real American,” Catherine said.

“Black is fine, Grandma,” Abigail said, walking over to the photos framed on the wall. She stopped in front of the one showing Grandpa Allen carving a pumpkin. “Grandpa always went all out for his pumpkins.”

Catherine took a French press out of the cabinet and set it on the table. “He liked to put on a show for you girls.”

“My high school would do a pumpkin carving contest every year,” Curtis said, “when I was-”

GRRRRR-OOOM! Catherine ground the beans.

“Tell me about the new job, Abigail,” Catherine said as soon as the grinding stopped. She dumped the grounds into the French press.

“Oh, it’s the best,” Abigail said and took a seat next to Curtis. “Even though I’m only junior staff I’ve already been assigned to some big cases.”

“You earned it, sweetheart,” Curtis said.

“Of course she earned it,” Catherine said, pouring the steaming kettle over the grounds. “My granddaughter works too hard to not be recognized. You should try it sometime, Curtis.”

“Oh, stop, Grandma,” Abigail said. “Curtis’s shop is doing well right now.”

“Well for a toy shop anyway,” Catherine said and set out four coffee cups on the table.

“It’s a game shop, actually. Not toys,” Curtis said. “Mostly role-playing games.”

“Mmhmm,” Catherine said and lit a cigarette. “I’m sure you’ll make a fortune selling those to school children for their lunch money.”

“They’re not just for children, they’re-” Abigail patted Curtis’s hand and shook her head.

Catherine plunged the French press and filled the cups on the table. She passed each to Abigail and Curtis, no cream or sugar, and set one out for herself and another at the empty seat at the table.

“Is someone else coming?” Curtis asked.

“No,” Catherine said. “Who else besides my sweet Abigail would come out all this way to visit an old lady?”

The kitchen lights flickered.

“The lights are still doing that?” Abigail said. “I thought you had a repair man out here?”

“Those con artists?” Catherine scoffed. “They don’t know how an old house like this works. If it’s not a cookie cutter model home, they don’t know how to fix a thing.”

“Maybe Curtis could take a look,” Abigail said.

“Please,” Catherine said, tapping her ash into the overstuffed tray on the table. “I doubt there’s an electrical engineering game to teach him how.”

Curtis hid his expression behind his coffee mug.

“Grandma,” Abigail said, dumping the ashtray’s contents into the trash. “Maybe it’s time to consider moving someplace where they can take care of you.”

Catherine took a heavy drag. “You mean a nursing home? No, I’m staying in my house.”

“But, Grandma, what if you fall again?”

“I won’t fall,” Catherine said.


“I won’t fall,” she said and turned her back to Abigail.

Abigail looked to Curtis for support. He shrugged and sipped more coffee.

Abigail turned back to Catherine, but before she could say anything, her phone rang.

“Its work,” she said and left the dining room.

Catherine faced Curtis, still taking heavy drags from her cigarette.

“So, Catherine,” Curtis said. “How’s your-”

“I want you to get Abigail to drop the nursing home talk,” Catherine said and snubbed out her cigarette.

“Um, that’s not really any of my business,” Curtis said.

The lights flickered again. When they returned to normal he noticed the extra coffee cup was empty.

“Uh, that cup just . . .” He checked under the table for a spill. It was clean. “Where did the coffee go?”

“Allen drank it,” Catherine said and refilled his cup.

“Allen isn’t here, Catherine,” Curtis said, cautiously.

“He’s always here. He won’t leave,” Catherine said and lit another cigarette.

“Allen is dead,” Curtis said. “You know that.”

“Of course he’s dead. And he still won’t leave, the stubborn old man.”

Curtis peeked out of the dining room. Abigail seemed to be engaged in something important. He looked back and Allen’s coffee mug was empty again.

“Catherine, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here.”

“I’m not pulling anything,” she said and offered Curtis a smoke. He declined. “Allen won’t leave and he doesn’t like to be alone. So I’m not going to a nursing home.”

Curtis tapped his finger on his mug. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe you should think about-”

The lights flickered. The cabinet doors swung open and slammed wildly. Allen’s coffee mug whizzed right past Curtis’s head and smashed into the wall behind him.

Abigail rushed into the room. Catherine closed the cabinet doors while finishing her smoke. Curtis was on the floor picking up shards of mug.

“What just happened?” Abigail asked, wide-eyed.

“Nothing. A gust of wind.” Catherine said.

“That was no gust of-”

“Sweetheart,” Curtis interrupted. “I was thinking we should visit more often to help Catherine out around the house.”

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)

Published by

El Portal

Eastern New Mexico University’s literary magazine, El Portal, offers a venue for the work of writers, artists and photographers. ENMU students, national, and international writers are welcome to submit their original, previously unpublished short stories, plays, poetry and photography. No entry fees are charged. Cash prizes are awarded to first-, second- and third-place winners in each category (only ENMU students qualify). El Portal is published each semester at Eastern thanks to Dr. Jack Williamson, a world-renowned science fiction writer and professor emeritus at ENMU who underwrote the publication. El Portal has been published since 1939.