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The Hobblers

Story by Dan Chaon (Read author interview) June 26, 2009

art by Robinson Accola

We see the Hobblers moving down the sidewalk past our house. The dreadful couple out for their evening constitutional. They must be in their eighties or nineties, easily fifty years older than we are, and by the time they make it from our neighbor’s driveway to ours, some of the leaves on the trees have changed from green to red. Summer’s over.

“You’re so mean,” my wife says. “I think they’re sweet.”

I don’t say anything. Maybe they are sweet: Inspirational in their way. But I still don’t like them. That wife with her bowed osteoporostic back, staring downward loomingly; that dazed, batty looking husband in his tweed jacket over a pajama shirt, his hand on her elbow as if escorting her to a formal dance. My wife has heard that he is an emeritus professor. Physics? Psychology? She can’t remember.

You could say that they are sweet, or you could say that they are something out of a horror movie.

It’s September, and my wife herself is dying pretty rapidly. She has about a month or so to go, she is at the stage where her lungs keep filling with fluid, a kind of slow-motion drowning, and every few days we go in so they can do a lung tap, which provides a little short-term relief. She can still make it up and down the stairs, though it takes a while.

We’re having a lot of quiet time together. Looking out the window, reading books. We’ve both taken off from work, and the days begin to waver and lose their shape. Monday, Thursday, Saturday: It’s hard to tell. I drive down the hill to buy her some lemon sorbet. I cook a chicken in a pot and bring the broth to her in a small bowl. Here is one of those wonderful spoons that we stole from a Chinese restaurant, and I lift it to her lips.

She doesn’t make it long enough to see the first snowfall, and by that time the Hobblers have vanished as well. The sidewalks are probably too slick for them now, too treacherous, and the cold air is too hard on their old bones, it runs right through them and they feel as if they will never be warm again.

Perhaps they will emerge again in the spring.

Late April.

Early May.

Tulips and daffodils and lilacs and budding trees.

I wonder if that would make her happy, to know that the Hobblers were still around. Down the block and back, down the block and back, getting a little exercise. Maybe—probably—she would like it. “Sweet,” she would say.

As for me, I don’t know what I would prefer. I sit at the window, peering out, and I don’t know whether I want to see them, or if I hope that they will never come.

About the Author

Dan Chaon’s new novel, AWAIT YOUR REPLY, is forthcoming in August 2009. He lives in Cleveland and teaches at Oberlin College.

About the Artist

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.

This story appeared in Issue Twenty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-Five

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