A Lucky Man

by Daniel Coshnear

Kevin had not been enjoying the game of Jello in the backseat, the boys falling into each other with every curve in Highway 116, nor the shrieking. When the road straightens, it’s quiet enough to hear the radio — another threadbare Saturday morning conversation about steroids and home run records to fill time before the day’s games begin. But Ted, Kevin’s son, tunes in, in his way. He hears the word legacy and repeats it a dozen times, stressing the first syllable and then the last, until the word becomes an incantation and a meaningless utterance.

After a few moment’s chewing on the brim of his baseball cap, Tanner, Ted’s best friend, says, “Pull up your pants. I don’t want to look at your ugly legacies.”

“Dude,” Ted squeals, “I don’t want to look at your ugly, knobby-kneed legacies.”

“You boys aren’t making a whole lot of sense.”

“Stay out of this, Dad.”

“Yeah, Mr. Reilly.”

“No one asked for your impertinence.”

Impertinence, Kevin recognizes as one of Ted’s vocabulary words. “No, I don’t believe anyone did,” he says to the empty seat beside him.

Ted to Tanner: “No one asked for your incontinence.”

Tanner: “Shut up, Dude.”

Ted, choking with laughter: “You shut up, Dude.”

And with that they’re back to headlocks, punching each other in the knees and more laughter. Soon they arrive in the lot by the ball field. The boys heave their canvas bags up onto their small shoulders and side by side they walk toward the dugout where teammates are swinging bats or tying their cleats. They walk so close they bump into each other every few steps. The boys love to be silly together. They love to be together. This is love. They’re drunk on it.

Or Kevin is feeling sentimental, an affliction of late. If he watched longer, he’d see Tanner pick up his pace, eager to join his other teammates, leaving under-sized and uncoordinated Ted struggling to catch up, tripping and falling over his baseball bag.

Or Kevin is burdened by a malingering sadness. It was a month ago, he’d headed out on a Saturday morning like this one, but alone to visit a recent divorcee named Lindsay for whom he’d installed a granite counter-top. She’d paid him for his labor and promised something extra when the job was done. Sometimes when he’s alone driving, he can smell her shampoo.

One of the boys’ parents pulls a wide metal rake across the infield dirt. Another lugs a cooler from the back of a truck. The coach, an old high school buddy of Kevin’s, spreads lime out to mark the edge of left field. He tilts his head up briefly. From the car Kevin waves and points. He means to say he hasn’t forgotten he’d promised to help the boys warm up their arms. He means to say he’s sorry. It’s a lot to communicate with your hand and your face fifty yards away, and, in any case, the coach has trained his eyes back on the sea of grass between them.

Helping the boys warm up wasn’t the only promise Kevin made. Now, because he has put it off, he has an hour to write a eulogy for his wife’s Uncle Tim, for the memorial service scheduled at two, immediately after the baseball game. It’s not a job for which anyone volunteered. Kevin was chosen because in the final weeks of his life Uncle Tim insisted, “No church, no priest, none of that bullshit.” Because Uncle Tim willed whatever was left of his estate after the settlement of medical bills, cost of cremation, etc., be awarded to Ted, (and though it proved to be a negative sum, it had seemed a nice gesture). Because they’d be holding the service at Kevin’s home. Because the few remaining friends of Uncle Tim are either sick or crazy. Because Tim had been a house painter and years ago Kevin had worked for him for a few weeks while studying to get his contractor’s license. Because once, all those years ago, Kevin said in front of his wife, Brenda, and wife’s sister, Katy, and wife’s sister’s husband, Bill, “The old man can be a helluva sweet guy in spite of himself.” They were stunned.

There’s no point questioning the choice now. Yesterday, Brenda steam-cleaned the carpet, scrubbed the kitchen tiles, baked lasagna. This morning she will shop for flowers and a couple of jugs of wine. From the caterer she will rent a large coffee maker, mugs, glasses, folding chairs. Today Kevin will write a eulogy because Brenda asked him to.






Before Kevin and the boys left the house, Brenda hugged him, her cheeks hot and moist, and hugged and kissed Ted, too, of course, and even hugged Tanner, which was unlike her. She folded and stuffed a sheet of loose leaf into Kevin’s back pocket. “This might help.”

“Thanks,” he said.

“Might help you understand why I can’t do it.”


She pushed a magnet across the refrigerator door. “Never mind,” she said. “Give it back to me.”

“Hey,” he said, “I’ll take any help I can get.”

She said nothing, pushed the magnet back to where it had been.

“Honey, we’ve got to go,” he said.

“Don’t read it,” she called after him. “Promise you won’t.”






From a distance, Kevin resembles George Clooney. Up close, you see the knot on the bridge of his nose, result of an inside fastball his senior year of high school, and a chipped tooth, consequence of an on-the-job accident years later. Still, he is what they call easy on the eyes, and he has an easy confidence. Men like him. Women like him, very much. Children like him, too. He conveys proficiency and good humor even when he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. So, it was last week when he sent a dozen roses to the lonely divorcee and a card with the inscription, They say the darkest hour … xoxo – K.

There are formats for eulogies. Like templates. Like blueprints. We are gathered here, for example. You can begin with that. Minutes after noon, every seat in the coffee shop is taken. Maybe it’s a blessing because he’d prefer a whiskey anyway. Half a block south is the Forestville Saloon. He’s driven by but never stepped inside. Around sunset, there’s often a small crowd of smokers beneath its blue and orange sign, and two or three choppers parked on the street in front. When Kevin enters, he nearly trips over a stool. A thin shaft of light leaks through what may be a kitchen door, and behind a dark curtain is the glow of red neon. The carpet is ripe, or maybe the fragrance is wafting in from the bathroom, wherever that might be.

“Hep you?”

“Afternoon,” says Kevin, though he can’t see anyone.

“Is it already?”

The dim figure of a man appears before him, slightly hunched, silver-gray hair combed back and over again, like a meringue topping. At the far end of the bar he hears a woman crying and another woman trying to console her. They sound like heavy smokers, perhaps in their fifties. They sound like they had cocktails for breakfast. His eyes are slowly adjusting to the darkness.

The bartender lifts a bottle of Old Crow out of the well and pours a shot over ice. Kevin opens his back pack on the bar. He sips. He bites his pen. We’re gathered here, he writes.

“Is that Brady?” calls one of the women. And before Kevin can answer, “You ass-wipe, you got some nerve.”

“It ain’t him,” says the bartender, lumbering in the direction of the women. “Now just take it easy.”

“I’m sorry,” calls the woman. “I’m really sorry.”

“You sure it ain’t him,” says the other.

“Name’s Kevin Reilly.”

“You’re still probably an ass-wipe. All men are–”

“I’m sorry. She’s upset. She’s upset for me. She’s my friend.”

“I’m just kidding you, honey.”

“Don’t pay any mind,” says the bartender.

It’s like the voices are coming out of a cave. Kevin tries to turn his attention back to his drink and the paper in front of him.

“I knew a Kevin. He was a pig.”

“Now stop it,” says the bartender.

“What are you going to do, Larry?”

“It’s Lawrence now, don’t you remember?” says the other, cackling.

“Oh, oh, excuse me! What are you going to do, Lawrence? Going to hit me?”

The bartender busies himself wiping glasses. Gradually he drifts back toward Kevin. “This place can be hell sometimes,” he says.

Kevin nods, but his mind has tripped into a memory, his own hell. The scene, it couldn’t have lasted more than ten minutes—pieces of it replay like a tape loop at the least expected moments.  He’d gone to see Lindsay out of sexual desire, and for her, it seemed, the need to feel desirable, the need to connect with someone, anyone. Maybe their needs were exactly the same, but before he could remove his trousers, she convulsed in shuddering, moaning sobs. It was the loneliest sound he’d ever heard, and it got in him. He’d stood beside her helpless, until she gave him permission to leave. He points to the red-rimmed curtain and says, “That a pool table back there?”

The bartender punches the register and scoops quarters from the drawer. “First game is on me,” he says.

The plan now is to shoot a rack and think about Uncle Tim. Let the memories come and maybe some words will follow. The two men once shot a game of nine ball and shared a joint and pitchers of beer after painting a new set of condos down in the valley. Eight years ago. It’d had been a hurry up job, an exhausting week of ten-hour days, Kevin leading with the tape and sheets of plastic, followed by Tim with the sprayer, followed again by Kevin with brushes and rollers. There had been little time for talk other than grunted instructions from beneath Tim’s mask. Get me that. Move on down to six. Rinse these buckets, and at lunch, Tim would sit in his truck with his thermos, classic rock on the radio, while Kevin stretched on the grass with a sandwich and The Plumber’s Licensing Study Guide.

On the break Kevin scratches. He hears the creak of the front door and commotion on the other side of the curtain. Don’t you dare serve that bastard, Larry. And in a low, tired voice, Sit down. Kevin thinks, god help Brady, or anyone who looks the least bit like him. And he thinks again, maybe this Brady has done something to deserve a tongue-lashing. But no good would come of it, not here. He sips. He shoots. He shakes his head and tries again to bring his mind back to the task at hand, a proper send off for Uncle Tim. Sit and shut your trap… Or what?… What are you going to do, Larry? Larry does what he should have done fifteen minutes ago. He puts a song on the juke box, some sentimental Willie Nelson thing






Uncle Tim wore a braided ponytail like Willie, only his hair and beard were gray, without a trace of red. Eight years ago he was strong, wiry muscles from his wrists to the base of his skull. He was still able to tilt a twelve-foot ladder over his shoulder like it was nothing, or carry two five gallon buckets of paint up three flights of stairs. He must have been in his early sixties. Even then he had a distended belly, perhaps the first signs of the liver cancer which would be his demise. His face was creased, haggard like the country superstar, but he didn’t share the singer’s soft brown eyes. And Tim wasn’t much for eye contact, or any contact, not then, and certainly not after. In the intervening years, he rarely showed at family gatherings, and when he did, he seemed uneasy, standing in a doorway; at a backyard barbecue you’d find him examining a crack in the fence or the dead limb of a tree. Somewhere along the way he’d had to quit alcohol, and presumably any of the other substances which gave him pleasure or relief. Kevin goes back in his mind to the night they smoked and drank and shot pool. To the best of his memory, it was the last time Uncle Tim had talked.

That night, Tim professed his love of the old songs, the ones that make you feel young, he said, and possible. “No one with a pulse,” Tim said, “can listen to Tupelo Honey or Domino or You Send Me and not feel a little lighter. What could be better to lift your spirit?” After the games and the beer, they stumbled out into the parking lot and sat on the tailgate of Tim’s truck under a star-filled August sky. Tim opened the cab and pulled a ukulele from behind the seat. He strummed, and then he sang a few tunes. This Tim seemed totally out of left field. He’d been all business all week long, never even cracked a smile. Gradually, Kevin joined in. Together their voices rose above the roar of the bullfrogs in the woods nearby:

                                           If you ever, change your mind,

                                           About leaving, leaving me behind,      

They were loud enough that a small crowd gathered in the doorway, and when they finished, someone clapped, someone whistled. Van Morrison, Sam Cooke they were not. They sounded like drunken house painters, spent and spirited.

It was then, at the end of their last job together, and what turned out to be their one and only night of revelry, after the crowd had gone back inside and Kevin patted Tim on the shoulder, and thanked him for the work, Tim told Kevin he was a lucky man. Kevin had heard it plenty, but rarely given the remark much thought. If anything, it seemed a kind of diminishment, as if he hadn’t worked for his good fortune. He responded with the standard, “It’s the life of Reilly, man. What can I say?”

But Tim seemed not to hear or perhaps he thought Kevin hadn’t heard. “You’re lucky to be healthy and smart and young, lucky to be getting your contractor’s license, lucky to have such a good-natured little boy, a really sweet kid, lucky to have married a beautiful woman like Brenda. She was always a good girl, and she’s a great woman and a great mom, I’m sure of that.” He put his hand on Kevin’s shoulder and said, “Life was hard on Brenda and Katy. I wanted to help out, but I know I wasn’t much help.” His words were not rushed, but they seemed to come from some kind of compulsion, as if maybe they’d been bottled up for years. Of Brenda’s dad, Tim’s big brother, he said, “Me and Rob never got along. I blame myself. I was an idiot. I’ve made a fucking mess of my life. If I could go back in time…” he said “… well, you can’t, you just can’t.”






The eight ball leans on the thirteen. The cue rests against the bumper. Kevin tips his glass and gets nothing but a chip of ice. His paper says, We are gathered here. His watch says, time is running out. And what about Brenda’s note? He digs the slip of paper out of his pocket and unfolds it on the pool table:  

After Dad died, Uncle Tim came to help around the house. He cleaned the gutters, washed dishes, cooked. I can’t remember so well. It seemed to make Mom happy to have him around, or happier because it was such a sad time. He took me and Katy to the park and fishing and other things.  He wasn’t the sour old coot you met at our wedding, or all these years after. The experience seemed to awaken something in him. Something good, but something else, too.

He came into my bedroom at night, a few nights. And Katy’s, too. Just once, she said. He put his hand between my legs. He wanted me to tell him how it felt. I couldn’t. I couldn’t say anything. It felt like my dad was gone and there was no one left to protect me. It felt like the world was a sinister place, like any expression of love was a lie, a cover for something else.  

It’s a sickness, Kev, I know, and I’ve tried to forgive him, but I don’t know if my heart is big enough.

Kevin puts the paper back in his pocket. Something had gone very badly after their father died, he knew. Brenda and Katy never talk about that time. He’d also known his wife and wife’s sister held a low opinion of Uncle Tim. The man had trouble with booze, and there’d been suspicions of meth as well, and some kind of run in with the law, but he didn’t know the details and hadn’t cared to know.  As for incest, if that’s what you’d call it; it never even crossed his mind. He passes through the curtain and sets his empty glass on the bar. One of the women is weeping as the other pats her hair and coos, “He won’t hurt you again, honey. I won’t let him.”

Kevin feeds a dollar into the juke box. “Pick a few songs on me,” he says. On his way out the door he hears, “Whoa, big spender,” and then, “Thank you honey, that’s so sweet.”






The bright day is painful, disorienting. The day itself has been disorienting. One whiskey was too little and too much. Soon, he’s driving and thinking. Her russet hair, and sea-green eyes and long slender neck, she hadn’t had any significant boyfriends before she’d met him; it’s something he’d wondered about. He knows she loves him, as well as one can know, but she’s always been aloof when it comes to intimacy, and sex. Her reserve, well, it gave to their courtship a feeling of conquest, that he was chosen, he was the lucky one, though in fact there were no other suitors. In the years since, it has been a source of frustration and loneliness. And when, finally he looked outside the marriage for sex, he experienced loneliness like he’d never known. Now, he longs for simpler preoccupations, a lighter heart.

Those remarks from Uncle Tim eight years ago, inspired perhaps by beer, a sense of camaraderie, now seem like they might have been an attempt to apologize. Of course, Tim could not have known how much Kevin knew. Perhaps he’d even forgotten what he did all those years ago, or maybe he was attempting to conjure a story that he could live with. That he could die with? Kevin rolls into the lot at the ball field.

Two other teams have taken the diamond. Kevin wants to say a few words to the coach, but he has liquor on his breath and he’d rather his old buddy didn’t know it. From across the bed of the pickup he utters, “Sorry, I missed the game. Lot on my plate right now.”

The coach lifts two buckets of baseballs into his truck. “You didn’t miss anything.”

“Still,” says Kevin, “I would have—”

“Work on grounders with Teddy. Glove in the dirt.”

“I will.”

“It doesn’t come easy for him like it did for you.”

The remark is part of an old conversation, from a man who’s loved baseball all his life, but didn’t make the varsity. Kevin nods. “I get it,” he says. When he turns, he sees the boys in the backseat of his car. Tanner looks glum. Ted is eating cheese-flavored goldfish from a small bag.

“What happened?” Kevin says.

“I think we lost,” Ted says.

“You think?” says Tanner. “You think?”

“I think they broke our legacies.”

Tanner turns away from Ted and faces out the window.

“Maybe it’s time for a new word,” Kevin says.

They drive past vineyards, then the curvy part under the redwoods.

“Why weren’t you there?” Ted asks Kevin.

“I had something to do.”

“Did you do it?”


They drive on, Tanner brooding, Ted screwing and unscrewing the cap on his sports drink, Kevin rummaging through memories, feeling the first prickly sensations of panic. They drop Tanner off and a minute later they’re rolling down their own street. Kevin recognizes Bill and Katy’s silver Accord in front of his house, but there are more than a dozen other cars he’s never seen. Katy volunteered to spread the word, since Kevin and Brenda would be hosting. She said she’d announce the memorial service in the newspaper, and call a few acquaintances, mostly names she’d found in the guest book at the hospice where Tim spent his final weeks. But Katy and Bill smoke a lot of dope and neither is very good at following through. Kevin had no idea what to expect for the turnout. He and Ted sit in the car in the driveway.”

“If Uncle Tim was Mom’s uncle, what was he to me?”

“I don’t know what you’d call him. Great Uncle?”

“Where is he now?”

“In the urn on the mantel.”

Ted looks puzzled.

“He was cremated.”

“So all that’s left is ashes?”

“Yeah,” Kevin says, “and our memories of him.”

“I remember he pushed me on the swing one time.”

“Do you?”

“And how bald he got from the cancer.”

“From the radiation.”

“Oh yeah, the radiation.”

Kevin exhales, something it seems he’d forgotten to do all day.

“He did a trick like his thumb was coming off,” Ted says.

“Did he?” Kevin claps his hands on his thighs. “Better go get cleaned up,” he says. “The tan pants look nice.”

In the doorway Katy embraces him, whispers, “God, I’m glad to see you.” Bill throws an arm around his shoulders, shakes his hand. The handshake is firmer than usual. He can’t remember the last time he saw his brother-in-law in jacket and tie. It’s Saturday, he should be in an apron with a spatula in one hand and a beer in the other. He sees strangers, men and women, middle-aged and older, some on the sofas, others on folding chairs, some eating lasagna from plates on their laps, others sipping coffee, still others just sitting. No one is talking. No one is drinking the wine. He introduces himself, and in unison they say, “Hi Kevin.”

He backs into the kitchen, followed closely by Bill and Katy. Brenda twists a dish rag over the sink. “You’re late,” she says.

“I have five before two,” he says.

“Well they’re early. They’ve been here for over an hour!”

“SSSSHHH,” Kevin says.

Katy gulps. To Brenda she says, “I told you it’s my fault.” To Kevin she says, “I thought it was meant to start at one. I’m so sorry.”

Brenda tosses the rag into the sink. She sighs, turns, finally, but she will not look at Kevin’s face. “Where’s Ted?” she says.

Kevin embraces her, or tries to, but she turns away from him again. Is it because of the note—she feels exposed? Could she possibly know about the divorcee? Is it because all men are ass-wipes? Pigs? He looks at Bill, as if to test the assertion. Bill looks like Bill, a little more bewildered than usual. If Kevin ascribes certain characteristics to Bill, uncontrollable lust, for example, the willingness to exploit someone vulnerable and frightened, dishonesty, etc., then indeed ass-wipe and pig seem fitting, generous even.

Brenda shouts, “Where’s Ted?”

Everyone, the kitchen itself, bristles.

She says, “Let’s get this damn thing over with.”






Kevin finds Ted sitting on the lid of the toilet seat, still in his baseball pants. He appears to be staring at the faucet. “I like to watch the drops get swell up and then fall,” he says.

“I remember doing that,” Kevin says. He smiles. “It’s time, kid.”

“I didn’t change my clothes.”

“No time now.”

He leads Ted to the living room, then makes a quick detour into the kitchen, pours himself a juice glass to the brim with wine and downs it in three swallows. He wipes his mouth with the back of his wrist and takes his place in the front of the small crowd. On the left are Katy and Bill, hands folded, heads tipped forward. To the right is Brenda standing among these strangers, her hands clasped below her waist. She has Ted’s freckles, or of course, his freckles come from her. Her eyes are brimming, though the set of her jaw looks more like rage than sadness.

Kevin clears his throat. “We’re gathered here,” he says. Quickly, he surveys the room. Fifteen including his wife and sister-in-law and brother-in-law. Sixteen, with Ted, now parked against his mother’s hip. Seventeen, counting Uncle Tim. “Here we are, gathered,” Kevin says. “To some of us, Tim was family. And I imagine some of you knew him in other capacities.” He pauses. What he’s just said is so amazingly fucking stupid he wants to run out the door, but he sees Katy and Bill nodding and others listening with what looks like anticipation. “Tim was a house painter. He was surprisingly strong. A lot stronger than he looked.” Kevin closes his eyes. “He liked to fish. And he hunted some, back in the day. I think he hunted. He could play the ukulele…I guess I barely knew him.”      

Mercifully, a large man standing beside Brenda offers, “I met Tim in A.A.” And a woman standing behind Katy says, “Me, too.” And then a voice from near the back says, “I met Tim in Narcotics Anonymous. What he shared is confidential, but I can say he was brave, he was facing his demons.” She nods at her own words. The large man nods. Another woman says, “Hear, hear.”

“To his demons,” says Kevin. “I mean, to facing his demons.” He then risks a look at the half circle of faces in front of him, and he remembers standing at the plate shortly after having had his nose broken by a pitch, of fighting an impulse so deep, so strong, to pull away. “To all of us facing our demons,” he says. “That we might find the courage.”

Katy looks sideways at Bill, who is looking down at his feet. Now Kevin locks eyes with Brenda. She gives her head a short, brittle shake as if to say, don’t go there, don’t you dare. And then he lets his gaze fall on Ted, showing the disappearing thumb trick.

“Tim could make his thumb disappear,” Kevin says.

Deadly quiet.

Bill says, “We’ll miss him.”

Katy says, “I’m sorry he had cancer.”

“Amen to that.”

“I’m grateful for his generosity,” Brenda says, with a warble in her voice. “He was alone and he didn’t have much, not anything, but still he wanted to leave something for Ted.”


“He loved music,” Brenda says. “We should say that.”

“He did,” Kevin says. “He really loved music.” And after another uncomfortable silence, “I’m sorry.”







Bill and Katy do not linger after the ceremony. All the guests have gone, and Kevin is making himself busy folding chairs and bringing dishes to the kitchen. As he washes, he can’t stop ruminating over the events of the day. Uncle Tim had called him lucky, and he thinks, yes, it is true. Or it was true. He feels lucky when he thinks of his old high school buddy, the coach, or the pretty divorcee, or the weeping women in the bar. He’s lucky when he compares his life to Brenda and Katy who were so deeply wounded as children. He is luckier than Uncle Tim, luckier than Brady, whoever the fuck that guy is. But he feels his luck may have changed, that the full weight of life is about to settle on his chest. He’s looking for something else to do when Tanner bounds through the front door. Ted had been lying on the sofa face down, kicking his heels in the air. Suddenly he’s up, renewed. Lucky Ted.






Brenda hasn’t spoken since the memorial service, and Kevin hasn’t wanted to intrude on her thoughts. She retired to the bedroom half an hour ago. She’s just out of the shower, sitting in the soft chair in her white terrycloth robe with a towel wrapped around her head, turning the pages of a magazine—how Kevin finds her when he comes in search of his reading glasses.

“Some eulogy,” she says, without looking up.

“I couldn’t think of anything to say.”

“That’s not like you,” she says.

He nods.

A pause. “Someone named Lindsay called. I forgot to tell you. She sounded, I don’t know, sad.”

He nods again.

“Is it important?” Now Brenda looks up. Her eyes are clear, her jaw relaxed. She looks at Kevin like she’s seeing him for the first time after a long time apart.

“I don’t know,” he says.

She closes her magazine and sets it on the nightstand. “Are you crying?”

He shrugs.

“Sad for me, Kev?”

“For you,” he says. “For us.”

She smiles. “Where’s Uncle Tim?”

“I put the urn in a box. It’s on a shelf in the garage.”

“In the garage. That’s good. Think the boys can put themselves to bed?”

“It’d be a first,” he says.

“Well, it’s been an unusual day.”

He nods.

“Why don’t you sit?” she says.

He sits on the bed. She clicks off the lamp. She unwraps the towel from her hair, then peels off her robe and lets it fall to the floor. She clasps her hands around the back of his neck and pulls, pressing his forehead into her bare belly, the scent of her soap, the scent of her, and as she does, she hums an old soul song. What could be better to lift the spirits?

Daniel Coshnear lives in Guerneville, California with his wife and two children, works at a group home for the homeless and mentally ill, and teaches writing at UC Berkeley Extension and in other North Bay facilities. He is author of Jobs & Other Preoccupations (Helicon Nine 2001) and Occupy & Other Love Stories (Kelly’s Cove Press 2012) and a novella, Homesick, Redux (Flock 2015) His newest story collection, Separation Anxiety will be released 10/21 by Unsolicited Press. You can reach Dan at coshn@sonic.net