The difficult thing about Mr. Cooper is the fact that he’s 98 years old. He’s five feet three 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.
It’s hard to 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 11AM 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?”

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. Simple red brick houses ho-hum along gently curving streets.

I stop the cab at a stop sign and Mr. Cooper and I watch a toddler walking down the side of the road in nothing but 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. The boy 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?”

“Randy,” he says in a little boy voice, growling with irritation.

“Where’s your mom, Randy?”

“Don’t know.”

“Where’s your dad?”

He looks at me as if I’m wasting his time.

“Don’t know.”

“Aren’t you scared to be out here by yourself?” I say.

“No.”

“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;.”

“Bear hunting?”

“Yup.”

“What?” Mr. Cooper says. “What’s he doing?”

“He’s going bear hunting.”

“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 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, three-foot tall frame, hurls it toward the horizon. The rock sails about five feet and lands quietly. He looks at me to judge my astonishment.

“Good one,” I say. He dusts his hands off 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 and his mouth hangs 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 was going bear hunting.”

She doesn’t respond, just turns and races back to her house with Randy in her arms.

I drive on.

Mr. Cooper smiles all the way to the grocery store. The grocery store is the only place Mr. Cooper ever goes.

I pull up to the grocery store and park by the sidewalk. I get out and get Mr. Cooper’s walker out of the trunk 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.”

One time, a few weeks ago, I was waiting for Mr. Cooper to come out of the store and I had to use the bathroom. I left the cab and went inside. Inside, I saw Mr. Cooper 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 crispy fried chicken and the pink ham and black 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 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.

***

For all installments from 6 to 6, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Traveling Mercies
  2. Next Time, Take Skyline
  3. Suicide Lane
  4. Morenci in My Rear-View Mirror
  5. A Spiritual Adventure
  6. Sonja’s Ring
  7. A Pair to Draw To
  8. Grocery Day
  9. A Day with Melanie
  10. The Hot Light
  11. Drano
  12. The Cab Knows the Way
  13. Dodi’s Luck
  14. Don’t Die Before Your Mother
  15. Bob’s Big Day
  16. Nothing But a Human Being
  17. John’s Dream
  18. God Didn’t Get Me No Weed
  19. Ramirez
  20. What’s Going to Happen to Me?
  21. Do I Look Like an Indian to You?
  22. The Maze
  23. Fun with Ruby
  24. Portrait of the Artist as a Certified Loony
  25. Turn Around, Dumbass
  26. Red Bull Blues
  27. The Great Desert Palms Escape
  28. Bitcoin
  29. At Least it Isn’t Raining
  30. Marshmallows on Everything
  31. Mermaid with Doctor’s Mask
  32. My Other Jacket
  33. Late
  34. The Hideaway
  35. You Can Have a Seat, Sir
  36. Book People
  37. 112 Degrees
  38. No Way
  39. El Pendejo
  40. Batman
  41. Plasma
  42. The Jumping-Off Place
  43. November in July
  44. The Double
  45. The Road to the Casino Del Sol
  46. The Standard
  47. Thinking’s Got Nothing to Do with It
  48. This Shit Kicks Viagra’s Ass
  49. And Deliver Us from the Vikings, Amen
  50. Somebody Say the Magic Word
  51. Arivaca
  52. The Rest of It