Plain Old Magic

by Sasha A. Palmer

This is part five. Read the suite from the beginning

Mr. Cooper

A regular day in July it was. John Miller Jr. arrived at the distribution center before dawn, picked up the newspapers and the route. Close to home, good, he thought. He liked the job. He just turned sixteen, and getting up at four was no fun, but once he dragged himself out of bed, he was okay. He liked the soft crackling of the tires on the cool surface of the road. The crisp breath of morning through the rolled down windows. He imagined himself at the beginning of time. The first, the only man, on the verge of some wonderful discovery. The town lay at his feet. Not a soul in sight.

Except for one.

“Morning, Mr. Cooper,” he would say, getting out of the car.

“Morning, John,” the old man would extend his hand to take the paper, “thank you, son.”

“Gotta run. Have a good day, Mr. Cooper.”

“You too, John. Give my regards to your mom. She is a good girl, that Grace.”

“Will do. Goodbye, Mr. Cooper.”

“Bye, son.”

John would get in the car and drive away. Sometimes just before the turn he glanced in the mirror, and the old man nodded and waved the newspaper at him. Then Mr. Cooper would disappear. But the following morning he would be there again. Waiting.

I should chat with him a bit longer someday, now that he’s all by himself, John often thought, perhaps, stay to watch the sunrise from his porch. There’ll be time.He liked the old man. Mr. Cooper was ancient and agile, like the sea. When John was younger, he believed Mr. Cooper was a pirate captain. Or perhaps a wizard. Or both. Mr. Cooper had lots of cool stuff. Treasures, in boys’ eyes. There was one thing in particular–a battered hockey stick–that everyone coveted. Mr. Cooper claimed it was magical. Gave him his strength. It must have been true, for the old man was always there.

But not today. John got out of the car and slowly headed for the house. Carefully laid the paper down on the empty rocker. Then rang the doorbell. Rang it. No answer. John reached for his phone.

“It’s 5:30 in the morning,” Sergeant Parker said grumpily, “maybe he is still in bed, sleeping?”

“He never misses his morning paper, Sir,” John said, “something’s wrong.”

They found Mr. Cooper on the living room couch. He looked like he was taking a snooze.

“You may go now,” Sergeant Parker said to John quietly.

“Thank you, Sir,” said John, “I need to finish delivering the newspapers.” John walked to the door, past the couch, and Mr. Cooper, and stepped outside. The red ball of fire rose in the East. Mr. Cooper’s paper lay on the still rocker. John placed his hand on the back of the chair and pushed slightly. Then he punched the back hard, hurting his knuckles and sending the rocker into an awkward jerky motion. The newspaper slid onto the floor. John ran down the porch steps and to the car. He drove away fast. He never looked in the mirror.

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