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“Tick tock,” Mose says. It’s 4 a.m.. He’s wide awake and thinking about money. He owes the gas company, the phone company, his dentist, and his bankruptcy lawyer.  His truck needs brakes, his boat trailer needs tires, he’s out of propane; there’s nothing in his freezer but six five-inch catfish and a gallon of chocolate ice cream. He may have to get a job. What kind of job? Mose stares at the ceiling and twirls a hair on his chest which he knows, without looking, is gray as opossum fur.  Mose is old, too old for a job. At fifty-five, he’s old enough to die. Which might not be bad. Dying might be the only way to make him finally, decently, understandably, unemployable.
       In the meantime: the bills.
       Mose crosses his arms behind his head and thinks. He’s good at this. He has a high IQ. You need a high IQ to stay poor as long as he has.
       He could be a fishing guide.
       If he knew where the fish were. He hasn’t caught a legal croppie or catfish all summer. Plus his boat. The busted starter. The leak.
       He could sell venison. If it was deer hunting season.  If he had a tree stand. If selling venison was legal and no one Mose knew would turn him in. Some of the people Mose knows might. Not everyone’s a friend.  He found that out when he tried to grow pot in the woods. There are other things in the woods. Morels. Ginseng. Squirrels are out. Squirrels are hard to shoot; they won’t stand still. As for turkeys: turkeys are dangerous. They attack. He’s not hunting turkeys.
       That leaves carpentry.
       Carpentry pays twenty dollars an hour now. The last time Mose did carpentry it paid six dollars an hour. The last time he did carpentry he busted his back, his knees, his shoulders and both hands and ended up having to marry the lady whose house he was remodeling.
       He’s not doing carpentry.
       Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief. Butcher Baker…
       They are all jobs.
       Mose has had jobs. Not for years, but he’s had them. He’s thrown newspapers and scrubbed swimming pools and climbed oil derricks and waited tables and posed for art students and given blood and driven cabs and crewed on freighters and topped trees. He even worked in an office once, wore a suit and tie, took business trips, carried a briefcase.  It was hard to breathe. Then one day a friend phoned from the hospital. She had cancer; she was dying. “Mose,” she said, “I’ve been thinking about you.”
       Thinking about him? With everything else she had to think about?  He’d held his breath then; he holds it now.
       “You shouldn’t spend your life doing something you hate,” she said. “You should be doing something you love.”
       So he quit. And spent the next two years playing the banjo. Which he loved. And still loves. And brings in about $80 a year. Still, when he imagines having a guardian angel he thinks of her, Janice Cordobella, with her bald head and the diamond in her nose. His then-wife always thought he’d slept with her. But no. He’d slept with her sister. Janice was too good to sleep with; Janice saved his life.
       Mose exhales, reaches for the paint-spattered transistor radio on the bare floor beside the mattress and turns it up to hear the end of his favorite talk show. When he fell asleep at midnight the theme was aliens mutilating cattle out in Wyoming but now the theme is time travel and the question What Is Time?  is being addressed by a guy calling in from Death Row. “Time is what you DO,” the convict says. Mose thinks about this as the show signs off. Is it a joke?  Convicts don’t joke. Convicts don’t phone from Death Row either. Unless—joke—they have cell phones.
       Mose turns the radio off as the news comes on. Same old same old—war everywhere, all over the planet—Mose had enough of war in Vietnam, thank you. When he came back to the States all he saw was war, war in the streets, war in the houses of his friends and family. He had to move to the woods, live in the woods until he could breathe again. Whenever he thinks of Vietnam he has to move, he has to get some air, he has to take the covers off. 
       Throwing the covers off wakes the woman up. Mose had forgotten she was there. He has been accused of sleeping with every woman in town, which is not true but people have to talk about something, don’t they. This woman—her name is Lisa Ryan—he never mixes up names—is a secretary at the elementary school where he plays folk songs for the kids on his banjo. He saw her at the movie rental place last week; she remembered him; big smile, pretty dimples, yes, she’d love to come over and see Rambo again. Nice woman. Kind. Sort of an irritating voice though.
       “Sweetheart?” Too high, somehow.  Too shrill.
       She wraps her arms around his waist and cuddles close but Mose has to sit up, his hip hurts, his leg cramps, he can’t breathe.
       “Do you always wake up this early?” she asks.
       “Only when I’m thinking.”
       “So tell me sweetheart. What are you thinking about?”
       He scratches the palm of his hand. “I’m trying to figure out how I’ve managed to fail so successfully all these years.”
       “Oh.” She giggles. “You didn’t fail me.”
       He pats her breast absently, moves his hand away. “I’m going to go to Paris, I think, and play banjo in the subway.” His fingers flex. “Man.”
       She looks at him uncertainly. “Paris?”
       Mose smiles, doesn’t answer.
       “Well.” Lisa Ryan sits up, pulls on a T-shirt. “Do you want some coffee?”
       “No. I’ll make some after you leave.”
       “You’re making me leave at five in the morning?”
       “You have to get to school, don’t you?”
       “Not until eight.”
       “I don’t want you to get stuck in commute traffic.”  He looks at her puzzled face. “You can have some coffee if you want,” he adds kindly.
       Lisa Ryan picks her jeans off the floor, pulls them on, and stomps toward the kitchen. He hears her sling the water into the pot and light the stove the way he taught her.
       Mose, alone, starts to sing. “Tumdatumdatum.”  He strums an air banjo, fingers loose and limber, long toes tapping. For a second he’s not sure what he’s playing, then it comes to him: Rockin’ Chair. This surprises him and he stops playing. He thinks about the carved willow rocking chair still stored in his third wife’s attic. His grandfather made it. He’s been meaning to get it back. Maybe he’ll sell it.
       It’s a great chair.
       Could probably get two hundred for it though.
       “Two hundred?” he says out loud. He whistles. If it’s worth that much, he better keep it.
       He stands up, scratches, and turns on the television to check the weather channel, the only channel he gets.  “Storm warning,” he calls into the kitchen. “Wind gusts up to sixty miles an hour. No fishing today.” Lisa Ryan brings him a cup of coffee with not enough sugar in it. Later, when she leaves, he will doctor his cup with the whiskey she brought over last night. He hopes she remembers to leave it.
       “Do you want me to lend you some money?” she says.
       He pretends not to hear her. “Did I tell you my roof leaks?”
       “I can give you a loan until pay day.”
       “Oh man. Look at that.” He stares at the weather map, green storm warnings surging across the state. He sits down on a stool and leans forward. Lisa Ryan frowns at him.
       “Are you going to sit here naked and watch the weather channel all day?” Her voice rises. Off key.
       Mose looks up, hurt.  Lisa Ryan has no idea what he’ll do all day. Maybe he’ll read two or three newspapers, circle boat ads, truck ads, travel ads to Paris, maybe he’ll even check the want ads, make a few phone calls. Maybe he’ll read the email on his slow limping computer, see how his friend Benj is doing in Arizona, see if that girl he met in the bar ever answered, maybe he’ll look at the dishes piled up on his counter and add new ones to them from his late morning feast of chocolate ice cream, maybe he’ll climb up on the roof and fix the leak, the warm quick wind lifting what’s left of his hair, or maybe he’ll just leave the roof alone and let the rain leak down on the dishes—such a lucky leak, right over the sink—maybe he’ll smoke a joint or two and practice “Rockin’ Chair” until he gets it right , maybe he’ll break into his third wife’s house, get his grandfather’s chair out of the attic and grab the cougar skin rug she’s kept too while he’s at it, maybe he’ll restring his fishing rod, walk to the post office, phone his daughter in Colorado,  finish an article he started reading two days ago in Esquire about businesses that secretly invest in psychedelics, maybe he’ll rewatch Rambo, or take it back, and, around noon, maybe he’ll fall into a deep sleep and Janice will come in a dream and tell him how he can make money without working.
       Anything is possible.
       “Well,” Mose says, “You’ve got to run on, don’t you. And I better get started on my day too. Time’s a wastin’. No.” He walks Lisa Ryan to the door and tips her face up to kiss her goodbye. “Time,” he corrects himself, “is what you DO.”
       “Whatever,” she complains and he watches her walk toward her car. The birds are starting to sing from the trees, there is a belt of apricot flame in the east under the dark clouds and he can already feel the wind start to rise and move free and easy against his bare skin. He takes a deep breath and spreads his arms wide. Another great day.   

© Molly Giles

This electronic version of “Mose Iin the Morning” appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author.    Book ordering available through and

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Author Bio
Molly GilesMolly Giles is the author of four prize-winning short story collections and a novel which has won no prizes at all. She recently retired from teaching Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and has new work in ZYZZYVA and The Louisville Review.  "Mose In The Morning" originally appeared in Nimrod magazine and is included in the collection  All the Wrong Places, published by Willow Springs Press, due out April 2015.