Plainsong by Kent Haruf:
What do you know about sweaters?
I don’t know, Bobby said. I like them, I guess.
Huh, she said. You’re too young to be thinking about women in sweaters. She seemed to laugh a little. It was a strange sound, awkward and tentative, as if she didn’t know how. Then suddenly she began to cough. She knew how to do that. Her head was thrown back and her face darkened while her sunken chest shook beneath the apron and housedress. The boys watched her out of the corners of their eyes, fascinated and afraid. She wrapped her hand over her mouth and shut her eyes and coughed. Thin tears squeezed out of her eyes. But at last she stopped, and then she took her glasses off and removed a clot of Kleenex from the pocket of her apron and dabbed her eyes and blew her nose. She put her glasses on once more and looked at the two brothers sitting on the sofa watching her. Don’t you boys ever smoke, she said. Her voice was a rasping whisper now.