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Baby

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Baby

Baby ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Louise was gone for three days. When she returned home, she was carrying a bundle in the crook of her arm.

“Where have you been all this time?” Theodore asked. “I was about to call the police.”

“Oh, you silly thing!” Louise said. “Where do you think I’ve been? I’ve been giving birth to your son.”

She lifted the corner of the blanket to show him the baby’s face.

“This one has blue eyes,” Theodore said.

“He has your eyes.”

“My eyes are brown.”

“I think I’m going to name him Nathaniel,” she said. “After Hawthorne.”

“Name him whatever you want.”

“If I give him the name of a great writer, he might turn out to be a great writer himself.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You like that name?”

“It’s as good as any other, I suppose.”

She laid the baby down gently on the couch and took off her coat and laughed. “Believe me,” she said. “It’s not easy carrying a newborn baby home on the uptown bus. I had to stand up the whole way, holding the baby in one hand and trying to keep from falling with the other. You’d think a gentleman might have given me his seat, but nobody even noticed me.”

“I could have come down and met you.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” she said. “I managed perfectly fine. And, anyway, I wanted to surprise you. What do you think of our new son?”

“He’s, uh…I can’t seem to find the words. I’m speechless.”

“I know! It’s a shock, isn’t it? Seeing him for the first time?”

“Especially since I didn’t know he was expected.”

“But that makes it that much more fun, doesn’t it?”

“If you say so.”

“Now, don’t you be an old grump puss! I’m going to need lots of help from you with this baby. Feeding him, changing his diapers, bathing him, and all the rest of it.”

“I don’t think that baby is going to be any trouble at all,” he said.

“No, of course not! He’s such a good baby! I can tell already, as young as he is.”

Theodore played piano in a jazz combo in a bar, so he had to leave to go to work. “Don’t wait up for me,” he said.

“Have a good time,” she said, “and don’t worry about me. The baby and I will be here when you get back.”

With Theodore gone, Louise was glad to have some time alone with the baby. She carried him into every room in the apartment, talking to him all the while, even though she knew he didn’t understand a word she said. She fed him, bathed him, and put him to bed in the crib at the foot of her own bed.

She slept until one o’clock, at which time she got up and fed him. After she put him back in his crib and got back into bed, she had trouble going back to sleep. She kept thinking about how Theodore didn’t seem very happy about the baby. Well, men, she thought. You can’t ever tell what they’re thinking or how they really feel. They keep it all bottled up inside.

At two o’clock she still hadn’t gone back to sleep. She got up and checked on the baby and when she saw he was sleeping peacefully she knew the problem wasn’t with the baby but with her. She was lonely and sad. She picked up the sleeping baby and put him in the bed beside her. After that she was able to go to sleep.

Theodore came home about three-thirty. He undressed quietly and got into bed and after he had lain there a couple of minutes Louise began to cry.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“I’m not going to have any more children,” she said.

“Okay.”

“I don’t think you love them.”

“Could we postpone this conversation to another time? I’m very tired.”

“Take Nathaniel and put him with the others. They need to get acquainted.”

“I just got into bed. Can’t you do it?”

“You’re the father.”

He sighed and got out of bed again without turning on the light. He picked Nathaniel up by the neck and carried him out of the room and down the hallway to another room. In this room was a bed with six lifelike plastic dolls lying side by side, all exactly like Nathaniel. He added Nathaniel to the collection and went back to bed.

“Better now?” he asked Louise.

“Yes.”

“And this is going to be the last one?”

“Yes, I think so. Seven is my lucky number.”

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Independence Day 2015

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~ Happy Fourth of July ~ 

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I’m Watching You

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I'm Watching You

I’m Watching You ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

From the time she was born, Minnette Shortridge lived a charmed life. She lived with her family in a beautiful brick house on the best street in the best part of town. Her mother was stylish and slender, her father a successful businessman from whose fingertips money seemed to flow.

In school everybody envied Minnette. She made perfect grades and had read more books than anybody else. In addition to being the smartest girl in her class, she was also talented and accomplished. She had a beautiful singing voice and a natural talent for playing the piano. She rode horses, painted pictures and wrote poetry. She had twice flown to Europe on a plane (and back) and knew a smattering of French, German and Russian.

It was the way she looked, though, that made her stand out from the others. She had long auburn-colored hair held in perfect place with barrettes. Her clothes were the best and most expensive without being ostentatious or showy. Her complexion was peaches and cream and, in junior high, when other girls were experimenting with makeup and lipstick, she knew she didn’t need any of it because she had a natural beauty that doesn’t need paint or artifice. Everybody agreed she would go far in life—if not a movie star or a fashion model, at the very least the wife of the governor or president.

Minnette had many admirers, some near and some from afar. In going around with her mother in town, somebody would inevitably spot her and attempt to strike up an acquaintance or ask a friend of a friend to arrange an introduction. And these weren’t only boys her own age but in some cases grown men who assumed she was older than she was. If any of them came too close or tried to stop her on the street and engage her in conversation, she usually ran from them and had a good laugh about it afterwards.

She had her first boyfriend when she was sixteen and there were others after that, but she could never take any of them seriously. To her they seemed shallow, self-absorbed and not very interesting. She knew that someday the right one would come along and when that happened everything would be different.

When she was in her last year of high school, a boy named Rupert Merkel asked her to go with him to the spring dance at the country club and she readily accepted. If she was the prettiest girl in school, Rupert was the handsomest boy. He was a track star and had the highest scholastic average of anybody in his class. There were no limits to what he might achieve in life.

On the evening of the dance, Minnette wore a red chiffon dress and her mother’s diamond necklace. Rupert arrived to pick her up at exactly the right time with a corsage that looked perfect with her dress. With Minnette’s mother and father looking on, Rupert helped Minnette into his sleek red and car and drove off into the beautiful evening light.

At the country club, rather than wait in line for valet parking, Rupert parked his own car. Since there were so many people who had already arrived before him, he had to go all the way to the far edge of the parking lot, down a hill near some trees.

“Do you mind walking?” he asked Minnette.

“Of course not, my handsome prince,” she said. “I’ll take your arm and we’ll walk up the hill together and make quite an entrance.”

 He smiled, not knowing what awaited them.

One week before, Rupert had been going to take another girl to the country club dance, a girl named Vivian Periwinkle, until he discovered that she had taken a paper he wrote for English composition and passed it off as her own. He called her a liar and a cheat and said he didn’t ever want to see her again.

“I don’t know what difference it makes,” she said. “It’s just a stupid high school paper. Nobody will ever know the difference.”

I’ll know,” he said.

She tried to laugh it off but he pushed her away and ran home.

If he thought he was finished with Vivian Periwinkle, he was wrong. When she found out he was taking somebody else to the dance besides her, she couldn’t let it stand. Nobody had ever stiffed her before and they weren’t going to do it now. She would make him pay, one way or another.

She hitchhiked to the country club and watched and waited behind the trees. When she saw Rupert’s car pull onto the parking lot, she crouched down and watched as he got out and went around the car to help Minnette out with her long dress and high-heeled shoes.

As Rupert and Minnette began the walk up the hill toward the country club, Vivian followed them a short distance before taking the handgun out of her purse that she had stolen from her father’s desk drawer. She pointed it at the back of Rupert’s head. She had never fired a gun before and her hand trembled. She fired one shot and it scared her so badly that she ran off without seeing what—or who—the bullet hit.

Rupert heard the shot but he didn’t know what it was. Minnette was holding on to his arm and when she began to go down, he looked at her in horror. He screamed for help and when he had eased her onto her back to the ground, he realized that blood was gushing from the back of her head.

A crowd gathered and somebody called an ambulance. When it was discovered that Minnette had been shot from at the base of the skull, the police were summoned. As they began trying to piece together what had happened, the dance was called off and people began to go home.

After the police had gleaned what evidence they could from Minnette’s body, the funeral home people came and took her away in their white van. The funeral would be held on Monday, it was announced,  and it would be a big funeral because everybody knew and loved Minnette.

If Minnette’s sudden and unexpected death hadn’t been bad enough, a circumstance arose at the funeral home that nobody could have foreseen. While she was waiting overnight to be embalmed, somebody broke in and took her body. There were no fingerprints and no clues other than two broken locks. The funeral home people had no explanation. Nothing like it had ever happened before.

His name was Phillip Sidney. He lived alone a few miles outside of town on his family’s fifty-acre estate. He spotted Minnette one day when she was waiting outside a movie theatre. After that, he found out what he could about her, where she lived and where she went to school. He began watching her, following her whenever he could. He knew who her friends were, learned their names and came to recognize them on sight. He took pictures of her when he could do so unobtrusively and kept a scrapbook on her; took detailed notes of where he saw her, what time, what she was wearing, and anything else about her that he was able to gather in the fleeting glimpses he had of her. When he learned she had been killed, he wept bitter tears. He vowed that he wasn’t going to let her go into the ground to rot and decay. She was far too lovely for that.

He learned everything he needed to know from newspaper and television accounts of the incident. He was familiar with funeral home procedure, having worked for his mortician uncle in his younger days. Taking Minnette’s body was easy for him. He was, in his own way of thinking, “taking her home.”

He had learned taxidermy from his father and his grandfather. He had all the tools and chemicals he needed. He put her on a table in his basement work room and, after two days of continuous work, he was proud of the results. He preserved her beauty for all time, fixed her legs and arms so she could be posed in different ways: sitting in a chair, lying in bed. He still had his mother’s clothes and, though they might be a little dated and mature for a girl of Minnette’s age, they were perfect in every other way.

No longer would he have to come home to an empty house. Minnette was there waiting for him with a smile on her face, her eyes glowing. He sat her at the dining room table and put food on a plate for her while he ate his dinner, talking quietly in an amusing way about things that had happened to him that day. While he took a dip in the pool, he sat her in a chair just on the other side of the glass door so that she seemed to be looking out at him. And at bedtime he would change her into her frilly nightgown and place her in the bed beside him. Good night, my sweet, he would say. The sweetest of sweet dreams to you.

After a while he realized that one thing was missing, the thing without which a family is not a family. It was time for him and Minnette to have children: a boy six and a girl three. He imagined them sitting on either side of Minnette at the table, smiles on their faces. He would find them and bring them home, no matter how long it took. Only then would everything be as perfect as it ought to be.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

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John Keats (1819)

Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats (1795-1921)

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

 

Time Theft

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Time Theft image 1

Time Theft ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(I posted this short story earlier under a different title.)

Two years out of high school, Virgie Smalls worked in the Handy Dandy Laundry. She hated the white uniform she had to wear and almost everything else about the job. The work was tiring, monotonous and steamy. All day long she moved her arms up and down, in and out, over and under, until they seemed to move of their own accord. When she looked ahead to the future, it made her sick to think that she might have to spend her entire life in such a place.

The workers at the laundry were all older women, smokers and drinkers, whose idea of a good time was Friday night bingo at the VFW hall. Virgie didn’t bother to make them think she liked them, so, as a consequence, they didn’t like her. They never invited her to their baby showers or after-work drinking parties. When she walked into the room where they were talking, they fell silent.

Another person at the laundry who was just as disliked as Virgie was Sterling Fingers, the truck driver. He was only five feet, three inches tall and had to sit on a built-up seat when he drove his truck to be able to see over the steering wheel. The ladies called him shortstop and tittered when he walked by. He got back at them, though, by coming up behind them and making pig sounds and then pretending he didn’t do it when they turned around and were ready to slap him. He also liked to play tricks on them by going into their locker room while they were working and switching their purses or tying their shoes together by the shoelaces in such hard knots that they weren’t able to get them apart.

One day one of the ladies went to the boss and complained about Sterling Fingers. She said he put his hand on her ass cheek and said a dirty word in her ear. The boss called Sterling into his office and told him what the woman had said.

“She’s full of shit,” Sterling said. “I never did no such thing.”

“We can’t have that kind of behavior here,” the boss said.

“I said I didn’t do it.”

“All right. I’ll take your word for it this time, but I have to warn you. You’re on probation.”

“Why isn’t the heifer that told a lie about me the one that’s on probation?”

“Remember what I said, Sterling.”

He wanted to do something bad to the woman who told the tale on him, but he knew if he did it would only get him fired. (What he really wanted to do would get him sent to jail.) His way of dealing with the situation was to stay as far away from the ladies as he could so none of them could ever have any complaints against him. Pretending they didn’t exist was easy for him, as he found nothing about any of them that could ever interest him.

One Friday when the boss was away and Sterling was emptying some trash, he saw the woman who had told the lie about him slip out the side door that opened into an alley. Curious, he went to the door and opened it just enough to see out. The alleyway was private, closed in on three sides. The woman, whose name was Bernadette, got into the back of a black van with a man and they closed the doors. The windows had curtains on them so Sterling could only imagine what they were doing. A while later Bernadette was back on the line as if nothing had happened.

Now, he didn’t care one whit what Bernadette did or with whom, but he knew it was a strict policy of the company that you were not supposed to leave without first punching out at the time clock. Anybody who left and didn’t punch their time card was guilty of what they called time theft. Sterling could have gone to the boss on Monday morning and told him what he saw, but he knew it would seem that he was only trying to get even, so he decided to wait and see how things played out.

He began watching Bernadette without letting her know he was watching: as she cut up with the ladies, as she went into the restroom and came out again, as she took her lunch break and as she left to go home at the end of her shift. If she ever looked at him looking at her, he yawned with affected nonchalance and looked down at his fingernails.

His vigilance paid off, finally. The next time he saw Bernadette sneaking out the side door, he was ready. He had a tiny camera that he had bought especially for the occasion. He took pictures of her kissing the man, getting into the back of the van with him, and of the man reaching out and pulling the doors closed as Bernadette began to unbutton her uniform. Her face was plain as daylight. There could be no question that it was her.

When he got the pictures back from the developer, he wrote DURING WORKING HOURS in the little white margin at the top of each one and put them in an envelope. He carried the envelope in his shirt pocket for several days before doing anything about it.

He saw Virgie Smalls sitting in the break room alone one afternoon, drinking a Coke. He sat down across from her and lit a cigarette.

“You hate Bernadette, don’t you?” he said.

“What?”

“Bernadette. I said you hate her.”

“If I ever thought about her,” Virgie said, “I’d hate her.”

“You think about her and you hate her.”

“Well, let’s just say I despise her.”

“Same thing.”

“What’s this about?”

“We can get back at the silly cow now.”

“How?”

He took the pictures from his pocket and handed them to Virgie. “This is just between the two of us,” he said.

She looked at the pictures and smiled for the first time that day. “Who took these?” she asked.

“Who do you think took them? Yours truly took them.”

“Who’s the guy?”

“It doesn’t matter who he is. The thing that matters is we’ve got the goods on a person we hate.”

“All right. So now what?”

“I need your help in this.”

She handed the pictures across the table as if they had become hot. “No! I’m not getting involved in anything like that.”

“All you have to do is get them to the boss.”

“Why can’t you do it?”

“For reasons that I don’t care to elaborate on right now.”

“So, all you want me to do is just hand them to him?”

“That’s the idea.”

“When he sees what they are, he’ll want to know where I got them.”

“Wait until he’s out and take them in and put them on his desk in a place where he’ll be sure and see them.”

“I guess I could do that.”

“I guarantee Bernadette will be gone in a matter of minutes.”

“You’re very naughty, aren’t you?”

“I don’t think anybody’s as naughty as Bernadette,” he said.

He waved the pictures in her face and watched as she took them from him and put them in the pocket of her uniform.

The next time the boss was out for the day, Virgie gave Sterling a sign that the pictures were on the boss’s desk.

When the boss called Bernadette into his office, presented her with the evidence and fired her, she bellowed like a bull. She ran through the building, turning things over as she went. Sterling was loading the truck at the dock, but he heard the commotion and went to have a look.

“You little rat bastard!” Bernadette screamed when she saw him. “You did this, I know you did!”

“Get her out of here,” the boss said to some of his men, “before she kills somebody.”

The next time Sterling saw Virgie, he smiled and made a dusting-off motion with his hands.

Bernadette’s dismissal was all the ladies of the laundry could talk about. The rumor mill was rife with speculation. The man she was meeting in the alley was really her husband, someone said. He’s an escaped convict and the police are after him to send him back to prison. No, that’s not true, another said. He’s an important man in politics and he has to be careful because if he’s caught cheating on his wife it could ruin his reputation. The question, then, begged to be asked: out of all the women in the world, why would he want to cheat with unattractive Bernadette?

In a few days, though, they all moved on to other things. A new girl named Josephine was brought in to replace Bernadette. She was newly arrived from Puerto Rico and was just learning to speak English. The ladies loved to gather around her and laugh at her fractured pronunciation of words. Every time they laughed, she blushed fetchingly and covered her face with her hands, eliciting more laughter. The ladies were all in love with Josephine, at least for the time being.

Anybody who knew Bernadette well knew she would have to have her vengeance, and when it came it was on a day that it was least expected.

The laundry was shutting down for a week for repairs and everybody was happy. A whole week off with pay to carouse around at night and sleep late in the morning. It was just like heaven.

Sterling Fingers was all caught up on his deliveries on that last day before the week off and was pushing some dirt around with a broom near the front door when who should come rushing in but Bernadette. She was staggering and obviously drunk and when she saw that Sterling was right there and she wasn’t even going to have to go look for him, her face lit up with an evil grin.

“Bernadette!” he said. “How lovely to see you! Ugly as ever, I see!”

“This is for you, you little son of a bitch!” she said.

She approached him and plunged a knife into his gut and turned and ran out the door.

“Oh-oh-oh!” he said, going down on the floor. “Oh-oh-oh!”

One of the girls in the front office screamed and everybody who heard her came running to see what had happened. Several others screamed and covered their eyes when they saw Sterling on his back on the floor holding his hands to his gut, blood gushing out around his fingers.

“Mother of Mercy!” he said. “Is this the end of Rico?”

Nobody made a move to help him except Virgie. She knelt down beside him and took his hand between hers.

“Somebody call an ambulance!” she yelled.

One of the ladies went and got some towels and handed them to Virgie. She pressed them against his abdomen where the blood was pouring out.

“It’s going to be all right, dear,” she said. “The ambulance is on its way.”

“It was Bernadette,” he said.

“I know.”

The paramedics arrived and lifted Sterling onto a stretcher. Virgie held onto his hand as long as she could.

He looked into her eyes, his voice weak, and said, “You called me dear.”

“Don’t try to talk now,” she said.

“You helped me,” he said. “You were the only one.”

“They’ll take you to the hospital now and get you fixed up.”

“Will I see you again?” he asked.

“I’ll be here,” she said.

As the paramedics lifted him into the ambulance, he said to one of them, “I want you to get the minge that did this to me.” He fainted then and didn’t say anything else.

The police caught Bernadette drinking vodka cocktails at a bar a few blocks from the laundry. She was smiling, smoking cigarettes and chatting with the bartender as if she stabbed somebody in the gut every day of the week.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Morphine

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Morphine

Morphine ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(I posted this short story earlier under a different title.)

Sterling Fingers lay in a semi-conscious state for three days. When he finally came fully awake, he found himself in a bed with rails like a baby bed. A woman in white with a face like an Indian chief stood beside the bed, her hands on the rail, looking down at him.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked.

“Pulse a hundred and ten,” she said.

“Am I dead?”

“Not quite.”

“I have to get up. I have to go to work.”

“No, you don’t. You won’t be going anywhere for a while.”

“What happened here?”

“You’re recovering from surgery.”

“Surgery for what?”

“A stab wound to the abdomen.”

“I didn’t have no stab wound to the abdomen.”

“I assure you you did.”

“I don’t feel anything.”

“Morphine.”

“Oh, yeah. I think I remember now. I was attacked by a vengeful woman.”

“I wouldn’t know,” the nurse said. “That’s a police matter.”

“There’s nothing more terrible than a vengeful woman.”

“You should know.”

“Has my old lady been here?”

“Your wife?”

“No, my mother, you goose.”

“No one has been here that I know of.”

“When you see my mother, tell her I need my gun.”

The nurse smiled for the first time. “You don’t need no gun,” she said. “And even if you did you couldn’t have it in the hospital.”

“This is a hospital?”

“What do you think it is? A whore house?”

He looked around to see if there was a telephone beside the bed. “I need to call someone,” he said.

“Who?”

“I have to tell my mother where I am. She’ll be worried.”

“I’m sure she was told as soon as you were brought here.”

“I want my gun.”

“What for?”

“For protection.”

“Protection from what?”

“From the lunatic that tried to kill me.”

“The hospital is safe. Nobody will get in here who isn’t supposed to be here.”

“I don’t feel safe without my gun.”

“Think about it, Mr. Fingers. Use your head. If we start allowing patients to have guns, they’ll end up shooting somebody they wished they hadn’t. A doctor or a nurse. Maybe even an important person like the head of the hospital.”

“There’s only one person I want to shoot.”

“You’re at a critical stage of your recovery. You want to go on living, don’t you?”

“I want to get out of here is what I want. I have things to do.”

“The only thing you have to do now is concentrate on getting well.”

“When did all this happen?”

“Four days ago.”

“I’ve been here four days? I have to get up and go to work. I’ll get fired for being gone that long.”

“Now, Mr. Fingers! You have to calm yourself down. I’m sure your employer knows what happened and why you’re not at work.

“Four days,” he said. “Oh, my Lord, four days!”

“Would you like a sedative to help calm you?”

“No!”

“We’ll have your doctor prescribe you a sedative.”

“In all the time I’ve been here, hasn’t anybody been in to see me?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Virgie didn’t come?”

“Would you like to talk to a priest?”

“No! I don’t want to talk to anybody! I want out of here!”

He felt the prick of the needle that plunged him into dreamland.

He opened a door to a cavernous room that had no bottom. He was in danger of falling but then he saw some stairs that went down into blackness. If he could make it to those stairs he wouldn’t fall, but when he tried to get to them they kept moving and shifting like an accordion. He flailed his arms and reached out for something to hold onto but it did no good. He felt a moment of panic, a moment of weightlessness, and then he was floating in space past the planet Saturn. Then he was lying on a table where a black-hooded figure like a medieval executioner slit his stomach open, releasing a flock of blackbirds with women’s faces and bloody claws. The blackbirds rose in the air and then swooped down to devour his liver.

He slept for a week, a day or an hour. When he woke up again, one of the blackbirds was standing beside his bed where the woman in white had been earlier. This one didn’t have a woman’s face, though, but a man’s.

“How are you feeling, my son?” the blackbird asked.

“Who are you?” Sterling asked.

“Father Pilbeam.”

“A priest?”

“Yes.”

“Am I dying?”

“The nurse says you’re improving.”

“If I’m not dying, why do I need a priest?”

“I’m the hospital chaplain. I make my way around to all the patients.”

“I need you to help me do something, father.”

“If I can.”

“I want a gun.”

The priest laughed and patted him on the shoulder. “I think that’s the last thing you need,” he said.

“You don’t understand,” Sterling said. “Somebody is trying to kill me. A big woman named Bernadette. When she finds out she didn’t do the job the first time, she’ll be back.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about. You’re perfectly safe here.”

“You don’t know what kind of a person we’re talking about, father. She’s evil. Surely you must know a thing or two about evil in your profession.”

“Would you like me to pray with you?”

“No!”

“I can ask the nurse to give you a sedative.”

“No! If Bernadette is going to come back and finish the job, I want to be awake when she does.”

“Just calm yourself. Everything is all right. Nurse! Oh, nurse!

The next day Doctor Fisbee came in to see him, an owlish man with round glasses and a small mustache reminiscent of Adolf Hitler.

“You’re a lucky man,” the doctor said.

“How so?”

“The knife missed your aorta by a quarter inch.”

“The crazed Amazon who tried to kill me won’t miss next time. She’ll be back with an even bigger knife or maybe a gun.”

“No one will get past Nurse Zorina. You’re perfectly safe here.”

“That’s what everybody keeps telling me, but I won’t feel safe until I have a gun under my pillow to pull out whenever I need it.”

“We can’t allow our patients to carry firearms.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“You’ll be fine.”

“What is this, a prison? You won’t let people protect themselves?”

“Would you like me to give you a sedative so you can take a nice nap?”

“No! Just get the hell out of here and leave me alone!”

Once when he awoke, Sterling saw his mother, gray and mouse-like, standing beside his bed. He wasn’t sure if she was really there or if he was imagining it.

“I came to visit you,” she said.

“Mama?”

“How are you feeling?”

“All right.”

“Does it hurt much?”

“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“You got your name in the paper.”

She laid a folded newspaper on his chest. He picked it up and began reading: A truck driver at the Handy Dandy Laundry, Sterling Fingers, 32, was stabbed at the laundry’s headquarters at 1347 Fairview Avenue on Friday afternoon, May 12. The female suspect fled on foot and was later taken into custody. Several laundry employees witnessed the incident. Fingers was taken to an undisclosed hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

“Who was she?” his mother asked after he put the paper on the table beside the bed.

“Just a dame that works in the laundry. Her name is Bernadette something or other. I’m not sure what her last name is.”

“Were you messing with her?”

“God, no, mama! She’s trash.”

“You’re trash, too, son.”

“You don’t have to remind me.”

“Was it some kind of a quarrel?”

“No, just a little misunderstanding. Nothing for you to worry about.”

She folded her wrinkled hands over the railing and smiled nervously. “Tippy misses you,” she said.

“Have you been feeding him and giving him water every day?”

“Of course.”

He coughed, took a drink of water, and said, “There is somebody at the laundry I like, though,” he said.

“A woman?”

“Would you expect it to be a man?”

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

“She’s only about twenty. Her name is Virgie.”

“Virginia?”

“She doesn’t belong in the laundry. The foul-mouthed slobs that work there will only crush her. In a few years she’ll be just like them, with their smoking and drinking.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’d like to take her out of there.”

“And marry her?”

“She was the only one that helped me after I was stabbed. Those other dopes just stood around and gaped at me like the useless swine they are.”

“Maybe you should try harder to get along, son.”

“Thanks for the advice, mama.”

On the day he was discharged from the hospital, he told them a friend was waiting to take him home; there was no friend, though, only the bus.

Feeling weak, dressed in the unfamiliar clothes the hospital gave him and with the thick bandage around his middle, he felt strange and egg-like, as if he might break into pieces if he moved too fast. And if he did break, nobody would be able to put him back together again.

Walking two blocks from the hospital to the bus, he saw a couple of women who could have been Bernadette, but they turned out both times to be somebody else. He was comforted only slightly by the words “taken into custody.” It didn’t mean much in his book. She might get a slick lawyer to get herself released. He wished again, for the thousandth time, that he had his old gun that he kept in his dresser drawer at home.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Small Men

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Small Men

Small Men ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

All morning long Mr. Honegger pushed and prodded them. They were behind and their competitors were taking away their business. Every fifteen minutes or so he came out of his office and stood where they could see him so they wouldn’t be inclined to slacken the pace. They gave him looks fraught with meaning, as if they might kill him if only they had the chance, but he didn’t seem to notice and if he did he didn’t care. When he went back out of sight again, they breathed easier and let their shoulders slump.

“I wish that bastard would choke on his cigar,” someone would invariably say (or a variation), and the rest would laugh.

“If Bernadette was here, she’d stab him,” someone else would say and it was a remark that always brought a round of suppressed giggles.

Bernadette’s stabbing someone had become a sort of joke at the Handy Dandy Laundry. She was currently in jail awaiting trial for stabbing and almost killing the laundry’s truck driver, Sterling Fingers, right there under their noses on a Friday in May. Whenever any of them were having trouble with a husband, a parole officer or a pesky son-in-law, they would always say, “I’ll get Bernadette to stab the son of a bitch for me when she gets back.”

“I don’t think she’s coming back.”

“Oh, no? Why is that?”

“She almost killed a man.”

“Who’s to say he didn’t have it coming?”

Virgie Smalls, at twenty-one, was the youngest of the ladies of the laundry. The nearest one to her in age was Flo O’Leary at age thirty-seven. All the rest were in their forties and fifties and they were a rough bunch. Some had been in prison and behaved as if they still were (tattoos on their biceps, a chaw of tobacco in their cheeks and heads tied up in rags). At least two of them had worked as prostitutes in their younger days. Almost all of them had a drinking problem or some kind of addiction.

Finally it was lunch time. Virgie took her paper sack and sat apart from the others. She took her sandwich out of her bag and began reading a paperback novel. This was one of the reasons the other ladies didn’t like her. They thought she was snooty when really she only wanted a few minutes to herself. She had always been solitary that way.

Soon Josephine Day, the new girl from Puerto Rico who was just learning to speak English, came and sat across from her. Virgie looked up from her book and smiled but kept on reading.

“What book?” Josephine asked.

“It’s a murder mystery,” Virgie said.

“Why you read at lunch?”

“I’ve always done it.”

“I learn English better by reading book. Learn which words go where.”

“Yes.”

“Don’t like read, though.”

“Hey, pigeon!” one of the other ladies, Ruthie Joy, the ever-present cigarette dangling from her lip, called to Josephine. “Come over here and sit with us!”

“That’s okay,” Josephine said. “I sit with Virgie.”

“Virgie doesn’t like you,” Ethel Diamante said, and all the other ladies laughed.

Josephine turned to Virgie. “You don’t like me?”

Virgie leaned forward and spoke in a whisper so only Josephine could hear. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She thinks she knows me but she doesn’t.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will after you’ve been here longer.”

The ladies’ conversation consisted mostly of stories about their run-ins with authority, relations with men, bowling scores and the criminal activities of their children. None of it interested Virgie and she tried to tune it out as much as she could. When the conversation inevitably turned to Bernadette Crowder and Sterling Fingers, though, she listened to what they were saying.

“When’s that little son of a bitch Sterling coming back to work?” asked the woman known only as Fly.

“Never, I hope,” Nellie Felton said. “He gives me the creeps.”

“That’s because you want him so bad and you know you can’t have him,” Ethel Diamante said and all the ladies hooted with laughter.

“He’s like that little midget in that white suit on that TV show about an island.”

“He’s short but not that short.”

“Well, I think he’s kind of cute,” Bebe Fallon said. She only had one eye so she continually kept her head tilted to the side.

“That’s because you can’t see, bitch!” Ruthie Joy said, and the others rocked with laughter.

“No, really,” Bebe Fallon said. “I like small men.”

“There’s no accounting for tastes.”

“Do you think Bernadette’s really going to jail?”

“Well, there were witnesses. I don’t see how she’s going to get out of it. It was assault with a deadly weapon. That don’t get you a slap on the wrist.”

“Maybe if she killed all the witnesses.”

“How is she going to do that, you dope, if she’s in jail?”

“She could get somebody else to do it.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work.”

“Well, you never know. I’d hate to be one of the witnesses.”

“We’re not even supposed to be talking about it,” Lena Ellery said, who had been a witness and had been questioned several times by the police.

“You’re going to have to testify in court, aren’t you, babe?” Fly asked.

“Don’t remind me,” Lena Ellery said. “I hate courtrooms.”

“I’ll bet you’ve never even been in one, have you?”

“Only on TV.”

Lunch was over and it was back to work. By a concerted effort, Virgie avoided looking at the clock but she knew she had to get through a lot of hours before it was time to go home.

A few minutes after lunch Mr. Honegger came and stood close to Virgie and looked down at her until he had her attention.

“I want to see you in my office,” he said in her ear to keep the others from hearing.

“What for?” she asked, but he was already walking away.

When she was seated across from him in his quiet office, with cool air blowing out the air conditioner vent, he looked at her solemnly and shook his head.

“You’re not like the others, are you?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t mix in much.”

“Does it matter?”

“Not in my book. Not as long as you do your work.”

“Are you firing me?”

“No, but I can see how you would think that.”

“What is this about, then?”

“I need a floor supervisor, somebody to keep an eye on the girls. I have too much work to do to keep going out there every few minutes to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

“What does that have to do with me?”

“It’s twenty dollars more a week.”

“So?”

“You couldn’t use twenty more a week?”

“You’re saying you want me to be floor supervisor?”

“Out of the people I have now, you’re the logical choice.”

“Why is that?”

“You seem—I don’t know—more sensible than the others.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You don’t want it?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Those women would resent me. They already do resent me.”

“Why do you think that?”

“It goes back to your original statement. I’m not like them.”

“That’s why you’re my choice for the job.”

“I don’t follow.”

“If they liked you on a personal level, if they were friends with you, they’d think they could get around you. You wouldn’t carry tales about them to the boss if they liked you and you liked them.”

“I don’t like them. They don’t like me.”

“That’s why I think you’d be a good floor supervisor.”

“They’d never respect me.”

“You’d have to earn their respect.”

“How would I do that?”

“I don’t know. Make them fear you.”

Virgie couldn’t keep from laughing. “They’d chew me up and spit me out,” she said.

“Will you at least think about it?”

“I already have and the answer is no.”

When Virgie went back to the line, Ethel Diamante asked her what Mr. Honegger said to her.

“He wanted to ask me how my mother is,” she said.

That evening at the dinner table, Virgie told her mother about the floor supervisor job.

“I think you’re a fool to turn it down,” her mother said. “You certainly could use the extra money.”

“I don’t want it.”

“Why not?”

“It’ll make it harder for me to get away when the time comes.”

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“I think you should go into that Mr. What’s-his-name’s office in the morning and tell him you’ve thought it over and decided to take the job.”

“I’m not going to do that.”

“Stubborn. Just like your father.”

“I’ll tell him you’re available. But I have to warn you. He’ll want you to start right away.”

“That isn’t funny.”

Her mother refused to speak to her for the rest of the evening and went into her room before dark and closed the door.

At nine o’clock someone knocked, causing Virgie to let out a little yelp because it was so unexpected. She went to the door and said, “Who is it?”

“Sterling Fingers,” a voice said.

She opened the door and looked at him. “We’ve been wondering how you are,” she said.

“We?”

“The Handy Dandy people.”

“Were you wondering a little more than the others because you care and they don’t?”

“If that’s the way you want to look at it.”

“You were the only one that helped me the day I was stabbed. Those other clods just stood around with their eyes popping out of their heads.”

“None of them had ever seen that much blood before. I think they were in shock.”

“Do we have to stand here and talk through the screen door?”

“I can’t ask you in. My mother has retired for the night.”

“You come out here, then.”

She hesitated for a moment and then stepped out the door. They both sat on the porch swing.

“So you live with your mother,” he said.

“Yes.”

“I live with my mother, too. She’s a case.”

“How’s your, uh, injury?” she asked.

“Do you want to see my scar?”

“No, thank you.”

“I still feel weak and I have shooting pains and nightmares. Except for that, I’m doing all right. I still might die, though.”

“If you’re in danger of dying, why did they let you leave the hospital?”

“They needed the bed.”

“When are you coming back to the laundry?”

“Yet to be decided. Maybe never. I might just go away and get a fresh start in a new place.”

“You know Bernadette’s in jail?”

“I’m not counting on her staying there, though.” He lifted up his jacket and showed her his gun that he had taken to wearing in a shoulder holster. “It’s why I’m wearing a jacket on a hot night.”

“You’re afraid of Bernadette? She’s kind of stupid, you know.”

“When she finds out she missed my aorta she’ll be back to take another shot at it, stupid or not.”

“I don’t think she’d dare to try it again.”

“I have nightmares about her coming after me. She kills me and then I kill her, but neither one of us is dead and we have to do it all over again. I think it’s a sign that she has murder in her heart.”

“Do you have murder in your heart?”

“Only when it comes to Bernadette.”

“Why don’t you get yourself a lawyer? He could get a court order or something to make sure Bernadette stays away from you if she gets out of jail.”

“A court order isn’t going to stop her.”

“From what I’ve heard, she’ll probably be in jail for a long time.”

“Forever, I hope,” he said.

“Mr. Honegger called me into his office today.”

“What did that old turd want?”

“He offered me the job of floor supervisor.”

“No! Did you take it?”

“I turned him down.”

“He’ll probably fire you on some pretext, now that you’ve crossed him.”

“I don’t much care.”

“You don’t belong in the laundry, anyway. You’re not like the others.”

“That’s what he said.”

“In about six years, though, you’ll be just like them.”

“Lord, no!”

“How would you like to be like Ethel and Ruthie Joy and Bebe Fallon?”

“Bebe Fallon likes you. She was talking about you today at lunchtime.”

“What did she say?”

“She said she thinks you’re cute and she likes small men.”

“That’s her one eye talking.”

He left, not knowing if he would ever see her again. Virgie, for her part, stood on the porch and watched him walk away on the sidewalk until she could no longer see him. Then she went into the house and upstairs to bed. Tomorrow it would all start over again, as if today and the day before hadn’t been enough.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

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