~ The Feminine Ideal ~
The frizzy hair, hissing and screaming only add to her allure.
As High as an Elephant’s Eye ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
We’re in my parents’ old green Pontiac. My mother is driving and my grandma in the passenger seat. In the back seat, I can’t see out the window when I’m sitting down, so I stand up and hold onto the back of the seat, something my father won’t let me do when he’s driving. I’m excited because we’re going to the store and I can probably get my mother to buy me something.
She pulls onto the enormous parking lot of Early’s Supermarket. (At Early’s Store Where Less is More.) She has trouble finding a place to park and when she finds one it’s all the way on the far side of the lot away from the store.
“I don’t know why it’s so crowded today,” she says.
I’m all ready to get out but she tells me I have to wait in the car with grandma.
“I wanted to go with you,” I say.
“Well, you can’t.”
“Bring me some Blackjack gum.”
“If they have it.”
“You’ll see it. It’s right where you stand in line to pay.”
“If I can remember.”
“Bring me some clove gum too.”
“You’re not greedy, are you?”
“Either one or the other. Not both.”
“Well, then, if I can only have one, I want the clove. No, I want the Blackjack. No, make it the clove. No, I want the Blackjack.”
“You’ll be lucky to get any.”
“I never heard of clove gum,” grandma says.
“It’s good,” I says. “It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.”
“It’ll rot your teeth.”
“No, it won’t. It’s good for you.”
“Oh, dear!” mother sighs. “This is going to take a while, I can see. They’re so crowded today and I have some prescriptions to refill. I think I’ll just drop them off at the drug counter and go do my shopping and then go back and pick them up when I’m leaving.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” grandma asks.
“No, then we’ll all have to go because I don’t want him staying in the car by himself.”
“I don’t mind,” I say.
“Somebody might come along and kidnap you.”
“It happens all the time,” grandma says, “if you pay any attention to your news.”
I think about being kidnapped and try to decide whether I would like it or not. If it kept me from having to go to school, I’m sure I’d like it.
Mother gets out of the car and disappears into the maze of parked cars. I’m starting to feel hot because the afternoon sun is shining on my right side so I roll down the window the rest of the way and stick my head out.
“There’s more people right here than live in the whole town,” I say.
“I don’t know where they all come from,” grandma says.
“She sure has been gone a long time,” I say.
“Two minutes,” grandma says. “You’ll have to learn patience as you get older.”
“It means being able to sit and wait without complaining about it.”
“I have my connect-the-dots book.”
“I have my magazine,” she says.
I open my connect-the-dots book to a page on which is obviously a cowboy on a horse, but you’re not supposed to know it’s a cowboy on a horse until you’ve connected all the dots. I can tell what it is, though, even before I connect the dots.
I don’t like drawing in my book so I use my number-three pencil that’s worn down to a nub and connect a few dots very lightly so I can go back later and erase them with a big green eraser that I found on the playground at school.
Grandma is reading an article in her magazine about “getting older.” It doesn’t mean going from sixth to seventh grade. It means going from forty to fifty.
“Life begins at forty,” she says.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that by the time you’re forty you should have your kids raised and you should be able to have some fun again the way you used to before they came along.”
“Before who came along?”
“I’m not ever having any.”
“I don’t like babies.”
“You’ll change your mind when you grow up and meet a beautiful young girl that you want to marry.”
“That’s not ever going to happen.”
“You’ll be all alone if you don’t get married.”
“I don’t care. I’ll have plenty of cats and a few chickens.”
“Well, we’ll see.”
I connect a few more dots and soon I grow tired of waiting. I want my Blackjack or clove gum and I want to go. I put the book aside and put my head back and close my eyes, smelling the smell of hot cars and feeling the sun on my head and arms.
“Do you think she’ll get me the clove gum or the Blackjack?” I asked.
“Maybe neither one,” grandma says. “The store is a madhouse today. She’ll be lucky to get what she came for.”
In a little while I’m aware of a commotion in the corner of the parking lot, not far from where we are. I hear voices and laughing and I see some kids headed over that way. It’s probably just a stupid clown or something, but I want to go see what it is so I open the door and start to get out.
“Where do you think you’re going?” grandma asks.
“I want to go over there and see what’s going on,” I say.
“You stay here. You don’t want to keep your mother waiting.”
“I won’t. I’ll just be gone a minute.”
“Don’t make me have to come and get you.”
“And watch out for cars.”
It’s an elephant to advertise a circus that’s coming to town and the man tending the elephant is giving kids rides for twenty-five cents. A couple dozen kids and three or four adults are gathered around, gawking and exclaiming as if they’ve never seen an elephant before. I’ve seen them but never in person and never up close.
I go to the front of the crowd where I can see better. A pinheaded blond girl is sitting on the elephant’s neck. She looks stupid because she’s afraid she’s going to fall off. The man walks the elephant a few feet away from the crowd and turns around and walks back. The blond girl shrieks and looks like she is about to crack. The man signals to the elephant and the elephant lowers the front part of its body and he reaches up and slides the girl off as if she’s no heavier than a bag of feathers.
I seem to be next in line to ride the elephant but I’m not because I don’t have any money.
“Wanna ride?” the man asks. He smiles at me and I look at his dark eyes and white teeth.
I shake my head but there’s nobody else who seems to want to ride the elephant behind me, so the man motions me forward. He surprises me by lifting me up, but, instead of putting me on the elephant’s neck as I expect him to do, he holds me up so my face is just inches away from the elephant’s eye. Not knowing what else to do, I reach out and put my hand on the elephant underneath the eye. It feels like soft leather, exactly like an old suede jacket. The eye blinks as if to acknowledge my touch and then the man puts me down.
I’m quickly forgotten because a little girl is holding up her quarter and wants a ride. The man takes the money, puts it in his pocket and lifts her up so she’s sitting on the elephant’s neck.
I’m glad I get back to the car before my mother does.
“What was it?” grandma asks.
“It’s an elephant. They’re giving rides.”
“Did you ride?”
“It costs money.”
When my mother comes back, she’s carrying two small bags.
“Did you get my gum?” I ask before she’s all the way in the car.
She reaches into the bag and hands a pack of Blackjack gum over the seat to me.
“What happened to the clove?” I ask.
“I said one or the other and that means not both.”
“All right. Just checking.”
She starts the car but has to wait for several other cars to get out of the way before she can make it back to the place where cars drive in and out.
“Can we go to the circus?” I ask.
“What circus?” mother asks wearily.
“There’s going to be a circus.”
“We’ll go only if you can pay for it.”
“I don’t have any money,” I say. “I’m just in grade school.”
“Then we won’t be going.”
I know she’s teasing me and I think I can probably get her to agree to go if I work on her long enough.
I open the Blackjack gum and unwrap the first piece and put it in my mouth. I’m glad she got the Blackjack instead of the clove. I think licorice is my favorite taste in all the world.
As she pulls off the parking lot onto the highway, I turn and look out the back window. I think I’ll catch another glimpse of the elephant as we drive away but I don’t. What I see is a cloud of dust that seems to be following the car and then disappears as we pick up speed.
“Life begins at forty,” I say.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp
Bettyville ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Bettyville is a memoir by a writer named George Hodgman set in the small town of Paris, Missouri. Paris is an insignificant town in a state full of insignificant towns. George is a middle-aged man and is gay, always feeling that there is something wrong with him or he doesn’t quite measure up. (“The people who feel okay in the world,” he says, “don’t understand those of us who don’t feel okay.”) He knows his conservative parents will never understand or embrace his sexuality, so he chooses to never discuss it with them. He becomes adept at secrecy and at hiding his true feelings. At the age of forty, when he finally admits to his mother that he’s gay (“Surely you must have known.”), she replies, “Well, then, I guess you’ll go your way and I’ll go mine.” She doesn’t make it easy for him.
Knowing he will never fit in or be accepted in his home town, George goes to New York, where he embraces the “gay lifestyle.” He spends summers on Fire Island. He has a series of “relationships,” somehow never managing to make one of them last for the long haul. He works for publishing houses as a book editor or at places like Vogue magazine. He turns to drugs to help him cope with his demanding job and eventually becomes an addict. In spite of all this, though, he manages to go back to Missouri a couple of times a year to visit his family.
When George’s father dies (George senior), his mother, Betty, is left alone. As she gets older and more frail, it is up to George, an only child, to care for her. He would like to put her in a nursing home so he can live his own life, but, as expected, she won’t hear to it. After George loses his job (making him feel like more of a failure than ever), he moves back home with his mother and takes on the difficult job of caring for her full-time. So, a fifty-year-old repressed, secretive man is taking care of his failing, often difficult, emotionally reserved ninety-year-old mother who has dementia. He wants to “do right” by her and see her through to the end, whatever the end is. That’s what Bettyville is about: acceptance of one’s own failings, putting another person’s interests before one’s own, and doing it all with humor and grace.
Bettyville is almost effortless reading and is full of humor. When George takes his mother to see the art film The Master, she says in a loud voice, “Why would anybody want to make a movie like that?” When they go to the Muny Opera in St. Louis to see The Music Man, George’s father sings along, embarrassing George and Betty. In drug rehab, when somebody asks George when he became aware that his emotions had shut down, he replies, “I don’t think they were ever opened up.” George is a clever man who uses self-deprecating humor to keep people from seeing what he really is, as if what he is needs covering up.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp
The Queen Bee of Café Society ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
It’s early November and the nights are getting colder. Ouida Longworth makes her way through the dark city streets to the only place left to her. She struggles up the stairs, through the door, and stops before a low table with an old woman sitting behind it.
“Need a bed,” Ouida says.
“All full up tonight.”
“Got one left,” a man’s voice says from the shadows. “A lady checked out a little while ago.”
“All right,” the old woman says. “You know the rules. No smoking, cussing, gambling or alcoholic beverages. No fraternizing with the other guests. You got to be out by nine o’clock in the morning.”
“Thank you, madam.”
“Go down them stairs and hold your nose.”
Ouida isn’t sure if she has the strength to find the one empty bed, but find it she does and when she comes to it she sits down heavily and takes off her shoes and rubs her feet. They are so numb she can hardly feel them—one day they will stop working altogether. Holding her shoes against her abdomen to keep them safe, she gets under the covers to lose herself in sleep for a few hours.
A roomful of sleeping women and a few children. It is semi-lit, one bulb high up on the wall in a little metal cage, and quiet except for a few rustles like the sounds mice make. The wild-haired woman in the bed next to Ouida raises herself on her elbow, eyes glowing in the dark. Ouida is certain the woman is going to speak to her, so she covers her head with the musty blanket and is left only with herself and her recollections of the life she had before the one she has now.
She was once the wife of Franklin Longworth, a man of many millions. She wore glittery gowns, smoked custom-made cigarettes in a foot-long holder and articulated in a faux English accent. Besides having a penthouse apartment on Park Avenue, the Longworths spent a part of each year at one of their homes in the South of France, Switzerland or Italy.
Ouida Longworth was one of the leading lights of her social set, which included sixty or so of the best people. During the social season, she gave parties or attended them nearly every night. On off nights, there was always the opera, the theatre, or any one of the fashionable cafés and clubs. The revels often lasted until dawn and nobody was written up in the society columns more than Ouida Longworth. To be seen in her company—and especially to be photographed with her—was much desired by those hoping to get a leg up in society. Any man of letters, painter, or actress was fortunate to be taken up and admired by her.
One such man was a fellow named Ricky Beaumont. Establishing himself as a playwright proved to be more problematic than he anticipated. His one play that he managed to have produced folded after six performances. He was badly in need of a patroness, someone to pay his liquor bills and leave him alone while he cultivated his untapped genius.
Ouida claimed to be the “discoverer” of Ricky Beaumont. He was, she said, the most gifted young playwright of his generation and she would see that he had every advantage. Men of genius should not be bothered with worldly matters such as how to pay the grocery bill and the rent.
She started out advising Ricky in his career, but soon her professional interest turned personal. Helping matters along were his youth and the fact that he had piercing blue eyes, a head full of thick brown hair and stood six feet, two inches tall in his stocking feet. He recalled to Ouida the thrilling days of her youth, before she married stodgy Franklin Longworth, when she could have any man for the taking and there were plenty willing to be taken.
She began being seen everywhere in Ricky Beaumont’s company. Rumors abounded. Some of her friends reviled her, while most were blasé in the matter. A silly older woman with a rich and serious husband falling for a good-looking younger fellow who, everybody could see, was taking her for a ride. It’s been happening since the beginning of time.
She admitted to her husband before a roaring fire in his study after a large dinner that she was in love with Ricky Beaumont and he was in love with her.
“Has it ever occurred to you, my dear,” her husband said, “that Ricky Beaumont might be more in love with what you can do for him than he is with you?”
“Only a person with a vile mind would think of such a thing,” she replied.
“I’ve known for a long time that you weren’t happy in our marriage.”
“It isn’t so much that, Frank. It’s just that I’m young and pretty and I want to be with a man who thrills me.”
“My age doesn’t matter. I don’t look a day over thirty.”
“Age has a way of catching up with you when you least expect it.”
“I’m not surprised that you turn the conversation into something as trivial as age.”
“Does Ricky also believe the age difference to be trivial?”
“Ours is a love for the ages! That I’ve lived a few years longer than he has is absolutely inconsequential.”
“All right. We’ll meet with my attorney and arrange for you to get your divorce.”
Always one to be generous, Franklin Longworth settled ten million dollars on his wife. Almost before the ink was dry on the divorce agreement, Ouida and Ricky Beaumont were married at city hall in a simple ceremony. She wore a modest navy suit and a small hat with a veil. No photographers were present.
They rented a villa in Tuscany, where they spent the first few months of their married life. From there they went to Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Paris, Vienna, Budapest, and Berlin. After a few months in London, Ricky was tired of the rain and cold, he said, so they moved on to sunnier climes.
Before they had celebrated their first wedding anniversary, Ouida began to notice a change in him. Instead of being charming all the time, as she expected him to be, he was moody and withdrawn. He abandoned his writing career, which she had hoped he would pursue. He went for days at a time without speaking to her and insisted on separate bedrooms. When she asked what was wrong, he became violent and accused her of being an old nag. He slapped her in the mouth on more than one occasion and blackened both eyes.
He began drinking heavily, alone, and then with male companions that to Ouida seemed unsavory. He was sometimes gone overnight and when he returned in the morning he was always dirty and disheveled. He lived a separate, secret life apart from hers and remained drunk much of the time.
To have something to do to pass the time, he took up gambling. At first it was races and sporting events and then he began frequenting casinos. He was, she soon discovered, addicted to the roulette table and other games of chance. He squandered huge sums of money every night and never gained a cent.
“Our money does have a limit, you know,” she said to him during one of his infrequent sober periods. “As does my patience.”
“Can’t you leave me alone for just one minute?” he said.
“What will we do when you’ve squandered all our money and we have nothing left?”
“I’m not going to do that, I promise.”
“I can see now that our marriage was a mistake,” she said. “I gave up a good man for you.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“I gave up everything for you.”
“Go stick your head in the oven.”
When she was just on the verge of trying to figure out a way to extricate herself from the marriage, he came to her one night in her bedroom with tears in his eyes.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news, old girl,” he said.
“You’re in trouble with the police?”
“Worse than that. We’re broke.”
“All our money is gone.”
“What? How are we going to live?”
“I know what I’m going to do. It’s every man for himself now.”
That was the last time she saw him. In the morning he was gone and he didn’t tell her where he was going. He didn’t even bother to take any of his belongings with him.
She sold what jewelry she had left to pay a few outstanding debts and to buy a plane ticket home. When she arrived back in America, all the people in her crowd had moved on. There was no one to whom she could turn for help. Anybody who had known her wouldn’t recognize her anymore. She had gained weight and let herself go. Her hair was gray, her skin sallow, her appearance haggard. Age had caught up with her, as Franklin had told her it would.
Her small reserve of money was dwindling. She tried to find a job but couldn’t. Nobody wanted a fifty-year-old waitress or sales girl with no experience. In her previous life, she had never learned to do anything and had never envisioned a time when she would be forced to earn her own living.
The hotel where she was staying locked her out of her room when she stopped paying. They kept her bags and clothes, which they would be happy to return after she paid the money that was owed.
She began walking the streets, learning where other people like her congregated. She learned the safe places to hide out, to get a bite to eat or a bed for the night. Few had ever fallen so far and so fast.
She awakes in the long, low room with all the beds. It’s daylight, time to get up and move on. When she reaches for her shoes to put them on, they are gone. The wild-haired woman in the bed beside her is also gone.
She begins crying uncontrollably. “How could this happen to me?” she sobs.
“Are you all right, honey?” a woman with a little girl asks her.
“Somebody took my shoes! What am I going to do now?”
“See the lady at the desk. She’ll fix you up.”
The old woman from the night before has a cardboard box of discarded shoes under her desk. Ouida looks through it until she finds a pair of red tennis shoes that fit her.
“Thank you for your kindness,” she says. “I’m all right now.”
She goes out into the bright, cold air and begins walking. The streets are crowded, the time of morning when people are headed for their places of business. Somebody is certain to notice her and hand her some money, enough to get a decent breakfast, without her having to ask for it. These things happen much more often than she might have imagined.
She rarely looks directly at individual people, but she can’t help noticing an older man walking toward her, a man unlike anybody else. He wears an overcoat and a bowler hat. He has an air of assurance and respectability. When she realizes it’s Franklin Longworth, her heart skips a beat. She makes a sharp turn to the left to try to avoid him, but he has already seen her.
“Ouida!” he calls. “Is that you?”
“Hello, Franklin,” she says.
“Why didn’t you let me know you were in town?”
“I don’t know.”
He looks her up and down. “Things not going so good?” he asks.
“Let me buy you breakfast. We can talk.”
He takes her by the arm and leads her to a restaurant down the street.
“You’re looking well,” she says, after they are seated.
“I wish I could say the same for you.”
“I know. I’m not the person I was.”
“You and Ricky all washed up?”
“Yes. I’m finished with him. Or rather, he’s finished with me.”
“Did you hear I got married again?”
“No, I hadn’t heard.”
“Her name is Katherine. You’d like her. She was a widow, has two sons. I’ve come to think of them as my own.”
“I’m happy for you, Frank.”
“Where are you staying?”
“Well, I was staying at the Fulbright Hotel, but…”
“You could no longer afford it?”
“You always had a way of seeing right through me, Frank.”
“Can I help in any way.”
“You were always so good, Frank, and I was such a fool. You gave me everything a woman could possibly want and I threw it all away.”
“Well, it’s all in the past now,” he says. “Time to move forward.”
“Yes, move forward.”
“We have an opening for a maid if you’d be interested.”
“You’d hire me as a maid?”
“I don’t see why not. Nobody has to know about your past. We’ll keep it between ourselves.”
“What would your wife think?”
He takes a pad out of his pocket and begins writing. “I got rid of the old place,” he says. “Too many painful associations. We now live at this address.” He rips a page from the pad and hands it to her.
“You’ve always treated me better than I deserve, Frank,” she says.
“You won’t have to start to work right away. Take some time to get yourself rested up. A couple of weeks, if you want.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he says, “I was just on my way for an appointment. I’m late as it is.” He takes his wallet out and hands her a fifty-dollar bill. “Order anything you want to eat.”
“Always so thoughtful, dear.”
“Come to us when you’re ready. I’ll tell my wife you’re coming and she’ll make the necessary arrangements.”
“It’s been wonderful seeing you again, Frank.”
He pats her on the hand and smiles and then he’s gone.
She leaves the restaurant a few minutes after he does with the fifty-dollar bill in her hand and the piece of paper on which he has written his address. When she sees a man on the street who looks worse than she does, minus a leg, she gives him the money. As for the address, she lets the wind take it from her hand and watches as it blows into the gutter. After she has done these things, she fades into the crowd and is seen or heard of no more.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp
I Always Knew You Were Kind ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Geneva watches Booth Faraday in his back yard out her upstairs bedroom window. He holds a newspaper in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. After adjusting the crotch of his pants, he sits down in a lawn chair and unfolds the newspaper and takes a drink of the beer; turns the pages of the newspaper impatiently and ends by throwing it on the ground. He puts his head back with his face toward the sky and closes his eyes. He doesn’t know he’s being watched, she thinks. But then he opens his eyes and looks toward her and she jumps away from the window as if from an electric shock.
Booth and his mother have lived next door for three years and Geneva has never even spoken to them in passing. They are people who keep to themselves. Booth goes to work early every morning but Geneva doesn’t know what he does. Some blue-collar job. Maybe a factory worker or an automobile mechanic. When he comes home, he rarely goes out again. Never any visitors that Geneva has seen. On weekends she hardly sees him at all. Not that she’s watching for him. He’s nothing to me, she tells herself, after each of her secret spying sessions.
She goes downstairs where her sour-faced mother, Mrs. Bobo, is sitting at the kitchen table slurping her coffee. Ignoring her, Geneva turns to the want ads in the newspaper and sits down across from her.
“You’ve been watching him again, haven’t you?” Mrs. Bobo says.
Geneva circles an ad in red ink and looks up. “Did you say something?” she asks.
“I said, ‘you’ve been watching him again’.”
“That man next door. What’s-his-name. Mrs. Faraday’s son.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Geneva says.
“I would like some scrambled eggs this morning. I’ve been waiting for you to come down and fix them.”
Geneva stands up, takes two eggs out of the refrigerator and carries them to the stove.
“You really don’t need to be looking at those silly want ads,” Mrs. Bobo says.
“I’ll look at them if I want to.”
“How many jobs have you applied for that you didn’t get?”
“I don’t know. Dozens.”
“That’s right. Dozens. Doesn’t that tell you something?”
“It tells me I haven’t found the right one yet.”
“You really don’t need to find another job. Your father left us well-provided for. That’s one thing I can say about him.”
“People don’t work only because they have to. Some people work because they want to.”
Mrs. Bobo laughs her cruel laugh. “C’est la vie,” she says, but Geneva is sure she doesn’t know what it means.
At other times their conversation is less cordial, as two days later when Geneva is preparing to go for a job interview.
“I don’t think you’re going to get this job, either,” Mrs. Bobo says.
“Why not?” Geneva asks.
“They’re going to take one look at your qualifications and see you don’t know how to do a thing.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, as usual.”
“You look ridiculous. You have too much curl in your hair. It makes you look like a clown.”
“Too much makeup for your age. You look like a floozy.”
“Nobody uses words like ‘floozy’ anymore. It reminds me of just how old you are.”
“The old words are the best words for getting things said.”
“Why don’t you just shut up and let me alone for a change?”
“How can you tell your mother to shut up?”
“Easy. Shut up!”
“I have this terrible pain in my chest and you’re abandoning me. I might not still be alive when you get back.”
“Then I’ll call your favorite funeral home and let them know where to pick up the body. They’ll be glad for the business.”
“That isn’t funny. You break your mother’s heart.”
“Why don’t you go watch TV? Isn’t there one of your game shows on?”
“You know I don’t care for game shows.”
“Then why do you watch them all the time?”
“Because I have a daughter who can’t stand to be in the same room with me, that’s why.”
“Why don’t you take a nap or something? I’ll bring you a cheeseburger when I come home.”
“Don’t bother. I couldn’t eat a thing.”
The interview doesn’t go well. The interviewer is a man, no more than twenty-four years old. He talks about how youthful and vibrant the company is. Geneva can tell right away he doesn’t consider her a serious contender for the job.
“Why do you want to work here?” he asks, looking bored.
“I don’t,” she says.
“You don’t want to work here?”
“Then why are we both wasting our time?”
“I just now decided.”
“I guess we can consider the interview concluded then, can’t we?”
“Yes, and thanks for nothing.”
“Thank you for nothing,” he says.
The next day Mrs. Bobo is sulking in her room and doesn’t ask Geneva how the job interview went. To give herself something to do, Geneva goes into the kitchen and makes two batches of cookies, one chocolate chip and the other oatmeal raisin. While the cookies are cooling on the counter, she has an idea. What man doesn’t like cookies?
She puts on her new yellow-flowered blouse, brushes her teeth and fluffs up her hair, which, thank goodness, still looks decent from the interview the day before. She takes a round tin left over from Christmas, lines it with wax paper, and puts about three dozen of the cookies in it, half of each kind.
She tries to smile as she rings the doorbell at the house of Faraday, but her heart is pounding and she has a terrible taste in her mouth like an exhaust pipe. She is sure that Booth will answer the door because it’s Saturday, but Mrs. Faraday comes to the door instead. She’s a short, squat woman with bulging eyes like a frog and hardly any neck to speak of.
“Yes?” she says when she sees Geneva. She takes her cigarette out of her mouth and picks a piece of tobacco off her tongue.
“Yes. Who are you?”
“I’m your next-door neighbor. You must have seen me around.”
“Yeah, I guess so. What do you want?”
“I just wanted to pay a neighborly call and bring you this.” She holds out the tin of cookies.
Mrs. Faraday eyes it suspiciously. “What is it?” she asks.
“It’s cookies I made.”
“I’m not selling them. I’ve giving them to you.”
“I don’t eat sweets much, but thank you.” She takes the tin and holds it against her body under her elbow.
Geneva tries to see over Mrs. Faraday’ shoulder into the house, but it’s too dark to see a thing.
“Is your son home?” she asks.
“You know him?” Mrs. Faraday says.
“No. I can’t say that we’ve been properly introduced.”
“He’s busy right now.”
“Oh, that’s all right.”
“I can get him if you want.”
“Oh, no! Don’t bother. I just thought I’d say hello and introduce myself.”
“I’ll tell him you dropped by.”
“Oh, would you? Thank you!”
Her cheeks burn with embarrassment.
Relations between mother and daughter remain strained. Mrs. Bobo stays in her room watching her small portable TV at the toot of her bed and speaks to Geneva only when necessary. She eats her meals and then returns to her lair and locks the door.
“How long is the silent treatment going to last, mother?” Geneva asks at lunch.
“Why should I speak if I’m only going to be told to shut up in my own home?” Mrs. Bobo says.
On her birthday Geneva fixes herself up in a special way. She takes a bubble bath, washes and sets her hair and, sitting at her dressing table in her underwear, puts on her “full face,” including fake eyelashes. When everything else is done, she puts on the black dress that she wears to weddings and funerals.
She buys a bottle of wine and an expensive cut of steak. She gets out the good china and places candles in the middle of the table.
When Mrs. Bobo comes into the kitchen, her pink-tinged hair askew from her nap, she says, “What’s all this for?”
“Sit down and eat, mother, before the food gets cold,” Geneva says as she pours wine into the glasses.
After a couple of bites, Mrs. Bobo says, “The meat is tough. I can’t eat it.”
“Do you want me to cut it up for you?” Geneva asks.
“Of course not! I’m not a child!”
“Don’t eat it, then, if you don’t want it.”
“Well, I won’t eat it! And I want to know what you’re all gussied up for? You look like the cat that swallowed the canary. Are you wearing false eyelashes?”
“I have a date this evening,” Geneva says.
“Who with? I hope you’re not cavorting with some married man!”
“Why would I be?”
“Because that’s the only kind of man you could ever hope to get. Somebody who has completely given up on life.”
(The truth is: after she washes up the supper dishes, she is planning on driving downtown to a little getaway called the Melody Lounge, sitting at the bar, having a drink or two and listening to the music. Being asked to dance is not outside the realm of possibility.)
“Don’t you know what day this is?” she asks.
“It’s Thursday, isn’t it?” Mrs. Bobo says. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“You don’t remember what happened thirty-eight years ago today?”
“If it’s your sly way of telling me it’s your birthday, I already know it.”
“Aren’t you going to wish me many happy returns?”
“No. I don’t think your thirty-eighth birthday is anything to celebrate.”
“What have you ever done with your life? You still live with your mother in her house. You don’t have a career. You were never able to land a husband.”
Geneva has been drinking wine steadily for two hours. She finished off one bottle and has opened another. She holds up her glass and says, “Here’s to many more happy years in your c-c-company, mother!”
Mrs. Bobo gives a snort of disgust. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she says.
“Why? I haven’t done anything.”
“You’re a terrible disappointment to your mother!”
“Do you want me to leave?”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? To be absolved of all responsibility!”
“I don’t feel responsible for you, mother. I’ve stayed with you and helped you all these years because I didn’t want you to be alone. I can go anytime I please.”
“You ungrateful thing! After all I’ve done for you!”
“What have you done for me?”
“I’ve supported you for thirty-eight years!”
“You don’t think I could support myself?”
“No! You live on my money and that’s the way it will always be! Just how do you think you’d manage if I were to say you don’t get another penny of my money?”
“I have money of my own.”
“Bah! And don’t think you’ll get a cent when I die, either. I’ve already spoken to my attorney about changing my will.”
Geneva downs another glass of wine and says, “How about if I murder you before you change your will? I could always poison your food and you’d never know it. Or, how about this: I come into your room in the wee hours of the night and hold a pillow over your face until you’re no longer breathing. An old woman dying in her sleep. Nobody would ever question it.”
“Oh!” Mrs. Bobo says, sputtering with indignation.
“You are a horrible, spiteful, vindictive old woman and I wish I never had to lay eyes on you again!”
“God will strike you dead for saying such things!”
“I wish he would! Then I’d never have to look at your ugly old face again!”
Mrs. Bobo tries to get up, catches her foot on the leg of the chair and sits back down with a jolt, spilling the wine. “I want you out of my house by nightfall,” she says. “Take everything that belongs to you and get out!”
“It will give me the greatest of pleasure!” Geneva says. Not knowing what else to do, she picks a baked potato off her plate and throws it at Mrs. Bobo. It strikes her in the forehead; she falls off her chair onto the floor and begins wailing.
“She’s trying to kill me!” she screams. “Help me, somebody! My own daughter is going to kill me!”
“Get up, mother,” Geneva says. “You’re not hurt. It was just a squishy old cooked potato and I didn’t throw it that hard.”
“Oh! Oh! Oh! I think my leg is broken! I’m having a heart attack!”
Geneva knows she has had too much wine and believes she is about to do something she will regret. Wanting only to get away from Mrs. Bobo, she runs through the house and out the front door. She feels the blood rushing in her ears and has a couple of seconds where she loses consciousness, which happens in moments of extreme anxiety or anger. She runs to the house next door, the Faraday house, and pounds on the door.
When Mrs. Faraday comes to the door, Geneva rushes past her into the house as though escaping a fire.
“What the…?” Mrs. Faraday says.
Geneva runs through the dark house into the kitchen. There, standing beside the sink, is Booth Faraday in a bathrobe. He looks at Geneva as if she is a lion about to spring on him. Geneva runs to him, reaches up and encircles his neck with her arms.
“Please marry me!” she says. “I know I’m drunk and I do apologize for that. Today is my birthday. I’m older than I care to admit. My life is terrible. My mother and I hate each other. I just threatened to kill her. She’s lying on the floor in the kitchen screaming in pain. I don’t want to go to jail. Please help me!”
Booth pulls her arms from his neck, takes a step back and says the first words she has ever heard him speak: “Do I know you?”
Mrs. Faraday is standing in the doorway to the kitchen. “I’ll call the police,” she says in a calm voice.
Again Booth speaks: “No need. I’ll handle this.”
“There,” Geneva says, smiling. “I always knew you were kind.”
She takes a drunken step toward him. He steps out of the way as she falls to the floor. The thing she is aware of as she blacks out is that she is wetting her pants on the floor of the Faraday kitchen.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp
An American Son ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Marco Rubio was born in Miami in 1971. His parents came to the United States from Cuba during the 1950s, in search of a better life for themselves and their children. They had no formal education and job skills that would only ever allow them to work in menial jobs, but they were determined that their four children would have better lives than they had had. They survived as Americans without exactly thriving and saw their son Marco become an attorney, a family man with four children of his own, and a successful and powerful politician.
An American Son is Marco Rubio’s story, from his modest upbringing in Miami to his hard-fought election in 2010 as Florida’s junior senator. He began in Florida politics when he was elected to the West Miami City Commission. From there he went to the Florida House or Representatives, where he was eventually elected speaker of the house. When his term of office ended there, he considered leaving politics for good and concentrating on his law practice, but the opportunity came up for him to run for the United States Senate. At a time when nobody believed he could win, he challenged a powerful and popular sitting governor, Charlie Crist, for the nomination of his party to run in the general election. Defying the odds and also conventional wisdom (not to mention a barrage of vicious personal attacks), he won the nomination of his party and went on to the win the general election in a three-way race. It’s a story of perseverance, of not giving up in the face of overwhelming odds.
Too often politicians in Washington, with their $1500 suits and their luxury vacations, come across as elitist and out of touch. Marco Rubio might prove over time to be a different kind of politician. He wasn’t born into a privileged environment. He has lived in the real world and he knows what it’s like to struggle. He comes across as a decent man, maybe overly ambitious but not overly egotistical. He’s not perfect, he makes mistakes, and he’s figuring out the way as he goes along the same as everybody else.
An American Son is breezy reading, never ponderous or bogged down in unnecessary detail. I found the whole book interesting but especially the second half where Marco details his up-and-down campaign for the Senate where he was attacked daily by the opposition. Some politicians have the job dropped into their laps because of what their names are, while others have to work for it, night and day, over months and sometimes years. It’s not an easy road and it takes a certain kind of person to want to do it. Somebody with plenty of drive and ambition but also with the conviction he can make a difference in the world.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp