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If Mr. Shinliver Dies

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If Mr. Shinliver Dies image 2

If Mr. Shinliver Dies ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

As soon as I walked into the office and heard laughter, I knew something was wrong. Ramona Sugarman, the receptionist, sat at her desk filing her fingernails.

“What’s going on, Ramona?” I asked.

“Mr. Shinliver had a heart attack,” she said casually.

“Oh, my gosh! Is he all right?”

She shrugged her shoulders and trained her cross-eyed gaze on her little finger. “How should I know?” she said.

As I proceeded to my cubicle, all the way in the back by the window, a football whizzed by my head, followed by a burst of laughter.

“Uh-oh,” Buster Finney said. “I think he’s going to tell on us.”

Irvine Beasley caught the ball, gripped it with both hands and pretended to throw it right at my face. “No, he won’t tell,” he said. “Not if he knows what’s good for him.”

“No football in the office,” I said, but they knew I was only joking.

I entered my cubicle and set my briefcase on the desk. Theresa Belladonna poked her head up over the partition that separated my cubicle from hers. She held a lighted cigarette in the corner of her mouth like a street corner wino.

“Good morning!” I said.

She removed the cigarette and blew smoke in my direction. “Did you hear the good news?” she asked.

“No, I haven’t heard any good news so far this morning.”

“You know that conference that Mr. Shinliver and all the top brass went to in Buffalo?”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Shinliver had a heart attack.”

“Oh, my goodness!” I said. “Is he all right?”

“They say he was in Miss Wagstaff’s room when it happened. You can only imagine what they were doing.”

“I’d rather not,” I said.

“He’s still alive but he’s on one of those machines that does his breathing for him.”

“Poor Mr. Shinliver.”

“It’s the best thing that’s happened around here in a long time.”

“How long will it be before they get somebody in here to take his place, though?” I asked.

“At least a few days,” she said. “A few days of peace and freedom. It’s exactly what we’ve needed here for a long time.”

“It’s probably some kind of trick,” I said. “Shinliver is probably watching our every move this very minute.”

“That old bastard! Isn’t there some kind of law against spying on people?”

“It happens all the time.”

“Not to me it doesn’t,” she said, lighting a fresh cigarette off the old one.

“I didn’t know you smoked, Theresa,” I said.

“Now’s the time to start, when there’s nobody around to tell me I can’t do it.”

On my way to the kitchen to get my customary morning cup of tea, I saw that Reynard Gilhooley, the resident beatnik, was sitting at his desk openly snorting what appeared to be cocaine with a rolled-up dollar bill.

“Good morning, Reynard,” I said.

“Can’t you see I’m busy?” he said.

“Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,” I said.

While I heated the water for my tea, I stood and looked over the tray of donuts. I was happy to see that there was still one left that was oozing red jelly out the side like a delicious wound. As I picked the donut up and bit into it, somebody clapped me on the shoulder from behind.

“Well, well, well!” a booming voice said. “Look who bothered to show up for work today!”

“I’m always here, Melville,” I said as I turned around and tried to smile. “I never miss work.”

It was Melville Herman, of course. The braggart. The blowhard. The man who managed to make himself offensive to everybody in the world, including a string of ex-wives.

“Did you hear the good news?”

“About Mr. Shinliver, you mean?”

“If the old boy buys the farm, guess who your new boss will be?”

“I wouldn’t even venture a guess,” I said. I took a step away from him so I wouldn’t have to look at his big teeth.

“It’ll be me, you fool!” he said. “Who else?”

“What makes you think that?”

“It’s all but in the bag. Who’s the person with any competence around here? Who keeps this place afloat?”

“I don’t know. Miss Wagstaff?”

“Wagstaff’s just a puppet! And she’s a lesbian, besides.”

“Really? I heard that she and Mr. Shinliver were an item.”

He laughed his hyena-like laugh. “You are so funny!” he said. “Nobody talks like that any more!”

“Like what?”

“I’m going to take some measurements in Mr. Shinliver’s office and see how my furniture is going to fit in there. I think I’m going to want some new curtains, too. The old ones probably smell funny.”

After Melville left, I sat down at one of the little round tables with my tea and donut and looked out the window. Off in the distance I saw a column of smoke rising into the sky. As I was trying to think what it might be that was burning, Mae Fudge came into the room. She was a big woman with a hairdo of elaborate curlicues that reminded me of pictures of Louis XVI.

“Before you ask,” I said. “Yes, I have heard the news about Mr. Shinliver.”

“Nobody’s going to get any work done today,” Mae said. “Probably all week.”

“What am I supposed to do about it?”

“They look up to you. You can talk some sense into them.”

“And have them hate me the way they hate Mr. Shinliver?”

“I’ve heard by way of the grapevine that if Mr. Shinliver dies, you’re going to get a big promotion.”

“What if I don’t want it?”

She looked at me suspiciously. “Everybody wants a promotion,” she said.

“I’m leaving this place,” I said.

“What? Have you found a better job?”

“I didn’t say that. I said I’m leaving this place.”

“Well, you don’t have to get all huffy about it.”

“I’m not getting huffy. I just don’t like having people asking me questions.”

Somebody turned on some loud music that could be heard all over the office. People came into the kitchen, not only to get donuts and coffee, but to dance in the space between the sink and the tables. Believe me, there is nothing more disquieting than white-and-gray accountants—one of them wearing red socks, I noticed—dancing with each other.

“They’ve all gone crazy,” Mae said.

“Their oppressor is gone,” I said. “They’re experiencing a heady moment of freedom.”

“It won’t last.”

“Of course it won’t. Mr. Shinliver will be back or somebody just like him.”

I went back to my desk to escape the loud music, but I could hear it all the same from there. I put on my headphones and listened to some Mozart. I pretended to work while doing nothing. I was probably the only person in the whole place who was even pretending.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Wishing Will Make It So, Part 2

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~ Wishing Will Make It So, Part 2 ~
(A Short Story by Allen Kopp)

the-periodical

Part 2 of my short story “Wishing Will Make It So” published in the current issue of Circus Book. Click on this link:

https://circusbook.org/2015/allen-kopp-wishing-will-make-it-so-2/

Wishing Will Make It So, Part 1

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~ Wishing Will Make It So, Part 1 ~
(A Short Story by Allen Kopp)

the-periodical

Part 1 of my short story “Wishing Will Make It So” published in the current issue of Circus Book. Click on this link:

https://circusbook.org/2015/allen-kopp-wishing-will-make-it-so-1/

The Yack-Yack Club

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The Yack-Yack Club

The Yack-Yack Club ~ by Allen Kopp 

When you’re making your way home in rush-hour traffic after a demoralizing day at the office, it’s scary to think that as many as twenty to thirty percent of drivers on the road are yapping or texting on cell phones. They don’t signal when they should and their driving is erratic, at best. Not only are they jeopardizing their own life and limb, but they are also jeopardizing yours. There are statistics about traffic accidents caused by driver inattention, but how many of those are caused by driver inattention due to cell phone use?

People like me who are not addicted to cell phones don’t understand the attraction. I have a cell phone that I use only for emergencies, and I hate it. I have never sent or received a text message because I have no desire to do so. I can be reached on the phone when I’m at home, but when I’m out somewhere there is nobody in the world I care to talk to. Being away from home means I cannot be reached by phone and I don’t want to be bothered. Leave a message and I’ll call you back when I get home if I feel like it.

Like it or not, I’ve seen advanced cases of cell phone addiction. On the first day of a new job, when I was introduced to a woman who was to be my co-worker, she was yacking on the cell phone and couldn’t put it down long enough to meet me. She yacked on her cell phone almost the entire time I knew her. She told me she never turned her cell phone off, even when she was sleeping, meaning that she was available to receive callers, not only during the day, but also all night long. When we flew on a business trip, she was indignant that airline safety regulations required that her cell phone be turned off. She turned it back on the first second she was allowed to—you could see the relief written all over her. Just think of the important calls that came in when she was thirty-five thousand feet in the air!

And then there are the people who wear the cell phone in their ear all the time, without having to hold it in their hands. When you’re at the mall or in some other public place and someone comes near you and says something, you think, wrongly, that they are talking to you. What they are doing is merrily pretending you don’t exist while regaling you with their idiotic cell phone banter in a very loud voice. (“Well, I’m at the mall. Where the f**k do you think I’m at? Don’t you remember I said I was going to the f**kin’ mall? Well, where the f**k are you at? Well, what the f**k are you doing there? Don’t you remember you were supposed to…”) Did they forget their manners, or did they just not have any manners to begin with?   

Speaking of bad manners, what about the person you’re having lunch with who drags out his cell phone and gets or receives a call right after placing the order with the waiter? Does he think I came out to lunch with him to sit silently while I listen to his inane conversation with his ex-wife or his teenage son? I might as well be back at my desk listening to the fluorescent light hum above my head.

I’ve heard people yapping into cell phones in public places in Chinese or other foreign languages. I’ve heard people yapping into cell phones at five-thirty in the morning when I’m lucky to be able to put one foot in front of the other. I’ve seen a woman bring out a cell phone at the movie theatre during a very loud movie and talk over the movie. I’ve seen people who can’t leave their cell phones alone long enough to have their kidney stones irradiated, vote, or renew their driver’s license. I’ve seen a woman talking into a cell phone while eating a salad and nursing a baby at the same time. I’ve seen people on roller skates talking on cell phones. (If alien intelligences are picking up all the cell phone jibber-jabber from earth, they will conclude that the planet does not have intelligent life on it as previously thought.) I sometimes wonder what all those people are saying and who they are talking to. All I know for sure is they are not talking to me.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Funeral Rites ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Funeral Rites

Funeral Rites ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp 

Funeral Rites by Jean Genet (1910-1986) is set in France at the end of World War II when France was ridding itself of German occupation. There were some French people, mostly teen boys and men in their early twenties, who collaborated with the Germans against their own country. They positioned themselves on rooftops and functioned as snipers, shooting at Frenchman who were fighting for, or loyal to, France. These collaborators were naturally hated by the French.

Jean G. is narrating Funeral Rites. He confusedly switches from third person to first person and back again, so we don’t always know who’s who. He also switches back and forth in time, so he eschews the structure of the “traditional” novel. His twenty-year-old lover, Jean Decarnin, has been killed by one of the Frenchman who was acting as a German collaborator. Jean G.’s grief at the loss of Jean Decarnin drives the narrative. He sees a newsreel that shows a young French collaborator who is caught and the punishment that is meted out to him. Jean G. “imagines” the collaborator’s name is Riton. He is seventeen years old and, in Jean G.’s words, he is “beautiful.” Thereupon, the story (what there is of it) is about Riton and the young German invader, Erik Seiler, with whom Riton becomes infatuated. It seems at times that Riton and Jean G. are one and the same.) Riton claims to love Erik, even though Erik is the invader, the rapist, the occupier, the oppressor. (Genet constantly reverts to the theme of how sex and death are intertwined.) Erik is also the lover of Jean Decarnin’s mother, a silly Frenchwoman who doesn’t seem to care that she is consorting with the enemy. She doesn’t care very much that her son has been killed, either.

Jean Genet was born without a father to a prostitute, who gave him up for adoption when he was a few months old. Early in his life, until he turned to writing, he was a vagrant and petty criminal and spent much of his time behind bars. Funeral Rites is partly autobiographical and reflects Genet’s nontraditional approach to life. He is now considered a giant of twentieth century French literature. His other important works include Our Lady of the Flowers, Querelle and The Thief’s Journal.

Funeral Rites was first published in 1947 and wasn’t translated into English until 1953. At 256 pages, it’s challenging to read but not overly difficult, as long as you’re not bothered too much by the nonlinear structure. It’s often distasteful, as in the episode with the cat, but also has some flashes of humor, as when Jean Decarnin’s “stout” mother releases her bodily “wind” into the air of her boudoir. Most readers will find the sexual content (between men) mild by today’s standards. If you were going to be offended by that, you wouldn’t be reading this book anyway.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Five Million Stories Anthology

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Five Million Stories

~ Five Million Stories ~ 
The Best International Short Stories from the
One Million Stories Creative Writing Project
 
Price: $10.72
May be purchased at this link:
  ~~~
These stories start in North Carolina, in tobacco growing country, and visit California too, but our trajectory will take us right around the globe to Pakistan, Afghanistan, to the great city of London, from the distant past, through now, to a future hidden from us for the time being. Featuring new writing from Diya Gangopadhyay, Allen Kopp, Marian Brooks, Robert Watts Lamon, Emm Aye, Claire E Bluett, Byron Jones, Eryk Pruitt, Jennifer Jones, Amy La Bonte, Bob Carlton, Miriam Sachs, Jim Meirose, David Rowland, Mike Deller, Anastasia Towe, Timothy Hurley, Mandy Huggins and Anthony Rowe.

In the Fullness of His Years

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In the Fullness of His Years

In the Fullness of His Years ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

A man named Cyril Johns, age seventy-eight, lived in the basement apartment of an eighteen-story apartment building. He once was the janitor of the building but had been forced to stop working because of his age. Upon his retirement, the owner of the building gave him a deluxe television set and allowed him to keep his basement apartment for a nominal rent. He had, of course, to turn over all his tools and keys to the man hired to replace him.

He used to have lots of friends, people to help pass the time and make the day brighter, but just about everybody he knew had died or moved out of the neighborhood. He no longer had anybody to play cards with or talk over the baseball scores or how the fools in Washington were messing up the country. The TV droned on, but he ignored it.

The new people were a speeded-up version of the old ones. They were mostly young, with lots of small children. They would sooner knock a person down than wait for him to get out of the way. The young mothers eyed him in a funny way, he thought, as if he had it in mind to grab one of their screaming brats and gut it like a catfish. They had never been taught to show respect for an old person.

Patsy Ruth was different. She smiled at him, spoke to him, asked him how he was. She didn’t mind when he touched her frail-looking little boy, named Frankie, on the face or picked him up and held him in his arms. She didn’t have a dirty mind like the others. She knew he meant no harm.

When they finally had a chance to speak, Patsy Ruth told him she had grown up on a farm.

“That’s why you’re not like the others,” he said.

“I’m having a hard time adjusting to this place,” she said. “I’ve never lived in the city before.”

“If I can ever be of any help,” he said. “I’ve lived here my whole life.”

She was afraid to ride downtown on the bus with Frankie alone. She asked Cyril if he would go with them the first time and then afterward she wouldn’t be afraid.

“I’ll pay you for your time,” she said.

“You’ll do nothing of the kind.”

They took Frankie for his doctor’s appointment and afterwards had lunch at a nearby café.

“It was good of you to come with me,” Patsy Ruth said. “I hate being such a baby.”

“What’s wrong with the little fellow, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“He was born at seven months. He’s always had weak lungs.”

“Won’t he outgrow it?”

“That’s my hope, but we don’t know yet. He might be sick his whole life.”

Knowing his mother was talking about him, Frankie looked at her with his bright, inquisitive eyes. “When I’m five I can go to school,” he said solemnly.

“So, you want to go to school?” Cyril asked.

“Sure,” Frankie said. “I want to learn how to read.”

“He sees the other kids playing,” Patsy Ruth said. “He wants to join in but they’re twice his size and I’m afraid they’d hurt him.”

“They wouldn’t hurt me, mother.”

“When you’re older, you can play with the bigger kids.”

“Because I’ll be bigger myself.”

When they left the café, Cyril insisted on picking up the tab.

“I should be buying your lunch,” Patsy Ruth said.

“I get a check in the mail every month that I don’t have to work for,” he said. “I have more than I need.”

For five days after the doctor’s visit he didn’t see Patsy Ruth or Frankie in the courtyard and began to be worried that something was wrong. He coaxed the manager with a five-dollar-bill to give him Patsy Ruth’s apartment number.

He took the creaking elevator up to the fourteenth floor and found the apartment. He knocked and Patsy Ruth opened the door only as far as the chain would allow. When she saw it was him, she unfastened the chain.

“I thought it might be you,” she said, smiling.

“I didn’t think you’d mind if I came by to see how you were doing.”

“Of course not. Come in.”

She moved some stuff off the couch to make a place for him to sit. “Sorry the place is still such a mess,” she said. “We’re still getting settled, deciding where to put things.”

“When I didn’t see you for a few days, I thought maybe the tyke wasn’t doing very well.”

“No, the tyke is fine. We’ve been staying indoors because of the rain and cold wind.”

“Where is he now?”

“He’s taking his nap.”

“I wanted to tell you if you want me to go downtown with you and Frankie on the bus again, I’d be happy to.”

“I might take you up on that.”

“I hope you do.”

“Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Sure.”

He followed her into the kitchen and sat at the Formica-topped table next to the window while she boiled the water.

“You’re living among the clouds,” he said, looking out.

“I know. I can’t get over the feeling I’m going to be sucked out the window into the void.”

“If there’s a bad enough storm, you’ll want to go down to the bottom floor. That’s what people usually do. Until the storm passes. Of course, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“I’d rather not even think about storms.”

“When it comes, it’ll seem worse than it is.”

“My husband will be home in a couple of hours and I need to start my dinner.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll go.”

“No, stay a while.”

When the tea was ready she brought it to the table and sat down across from him.

“Of course, I don’t have to worry about storms,” he said, “living in the basement apartment as I do.”

“Must be pretty lonely down there for you.”

“I’m used to being on my own. My wife has been gone for fifteen years. It’s probably a terrible thing to say, but she’s not the one I miss the most. It’s friends I miss. You know, my pals. They’ve all either died or moved to a better place.”

“You could move to a better place, too.”

“I don’t know where I’d go. I’ve lived here for so long I’d feel like a fish out of water. You stay where you feel at home.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever feel at home here,” she said. “This place scares me.”

“Why?”

“Too many people. Too impersonal. Too much crime, dirt and noise. And then there’s Frankie.”

“What about him?”

“If he’s ever going to have a chance to get better and live a normal life, it won’t be in a place like this. He needs clean air and wide-open spaces where people aren’t so crowded up together. And then, when he’s older, I worry about the kind of influences he’ll have here.”

“Why don’t you move back to the place where you grew up?”

“My husband would never agree to that.”

He had been going to suggest that she leave her husband and take Frankie and go live in the country, but he knew that wasn’t the right thing to say. You don’t go around giving married women that kind of advice.

“You can always hope for something better,” he said.

“Ever since we came here, my husband and I have been fighting. We’ve been married for eight years. It never has been what I would call a happy marriage, but since we came here it’s been worse. You reach a point where you can’t fight and argue any more and then there’s silence, which, I suppose is not as bad as the fighting. He sometimes doesn’t even come home at night. When I ask him where he’s been, he gives me a threatening look and tells me he’s been working so Frankie and I will have a home and food to eat.”

“I’m sorry for you.”

“Don’t be. We all choose our own path in life. Or it chooses us.”

“Well, listen, I have to go,” he said. “I have some phone calls to make. Thanks for the tea.”

He lied, of course. He didn’t have any phone calls to make, but it was a lie that allowed him to make a graceful exit. He was hurt by talk of how bad her marriage was.

He began seeing Patsy Ruth every day and, if for some reason he didn’t, he was disappointed. He began spending more time on his personal grooming, getting more frequent haircuts, cleaning his nails, making sure the collar of his shirt looked clean and, if it didn’t, putting on a fresh one. He didn’t think about what he was doing. He just did it because he wanted to.

He went downtown on the bus with Patsy Ruth and Frankie a couple more times and had lunch at the same place. They went to an afternoon movie and stood in line in the rain to buy their tickets, he holding out the tail of his coat to keep Frankie dry. Most often, though, they sat on a bench in the sun and talked. She told him about her past life, growing up with six brothers and sisters in a small farmhouse. Her older sister drowned when she was seven and one of her brothers spent time in prison. For his part, he told her about getting married when he was too young, getting divorced, and a few years later getting married again. After his wife died, he was through with women.

“I guess I’m a born bachelor,” he said. “I never minded being alone.”

When Patsy Ruth had him to dinner one night so he could meet her husband, he felt strained and awkward. He couldn’t speak to Patsy Ruth as freely as he was used to doing with her husband looking on. He was afraid, with a  movement or a word, that he would betray what he was thinking, and what he was thinking was how mismatched they were and how tragic that they were married. He left the first chance he got and went to a bar and drank.

And then he became sick. It was a reoccurrence of an old problem with his liver. The day before he went into the hospital, he met Patsy Ruth and Frankie in the park. He told her he was going in for some tests, not letting on how sick he was. He gave her the key to his apartment, asked her to keep an eye on things for him and water his plants.

“I’ll be home in a few days,” he said.

“I’ll miss you,” she said.

“Me, too,” Frankie said.

“If I die,” Cyril said.

“You’re not going to die!”

“I know, but if I do, I want you to know something.”

“What is it?”

“In the closet is an old suitcase with your name on it. If I die, I want you to go immediately to my apartment and take it before somebody else gets it.”

“What’s in it?”

“Never mind. You don’t need to know that now, but you’ll find out soon enough.”

“All right, but I wish you’d tell me what this is all about.”

“I just want you to know that I’ve had the best time with you and Frankie that I’ve had in years.”

Those were the last words he ever spoke to her.

As he lay in his hospital bed looking at the ceiling, he knew he was dying and he didn’t mind so much. Almost everybody he had ever known was dead and now it was his turn.

He dozed and when he woke, a nurse stood beside his bed.

“I used to gamble,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” she said.

“I used to place bets on horses and sporting events. I had an instinct for it. I won a lot more than I lost.”

She smiled and looked at her clipboard.

“Every time I got an extra twenty or fifty or hundred-dollar bill, I’d stash it in an old suitcase in my closet. Last time I counted, I had over two hundred thousand dollars.”

“My goodness!” she said. “You should have invested it. You could have been drawing interest.”

“No. That isn’t my way of doing things. If I can’t see my money and hold it in my hands, it doesn’t seem like it’s mine.”

“Somebody might have robbed you.”

“I was never worried about that.”

“Is your wife keeping an eye on it for you while you’re away?”

“My wife died many years ago.”

“Oh.”

“I believe people meet for a reason, don’t you?”

“I’ve never really thought about it. I suppose so.”

“The money is for my daughter and grandson after I’m gone. My grandson is only four and he isn’t well. My daughter needs to take him away so he can breathe the air and have a chance to grow up. That’s what the money is for. I believe people meet for a reason, don’t you?”

“You rest now, Mr. Johns,” the nurse said and then she was gone.

He turned his head toward the window. He could see a patch of blue sky and white clouds. Two pigeons lighted on the window sill and seemed to look in at him. He smiled. He knew he was dying and he didn’t mind it so much.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

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