My short story, “Until We Meet Again” (page 84-87), is in the current fall issue of Corvus Review (PDF version) and may be accessed at this link:
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Everest ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
Why do ordinary people risk death and injury, spend lots of money and tolerate untold pain and discomfort for months at a time in some of the harshest weather conditions on earth to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain peak on earth? Have they been deprived of something in life, or they just looking to fill some inexplicable empty spot? Whatever the reasons, there are plenty of people who try it and fail. Failure means never making it to the summit or never making it back home alive.
Everest chronicles one such expedition in 1996 to the top of Mount Everest by a group of people who might be our next-door neighbors. There’s the Texan (Josh Brolin) who has a “dark cloud of depression following him around all the time”…except for the time that he’s on a mountain. There’s the New Zealander (Jason Clarke) with the pregnant wife (Keira Knightley) back home; he’s the leader of the expedition and it’s up to him to watch out for the others. There’s the 47-year-old Japanese woman who has been to six of the seven highest peaks on earth; Everest will be her seventh. There’s the divorced loser (John Hawkes) who delivers the mail and is out for the thrill of a lifetime. There’s the nouveau hippy (Jake Guyllenhaal) badly in need of a shave and a haircut who seems to serve no purpose other than to be annoying. Back at the base camp is the “surrogate mother” (Emily Watson) who tries to help the climbers through radio transmissions and who suffers vicariously with them. We know at the outset that some of them will make it and some of them won’t. If all of them had made it back alive, there wouldn’t be a movie being made about them almost twenty years later.
For movie fans there are lots of familiar faces in Everest, but the characters don’t matter. The people are ciphers. It’s like filling the SS Poseidon with the likes of Shelley Winters, Gene Hackman, Roddy McDowell, Stella Stevens, Carol Lynley, Red Buttons and Ernest Borgnine and then turning the ship over in a storm. We know some of the characters will make it and some will not. Figuring out who will and who won’t make it might help you to pass the time during all the dialogue that, no matter how inane it is, you can’t understand it anyway.
Everest is a predictable action-adventure movie with some beautiful scenery and a spectacular storm (I like storms). It’s another one of those man-versus-nature stories where nature wins. No matter how much star power they put on the screen with no matter how many Oscar nominations, the real star is the mountain. Nature wins. Man loses. Now, if the mountain had been Godzilla or an alien from outer space, man would most certainly have come out on top.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp
Poe-Land ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
The overarching themes of Edgar Allan Poe’s life is that his all-too-brief span on this earth was tragic and unhappy and his towering literary genius went mostly unrecognized until after his death. His parents were itinerant actors. He was born in Boston on January 19, 1809, because that’s where his parents happened to be working at the time. His father abandoned the family when Edgar was small and his mother died of consumption at the age of twenty-four. Edgar, his brother and his sister were then placed in separate foster homes. Edgar ended up in the home of one John Allan and his wife Frances of Richmond, Virginia. John Allan had inherited wealth but was parsimonious with his young foster son, whom he never bothered to adopt legally. Edgar and John Allan most likely would have killed each other gladly if they could have managed it without being detected.
Edgar Allan Poe seemed destined from the beginning to never find his place in life. He was, to put it mildly, not like anybody else. At a time when most people must have stayed in one place all their lives out of necessity, Edgar moved around a lot. He spent a few years of his childhood in England with his foster family, which probably accounts for the European “feel” of some of his writing. As a young man, he attended college at the University of Virginia in Richmond, but John Allan wouldn’t give him enough money to live decently, so he ran up gambling debts, further infuriating Mr. Allan. He tried the army and did better than one might have expected, but when he ended up at West Point Military Academy after his military stint, he lasted only a few months before being expelled.
So, Edgar was a talented misfit. He made a little money from his published stories and poems but never enough. He moved around from place to place, never gaining wide acceptance in the literary world, although there were a few who recognized his uniqueness. (The most fame he would ever achieve during his own lifetime was with his poem The Raven, which is, arguably the most famous poem in American literature.) He had several ill-fated romances with different women, but they didn’t really work out either the way he had hoped. At the age of twenty-seven, he married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, and lived with her and her mother (or they lived with him) until Virginia herself died of consumption at the age of twenty-four, exactly as Poe’s mother had. Are we able to see now the pattern of his life?
Poe-Land by J. W. Ocker is an exploration of Poe’s life (a sort of travelogue/biography) through all the places he lived or at least spent some time. Besides Boston, these places include Providence, Rhode Island; the Bronx and Manhattan in New York; Great Britain; Baltimore; Richmond, Virginia; Philadelphia; Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina; Fort Independence in Massachusetts and Fort Monroe in Virginia. One of the ironies of Poe is that, however he might have been dismissed during his own life as a no-talent crackpot, almost any place he ever lived or even spent some time is today almost a sacred site or a tourist attraction. Anything Poe ever touched or anybody he ever knew is today of interest because of his association. The New England states abound with Poe sites or museums, including places he lived or worked and places that he somehow signified with his presence, no matter how briefly. Poe fans are legion all over the world, some of them to the point of obsession. Of course, one of the things that makes him so interesting is his death in Baltimore at the too-young age of forty, on October 7, 1849, of unknown or mysterious causes. He was found, apparently desperately ill, and admitted to a Baltimore hospital, where he died in a delirious state after several days. His attending physician became a sort of celebrity but never seemed to be able to cast any light on the cause of Poe’s death, changing his story as it seemed to fit the circumstances.
One of the many interesting details I learned about the life and death of Edgar Allan Poe from reading Poe-Land is that, when he died, he was placed in an undistinguished grave toward the back of Westminster Cemetery in Baltimore. Within twenty-five years of his death, his literary stature had grown to the point where people began to realize that his grave wasn’t as good as it should be, so his body was exhumed and he was moved to a more prominent place in the cemetery with a much more showy headstone, which still stands today. After twenty-five years in a wooden box in the Maryland earth, there wasn’t much left of dear old Edgar except for bones, hair and clothing. Chunks of his decayed original coffin became coveted collectors’ items and are on display in Poe museums today.
The story of Poe’s life is enough to make you wish in an afterlife so that he might know what became of his literary “legacy” after he died. Today he is probably the most famous of American writers and is almost universally recognized and loved throughout the world. Not only did he practically invent a new literary genre, that of the detective story, but he found a new way of writing poetry, quite unlike anything that had ever been done before. All we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp
I’m Nobody ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
It was a city in itself, a city of the dead but also of the living. The dead belonged there but the living did not. Each night, there were as many as a hundred people hiding out and among them was the girl named Vicki-Vicki.
She had been in residence through parts of the summer when she didn’t have anyplace else to go but now summer was over and the nights were getting cold. She looked ahead to the winter with dread and believed she would die. When she was at her sickest and loneliest, she welcomed the thought of dying and believed that only in death would she find escape and surcease of pain.
When she looked back on the time since she left home, she could no longer remember how long was a day or an hour or a minute; those words had lost meaning for her. But now it was October—of that she was certain—and the days were still warm. She stopped by one of the ancient fountains and put her hands down in the murky water and her eyes were drawn upward to the face of the stone angel that formed the top of the fountain. She was not surprised to see the angel turn its head and look at her. It wasn’t the first such thing she had seen in the cemetery.
“Who are you?” the angel asked Vicki-Vicki
“I’m nobody,” she said.
“You must have a name.”
“My name no longer matters. If I was sure I even had a name, I would try to forget it.”
“How long since you’ve eaten?” the angel asked.
“I don’t think I’ve eaten this year.”
“This is a terrible life you’ve chosen for yourself, isn’t it?”
“Why don’t you go back home?”
“I wouldn’t even if I could.”
“Isn’t something better than nothing?”
“It’s going to be a long, hard winter,” the angel said.
“Aren’t they all?”
“They’ve called in extra guards for tonight. You know what that means.”
“They’ll hit me in the head with a stick if they find me,” Vicki-Vicki said.
“And then they’ll most likely throw you in jail for vagrancy.”
“I won’t be the only one.”
“Better to get out now while you can.”
“Tell me where to go,” Vicki-Vicki said, “and I’ll go.”
“If ever a child needed a friend,” the angel said and, as soon as these words were out of its mouth, it went back to being a stone angel and Vicki-Vicki drew her hands from the water.
“I have to hide,” she said, “or they’ll find me.”
She went to a remote part of the cemetery that a forgotten friend had told her about. It had the biggest trees and the oldest graves. A lot of people were afraid to go there because of the ghosts, but she didn’t mind them. If the thought of ghosts had ever scared her, she didn’t remember.
Some of the large old monuments were very close together with only a foot or so of space between them. One cozy niche in particular acted as repository for blown leaves. She burrowed into the leaves, lay on her back and covered herself up. With her face covered, the leaves had a pleasant smell and she was still able to breathe. It was probably as good a hiding place as any she would find. She was surprised that nobody else had thought of it.
She lay very still and breathed deeply. She could see a little patch of sky and she knew that soon it would be dark. She was certain that, no matter how many men combed the place for what they called “vags,” they would somehow not find her. Two different times she heard faraway voices and footsteps that seemed to come closer, but she wasn’t sure if they were real or if she had only imagined them.
At the moment, while she had nothing else to think of, her thoughts turned again to food. The pain of hunger had mostly passed; she no longer thought of food and had almost forgotten what it felt like to have food in her mouth and to chew and swallow it. She knew, though, that people don’t live forever without eating. She would have to get something to eat, and soon, or it was going to be the end of her.
Covered up with leaves as she was, she drifted into a deep sleep that might have lasted for hours or only minutes, and when she awoke it was to the voices of men. They were talking and laughing and she could tell by the sounds they made that they were coming closer. Her heart beat faster but she was certain that if she didn’t make a sound they wouldn’t know she was there. She lay as one of the dead.
Soon the men did pass on, none the wiser. The night was still and she didn’t hear a sound except for a breeze in the tops of the trees and the call of the occasional night bird. She was secure in the knowledge that she was alone and that if there had been any living thing nearby she would hear it.
She would spend the night right there in her bed of leaves, but first she had nature’s duty to perform. She stood up, walked a few feet away and crouched down in the shadow of a giant oak. When she was finished she grabbed at a handful of leaves to clean herself with and that’s when her hand brushed against a soft canvas bag. It was a kind of knapsack with a strap that went all the way around it. Her first thought was that it might have money in it or something valuable, but what was really inside was even better: a sandwich wrapped in paper and a small bottle of milk. It was the stone angel, she knew, that put it there.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp
The End as I See It ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Mrs. Pinnock sat in her darkened house, drinking shots of whiskey from a tiny glass and smoking cigarettes. It was a summer day, late in July. She was aware of some unusual sounds in the back yard and she didn’t know what it was. Oh, yes, she remembered now. Her son, Carl Junior, was having some friends over. They were playing a game in the back yard.
After a half-hour or so she no longer heard the sounds so she went to the back door and opened it to make sure the children weren’t getting themselves into any mischief or hurting each other. After all, she was the mother and she was supposed to keep things running smoothly when their father wasn’t around to watch them.
Opening the door revealed a small boy sitting hunched over on her back steps. He had short brown hair and wore a red shirt with white horizontal stripes. When she stepped out the back door, he turned around and looked at her.
“Hello,” she said. “Do I know you?”
The boy shook his head and looked away.
“Well, since I don’t know you,” she said, “I might ask you what you’re doing sitting here on my back steps.”
“We were playing but they left.”
“They left. Who are they?”
“Carl and Leghorn.”
“Well, I know who Carl is since he’s my son but I don’t know who Leghorn is.”
“He’s just a kid.”
“So, you, Carl and Leghorn were playing, and in the middle of it Carl and Leghorn left. Is that right?”
“Where did they go?”
“I don’t know. They played a trick on me. They told me to hide my eyes and when I did they ran off and didn’t come back.”
“That wasn’t very nice, was it?”
“Carl Junior invited you and this Leghorn kid over to play and then Carl Junior and Leghorn abandoned you.”
“I don’t mind.”
“You don’t like Carl Junior very much, do you?”
“You have this instinctive feeling that he’s not to be trusted.”
“If you feel that way about them, then why do you play with them?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know that many people, I guess.”
She flipped her cigarette over the porch railing. “Can’t you just go on home?” she asked. “I mean, instead of waiting for those two little shits to come back?”
“My mother told me to stay here until three o’clock. She’s coming to pick me up then.”
“Can’t you walk?”
“It’s about two miles and I’m not sure if I remember the way.”
“You’re new in town, I take it.”
“I can drive you home if you’d like.”
“No, thank you. That would only confuse my mother.”
“Well, you might as well come in, then. You can’t sit out there in the sun until three o’clock.”
She led him into the living room and pointed to the couch for him to sit down. “Would you like me to call your mother and tell her there’s been a change of plan?” she asked.
“No, she’s not at home. She had an appointment.”
“Oh, I see.”
Realizing the room was unusually dark for one who had just been sitting in the sun, she opened the blinds. “Would you like a soda or a drink?” she asked.
“No, but I would like to use the bathroom.”
“Well, make yourself at home,” she said. “It’s right back through there.”
He was gone for about two minutes and when he came back his shirt was tucked neatly into his pants.
“I just realized I don’t know your name,” she said.
“That’s kind of like ‘marshmallow,’ isn’t it?” she said and laughed a little too loud.
“I guess so,” he said, sitting on the edge with one arm twisted round the other.
“How old are you, Paul Marmelow?”
“You’re getting close to that dangerous in-between age.”
“You don’t know what the dangerous in-between age is?”
“It’s where you’re halfway between childhood and adulthood. You like to think of yourself as an adult but the world is telling you you’re still a child.”
She was tense and making him tense. “Well, just relax,” she said. “I’m not a wicked witch in spite of appearances to the contrary and I’m not going to devour you.”
He leaned all the way back and untwisted his arms. “You have a pretty house,” he said.
“Yes, it’s big. When Carl Senior buys a house, he buys the biggest and the best that money can buy.”
“Do you have a dog?”
“No, we don’t have a dog. We have two children and that’s enough in the way of pets. Besides Carl Junior, there’s my daughter Cecelia. You probably don’t know her, do you? She’s only eight.”
“You must know, now that the whole can of worms has been opened, that I’m not really the mother of Carl Junior and Cecelia. I’m their stepmother.”
“Don’t you find that interesting?”
“I’ll bet Carl Junior never told you he had a stepmother, did he?”
“What happened to their mother?”
“Well, the rumor is that she died, but I have reason to believe she’s hiding out someplace.”
“If I only knew the answer to that question, I would go and find her and bring her back.”
“Maybe she wouldn’t want to come back.”
“I’m sure she wouldn’t or she wouldn’t have run off in the first place.”
“I have a dog,” he said.
“What’s his name?”
“What kind of a dog is Skippy?”
“I think he’s part collie and part something else.”
“So he’s a big dog.”
He leaned forward and held his hand two feet from the floor. “About this big,” he said.
“Do you let Skippy stay in the house?”
“He can come into the basement as long he leaves his fleas outside.”
“A good policy.”
“I don’t think he has any fleas, though. He wears a flea collar.”
She leaned forward and lit another cigarette and blew the smoke out the side of her mouth. “Something else you probably don’t know about me—and I’m not even sure if I should tell you this or not—is that I’m about three-quarters drunk right now. What my mother would call ‘three sheets to the wind’.”
He laughed. “You drink beer?”
“Stronger than beer.”
“You drink whiskey?”
“That’s it exactly! I’ve been taking shots of whiskey all morning.”
“Does it taste good?”
“No, it tastes like crap, but I don’t drink it for the taste.”
“What do you drink it for?”
“Well, that’s something you’ll have to be older to understand. You don’t know anything about disappointment yet.”
“I know what it means.”
“I’ll bet your mommy doesn’t drink straight whiskey, does she?”
“I’ve never seen her if she does.”
“What about your daddy? Is he a good father?”
“I guess so.”
“What does he do for a living?”
“He’s a painter.”
“You mean landscapes and portraits and things like that?”
“No, he paints houses and sometimes he drives out into the country and paints barns.”
“Is there a lot of money in painting barns?”
“I don’t know.”
“Of course not. You wouldn’t know. When you’re eleven years old, you don’t think about things like that, do you?”
“I think I’d like to be eleven again,” she said. “If God could grant me one wish, it would be to start all over again and do it right this time without all the things I did wrong.”
“My older brother picks on me,” he said.
“Why does he do that?”
“Do you have any other brothers or sisters?”
“No, just the one brother.”
“It’s wise not to have any more than two children. Two are enough for anybody.”
“I’m not having any when I grow up,” he said.
“And you’ll be happier for it if you don’t.”
“I’ll just have lots of animals.”
“Live on a farm, you mean?”
“And, since you bring up the subject of farm animals, I want to warn you about my stepson Carl Junior.”
“What about him?”
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get far away from him and not try to be friends with him anymore.”
He laughed because he thought she was making a joke. “Why is that?” he asked.
“Because he will lead you astray or hurt you.”
“How do you know?”
“How do I know? I know because that is his function in life. He is the unwitting purveyor of chaos.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Of course you don’t because you haven’t seen it in him yet but, believe me, it’s there and he’s just getting started.”
“I don’t know. He seems all right to me.”
“That’s how his kind always gets started. He seems all right at first so you aren’t able to see the terrible thing that’s coming. I know this because Carl Senior is exactly the same way. Carl Junior is a miniature version of Carl Senior.”
“Why do they both have the same name?”
“You don’t need to know that. Just know that you have been warned.”
“Please keep it in mind in your future dealings with Carl Junior.”
“Believe me, if I had a criminal nature and if I wasn’t afraid of going to jail, I’d sneak into his room at night when he’s asleep and strangle him with the drapery cord.”
“You would do that to him?”
“Probably not, but I can still think about it, can’t I? Savor the moment?”
“I’ve never thought about killing anybody.”
“You’re still young.”
“I have an uncle in jail,” he said. “He didn’t kill anybody, though. I think he wrote bad checks.”
“Now that I’m divulging secrets,” she said, “I might as well tell you the big one.”
He reclined partway on the couch and leaned his head on his hand. “What is it?” he asked.
“Our life here is about to blow up.”
“Do you mean like with a bomb?”
“No, I don’t mean ‘blow up’ literally; I mean it figuratively.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Well, you will. Do you know what an embezzler is?”
“It’s a person who steals money in an orderly way. Not somebody who robs a bank or holds up a gas station but a person who systematically siphons money in a way that he thinks won’t be noticed. You know, a little bit here and a little bit there.”
“Do you know what he then does with the money he embezzles?”
“He puts it into a secret account in a foreign country. If this goes on long enough, the money can grow to a very sizeable amount.”
“Then the embezzler absconds with the money he has accumulated in a foreign bank account to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means that even if they know where he is they can’t have him brought back.”
“Carl Senior is one of those embezzlers. He’s been doing it for about six years. I’m the only one who knows. And you know what else I know?”
“He’s going to run off with the money he has embezzled to Central America or someplace like that and leave me here to deal with Carl Junior and Cecelia.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because he wants more than anything in the world to be able to live a life of luxury and seclusion and not be bothered with a wife and children.”
“I’m thinking about calling the place where he works and telling them everything I know. Or, on the other hand, I could just kill the son of a bitch. If it was you, what would you do?”
“I don’t know. Run away from home, I guess.”
“Would you like to be my little boy?”
“No. I already have a mother.”
“Do you think she’d mind awfully much if she didn’t see you anymore.”
“I don’t know. I guess.”
“Well, it’s just a thought. I seem to be able to talk to you so easily. I can see you’re miles ahead of Carl Junior in intelligence and sensitivity.”
“Carl Junior’s a clod, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he certainly is that. Exceeded only by his father.”
When he looked at the sunburst clock on the dining room wall and saw it was fifteen minutes to three, he stood up. “I think I’ll walk down to the corner now and meet my mother,” he said.
“Must you go already?” she asked.
“She’ll be mad if I keep her waiting.”
She stood up and walked him to the door and when they got to the door she opened it and took his hand in hers. “You’ve helped me to see things more clearly,” she said. “It’s been awfully good talking to you.”
“You too,” he said.
“I’m sorry Carl Junior and his friend ran out on you.”
“I don’t mind.”
“It’s all part of growing up. You learn who your real friends are but, more importantly, you learn who they’re not.”
“I hope you’ll come back and visit me again real soon.”
“I will,” he said and then he stepped out the door into the blazing July afternoon and was gone.
She poured herself another drink, lit another cigarette. She took a gun out of the desk drawer and, making sure it was loaded, sat down in the chair that faced the front door. Carl Senior would walk through that door in a few minutes and she knew now what it was that she was going to do.
Copyright 2015 by Allen Kopp
Black Mass ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
For decades James “Whitey” Bulger was an organized crime boss in Boston, head of the Boston Irish mob known as the Winter Hill Gang. He demanded absolute loyalty from his associates and, if he didn’t get it, he was prepared to kill without compunction. In the 1970s he made a deal with shady FBI agent John Connolly to become an informer with the purpose of bringing down a rival mob run by Italians. He hated informers, he said, but he became one to do to his rivals what they deserved. If you rat on somebody who deserves it (so his reasoning went), it isn’t so bad.
In Black Mass Johnny Depp plays Whitey Bulger with receding hairline and crazed, blue-eyed intensity. (How do they get his eyes to look that way? At times he looks like an evil doll.) And, as psychotic as he is, he has his sweet side. He has a young son whom he loves, he allows his elderly mother to cheat him at gin rummy and he’s kind to the old ladies in the neighborhood. For those who knew him, though (even for their whole lives), he was to be feared. You never knew what he was thinking or what he might do. He was inclined never to forget even the smallest slight or insult.
Joel Edgerton, who last year played Pharaoh Ramses II in Exodus: Gods and Kings (with plenty of eye makeup), looks bloated as FBI guy John Connolly. (At times his Boston accent seems over the top.) Of course, associating himself with Whitey Bulger isn’t a good career move for him. While he is ostensibly on the side of “good,” things don’t work out well for him.
There’s a great cast of supporting players in Black Mass, including Rory Cochrane (who conveys a lot of feeling without words) as Steve Flemmi and Jesse Plemons as dough-faced Kevin Weeks (not very bright but a game player). Benedict Cumberbatch, last seen as gay Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, plays Whitey Bulger’s straight-shooting (or is he?) politician brother, Billy Bulger. Juno Temple, always a standout, plays a hooker/drug addict who meets a not-very-pleasant end at the hands of Whitey Bulger, just when she was beginning to think he was on her side.
Adding to the irony of this story is that Whitey Bulger, regardless of the number of souls he dispatched to the next world, still lives in this one. After sixteen years as a fugitive, he was captured in California, living under an assumed name in 2011. He was put on trial and today serves as an inmate in a federal prison in Florida. He is 86 years old.
What makes Black Mass so interesting (if maybe a little reminiscent of other crime movies, including The Departed) is that it’s a true story rather than a fictional one. After a summer of youth-oriented fluff in movie theatres, isn’t it refreshing to see a movie that is actually about something?
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp
A Good Meal and Cheap ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Her name in the real world was Margaret Jessel but, to separate “this” life from “that” one, she now went by the name of Toots. She sat on a bench in the park in the sun, her arms folded across her chest. When she heard someone coming, their feet crunching the leaves, she opened her eyes and squinted into the face of her friend, a girl she had come to know as Vicki-Vicki.
“How are you feeling, old girl?” she asked as Vicki-Vicki sat down beside her.
“I feel like I’m about a hundred years old,” Vicki-Vicki said.
Toots laughed. “That’s what happens when you’re living in a graveyard.”
“I wouldn’t exactly say I’m living there.”
“Well, it seems to me you’ve learned the first lesson of living without four walls.”
“What lesson is that?”
“How to stay alive with winter coming on.”
Vicki-Vicki gazed out at the duck pond and sighed. “I think I’ll freeze to death this winter,” she said. “Not long ago that thought would have scared me, but now it gives me comfort.”
“You’re too young to look for comfort in death,” Toots said. “Just look at me. I’m fifty-six years old, I look twenty years older, and I just keep right on a-goin’.”
“Do you think there’s a God?”
“I don’t know. I’d like to think there is. If there isn’t, that means there’s no meaning to anything and if there’s no meaning to anything, that means all the crap we go through is for nothing.”
“I’ve been thinking about going back home.”
“Maybe you should.”
“I’m worried about my brother and sister. I wish I could know how they’re faring without me there to look after them.”
“If I gave you the money for a bus ticket, would you use it to go home?” Toots asked.
“And then what do I do after I get there? I wouldn’t be any better off there than I am here.”
“There’s the conundrum of life,” Toots said.
“I see ghosts in the cemetery,” Vicki-Vicki said.
“If there’s a God, then there’s probably ghosts, too.”
“They seem to be trying to tell me something.”
“Get off the streets and go home while you still have the chance. That’s what they’re trying to tell you.”
“I like living on the streets.”
“No, you don’t. Nobody likes it. The only way to stand it is to numb yourself to it.”
“I don’t think I can ever do that.”
“Give it a few more years.”
“I don’t have that long.”
“Well, cheer up, old girl,” Toots said. “I know something you don’t know.”
“You have a place to flop tonight.”
“Better than that,” Toots said with a grin. She opened her coat and showed a lady’s patent leather pocket book.
“You sly dog!” Vicki-Vicki said. “Where did you get that?”
“I found it!”
“Stole it is more like it.”
“Well, I come about it when I was in the bus station. If it wasn’t in an entirely honest way, it ain’t altogether my fault.”
“Somebody looked the other way and you picked it up and ran.”
“No! I’m more subtle than that! I was in the ladies’ room performing my ablutions when some ladies come in with their luggage and bundles. They were talking and laughing and having a good time. They didn’t even notice I was there. They laid all their stuff against the wall and then one went into one stall and locked the door and another into another stall. I eyed the pocket book from across the room in the mirror. I hurried up and dried my hands and before you could say Benjamin Franklin, I made for the door, bent down and picked up the pocket book in one graceful motion on my way out, and from there on, it was easy. I hung the pocket book from my arm as if it belonged to me, made my way through the crowds to the street unnoticed and when I got to the street, I went into the alley, put the pocket book under my coat, and here I am!”
“That was sure lucky for you and unlucky for the lady who owned the pocket book.”
“Yeah, but what are you going to do? She’s probably got dozens in her closet at home. She was just that type. She was all snooty and everything.”
“Well, did you look inside?”
“Did I? There’s over two hundred dollars!”
“I don’t believe you,” Vicki-Vicki said. “Nobody has that much money.”
“Oh, yes they do. Lots of people do. Two hundred dollars is nothing to people like that.”
“How do you know so much about it?”
“I used to be one of them.”
“Well, what are you going to do with all that money?”
“I’m going to get myself a room tonight—a real room in a hotel—and get myself all cleaned up.”
“That sounds wonderful!”
“It would be more wonderful if I had someone to enjoy it with me.”
“You mean me?”
“Do you see anybody else sitting here?”
“Oh, I couldn’t,” Vicki-Vicki said. “It’s your money. It’s for you to enjoy.”
“I’m inviting you, though, you see.”
“No, you spend your money on yourself.”
“I can get a room for two for the same price I can get a room for one. And they’ve got plenty of hot water that don’t cost extra. Wouldn’t you like to take a hot bath?”
“Of course I would!”
“Well, come on then! What are we waiting for?”
“I’m supposed to have a date tonight.”
“I don’t know his name.”
“So it’s that kind of a deal, is it?”
“Wouldn’t you rather sleep in a real bed and have a nice hot bath than to have a date with some stranger?”
“Yes, I guess I would.”
“So what’s stopping you?”
“A promise is only as good as the person who makes it,” Vicki-Vicki said.
“Yeah, that’s a hot one, kid! Let’s go!”
They made their way up the hill to where Toots had parked her old car, a seventeen-year-old heap of indeterminate make and model.
“You’re the only bum I know who has her own car,” Vicki-Vicki said, laying her hand on the dash as if petting it.
“Here today, gone tomorrow,” Toots said.
“What do you mean?”
“Today this car is in my possession, but that’s only until somebody steals it from me.”
“You stole it from somebody else, didn’t you?”
“I don’t even remember. All I know is I hope nobody stops me and asks to see my registration or license because I ain’t got either one.”
“They might put you in jail.”
“No, they won’t. Not for not havin’ no license. If I get stopped, I’ll just pretend I’m crazy. That usually works. They don’t want to get involved.”
“I’ll remember that,” Vicki-Vicki said.
“It probably wouldn’t work with somebody as young and pretty as you are,” Toots said.
“I’m not pretty. I used to be but I’m not anymore.”
“Maybe not exactly pretty but you’ve got a cute way about you.”
“How far does cute get you in the world?”
“I see the men looking at you.”
“They’re mostly old and ugly,” Vicki-Vicki said. “They make me wish I was dead.”
“Just don’t give ‘em no encouragement.”
“I’ve seen your type before,” Toots said. “A man will be your downfall. I just know it.”
“Could we please change the subject?”
With a wrenching sideways motion and without slowing down much, Toots pulled into a gas station and hailed the attendant like a woman of substance and asked him for two dollars’ worth of gas.
“Why not get a full tank?” Vicki-Vicki asked. “You’ve got all that money.”
“And have somebody steal it from me?”
“You stole from somebody and somebody else will steal from you, and a person we never saw before will steal from that person and on and on. Isn’t it funny the way the world works?”
“It’s just side-splitting comedy all the time,” Toots said.
It was about dinner time, so after leaving the gas station Toots drove to a nice quiet place where they could get a good meal and cheap. It was a cafeteria kind of place where you go in and pick up your tray and silverware and get in line and pick up the food you want from the tables in front of you and when you get to the end of the line you pay the cashier and after you’ve paid your money and been handed your change, you sit down and eat.
“Get anything you want,” Toots said. “The sky’s the limit.”
She kept the patent leather pocket book dangling from her arm in plain view so nobody would look askance at them and think they weren’t able to pay. After they loaded up on fried chicken and other unaccustomed delicacies, Toots paid with a flourish and they sat next to a window and enjoyed the best meal either of them had had for a long time and watched the daylight outside as it faded into night.
After they left the cafeteria, Toots stopped at Millie’s Package Store to pick up a bottle of Old Crow bourbon and then it was on to the hotel.
The Edison was a six-story brick structure dating from the 1920s. It was on the edge of the less savory section of the city but still maintained an aura of respectability. Toots parked the car in the “customer parking only” space behind the hotel and she and Vicki-Vicki walked around to the front and went inside.
“I want a room for tonight, my good man,” Toots said to the desk clerk.
“Pay in advance.”
“Since I said so.”
While Toots was fumbling with the money to pay for the room and signing the register, Vicki-Vicki looked around and saw someone she knew in the hotel lobby, a man she had met when she first came to the city. She couldn’t remember his name at first but then remembered it was Sid Gooch.
“Vicki-Vicki!” he said, stepping forward and giving her a hug.
“Hello,” she said. “How are you?”
“Do you remember me?” he asked.
“What a memory she has!”
Toots turned around and looked at him. “Who is this?” she said.
“He’s an old acquaintance of mine,” Vicki-Vicki said. “His name is Sid Gooch.”
“How are you?” Sid asked, stepping forward and taking Toots by the hand. To Vicki-Vicki he said, “Is she your grandma?”
“No, just a friend,” Vicki-Vicki said. “We’re on vacation.”
“Well, well, well!” Sid said. “It certainly is nice to see you!”
The clerk gave Toots the key to room four-two-eight and she took hold of Vicki-Vicki’s arm and pulled her toward the elevator.
“I’ll be around if you get lonesome later!” Sid Gooch called.
“He looks like the unsavory type,” Toots said after the elevator door closed.
“I’m the unsavory type, too,” Vicki-Vicki said.
“What’s going on between the two of you?”
“Nothing at all.”
“I heard that crack he made about me being your grandma.”
The room was clean and tidy. With so little furniture in it, it seemed unusually large. Vicki-Vicki crossed the room to the window and opened it.
“Thinking of jumping?” Toots asked.
“Not just yet.”
“If you change your mind, let me know.”
Toots took the bottle of Old Crow out of the patent leather pocket book and kicked off her shoes and lay down on the bed and began drinking. Vicki-Vicki went into the bathroom, locked the door and turned on the hot and cold spigots on the bathtub. She took off all her clothes, piled them in a heap on the floor and got into the tub, slowly at first because the water was so hot. She soaped herself all over, including her hair, and then rinsed and did it all over again.
When she was finished with her bath, she wrapped herself in a big white towel and, since she didn’t have any clean clothes to put on, she rinsed her underclothes out in the sink and draped them over the edge of the tub to dry. She would sleep in the raw if she had to but she didn’t feel comfortable doing that with Toots in the room. While she was doing these things, she thought ahead to tomorrow and what the day would likely bring. She would keep company with Toots for a while and see how she planned on spending the rest of the two hundred dollars.
Toots was asleep on the bed, breathing heavily through her nose. She had drunk about half the bottle of Old Crow and was in danger of spilling the rest, so Vicki-Vicki, still wrapped in a towel, took the bottle from her hand and set it on the bedside table beside the patent leather pocket book.
The room was quiet and she didn’t want to make any noise to wake Toots. With nobody to talk to, she might as well get into bed and try to go to sleep herself. Oddly enough, she didn’t feel tired or the least bit sleepy.
She sat at the foot of the bed and leaned back against the metal frame and begin picking at her fingernails with a bobby pin when there came a soft tapping at the door. She stood up and opened the door an inch or two to see who it was. She was not very surprised to see Sid Gooch peering in at her.
“Is grandma here?” he asked.
“She’s asleep,” Vicki-Vicki said. “And she’s not my grandma.”
“Could you use a little company?”
She opened the door a little farther and said, “As you can see, I’m not dressed.”
“That’s the way I like you best!”
“Not here, Sid!”
“Let’s go someplace else, then.”
“I don’t know. I’m supposed to be keeping Toots company.”
“She won’t even know you’re gone,” he said. He leaned in and took her by the upper arm and whispered in her ear, ”I saw her bankroll.”
“What of it?” Vicki-Vicki said.
“Looked like she had quite a lot of money there in that pocket book of hers. Bet she stole it.”
“It doesn’t matter if she stole it or not. It’s hers. ”
“Some of it might be yours. Or mine. You never know.”
“I’m not going to touch her money. She just bought my dinner.”
“I don’t think she’d mind if you took at least part of it. What are grandmas for?”
“We could have a really nice time. The night is young.”
He whispered in her ear again. She was shocked and also stimulated by the words and by his hot breath on her skin.
“You’ll have to give me a few minutes to get dressed,” she said. “My clothes are still wet.”
“I’ll wait right here for you.”
She found those six words more comforting than anything she had heard in a long time. She went back into the bathroom and struggled into her clothes, afraid that Toots would wake up and ask her what she was doing.
But Toots didn’t wake up and Vicki-Vicki slipped into her shoes and grabbed the patent leather pocket book with nearly all of the two hundred dollars inside and went out the door as quietly as she could. Sid was waiting for her, as he said he would, leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette. Instead of waiting for the elevator, they ran down the stairs, trying to be quiet but hardly able to keep from laughing.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp