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The Fires of Vesuvius ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Fires of Vesuvius ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp 

During the early Christian era and for hundreds of years before, Pompeii was a thriving seaside town of 20,000 people or so, about 150 miles southeast of Rome. In the year 79 AD (or BCE), the volcanic mount Vesuvius erupted and literally buried the town alive under layers of pumice and volcanic debris. Scholars had known of the existence of Pompeii from written records, but the town itself wasn’t “rediscovered” until the 1700s, at which time archaeologists began the painstaking job of digging it out bit by bit. (Excavation continues to this day, 250 years later.) Since the town hadn’t been touched for all those centuries, its streets, temples, houses, paintings, etc., were remarkably well preserved. It gave the world a chance to know a lot more about a long-lost period in history than had been previously been known.

The Fires of Vesuvius by Mary Beard is an exhaustively detailed account of what the ruins and artifacts teach about what life was actually like in the Pompeii of two thousand years ago: how people lived (bad teeth, no toothbrushes), what their dwellings were like (those made of wood mostly don’t remain except for nails and fittings), how they navigated about town (one-way streets), how they got water into their homes (a fairly sophisticated system of “running” water that not everybody could get), how and what they ate (a fairly healthy diet of fruits and vegetables; cooking utensils and ovens for baking bread remain), how they made a living (farmers in the immediate vicinity around the town; shopkeepers, fullers and small-business owners in the town), what they did for entertainment (plays and gladiatorial games), how and who they worshipped (many gods to choose from; few or no signs of Christianity at the time of the eruption), what their political structure was like (only the rich could stand for office because they were expected to use their money to benefit the public in some way), what they wore (not so many togas), what artwork they admired (phallic symbols carved everywhere, meaning prosperity and good fortune), how they buried their dead (on the roads outside of town, elaborate memorials for the cremated remains of the rich; barely a hole in the ground for the poor), where they went to take a bath (elaborate public baths with little or no sanitation; sometimes turds floating in the water), and in some cases, their private thoughts expressed in “graffiti” that is everywhere in the town. The people of Pompeii were apparently a fairly literate bunch, and they took advantage of the quaint custom of writing their thoughts and feelings on walls or wherever they happened to be, much of which survives. Thankfully this custom has mostly died out. I, for one, don’t want to have to look at scribbled writing on every surface, which, I’m sure, would be unbelievably ugly.

Readers who have more than just a passing interest in Pompeii, or those who plan to go there, will find plenty in The Fires of Vesuvius to recommend it. The casual reader will probably be put off by the dense text (although it isn’t that difficult to absorb) and the wealth of minute detail, more than the average person reading for pleasure is going to want to know. If, however, you are a student of archaeology or are writing a research paper, this book will prove to be a valuable storehouse of information.

A tiny footnote that I found interesting that I hadn’t known before: During World War II, the Allies, in bombing Italy to subdue Il Duce, destroyed parts of the ruins of Pompeii. Whether this was deliberate or accidental isn’t stated. The irony is that some of the ruins had to be reconstructed to make them look the way they did before the bombing.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Oculus ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Oculus ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

An antiques-loving yuppie couple purchase a quaint, old, full-length mirror that hangs on the wall. The couple don’t know it, of course, but the mirror has a history, going back four hundred years, of bringing about violent death to its owner. An evil spirit resides in the mirror and this spirit protects the mirror from destruction as if it (the spirit) and the mirror are the same.

The couple, the Russells, have two children (Kaylie, age 12 and Tim, age 10). The father of these two becomes withdrawn and secretive. He won’t let anybody go into one room in the house that he calls his office. (It’s the room where the mirror is kept.) Kaylie, when she and her brother are playing in the yard, sees a strange woman embracing her father through the window, when she knows there is nobody else in the house except her parents. The man’s wife, the mother of the two children, becomes suspicious of her husband’s activities and begins doing some investigating on her own. This, as one might expect, leads to tragedy. Kaylie and Tim make a vow to each other that, when they are grown, they will do whatever they can to find out exactly what happened and to clear their family of wrongdoing.

Eleven years later, Tim, age 21, is being released from a mental institution, where he has been since he was 10. Kaylie, his sister, is now 23. In the intervening years, she has discovered the history of the mirror and is determined, with the help of Tim, to make good on the vow they made to each other 11 years earlier.

Oculus is an acceptable horror movie with a cast of unknown (at least by me) actors. While it doesn’t have the chills of Insidious or Mama, it’s intelligent and well-made with a few tense moments. It isn’t junk or schlock. If you are a fan of good horror films, like me, you will like it. If you try to dissect it too much, though, you’ll expose the holes in the plot, so just enjoy it without getting too analytical.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Shall We Have a Cigarette on It?

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Shall We Have a Cigarette on It image 2

Shall We Have a Cigarette on It? ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

“This is a lovely old house,” Jerry said, sipping his martini. “How many rooms does it have?”

“I never bothered to count them,” Charlotte said. “There are too many.”

“It isn’t any of your business how many rooms my house has,” Charlotte’s mother said. “That’s an impertinent question.”

“Mother, I thought we agreed that you were going to try to be civil this evening,” Charlotte said.

“I made no such agreement.”

“I apologize, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said with his humble smile. “I had no business asking such a question. It’s just that I admire these old houses so much.”

“Yes, and I’ll bet you’d like to see it knocked down and a parking garage or an office building put in its place!”

“That would be a great pity, ma’am.”

“Or maybe you can see yourself living in it. A life of ease and idleness.”

“Not at all, ma’am.”

Charlotte could see that her mother was determined to make Jerry feel uncomfortable. He would handle it with his customary grace, though; of that she was certain.

“Charlotte tells me she met you on a cruise to South America.”

“Yes,” Jerry said.

“I don’t approve of cruises on which idle young women with too much money and too much time on their hands indulge themselves.”

“Not everybody on the cruise was rich, mother,” Charlotte said, “and they weren’t all young. I was talking to one middle-aged woman who told me that she and her husband saved for five years to be able to afford it.”

“What were you talking to her for?”

“Well, you know. Too much time on our hands.”

“I’ll bet there was lots of drinking and other activities on board that ship that decent people would rather not know about.”

“No doubt,” Jerry said.

“I suppose Charlotte told you all about herself.”

“As much as I needed to know.”

“Did she tell you that she had a nervous breakdown and, in so doing, was a patient in a sanatorium for almost a year?”


“It was only at the urging or her psychiatrist that I allowed her to go on the cruise at all without a chaperone. He said it was vital for her mental well-being. I never heard such hogwash but I allowed her to go nonetheless.”

“It was very kind of you.”

“I don’t believe in psychiatrists. Most people with mental problems have nothing to do but gain control of themselves and their emotions. When I was young, we weren’t allowed the luxury of nervous breakdowns and special doctors to treat them. We all bucked up and did whatever had to be done!”

“I don’t think Jerry wants to hear all that, mother,” Charlotte said. “We’ve already said all that needs to be said on the subject.”

“I’ll say whatever I want to say and ask the questions I want to ask in my own home!”

“No less than you deserve, ma’am,” Jerry said.

“And, under the guidance of her ‘progressive’ psychiatrist, Charlotte changed completely. She became a daughter I no longer recognized.”

“Don’t you think it was change for the better, ma’am?”

“I do not! When a mother no longer recognizes her daughter, how can that be change for the better?”

“You decide for yourself, Jerry,” Charlotte said. “You saw the picture of what I looked like before.”

“She was fat!” Mrs. Vale said. “Comfortably fat! After her so-called illness, she lost thirty pounds. She changed her hair and eyebrows and began buying expensive clothes which, of course, she expected me to pay for!”

“You seem to forget that I have money of my own,” Charlotte said.

“Everything you have still belongs to me! Don’t you ever forget that! With one stroke of my pen, I could strip you of everything!”

“Yes, but you won’t, though, will you?”

As if on cue, Cordelia appeared in the doorway. She was as black as ebony and almost as wide as she was tall. “Dinna is suhved,” she said in a loud voice.

“Since there are just the three of us tonight,” Charlotte said, “we’re having dinner in the small dining room.”

“You have more than one dining room?” Jerry asked.

When they were seated at the table that seated fifteen (even though it was the small dining room), Cordelia began serving the dinner, first the soup and then the fish.

“The finest food I ever ate!” Jerry said.

“Don’t think there’s any reason for you to get used to it!” Mrs. Vale said.

“Mother, stop picking on my guest,” Charlotte said. “You needn’t attack him every time he opens his mouth.”

“It’s all right, Charlotte,” Jerry said. “She’s just exercising a mother’s prerogative.”

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s prerogative to be rude.”

“I’m not rude!” Mrs. Vale said. “I’m just direct!”

“And an admirable quality it is, too!” Jerry said.

Mrs. Vale gave a tiny smile. Charlotte believed that she was beginning to warm toward him, if ever so slightly.

“And what about you?” Mrs. Vale asked. “Have you had any nervous breakdowns?”

“Not yet,” Jerry said.

“But you will have at some time in the future?”

“He was making a joke, mother,” Charlotte said.

“Well, I want to know something about the men my daughter invites into our home for dinner.”

“What do you want to know about me, Mrs. Vale? You may ask me anything.”

“Are you going to marry Charlotte?”

“I’m already married, you see.”

“So you’re not just after her for her money?”

He laughed and wiped his mouth. “No,” he said.

“Tell me about this wife of yours. If you’re running around with other women, why doesn’t she give you a divorce?”

“Her religious scruples prevent it. And, anyway, we’ve been separated for a long time.”

“So, you’re married to the woman but not living with her? Not sharing the same bed?”

“Mother, really!” Charlotte said.

“I haven’t laid eyes on her in two years.”

“Have you and Charlotte been intimate?”

“Jerry, you don’t have to answer that question!” Charlotte said. “Mother, that’s not an appropriate line of questioning. I’m not fifteen years old!”

“You sometimes act as if you were!”

“I think what you want to know is if Jerry and I are serious about each other and how we plan to proceed from here. Isn’t that it?”

“All right, then, you tell me!”

“Jerry and I are very much in love. We won’t be able to marry for some time, but that’s all right with me. We plan on going abroad and living together.”

“Not on my money you won’t!”

“Really, mother, are you going to start in on money again?”

“I won’t have my daughter living in sin with a man she’s not married to!”

“I am of age to do whatever I wish.”

“Are you of age for me to cut you off without a penny?”

“No need to worry, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said. “I have plenty of money for the two of us to live comfortably.”

“I won’t allow my daughter to blacken her name and the memory of her father by cavorting with a married man.”

“If you don’t mind my saying so, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said, “that seems a hopelessly old-fashioned view to take.”

“Who are you to judge me? You don’t know Charlotte the way I do. You don’t know the family history that’s behind her.”

“Maybe it’s time to forget all that and begin anew.”

“Never! Not as long as I’m still living. I’ll call my lawyer tomorrow morning and have my will changed!”

“You go right ahead, mother,” Charlotte said. “I’ve had enough of your bullyragging and intimidation.”

“So, are you saying you don’t care about my twenty million dollars?”

“You can do whatever you want with it. We can meet with your lawyer and make a few suggestions.”

“So, it doesn’t frighten you anymore when I threaten to disinherit you?”

“Not in the least.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m in love.”

“Love! What could you possibly know about love?”

“Mother, if you don’t stop saying such mean things, I’m going to stick a knife through your heart.”

“You haven’t got the guts!”

“Try me!”

Cordelia brought in three cups of coffee, along with dessert, and withdrew again to the kitchen.

“No dessert for me,” Charlotte said. “I’m watching my figure.”

“What happened to the little girl who used to eat a whole pie at one sitting?” Mrs. Vale asked.

“She’s all grown up, mother. She’s somebody else now.”

“I’ll eat yours if you don’t want it,” Jerry said. “I love banana cream pie.”

“Watch out you don’t get fat,” Charlotte said.

“I’ve got a ways to go,” he said.

Mrs. Vale drank her coffee and called Cordelia in from the kitchen to give her another cup. When she was halfway through the second cup, her eyes closed, she gave a little shudder and fell forward directly onto the banana cream pie. Charlotte and Jerry sat quite still, Charlotte sipping her coffee and Jerry eating the pie.

After a few minutes, Cordelia opened the door to the kitchen a few inches and peeked around the edge of it. “Can I come in?” she asked.

“Yes, please do, Cordelia,” Charlotte said.

“Did it work?”

“I don’t believe she’s breathing,” Charlotte said.

“One of us should check to make sure,” Jerry said.

Cordelia put the tips of her fingers on Mrs. Vale’s neck. “I don’t feel no pulse,” she said.

When they had Mrs. Vale pulled back from the table, Cordelia put her ear to the old woman’s chest. “No heartbeat, neither,” she said. “You’d better listen for yourself, Miss Charlotte.”

Charlotte took off her earring and leaned over until her ear was touching the sunken chest. “She’s dead,” she said.

“Ah!” Jerry said. “Success!”

“Well, ain’t that something!” Cordelia said. “It sure enough worked!”

“And you won’t ever tell anybody about this, will you, Cordelia?” Charlotte asked.

“On my word of honor! I never did like her anyway. She sure was mean to me! I won’t shed no tears for her!”

“I’ll give you enough money so you can go home to your people and you’ll never have to work hard again.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’m gonna buy me a dozen pairs of silk stockings and some gardenia perfume. It sure does smell high!”

“You’ll be able to buy anything you want now.”

“And who knows? I might even find me another man to marry.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Jerry said.

Charlotte and Jerry went into the library, Charlotte’s favorite room in the house. She went to the French doors that opened onto the terrace and opened them. The room was instantly filled with night smells from the garden.

“Just think,” Jerry said. “Free of her at last!”

“Yes, free of all encumbrances,” Charlotte said.

“I was thinking we might live here, for a while at least.”

“I don’t think so,” Charlotte said. “I want to get away. Go abroad.”

“Yes, darling. Whatever you want.”

“Nobody ever called me ‘darling’ before.”

“The poison is absolutely untraceable. Nobody will ever suspect a thing. She was just an old woman who died from a sudden heart attack.”

“Brilliantly planned and executed!”

“And twenty million dollars?”

“It’s all too wonderful!”

“Shall we have a cigarette on it?”

He put two cigarettes in his mouth, lit them together, and handed one to Charlotte. Her eyes glistened with tears as she took it from him.

Standing there, side by side, framed in the doors to the garden, they looked up at the sky. A half-moon was just visible over the treetops, surrounded by a million stars.

“And will you be happy?” Jerry asked.

“Oh, Jerry,” she said. “Let’s not ask for the moon! We have the stars!”

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Miss Snooty Britches

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Joan Crawford and Ann Blythe in Mildred Pierce

Miss Snooty Britches ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Why is it we never seem to get along anymore?” Mildred said to her daughter, Veda, who was eating a banana.

“Oh, you know, mother,” Veda said. “I just don’t like you very much.”

“Why not?”

“It isn’t only you. I don’t like anybody and I don’t like my life.”

“Your father and I work very hard to give you and your sister a lovely home and all the things you want and need. If you don’t like your life, it isn’t my fault or his.”

“Don’t you get it, mother? We’re not rich! We don’t even have one servant! How can I hold my head up when my mother bakes cakes and pies to sell to the neighbors and my father works in a real estate office?”

“We do the best we can. When I was your age, I lived with my family in a boxcar down by the river. At night the police would come and raid us and make us get out, no matter how bad the weather.”

“Yes, mother, I’ve heard all that a million times before, but your life is your life and it doesn’t have anything to do with my life.”

“I’m proud that I was able to give you a better life than I had.”

“Oh, mother, don’t you see? It’s not just my life within these four walls! It’s this awful town and its men in overalls and women in uniforms! Its dollar days and its smell of grease!”

“The town was good enough for you not too long ago. What happened?”

“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m really quite beautiful. I make the other girls in school look like the leftovers from a dog fight. I’ve had people tell me I could make it in the movies if only I gave it a try. Why, if I set one foot in Hollywood, those casting directors would be all over me!”

“Then why don’t you give Hollywood a try?”

“Because I’m seventeen years old and I would like to at least get a high school diploma before I take the world by storm.”

She threw her banana peel on the floor and went to the piano and began playing Chopin’s Valse Brilliante. After she had played a few bars, her face took on a dreamy, faraway look.

“That’s pretty,” Mildred said, not looking up from the cake she was decorating. “What’s it called?”

“It’s something you would never have heard of,” Veda said sniffily.

“For your information, young lady, I’m not a complete boob!”

“Pretty nearly, though. And while we’re on the subject, that dress you bought for me is truly awful. I’ll bet you bought it in the bargain basement because it smells cheap. I wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing.”

“I thought you would like it. The saleslady said it’s the latest thing.”

“It’s hideous! Why don’t you wear it?”

“It isn’t the right style for me. It’s too young.”

“Maybe if you wore it you would catch the eye of a really interesting man. One with money.”

“Veda, how can you speak to me that way? You know I would never look at another man as long as I’m so happily married to your father.”

“Mother, who are you trying to kid? Father has been stepping out with Mrs. Biederhoff for months now! It seems you’re the only one who doesn’t know about it. He’s probably over at her house right now, drinking cheap gin and playing gin rummy!”

“So help me, Veda!”

“If I were you, I would divorce that loser so fast it would make his head spin!”

“How can you say such things, Veda?”

“But, to be quite honest, my sympathies lie entirely with you, mother. Mrs. Biederhoff definitely comes from the lower classes. But, then, so does father.”

“I suppose you think I’m low class, too?”

“Well, you never speak of your people or where they came from. You might have descended from rag-pickers for all we know.”

“Oh, Veda, it breaks my heart to hear you speak that way.”

Veda stood up quickly from the piano. “Oh, mother, really! When are you going to grow up and see things as they really are? If you would dump father, you would have a chance at attracting a better type of man.”

“I don’t want a better type of man. Burt is plenty good enough for me.”

“You say that as if you don’t really mean it. You’re not bad-looking in your way. You have a decent figure. Your problem is you have no taste in clothes and no style. With help from the right person on how to dress and how to fix your hair and makeup, you could be quite a stunning woman instead of a frump.”

“Do you really think I’m a frump?”

“I don’t want to be mean, mother, but I learned at a young age that it’s better to face the truth about yourself and others than to live in a fog of self-deception.”

“How do you get that way, Veda?”

“How about Wally Fay, for example? I know he isn’t very good-looking, but he’s a forward-thinking businessman and is bound to be rich some day.”

“Is money all you ever think about?”

“Can you honestly tell me that anything is more important? You can do anything with money and without it you can do nothing.”

“I would never think of Wally Fay that way,” Mildred said. “He’s your father’s business partner.”

“What difference does that make? If you have any sense at all, you’ll use Wally Fay as your one-way ticket out of this horrible existence you call life. I frankly don’t know what he sees in you, but you know he’s always been in love with you.”

Just then Kay arrived home from school. “Hello, mummy!” she said cheerily, planting a kiss on Mildred’s cheek.

“Hello, darling! How was school today?”

“School was the nuts but the baseball game after school was the berries. We beat the pants off the other guys.”

“Oh, mother!” Veda said. “How can you let her go around like that? She’s dirty and she smells like an animal.”

“What’s with you today, Miss Snooty Britches?” Kay said.

“She’s in one of her moods,” Mildred said. “She thinks she’s better than the rest of us and she doesn’t like her life.”

“Oh, brother!” Kay said. “It must be her time of the month.”

“How do you know about that? You’re nine years old!”

“Oh, I get around more than you think.”

“Well, you go upstairs now and get into a hot bath and put on some clean clothes.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Mother, she’s horrible!” Veda said after Kay had left the room. “The language she uses! Can’t you see what’s happening to her? Her environment is ruining her. Pretty soon she’ll be knocking over gas stations.”

“She does have a good time, though, doesn’t she?” Mildred said. “I remember when I was her age I…”

But she was interrupted in mid-sentence when Burt’s car pulled into the driveway with a squeal of brakes. She ran outside, wiping her hands on a dish towel.

“Burt, your daughter is impossible,” she began.

“Mildred, I need to talk to you privately,” he said.

“She’s just been telling me all the things that are wrong with me, you, Kay, and with the town.”

“I don’t care about that, Mildred. I said I need to talk to you!”

“Why, what’s the matter?”

He took hold of her arm and pulled her into the garage. “I just stopped by to tell you I’m leaving you.”


“I’m in love with Maggie Biederhoff and I have been for some time. I’m going to get a few of my things and I’m moving in with Maggie tonight.”

“But, Burt, what about the children?”

“You can sue me for divorce on the grounds of incompatibility and infidelity and I won’t contest it. You can have the house and everything. I wont stand in your way.”

“What are you saying, Burt?”

“I’m saying I’m finally taking control of my own life.”

When Mildred went back inside, Veda was standing there with a smirk on her face.

“Do you believe me now?” Veda asked.

“You were listening?”

“I heard every word!”

“You shouldn’t listen in on other people’s private conversations.”

“I say ‘good riddance’!”

“Veda, he’s your father!”

“He may be my father but he’s just another no-good bum who can’t do any of us any good!”

Mildred groaned and sat down at the kitchen table. “Get me a glass of water, will you, dear?”

“I think you need a good stiff drink!”

“You have your degree in mixology. Why don’t you fix it then?”

Mildred sniffled and made a goose call into her handkerchief. When Veda set the drink down in front of her, she downed it and had another.

“This is the best thing that’s happened in a long time,” Veda said.

“Why, what do you mean?”

“You’re free! Or at least you will be as soon as you get a quickie divorce!”

“Maybe I don’t want to be free.”

“Now you can go after Wally Fay or some other man who’s going places!”

“Veda, I’m not like you! I can’t go after some man I don’t love just for his money!”

“I want you to invite Wally Fay over for dinner. Wear a negligee or something filmy. Show a bit of nip. Men love that sort of thing. After dinner, I’ll take Kay to a movie and you can make your moves on Wally. Tell him you’re finally free of father. Give him what he’s always wanted from you and in ten minutes he’ll be eating out of your hand.”

“Veda, you make me sound like a whore!”

“Well, isn’t that the general idea?”

“I’m going to take a bubble bath and get into bed,” Mildred said. “I have a terrible headache. I don’t even want any dinner. You fix a little something for Kay and tell her I’ve retired early. Don’t tell her yet about your father’s leaving. I want to tell her myself when the time is right.”

“Do you mean you’re not going to telephone Wally Fay?”

“I am not!”

“Now that father is gone, you’re not going to finally fall into Wally’s arms?”

“I don’t really like Wally and I never have. He’s a pig.”

“Mother, you’re impossible!”

“And I’ll tell you something else, Miss Snooty Britches! I’m not going to take advice from you about men or anything else! You’re seventeen years old! What do you know?”

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing I do know. If you’re not going to pursue Wally in the way that fate has laid out for you, then I’m going to go after him for myself!”

“Veda, he’s old enough to be your father!”

“So? He can give me a beautiful home and all the things I want in life. When he’s pawing me and trying to get his hands under my clothing, I can just close my eyes and pretend he’s somebody else.”

Mildred laughed. “I’m afraid that’s not going to work, dear,” she said.

“It’ll work if I make it work!”

“Now I have something to tell you.”

“What is it?”

“I had decided I was never going to tell you this, but now that Burt has left me and we’re no longer a family, I think the time has come.”

“Mother, you’re not going to tell me that Wally Fay is my father?”

“Have you never noticed the resemblance? You have his mouth and his chin.”

“Does Wally know?”

“I never told him. I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to keep from telling Burt.”

“Then if Wally doesn’t know, I’m all right.”

“What are you saying?”

“One of us is going to marry Wally Fay. If it’s not going to be you, it’s going to be me.”

Mildred stood up from the table and slapped Veda in the mouth. Veda fell back against the wall but righted herself and returned the slap with equal vehemence. Mildred opened the drawer where the knives were kept and pulled out the knife she used for cutting up chickens. She threw the knife but Veda sidestepped it handily and reached for a skillet that she brought down on Mildred’s head. When Mildred regained consciousness, the fighting continued until neighbors called the police.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Restoration ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Restoration ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

From 1649 to 1658 was the period in English history known as the English Interregnum or the English Commonwealth. The country during this period was a de facto republic with Oliver Cromwell as virtual dictator. A political crisis resulting from Cromwell’s death in 1658 led to the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II as king. The period that followed is known as the “Restoration.” It was a time of fashion (plumes, powdered wigs, knee britches with stockings, high-heeled shoes with polished buckles—all for the men), relaxed moral values, hedonism, excesses of every kind, greed and materialism. The historical novel Restoration by Rose Tremain is about this period in English history and about one man in particular, the fictional Sir Robert Merivel.

Merivel is very much a man of his times. He comes from humble beginnings, begins studying to be a doctor as a young man, and is soon caught up in the pursuit of fulfillment of his appetites. He abandons his study of medicine, becomes a sort of courtier in the court of King Charles and, for a brief period, is a favorite of the king. The king, however, is known for his mercurial personality and for his whims, for taking up one person one day and throwing him down the next. Merivel makes the king laugh but the king finds for him another purpose: the king will marry Merivel to the king’s mistress, Lady Celia, a marriage in name only. In return for this marriage, the king sets Merivel up in a magnificent country estate called Bidnold, which has everything an English country gentleman could ask for: lots of servants, a park filled with abundant wildlife, and lots of room to pursue a life of idleness and pleasure. (Merivel takes up painting and playing the oboe but finds he has little talent for either pursuit.) Like Adam and Eve in Paradise, however, Merivel does the one thing he is absolutely not supposed to do: he falls in love with Lady Celia. When the king finds out, he dispossesses Merivel, telling him he needs to go find himself, to “restore” himself to the kind of man he was always meant to be. Suddenly without money or a home, Merivel must embark on a quest to find out who he really is and to fulfill his purpose in life. Fate takes him to a mental hospital run by Quakers in a rural part of England (where he inadvertently finds himself a father) and back to London again where he deals with a plague epidemic and the Great Fire of 1666.

Restoration is not the potboiler one might expect it to be. It elevates the “historical fiction” genre into the realm of “good literature.” It’s beautifully written and contains not a dull or extraneous word. It illuminates a fascinating period in English history without ever being academic or seeming like a history lesson. It brings a remote period of history alive and makes it somehow relevant.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp 

Dizzy Street

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Dizzy Street

Dizzy Street ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

The girl Dory sat on the high porch, partly hidden behind an overgrown azalea bush. She held her Bible opened on her lap but wasn’t looking at it much. She was enjoying the morning, noting especially the trilling of the birds in the sweet spring air. A robin landed on the railing not three feet from her face and she watched it with interest as it blinked its tiny eyes and moved its head from side to side. After a passing car made the robin fly away, she concentrated on her Bible again and read a couple more verses.

In a little while a man she had never seen before came along on the sidewalk. He wore a suit, a rare sight in the town, and carried a little briefcase, like a lawyer or somebody important. When he saw her he smiled. She looked away quickly, not wanting him to think she had taken undue notice of him. He stopped directly in front of the house and, facing her, raised his right hand as though taking an oath. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do.

“May I help you?” she asked.

“I’m looking for Dizzy Street,” he said.

“This is it.”

“Methodist church?”

“All the way down at the end of the street.”

She pointed and he looked in that direction.

“Suppose you show me,” he said.

“You can’t miss it. Just stay on this street.”

“Are you too busy to get up from your chair and show me? You can walk, can’t you?”

She didn’t much care for his tone, being the complete stranger that he was, but she stood up and went to the porch railing and pointed again down the street. “Just stay on this street,” she said. “Go down that way and you’ll come to the church. A dog could find it.”

“Maybe I’m not as smart as a dog,” he said.

“I think you’re fooling me,” she said. “Why are you looking for the church? Are you a minister or something?”

“Now, do I look like a minister to you?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“No, I’m a salesman,” he said.

“What are you selling?”


“You’re selling books at a church? People don’t go there to read.”

“Yes, but they go there to sing songs and I happen to be selling hymnals.”

“Oh.” She was disappointed for some reason. “Just stay on this street and you’ll come to the church.”

“Maybe I find you more interesting than the church at the moment.”

“My mother’s in the house taking a bath. As soon as she’s finished, she going downtown to see her doctor and I’m going with her.”

“Is she sick?”

“In the head, is all.”

“Are you going to tell me your name?”


“Why not?”

“I don’t like your looks.”

“What’s wrong with my looks?”

“I don’t know. You look shady. Dishonest.”

“That’s because I’m really thirsty. Might I trouble you for a drink of water?”

“I suppose so, although it isn’t convenient.”

“Can I come in?”

“No! My mother is taking a bath, I said!”

“Can’t I come into the kitchen? She’s not taking a bath in the kitchen, is she?”

“No, but she wouldn’t like it if I let you in.”


“Because you’re a stranger. How do I know you won’t rob the place?”

“I won’t. You have my word.”

“Yes, and how much is that worth?”

“If I can’t come in, won’t you bring the water out here to me?”

“I suppose I might, but I don’t know why I should.”

“Because you’re a good Christian, that’s why.”

She went inside and when she came out she handed the glass over the porch railing to him. Their fingers touched when he took it from her. He drank all the water and handed it back, smacking his lips.

“Why don’t you come down here where I can see the rest of you?” he said.

“You’ve had your water,” she said. “You can move along now.”

“And what if I don’t?”

“I can go inside and after a while you’ll get so bored at not having anybody to torment you’ll just go on your way.”

“I think if you were going to go inside you would have done so by now.”

“If my mother sees you here bothering me, she won’t be very friendly toward you.”

“Does she own a shotgun?”

“No, but she has been known to take her shoe off and hit people in the head with it.”

“I can run faster than she can.”

Just then her mother appeared at the screen door, wearing a dressing gown. “Come inside now,” she said. “I need you to help me get dressed.”

“In a minute, mother,” the girl said. “This man is lost and I was just giving him directions.”

The mother eyed the man through the screen as if he were a stray dog. “Go on now,” she said. “There’s nothing for you here.”

“I was just going, madam,” he said with a silly bow.

When the mother receded into the house again, the girl said, “See what I mean?”

“She certainly makes a body feel to home,” he said.

“I have to go in now.”

“Do you always do exactly what your mother tells you to do? How old are you, anyhow?”

“None of your business. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go into the house.”


“No, what?”

“No, I don’t excuse you.”

“I’ve had enough of this foolishness. My mother is waiting for me to help her get into her clothes.”

“Is she helpless?”

“She’s got arthritis in the hands and she can’t do buttons or zippers.”

“I think you need to get away from her. She’ll suck the life out of you and not think a thing about it because she thinks it’s her right.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I bet I’m not far off, though, am I?”

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” she said. “I hope you sell lots of hymnals.” She turned toward the door.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “I want you to go for a walk with me.”

“Do you not hear what I’m telling you?” she said. “My mother is waiting for me and I’m going to take her to see her doctor.”

“If you don’t go with her, she’ll make it fine on her own. She wants you to believe she can’t do without you but she’s really more capable than she lets on. She’ll be as helpless as you let her be. She’ll lean on you for the rest of her life when she should really be leaning on herself.”

“Are you an authority on old women?”

“I’ve known a few in my day and I know what they’re like.”

“Well, I’m afraid you don’t know what you’re talking about in this case.”

“You do care for me, don’t you?”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because you’re still here talking to me while your mother is waiting for you in the house.”


“The next time she comes to the door and sees I’m still here, she and I are going to tussle and I don’t think you want to see that. I can tussle with the best of them.”

“She’ll call the police.”

“Walk away with me right now and let her do up her own damn dress.”

They ran until they came to the end of the block and turned the corner and then they walked. They walked and didn’t stop. A week later they were two thousand miles away. The girl never once looked back or regretted the leaving.

As for the mother, she was distressed for a time but not terribly surprised at the turn of events, understanding the daughter’s nature as she did. She would bide her time and wait for the day when the daughter returned, humiliated and laid low by a man whose name she hadn’t even bothered to learn.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Noah ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Noah ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

The long-awaited Noah is finally in movie theatres. Russell Crowe plays the biblical patriarch for whom God has assigned a special task: build a gigantic wooden boat, an ark, and place on it (or, according to the movie, allow them to come voluntarily onto the boat) one pair, male and female, of every animal on earth (everything that crawls, flies, walks or slithers, including snakes because they serve a purpose). Noah has a wife, Naameh (played by Jennifer Connelly) and three sons (Ham, Shem, and Japheth). God is disappointed in man and is sending a flood to wipe out every living thing on earth. Only Noah, his family (including his sons’ wives), and the animals on the boat will survive, the idea being that they will start afresh after the flood waters have receded. God has chosen Noah because he is a righteous man and hasn’t been “ruined by the world,” as, it seems, everyone else has.

Anyone expecting a faithful adaptation of the biblical story of Noah is going to be disappointed by this movie. While it is a slick and well-crafted piece of cinema, it’s a fictionalized account. Not enough is known about Noah to make a dramatic two-hour-and-fifteen-minute movie, so the filmmakers have had to improvise, creating events and people that never existed. For example, the wicked world is represented by the fictional character, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who wants to live so badly that he stows away on the ark and is aided and hidden by Noah’s son, Ham, who is taking revenge on his father for not saving a girl he liked from the trampling hordes who were storming the ark.

While Noah and his family are on the ark, waiting for the flood waters to recede so they can once again walk upon dry land, tensions arise over the question of whether man will continue after Noah and his family are all dead, or if the world will be another unspoiled Eden in which only animals will live without the wicked and evil man to spoil everything. Noah is all for letting man die out with them, while his wife wants their children to live on in their own descendants. When Shem’s young wife, Ila, who is supposed to be unable to bear children, discovers she is going to have a baby, Noah vows to kill the baby unless it’s a boy.

While Noah is worth seeing, it’s not worth taking seriously. It’s entertaining in its way but no more believable than movies about hobbits. When the “Watchers” (fallen angels, who, as punishment from God, have become huge beings made of rock and mud) first appear early in the movie, you know you are in the realm of fantasy and not in a world that anybody is supposed to believe exists or ever existed.

Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp 

Hold All Calls

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Hold All Calls ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“Oh, how I hate Monday mornings!” Dakin said as he sat down at his desk.

“The countdown to the weekend has begun,” Christopher said. “Only one hundred and five hours until five o’clock Friday afternoon.”

“It’s too far away,” Dakin said. “I shall perish before then.”

“Well, you’d better look busy. Pinky is already in this morning and he’s not happy. Production is down again or something.”

Dakin took some papers out of the drawer and spread them out. “I hate everybody on Monday morning,” he said, “but I especially hate my parents for bringing me into the world and not providing me with a family fortune.”

“Alas,” Christopher said, “so few of us have a family fortune.”

“If I had even a small fortune, I would blow this place so fast.”

“A couple million would do.”

“I’d travel. I’d have a home on the Riviera and another one in Rome.”

“Only two?”

“Two to start with.”

“I hear somebody coming. Look alive!”

Agnes Simpkins came into the room, wearing a funereal black dress and a scowl on her face. She was looking at the floor and didn’t look at Dakin or Christopher. She walked to the far corner of the room, stood for a moment facing the wall, and went out again without speaking.

“What’s she looking for?” Dakin asked.

“Her soul,” Christopher said.

“Have you ever seen a more hideous woman? Her dress looks like she’s got it on backwards. Her hair looks like it was chewed off by a wolverine. Her lipstick looks like a chimp put it on for her.”

“There’s a rumor going around that she’s really a man.”

“That would explain a lot.”

“I think Pinky sent her in here to spy on us.”

Dakin shuffled some papers, held a pencil in his right hand and made a few squiggles. “I woke up with a headache this morning and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I really should have stayed at home.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Production is down, you know.”


“If I collapse at my desk, go get somebody to help me, as long as it’s not Agnes Simpkins.”

“I’m sure she would be more than willing to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”

“I’d rather die.”

“Really, are you planning on doing any work today at all?”

“Not if I can help it. I’m too sick. I’m fine until I get to work and then after I get here I’m sick. I think it sounds like I need to stay away from work altogether for my health, doesn’t it?”

“It’s a conundrum.”

“I saw these friends on the weekend that I hadn’t seen in years. They own their own yacht. Can you believe it? They were going on a cruise in the Caribbean and they invited me to go along. I would love to have gone with them, but instead I’m here. I am in hell! Why was I even born?”

“Another conundrum.”

“And to top it all off, I’m hungry. I skipped breakfast.”

“I thought you said you were sick.”

“I am sick but that doesn’t mean I don’t desire food.”

“Anytime I’m sick, I…”

“How about if you be a dear and go see if anybody brought any donuts in today?”

“Why don’t you go?”

“I have all this work to do and, truly, I don’t have the strength to walk down the hall and witness the sickening sight of all those frightened little people working themselves into a frenzy just because production is down or something and Pinky is in an uproar. I mean, Pinky is always in an uproar about something or other, isn’t he?”

“I have a candy bar in my drawer if you want it.”

“That’s sweet of you but I really don’t want to eat candy on an empty stomach. It might make me vomit.”

“If you vomit, forcibly—and in front of everybody—you can legitimately go home sick. There’s nothing like a little projectile vomiting to drive home your point.”

“Yes, yes, that’s a good idea and I will keep it in mind.”

“How about if you proofread a report for me and correct any errors?”

“Oh, buddy, not you too!”

“Well, somebody’s got to get some work done around here.”

“I am not in any shape, physically or emotionally, to do any work today.”

“All right, I’ll do it myself.”

“Do you really care if it gets done or not?”

“I don’t care for myself but it would be nice to get it done.”

“’Nice to get it done’. I’m afraid you’re even starting to sound like them.”

“Please forgive me.”

“Where are you going for lunch today?”

“I think I’ll just stay here and get something out of the vending machine.”

“How banal! I’m going to take an extra long one today. I feel like walking down the block to Luigi’s and having some linguini in marinara sauce, a crisp salad, and spumoni for dessert. Would you like to come with me?”

“Somebody’s got to stay here and do some of this work.”

“Will you cover for me if I don’t come back?”

“I’ll say I haven’t seen you and I don’t know where you are.”

“Good thinking.”

Christopher put his head back and closed his eyes. “I can smell Pinky’s cologne!” he said. “He’s within thirty feet! Look busy!”

No sooner than the words were spoken, they spotted the man himself. He came toward them carrying a sheath of papers. He was winded, his face was red and the corners of his mouth turned down.

“Mr. Pinkley!” Dakin said cheerfully. “How lovely to see you! Is that a new toupee you’re wearing? It certainly looks handsome!”

“Humph!” Mr. Pinkley said. “I’ve heard reports that there’s been some hanky-panky going on in this department.” The wattles under his chin quivered with emphasis.

“Hanky-panky, sir?”

“Talking and loafing and not focusing on the work at hand.”

“Not focusing? I don’t know what would give anybody that idea, sir. We’re just as busy as a colony of beavers.”

“I’m warning you that I won’t have any slackers working in this company. If you aren’t prepared to give me a full day’s work, then you might as well leave now.”

“I wouldn’t dream of leaving, sir!”

“Production is down for the third straight quarter! That tells me that a house cleaning is in order, but I believe in giving everybody a second chance. You can consider this your warning. If I have to speak to you again, it’ll be to dismiss you.”

“I understand, sir! I believe I’ll be deserving of any punishment you see fit to mete out.”

“I want a written report from you every day outlining what you are working on and how much you have done that day. Do I make myself clear?”

“As a bell, sir! I only have one question.”

“What is it?”

“Will I be the only one submitting a daily report on my activities?”

“None of your business!”

“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!”

After Mr. Pinkley left, Dakin and Christopher looked at each other and laughed.

“Who does he think he is, speaking that way to me?” Dakin said. “I have a good mind to call up my lawyer and sue the bastard.”

“I’d like to see that,” Christopher said.

“I don’t have to take that kind of crap from him or anybody else.”

“No, indeed, you do not!”

“I’m ten times smarter than he is. I can outclass him any day in the week and twice on Sunday with one hand tied behind my back. He can’t even write a coherent sentence without some help from a secretary.”

“He is an ignorant son of a bitch,” Christopher said. “It goes with the territory.”

“Now I am completely thrown off my game after being spoken to in such a manner.”

“Some people are just too sensitive for the world of business.”

“Yes, thank you! I’m glad that someone in this rotten, stinking world recognizes that fact.”

“What are you going to do now? It sounds like you’re going to have to show Mr. Pinkley some results or he’s going to fire you.”

“What am I going to do? I’m going to take a long, long lunch and then I’m going home and taking an extended bubble bath to get the stench of this place off my body. After that I’m going to put on a dressing gown and telephone my lawyer. He and I are going to have an illuminating little discussion about how I have been harassed and pressured in the workplace to the point of nervous collapse. Then he will advise me about how we might proceed with a lawsuit. I know a very good doctor who will say on my behalf whatever needs to be said.”

“It sounds like you’ve thought it all out carefully.”

“I have.”

“Just do me one favor.”


“Don’t mention my name.”

“I don’t even know your name. You are one of the millions of anonymous downtrodden office workers who toil and die. The only way you will ever give your life any meaning is to leave this hellish existence and take control of your own destiny.”

“Those are only words. I don’t know how to do it.”

“Believe me, dear friend, I will pave the way for you and countless others just like you.”

“So, I’ll be hearing from you again?”

“Of course you will!”

“What shall I say to people when they ask me where you are?”

“Tell them to hold all calls, for now I belong to history!”

Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp

The Grand Budapest Hotel ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

The Grand Budapest Hotel was directed by Wes Anderson and is based on the works of author Stefan Zweig (1881-1942). It concerns M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a luxurious mountain hotel that, even in 1932, was the symbol of a vanishing age. New to the hotel is a “lobby boy” named Zero, a wide-eyed “refugee” whose family was murdered and who is smarter than he appears to be. He becomes M. Gustave’s trusted friend and confident and is always by his side in whatever situation he finds himself.

Among the wealthy patrons of the hotel are one Madame M. (Tilda Swinton), an eighty-four-year-old grande dame who enjoys the attentions and even the sexual favors of M. Gustave. (Bedding rich old patrons is something he doesn’t seem to mind doing.) When Madame M. dies, she bequeaths to M. Gustave a priceless painting called Boy with Apple. Her villainous son (Adrien Brody) and her three strange daughters take exception to this bequest, of course. Her entire will, in fact, is so confusing and has been changed so many times that nobody can figure it out. M. Gustave takes the painting that Madame M. wanted him to have and eventually winds up in jail, where he manages to pull off an ingenious escape through a sewer with several of his fellow inmates.

If you are familiar with any of the directorial efforts of Wes Anderson (The Fabulous Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, among others), you know that he has a distinctive visual style that must be seen to be appreciated. It incorporates elements of the fantastic with whimsy, irony, and subtle humor. The Grand Budapest Hotel is an art film that is not for everybody and will probably not be playing at the multiplex theatre in your neighborhood that shows only mainstream movies. Various adjectives that might be applied to The Grand Budapest Hotel are “quaint,” “eccentric,” “charming,” “unusual,” “quirky.” I know people who would also call it “weird” and “far out” and would be completely flummoxed from first frame to last. If, however, you are one of those who likes things a little off-kilter and oddly tilted and, let us say, “outside the norm,” then you should probably get in line to buy your ticket.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

An Afternoon of Conversation at the Home of Miss Fish

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An Afternoon of Conversation at the Home of Miss Fish ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“He can sit by himself all day long in a room and look at picture books and not bother a thing,” grandma said.

The ladies looked admiringly at the boy and smiled.

“He’s a mighty cute little thing,” Miss Fish said. Her name didn’t quite fit her; instead of looking like a fish, she looked more like a chicken.

“Yes, of all my grandchildren,” grandma said, “he’s the best behaved.”

“And who is his daddy again?” Miss Doty asked.

“That’s a question that remains unanswered to this day,” grandma said gravely. “I wish I knew.”

They all looked at the boy, as if his parentage might be written somewhere on his body if only they could see it.

“It doesn’t matter at all,” Miss Fish said. “It’s all after the fact.” She was taking up for the boy. She didn’t much like Miss Doty and didn’t think it was right for her to bring up the question of who the boy’s daddy was, since everybody knew he was illegitimate.

“What do you mean, ‘after the fact’?” grandma asked. Miss Fish was one of her best friends and she believed that whatever she said was important.

“Well,” Miss Fish said, “he’s here, ain’t he? It doesn’t matter now who his daddy is. It’s not like anybody can go back and fix it if it ain’t right. Whether his daddy is a bum or president of the bank won’t make any difference in his life.”

“If his daddy was president of the bank, he could put him through college,” Miss Doty said, refusing to let the matter lie.

“Maybe not,” Miss Fish said. “The president of the bank wouldn’t give him jack shit because he wouldn’t want people to know he was his daddy. He would most likely have a wife and children and a position to uphold in the community.”

“I wouldn’t let him get away with that,” Miss Doty said.

“Well, anyway,” grandma said, “he’s like all the other children who are born, whether they have a daddy or not. Precious in the eyes of the Lord.”

“He shouldn’t be held responsible for the transgressions of others,” Miss Fish said.

The boy looked at them, thinking about all the talking they did. Sometimes he followed along with what they were saying—if what they were talking about happened to be of interest—and other times he just let the words wash over him like water over the spillway. For them, talking was like breathing. If they didn’t do it, they would die.

“I think he looks a little like Dr. Kane,” Miss Doty said. “Didn’t Marion have a little fling with him before his divorce went through and he married some other woman?”

“Not that I know of,” grandma said.

“You should ask her some time. I think it’s an interesting avenue to pursue.”

“I thought we decided it didn’t make any difference,” Miss Fish said.

“Well, still,” Miss Doty said. “If the question has an answer, then why not find out what it is?”

“I think people should just leave it alone and accept things for what they are. Acceptance is the greatest thing in the world.”

“To you, maybe,” Miss Doty said.

“Good God!” Miss Fish said. “Do you always have to have the last word about everything?”

“I just meant…”

It being her house, Miss Fish stood up and went into the other room. In a few moments she returned bearing a tray of drinks, cocktails for the ladies and a glass of grape juice for the boy.

“I don’t usually drink hard liquor,” grandma said, but she took it willingly, smacking her lips as she sipped.

“What is hard liquor anyway?” Miss Doty asked, sticking her tongue into the cocktail to see if she was going to like it.

“A step up from beer, I guess,” grandma said.

“You can feel it coursing through your veins,” Miss Fish said. “It relaxes you.”

“As long as you don’t overdo it,” grandma said.

“What happens if you overdo it?” Miss Doty asked.

“You get drunk.”

“You know, I’ve never been drunk in my life,” Miss Doty said. “Have you?”

“Never,” grandma said.

“Once or twice when I was younger,” Miss Fish said. “We used to have these parties at our house.”

“What happens when you get drunk?”

“Well, you feel good for a while and after the good feeling wears off you feel terrible. You have a headache and you’ll very likely be vomiting your guts out.”

“I don’t want to drink it then,” Miss Doty said, setting the glass down on the table.

“Oh, for goodness sake!” Miss Fish said. “One drink ain’t going to hurt you! Don’t be such a pantywaist.”

“What’s a pantywaist, anyway? I’ve heard that expression before and I never knew what it meant.”

“Go look in the mirror,” Miss Fish said and she and grandma laughed.

“Oh, you mean if I see my own reflection, I’m seeing a pantywaist, is that it?”

“Just a little joke,” Miss Fish said. “Don’t get excited.”

“Well, I think you should mind the joke at the expense of someone else’s feelings.”

“Lighten up, old girl!” Miss Fish said.

When grandma and Miss Fish finished their drinks, they had refills but Miss Doty would only limit herself to one. She said she was beginning to feel sick already and she didn’t want to spend the night vomiting her guts out.

The boy finished his grape juice and set the glass down. He was bored and beginning to feel sleepy. He hoped that he and grandma would go home soon. He thought about saying something that would make her realize it was time to go but could think of nothing. Finally, he said simply, “I have to go to the bathroom.”

“Help yourself,” Miss Fish said. “Through the dining room, down the hall to the door on the left.”

He stood up and walked slowly through the quiet house. He always found it very interesting to be in somebody else’s house and to look at their things. It was more than just what he saw but also what he smelled; in this case it was dust, mouse droppings, soap, and a musty smell like rot underneath the house. He lingered in the hallway and then went into the bathroom and shut the door and locked it.

The bathroom was large and cheerful, with white tile everywhere and yellow towels. There was an old-fashioned tub with claw feet and a window with pebbled glass and a frilly yellow curtain. He stood on his tiptoes and opened the door to the medicine cabinet over the sink. Inside were all kinds of bottles and jars, toothpaste, shaving cream, and other stuff that old people use. He flushed the toilet, ran some water in the sink, and went out of the bathroom into the hallway again.

He heard grandma and the ladies talking and laughing in the front room, so he knew that, for the moment at least, they had forgotten about him. He turned to the left and continued down the hallway until he was in a bedroom with an imposing four-poster bed. He walked around the bed to the dresser with its round mirror on which flecks of dust stood out in the bright sunlight. He paused, listening for sounds of approaching footsteps, and opened the top dresser drawer slowly so as to not make a sound.

Inside the drawer was a jumble of scarves, gloves, shawls. Seeing nothing of interest in that drawer, he closed it and opened the middle drawer, re-closing it quickly when he saw it contained stockings and old ladies’ underwear. He bent over and opened the bottom drawer, which had the advantage of being hidden from view to anybody who might come unexpectedly into the room. In this drawer were a photo album, some small boxes, and, partly concealed by a wool blanket, a jewelry case with a brocaded lid. He opened the lid of the case and saw inside a disorderly profusion of costume jewelry and on top of it a small amount of cash in one-dollar bills.

He counted the money and, of the eight dollars there, he folded up four and put them inside his shoe. He was about to close the case again when he saw a necklace that captured his attention. It had a large green stone, an imitation of some kind of precious gem. Being partial to green as he was, he lifted it up to get a better look. It was the most beautiful green color he had ever seen, shot through with light and just a touch of other colors, yellow and even blue if it caught the light just right. He was going to put the necklace back after admiring it but, when he thought sure somebody was coming, he slipped it into his pants pocket, almost before he realized what he was doing. Then, as quickly and as quietly as he could, he rearranged the stuff back in the drawer to make it appear as if it had never been disturbed and closed it.

When he returned to the front room and resumed his chair, nobody paid any attention to him, so he was sure they didn’t suspect that he had done anything other than use the bathroom. Miss Fish was telling a story about a fight between a husband and wife on her street.

“…so drunk he didn’t even know what he was doing. He was swinging an axe over his head and chasing her around the house like they were a couple of cartoon characters and he was going to cook her for dinner. She was so scared of him she wet her pants. I’m not making it up! You could see it, plain as day. It was really a funny thing to see but it didn’t seem so at the time.”

“And was he really going to kill her?” Miss Doty asked.

“He would have if the police hadn’t come when they did. They got him down on the ground—you know the way they do. And the bad thing about it was that he was wearing a bathrobe with nothing on underneath. Everybody saw him on the ground naked after his bathrobe came untied and slipped off, even the little children.”

“Ugh!” Miss Doty winced and covered her face, as if she shared in the embarrassment.

“I don’t like it when people air their private grievances in public,” grandma said.

“Well, who does?” Miss Fish said.

“And they took the son of a bitch off to jail?”

“They locked him up in the state mental hospital where he belongs,” Miss Fish said with satisfaction. “End of story.”

When grandma and the boy were finally walking home, he looked up at her and said, “I know who my real daddy is.”

“I don’t believe you do,” she said.

“Yes, I do, too.”

“Who is it then?”

“It’s a secret.”

“You shouldn’t keep secrets from me.”

“It’s the only one.”

That night, tucked safely away in his room after everybody had gone to bed, he took the green necklace out and put it around his neck and, standing in front of the mirror, pretended he was a simpering old woman drinking a cocktail and gossiping about the neighbors.

He counted out the four dollars again, lining them up on the bed to better see them. When he began to grow sleepy, he stowed the necklace and the four dollars in the deep recesses of his closet where nobody would ever find them. Young as he was, he was already well acquainted with the art of concealment.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp


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