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Celeste

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Celeste ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story was published in Gothic City Press: Gas Lamp and is a re-post on my website.)

She owed everything to M and F. They brought her into the world, fed and clothed her, educated her, gave her a wonderful childhood. When the world was against her, M and F were always in her corner.

After she grew up, she married and left M and F. The marriage didn’t last, though, and after it came to its sad end she moved back home. M and F were growing old by then and needed her in the same way she needed them when she was a little girl growing up. She would never leave them again.

She did everything for them. They were helpless without her. She got them up in the morning, dressed them, sat them in their chairs, turned the TV or radio on for them. She read the newspaper to F and helped M with all the housework. She loved them so much that she told them all her secrets, like the time she pushed a girl down a long flight of stairs or the time at the lake when she could have saved a drowning boy but instead let him die.

On a beautiful autumn day, when the leaves were bright colors and the air held that wonderful crispness that can only mean the end of October, she bundled M and F up in their coats. F looked so sweet in the knit cap she made for him and M seemed to glow with the prospect of the fun they were going to have.

With M and F snuggly secured in the back seat, she drove out to the country road that she remembered from her childhood. They used to take long drives on Sunday afternoons in autumn, stopping to pick bittersweet or wild flowers or a few persimmons off a scraggly tree. She laughed to remember how eating a persimmon would make the inside of her mouth so puckery that she would have to spit it out on the ground. Autumn was her favorite time of year.

The road was just as she remembered it, the hills, curves, and sudden dips that made the stomach turn over. In fact, everything was exactly the same. There was the old red barn, there the grain silo and over there the horses grazing in a field behind a fence. The rickety old bridge still spanned the creek and the old country store still sold ice-cold drinks and pumpkins.

She looked away for a moment and when she looked back a porcupine was running across the road in front of the car. Porcupines don’t run very fast. If she had run over it and killed it, she would have been upset for the rest of the day. She swerved the car too much and lost control. The car careened off the road, across a ditch and into a tree.

Her first thought was for M and F. They had slid off the seat onto the floor but were unhurt. After she tended to them, she got out of the car to assess the damage. She had hit the tree squarely; water was dripping out of the radiator. She could not drive the car another inch in its present state.

It was too far to walk to town and, besides, she couldn’t leave M and F in the car alone. She could think of nothing else to do but stand by the side of the road and wait for somebody to come along and help.

There wasn’t much traffic and the few people who went by just stared at her as if she were a lunatic and went on past. Finally a police officer in a patrol car came along and, seeing her and the car smashed into the tree, pulled off onto the shoulder and got out.

“Anybody hurt?” the officer asked.

“No,” she said.

“I’ll call a tow for you.”

“Thank you.”

He spotted M and F in the back seat of the car. “Are they all right?” he asked.

“I think so,” she said.

He went closer to the car and leaned over to get a better look. “Why, they’re wax figures!” he said. “Aren’t they?”

“They’re…my family,” she said.

He straightened up and looked closely at her to see if she was making a joke. “Are you made of wax, too?”

“They’re surrogates.” she said.

“They’re what?”

She was wearing an old coat that belonged to F. She thrust her hands into the pockets and felt in the right-hand pocket a small knife that F used to use for whittling. She brought the knife out and stabbed the officer in the forearm.

He yelped with surprise. When she saw the knife sticking into his arm, she turned and started to run, but he grabbed onto her and wrapped his arms around her to subdue her. He pushed her toward the patrol car, opened the back door and shoved her inside.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she said. “I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“Shut up!” he said.

He slammed the door, locking her inside.

“Let me out of here!” she said. “They need me!”

The officer went over to her car and opened the back door. F tumbled out onto the ground head-first in a very undignified manner. The officer picked him up by the arm and tossed him back inside.

She winced as if she had been struck and then laughed at herself because she knew then that it wasn’t the real F. They—the real F and the real M—were asleep in a big trunk in the basement. Only she knew where they were. Nobody else would ever know. She was so much smarter than she had ever been given credit for.

Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp

On the Face of It

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On the Face of It ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story was published in Gaia’s Misfits Fantasy Anthology and is a re-post on my website.)

In the morning when Blanche Mims stepped outside to sweep away the autumn leaves that had gathered around her front door, there was a very small man dressed in black formal attire, a midget, standing in the yard looking at her. She stopped sweeping, adjusted her glasses, and snorted through her nose.

“Looking for somebody?” she asked.

“I’ve found her,” he said.

So, he was one of those! He had heard about her in town and wanted to see for himself. She went back inside as fast as she could, slamming the door. She peeked out at him as he got back into a long gray car and drove away. Oh, but he had an evil grin!

She was not like other women, so she had good reason for caution. She had what was, by any measure, a monstrous deformity: her face was not in front of her head but on top. Her nose was exactly at the top of her head, her mouth tucked in underneath her nose. Since her eyes were always pointed skyward, she had to wear a special kind of glasses made with tilted mirrors so she could walk upright and see in front of her. On the sides of her head, all the way around (covering her ears), was thick hair, the color and texture of a lion’s mane. For several years she had been a headliner in a traveling freak show and was, for a time, billed as The Lion Woman. (To her credit, she was, except for the misplacement of her face, exactly the same as anybody else.)

She continued to see the midget every day for nearly two weeks. He either drove by slowly or stopped the car and got out and stood looking at the house for a while before driving on.

“There’s been a strange man hanging around outside for several days now,” she said casually to her mother, Olga Mims, one evening when they were getting ready for bed. “A tiny man.”

Olga laughed. “I’ve seen the little bastard,” she said. “That’s a hearse he’s driving. He’s an undertaker.”

“What’s he looking for?”

“Maybe he’s trying to drum up some business.”

“In Scraptown? Nobody comes to Scraptown if they don’t have to.”

“Why don’t you ask him the next time you see him?” Olga said as she removed her wig and put it on the head of the mannequin that she kept by her bed to keep her company at night.

All day long the next day Blanche kept an eye out for the little man, but she didn’t see him. The day after, though, he parked his hearse under the trees across the road and got out and stood in the front yard and looked up at the house. He was wearing a top hat and a cape as if he thought he was Spencer Tracy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and was smoking a cigarette in a long holder. She decided it was time to confront the little son of a bitch. She ran her fingers through her mane-like hair to smooth it down and went out the door.

“May I help you?” she asked in a too-loud voice.

He took off his hat, took the cigarette holder out of his mouth, made a sweeping gesture with his arm and bowed. “I am so pleased to finally make your acquaintance,” he said. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ferris Peabody, mortician. At your service.”

“What makes you think I need a mortician?” she asked.

“I don’t,” he said. “This is purely a personal call, rather than a professional one.”

“All right,” she said. “I think you’d better state your business and be quick about it, or I’m going to call the sheriff and have you removed from my property.” She bent over from the waist so she was really facing him, rather than looking at him through the mirror glasses.

“You have a lovely face,” he said. “It’s too bad the world doesn’t see more of it.”

“What’s the gag? Do you have a hidden camera somewhere?”

“Nothing of the kind, I assure you.” He bowed again as though addressing a queen.

“If this is some kind of trick, I don’t think it’s the least bit funny and I want you to know that I keep a loaded gun in the house.”

“No gag and no trick,” he said.

Hearing their voices, Olga came out of the house. She was wearing a seventy-year-old sailor suit that was too big for her, complete with hat. She smiled at the little man and saluted like a real sailor.

“How-do, ma’am,” he said. “Ferris Peabody at your service.”

“Charmed, I’m sure,” Olga said.

“You are, I take it, the young lady’s mother?”

“I was the last time I looked.”

“You have a sense of humor, ma’am, I can see. I like that and I think it’s so important in this cruel world we live in.”

Already Olga was fascinated by the little man and found him inexpressibly piquant.

“You still haven’t told me what your business is,” Blanche said.

“I come to pay a social call.”

“Why would you do that? I don’t even know you.”

“So that we may come to know each other.”

“If you’re selling funeral plans, we’re not interested.”

“I’m not, I swear.”

“Well, come on inside,” Olga said. “We don’t have to stand out here like a bunch of statues.”

Blanche opened her mouth to object but she saw no reason to be overly rude and, besides, she was curious enough to want to know what the little mortician was going to say.

They went into the parlor and sat down, Blanche and Olga on the old horsehair sofa and he on the overstuffed easy chair facing the sofa. Since he was about the size of a three-year-old child, he had some difficulty getting on the chair but, once he was settled, he smiled broadly, pleased to have been asked inside.

“I have some beer on ice, if you’d like one,” Olga said.

“I’d love one,” he said.

Blanche sat upright on the sofa so that when he looked at her all he could see was the lion’s mane. She was deliberately being cold to him, which he could read in her posture.

“You’re probably wondering how I drive the hearse,” he said to Blanche with an ingratiating smile, “being deprived of height the way I am.”

“I haven’t given it a single thought.”

Olga came back from the kitchen. She had poured the beer into a glass, which she only did for special guests. She handed it to him and watched carefully as he took a sip of the beer.

“Ah, so refreshing!” he said.

She smiled, ever the gracious hostess, and sat back down.

“Now, to get on with my story,” he said.

“I didn’t know you were telling one,” Blanche said.

“I became acquainted with your cousin, Philandra Burgoyne, about a year ago when she came to me for her after-death needs.”

“Oh, yes,” Olga said. “How is dear Philandra?”

“She’s fine,” he said. “She’s dead.”

“Isn’t that odd? I hadn’t heard that she had passed over.”

“She was very large at the end of her life. There was no coffin available that would accommodate, so we had to bury her in a piano crate.”

“I would have gone to the funeral, had I only known.” Olga said.

“The funeral was quite spectacular, if I do say so myself, but that’s not what I came to tell you. To get right to the point, I had many deeply heartfelt conversations with Philandra in the last few months of her life. I was her spiritual advisor, in a way, as there was no one else to fill that position.”

“You must have been a great comfort to her,” Olga said.

When Blanche sighed with boredom, he turned and faced her. He had no way of knowing if she was even listening to him. It was rather like talking to a mop. “When Philandra told me about you, I knew I had to come and pay you a visit, get to know you any way I could.”

“How flattering,” Blanche said. “I still don’t understand where you’re going with this.”

“I have a successful business,” he said. “I began The Ferris Peabody Mortuary and Funeral Parlor from the ground up. I have a very select clientele. People like us.”

“People like what?”

“Unique people. People like you and me and your cousin Philandra. People that the world thinks of as freaks.”

“Oh, well, thank you very much for calling me a freak!”

“To the world that’s what we are because the world only sees what’s on the outside and never considers what’s on the inside.”

“Ho-hum,” Blanche said, covering her mouth to yawn.

“I’ve taken care of the after-death needs of Hortense the Hippopotamus Girl, Isador the Invisible Irishman, Allesandro the Monkey Boy, Lulu the Flipper Baby, and Otto Osgood the Only Human on Earth with an Exoskeleton, to name but a few.”

“Otto and I used to be sweethearts,” Olga said. “He was very proud of his physical endowments.”

“I don’t believe you ever knew him,” Blanche said.

“Well, maybe not.”

“The point I’m trying to make,” he said, “is that my business is successful and getting more so. I have everything I need, except for one thing, and that’s where you come in.”

“You want me to die,” Blanche said, “and let you take care of my after-death needs so you can drop my name whenever and wherever it’s convenient, the way you drop the names of those other freaks? You little name-dropper, you!”

“I want someone to share my success with.”

“Get a dog.”

“The clock is ticking away. I’m no longer young and neither are you.”

”Speak for yourself!”

“You would complement my business in a way that nobody else could. My clients would feel comfortable with you. The women folk like it better if a woman is seeing to the arrangements. You know, what shroud goes with the casket lining and all that. What panties to wear. What shoes.”

“Are you offering me a job?”

“More than that. I’m offering to marry you.”

Phht! And wouldn’t we make a fine pair! A woman whose face is in the wrong place and a man who doesn’t even measure up to the yard stick! We could put on a show for Halloween, but I don’t know what we’d do the rest of the year.”

“You’ve been hurt by life and so have I,” he said.

“Me too,” Olga said. “I’ve been hurt by life a lot.”

“In my world you wouldn’t be an outcast. You wouldn’t have to hide yourself away in a little house built into the side of a hill because you wouldn’t be any more freakish than anybody else.”

“Oh, and where is this world, anyway, where everybody’s a freak but doesn’t know it?”

“It’s closer than you think.”

“It sounds delightful, your world, but there’s just one problem.”

“What?”

“How can I believe you? How do I know you’re not just some evil dwarf come to carry my soul to hell?”

He laughed heartily. “I assure you I’m not,” he said.

“I think you should listen to what he’s saying,” Olga said.

“I want to show you something,” he said. “Maybe it will help to convince you.”

He took her by the hand and led her to a mirror on the wall. After he had positioned a chair behind her to stand on so they were of more or less equal height, he placed his hands on both sides of her head and said, “Watch closely.”

She adjusted her mirror glasses and sighed. All she saw was her lion mane of hair, which is what she expected to see, but after a few seconds she saw something different. Her face was somehow projected on the front of her head so that she looked like a normal person whose face was where it should be and not a freak.

“How do you do that?” she said.

“Never mind how I do it. Just know that I can.”

The image in the mirror faded and she turned around and looked at him as he got down off the chair. “That’s just a trick,” she said. “I’ve had enough tricks in my life.”

“I think there’s something to that,” Olga said.

“Come with me now,” he said.

“I can’t marry you without knowing anything about you.”

“We can put off marrying for as long as you like.”

“And you won’t touch me?”

“You’ll have your own private boudoir with the strongest lock you ever saw on the door.”

“And I can come back home if I so choose.”

“It’s not a prison.”

“Can she come too?” Blanche asked, tilting her head toward Olga.

“I can’t leave now,” Olga said. “Poor Butterfly is about to have her babies.”

“She loves her cats more than anything,” Blanche said.

“We can come back and get her and her cats, too, just as soon as she’s ready,” he said.

“That will give me time to get my wig washed and styled and get my nails done,” Olga said. “What should I wear?”

“You can wear whatever you want,” he said.

“Can I come as a clown? I’ve always loved clowns.”

“You can come as a clown, a sailor, a chicken, or anything you want.”

“I have the cutest clown getup you ever saw!”

“Do I need to pack a bag?” Blanche asked.

“No,” he said. “You’ll have everything you need when we get to where we’re going.”

“What are we waiting for, then?”

Suddenly Blanche Mims seemed in a hurry to leave her little house built into the side of a hill in the section of town known as Scraptown. She gave Olga a little squeeze about the shoulders and followed the tiny mortician outside to his long gray hearse waiting for them under the trees.

Olga stood and watched as they drove away, waving and blowing kisses. She saw the hearse as it disappeared from view down the hill in the lane. Unlike other cars, though, it just never reappeared at the top of the next hill.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Sometimes Works Trains, 1920

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John James McCarthy 2

Sometimes Works Trains, 1920 ~

John James McCarthy, 28, arrested in San Diego, California, on March 9, 1920, for vagrancy and “PP.” Since we don’t know what “PP” means, we might assume it’s “public prophecy” or “possession of poodles” or “peeling potatoes.” Anyway, it must not have been too serious since the sentence was dismissed. We can only hope that Mr. McCarthy had a happy life after his brush with the law. 

 

Gone Girl ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Gone Girl ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Gone Girl might more appropriately be titled Gone 33-Year-Old Woman. It’s a slick mystery filmed in and around Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and directed by David Fincher, who directed The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It’s a story about a mismatched couple and the disastrous consequences of their terrible marriage. Ben Affleck is Nick Dunne, the feckless husband, and Rosamund Pike is Amy, the not-what-she-seems wife.

Nick Dunne is a small-town, average man. He owns a not-very-successful bar with his twin sister, Margo. His blond wife, Amy, is everything he’s not. She comes from a wealthy family, is sophisticated, cultured, and accomplished, a Harvard graduate and author of a series of children’s books. After the sexual attraction between the two of them wears thin, Nick and Amy discover they can’t stand each other. Nick grows increasingly more hostile toward Amy and she claims to be afraid of him. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick is going to ask Amy for a divorce, but when he comes home he finds she is gone; the house is in disarray, suggesting a struggle. Nick goes to the police and a large-scale search for Amy begins.

The apparent abduction of Amy becomes the subject of intense media scrutiny and a kind of national obsession. Nick Dunne is a little too glib and facile; he doesn’t seem too broken up over the disappearance of his wife. (He admits in private that he is relieved she’s gone.) He is, in fact, found to have been having an adulterous affair with a woman half his age. He becomes the most hated man in America. He has, in a way, been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.

We (the audience) aren’t kept guessing too long. I don’t want to give away too much here, except to say that, as much of a jerk as Nick is, he’s relatively blameless compared to Amy. She is a despicable, manipulative monster, a regular psychopath. In the unsatisfying ending, we are left with the impression that Amy is exactly what Nick deserves. These are not likeable characters and there’s nothing here I care to see. I think I want my money back and the two-and-a-half hours out of my life.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Vintage Oddities, Part 2

~ Vintage Oddities, Part 2 ~ 

Unexpected and without explanation.

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Vintage odd 5

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A Happy Starfish

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A Happy Starfish ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Did I tell you how I hate school? This morning in zoology I had to dissect a starfish. The inside of the starfish is green. That’s disgusting enough, but the thing that got to me is the fishy smell. It’s a smell that lingers in my head and my nose. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat any kind of fish or seafood again for as long as I live without being reminded of the green insides of a starfish.

The world is very cruel. That little starfish was probably just minding its own business on a beach somewhere when somebody picked it up and put it in pickling solution where it instantly died. One minute a happy starfish and the next minute a laboratory specimen to be cut open and have its insides probed. If I was a starfish, I would want to live on a faraway island where there were no people and I could die of old age.

After zoology was American history, but I skipped. I thought I was going to vomit and I didn’t want anybody to see me. I went to the boys’ toilet on the third floor where it was quiet and went into a stall and latched the door. I put my hands on my knees, leaned forward and closed my eyes, trying not to think about that starfish.

In a minute somebody came into the toilet whistling. I hate people who whistle. It spoiled my concentration, so I just spit into the toilet and flushed without vomiting. I opened the stall door and went to the sink and started to wash my hands.

“What do you think you’re doing?” somebody to my left said.

I turned and saw it was Dutch Farquhar. If there’s anybody in school I hate, it’s Dutch. He’s the class president and a snitch. Mr. Perfect. He has somehow taken it upon himself to keep the rest of us in line. Probably someday he’ll be a congressman or a senator or something if somebody doesn’t kill him first.

“Washing my hands” I said curtly.

“That’s not what I meant, smartass! What are you doing out of class?”

“I’m sick.”

“You don’t look sick.”

He took his eyes off himself in the mirror and leaned in close to me, sniffing.

“Get away from me!” I said. “What I have might be contagious.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in American history?”

“It’s none of your business!”

“Are you skipping?”

“Why should you care?”

“As class president, I’m supposed to report anybody skipping class.”

“Go to hell!” I said.

He grabbed me by the collar and pulled me toward him, holding his right arm back like he was going to hit me in the face. “What did you just say to me?” he said.

“I said, ‘go to hell’.”

He roughed me up a little bit but didn’t hit me. He finished by pushing me into the sink. “You stupid little baby!” he spat out viciously.

“You’re a big man, aren’t you,” I said. “Going around telling everybody what to do!”

“I’m going down to Mr. Crawford’s office right now and write up a report stating that you’re loitering in the bathroom when you’re supposed to be in class.”

“I hope you break your leg going down the steps,” I said.

I went to the library to hide out for the rest of the period. I wandered around in the dusty stacks for a while and then went all the way to the back and sat down on the floor in the corner. I opened a book on my knees so if I heard anybody coming I’d pretend to be reading.

I was starting to feel a little less like vomiting. The quiet and the smell of old books made me sleepy, so I leaned my head against the wall and dozed off like a bum sleeping it off in an alley.

“Here he is!” Somebody said in a loud voice.

I jerked awake and saw Dutch Farquhar looking down at me. Behind him was Mr. Crawford, the principal.

“I was sure he’d be here!” Dutch said triumphantly.

“Here, here!” Mr. Crawford said. “What do you think you’re doing? Sleeping on the floor in the library!”

“I was feeling sick,” I said, standing up.

“You haven’t been drinking, have you?”

“No!”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in class?”

“American history class,” Dutch said.

“I was afraid I was going to vomit,” I said. “I didn’t want to do it where everybody could see me.”

Mr. Crawford took hold of my arm above the elbow and squeezed. I was sure he was going to make a bruise and I was sorry there wasn’t anybody else there besides Dutch to see it.

“Skipping class won’t be tolerated in this school,” he said in a low voice close to my ear. I could smell his cologne and it was worse than the starfish. “Do you want a suspension?”

“No,” I said. “I just want my high school years to be over.”

“Do you need me to help you with him?” Dutch asked.

“No, thanks,” Mr. Crawford said. “I can take it from here.”

“Before you tell somebody else to go to hell,” Dutch said to me with his demonic smile, “think about who you’re talking to.”

“That’s fine, Dutch,” Mr. Crawford said. “You may go now.” To me he said, “Proper disciplinary action will be taken at an appropriate time, but, for now, you may go to your next class, and if you even think about skipping class again you’ll be faced with a three-day suspension. Think what that will do to your scholastic record and to your chances of getting into a good college.”

My next class was gym class, which was worse than all the others put together. I went to the locker room and changed out of my “street clothes” into the ridiculous-looking, baggy red shorts, a stretched-out tee shirt and my grass-stained high-top tennis shoes that were too small for me and made my toes hurt.

While we were all standing around waiting for the teacher to arrive so the class could begin, I spotted Dutch Farquhar about twenty feet away, bouncing a basketball. When he saw me and gave me a look of bemused hatred, I held his gaze and mouthed the words go to hell. I know he knew what I was saying.

The physical education teacher was Mr. Bliss, or “coach,” as he liked to be called. He was four feet, eleven inches tall, and he always wore a gray sweat suit and sweatpants with a whistle around his neck.

“All right now, everybody!” he yelled and blew his whistle. “Time for warm-up!”

As bad as the warm-up was, it wasn’t as bad as the game of volleyball or basketball that followed. We stood in rows as Mr. Bliss faced us and directed us in the knee bends, sit-ups, pushups, and jumping jacks.

It was during the jumping jacks that I vomited on the floor, a thick green mass that looked exactly like the insides of the starfish. Everybody stopped jumping and looked at me. I bent forward to vomit again and fainted face down in what I had just deposited on the floor. It was only the second time in my life that I fainted. The first time was when I was eight and had the flu.

When I came to, everybody was standing around in a circle watching me in fascination. I had really spiced up their boring old gym class. Mr. Bliss was kneeling beside me, waving a bottle of smelling salts under my nose.

“He’s coming around,” he said.

“I want to go home,” I said.

“Can you make it to the nurse’s office?”

“She doesn’t like me. I pushed her down the stairs once.”

As I stood up, Mr. Bliss took hold of my arm. “Go get dressed,” he said, “and go see the nurse.”

“I don’t know,” I said, wobbling for effect. “I feel like I’m going to faint again.”

“Dutch!” he barked. “Go with him and help him get dressed!”

Dutch stepped forward, ready once again to fulfill his role as student leader.

“I don’t need any help from him!” I said. “Just give me time!

I went down to the deserted locker room, cleaned the vomit off my face and out of my hair and put my clothes back on. As I was leaving the locker room, I noticed the door to Dutch’s locker was partway open. I approached the locker, pulled the door open all the way and looked inside. There, on the top shelf, was his expensive wrist watch that one of his admirers had given him. I slipped the watch into my pocket and deposited it in a trashcan on my way to the nurse’s office.

I walked into her office and vomited again, all over the floor. Now, I have to tell you, there’s nothing like vomiting to get people’s attention. You can say you’re sick, but vomiting clinches it.

She dropped what she was doing and came running toward me with a kidney-shaped metal pan. She told me to lie back on the cot and she put a wet cloth on my head. When she took my temperature and saw I had a fever, she called my mother and told her to come and get me.

When I got home, I got straight into bed in my clothes. My mother stood in the doorway and harangued me, as usual.

“Why did you choose today of all days to be sick?” she asked.

“I figured it was time,” I said.

“Algebra test today?”

“No, I failed that last week.”

“Well, I have to tell you,” she said, “sometimes when you say you’re sick I don’t believe you, but today you look sick.”

“Thank you,” I said.

When I refused to see the doctor, she got him on the phone and brought the phone to me in bed. I told him about dissecting the starfish and what happened after that at school, and he said it sounded like I had a stomach virus that was going around. He told me to stay at home from school for a few days and rest and not eat any seafood. Those words, I discovered, are among the most beautiful in the English language.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Boardwalk Empire, Season 5 ~ A Capsule Review

Boardwalk Empire poster

Boardwalk Empire, Season Five ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp 

Boardwalk Empire is in its fifth and final season on HBO. Whereas the other seasons were set in the 1920s, season five skips ahead to the 1930s. 1931 finds Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, “one of the most powerful bootleggers in the country,” in Cuba with his business associate and sometime girlfriend Sally Wheet. Anticipating the end of Prohibition (the Volstead Act), Nucky is negotiating to become the distributor for Bacardi rum in the United States. He is looking to transform himself from an illegal businessman to a legal one. He has to be careful, though; other gangsters, principally Charles “Lucky” Luciano, want to rub him out. It’s a cutthroat business and the major players think nothing of bumping each other off in any number of ugly ways.

In the meantime, in Chicago, Al Capone is riding high. We’ve seen Al throughout all four seasons, but now that he is “on top,” he is especially vulgar, loud-mouthed and psychotic. He beats an associate to death with an Empire State Building figure that somebody gave him as a gift for laughing too long at a joke and for calling somebody a jerk. The “feds” are after Al for income tax evasion, but he believes they won’t be able to make it stick, any more than any of the other charges that have been brought against him.

If you are a fan and a follower of the show, you know that Gillian Darmody, mother of the now-dead Jimmy Darmody, was busted at the end of season four for a murder-of-convenience she committed in an earlier season. We find her at the beginning of season five in a mental institution with yowling inmates rather than prison. It seems the jury found her “temporarily insane” when she did her dirty deed. There’s a chance she will someday walk free if she can use her feminine wiles to convince the people in charge that she is cured of her insanity. Don’t count her out just yet.

Nucky’s estranged wife, Margaret, has been working in a brokerage firm in the intervening years. She had a “business relationship” with gangster Arnold Rothstein whereby she gave him stock tips and he gave her a decent apartment to live in with her two children in a building he owned. When Arnold Rothstein dies, his widow tries to extort money from Margaret, believing, wrongly, that she was his mistress. Margaret, not having seen Nucky for years, goes to him for help since her being “Mrs. Nucky Thompson” is the reason Mrs. Rothstein targeted her.

Albert “Chalky” White, Nucky’s former partner in the nightclub business, was in prison but escaped while on a chain gang. He took along another prisoner in the escape but soon had to kill him when they were terrorizing two women, a mother and daughter, and things got out of hand. (His killing the other prisoner actually saved the women’s lives.) Chalky has to stay hidden, of course, since he is a prison escapee, but he makes it back to Nucky, who agrees to help him to hide. He eventually comes face to face again with his former mistress, Daughter Maitland.

Pug-faced, former Prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden has been hiding out all these years (he killed two people, including his partner) under an assumed identity in Cicero, Illinois, with a strange Swedish woman who started out as his nanny. (You will remember he fathered a child with one of Nucky’s castoff girlfriends and had another child with the Swedish woman.) While working for the Capone gang, one of the mobsters identifies him as a former “prohee.” An undercover police office, pretending to be part of Capone’s gang, identifies him later from mug shots.

In addition to these recent developments in the lives of the characters we have come to know over four seasons, season five also gives us a glimpse into Nucky Thompson’s past, giving his character more depth. Through flashbacks, we see him first as an adolescent and then as a young man. (The two actors who play Nucky at different times in his life meld perfectly in appearance with the older, middle-aged Nucky.)

Nucky has an unhappy, disadvantaged childhood. His father is brutish and uneducated; his mother seems helpless. He sees his younger sister die because the family is too poor to get adequate medical care for her. He envisions a brighter, better future for himself in which he has plenty of money.

As an adolescent, he begins working for “the commodore,” a shadowy political figure/gangster in Atlantic City. He sweeps sand off the porch of the hotel the commodore owns and eventually is taken into the “business.” As a young adult, he enters the world of local politics and begins to see how he might become wealthy. Prohibition gives him his chance, making him wealthy and powerful.

Boardwalk Empire is bloody and violent and there is sure to be at least one gratuitous sex scene per episode. If you are like me and the sex stuff makes you cringe but the violence doesn’t bother you, well, you should know that there’s lots of other stuff here that makes the show worth watching, including intelligent writing, credible characters, and tons of period details in cars, clothes, interiors and music. Of course it’s not the same without my favorite character, the tragically disfigured Richard Harrow, who died at the end of season 4, but it’s still the best show on television. I may be a little prejudiced, though, since it’s the only show I watch. 

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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