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The Lament for Icarus ~ A Painting by Henry James Draper

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The Lament for Icarus by Herbert James Draper

The Lament for Icarus by Henry James Draper

Herbert James Draper was an English Classicist painter who lived from 1863 to 1920.

The Lament for Icarus (1898) is Draper’s most famous painting. It shows Icarus from Greek mythology, surrounded by lamenting sea nymphs. His father, Daedalus, makes wings out of wax so that he and Icarus can escape from the island of Crete. Icarus flies too near the sun, though, and he plunges to his death when the wings melt.

The Hundred-Foot Journey ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot Journey ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

An Indian family, the Kadams (father, three grown children and two smaller children), are displaced from their home and restaurant business in Mumbai, India, due to political unrest. Traveling in France, looking for a place to call home, they decide to stay in the little French village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val after their van breaks down near there. After living in the village for a while, they open a restaurant and call it Maison Mumbai. One of the grown sons in the family, Hassan, will be the chef. Hassan learned everything about being a chef from his deceased mother and is really good at which he does, but how will an ethnic restaurant fare in such an obviously traditional place, especially since right across the road is an established restaurant run by one Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren)?

Right away Madame Mallory is not happy about having an Indian restaurant so near her own establishment. She doesn’t like the music, the bright lights, the gaudy embellishments and the disruption. A sort of war erupts between the two restaurants, with Madame Mallory playing little tricks on the Kadams such as buying up all the crayfish from the market, while the Kadams counter with trying to lure some of Madame Mallory’s customers away. When Maison Mumbai is firebombed and Hassan’s hands are injured in trying to put out the fire, Madame Mallory suspects that one of her employees is behind the incident. She fires him and decides it’s time for her and the Kadams to come to some kind of an arrangement whereby they might all peacefully co-exist.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is about the clash of two cultures and how those cultures might benefit each other by way of a little understanding. The romantic complications are predictable and resolve themselves predictably. Since Hassan is handsome and young, he just has to have a love affair with a pretty French girl, doesn’t he? (The girl is a rival chef, so that adds another dimension to the story.) Toward the end of the story when Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam seem to be drifting toward each other romantically, it’s a little bit cringe-inducing, especially since there seems to be so little chemistry between them.

The accents in The Hundred-Foot Journey are difficult to understand for people who speak American, but if you like European-based “art” films and are a fan of Helen Mirren, you’ll probably enjoy this movie enough to make it worth the time and effort. The food is exotic and pretty to look at, even if you don’t know what it is. What is that purple thing that looks like the bottom half of a bird? Do I eat it or display it on my mantel?

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Schizophrenia

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Schizophrenia ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

The hallway was a gray tunnel with a black-and-white tiled floor. The boy kept his eyes on the window at the end to keep from having to look into any of the rooms as he passed them. When he and his father came to the last room on the left, his father pushed open the partly closed door and they went inside.

He hardly recognized his mother. Her hair was flat and dirty-looking, without the curl that he was used to seeing. She sat in a chair beside the bed, unmoving. Her face was very pale.

“Say hello to your mother,” his father said.

The boy stepped forward two steps. His mother moved her eyes away from a spot on the wall and looked at his face and then looked away again, as if she didn’t recognize him, or, if she did recognize him, she wasn’t interested.

“Shock treatments,” his father said. “It takes a while for it to wear off.”

“Hello, mother,” the boy said. “How have you been?”

He touched her lightly on the wrist, believing that his touch might wake her up, but she didn’t respond.

“I don’t think she knows me,” the boy said. “What should I do?”

“Don’t do anything,” his father said. “She’ll remember later that you were here.”

“Why does she have to have shock treatments?”

“Schizophrenia.”

“I don’t like this place.”

“I don’t like it, either, but she’s where she needs to be.”

The boy sat in one of the straight-backed chairs against the wall. “Will I have schizophrenia, too, because she does?” he asked.

“I don’t see it in you the way I always saw it in her,” his father said, “but we’ll see. The first sign I see that you’re that way, I’ll have you committed.”

“When will they let her come home?”

“Maybe not for a long time yet. We’ll have to get along without her the best we can, at least for the time being.”

“Don’t you think she’d get well quicker at home?”

“How would we be able to take care of her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the doctor could stop by every now and then and see how she’s getting along.”

“Doctor’s don’t do that.”

“I think she’d be all right,” the boy said, “if she just didn’t have to sit by herself in this dark room.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” his father said, sitting down and taking a cigarette out of his pocket and lighting it.

“If she would just say something to me to let me know she knows who I am,” the boy said.

“Why is that so important?”

“I don’t know. It feels funny to have your mother stare off into space and not know who you are.”

“I think it’s good for you to see her this way.”

“Why?” the boy asked.

“You need to know what things are really like. Then when she comes home and seems normal, you’ll have the picture in your mind of what she was like when she wasn’t normal, and you’ll know what to expect when it happens again.”

“Maybe it won’t happen again.”

“Maybe not, but it’s something you’ll always be thinking about.”

“I just want her to be the way she was before she got the way she is now,” the boy said.

Outside a lawn mower roared past the window. She turned toward the sound and pushed herself up out of the chair. The boy and his father watched her closely as she shuffled the few steps to the window in her old-lady booties.

“She can walk!” the boy said.

“Of course she can walk,” his father said. “There’s nothing wrong with her legs. It’s her mind that’s diseased.”

The boy went and stood beside her, to help her if need be. She watched the man outside pushing the lawn mower, first one way and then the other. When he was finished with that section of grass and went farther away where she could no longer see him, she turned toward the boy.

“I know him,” she said. “I used to go to school with him.”

The boy smiled at her and helped her back to the chair, happy that she had shown some signs of life.

“Do you want me to go get you a Coke?” he asked when she was sitting down again.

She shook her head and the boy was further encouraged.

“I think she does know who I am,” he said.

Soon visiting hours were over and the boy and his father had to leave. As they walked past the nurses’ station, two nurses were sitting there, a young one with red hair and an old one with a scowl on her face. The boy’s father stopped and leaned casually on the desk.

“Well, hello there!” the redheaded nurse said when she looked up. “How’s your wife today?”

“Just peachy,” the boy’s father said. “Is her doctor in today? I’d like to have a word with him.”

“He was here earlier,” the nurse said, “but now he’s gone. He won’t be back until tomorrow. I can leave him a note telling him you’d like to speak to him.”

“Would you?”

“Of course!”

“You know my name?”

“Yes, I believe so,” the nurse said. “It’s Mr. Dunlap, isn’t it?”

“Mr. Dunlap has a first name, you know.”

She giggled and her face turned a deeper shade of pink. “I think I know that, too,” she said. “It’s Dick.”

“Hah-hah-hah!” he laughed. “You get a gold star!”

“I’m very good at remembering names and faces,” she said.

“I suppose I should feel flattered. Your name is Miss Hull, isn’t it?”

“My friends call me Vilma.”

“That’s an unusual name, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever known a Vilma before.”

“I think my mother knew somebody once by that name.”

“Well, it’s very pretty.”

“Why, thank you!”

“Well,” he said, “visiting hours are over and I have to leave, but I’ll be seeing you again real soon.”

“Why, yes!” she said. “I’m sure to be sitting right here the next time you come in.”

“I look forward to it,” he said with his most charming smile.

On the way home, the boy asked his father, “Who was that woman?”

“What woman?” his father asked.

“That woman you were talking to.”

“How should I know? She’s a nurse.”

“Do you think she’s pretty?”

“I don’t know. I guess so. Why?”

“Her lips were really red.”

“Were they?” the boy’s father said. “I didn’t notice.”

“You seemed to like her.”

“It always pays to be friendly to people.”

“You weren’t friendly with the other nurse sitting there. The ugly one.”

“What are you saying?”

“Why were you only friendly with the pretty one?”

His father took the cigarette out of his mouth and looked at the boy. “I’m not going to be cross-examined by a twelve-year-old who doesn’t know anything!” he said.

For the rest of the day the boy gave his father the silent treatment. He refused to eat with him at the table. In the early evening he locked himself in his room, took off all his clothes except for his underwear, and examined himself in the mirror for any signs of schizophrenia.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Sailors and Floozies ~ A Painting by Paul Cadmus

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Paul Cadmus ~ Sailors and Floozies

Sailors and Floozies by Paul Cadmus

Paul Cadmus was an American painter who lived from 1904 to 1999. His works combined elements of eroticism and social critique to produce a style referred to as magic realism.

The 1938 painting Sailors and Floozies depicts sailors in Riverside Park, near a monument called the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial. Three sailors are meeting their girlfriends (floozies) and there is garbage and litter all around them. The painting was very controversial in its day. Many critics considered it “tawdry, repulsive, and unpatriotic” because it depicted drunk sailors at the dawn of the Second World War.

Catch-22 ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Catch-22 cover

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp 

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller was first published in 1961 and is one of the landmark American novels of the twentieth century, ranking number seven on the Modern Library’s list of the hundred best books in the English language of the twentieth century. It is an irreverent account of one man’s experiences in World War II on the fictional island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy.

John Yossarian is a twenty-eight-year-old American bombardier of Assyrian descent who isn’t a hero or a patriot, but is more of an antihero. He seems not to care much about the war or who wins it. He has flown a certain number of bombing missions over Italy to fight the Germans and he believes he has flown enough. He wants nothing more than to survive the war and to be sent home while he is still alive. Anytime he completes the requisite number of missions, an ass of a superior officer raises the number of missions in an effort to bring glory to himself and to impress his superior officers (possibly have an article about himself in the Saturday Evening Post). Yossarian is told he might be relieved of flying more missions if he makes such a request to a senior officer, but the only trouble is that only crazy people can be relieved of flying more missions and anybody who asks to be relieved isn’t really crazy and so can’t be relieved. This is the “catch-22” in the situation. There are many catch-22s throughout the novel.

The army in Catch-22 resembles more a lunatic asylum than a disciplined fighting force. The officers in charge are vain, pompous, petty, self-serving, insecure, vindictive and jealous. (Just like in the real world, these people exist everywhere.) With such as this in charge, how can you go right?

Catch-22 is filled with satire, irony, paradox and dark humor. Besides the maddeningly memorable officers, there are whores (one of whom tries to kill Yossarian because she believes he is responsible for the death of her boyfriend), an insecure chaplain, a young man who is cut to ribbons by the propeller of a plane when he attempts to touch the bottom in a playful gesture (his severed legs lie on the beach and nobody wants to go near them), a mess officer who corners every market including Egyptian cotton, a patient in the hospital who is so encased in bandages that nobody can be sure if there’s anybody inside or not, and a seductive nurse with whom Yossarian has an affair until she decides he’s not the kind of fellow she should be associating with. A memorable cast of characters that you might meet in your bad dreams. If war is hellish idiocy, the people who conduct the war are worse.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Know the Devil by His Name

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Know the Devil by His Name ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

It was a long time ago. I was walking along a deserted country road through hills and farm country. I didn’t know where I was going or why I was going there. I didn’t know where I had been or what I had seen or known. My feet ached and my throat was dry, but I wasn’t bothered by those things. I believed that all I had to do was to keep moving forward and everything would come right with me.

Birds twittered over my head in the trees. A small brown fox came out from behind a tree and watched me pass. I heard a dog barking faintly, a long way off, but I never did see a dog or any living soul the dog might have been attached to.

Until I heard the sound of a wagon coming along behind me on the road. I heard it long before I saw it. When I finally turned around and looked over my shoulder, I saw a man in a devil costume driving a small, neat wagon pulled by one handsome brown horse. I stopped and turned toward him and he pulled up beside me.

“Where you headed?” he asked as though we were old friends.

Not knowing what to say, I just pointed in the direction in which I had been walking.

“You don’t know where you’re going, do you?” he said.

“Is that common in these parts?” I asked.

“I could use some company and I believe you could use a sit-down,” he said. “Why don’t you hop up here and ride with me, at least for a short distance, anyway?”

“Do you have any water?” I asked.

He reached behind him and produced a canteen, which he tossed at me. Liking him already, I smiled and got up beside him on the seat; he jiggled the reins to make the horse start moving again.

I drank and then drank again. “That is the best water I ever tasted,” I said.

He nodded his head and inclined his right horn toward me, which was above his right eye about three-and-a-half inches.

“Are you on your way to a costume party?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“I didn’t think you were, because it isn’t anywhere near the time of the year for Halloween, is it?”

“Time of the year don’t matter to me,” he said.

“Are you the devil?” I asked.

“I’m not the devil. I’m a devil. There are lots of us. I’ve never even seen the devil, the one we call Beelzebub. I’m not important enough.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“There are angels who do the work of the Lord. Don’t you agree?”

“I suppose so,” I said.

“Well, if there are angels doing the work of the Lord, there’s also the reverse side of the coin. There are devils doing the work of Beelzebub.”

“I think I should probably have you stop the wagon and let me out right here,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Anytime I find myself in the company of a devil, it’s probably not a good thing.”

“You could do worse,” the devil said.

“I don’t know how! What’s worse than a devil?”

“You’d better hope you never find out.”

“No, if you’ll stop right here,” I said. “I think I’ll get out and walk the rest of the way.”

“If you do that, you won’t fulfill your destiny,” the devil said.

“And what is my destiny?”

“Just stay with me a little longer. I guarantee you won’t be sorry you did. If we stay on this road, we’ll come to the big city. You’ll love it. There’s everything you want in the city.”

“I don’t want to go to any city, especially with you! It’s nothing personal, but you are the devil.”

“I’m not the devil, I told you. I’m a devil.”

“It’s all the same to me.”

“There’s just one problem about the two of us going to the city,” the devil said. “We’re going to need some money to be able to have a good time there. We’ll need to buy some clothes and get a room in a fine hotel and order lavish meals from room service.”

“I don’t need money to have a good time in the city because I’m not going there!” I said.

Ignoring me, the devil pulled up in a front of a little house set back from the road prettily in a grove of trees.

“What are we stopping here for?” I asked.

“There’s an old lady that lives here,” the devil said. “She always keeps lots of money on hand. All you have to do is hit her in the head and knock her out and take her money. I’ll wait right here.”

“That is the most outrageous thing I ever heard!” I said. “I’m not knocking anybody in the head and taking their money!”

“You don’t have to kill her. Just stun her.”

“I’m not doing any such thing!”

“The devil commands you!”

“You’ll have to find somebody else to command. I won’t do it.”

“If you don’t do it, somebody else will.”

“I suppose I ought to go warn her, then,” I said.

I jumped to the ground and went up to the house and knocked on the door. In a moment a little old lady in lavender and lace came to the door. When she saw me, she smiled and beckoned me to enter.

“It’s that devil again, isn’t it?” she said with a cluck of the tongue.

“He told me to knock you in the head and take your money. I have no intention of doing it, but I wanted to warn you that if I don’t do it somebody else will.”

She surprised me by putting her hand over her mouth and giggling like a schoolgirl. I had the feeling she was laughing at me for believing what a devil would say. She picked up a canvas bag from a desk and opened it; took out a handful of fake stage money and handed it to me.

“Tell the devil that’s all the money he’ll get from me,” she said, “and a fat lot of good it’ll do him!”

“He’s not the devil,” I said. “He’s a devil. Apparently there’s a difference.”

When I went back to the wagon, the devil was examining the backs of his hands in the sunlight as if he had forgotten me. I climbed back up beside him and handed him the fake stage money.

“Humph!” he said. “I see she’s up to her old tricks.”

“You know her?” I asked.

“She’s just another old devil,” he said. “She’s been at it a lot longer than I have.”

“She certainly didn’t look like a devil,” I said. “She looked like somebody’s grandmother.”

“Another lesson learned,” he said. “You can’t always go on the way a person looks. A good-looking person can be a devil and a horrible-looking guttersnipe can be an angel.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Things are not supposed to be too easy for us,” he said. “We’re supposed to figure things out for ourselves. With me it’s different, though. I wear this devil costume so people know as soon as they look at me that I’m a devil but not the devil.”

“Well, I’m glad I didn’t have to hit her in the head, anyway,” I said, “even if she is a devil. I guess if I had had to hit her in the head, though, knowing she was a devil would have made it easier.”

The devil gave me a look as if he was getting tired of me already. “Inescapable logic,” he said.

He looked at the fake stage money in his hand again and tossed it into the back of the wagon.

“Well, I believe I’ll be getting out just about here,” I said. “If you’ll stop the wagon there by that little bridge.”

The devil seemed not to hear me. “We’ll have to put our two heads together and figure out somewheres else to get some money,” he said thoughtfully.  

Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp

Remembering Gertrude Bines

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Remembering Gertrude Biles

Remembering Gertrude Bines ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

El-Vee had a lucrative beauty parlor on Main Street between a hardware store and a delicatessen. All day long, every day, she stood on her feet, curling, cutting and dyeing hair while listening to an endless stream of blather, innuendo, distasteful personal revelation and catty gossip from her customers. At closing time she was so tired and frazzled, so sick of the sound of the human voice, that she wanted to pull out her own hair, but she looked at all that beautiful cash in the cash drawer and that was what made it all worth the effort.

One Friday afternoon (Friday was always her busiest day), while she was just finishing up on up on Mrs. Coolidge’s hair—a foot-high confection of swirling, pink-tinged white cloud—she heard the roar of a truck outside and loud voices and, looking out the window, saw that a new business was moving in across the street. As she was to learn a few days later, when the place opened for business, it was called Gertrude’s Wig Shop. It boasted in signs in the windows its stock of wigs of all kinds, hairpieces, hats, scarves, turbans, babushkas, and other assorted headwear for women and girls.

At first she wasn’t sure how a wig shop was going to affect her beauty parlor business, or if it would affect it at all. When they put up a huge sign across the front of the wig shop that proclaimed in large red letters You Don’t Need a Beauty Parlor—You Need a Wig!, she was disconcerted, believing it was a direct shot across the bow of her ship. When she saw a full-page ad for the wig shop in the newspaper, she began to be worried. The ad read, in part: Don’t Spend Beaucoup Dollars Getting Your Hair Styled Every Week! Buy a Wig Instead that Stays Styled! Nobody Will Ever Know It’s Not Your Real Hair!

Wondering if such tactics were legal, she consulted a lawyer, a boy she had known since seventh grade named Leroy Follett.

“I can’t see there’s any harm in it,” Leroy said. “Certainly nothing for you to take legal action against. Just think of it as healthy competition.”

“What if it takes away some of my customers?”

“You have the right to do the same to them.”

“How do I do that?”

“When you find out,” Leroy said, “you let me know.”

When she began to see a falling off in her business and hence in her profits, she attributed it to curiosity. Her customers would flirt with the idea of buying a wig but then would return to their old habits of having their twigs twisted every week. Wigs were fakery, no matter how good they looked. There was nothing like one’s natural hair, even if it was brittle, ugly, thinning and unhealthy-looking. To try to lure in new customers—and retain her old ones—she hired a manicure girl and offered free manicures. Then she hired a cosmetologist to give facials and makeup tips. These two extra people ate into her profits, of course, but she believed that hiring them would prove beneficial—in the long term if not in the short term.

After a few weeks, she and her two new employees were doing a lot of sitting around doing nothing in the long gaps—sometimes two hours—between customers. She began to worry about how she was going to meet expenses for the month when she decided to go across the street to the wig shop herself, something she had vehemently avoided doing before, to see what all the excitement was about.

She winced when she saw how busy the store was and how many people were spending money. When a sales clerk came forward and asked her if she needed help, she said she needed to speak to Gertrude herself.

Gertrude was a large, broad-shouldered woman with red hair and lots of makeup. As she approached El-Vee, she wore her fixed, professional smile.  “Help you?” she asked.

“Are you Gertrude?” El-Vee asked.

“Yes. How may I help you?”

“I just want you to know you’re hurting my business.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“My name is El-Vee Persons. I own the beauty parlor across the street. You’re taking away my customers.”

“Oh, boo-hoo! And just what do you want me to do about it?”

“Move to another location.”

“Hah! Now, why would I do that. Because you want me to?”

“I could always bust you in the nose,” El-Vee said.

“I could always have you arrested for assault.”

“My brother is a career criminal with mob ties.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“Not exactly, but it’s something you might want to keep in mind. You can’t destroy another person’s business and expect them to stand idly by and allow you to do it.”

That night, as El-Vee was trying to get to sleep, a thought came to her unbidden from deep in the recesses of her mind. Gertrude was somebody she had known at one time, although she couldn’t remember the last name. She got out of bed and pulled a box from the back of the closet.

She hadn’t looked at her old high school yearbook or even thought about it in a dozen or more years. She turned on the light and sat down on the couch and began thumbing through the pages. Soon she found what she was looking for: seventeen-year-old Gertrude Bines in the eleventh grade—elaborate red hairdo, self-satisfied smile and a “beauty mark” on her cheek.

It all came back to her. She and Gertrude had been rivals in high school. Rivals for homecoming queen, rivals for yearbook editor and rivals for love. (They fought over the school’s star football player who turned out to prefer members of his own gender). They both seemed to be good at the same things. If one of them could bake a lemon cake, the other could make a lemon chiffon cake. If one of them could make a party dress, the other could make an evening gown. El-Vee hated rivalry then and she hated it now. Rivalry only made life more difficult and ruined everything. In a perfect world, she thought, she would always be at the top of the heap and there’d be no such thing as rivalry. With a flick of a switch, she’d make it disappear.

She contacted her brother, Everett Persons (the one of her three brothers who flirted with gangsterhood), and asked him to meet her at a restaurant out on the highway for supper. She was buying, she said, and she had something she wanted to talk over with him.

After she explained the situation to Everett, he said, “I’m afraid she’s got you over a barrel, sis. She’s not doing anything wrong.”

“Yes, I know,” El-Vee said. “It’s just healthy competition.”

“I could have her roughed up a bit for you. Break her legs.”

“No, I don’t like that. How much to kill her?”

“You’d want a professional job. Between five and ten thousand, depending on who you got to do the deed.”

“Any other ideas?”

“We could start a little fire to put her out of business,” Everett said, “but there’s no guarantee she wouldn’t just clean up at the expense of her insurance company and reopen.”

“No, I don’t like a fire, either. It could hurt others besides her.”

“How about a little fear and intimidation? Death threats? A brick through the front window?

“I don’t know if any of that would work.”

“Well, I’ll think about it and talk to a couple of my friends and get back to you. I’d advise you to go slow with this thing. Don’t do anything you can’t undo or that you’re going to be sorry you did.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me!” El-Vee said.

“And if you decide to do the deed yourself, I’m sure I can get some of my associates to dispose of the body for you.”

One morning a few days later when El-Vee was alone in the beauty parlor before her first customer arrived, Gertrude Bines came rushing in.

“I need to speak to you,” she said.

“Sorry,” El-Vee said. “We’re all booked up. You’ll need to call for an appointment.”

“My store was broken into last night,” Gertrude said.

“What do you want me to do about it? Bust our crying?”

“They didn’t steal anything. All they did was break some things and make a mess. I believe it was some kind of warning or intimidation.”

“Did you call the police?”

“They’re there now.”

“Well, good luck with finding out who did it.”

“I think you know who did it,” Gertrude said.

“That’s silly. How would I know?”

“I think you’d do anything to get back at me.”

El-Vee laughed and began washing some brushes. “I’d like to stand here and chat all day,” she said, “but I’ve got lots of work to do. So, if you’ll excuse me?”

“I wondered if you recognized me when you came into my shop the other day,” Gertrude said. “We used to know each other in high school.”

“I didn’t give it a thought,” El-Vee said.

“I was the prettiest and most popular girl in school,” Gertrude said. “You were a distant second. Or maybe third.”

“What a memory you have. Those things don’t matter to me any more.”

“Isn’t it ironic that we should meet again all these years later after we detested each other so much when we were younger?”

“I didn’t go to college,” El-Vee said, “so I don’t know what words like ‘ironic’ mean.”

“I think you know what I’m talking about. I can see it in your body language.”

“Well, I guess I’m just not as smart as you are.”

“Why don’t you admit you’re defeated?” Gertrude said.

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

“All your former customers are buying wigs from me. They don’t want their natural hair anymore. A wig is easier and is cheaper in the long run, too.”

“Well, to each his own.”

“Why don’t you admit your business is kaput? I have bested you once again, as I did at every turn in high school. I think you’d do better if you moved to another location.”

“I’ve been here for five years,” El-Vee said. “I have no intention of moving.”

“Even after I’ve taken away all your customers?”

El-Vee walked around behind Gertrude and began looking at the back of her hair. “You’re not wearing a wig,” she said. “You need a trim.”

“My hair is perfect,” Gertrude said.

“No, really,” El-Vee said. “You have a few little loose hairs right at the back of the neck. Sit down and I’ll take care of it for you. No charge.”

Gertrude sighed and sat in the chair. El-Vee put the cape around her shoulders and turned the chair around just so.

“You do remember me from high school, don’t you?” Gertrude asked.

“My memory is not as sharp as it should be,” El-Vee said. “When I was in the state mental hospital a few years back, I had electroshock therapy. What they call shock treatments. It removes certain memories from your mind the same as if they never existed at all. I guess you were just one of those bad memories that was just swept away.”

“We needn’t have any bad feelings,” Gertrude said.

“Needn’t we?”

“I’d like to think we were friends.”

“Why would you want to be friends with me?”

“I just don’t like ill will, is all.”

“There’s no ill will here. Anything that happened between us is forgiven and forgotten.”

“Then you do remember me?”

El-Vee snipped at the back of Gertrude’s hair. Her hand was trembling a little so she took off more than she intended. “I remember lots of people,” she said. “It’s all a mixed-up blur.”

“I want to make you a business proposition,” Gertrude said.

“Go ahead and make it,” El-Vee said.

“I’ll buy out your shop and you can come and work for me.”

“Doing what?”

“I haven’t got that far yet. We’d think of something.”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve never worked for anybody else before.”

“Don’t let pride stand in your way.”

“I don’t think I could stand to work for you,” El-Vee said.

“Why not?”

“I don’t like you. I don’t like your type. I don’t like your looks. I despise everything about you. I detest everything you stand for and represent.”

Gertrude met El-Vee’s eye in the mirror. “You do remember me, then, don’t you?”

“Yes, I remember you.”

El-Vee picked up her longest, sharpest scissors and plunged them into Gertrude’s neck, severing the carotid artery. With blood gushing from her neck, Gertrude fell to the floor and flopped around like a fish out of water. She tried to pull herself up but couldn’t. She burbled blood out of her mouth until she lay still and stopped breathing.

When El-Vee was sure Gertrude was dead, she dragged her body by the ankles across the floor, opened the door to the dank cellar that was never used, and pushed her down the stairs. After cleaning up the blood the best she could, she was ready to receive her first customer of the day.

At nine o’clock that night El-Vee called her brother Everett at home. “There’s a big dead rat in my basement at the beauty parlor,” she said. “I need you to take care of it for me.”

“Tonight?”

“Can you manage it?”

“I don’t know why not.”

“Go in the back way. Nobody will see you.”

The next morning El-Vee was snipping away at an old lady’s hair when she looked up to see three men coming across the street toward her: an older man in a suit, flanked on both sides by young, uniformed police officers. She stood up straight, took a couple of deep breaths to steady herself, and went to the door to meet them. If she was kind to them and cooperative, they would have no reason to suspect she had done anything wrong.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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