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Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez

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Tony and Shirley

Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez ~ A Commentary on The Honeymoon Killers by Allen Kopp 

True story. Grumpy, overweight nurse Martha Beck meets suave gigolo Ray Fernandez through a lonely hearts club. Martha isn’t pretty but she has other qualities that are perhaps more important to Ray: she has a black heart and she’s smarter than the others. She dumps her elderly mother in a rest home, quits her nursing job, and she and Ray embark on a criminal enterprise of cheating silly, vulnerable women out of their money and jewelry and killing them if necessary. All these women have one thing in common: they are lonely and they can’t believe their good fortune that Ray has come into their lives. He’s young, dark and handsome, with an accent that is most appealing.

First there’s the mannish schoolteacher. When she and Ray are married, Martha goes along for the ride as his “sister.” A man having his sister along when he gets married doesn’t seem to arouse the suspicions of the schoolteacher. When Ray doesn’t sleep with her on their wedding night, however, she begins to suspect that something isn’t quite as it should be. The next morning she is chagrined to discover that the two thousand dollars she brought along with her is missing, along with some rings. When she demands the return of these things, Martha coolly offers her a cup of coffee. The schoolteacher wisely packs her things and leaves, wearing a silly-looking hat, but not before threatening Ray and Martha with legal action. They know—and we know—that she is only bluffing and they won’t be bothered with her again. Fairly easy.

Next is the silly (note that “silly” is the operative word here), cleavage-showing, middle-aged woman with the Southern accent. She says she is going to have a baby, apparently not knowing or caring who the father is, and she wants to marry Ray so her family won’t know what a whore she is. When she becomes obstreperous, Martha (again along as Ray’s “sister”) starts to give her pills to calm her down. Whatever the pills are, they must be really strong because soon the woman is dead.

When next we meet Martha and Ray, they are with a horse-faced blonde he met through the lonely hearts club. They are at a river or lake somewhere, preparing to go in swimming. Ray looks better in his swim briefs than he has any right to. Martha looks like a baby hippo in her ruffled bathing suit. Ray and the horse-faced blonde are lying on a blanket at the river’s edge. When Martha observes from a distance that Ray and the horse-faced blonde are close together in a private tête-à-tête on the blanket, she panics. To draw Ray’s attention, she goes farther out into the water than she should, being such a heavy girl, and begins to struggle. Rays sees what’s happening and, leaving the horse-faced blonde behind, plunges into the water to save Martha. The horse-faced blonde, who is maybe a little smarter than Ray has given her credit for, stands on the river bank and observes Ray “rescuing” Martha in the lake. As Ray holds fat Martha in his arms and kisses her, upset at the thought that he might have lost her, the horse-faced blonde sees that they are acting anything but brotherly and sisterly toward each other, connects a few dots and wisely departs.

Then there’s the silly old widow who lies and tells Ray she’s fifty-six when really she is older. He tells her his name is Charles Martin. “Isn’t that cute?” she coos. Ray (or Charles, as she believes) tells her he is forty-five and puts some gray highlights in his dark hair to prove it. Again the old widow doesn’t question the presence of Martha as the sister of her husband-to-be. On the night before they are to be married the next day, Ray entices the old widow to sign over all her assets to his name. “I’m going by the bank early in the morning,” he says. “It will make things easier if we take care of the business tonight.” Suspecting nothing, the old widow does as Ray says. After they retire for the night, though, she begins to worry and can’t sleep. Martha tells her to relax, that everything will be taken care of in the morning, but the old widow isn’t buying it. She gets out of bed and starts making a fuss. She can tell from the way that Ray and Martha are acting that she is in danger. When she says she wants to go out for a walk, even though it’s the middle of the night and she’s in her nightdress, Ray gives Martha a hammer and Martha knows what she is to do with it. She hits the old widow in the back of the head. She screams and goes down but is by no means mortally wounded. “Hit her again!” Ray screams. After they have killed the old widow, Ray is sweating. He sheds the pajamas he’s wearing and begins drinking from a whiskey bottle. Martha goes into the bedroom and gets into bed. We see Ray from behind as he goes into the bedroom where Martha is. He is naked and carrying the bottle. “Are you going to turn the light off?” Martha asks. “Leave it on,” Ray says. “I want to make love.” Sex and death here walk hand in hand.

We see by now that Martha is in love with Ray in her own twisted way. Ray has no interest in his female victims other than what he can get out of them—“I despise those women,” he says—and Martha will make sure it stays that way. She becomes jealous and possessive in the way of women in love. When Ray hooks up through the lonely hearts club with a young widow with an eight-year-old daughter, though, Martha begins to suspect that there is more between them than she finds acceptable. In the interim before the marriage, the young widow confides to Martha as her future sister-in-law that she is carrying Ray’s child. She and Ray just couldn’t keep from “sleeping together” when they were alone in the house. Martha tries to get her to miscarry the baby and when that doesn’t work she shoots her in the head and kills her. When the eight-year-old daughter comes home from school and asks where her mother is, Martha takes her into the basement and kills her, too. Ray then believes that everything will be all right and they can just move on to the next victim, but Martha can’t go on, knowing that Ray has “slept” with—and impregnated—another woman. She calls the police and turns herself and Ray in. They go to jail, of course, and are executed for their crimes. So ends their story.

How much longer could they have gone on if Martha hadn’t learned that Ray was “cheating” on her? She can rob people of their money and kill them when she believes she must, but she absolutely draws the line at infidelity.

Think what Ray and Martha could have done if they had had the Internet. All to the accompaniment of Gustav Mahler.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

By Fernando Botero

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~ By Fernando Botero ~

Using humor and bold colors, Colombian artist Fernando Botero (b. 1932) paints in a fantastical style, rather than a realistic one. 

Family Scene

Family Scene

The Nap

The Nap

Woman With Flowers

Woman With Flowers

House Mariduque

House Mariduque

Domestic Scene

Domestic Scene

Bather on the Beach

Bather on the Beach

Secuestro Express

Secuestro Express

Still Life With Green Soup

Still Life With Green Soup

Man and Woman

Man and Woman

Dancers

Dancers

 

“I Am” by John Clare

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John Clare, English poet

I Am ~ A Classic English Poem by John Clare (1793-1864)

(This poem is featured in episode 5, season 2 of the Showtime series Penny Dreadful.)

I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

I Don’t Want to Miss Any of This

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I Don't Want to Miss Any of This image 2

I Don’t Want to Miss Any of This ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He tap danced in his tennis shoes on the bare wood floor between the kitchen and dining room. He didn’t seem to be able to stand still anymore but always wanted to be dancing. He was ten years old and his name was Alva Fritchie. When his mother called told him to come to supper, he danced his way to the kitchen table, where his mother, father and sister were already seated.

“I’m going to get taps put on my shoes,” Alva said as he sat down.

“I don’t think so,” mother said. “They make marks on the floors.”

“Does it matter?”

“It matters if you have to get down on your hands and knees and try to get rid of them.”

“Dancing is for sissies,” father said. “What do you want to dance for?”

“He’s not really dancing,” Cecelia, his sister, said. “He’s only imitating what he’s seen on TV.”

Cecelia was sixteen. She had washed and pinned up her hair after school and had a scarf on her head, peasant style. She also had an outbreak of acne on her chin.

“I can so dance, pimple face,” he said. “I’m good at it. I can give you a demonstration any time you want.”

“That would be never,” Cecelia said.

“I like to dance. It makes me feel young.”

“You are young,” mother said.

“Anybody can stand and move their feet,” father said. “That doesn’t make it dancing.”

“He’s such an idiot,” Cecelia said.

“Don’t call your brother that,” mother said. “We should be glad he isn’t an idiot. I’ve seen idiots and they’re no laughing matter.”

“Isn’t Bobo Mitchell an idiot?” his father said.

“I think he might be a moron. Or maybe an imbecile. A long time ago I knew the difference but I guess I forgot.”

“I guess you forgot,” father said mockingly. “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know.”

“That’s stupid,” Cecelia said.

“Don’t be disrespectful to your father.”

“He’s disrespectful to me. You hear all the time about kids being disrespectful to their parents. What about parents being disrespectful to their kids?”

“I guess that doesn’t matter so much,” mother said.

“Life’s a bitch,” Alva said.

“We don’t use that kind of language at the supper table,” mother said. “It’s a vulgar, ugly word.”

“Kids at school say it all the time.”

His mother shook her head. “And that’s today’s ten-year-olds,” she said. “I never heard that kind of language until I was married to your father.”

“That’s a kindergarten word compared to the things I hear,” Cecelia said.

“What do you hear?” Alva asked.

“Never mind,” mother said. “Eat your stew.”

“I don’t like it. I want a hamburger.”

“Well, then, why don’t you just hop in your car and run downtown and get yourself one while the rest of us sit here and eat this stew?”

“I don’t have a car,” Alva said. “If I did, I’d get in it and drive a long way from here.”

“Where do you think you’d go?” Cecelia asked.

“I’d go to Hollywood, California and get a job dancing in the movies.”

“Hah!” Cecelia said. “Who’d pay money to see you? You’re a freak!”

“What is this obsession with dancing?” father asked.

“I don’t know,” mother said. “It’s something he saw on TV. Tomorrow it might be something different.”

“All I want to do is dance, dance, dance!” Alva said.

“If you only knew how stupid you look,” Cecelia said.

“Shut up!”

You shut up!”

“Both of you shut up and finish your dinner,” father said.

Alva took a couple bites of the tepid stew and said, “Birdie Leonard went to the bathroom in her pants today at school.”

“Oh, my!” mother said. “Why didn’t she ask to be excused to visit the restroom?”

“I guess she didn’t know she had to go until it started coming out on its own.”

“I’m not sure that’s a fit subject for conversation at the dinner table.”

“What was funny, though, was she started blubbering. Miss Gottschalk slapped her across the mouth.”

“She did not!” Cecelia said. “Teachers aren’t allowed to do that anymore. They can get into a lot of trouble.”

“Well, she wanted to slap her. I could tell she was thinking about it.”

“So, you know what people are thinking now?”

“Sometimes I do.”

“You’re a liar.”

“So they had to call Birdie’s mother to come and get her and take her home. When Birdie got home, she washed off and put on some clean underpants.”

“How do you know what she did when she got home?” Cecelia asked.

“Well, isn’t that what you’d do if you went to the bathroom in your pants at school?”

“Whatever I did, it wouldn’t be any of your business.”

“That’s enough of that kind of talk at the table,” mother said.

“Why don’t you go study up for your driving test so you can fail it again?” Alva said.

“Mother, make him shut up!” Cecelia said.

“You both shut up!” father said. “You’re making my headache worse.”

“He’s such a little weasel.”

“At least I didn’t fail the driving test six times.”

“It was not six times!”

“How many was it then?”

“None of your business! That’s how many it was!”

“You’re a sloppy pig. You’ve got pimples all over your face. You look like a whore!”

“Why don’t you go dance yourself over a cliff and make us all very happy?”

“Don’t you ever let me hear you call your sister a whore again,” mother said. “Do you understand me?”

“I didn’t call her a whore,” Alva said. “I said she looked like a whore.”

“I don’t even want to hear that word.”

“It’s a good word,” father said.

“Don’t encourage him!” mother said.

“I saw her getting into a black car with a man down at the corner,” Alva said.

“Shut up, you little liar! You did not!”

“She was standing there all by herself. She didn’t know I was watching. A man drove up in a black car and stopped. When he got out and walked over to where she was standing, she became all girly and giggly. She flapped her arms and rolled her eyes and waggled her hips.”

“I did not!”

“They talked for a minute and then they both got into the black car and he peeled out.”

“He did not!”

Mother took a deep breath. “What are you saying?” she asked.

“I saw it all and I wished I had had a camera so she wouldn’t be able to lie her way out of it.”

Mother turned and looked closely at Cecelia. “Anything to this?” she asked.

“Oh, he’s got it all wrong. It wasn’t anything like he said.”

“So you did get into a black car with a man you didn’t know?”

“Who said I didn’t know him?”

Hah-hah-hah!” Alva laughed.

“You little snake!” Cecelia said. “I’m going to slit your throat the first chance I get!”

“You’d better explain yourself while your head is still attached to your shoulders,” father said.

“It was Alice Terry’s brother. He’s home on leave from the navy.”

“How old is he?”

“I don’t know. About twenty-two, I guess.”

“What were you doing with him?”

“He was just giving Alice and me a ride to the library.”

“Alice wasn’t there!” Alva said.

“Oh, yes, she was, you little turd! She was in the back seat.”

“I didn’t see her.”

“That’s because her brother has tinted windows on his car.”

“I’m not liking the sound of this,” father said.

“It was all perfectly innocent, believe me.”

“Why should anybody believe a big liar like you?” Alva said.

“That’s enough, Alva!” mother said. “If you’re finished eating, you may go to your room.”

“I want some dessert and, besides, I don’t want to miss any of this.”

“Give me Alice Terry’s telephone number,” mother said. “I’m going to call her and see if she confirms what you’re telling me.”

“She isn’t home.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s going to be in a play at school. They’re having rehearsal tonight.”

“I will be talking to Alice Terry and her mother,” mother said, “even if I have to wait until midnight to do it.”

Cecelia threw down her fork. “Why are you all picking on me?” she said. “I haven’t done anything!”

She began bawling in much the same way that Birdie Leonard had done when she went to the bathroom in her pants at school. Her eyes bulged tragically and bits of food came out her thin-lipped mouth and dripped off her chin. She reminded Alva at that moment of a frog, but he kept it to himself. He would have a new name to taunt her with later, though.

Cecelia ran out of the room with mother right behind her. “Women!” father said to himself. He threw his napkin down disgustedly and went out the back door.

Alva was left alone at the table. He stood up and danced his way to the refrigerator, where he opened the freezer and helped himself to a generous bowlful of chocolate ice cream.

While he sat at the table and ate it, he heard the drama going on upstairs: Cecelia’s wailing, slamming doors and hurried footsteps. Mother would be trying to console Cecelia, as she always did, but Cecelia, at this moment, would be inconsolable.

When he was finished, he left the bowl on the table, pushed the chair in and danced in the big space between the table and the sink. The floor was tile and good for dancing. He was working on some new steps that he made up himself. He would dance the night away if only he could.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

My Sunshine Away ~ A Capsule Book Review

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My Sunshine Away

My Sunshine Away ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

My Sunshine Away, by first-time novelist M. O. Walsh, is set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the late 1980s. The unnamed narrator (referred to only by pronouns) lives in a pleasant middle-class housing development with his mother, his philandering father (he has a girlfriend younger than his daughters), and his two older sisters, Hannah (killed in a traffic accident in her twenties) and Rachel. The narrator harbors an unhealthy adolescent obsession for a girl in the neighborhood named Lindy Simpson. He thinks about her day and night. He fantasizes about her. He climbs into a tree in her yard and spies on her with binoculars. He tries to impress her in the way he cuts his hair and the way he dresses. He envisions a future with her. Everything for him is Lindy, Lindy, Lindy. If you think this doesn’t get tiresome after a couple hundred pages, you are mistaken.

On a summer evening when the narrator and Lindy are sixteen, Lindy is raped. It’s an unusual crime for the neighborhood. The narrator is a suspect for a while (he didn’t do it), as is nearly every other male in the neighborhood. The police are not able to find out who did it. Lindy didn’t get a good look at her assailant. The most tragic consequence of the crime is that Lindy changes: from a sweet, pleasant girl into a rebellious, sullen, foul-mouthed idiot. (Know anybody like this?)

Despite Lindy’s change for the worse, however, the narrator’s obsession for her only grows stronger. (She seems increasingly unworthy of his adulation.) He tries to find out who raped Lindy and in a way carries a burden of guilt because he was outside on the dark night of the rape, saw a male figure lurking around, and was too scared to do anything about it. He doesn’t find an answer until many years later when he and Lindy are in their thirties. Will it help Lindy, even at that late stage, to know who raped her? Probably not.

Being set in Baton Rouge doesn’t make My Sunshine Away a “Southern novel.” While there is some “local color” involving heat, swamps, bugs, crepe myrtle trees and hurricanes, it’s a story that could take place anywhere, in New Mexico or New Jersey. If you want to read a real Southern novel, read As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers or Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor.

My Sunshine Away is a beautifully written first-person narrative, highly readable, if a little wordy and repetitive at times. I liked it a lot when I first started reading it and a lot less about two-thirds of the way through. Where the story starts to go south for me is the mutual telephone masturbation scene between the narrator and Lindy. (I think this is what they call “phone sex.” Yuck.) Anyway, the last one-third of the book was a chore for me to get through. The narrator’s obsession with Lindy began to grow thin for me at the point where she turns into such a jerk and such an unlikeable person. His mostly absent father should have taken him aside and told him that Lindy was bad news and that he was wasting his time and emotional energy on her. She will cause you nothing but heartache. Don’t put yourself through that if you don’t have to. Or words to that effect.

The last thirty or forty pages of the book, while compellingly written (as the whole book is), are a little treacly and female-oriented for my taste, as if the writer is going for a female audience here. If you don’t roll your eyes through these pages (rhapsodizing about pregnancy, parenthood and love), you have a much stronger constitution that I do.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The Arnolfini Portrait (1434) by Jan Van Eyck

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~ The Arnolfini Portrait ~
(1434)
By early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck (1390-1441)

The Anolfini Marriage by Van Eyck (1434)

Below is a clever parody of the painting by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, painted in 1978.

After the Arnolfini Van Eyck

His Last Good Time

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His Last Good Time

His Last Good Time ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

He stepped off the bus onto the hot asphalt and looked around at the strange place he was in that he had never seen before. He walked a few blocks and was amazed at the sight of the monoliths that rose hundreds of feet into the air and blotted out the sun. Other people didn’t look up and didn’t seem to notice anything at all other than what was in front of their faces and maybe not even that. When he spotted a well-dressed old couple walking toward him—his idea of mother and father—he took off his hat and approached them with a smile. “Where do people go around here to die?” he asked. The woman looked insulted and the man angry and they passed on as quickly as they could. He didn’t see anything wrong with asking this question. The rebuff was his first experience with the coldness of the city.

His name was Ellis Gage and he had ridden six hundred miles for two days on the bus. It was incumbent upon him to leave home because he had killed his stepfather. He had seen enough movies to know that nobody gets away with killing another person and he wouldn’t get away with it either.

This is how it happened. His mother was away tending to a sick relative and he was left alone in the house with the man who had been his stepfather for five years, Nelson Niles. Nelson had been drinking all day, as he often did. In the evening after supper, a thunderstorm came up. Rain pelted the house and lightning ripped the sky. Nelson became blubbery. He said he was lonely. He didn’t like to admit it, he said, but he had always been afraid of thunderstorms.

“Go to bed and sleep it off,” Ellis said. “The thunderstorm is nothing.”

The lights went off but Ellis didn’t mind. He liked storms and he planned on getting into bed and listening to the rain. There’s no sweeter music to drop off to sleep by.

“I want you to sleep in my bed with me,” Nelson said.

“What?”

“I don’t like sleeping alone.”

“Mother will be back in a few days,” Ellis said.

“Yes, but she’s not here now. I want you to sleep with me.”

“Just get into bed and close your eyes and soon you’ll be asleep.”

“You’re like a son to me.”

“You sleep in your bed and I’ll sleep in mine.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it. Nobody will ever know.”

“I’ll know!”

“We can have us a fine time.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m sorry.” He rubbed his head as with a headache. “I can see how you misunderstand. It’s the liquor talking.”

“Why do you drink so much?”

“I was born this way. My daddy was an alcoholic and his daddy before him and his before him. All the way back to Adam.”

“That’s no excuse.”

“Not excusing. Only explaining.”

“I’m going to bed now and I think you should do the same,” Ellis said.

He went into the kitchen to make sure the door was closed and locked and then he went up the stairs. By the time he was at the top, though, Nelson was right there behind him in the dark, quick as a cat. He grabbed Ellis in a hug and tried to put his mouth on his in a drunken semblance of a kiss.

Ellis was caught off-guard. “Get off me!” he said. “What’s the matter with you?”

Nelson was not to be deterred this time, though. Even though he let go of Ellis, he wouldn’t let him pass into his room. “When your mother and I got married,” he said, “you were underage, but you’re not underage anymore. We can do whatever we want. I’ve always been drawn to you in a way that nobody ever knew about. When I found out your ma was going to be gone for a few days, I knew the time had come to do the thing I’ve always wanted to do.”

“You stink!” Ellis said. “You make me sick! I could kill you and no jury would ever convict me after I told them what you just said to me.”

“Oh, don’t push me away!”

They grappled at the top of the stairs. When Nelson tried to kiss Ellis again, he pushed him, not to hurt him but only to get away. Nelson misjudged the distance between himself and the top of the stairs. He staggered and tried to right himself and in doing so lost his balance and fell headlong to the bottom. Ellis believed he could hear his bones cracking as he fell.

A tremendous lightning flash rocked the house. Ellis went down the stairs slowly, feeling his way along the wall. He didn’t want to touch Nelson but he did so only to the extent that he had to. He put his ear to Nelson’s chest and wasn’t able to detect a heartbeat; his face to Nelson’s face and could feel no movement of air.

He had never been in any kind of trouble with the law. He believed they would put him in jail now and never let him out. They wouldn’t believe it had been an accident. They would think he had meant to do it. They might even execute him. It would be the end for his mother. Her husband and her son both gone. She’d take to her bed and never get up again.

After a night of thinking, he decided what he would do. He would go away to spare his mother and do away with himself. He wasn’t sure how he would do it, but he would figure it out when he needed to. It would be better to take care of his own end, he believed, than to be captured and hauled off to jail. He couldn’t stand the thought of being locked up. There was only one way out and he was going to take it.

Packing a small bag, he took what money he had out of his dresser drawer and left the house before dawn. The rain had stopped but there were still a tumult of clouds in the sky and a low rumble like a growl. He walked the three miles into town to the bus station. By the time he was able to get on the bus, he was so exhausted from a night without rest and from his long walk that he fell asleep next to a window with the hot wind in his face.

In the city, he checked into a modest hotel and on his first night there he counted his money out on the bed. Factoring in the cost of the room per day and of eating every meal in a restaurant, he figured he would last about a week in the city. It took him more than a year to save that money, but it didn’t matter. He would have as good a time as he could in the time left to him because it would be the last good time he would ever have.

The first couple of days he spent mostly in his room, lying on the bed and smoking cigarettes. (He had recently picked up the habit in spite of his mother’s objections.) He thought about his life but mostly he thought about his mother coming home after her trip and finding Nelson (dead for several days by then) at the bottom of the stairs. Of course, she would wonder where Ellis was, but he hoped she didn’t connect his being gone with Nelson’s death in any way. She would think that Nelson had fallen down the stairs because he was drunk while Ellis was away visiting his friend Delroy, who had a cabin on the river.

When he became so hungry he could no longer stand it, he would go out and get something to eat. There was a restaurant on the first floor of the hotel but, finding the food there tasteless and overpriced, he preferred to go to a café three or four blocks from the hotel where there was a waitress named Rosalie.

Rosalie was older than him, about thirty, and married, but it didn’t make any difference. She made him feel good because she smiled at him and told him what was good from the bill of fare and what wasn’t. She had thick auburn hair and when she smiled she showed front teeth that overlapped. She joked with him and asked him questions, not too personal, about where he was from and where he was headed. He told her he had always wanted to see the city and had decided finally to have his little fling. She laughed when he said the word fling as if she had never heard it before and set down a piece of apple pie in front of him with vanilla ice cream on top. She told him if he wanted anything else to give her a holler. He wanted to ask her to go someplace with him other than the café where they might talk, but he saw the wedding ring on her finger and knew that doing so would be too forward and might spoil the friendly feeling between them. He always left her a tip, though, more than he could afford, and would catch her eye and give her a friendly wave as he left.

As his days in the city began to pile one of top of the other, he began to think about how he might do himself in. He didn’t want to create a public spectacle, so that eliminated the possibility of jumping out a window or throwing himself in front of a bus. He had heard about people going to sleep and not waking up from the right combination of strong liquor and pills. He could get himself a bottle of whiskey, all right, all right, but he didn’t know what kind of pills to get and if he knew he wasn’t sure he could get them.

He began walking the streets to see as much of the city as he could before checking out. He visited a museum, where he looked at some paintings; when he discovered a park with a zoo, he began to spend a lot of his time there with the monkeys and lions. People rarely spoke to him, as if he wasn’t there at all, but when they did they were cordial and friendly enough; they had no reason not to be. Rosalie remained the only person in the city, though, with whom he had any real connection.

The day came when he realized, on counting his money again, that he only had enough to make it through the next day, which was Sunday. Sunday seemed a good day to die.

He didn’t want to spend Saturday night, his last night on earth, moping around in his room, so he spent the whole night walking the streets, which were always thronging with people. And in everything he saw—drunks and prostitutes, a bar brawl spilling out into the streets, two women engaged in a fistfight,  a well-dressed crowd pouring out of a theatre, a taxicab smashing into the back of a truck—he was as detached as a ghost. At a newsstand, when he saw a length of thin rope on top of a pile of newspapers, he asked the vendor if he might have it. The vendor thought for a moment and told him he could take it for the price of thirty cents.

When he got back to his hotel room, the sun was just coming up. He was glad to see it was going to be a sunny day. He ate a light breakfast and went up to his room and took a hot bath. He slept for a couple of hours and when he awoke he put on his clean clothes and sat down at the desk to write his mother a farewell letter.

With pen in hand, he couldn’t think of what to write. Trying to explain to her what he was going to do and why didn’t make any sense. If it didn’t make any sense to him, it certainly wouldn’t to her. He could simply apologize and tell her goodbye, but he believed she deserved more than that.

The only thing that would do would be for him to speak to her on the phone one last time. And he wouldn’t tell her what he was going to do because that would only alarm her. Just hearing her voice, though, would give him the courage he needed. It would be the fitting end to his time on earth that he needed.

His heart was pounding as he picked up the phone. He had to go through the hotel switchboard to make the call, but it only took a minute and after the phone rang just two rings his mother answered.

“Did I wake you up, mother?” he asked casually.

“Ellis, is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Where in the world are you?”

“Delroy invited me up to his cabin. I’ve been here for a few days.”

“Thank goodness. We didn’t know where you were.”

“We?”

“Nelson and me.”

“Nelson?”

“Yes, he was drunk and had a bad fall while I was gone but he’s better now. He broke his shoulder and three ribs. He’s such a baby. He wants his pain pills regularly. I don’t know what he’d do if he ever had any real pain.”

“You said Nelson?”

“Yes. Who else? Are you all right? You sound a little funny.”

“I’m fine now.”

“Nelson didn’t remember a thing because he was so drunk. He said you were in the house before he fell and gone after he fell. He didn’t know where you were. He was worried about you.”

“I’m fine, mother.”

“When are you coming home?”

“I don’t know. In a day or two.”

“So you’re having a good time?”

“The best time I’ve ever had. I’d like to stay for a few more days but I’m afraid I’m out of money.”

“Oh, honey! Do you want me to send you some?”

“No, that’s all right, mother. I don’t want to take your money.”

“Well, it certainly is good to hear your voice, son, and I’m so relieved you’re all right.”

“Why wouldn’t I be all right?”

“I guess I still think of you as my little boy, as big as you are.”

“I’ll be home soon, mother. Don’t worry about me.”

He hung up the phone and laughed. He danced around the room as if he had an invisible waltzing partner, as there was no one there to see him. How happy he was! How agreeably his dilemma had resolved itself! He loved his mother so much and, yes, he even loved Nelson. He loved Rosalie, his friend Delroy, the news vendor who sold him the rope and everybody else he had ever seen or known.

He put on his shoes, his hat and jacket and took the elevator down to the hotel lobby. He went out to the sidewalk. He would go down to Rosalie’s café and have a good lunch. She would be happy because he was happy. Maybe she would sit down across from him while he ate and talk to him. Maybe she wasn’t really married but only wore the ring to discourage any unwanted advances from male customers.

He had to cross the street but was too impatient to wait until he got to the intersection so he crossed in the middle of the block. He looked both ways but didn’t see the speeding taxicab. When it hit him, he was thrown through the air about ten feet. A woman screamed. People ran toward him. Somebody covered his face. There was nothing else to be done.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp  

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