Some Dinosaurs Die in Their Sleep ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Published in The Ranfurly Review, December 2009)
Evelyn was serving a thirty-day sentence in the county jail and, in her absence, Vicki-Vicki was in charge. She had to see that Baby Eddie took his medicine when he was supposed to and didn’t make himself sick eating too much candy and that Veradean stayed in school and that they were both in the house and in bed asleep by around midnight every night. She didn’t set them a lot of rules, hating rules herself, but she still managed somehow to keep them in line.
On a warm September afternoon, when Evelyn had been away for six days (with twenty-four more to go), Vicki-Vicki, Baby Eddie, and Veradean were sitting in the front room of the little house that always smelled a little like cabbage cooking. (The smell was really from faulty sewer pipes.)
Baby Eddie was lying on his back on the dilapidated sofa, eating grapes. He was four years old and sick a lot of the time because he had been born with weak lungs and sometimes had trouble breathing. He was wearing a pair of red plaid shorts that were too little for him, without any underpants underneath, and a girl’s pink blouse that belonged to Veradean before she outgrew it. Vicki-Vicki told him to sit up to eat the grapes because he was going to get choked, but he just ignored her.
With her Big Chief tablet resting along her thighbones, Veradean was writing a theme for school about dinosaurs. She wrote that dinosaurs are big and ugly and scary and, if you see one, you’d better run and hide because it will chase you and catch you and stomp you with its big feet and then eat you in pieces. Being eaten in pieces is much more painful than being eaten all at once. Dinosaurs sleep inside a mountain, unless, of course, the mountain interrupts, and when that happens, dinosaurs have to find someplace else to sleep. Before a dinosaur goes to sleep, it licks itself all over and scratches its fleas and then it lays down on its side like a big dog. Some dinosaurs die in their sleep and then their bones are found millions of years later by a person looking for gold in the desert.
She drew a picture in the margin of a dinosaur that looked like a skinny horse with the head of a snake, and then she handed the paper to Vicki-Vicki to check for spelling. Vicki-Vicki wasn’t very good at spelling, herself, but she found an error or two, for which Veradean was grateful. Miss Fingers, her teacher, insisted on correct spelling and she would deduct from an otherwise good grade if she found any misspelled words. Vicki-Vicki asked Veradean about the picture in the margin and Veradean said she drew it because Miss Fingers liked pictures and she would give extra credit for a picture that she liked and hadn’t ask for.
Vicki-Vicki referred to Baby Eddie and Veradean as her brother and sister (when she referred to them at all), but the truth was she was only partly related to them. They were her half-brother and half-sister, since all three of them had different fathers.
Vicki-Vicki knew who her father was and what he looked like, but he was a shadowy figure in her life and she had never spoken more than a few words to him, if at all. She noticed him at times hanging around on the very edge of things. He seemed to be watching and waiting, but what he was waiting for no one could say. If she ever tried to approach him to have a word with him, he always ran away.
“When can I go to school?” Baby Eddie asked, or rather screamed, from the sofa.
“When you go to school,” Veradean said, “it’ll be to retarded school. They’ll send the retarded bus every day to pick you up.”
Baby Eddie threw a grape at her and when she threw it back, he covered his face and squealed.
“Be quiet, you two,” Vicki-Vicki said. “You give me a headache.”
“Hey, I’m hungry!” Baby Eddie said.
“Me too,” Veradean said. “When do we eat?”
Vicki-Vicki went into the kitchen to see what she might fix for dinner. She had been to the store a couple of times since Evelyn went to jail and she didn’t have much money left. She had to figure some way to make the money last, or she was going to have to get more.
She opened a can of vegetable soup and heated it on the stove and when it was ready she halved it into two bowls for Veradean and Baby Eddie. She found some crackers that weren’t too stale and she ate some tuna fish right out of the can on the crackers while Veradean and Baby Eddie had the soup. For dessert she opened a can of fruit cocktail and divided it into three little bowls.
When they were finished eating she washed the dishes and put them away and then went back into the living room, where Baby Eddie and Veradean were playing Parcheesi on the floor. Most of the Parcheesi pieces had been lost, but they were able to improvise with what they had. Veradean was cheating but Baby Eddie didn’t realize it.
“Let’s turn on the TV,” Baby Eddie said.
“It’s broken,” Vicki-Vicki said.
Baby Eddie knew the TV was broken, but every day he said “Let’s turn on the TV,” as if saying the words would fix the TV.
“When can we get the TV fixed?” Veradean asked. “We’re missing all the good shows.”
“You don’t need to be watching TV all the time,” Vicki-Vicki said. “It rots your brain, anyway.”
“It doesn’t rot my brain,” Baby Eddie said.
“What are we supposed to do without TV?” Veradean asked.
“Don’t ask me,” Vicki-Vicki said. “Why don’t you go outside and get some fresh air?”
“I’ve had enough fresh air for today.”
“Read a book then. Stand on your head. I don’t care.”
It was now fully dark outside and they heard a car pull up in front of the house. Baby Eddie ran to the screen door and looked out to see who it was.
“It’s only Adolph,” he said.
“Tell him there’s nobody at home,” Vicki-Vicki said.
Adolph was her mother’s most recent boyfriend, one in a long line of boyfriends. Vicki-Vicki hated him because she had seen him kick a dog once and he had blackened Evelyn’s eye and split her lip. She didn’t trust him and she didn’t like his looks. He had a flat-top haircut and beady eyes and bulging cheeks that made him look like a rodent. If she had liked him, she might have asked him to lend them some money until Evelyn got out of jail, but she would never ask Adolph for anything. She knew he would expect something in return.
“There’s nobody home!” Baby Eddie said as Adolph walked up the steps to the front door. He started to slam the door, but by then Adolph was up the steps and had caught the door with his monkey-like arm to keep it from closing.
“Very funny,” Adolph said. “Is that any way to treat a guest?” He came inside the house as though he owned it.
“Evelyn isn’t here,” Vicki-Vicki said. “She’s in jail.”
“I know,” Adolph said. “I heard.”
“Why don’t you just turn around and leave, then?”
“That’s not a very nice way to speak to me,” Adolph said. “You hurt my feelings. Haven’t you ever heard of having respect for your elders?”
“You’re not my elder,” Vicki-Vicki said.
Veradean laughed and Adolph sat down on the end of the couch and sprawled his big legs. His belly hung over his belt.
“Will you play Parcheesi with me?” Baby Eddie asked.
“I don’t play games,” Adolph said.
“Do you know how to fix the TV?” Veradean asked.
“Hell, no. That’s not what I’m here for.”
“What are you here for?” Vicki-Vicki asked.
“Since Evelyn’s in jail, I wanted to stop by and see if you need anything.”
“We need a refrigerator full of food,” Vicki-Vicki said.
“That’s not what I meant. I thought you might like to go for a little drive with me. We could stop someplace and get a little drink.”
“Why would we want to do that?” Vicki-Vicki asked.
“I don’t mean all of you,” Adolph said. “I just mean you.”
Veradean laughed when she understood what Adolph was saying. “Uh-oh!” she said. “I think somebody’s got a crush on Vicki-Vicki!”
“You shut up with that kind of talk!” Adolph said.
“I’m expecting my boyfriend any minute,” Vicki-Vicki said. “I don’t think he’d like it if I was out with you when he came.”
“Oh, you haven’t got a boyfriend and you know it!” Adolph said.
“Yes, she does!” Baby Eddie said. “I’ve seen him.”
“What would you know, you little son of a bitch?”
“You’d better watch who you’re calling names!” Vicki-Vicki said. “Why don’t you just go on home now? It’s time for the kids to be in bed. Veradean has got school in the morning.”
“Hey!” Veradean said. “I never go to bed this early!”
“Why don’t you put the kids to bed,” Adolph said to Vicki-Vicki, “and after you’ve done that you can come and sit next to me on this filthy old couch and you and I can have a nice little chat?” He patted the sofa next to where he was sitting and gave Vicki-Vicki his most provocative look.
“I’m going to bed, too,” Vicki-Vicki said. “I’ve got a headache.”
“Look,” Adolph said, “how about if I give these two kids some money to go to the store down the street to get an ice cream?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Veradean said.
“I’ll go!” Baby Eddie said.
“You can’t go alone,” Vicki-Vicki said. “You’ll get run over.”
“Veradean can go with me!”
“The way to a kid’s heart is always through his stomach,” Adolph laughed. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change and handed it to Veradean. “And if there’s any left over,” he said, “you and the little fellah can split it.”
“Just let me go put on my shoes,” Baby Eddie said excitedly.
“Is it all right?” Veradean asked Vicki-Vicki. “Will you be all right?”
“I think I can take care of myself,” Vicki-Vicki said. She was a little disappointed that Veradean had given in so easily.
Vicki-Vicki watched as Veradean and Baby Eddie went out the door. “Come right back,” she said, “and stay away from those kids down the street. They’ll just get you into trouble.”
Now that Vicki-Vicki was alone with Adolph, she realized she wasn’t afraid of him—only annoyed. If she had had a knife, she would have gladly stabbed him in the heart with it.
“Now, that’s more like it,” Adolph said. “Come sit next to me.” He patted the couch again.
She sat on the other end of the sofa with three feet of space between them. She was naturally curious to see what he was going to do. He was a fat fool and she knew she was a lot smarter than he was. She knew how to handle him.
“I always thought you were so pretty,” Adolph said. He moved closer to her and stroked her arm just above the elbow.
“You did? I didn’t know you ever even noticed me.”
He smiled, believing he was softening her up. “I couldn’t show it around your mother,” he said. “She wouldn’t have liked it. But now that she’s not here, anything goes.” He bent over toward her and tried to kiss her on the side of the neck, but she pulled away.
“Don’t do that!” she said. “I can’t stand to have anybody fooling around with my neck.”
“Don’t you like me just a little bit?”
“Now, I know you’ve been with a man before, so you don’t need to play the innocent with me.”
“How do you know that? I never told anybody about that!”
“Things have a way of getting around.”
“I think you’d better just go now.” She stood up and walked toward the door, hoping he would do the same.
“Not until you give me a kiss.”
“I’d rather kiss a red-hot iron! I’d rather kiss a pig wallowing around in a mud hole!
“I could help you a lot if you’d just give me the chance.”
“Look, my boyfriend’s coming any minute, and he won’t like it if he comes in and sees you trying to paw me. His name is Norman. He’s jealous and he’s very good with guns and knives. He’s been in prison before.”
Adolph looked at her, not sure if she was telling the truth or not. Finally, he stood up from the couch, smiling. “Well,” he said, “you may have won this round, but you haven’t won the war. I’ll be back.”
As he started to go out the door, he stopped and looked at her again. “Remember what I said and think it over,” he said. “I could help you and those kids with food and whatnot, but you’d have to change your attitude toward me. You’d have to be awful nice toward me. If you and the little ones get hungry enough, you know where you can find me.”
“I don’t think we’d ever get that hungry,” Vicki-Vicki said.
After Adolph was gone, she laid down on the couch and covered her face with her arms and cried. She was crying because life was just too much to bear sometimes, but mostly she was crying because she didn’t really have a boyfriend named Norman.
The next day, in the afternoon, she took an ambling walk on Main Street, looking into the store windows at the coats and fall merchandise. She was thinking about how she might go into a store and put on a new winter coat and walk out without paying for it, but then she remembered that Evelyn was in jail for that very thing and she didn’t want to end up like her.
When she returned home at about three o’clock, she saw from the sidewalk that an envelope was sticking out of the front door. She thought it might be a court summons or an eviction notice, but when she went up the steps and took the envelope in her hand, she saw that her own name was printed on it in block letters, in a hand that she didn’t recognize.
She opened the envelope and took out a piece of paper, folded up like a letter. She unfolded the letter to see what was written on it, but it was blank. Folded up inside, though, were two fifty-dollar bills. She turned the paper over, thinking she might have missed something, but the back of the paper was as blank as the front. Not even a signature.
She went out to the sidewalk in front of the house and looked first one way and then the other to see if she might catch a glimpse of who had left the envelope, but she saw no one—only a cat standing on the curb across the street looking at her suspiciously with its strangely slanted eyes.
Copyright © 2011 by Allen Kopp