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Red Feather

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Red Feather ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Reggie Ferry died in the middle of the school year in fifth grade. His body was embalmed and placed in a child-sized white coffin and held for visitation for a day and a half at the Archer Brothers Mortuary on Clemenceau Street. After a brief non-sectarian funeral service, he was laid to rest in his family’s cemetery plot, along with grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and a baby sister who died when she was only five days old, years before Reggie was born.

In the fifth-grade classroom, the teacher, Miss Goodacre, left Reggie’s desk vacant to honor his memory. In defiance of separation-of-church-and state laws, she placed a small wooden cross on the desk to remind everybody, not only that Reggie had been there and was gone, but that it could happen to anybody. There wasn’t anybody in the class who didn’t understand this.

Reggie dwelt in the spirit world but, as is often the case with young people who die, he didn’t know he was dead. He continued to go to school every day and back home again. After a few days, though, he began to be aware that some things were fundamentally different.

When he was at school, for example, he could see and hear people but they couldn’t see or hear him. He waved his arms and talked very loud but they just ignored him as if he wasn’t even there. Sometimes they walked right through him, which at first he thought very rude. He was never called on in class and didn’t have to do any work if he didn’t want to; the teacher didn’t even look his way or pay any attention to him. When he discovered that he could rise in the air and hover near the ceiling and look down on everybody else, he was delighted. Whatever it was that had happened to him, he wished it had happened much earlier, say in kindergarten or first grade.

At home he stayed in his room. His mother no longer called him for dinner, but he didn’t mind because he always felt agreeably full, as if he had just eaten the most satisfying meal on earth. In the evening when his mother was watching television, he would go and sit beside her on the couch but she didn’t pay any attention to him and never asked him what he wanted to watch. When he stood behind his father and looked over his shoulder as he read or dozed in his chair, he (his father) wasn’t annoyed as he always had been before.

Other things were different, too. Time and distance seemed to have become rearranged somehow. He was at home in his room and then he was at school without any conscious effort on his part and without remembering how he got there. He was at his grandparents’ house working a jigsaw puzzle and then he was at the supermarket with his mother looking over the choice cuts of meat or standing in the drugstore looking at the new comic books that had just come in. He was riding his bicycle down the street and then he was in the bathtub up to his neck in bubbly water. Places changed so fast that he could hardly keep up, creating a kind of kaleidoscopic effect that he found a little dizzying but not unpleasant. The places he found himself in were always good places where he had been happy.

Then there was time. When he looked at the alarm clock in his bedroom, at the clock on the wall at school, or at his mother’s grandfather clock in the dining room, they were all blank, meaning the faces were there but the hands were gone. Who would steal the hands on the clocks, he wondered? It was a question he would have to defer—along with lots of other questions—to a later time.

One day when he was walking home from school, he saw a girl wearing a black beret with a red feather in it coming toward him on the sidewalk. He could tell from the way she was looking at him that she was seeing him and not just a blank space. When she came even to him on the sidewalk before passing him, she touched him on the arm and said, “You shouldn’t still be here.”

“What?” he said, but she was gone in the blink of an eye.

When he got home, he wanted to tell his mother about what the girl had said to him, but he knew it was no use. She wouldn’t be able to see or hear him no matter how hard he tried. He was beginning to feel lonely and isolated and he didn’t like the feeling.

In the spring his mother and father brought home a baby they had adopted. His name was Jackie and he was ten months old. The house, which had seemed a little morose since Reggie died, was once again filled with noise and activity. Any time Jackie made a sound or a gurgle, Reggie’s mother and father were right there to see what he wanted or to make sure he was all right. They put their faces right down in Jackie’s face, made silly squeals and grimaces, and generally made fools of themselves. Reggie couldn’t remember if they behaved that way when he was a baby or not. He wasn’t exactly jealous but concerned that they seemed to care more for Jackie than they had ever cared for him.

They converted Reggie’s room into a room for the baby. They put all of Reggie’s possessions—clothes, shoes, underwear, books, model cars, games, etc.—into boxes and put them in the basement. They replaced Reggie’s bed with a baby bed and filled the drawers of the dresser with baby clothes. They took down Reggie’s pictures and artwork from the walls and replaced it with stuff for baby.

One afternoon after Reggie’s mother had given Jackie a bath and had put him down for his nap, Reggie went into the room that had been his room but was now Jackie’s and stood over the baby bed and looked down at Jackie. He expected Jackie to be asleep, but he was fully awake and looking directly at him. Reggie knew right away that the baby, as with the girl on the street in the beret, was seeing him and not just empty space.

“I know who you are,” Jackie said. “I see you even though I know they can’t.”

“How is it you can talk?” Reggie asked. “You’re just a baby.”

“Who says I’m talking? Can you see my lips moving? There are other ways to communicate other than speech, you know.”

“Do you know what happened to me?” Reggie asked.

“Yes, I know. The same thing that happens to all of us.”

“How can I get back to the way I was?”

“You can’t, but there is something you can do.”

“What?”

“Don’t you know what I represent?”

“No. What?”

“I represent your freedom. Now that I’m here, you can move on.”

“Move on where?”

“They’re waiting for you. You’ve been hanging around here too long.”

“I don’t want to go away.”

“It’s time.”

“What do I do?”

“Go tell your mother goodbye and then leave the house for the last time. Walk down the street toward the park. On the street corner down there, a car with a driver is waiting for you. You’ll know it when you see it.”

His mother was folding laundry. He went up behind her and held onto her wrist for a few seconds and then let it go. She stopped what she was doing and looked down at her wrist as if she had felt his touch but didn’t know what it was.

With a backward glance of farewell at the house he had lived in his whole life, he began walking down the street. Three blocks down was a black car gleaming in the sunshine. He knew it was the car that Jackie was talking about because it was like no other car he had ever seen. He opened the door to the back and got inside. As soon as he closed the door, the car began moving. When he thought to look at who was driving, he saw it was the girl in the black beret with the red feather sticking out of the side.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Don’t you know?” she asked.

“Why don’t the clocks have hands anymore?”

“No more questions now,” she said.

“Where is it we’re going?”

She met his eyes in the rearview mirror and put the tip of her finger to her lips to make him stop talking. All he could do was look at the feather in her beret. It was the most beautiful red he had ever seen in his life.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Virginia Jenks

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Virginia Jenks ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

The girl knocked on all the doors, starting on the first floor and working her way up. She thought the people very diverse and unique for poor people living in a broken-down brick building on the edge of nowhere. There was the fat woman and her midget husband who used to be a circus clown; the two women who acted and dressed like men and who went by the names Butch and Sluggo; the pale single man who worked twenty hours a day in a factory. On the second floor the blind woman with her little dogs that helped her to see; the old man whose apartment was stacked with books from floor to ceiling; the newlyweds who answered the door holding hands; the old woman who wore a wad of cotton where her nose used to be. Some hid from her and pretended they weren’t at home, but most paid when they were supposed to. She wrote down in the little ledger who paid and who didn’t. She put the money and checks in a canvas drawstring bag and held tight to it.

At an apartment on the third floor, a beautiful (the girl thought) blond woman in a Japanese kimono with dragons invited the girl in and asked her to sit down while she and her roommate, a woman with dark hair wearing a man’s striped pajamas, got the money together for the rent.

“We’ll have to pay you in cash,” the blond woman said.

“What else would we pay her in?” the dark-haired woman said. “War bonds?”

“It’s all right,” the girl said. “Most pay in cash.”

“We’re gong to need a receipt,” the dark-haired woman said. “We don’t want anybody saying we didn’t pay when we did.”

“I mark it down in the book when you pay, anyway,” the girl said.

They counted out the money to the penny and when they handed it to the girl she put it in the canvas bag and wrote out a receipt.

“Would you like a cup of coffee or something?” the blond woman asked the girl after the transaction was completed.

“I’d like a drink of water.” the girl said.

“Well, come on into the kitchen.”

On the table were the remnants of breakfast, even though it was past lunch time. The blond woman motioned for the girl to sit at the table while she got her a glass of water.

“The first of the month sure comes around fast,” she said. “Just when you’re thinking your rent is all paid up, here it is the first of the month again and you have to fork over more dough.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the girl said, sipping the water.

Both women laughed. “You don’t have to call me ‘ma’am,’” she said. “I don’t think I’m the ‘ma’am’ type, anyway.”

“No, she’s more the ‘madam’ type,” the dark-haired woman said.

“We were just finishing breakfast when you knocked on the door,” the blond woman said. “If you had come a half-hour earlier, we wouldn’t have heard you because we were still sleeping.”

“Tell her the rest,” the dark-haired woman said, “or she’ll think we sleep this late all the time because we’re lazy.”

“We work nights. We don’t get off until two or three in the morning and sometimes later, so that’s why we’re just getting up when everybody else has been up for hours.”

“What do you do?” the girl asked.

“We’re hostesses in a nightclub.”

“We dance and drink and pretend we’re having a good time,” the dark-haired woman said. “We cozy up to the lonely single men and get them to spend all their money on liquor.”

“Sometimes we go to their hotel rooms and sleep with them,” the blond woman said, “if they’re good-looking enough and there’s enough money in it for us.”

The dark-haired woman spatted her on the arm. “You shouldn’t be telling her that!” she said. “She’s too young for that kind of information.”

“I think she’s older than she looks and knows everything she needs to know.”

“I’m in the ninth grade,” the girl said.

“To be so young and innocent!”

“What’s your name?”

“Virginia Jenks.”

“Well, Virginia,” the blond woman said. “My name is Opal Coots and my friend here—and I use the term loosely—is Louisa Biggs.”

“But everybody calls me Lou,” the dark-haired woman said. “I always hated Louisa.”

“It’s a pretty name,” Virginia said.

“Hey, I think I like her!” Lou said. “She knows just the right things to say.”

“How is it you come to be collecting the rent money?” Opal asked.

“I’m doing it for my grandma. She’s sick.”

“She’s the one that owns this building?”

“Yes.”

“So, that old water buffalo that strong-arms us for the rent every month is your granny?”

“Yes.”

“Well, as I live and breathe! There’s absolutely no family resemblance!”

“Lucky for her!” Lou said, cackling with laughter.

“Well, thanks for the water,” Virginia said, standing up. “I’d better get back or they’ll be wondering where I am with the money.”

“You don’t need to rush off,” Opal said. “We don’t very often have anybody to talk to.”

“Except each other,” Lou said, “and that gets pretty sickening.”

“Tell us about yourself,” Opal said. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

“For heaven’s sake!” Lou said. “Why would she have a boyfriend? She’s only a child!”

“Well, I had a boyfriend when I was in ninth grade,” Opal said.

“Yes, but you were a special case.”

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” Virginia said.

“I’ll bet you have brothers and sisters, don’t you?” Opal asked.

“One brother,” Virginia said. “He’s in high school.”

“Is he good-looking?”

“No.”

“You’re not supposed to ask a girl a question like that about her own brother,” Lou said.

“I had a brother and I always thought he was very good-looking,” Opal said.

“Please! Not of front of a child!” Lou said.

“You have a mother and father?” Opal asked.

“Yes.”

“What are they like?”

Virginia shrugged and wanted to leave. “They’re just ordinary, I guess. My dad works for the government.”

“Is he an FBI man?”

“No, I think he’s an accountant.”

“Does he go out drinking and slap your ma around when he comes home?”

“No, he mostly sleeps in the chair.”

“Is your ma pretty? Does she have lots of pretty clothes?”

“No, she’s a housewife.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I don’t know. I guess I don’t think much about it.”

“That’s right,” Lou said. “Live for the moment and let the future take care of itself.”

“What is your favorite subject in school?” Opal asked.

“I don’t know. English, I guess.”

“You don’t like math, though, do you?”

“I hate it.”

“You’re the sensitive, artistic type. I can tell.”

“I guess so.”

“You have an awfully pale skin,” Lou said. “Have you ever thought about using a little light lipstick?”

“No, I don’t think my mother would like it.”

“She’s not here, though, is she?”

“No.”

“Would you like to try a little lipstick and see how it looks? Maybe a pale pink?”

“I guess so.”

She went into the bedroom and came back carrying a tube of lipstick and a little mirror. She set the mirror on the table and titled Virginia’s head back and applied the lipstick to her lips. After she showed Virginia how to blot her lips on a Kleenex, she allowed her to see herself in the mirror.

“See? Doesn’t that make a difference?”

“I guess so,” Virginia said. “It makes me look like somebody else.”

Lou laughed and gave her the tube. “You can keep this,” she said. “I’ve got a whole drawer full.”

“My mother doesn’t allow me to wear makeup,” Virginia said, “but I can keep it hidden in my room and put some on when I go out.”

Opal pulled Virginia’s hair back in both hands. “Your hair is so lifeless,” she said. “You could use a good cut and some curl.”

“My mother cuts my hair,” Virginia said.

“What does she cut it with? A steak knife?”

She pulled Virginia’s hair to the back of her head, twisted and pinned it so it stayed that way. “What do you think?” she asked, holding up the mirror so Virginia could get a good look at herself.

“She looks like a sophisticate,” Lou said.

“You know, I miss having kids around,” Opal said.

“Don’t start that!” Lou said.

“I’ve got a daughter, just a little older than you, Virginia, and a son, but I don’t ever see them. They live with their father a long way off.”

“Here we go!” Lou said.

“My daughter’s name is Meredith and my son is Christopher. The funny thing is, I’m dead to them. Their father told them I died. He thought it would be better that way.”

When she began blubbering into a dish towel, Lou rolled her eyes. “I’m a mother, too, you know,” she said.

“Yes, but you don’t care about your kids,” Opal said. “I care about mine.”

“That’s not true!” Lou said. “I care about them. I send them money and presents all the time. I’m just not the motherly type. It’s better for them and it’s better for me if we just live apart. It’s a perfectly wonderful arrangement.”

“Maybe if they knew what a whore their mother was, they wouldn’t think it was so perfectly wonderful,” Opal said.

“Well, look who’s calling who a whore. If I’m a whore, what does that make you?”

“I’m in a different class than you. I’m much more refined.”

“One of these days, I’m going to knock you clear across the room and through the wall!”

“Yeah? Well, you’d better go easy on the walls. The landlady will make you pay for any damage.”

“Well, I think I should be going,” Virginia said. “They’ll be worried about the rent money.”

“So soon?” Opal said.

“Wait a minute,” Lou said. She slipped a bracelet off her own wrist and put it on Virginia’s. It was a narrow band of alternating red and yellow stones.

“It’s beautiful!” Virginia said.

“Wear it to remind yourself to come back and see us again real soon. Next time we’ll have a real party.”

On the way home, Virginia stopped off at the park. She was sitting on a bench in the sun when she attracted the attention of an older boy. He sat down beside her and smiled.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you around before,” he said.

She ignored him and was thinking about getting up and walking away when he offered her a cigarette. She took it from him and he lit it for her, even though she had never smoked before.

“Whatcha got in that bag?” he asked.

“Nothing that concerns you,” she said.

“My name’s Harvey Pinkston.”

“So?” She took a draw on the cigarette and blew the smoke out between her lipsticked lips.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Rita Hayworth.”

“Well, Rita, I don’t believe that’s really your name, but if it’s the only name you’re going to give me, I’ll take it.”

She turned and looked at him. He had a good face, in spite of needing a shave and having two or three pimples.

“How old are you, anyway?” she asked.

“Almost nineteen. How old are you?”

“Guess.”

“Um, I’d say you’re about seventeen.”

“You’re a very good guesser. You’re only off by a couple years.”

“Are those diamonds?” he asked, pointing at the bracelet Lou had given her.

“Diamonds aren’t red and yellow, silly,” she said. “Diamonds are clear and sparkly.”

“Would you like to go someplace quiet, Rita?”

“It’s quiet here.”

“That’s not what I meant. Would you like to go someplace where we can be alone?”

“Why would I want to be alone with you? I don’t even know you.”

“We can get acquainted.”

“How do I know you’re not a murderer?”

“Do I look like a murderer to you?”

“Murderers don’t always look like murderers,” she said.

“I’ve got my car right over there,” he said. “Would you like to go for a drive with me?”

“I don’t believe you’ve got a car. You don’t look like the type who would have his own car.”

He took the keys out of his pocket and jingled them in her face. “I can break down your natural reluctance,” he said, “if you give me a chance.”

“I’ve really got to be getting home,” she said. “There’s someone waiting for me.”

“Where do you live? I can give you a lift.”

She threw away the cigarette. “All right,” she said, “but you’d better not try to get cute with me. My father’s an FBI man.”

When they were in his car, he didn’t ask where she lived and she didn’t tell him. He just began driving.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“You’ll see,” he said.

“I don’t know if I should trust you or not.”

“Nobody’s going to hurt you, Rita.”

She looked over at him and smiled. She liked his profile, the way his black hair was combed neatly over the top his head to a little crest over his forehead. He really didn’t look like a murderer. She could easily see herself sleeping with him if there was enough money in it for her.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

One Hundred Years of Solitude ~ A Capsule Book Review

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One Hundred Years of Solitude ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp 

The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude was written by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014), first published in 1967, and translated to English in 1970. It tells the story of seven generations of the Buendía family, whose patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, founds the town of Macondo (the city of mirrors that will reflect the world around it) in search of a better life. Ursula, José Arcadio Buendía’s wife (and first cousin), lives for 130 years and is a dominant character in the life of the family. (Incest is a recurring theme throughout the novel.)

One Hundred Years of Solitude can be read and enjoyed as merely a chronological sequence of events in the lives of the Buendia family, but it helps to know something of the underlying meaning. Gabriel García Márquez uses a fantastic fictional story as an expression of reality, with myth and history overlapping. Myth serves as a vehicle to transmit history to the reader. For example, the characters in the novel experience the Liberal political reformation of their colonial way of life, the arrival of the railway, the Thousand Days’ War (1899-1902), the corporate hegemony of the “banana company,” the cinema, the automobile, and the massacre of striking workers.

The inevitable and inescapable repetition of history is a dominant theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Márquez reiterates the metaphor of history as a circular phenomenon through the repetition of names and characteristics belonging to the Buendía family. The characters are controlled by their pasts and the complexity of time. Throughout the novel the characters are visited by ghosts that are symbols of the past and the haunting nature that the past has over their lives.

Another major theme is solitude. Macondo is in the remote jungles of the Colombian rain forest. The solitude of the town is representative of the colonial period in Latin American history, where outposts and colonies were, for the most part, not interconnected. The Buendías, isolated from the rest of the world, grow increasingly solitary and selfish. With every member of the family living only for himself or herself, they become representative of the aristocratic land-owning elite of that period in Latin American history.

Whether you’re interested in the political and historical implications or not, One Hundred Years of Solitude is still a multi-layered and entertaining story with many interesting characters. (Sometimes the names of the characters are difficult for the reader to keep straight because of the repetition of names.) José Arcadio Buendía and his wife Ursula are parents of José Arcadio, Colonel Aureliano Buendía, and Amaranta. Colonel Aureliano Buendía is a warrior and revolutionary leader. He starts thirty-two unsuccessful wars and fathers seventeen sons by seventeen different women. All of the sons have the name Aureliano with their mothers’ last names. He marries Remedios Moscote while she is still a child; she dies soon after the marriage during her first pregnancy.

Rebeca is the orphaned daughter of Ursula’s cousin who comes to live with the Buendías. She carries the bones of her parents in a bag and eats earth and whitewash off the walls. She eventually marries her adoptive brother José Arcadio and lives a life of seclusion after his death.

Arcadio is José Arcadio’s illegitimate son, a schoolteacher who assumes leadership of Macondo after Colonel Aureliano Buendía leaves. When Liberal forces in Macondo fall, he is shot by a Conservative firing squad.

Aureliano José is the illegitimate son of Colonel Aureliano Buendía. He joins his father in several wars but deserts to return home to Macondo because he believes he is in love with his aunt Amaranta. He is eventually shot to death by a Conservative captain midway through the wars.

Santa Sofía de la Piedad is a beautiful virgin girl who marries Arcadia Buendía. After her husband is executed, the Buendías take her in, along with her children.

Remedios the Beauty is Arcadio and Santa Sofía’s first child. She is so beautiful that several men die of love (or lust) for her. She is so naïve that she is perceived as being mentally retarded. Too beautiful and perhaps too wise for the world, she ascends into the sky one afternoon while folding a white sheet.

José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo are twins born to Arcadio and Santa Sofía. José Arcadio Segundo plays a major role in the banana workers’ strike and is the only survivor when the striking workers are massacred. After the massacre, he spends the rest of his days studying the parchments of Melquiades (a history of the family written in Sanskrit, which is mentioned repeatedly throughout the novel) and tutoring the younger Aureliano. (The two twins die at the exact same time.) The twin brother, Aureliano Segundo, marries the beautiful and bitter Fernanda del Carpio and takes as his mistress Petra Cotes. After the long rains (four years, eleven months and two days), his fortune dies up. He begins searching for buried treasure, a pursuit that nearly drives him to insanity. He dies of throat cancer.

Renata Remedios, who is called Meme, is the second child and first daughter of Fernanda and Aureliano Segundo. To placate her mother, she learns to play the clavichord as well as a professional performer. When Meme falls in love with a mechanic named Mauricio Babilonia, her mother has him shot as a chicken thief and sends Meme off to a convent, where, a few months later, she gives birth to Mauricio Babilonia’s child. Her mother, Fernanda, takes the baby (Aureliano) and claims he was a foundling who came delivered in a basket to cover up her daughter’s promiscuity.

José Arcadio II (the only possibly gay character in the novel) is raised by Ursula, who wants him to enter the priesthood and become pope. He studies in Rome but doesn’t become pope. He eventually returns to Macondo and discovers buried treasure, which he wastes on lavish parties and escapades with adolescent boys. He plans to set up his nephew, Aureliano Babilonia, in business but is murdered in his bath by the adolescent boys, who ransack his house and steal his gold.

Amaranta Ursula is the third child of Fernanda and Aureliano. She never knows that the Aureliano Babilonia, the child sent to the Buendía home, is her nephew, the illegitimate child of Meme. Amaranta Ursula and Aureliano Babilonia become best friends in childhood and enter into a passionate affair when they are older, in spite of Amaranta Ursula having a husband, Gaston. Amaranta Ursula has a baby by Aureliano, which is born with a pig’s tail, as was prophesied. This baby, which is eaten by ants (also according to the prophesy), is the last of the Buendía line. As the line dies out, the town of Macondo is destroyed in a hurricane.

One Hundred Years of Solitude has become a classic of world literature and is the most famous work by Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez, who died in April 2014 at the age of 87.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Thank You for Choosing Alien Abduction

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Thank You for Choosing Alien Abduction ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“State prison death house. Mullendorfer speaking.”

“Hello there. My husband is supposed to be electrocuted at midnight tonight and I wanted to know if there’s been a stay or if the governor has granted a last-minute commutation.”

“Name?”

“Cherry Wiley.”

“Your husband’s name is Cherry?”

“No, I thought you meant my name. My husband’s name is Clement Wiley.”

“Hold on a minute. I’ll check and see if any new information has come down on that.”

“Thank you.”

“It looks like, um…”

“Yes?”

“It looks like, um, Clement Wiley has opted for alien abduction.”

“Oh, he didn’t tell me that!”

“About eleven-thirty he’ll be taken up to the roof and at midnight they’ll pick him up.”

“I wish I could be there to see it.”

“No witnesses are allowed. There’s really nothing to see, anyway. The alien spacecraft doesn’t come close enough to see it. They send a beam of light down and pull the condemned man up through it. Don’t ask me how it works.”

“What will they do to him?”

“That’s something we never know. The only thing the aliens promise is that the condemned will be treated humanely.”

“Well, I guess it’s better than frying in the electric chair, isn’t it?”

“Some people think so. It’s a matter of taste, I guess.”

“If it was you, would you choose death in the electric chair or alien abduction?”

“Between you and me. I mean, completely off the record, I think I’d take the electric chair. It’s just too uncertain what they do to humans on an alien planet. They might cook them and eat them. They might use them as laboratory animals. Who knows? They might treat them like kings.”

“Do you know what planet he’ll be on?”

“No, I don’t. If I could pronounce the name, I wouldn’t remember it for five seconds. All I know is that it’s not in this solar system.”

“Since he’s not being electrocuted, I guess there’s a chance that I might see him again someday.”

“I think the chances of that happening are very slim, ma’am. The planet is very, very far away. Even if he’s alive out there somewhere, I think you should probably give up all hope of ever having any contact with him again.”

“He’s always been a rat and a no-good skunk and now he’s a murderer, but I love him in spite of all that. He has his good qualities. He’s a human being, too, you know.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Maybe someday in fifty or sixty years, if I live that long, I’ll look up and see him coming toward me on the street and he’ll look just the same as he does now.”

“I guess you might say that anything is possible, ma’am.”

“I don’t suppose you could bring him to the phone and let me tell him goodbye, could you?”

“I’m afraid not, ma’am. That’s against regulations.”

“Of course. You have your regulations.”

“The time for goodbyes is past.”

“You know what? You sound like a really nice person. Kind of sympathetic, like. Not just an unfeeling machine. I’m glad I got you instead of some jerk.”

“I’m the only one here right now, so it’s me or nobody.”

“Well, I’ll be crying myself to sleep tonight, thinking about all the good times my little Clemmie and I had before he went to prison. I hope he has a real nice life on that planet where he’s going. I hope he’ll be with good people where he’ll be treated decent and given a fair shake.”

‘Yes, ma’am.”

“He’s had a hard life here. Since the day he was born. I don’t blame him for choosing alien abduction. Maybe he’ll have it better there than he’s ever had it here.”

“There’s always that chance, I guess, ma’am.”

“Maybe he’ll find a way to get a message to me to let me know how he’s getting along there.”

“It can’t hurt to hope, ma’am.”

“I’ll bet you’ve got a sweet wife, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Children?”

“A boy and a girl.”

“Well, you give them a big hug and a kiss for me, will you?”

“I’ll do that.”

“Before they take Clement tonight, tell him I’m thinking about him. Every night of my life I’ll go outside and when I look at the stars I’ll see him. I know that someday we’ll be together again in the life that comes after this one.”

“All right, ma’am. I’ll tell him.”

“You won’t forget?”

“No, I won’t forget.”

“Well, good night, then. And thank you ever so much for your kindness.”

“Not at all, ma’am. And you have a really pleasant night now. Goodbye.”

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Go Home and Forget About Me

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Go Home and Forget About Me ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Nothing so jarring as the ringing of the phone at midnight. Fitzie Garston reached for it before she was fully awake and overturned the lamp and knocked her glasses to the floor where they dodged handily underneath the chest of drawers. She would have to get the yardstick to fish them out.

“Yes!” she said when she had managed to get the receiver over her ear, a little too loud and too eager.

“Mother?” a faraway voice said.

“Lloyd?”

“Nobody calls me that anymore.”

“Who is this?” she asked. “Do you know what time it is?”

“I go by the name Lewis now.”

“What?”

“I know you were asleep and I’m sorry to startle you this way but I need your help.”

“Where are you?” she asked.

“I’m downtown. Right here in the city.”

“Well, why don’t you come home, then, and…”

“I can’t come home. That’s the problem.”

“What problem?”

“I can’t explain fully now, but I’m being held prisoner in a way.”

“Who’s holding you prisoner?”

“They’re not exactly holding me prisoner, but they’re keeping me here until they get something I have.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a package that I left at your house one day when I stopped by and you were gone.”

“You mean you were here when I was out and I didn’t even know it?”

“I still have the key, mother. Remember?”

“Oh, yes. The key.”

“Are you listening to me? Are you hearing what I’m saying?”

“Yes.”

“After we hang up, go into my old room. Go to my old beat-up desk and open the bottom drawer on the right. Have you got that?”

“Bottom drawer on the right.”

“Underneath some old books and things in the drawer is a small, square package wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. I need you to bring it to me as soon as you can.”

“Do you mean now? Tonight?”

“I’m really sorry to have to ask you to do this, but I’m afraid there’s no other way.”

“What’s in the package?”

“I can’t tell you now, except to say that it’s terribly important.”

“I think I should call the police.”

“No! Don’t do that! That’s the worst thing you could do right now.”

“Why?”

“You don’t want to know. Just believe me when I say it’s better not to get the police involved.”

“You’re in some kind of trouble, aren’t you?”

“Brilliant deduction, mother.”

“I wish your father were here. He would know what to do.”

“Get dressed, get the package out of the drawer in my room and  bring it to me. After this is all over, we’ll have a nice visit and I’ll explain the whole thing.”

“All right, Lloyd.”

“My name is Lewis now. Try to remember that. And don’t drive your car down here.”

“Why not?”

“It can be traced and, besides, you’re not familiar with the streets in this part of the city and you’ll get lost. That’s the last thing we need right now.”

“I could take the bus.”

“Buses stop running at midnight. I think the only thing for you to do is to call a cab. That’s better than the bus anyway, isn’t it? More comfortable?”

“I suppose so.”

“You won’t fail me now, will you?”

“No, I’ll do what you ask. It’s just that…”

“Just what?”

“I don’t like going out by myself this time of night.”

“Don’t be a goose, mother. The cab driver will be with you the whole time. Just tell him to bring you to the Imperial Hotel at the corner of Ninth and Dominion. Will you remember that?”

“Ninth and Dominion.”

“That’s right.”

“That’s the slums, isn’t it? The poor part of the city they used to call Skid Row?”

“You’ll be fine mother, believe me. You’ll be back home in less than an hour and back in bed. I’ll come around tomorrow and we’ll talk the whole thing over.”

“All right.”

“Now when you get to the hotel, come up the stairs to room three-twelve. I don’t think the night clerk will give you any trouble, but if he does tell him you’re delivering a package.”

“Dominion Hotel, Ninth and Imperial, room three-twelve.”

“No, mother! The Imperial Hotel at Ninth and Dominion! Go get a pencil and some paper and write it down.”

“I don’t need to write it down. I’ll remember.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“And don’t let yourself be distracted. I’m counting on you.”

When she hung up the phone, she kept repeating the words I’m counting on you over and over in her head. He had counted on her so many times before and she had always come through for him, but wasn’t it terribly unfair that she had never been able to count on him for anything?

He had always been a difficult boy. Always in some trouble or other. Not like anybody else in the family. Suspensions from school for fighting and stealing. Finished high school in juvenile detention. After school, in and out of jail. His mother and father didn’t know what to do with him. He blamed her for Lloyd being the way he was; she coddled him too much, he claimed. She had two children die before Lloyd was born. When Lloyd came along, she wanted to make sure he had every advantage that a mother could give him. She wanted the world to love him as much as she did. She spoiled him, gave him money, always bought him anything in the world he wanted, put him above every other consideration. And what good did any of it do? She was a failure as a mother. In her more despairing moments, she believed she would have been better off if he had died, too. Still, though, she was his mother, and she would do whatever she needed to do to help him.

In the long intervals that she didn’t hear from Lloyd, she subscribed to the no-news-is-good-news theory. He would be all right, she said. He just needed to grow up, and when he did he would be the kind of son she always wanted him to be. He would come back home and live with her. She would cook and clean for him and make his life as comfortable and secure as she knew how. And when it was time for her to leave the world he would be there to see to things, to call up the funeral home, to mourn for her and to see that she was placed in the grave alongside his father. And on the other side of her grave was a grave waiting for him to claim as his own when the time came, if only he wanted it.

After dressing herself in dark-colored, going-downtown-after-midnight clothing, she went into Lloyd’s room and retrieved the package from the desk drawer. She placed it in a brown canvas book bag to make it easier to carry and went downstairs and called a cab, which arrived in less than five minutes.

Sitting in the back seat of the cab, she paid little attention to the labyrinth of dark streets, and in a few minutes the cab pulled up in front of the Imperial Hotel at Ninth and Dominion. She paid the driver and got out and the cab sped away. As easy as if she did it all the time.

The lobby of the hotel was deserted. She slipped past the desk clerk, who seemed not to notice her, and went silently up the stairs to the third floor. She found room three-twelve and knocked.

“Who is it?” a voice called from behind the door.

“Is Lloyd Garston here?” she said.

“Who?”

“His name is Lloyd but he goes by the name Lewis.”

The door opened suddenly with a creak of hinges, startling her. A man whose face she could barely see in the dim light faced her. “Who did you say you’re looking for?” he asked.

“His name is Lloyd but he says he goes by the name of Lewis now.”

“It’s her,” the man said over his shoulder to someone else in the room.

“Let her in,” a deep voice said.

She found herself in a shabbily neat room with two large beds and two windows. One of the windows was open, a curtain billowing in the wind. Over to the right was a round table with chairs. A man sat alone at the table smoking a cigarette. He was middle-aged, balding, a small moustache.

“Come in,” he said, motioning for her to sit at the table.

“Is Lloyd here?” she asked.

“I don’t know no Lloyd,” he said.

“Lewis, then. Is Lewis here?”

“Well, he’s on the premises, but he ain’t in the room, as you can see.”

“I’m his mother. I have a package that he says is very important to him.”

“Do you know what’s in the package?”

“No.”

“What if I was to tell you there’s nothing in the package but some useless papers?”

“I don’t understand.”

He laughed and stubbed out his cigarette, lit another one. “Would you like a drink?” he asked.

“I’d like a drink of water,” she said.

“Get the lady a glass of water,” he said to the man who had opened the door. “And make sure the glass is clean!”

When he brought her the water, she sat in the chair at the table and took a long time drinking it, stalling somehow, as if she might put off something terrible that she believed was going to happen.

“I want to see him,” she said.

“Not so fast!” the man at the table said. “You’ll see him. You just have to be patient.”

“I brought the package that he says he has to have and I want to give it to him myself.”

“All right. All right.”

He went to a phone between the two beds and picked up the receiver. “Bring him down,” he said.

In a couple of minutes the door opened and Lewis came into the room, accompanied by a very young man with a gun. Lewis’s hands were tied, but the young man untied them, keeping the gun in view all the time.

“Hello, mother,” Lewis said.

“Lloyd!” she said, standing up and taking a step toward him. “What is this all about?”

“I’m sorry to drag you into this,” Lewis said, “but I had no other choice.”

“You look terrible.”

“I know. I’ve been through a bad time.”

“Why? What’s the matter?”

“This bum owes me a bundle of money is what’s the matter,” the man at the table said with a smile.

“Why do you own him money?” she asked Lewis.

“It seems that our little friend was bitten by the gambling bug and his luck hasn’t been so very good lately.”

“Gambling?”

“Yeah, you know. Cards and dog racing and stuff like that.”

“Oh, Lloyd!” she said. “Is there any vice you haven’t been lured into?”

“My name is Lewis now. I told you that on the phone. I never liked the name Lloyd. It never did fit me.”

She took the package out of the bag and set it on the table. “I brought you this,” she said. “I hope it’s what you need to get yourself out of the trouble you’re in.”

“Thanks, mother, but I’m afraid it’s just a prop.”

“A prop? What do you mean?”

“The package isn’t anything. It was just an excuse to get you to come down here.”

“Why did you need an excuse?”

“It was my idea,” the man at the table said. “What mother wouldn’t come to the aid of her child? Calling after midnight, when you know the old lady is sure to be asleep, was just a little extra touch to make it more dramatic, if you know what I mean.”

She sat back down in the chair, beginning to see the picture. “How much?” she asked.

“Altogether about a hundred and ten thousand,” the man at the table said. “It’s really more than that, but I’m giving the kid a break since me and him are such great pals.”

“We were never pals,” Lewis said with a sneer.

“You expect me to pay the money,” she said.

“Lewis said he was sure you had the dough and would pay it willingly to save his life.”

“I’m sorry, mother,” Lewis said. “There was just no other place I could look to for that kind of money.”

“What if I don’t pay it?” she asked.

“Then this is the last time you see your son.”

“You kill people over a hundred and ten thousand dollars?”

“When it’s that much we do. If it was less—say a few thousand—we’d just rough him up, maybe break a couple of bones, and throw him in a ditch.”

“I’m going to the police.”

“And it wouldn’t do you a bit of good.”

“What if he gave you part of the money now and the rest later?”

“I’ve already tried that, mother,” Lewis said.

“We don’t work that way,” the man at the table said. “We get all of our money that’s owed to us and we get it all in one lump.”

“That seems terribly unfair.”

“We’ll give you a couple of days to raise the money. We’re not animals. Mortgage your house or do whatever you have to do. And in the meantime we’ll keep Lewis here with us where he’s safe.”

“I don’t want you to do it, mother,” Lewis said.

“What?”

“I know I’ve been nothing but trouble all my life and I don’t want to go on this way. I don’t mind dying. I deserve it.”

“I’ll pay it,” she said.

“I knew you would,” the man at the table said, “or I don’t know nothing about human nature.”

“Please don’t pay it, mother!” Lewis said. “Just get yourself a cab and go home and forget about me!”

“I’ll have the money for you within forty-eight ours,” she said to the man at the table. “Just tell me where you want it delivered.”

“No!” Lewis said.

He grabbed the gun that the young man was holding and pointed it at his head and pulled the trigger. The concussion knocked him over against the wall.

The man at the table stood up, knocking over the chair he was sitting in, and ran out of the room as though escaping a fire. The other two men, the man who had opened the door and the young man with the gun, ran out after him. The young man first picked up the gun where it had landed after Lewis shot himself.

She was alone in the room with her son. She knelt beside him and cradled his head in her arms, not minding the blood.

“I’m glad,” he said. “This is the best thing that could happen.”

“Don’t try to talk, Lloyd” she said. “An ambulance will be here in no time and you’ll be all right.”

“No, no, no,” he said. “Not Lloyd. Lewis. I need you to remember that.”

“What’s money compared to your own child?” she said, but she knew he had stopped breathing and didn’t hear.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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

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