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Cotton

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Cotton ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

There were five of us: me, a brother and three sisters. When we were old enough, we were taken away one after the other. I think my mother was a little glad to see us go. She was getting old and wanted only to lie in the sun and take uninterrupted naps.

As with all of us, a big one came to get me. He smelled funny but he handled me gently as he put me into a carrier and closed the door. I cried a little and pulled at the door with my paws but I knew it wouldn’t do any good—I wouldn’t be let out again until I was in my new home.

The car ride made me sleepy and made me forget that I had to pee. I had ridden in a car before on a couple of different occasions and I knew how it either makes you want to throw up or go to sleep. I curled up in a tight ball, making myself as small as I could, and went to sleep.

The car went a long, long way from where we started but finally it came to a stop. When the big one got out, I stood up in anticipation of being let out. I was knocked off my feet again, though, when he picked up the carrier, carried it inside the house and set it down on the floor. (A rough but short ride.) Right away I smelled all kinds of awful smells that I couldn’t identify. Was it the smell of another cat? My heart started to pound. All I wanted was to go back to the safety of my mother.

When the big one saw I didn’t want to come out of the carrier, he stuck his big hairless, pink face through the door and spoke the terrifying language that to me sounded like a dog barking. I crouched down and backed up into the corner.

He upended the carrier—I tried holding on but there was nothing to hold to—and I went sliding out against my will. I stood up and took a few steps, stretched my muscles and licked my paw. The big one seemed to approve.

Just then a different big one, a “she” big one, came out of nowhere and scared me with her loud voice. I started to run for cover but she scooped me up in her paws. Now, I have to tell you it’s an odd sensation to be picked up by something fifty times bigger than you are. I meowed a couple of times to let her know I didn’t like what she was doing to me, but she nuzzled me and started scratching my neck and ears. In spite of the bad smells that made me want to gag, I began to purr a little.

The “he” big one said something to the “she” and they both made that hideous sound that I was to recognize later as laughter. They gave me some water out of a little red bowl and, after I took a good long drink, I was directed to the litter box, which I was very glad to see. I scratched in the box for a few seconds, sat on my haunches, made a tiny wet spot and covered it up so it didn’t show.

The two big ones began playing with me, even though I was in no mood. They had a toy mouse on a string that they dangled in front of my face. I thought I smelled another cat on the toy mouse, but I obliged them anyway by batting at it with my paw and trying to catch it in my mouth. After they tired of this game, they gave me some food, which I was barely able to eat because it didn’t smell like anything I had ever eaten before. I guess I was still too nervous to eat, anyway.

Later on they left me alone to do some exploring on my own. I went into the next room and then the room after that. I jumped up on a big table but there was nothing there that interested me so I jumped down. I walked the length of the couch and the chairs in the living room, exploring every inch of the stinky fabric; I stuck my paws in the dirt of some plants and then I climbed on the TV. I crawled under the couch and came out with dust stuck in my whiskers that caused me to sneeze. I jumped onto the counter in the kitchen, nosed into the sink and took a couple of licks out of a greasy skillet on the stove.

I went into the bedroom, which seemed to be the best room of all. The bed was soft with enough room for a hundred cats like me. As good as the top of the bed was, the underside was even better. It was dark and there were some boxes and things that offered complete concealment from any dangers that might still be lurking. I was thinking it would make a good place for a nap when Finley jumped out at me and scared me so bad I jumped sideways and took a few spider-like steps backwards. The fur ruffled up on my back and my tail puffed out to three times its normal size.

Finley was a young cat, not quite full grown, but bigger than me. He was a long-haired cat that made him seem bigger than he was and he had a mane like a lion. He let out a couple of guttural meows that to me sounded like war cries and came running toward me. I wouldn’t let him get near me, though. I ran into the other room with him chasing me. I didn’t know if he was going to kill me or just hurt me.

I dove under the couch and I knew right away it was a smart move because Finley wouldn’t fit. He could see me, though, and he knew I wasn’t going anywhere and that if I came out he would know it. Every now and then he stuck his paw under to try to grab at me, but I pulled away out of his reach.

I discovered then that Finley was the most patient cat in the world. He stood guard there, stalking me, for the rest of the day and most of the night. I was hungry and thirsty and I had to use the litter box, but I was still too scared to come out. When the big one tried to coax me out by shining a flashlight in my face, I just ignored him.

Finally, in the morning, with the big one there to keep Finley at bay, I came out. The big one picked me up and set me on the table in the kitchen to feed me. He spooned some food into a bowl and I began eating. When Finley, who knew everything that was going on, realized I was eating what he thought of as his food, he tried to get at me to push me away. The big one had to make him stay away from me so I could eat. (That’s when I learned how to eat and growl threateningly at the same time.) After I ate, I had a good drink of water and a satisfying couple of minutes in the litter box, while the “she” big one held Finley in her arms and whispered in his ear.

After a couple of days I was feeling more courageous and I stood up to Finley, nose to nose. Instead of hurting me, as I thought he was going to do, he licked me on the face and head. I guess I discovered then that he wasn’t as bad as I thought he was going to be. What I thought at first was meanness and aggression was more curiosity and playfulness, with just a little jealousy thrown in.

I was still leery of him for a week or so, keeping my distance and hiding from him if I found him a little too overbearing, but I began to get used to him after a while. If he wants the spot on the couch that I’ve made warm, he makes no qualms about trying to take it from me, but more often than not I’m willing to move to another spot and let him have it.

Cold weather was coming on. Cats, as you probably know, are always looking for extra warmth. Finley makes a really good sleeping partner. Not only is he warm, but he has the softest fur I’ve ever felt. Sometimes we sleep head to head or cheek to cheek or crossed over each other like a couple of earthworms. Sometimes I use his belly for a pillow or he uses mine. When winter comes and the nights are really cold, the big one lets us sleep under the covers with him in the bed. There is no warmer place in the house.

Finley and I are now inseparable friends. We play together a lot and keep each other company. We’re a lot alike but also a lot different. Sometimes we eat together out of the same bowl, but most of the time he lets me eat first before he eats. If anybody ever knocks on the door, I run and hide but Finley stays right there to find out what is going on. When we both are taken to the doctor at the same time, I’m still scared but not as scared as I would be if Finley wasn’t with me. When I hiss, he hisses, like two parts of the same hissing machine.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Night Work

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Night Work ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

It was eleven o’clock on a Saturday night. I had spent a strenuous day doing next to nothing, laying around my apartment reading Dostoevsky, and was ready to go to sleep, when the phone rang. I was inclined to let it ring, but I figured it was probably the Lord and Master, Mr. Ludwig, He Who Pays Me Well, so I answered. I was right.

“Got a little job for you,” he said.

“I don’t suppose it matters that I was about to go to bed,” I said.

“I can always get somebody else if you’re indisposed.”

“Just kidding,” I said. “Spill me the details.”

“A doctor had somebody die in his office. A young woman. He wants her removed before morning.”

“What was he doing to her?”

“It doesn’t matter. The doctor has a problem and is paying us plenty to remove it for him.”

“Shall I wear my Boris Karloff disguise?”

He gave me the address and I wrote it down on the inside of a match book. “There’s a dead-end alley that runs behind the doctor’s building,” he said. “Pull in there. The doctor will be waiting for you.”

“Sounds like a cinch to me.”

“Bring the deceased to me.”

“I won’t exactly be taking her out for a night on the town.”

I found the address easily enough. As expected, the doctor was waiting. Dressed all in white as he was, he looked like a ghost.

“You the man Ludwig sent?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Turn off those headlights!”

“No need to be so jittery,” I said.

“Did anybody see you?”

“There’s nobody around this time of night.”

“Nobody but the police,” he said.

He pulled the door back and pointed down. He had the girl in a body bag right inside the door.

“You sure she’s dead?” I asked.

“I strangled her,” he said.

She was so light I thought she must only be a child. I was glad I didn’t have to see her face. I put her in the trunk and turned to bid the doctor farewell.

“You have a wonderful evening, now,” I said.

“You were never here!” he said, slamming the door.

Mr. Ludwig lived twelve miles outside of town in a hundred-year-old house that he probably built himself, he was so old. He was some kind of doctor, I think, but I didn’t know what kind. I didn’t ask questions and I knew without being told that he admired that quality above all others.

Any time I drove out to the Ludwig manse, it seemed I was leaving civilization behind. The road was hilly, curvy, and dark with that special kind of lonely darkness that exists only in the country. I hardly ever met any other cars and if I did I figured whoever was driving them was lost.

I made sure I didn’t exceed the speed limit—I couldn’t afford to be stopped with a corpse in my trunk—and I got to Mr. Ludwig’s place a little before one o’clock. The big iron gate opened for me as if by magic and I drove through, up to the big house and around to the back.

I stopped the car and got out. I stood there beside the car, looking up at the silent hulk of the house and listening to the crickets. In a couple of minutes Mr. Ludwig came out the door with one of his goons, a muscle boy named Kurt Spengler.

“Any problems?” Mr. Ludwig asked.

“No,” I said.

“Nobody saw you turn in here?”

“Only a couple of owls.”

“Well, bring her on inside then.”

I opened the trunk and Kurt lifted the bundle like a sack of feathers and carried it inside. Mr. Ludwig motioned for me to follow him so we could sit down in his study and complete the transaction (I could get my money, that is) and call it a night.

 “Would you like a drink?” he asked as I sat down on his expensive leather sofa.

“No, thanks,” I said. “It’s late and I just want my money.”

“Stay and have a drink with me,” he said. “I hardly ever have a chance for any intelligent conversation.”

“Just one,” I said.

He poured some scotch, a drink I hated, into a glass and handed it to me. He was a large man, slightly stooped in the shoulders, wearing a cashmere smoking jacket that made him look like an enormous brown bear.

“How has the world been treating you?” he asked.

“I can’t complain,” I said.

“You like working for me, I take it?”

“Sure.”

“You like night work best?”

“I guess so.”

“Everything is more exciting at night, don’t you agree?”

I didn’t know what he was talking about. “Yes, sir,” I said.

“There are infinite possibilities lurking in the dark.”

“Yeah, I guess I know what you mean.”

“I thought I’d give you a little extra this time for your trouble. Say six-fifty instead of the usual five hundred.”

“Thanks,” I said, managing a tight little smile.

“Don’t thank me. Thank Dr. Voyles. He’ll be picking up the tab.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You met him when you picked up the girl?”

“Yeah, he seemed a little nervous.”

“Did he say she bled to death, or what?”

“He said he strangled her.”

Mr. Ludwig laughed so that his jowls quivered like jelly. “That’s a good one!” he said. “An odd choice of words, but then he’s an odd character.”

“He a friend of yours?” I asked.

“Oh, I’ve known him about thirty years.”

I looked over at the clock and cleared my throat. I was so tired that everything seemed like a dream. “Well, Mr. Ludwig,” I said. “If you don’t mind, sir, I’d like to get my money and go home now.”

As if on cue, Kurt came into the room. He stood a few feet away, silently, until Mr. Ludwig looked at him.

“What is it?” Mr. Ludwig asked.

“I think you need to see this,” Kurt said.

“What is it?”

“Just come and take a look.”

Mr. Ludwig left with Kurt and in a couple of minutes he came back into the room. His jovial manner had abandoned him. The corners of his mouth turned down as if his face was made of dough.

“Anything the matter?” I asked.

“She’s alive,” he said.

“What?”

“If Voyles thought he strangled her, he was wrong.”

“How could she breathe in that bag?”

“Apparently she had just enough air.”

“What are you going to do with her?” I asked.

“We’ll have to kill her.”

“Why?”

“Would you want her identifying you to the police?”

“She hasn’t seen me,” I said.

“Nevertheless, we’ll have to do away with her.”

He opened a drawer of his desk and took out a gun, laid it down and pushed it toward me.

“I’m not doing it,” I said. “I’m no killer. Get Kurt to do it.”

“Kurt’s no killer, either.”

“Her being alive doesn’t concern me,” I said. “I did my part, which was to deliver her to you. Now, if you’ll just give me my money…”

“You were hired to bring a dead body to me,” he said. “You brought me a live one. It’s not quite the same thing, is it? Your job isn’t finished until you give me what I’m paying you for.”

“Why do I have to do it? You’re a doctor. You do it.”

“I draw the line at killing,” he said.

“You never killed anybody before? I would have said otherwise.”

“I’ve converted. I’m a new-born man. I can’t take another person’s life any more than I can leap over the moon.”

“Are you talking about religion?”

“Not exactly,” he said.

“Is it Buddhism or something?”

“It really doesn’t concern you, whatever it is.”

“How about if I take her back to town and drop her off at the nearest hospital? An anonymous drop-off. No questions asked and none answered. She hasn’t seen you or Kurt. She hasn’t seen me. She hasn’t seen any of us. She doesn’t know where she is. She was in my trunk unconscious all the way out here.”

“When they see the state she’s in, they’ll call the police and the first thing she’ll do is put the finger on Dr. Voyles. I must do away with her to protect an old friend.”

“Maybe I can talk to her and make her promise not to say a word to anybody.”

He laughed again. “My goodness, you are naïve, aren’t you?” he said.

“It won’t do any good to argue about this,” I said. “I won’t do it. That’s not my line. I’ll bet you have half a dozen guys on your payroll who specialize in that sort of thing.”

“None of them are here, though. You are.”

He stood up, walked around the desk and placed the gun in my hand.

“I don’t want to shoot her,” I said. “Maybe I’ll hold a pillow over face until she stops breathing.”

“Use whatever method you prefer. Just do it.”

“And what will you do with her after I kill her?” I asked.

“I have a special process all my own for dissolving bodies, including the skeleton. Nobody knows about it but me. Why do you think I have dead bodies brought to my home?”

“I never thought much about it.”

“That’s because you’re a doer and not a thinker.”

“Yeah, I’m a doer,” I said.

He had Kurt strong-arm me into the room where the girl was and before they closed the door, he said, “I’ll give you five minutes. We haven’t got all night.”

She was laying on a kind of dissecting table, half out of the body bag. As I approached the table, she opened her eyes.

“Who are you?” she asked weakly.

She was older than I expected, maybe around thirty. She was one of those small dames that probably stood no taller than five feet and weighed no more than a hundred and ten pounds. She looked terrible, as if she had just gone a few rounds with a gorilla.

“I’m nobody,” I said. “I’m not even here.”

“What is this place?”

“It’s the castle of a mad scientist, high on a mountaintop.”

“What?”

“Do you think you can walk?”

“I see that gun you’re holding,” she said. “What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m going to shoot our way out of here if I have to.”

“I don’t like any of this,” she said.

I helped her to her feet. She was able to stand on her own but was barely able to walk. I put my left arm around her and bore most of her weight while I held the gun in my right hand. I led her to the door and banged on it with the ball of my hand. “Open up!” I said.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Mr. Ludwig said when the door swung open and he saw I was pointing the gun at him.

“I’m leaving with the girl,” I said, “and I’ll shoot you if I have to.”

“You’re making a big mistake to try a thing like that.”

To show him I wasn’t jesting, I fired one bullet that whizzed past his head and lodged in the wall.

Kurt stood by helplessly and looked at Mr. Ludwig. “Do you want me to call for help?” he asked.

Mr. Ludwig laughed. “Don’t bother,” he said. “With one phone call, I can have him run to ground before he even gets halfway to town.”

I don’t know how, but I managed to get the girl outside and into my car. I fumbled with the keys in the dark but finally managed to get the car started. I expected Mr. Ludwig and Kurt to come after me, but they didn’t come out of the house. I knew Mr. Ludwig didn’t like scenes and he didn’t like being discommoded, especially in his own home. He always had somebody else do all his dirty work for him.

I knew they would be expecting me to go back to town, so I went in the opposite direction, away from town. After I had driven thirty miles or so without seeing a single car and was beginning to feel more relaxed, I turned and looked at the girl. She had been so still I almost forgot she was with me and then I remembered she was the reason I was running away.

“How are you doing?” I asked her.

“I need a drink of water,” she said.

“Sorry, I don’t have any water, but I’ll stop whenever I can.”

“I guess I’ll live,” she said.

“What’s your name?”

“May August.”

“That your real name?”

“Real enough.”

“Do you remember what happened in the doctor’s office?”

“What doctor?”

“Dr. Voyles. That’s where I picked you up.”

“Oh, yeah. Him.”

“What were you doing at his office after office hours?”

“I’ll bet it’s not what you think.”

“How do you know what I think?”

“People always think the worst.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“Well, it’s like this. I went to buy some morphine. You know. Like black market stuff.”

“You an addict?”

“Of course not! My old man’s got a busted back. In terrible pain all the time. His doctor won’t give him any more of the pain stuff—says he won’t do anything else for him until he has an operation—so he has to get it any way he can.”

“Your old man? You mean your husband?”

“My father, you dope!”

“Don’t get excited.”

“Dr. Voyles told me to meet him at his office after he was finished seeing patients for the day. The office was dark and he was the only one there. He had me sit beside him on a couch and then he began pawing me.”

“You ought to report him to the medical authorities.”

“When he saw I wasn’t interested, he told me the only way he would sell me the medicine was if I cooperated. He tried to kiss me and we struggled. He was hurting me so I kicked him and bit him. When he wouldn’t stop, I started screaming. He became enraged and tried to strangle me. I thought I was going to die. That’s the last thing I remember.”

“He believed he killed you. He was plenty scared.”

“You were there?”

“I was the delivery boy.”

“The what?”

“I pick up the bodies of people who die by misadventure and take them to the mad scientist who lives in a mountaintop castle.”

“Are you crazy?” she asked.

I drove for a hundred and fifty miles into another state, only stopping once to gas up the car. When it was getting close to dawn, I came to a medium-sized town. I stopped and got a room for us in a hotel. One room so I could keep an eye on her and nothing more. She didn’t interest me except that I wanted, for some reason, to keep her alive. I figured if I was able to do that, it might square me a little for some of the bad things I had done. It didn’t even matter to me that maybe she didn’t deserve to live any more than I did.

We checked into the room and the first thing she wanted to do was take a bath. I left her to it and went out to try to find us something to eat. I told her not to answer the phone or open the door to anyone.

I was gone for about forty minutes and when I got back with the food I could still hear the water running in the bathroom. I was starving so I began eating, leaving her food in the bag to keep it warm. After a few minutes, I realized the water had been running the same way for an awfully long time and I knew something was wrong. I stood up and went over to the bathroom door.

“May?” I called. “Are you all right?”

When she didn’t answer, I pushed the door open slowly. She was fully reclined in the tub, the water up to her ears. Her eyes were partway open but she was lifeless. A single gunshot to the middle of her forehead. I knew there was no chance this time that she might still be alive.

I turned off the water and left. I got into my car and began driving. I didn’t know where I was going, but I supposed the only thing left for me to do was to go home. What would happen then, I didn’t know.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

A Journal of the Plague Year ~ A Capsule Book Review

A Journal of the Plague Year cover

A Journal of the Plague Year ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

English author Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) was a literary late bloomer. He wrote his three famous novels (Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and A Journal of the Plague Year) after the age of sixty. A Journal of the Plague Year was first published in 1722 and is an account of the London plague epidemic in 1665, when Defoe was only five years old.

A Journal of the Plague Year is fiction but is told in first person, as if the narrator is there at the time of the epidemic. The fictional narrator doesn’t leave London when he has the chance when the plague starts, as many sensible people do, but stays behind. He is spared the infection but witnesses firsthand the horrors of the epidemic and lives to tell about them. Defoe supposedly drew on the journals of his uncle, one Henry Foe, in writing the novel. That is obviously what gives the story its sense of authenticity and immediacy.

People can have the plague and not even know it, so are spreading it to everybody they come into contact with. Is it airborne or does it come about only through contact with an infected person? In 1665, nobody seemed to know for sure. Those who have someplace to go outside the city leave before the epidemic takes hold. It’s mostly the poor people who have to stay behind, so they are the principal victims.

So many people are dying during the height of the epidemic that the niceties of burying the dead in coffins are dispensed with. With a thousand or more people dying a day, “dead-carts” are dispatched to round up the dead and dump them into a huge pit. The only requirement for the pits is that the dead be buried at least six feet deep. As the lucky people who collect the bodies sicken and die themselves, new people have to be found all the time to fill the job. (It sounds even worse than a job as a technical writer for a restaurant chain.)

As with any human tragedy, there are stories of heroism and sacrifice along with the stories of opportunism and charlatanism. Quack doctors prey on the poor and uneducated, selling them fake “medicines” that are supposed to be a surefire remedy against the plague. Houses of the sick are ransacked by thieves. Unscrupulous “nurses” murder the sick people they have been hired to care for. Infected people willingly spread the disease to those they know are uninfected. On the other hand, caring people risk their own lives to stay behind and care for the sick in the “pest houses.” Charities are set up that provide food and necessities to the poor to see them through the epidemic.

There isn’t much plot or story to A Journal of the Plague Year, but that doesn’t mean it’s dull reading. A plague epidemic in a large seventeenth-century city is dramatic enough without much embellishment. Once you get used to the old style of sentence structure, it’s a fascinating reading experience. I bought a paperback of the novel when I was in college for sixty cents (new, not used—so you know how long ago that was). I read a hundred or so pages of the novel back then but for some reason didn’t finish it. That’s why I undertook to read the entire book (a breezy 240 pages) this summer, and I’m glad I did.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Say Goodbye

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Say Goodbye ~ 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

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