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A Good Part of the Afternoon

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A Good Part of the Afternoon ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(This short story was published in Cease, Cows and has appeared on my website before.)

She called herself Penelope but that wasn’t really her name. She lived in a small but comfortable third-floor apartment in a large building. She paid her rent on time and never caused anybody any trouble. She rarely went out and knew none of the other people in her building except to pass them in the hallway.

Most of her days were the same but she didn’t mind. She was happy with her life, as narrow as it was. If contentment was happiness and happiness contentment, then she had both.

Her baby, whom she called Alexander, lay in his crib in the bedroom. He was such a good baby. Never caused any trouble at all. And she attended to him assiduously. When she was in the kitchen washing the dishes, she thought she heard him whimper, but when she went in to check on him he was still asleep. A perfect little angel.

Feeling a little bit lonely, she picked Alexander up in her arms and carried him into the living room and sat down with him in the rocking chair. She cooed at him, laughed, and sang him a little song that she made up. She felt him looking at her with his wide eyes, his bow-shaped lips drawn back over his perfect teeth in a sweet smile. He was such a handsome boy. So much like his father.

She held him, rocked him, and sang to him for a good part of the afternoon, thanking the Lord above all the while for giving him to her. Then when she heard the clock chime three o’clock she knew it was time to start dinner. She took Alexander back into the bedroom and placed him carefully in the crib.

She went into the kitchen and put on her apron. She would fix a casserole with some leftovers from the refrigerator. It would be ready about the time that Alexander’s father arrived home.

While the dinner was baking, she set the little table for two and then fixed herself up some, washed her face, combed her hair and put on some lipstick.

When she knew he would be arriving any second, she felt the blood quicken in her veins. She went into the bedroom and picked Alexander up and carried him to the front door. She looked out the little peephole in the door and, just like clockwork, she heard his footsteps in the hallway. He was dressed in a dark suit, carrying his briefcase just like always.

She saw him through the peephole as he opened the door across the hall and went inside. She held Alexander up to the peephole to get a glimpse of him before it was too late. It didn’t matter that Alexander was made out of plastic, had plastic eyes, and the man across the hall didn’t know her. The day for her was complete. She was as fulfilled as any woman could be.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

In a Cemetery on Halloween Night

In a Cemetery on Halloween Night ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story was published in Creaky Door Magazine and is a re-post on my website.)

When we were younger, the three of us were fascinated by the subject of death. We had lengthy discussions about the possibility of a continued existence after life has ended. We all wanted to believe in such an existence. Since Halloween is the one day in the year that the veil between the living and the dead is supposed to be at its most transparent, we decided to put all talk aside and conduct a little experiment.

There were no fewer than eighteen cemeteries in our county, some of them tucked away in forgotten corners. Each of the three of us would select a cemetery to spend the night in—the night of October thirty-first. We believed it was important for each of us to be alone, as spirits were more likely to make themselves known to an individual rather than to a pair or a group. We would meet the next evening and discuss our experiences. We hoped that at least one of us would have the proof we longed for.

I chose the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost because I remembered my grandmother telling me when I was a child that some of her family were buried there, and I also had a vague recollection of being there a time or two with my grandparents when I was in grade school.

It was a once-fine cemetery that had fallen out of vogue about a hundred years ago. It contained many interesting mausoleums, above-ground crypts, stones and monuments. Some of the illustrious (but now forgotten) inhabitants of the cemetery included governors of the state and their “consorts,” a United States senator or two, a celebrated writer (all of his books out of print for fifty years), several war heroes, an actress who appeared on the stage in both New York and London, and a notorious multiple murderer. In checking the records, I discovered that the cemetery had not received a newly deceased person in almost fifty years.

In the early evening of October thirty-first, I drove my car out into the country. I made sure I knew the way before I started and found the cemetery without any trouble. I parked the car in a low spot where it couldn’t be seen from the road (if anybody happened to be passing by, which was unlikely), and went in. There was an iron fence all the way around the cemetery that had fallen down in places. Nobody who wanted in was going to be kept out. I walked around for a while, taking in the sights as much as I could before it was too dark to see.

I found a good place under a big maple tree to sit down where the ground was covered with fragrant, dry leaves. The spot had the advantage of making me feel safe from anything or anybody that might approach me in the dark, so I planned on staying there most of the night until daylight when I would get back into my car and go home again. I took the things out of my backpack that I had brought—a flashlight, some drinking water and snacks, a lightweight blanket, a paperback book in case I became bored with the whole scene—and as I made myself comfortable on the ground under the tree, I realized just how peaceful and lonely an abandoned country cemetery is on a beautiful autumn evening.

I sat with my back against the tree as night came on. I wasn’t especially afraid of the dark but I had to admit that every sound I heard made my heart beat a little faster. Was the snap of a twig or the crunch of leaves someone—or something—coming toward me? What if I really did have an encounter with a spirit of some kind? Would my nerve fail me? Whatever happened, I promised myself that I would leave and go home if the situation became too unpleasant.

Once when I heard a sudden rustling sound right above my head, I jumped up with a little yell, ready to defend myself. When I realized that it had only been an owl—in fact, a pair of owls—I felt a little foolish and was glad nobody was there to see how skittish I was.

I sat underneath the tree for what seemed several hours. I had to get up several times to get the circulation going in my legs and to keep warm. The balmy evening had turned into a chilly night. I was a little disappointed—but not altogether surprised—to see that a country cemetery on Halloween night is the same as on any other night. The dead are sleeping peacefully and there is nothing to be seen or felt. The only thing I was sure of was that it was without a doubt the loneliest place I had ever spent a night in.

When I looked at my watch and saw it was only a few minutes before midnight, I longed to go home and go to bed, but I didn’t. I just didn’t want the night to end that way, with my leaving long before I was supposed to because I wasn’t having any fun. Instead I wrapped myself in my blanket like a cocoon and laid down on the bed of leaves with my head a couple feet from the tree. If I could spend a few hours sleeping, it would be dawn when I woke up and I could go home and have a good breakfast and sleep until noon.

I was more tired than I thought and lying on the ground was more comfortable than I expected it to be. In a very short time I was lost in sleep.

I woke up long before dawn to what sounded like the strings being plucked on a musical instrument. I gasped, believing for a moment I was choking, and sat up.

“That’s Edith playing her ukulele,” a male voice said.

Since it was too dark for me to see anything, I reached for the flashlight but wasn’t able to find it. “Who’s there?” I asked.

“I’m right here,” the voice said.

I squinted into the darkness but couldn’t see anything. Then, as my eyes seemed to adjust a little bit, I could see what seemed to be the blurry outline of a person. After a few seconds I could see the features of a face—nose, eyes, a mouth—but they were very faint. I seemed to be looking at a person who was there and not there at the same time. Lit from within, he seemed to be, as when you put a small lighted candle inside a large paper sack.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I belong here,” he said. “You don’t.”

“Who’s Edith?”

“She’s my daughter. Ukulele player extraordinaire.”

As soon as her name was mentioned, a small girl “lit up” beside the man. Apparently they were able to turn the light on and off at will.

“Is there anybody else here?” I asked stupidly, running my hand across my eyes.

“My son Tom is here and several others who are just now hearing about you.”

A boy of about fifteen made himself known to me the way Edith had done. Then several others behind him did the same thing. As I looked out at them over the man’s shoulder, I saw that they were not quite touching the ground but “floating” above it.

“What are you doing here?” the man asked. I could hear the amusement in his voice.

“Do you know what day it is?” I asked.

“Time doesn’t mean anything here,” he said.

“Well, it’s Halloween,” I said.

“Oh, that,” he said, as if disappointed.

“So you understand the significance of the holiday?”

“Yes. And you are one of those who believe that Halloween is the one day in the year you will be able to see for yourself that we exist.”

“It sounds rather silly when you put it that way.”

“Are there others here also?”

“No. I’m by myself.”

“Are you some kind of medium between the world of the living and the world of those who have passed over?”

“No! Oh, no!”

“Then why are you seeing us right now?”

“This isn’t really happening. It’s just a dream. I’m afraid I’ve fallen under the spell, the romance, of being in an old country cemetery on Halloween.”

There was a murmur among the spirits behind the man. He listened to them for a moment and then turned back to me.

“They’re saying we can’t let you go like this,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“They think, and I agree, that you’ll go back and spread the word that you’ve seen proof of life after death and then this place will never be the same. There’ll be people coming out here in droves—curiosity seekers like yourself and newspaper men and the like. I haven’t been dead so long that I don’t remember what people are like!”

“I won’t tell a soul.”

“No, indeed, you will not!”

I couldn’t help noticing that the spirits had increased in number. Before there were just a few but now there were dozens and behind them dozens and maybe hundreds more. I began to feel a little afraid at what they were going to do to me.

“Why are there so many of you here?” I asked.

“They all want to get a look at you,” he said.

“That’s not what I mean. Why haven’t you moved on in the spirit world? Do you have to stay here because this is where your bodies are interred?”

I heard faint laughter but couldn’t see who was doing the laughing.

“Of course not,” he said. “We’re everywhere. We can go wherever we want. There are no restrictions. That’s what being a spirit is. Some choose to stay here because their loved ones are here; others don’t want to leave because they’ve been here so long they don’t remember any other place.”

“You don’t like living people like me coming around bothering you, do you?”

“Most spirits choose to remain solitary or with other spirits. We would prefer that you left us alone. Nothing good comes out of it for us when you try to prove that we exist.”

“So, are you going to scare me to death so I won’t go back and tell people that I’ve seen you?”

“No, I have to tell you that a spirit can’t kill a living person unless it’s by suggestion. I’ve also heard of spirits causing heavy objects to fall on living people, but that doesn’t happen very often.”

“Well, I think I’ll get into my car now and drive home, then, if it’s all the same to you. And I promise you I’ll forget I was ever here.”

“You’ll go back to sleep. You’ve never really woken up. At dawn you’ll wake up and leave this place. You’ll forget any of this ever happened. You’ll have nothing to report to your friends.”

“I won’t remember any of this,” I said, “because it’s a dream and I never remember dreams after I wake up.”

Just as the sun was coming up I awoke to the enthusiastic singing of birds. As I stood up from my bed of leaves and folded my blanket, I was relieved that morning had arrived, I had survived the night intact and it was time to go home. I had done what I said I would do, which was spend Halloween night alone in a country cemetery. I wondered if my friends had fared as well as I had.

I walked to my car, started the engine, and turned on the heater. By the time I got out to the highway, morning was well on its way and the sky a brilliant autumnal blue.

I didn’t see the deer that came rushing out of the brush toward me like the angel of death. All I saw of it was its back legs as it sailed over the hood of my car. I suppose I had been thinking too much about bacon and pancakes and wasn’t paying as much attention to my driving as I should have. I swerved the car sharply to avoid colliding with the deer. Since I was going about sixty miles an hour, I lost control and ran the car off into a deep culvert that, lucky for me, had no water in it. I hit my head and was knocked out cold.

Somebody passing by on the highway saw my car in the ditch and called for help. An ambulance came and took me, still unconscious, to the hospital. The police had my car towed into town.

While I was still unconscious, I could hear a song being played on the ukulele. I didn’t know what the song was, but it was the same song over and over. A ukulele is not an instrument I’m used to hearing or would expect to hear. It forced me to recall in vivid detail the dream I was supposed to forget. When I regained consciousness, I asked for a pencil and some paper. I knew I had to write it down while I remembered it or risk losing it forever.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp


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Celeste ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story was published in Gothic City Press: Gas Lamp and is a re-post on my website.)

She owed everything to M and F. They brought her into the world, fed and clothed her, educated her, gave her a wonderful childhood. When the world was against her, M and F were always in her corner.

After she grew up, she married and left M and F. The marriage didn’t last, though, and after it came to its sad end she moved back home. M and F were growing old by then and needed her in the same way she needed them when she was a little girl growing up. She would never leave them again.

She did everything for them. They were helpless without her. She got them up in the morning, dressed them, sat them in their chairs, turned the TV or radio on for them. She read the newspaper to F and helped M with all the housework. She loved them so much that she told them all her secrets, like the time she pushed a girl down a long flight of stairs or the time at the lake when she could have saved a drowning boy but instead let him die.

On a beautiful autumn day, when the leaves were bright colors and the air held that wonderful crispness that can only mean the end of October, she bundled M and F up in their coats. F looked so sweet in the knit cap she made for him and M seemed to glow with the prospect of the fun they were going to have.

With M and F snuggly secured in the back seat, she drove out to the country road that she remembered from her childhood. They used to take long drives on Sunday afternoons in autumn, stopping to pick bittersweet or wild flowers or a few persimmons off a scraggly tree. She laughed to remember how eating a persimmon would make the inside of her mouth so puckery that she would have to spit it out on the ground. Autumn was her favorite time of year.

The road was just as she remembered it, the hills, curves, and sudden dips that made the stomach turn over. In fact, everything was exactly the same. There was the old red barn, there the grain silo and over there the horses grazing in a field behind a fence. The rickety old bridge still spanned the creek and the old country store still sold ice-cold drinks and pumpkins.

She looked away for a moment and when she looked back a porcupine was running across the road in front of the car. Porcupines don’t run very fast. If she had run over it and killed it, she would have been upset for the rest of the day. She swerved the car too much and lost control. The car careened off the road, across a ditch and into a tree.

Her first thought was for M and F. They had slid off the seat onto the floor but were unhurt. After she tended to them, she got out of the car to assess the damage. She had hit the tree squarely; water was dripping out of the radiator. She could not drive the car another inch in its present state.

It was too far to walk to town and, besides, she couldn’t leave M and F in the car alone. She could think of nothing else to do but stand by the side of the road and wait for somebody to come along and help.

There wasn’t much traffic and the few people who went by just stared at her as if she were a lunatic and went on past. Finally a police officer in a patrol car came along and, seeing her and the car smashed into the tree, pulled off onto the shoulder and got out.

“Anybody hurt?” the officer asked.

“No,” she said.

“I’ll call a tow for you.”

“Thank you.”

He spotted M and F in the back seat of the car. “Are they all right?” he asked.

“I think so,” she said.

He went closer to the car and leaned over to get a better look. “Why, they’re wax figures!” he said. “Aren’t they?”

“They’re…my family,” she said.

He straightened up and looked closely at her to see if she was making a joke. “Are you made of wax, too?”

“They’re surrogates.” she said.

“They’re what?”

She was wearing an old coat that belonged to F. She thrust her hands into the pockets and felt in the right-hand pocket a small knife that F used to use for whittling. She brought the knife out and stabbed the officer in the forearm.

He yelped with surprise. When she saw the knife sticking into his arm, she turned and started to run, but he grabbed onto her and wrapped his arms around her to subdue her. He pushed her toward the patrol car, opened the back door and shoved her inside.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she said. “I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“Shut up!” he said.

He slammed the door, locking her inside.

“Let me out of here!” she said. “They need me!”

The officer went over to her car and opened the back door. F tumbled out onto the ground head-first in a very undignified manner. The officer picked him up by the arm and tossed him back inside.

She winced as if she had been struck and then laughed at herself because she knew then that it wasn’t the real F. They—the real F and the real M—were asleep in a big trunk in the basement. Only she knew where they were. Nobody else would ever know. She was so much smarter than she had ever been given credit for.

Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp

On the Face of It

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On the Face of It ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story was published in Gaia’s Misfits Fantasy Anthology and is a re-post on my website.)

In the morning when Blanche Mims stepped outside to sweep away the autumn leaves that had gathered around her front door, there was a very small man dressed in black formal attire, a midget, standing in the yard looking at her. She stopped sweeping, adjusted her glasses, and snorted through her nose.

“Looking for somebody?” she asked.

“I’ve found her,” he said.

So, he was one of those! He had heard about her in town and wanted to see for himself. She went back inside as fast as she could, slamming the door. She peeked out at him as he got back into a long gray car and drove away. Oh, but he had an evil grin!

She was not like other women, so she had good reason for caution. She had what was, by any measure, a monstrous deformity: her face was not in front of her head but on top. Her nose was exactly at the top of her head, her mouth tucked in underneath her nose. Since her eyes were always pointed skyward, she had to wear a special kind of glasses made with tilted mirrors so she could walk upright and see in front of her. On the sides of her head, all the way around (covering her ears), was thick hair, the color and texture of a lion’s mane. For several years she had been a headliner in a traveling freak show and was, for a time, billed as The Lion Woman. (To her credit, she was, except for the misplacement of her face, exactly the same as anybody else.)

She continued to see the midget every day for nearly two weeks. He either drove by slowly or stopped the car and got out and stood looking at the house for a while before driving on.

“There’s been a strange man hanging around outside for several days now,” she said casually to her mother, Olga Mims, one evening when they were getting ready for bed. “A tiny man.”

Olga laughed. “I’ve seen the little bastard,” she said. “That’s a hearse he’s driving. He’s an undertaker.”

“What’s he looking for?”

“Maybe he’s trying to drum up some business.”

“In Scraptown? Nobody comes to Scraptown if they don’t have to.”

“Why don’t you ask him the next time you see him?” Olga said as she removed her wig and put it on the head of the mannequin that she kept by her bed to keep her company at night.

All day long the next day Blanche kept an eye out for the little man, but she didn’t see him. The day after, though, he parked his hearse under the trees across the road and got out and stood in the front yard and looked up at the house. He was wearing a top hat and a cape as if he thought he was Spencer Tracy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and was smoking a cigarette in a long holder. She decided it was time to confront the little son of a bitch. She ran her fingers through her mane-like hair to smooth it down and went out the door.

“May I help you?” she asked in a too-loud voice.

He took off his hat, took the cigarette holder out of his mouth, made a sweeping gesture with his arm and bowed. “I am so pleased to finally make your acquaintance,” he said. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ferris Peabody, mortician. At your service.”

“What makes you think I need a mortician?” she asked.

“I don’t,” he said. “This is purely a personal call, rather than a professional one.”

“All right,” she said. “I think you’d better state your business and be quick about it, or I’m going to call the sheriff and have you removed from my property.” She bent over from the waist so she was really facing him, rather than looking at him through the mirror glasses.

“You have a lovely face,” he said. “It’s too bad the world doesn’t see more of it.”

“What’s the gag? Do you have a hidden camera somewhere?”

“Nothing of the kind, I assure you.” He bowed again as though addressing a queen.

“If this is some kind of trick, I don’t think it’s the least bit funny and I want you to know that I keep a loaded gun in the house.”

“No gag and no trick,” he said.

Hearing their voices, Olga came out of the house. She was wearing a seventy-year-old sailor suit that was too big for her, complete with hat. She smiled at the little man and saluted like a real sailor.

“How-do, ma’am,” he said. “Ferris Peabody at your service.”

“Charmed, I’m sure,” Olga said.

“You are, I take it, the young lady’s mother?”

“I was the last time I looked.”

“You have a sense of humor, ma’am, I can see. I like that and I think it’s so important in this cruel world we live in.”

Already Olga was fascinated by the little man and found him inexpressibly piquant.

“You still haven’t told me what your business is,” Blanche said.

“I come to pay a social call.”

“Why would you do that? I don’t even know you.”

“So that we may come to know each other.”

“If you’re selling funeral plans, we’re not interested.”

“I’m not, I swear.”

“Well, come on inside,” Olga said. “We don’t have to stand out here like a bunch of statues.”

Blanche opened her mouth to object but she saw no reason to be overly rude and, besides, she was curious enough to want to know what the little mortician was going to say.

They went into the parlor and sat down, Blanche and Olga on the old horsehair sofa and he on the overstuffed easy chair facing the sofa. Since he was about the size of a three-year-old child, he had some difficulty getting on the chair but, once he was settled, he smiled broadly, pleased to have been asked inside.

“I have some beer on ice, if you’d like one,” Olga said.

“I’d love one,” he said.

Blanche sat upright on the sofa so that when he looked at her all he could see was the lion’s mane. She was deliberately being cold to him, which he could read in her posture.

“You’re probably wondering how I drive the hearse,” he said to Blanche with an ingratiating smile, “being deprived of height the way I am.”

“I haven’t given it a single thought.”

Olga came back from the kitchen. She had poured the beer into a glass, which she only did for special guests. She handed it to him and watched carefully as he took a sip of the beer.

“Ah, so refreshing!” he said.

She smiled, ever the gracious hostess, and sat back down.

“Now, to get on with my story,” he said.

“I didn’t know you were telling one,” Blanche said.

“I became acquainted with your cousin, Philandra Burgoyne, about a year ago when she came to me for her after-death needs.”

“Oh, yes,” Olga said. “How is dear Philandra?”

“She’s fine,” he said. “She’s dead.”

“Isn’t that odd? I hadn’t heard that she had passed over.”

“She was very large at the end of her life. There was no coffin available that would accommodate, so we had to bury her in a piano crate.”

“I would have gone to the funeral, had I only known.” Olga said.

“The funeral was quite spectacular, if I do say so myself, but that’s not what I came to tell you. To get right to the point, I had many deeply heartfelt conversations with Philandra in the last few months of her life. I was her spiritual advisor, in a way, as there was no one else to fill that position.”

“You must have been a great comfort to her,” Olga said.

When Blanche sighed with boredom, he turned and faced her. He had no way of knowing if she was even listening to him. It was rather like talking to a mop. “When Philandra told me about you, I knew I had to come and pay you a visit, get to know you any way I could.”

“How flattering,” Blanche said. “I still don’t understand where you’re going with this.”

“I have a successful business,” he said. “I began The Ferris Peabody Mortuary and Funeral Parlor from the ground up. I have a very select clientele. People like us.”

“People like what?”

“Unique people. People like you and me and your cousin Philandra. People that the world thinks of as freaks.”

“Oh, well, thank you very much for calling me a freak!”

“To the world that’s what we are because the world only sees what’s on the outside and never considers what’s on the inside.”

“Ho-hum,” Blanche said, covering her mouth to yawn.

“I’ve taken care of the after-death needs of Hortense the Hippopotamus Girl, Isador the Invisible Irishman, Allesandro the Monkey Boy, Lulu the Flipper Baby, and Otto Osgood the Only Human on Earth with an Exoskeleton, to name but a few.”

“Otto and I used to be sweethearts,” Olga said. “He was very proud of his physical endowments.”

“I don’t believe you ever knew him,” Blanche said.

“Well, maybe not.”

“The point I’m trying to make,” he said, “is that my business is successful and getting more so. I have everything I need, except for one thing, and that’s where you come in.”

“You want me to die,” Blanche said, “and let you take care of my after-death needs so you can drop my name whenever and wherever it’s convenient, the way you drop the names of those other freaks? You little name-dropper, you!”

“I want someone to share my success with.”

“Get a dog.”

“The clock is ticking away. I’m no longer young and neither are you.”

”Speak for yourself!”

“You would complement my business in a way that nobody else could. My clients would feel comfortable with you. The women folk like it better if a woman is seeing to the arrangements. You know, what shroud goes with the casket lining and all that. What panties to wear. What shoes.”

“Are you offering me a job?”

“More than that. I’m offering to marry you.”

Phht! And wouldn’t we make a fine pair! A woman whose face is in the wrong place and a man who doesn’t even measure up to the yard stick! We could put on a show for Halloween, but I don’t know what we’d do the rest of the year.”

“You’ve been hurt by life and so have I,” he said.

“Me too,” Olga said. “I’ve been hurt by life a lot.”

“In my world you wouldn’t be an outcast. You wouldn’t have to hide yourself away in a little house built into the side of a hill because you wouldn’t be any more freakish than anybody else.”

“Oh, and where is this world, anyway, where everybody’s a freak but doesn’t know it?”

“It’s closer than you think.”

“It sounds delightful, your world, but there’s just one problem.”


“How can I believe you? How do I know you’re not just some evil dwarf come to carry my soul to hell?”

He laughed heartily. “I assure you I’m not,” he said.

“I think you should listen to what he’s saying,” Olga said.

“I want to show you something,” he said. “Maybe it will help to convince you.”

He took her by the hand and led her to a mirror on the wall. After he had positioned a chair behind her to stand on so they were of more or less equal height, he placed his hands on both sides of her head and said, “Watch closely.”

She adjusted her mirror glasses and sighed. All she saw was her lion mane of hair, which is what she expected to see, but after a few seconds she saw something different. Her face was somehow projected on the front of her head so that she looked like a normal person whose face was where it should be and not a freak.

“How do you do that?” she said.

“Never mind how I do it. Just know that I can.”

The image in the mirror faded and she turned around and looked at him as he got down off the chair. “That’s just a trick,” she said. “I’ve had enough tricks in my life.”

“I think there’s something to that,” Olga said.

“Come with me now,” he said.

“I can’t marry you without knowing anything about you.”

“We can put off marrying for as long as you like.”

“And you won’t touch me?”

“You’ll have your own private boudoir with the strongest lock you ever saw on the door.”

“And I can come back home if I so choose.”

“It’s not a prison.”

“Can she come too?” Blanche asked, tilting her head toward Olga.

“I can’t leave now,” Olga said. “Poor Butterfly is about to have her babies.”

“She loves her cats more than anything,” Blanche said.

“We can come back and get her and her cats, too, just as soon as she’s ready,” he said.

“That will give me time to get my wig washed and styled and get my nails done,” Olga said. “What should I wear?”

“You can wear whatever you want,” he said.

“Can I come as a clown? I’ve always loved clowns.”

“You can come as a clown, a sailor, a chicken, or anything you want.”

“I have the cutest clown getup you ever saw!”

“Do I need to pack a bag?” Blanche asked.

“No,” he said. “You’ll have everything you need when we get to where we’re going.”

“What are we waiting for, then?”

Suddenly Blanche Mims seemed in a hurry to leave her little house built into the side of a hill in the section of town known as Scraptown. She gave Olga a little squeeze about the shoulders and followed the tiny mortician outside to his long gray hearse waiting for them under the trees.

Olga stood and watched as they drove away, waving and blowing kisses. She saw the hearse as it disappeared from view down the hill in the lane. Unlike other cars, though, it just never reappeared at the top of the next hill.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Gone Girl ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Gone Girl poster

Gone Girl ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Gone Girl might more appropriately be titled Gone 33-Year-Old Woman. It’s a slick mystery filmed in and around Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and directed by David Fincher, who directed The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It’s a story about a mismatched couple and the disastrous consequences of their terrible marriage. Ben Affleck is Nick Dunne, the feckless husband, and Rosamund Pike is Amy, the not-what-she-seems wife.

Nick Dunne is a small-town, average man. He owns a not-very-successful bar with his twin sister, Margo. His blond wife, Amy, is everything he’s not. She comes from a wealthy family, is sophisticated, cultured, and accomplished, a Harvard graduate and author of a series of children’s books. After the sexual attraction between the two of them wears thin, Nick and Amy discover they can’t stand each other. Nick grows increasingly more hostile toward Amy and she claims to be afraid of him. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick is going to ask Amy for a divorce, but when he comes home he finds she is gone; the house is in disarray, suggesting a struggle. Nick goes to the police and a large-scale search for Amy begins.

The apparent abduction of Amy becomes the subject of intense media scrutiny and a kind of national obsession. Nick Dunne is a little too glib and facile; he doesn’t seem too broken up over the disappearance of his wife. (He admits in private that he is relieved she’s gone.) He is, in fact, found to have been having an adulterous affair with a woman half his age. He becomes the most hated man in America. He has, in a way, been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.

We (the audience) aren’t kept guessing too long. I don’t want to give away too much here, except to say that, as much of a jerk as Nick is, he’s relatively blameless compared to Amy. She is a despicable, manipulative monster, a regular psychopath. In the unsatisfying ending, we are left with the impression that Amy is exactly what Nick deserves. These are not likeable characters and there’s nothing here I care to see. I think I want my money back and the two-and-a-half hours out of my life.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

A Happy Starfish

A Happy Starfish image 3

A Happy Starfish ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Did I tell you how I hate school? This morning in zoology I had to dissect a starfish. The inside of the starfish is green. That’s disgusting enough, but the thing that got to me is the fishy smell. It’s a smell that lingers in my head and my nose. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat any kind of fish or seafood again for as long as I live without being reminded of the green insides of a starfish.

The world is very cruel. That little starfish was probably just minding its own business on a beach somewhere when somebody picked it up and put it in pickling solution where it instantly died. One minute a happy starfish and the next minute a laboratory specimen to be cut open and have its insides probed. If I was a starfish, I would want to live on a faraway island where there were no people and I could die of old age.

After zoology was American history, but I skipped. I thought I was going to vomit and I didn’t want anybody to see me. I went to the boys’ toilet on the third floor where it was quiet and went into a stall and latched the door. I put my hands on my knees, leaned forward and closed my eyes, trying not to think about that starfish.

In a minute somebody came into the toilet whistling. I hate people who whistle. It spoiled my concentration, so I just spit into the toilet and flushed without vomiting. I opened the stall door and went to the sink and started to wash my hands.

“What do you think you’re doing?” somebody to my left said.

I turned and saw it was Dutch Farquhar. If there’s anybody in school I hate, it’s Dutch. He’s the class president and a snitch. Mr. Perfect. He has somehow taken it upon himself to keep the rest of us in line. Probably someday he’ll be a congressman or a senator or something if somebody doesn’t kill him first.

“Washing my hands” I said curtly.

“That’s not what I meant, smartass! What are you doing out of class?”

“I’m sick.”

“You don’t look sick.”

He took his eyes off himself in the mirror and leaned in close to me, sniffing.

“Get away from me!” I said. “What I have might be contagious.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in American history?”

“It’s none of your business!”

“Are you skipping?”

“Why should you care?”

“As class president, I’m supposed to report anybody skipping class.”

“Go to hell!” I said.

He grabbed me by the collar and pulled me toward him, holding his right arm back like he was going to hit me in the face. “What did you just say to me?” he said.

“I said, ‘go to hell’.”

He roughed me up a little bit but didn’t hit me. He finished by pushing me into the sink. “You stupid little baby!” he spat out viciously.

“You’re a big man, aren’t you,” I said. “Going around telling everybody what to do!”

“I’m going down to Mr. Crawford’s office right now and write up a report stating that you’re loitering in the bathroom when you’re supposed to be in class.”

“I hope you break your leg going down the steps,” I said.

I went to the library to hide out for the rest of the period. I wandered around in the dusty stacks for a while and then went all the way to the back and sat down on the floor in the corner. I opened a book on my knees so if I heard anybody coming I’d pretend to be reading.

I was starting to feel a little less like vomiting. The quiet and the smell of old books made me sleepy, so I leaned my head against the wall and dozed off like a bum sleeping it off in an alley.

“Here he is!” Somebody said in a loud voice.

I jerked awake and saw Dutch Farquhar looking down at me. Behind him was Mr. Crawford, the principal.

“I was sure he’d be here!” Dutch said triumphantly.

“Here, here!” Mr. Crawford said. “What do you think you’re doing? Sleeping on the floor in the library!”

“I was feeling sick,” I said, standing up.

“You haven’t been drinking, have you?”


“Aren’t you supposed to be in class?”

“American history class,” Dutch said.

“I was afraid I was going to vomit,” I said. “I didn’t want to do it where everybody could see me.”

Mr. Crawford took hold of my arm above the elbow and squeezed. I was sure he was going to make a bruise and I was sorry there wasn’t anybody else there besides Dutch to see it.

“Skipping class won’t be tolerated in this school,” he said in a low voice close to my ear. I could smell his cologne and it was worse than the starfish. “Do you want a suspension?”

“No,” I said. “I just want my high school years to be over.”

“Do you need me to help you with him?” Dutch asked.

“No, thanks,” Mr. Crawford said. “I can take it from here.”

“Before you tell somebody else to go to hell,” Dutch said to me with his demonic smile, “think about who you’re talking to.”

“That’s fine, Dutch,” Mr. Crawford said. “You may go now.” To me he said, “Proper disciplinary action will be taken at an appropriate time, but, for now, you may go to your next class, and if you even think about skipping class again you’ll be faced with a three-day suspension. Think what that will do to your scholastic record and to your chances of getting into a good college.”

My next class was gym class, which was worse than all the others put together. I went to the locker room and changed out of my “street clothes” into the ridiculous-looking, baggy red shorts, a stretched-out tee shirt and my grass-stained high-top tennis shoes that were too small for me and made my toes hurt.

While we were all standing around waiting for the teacher to arrive so the class could begin, I spotted Dutch Farquhar about twenty feet away, bouncing a basketball. When he saw me and gave me a look of bemused hatred, I held his gaze and mouthed the words go to hell. I know he knew what I was saying.

The physical education teacher was Mr. Bliss, or “coach,” as he liked to be called. He was four feet, eleven inches tall, and he always wore a gray sweat suit and sweatpants with a whistle around his neck.

“All right now, everybody!” he yelled and blew his whistle. “Time for warm-up!”

As bad as the warm-up was, it wasn’t as bad as the game of volleyball or basketball that followed. We stood in rows as Mr. Bliss faced us and directed us in the knee bends, sit-ups, pushups, and jumping jacks.

It was during the jumping jacks that I vomited on the floor, a thick green mass that looked exactly like the insides of the starfish. Everybody stopped jumping and looked at me. I bent forward to vomit again and fainted face down in what I had just deposited on the floor. It was only the second time in my life that I fainted. The first time was when I was eight and had the flu.

When I came to, everybody was standing around in a circle watching me in fascination. I had really spiced up their boring old gym class. Mr. Bliss was kneeling beside me, waving a bottle of smelling salts under my nose.

“He’s coming around,” he said.

“I want to go home,” I said.

“Can you make it to the nurse’s office?”

“She doesn’t like me. I pushed her down the stairs once.”

As I stood up, Mr. Bliss took hold of my arm. “Go get dressed,” he said, “and go see the nurse.”

“I don’t know,” I said, wobbling for effect. “I feel like I’m going to faint again.”

“Dutch!” he barked. “Go with him and help him get dressed!”

Dutch stepped forward, ready once again to fulfill his role as student leader.

“I don’t need any help from him!” I said. “Just give me time!

I went down to the deserted locker room, cleaned the vomit off my face and out of my hair and put my clothes back on. As I was leaving the locker room, I noticed the door to Dutch’s locker was partway open. I approached the locker, pulled the door open all the way and looked inside. There, on the top shelf, was his expensive wrist watch that one of his admirers had given him. I slipped the watch into my pocket and deposited it in a trashcan on my way to the nurse’s office.

I walked into her office and vomited again, all over the floor. Now, I have to tell you, there’s nothing like vomiting to get people’s attention. You can say you’re sick, but vomiting clinches it.

She dropped what she was doing and came running toward me with a kidney-shaped metal pan. She told me to lie back on the cot and she put a wet cloth on my head. When she took my temperature and saw I had a fever, she called my mother and told her to come and get me.

When I got home, I got straight into bed in my clothes. My mother stood in the doorway and harangued me, as usual.

“Why did you choose today of all days to be sick?” she asked.

“I figured it was time,” I said.

“Algebra test today?”

“No, I failed that last week.”

“Well, I have to tell you,” she said, “sometimes when you say you’re sick I don’t believe you, but today you look sick.”

“Thank you,” I said.

When I refused to see the doctor, she got him on the phone and brought the phone to me in bed. I told him about dissecting the starfish and what happened after that at school, and he said it sounded like I had a stomach virus that was going around. He told me to stay at home from school for a few days and rest and not eat any seafood. Those words, I discovered, are among the most beautiful in the English language.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

The Spoils of Poynton ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Spoils of Poynton cover

The Spoils of Poynton by Henry James ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp 

Henry James was an American writer who lived from 1843 to 1916. If he seems more an English writer than American, that’s because he did most of his work while living in England and, late in his life, gave up his American citizenship and became a British subject. He wrote about twenty novels, the most famous of which are The Golden Bowl, Wings of the Dove, and Portrait of a Lady. He is one of the key figures of nineteenth century literary realism.

The Spoils of Poynton is a short (for Henry James) novel first published in 1897 that touches on the themes of greed, friendship, the nature of love and the strength of familial connections. Mrs. Gereth is a headstrong widow who lives on her estate called Poynton. Poynton is filled with “treasures” (these are the “spoils” of Poynton) that Mrs. Gereth and her late husband collected, including furnishings, tapestries, old china, paintings, object d’arts, etc. According to a silly and unfair English law, all the things in Poynton (including the house and estate) belong (upon the death of Mrs. Gereth’s husband) to her son, Owen. Owen can do as he pleases with his mother. He can put her out of the house of he wants to. He is under no legal obligation to her.

Owen is engaged to be married to one Mona Brigstock, whom Mrs. Gereth, his mother, loathes. Mrs. Gereth can’t stand to see Mona installed in Poynton with all the “things” that she considers her own. She would do almost anything to keep Owen from marrying Mona. This is where Fleda Vetch enters the picture. She is a friend of Mrs. Gereth’s and Mrs. Gereth’s choice for Owen to marry instead of Mona. After Owen and Fleda meet a few times, they admit they have “feelings” for each other. Could it be love?

Mrs. Gereth moves out of Poynton at the prospect of her son’s marriage to Mona and takes up residence in a place called “Ricks.” Ricks is all right in its own way but far inferior to Poynton. To mollify his mother, Owen tells her she may have a few (a dozen or so) of her favorite pieces from Poynton. She surprises everybody by taking literally everything. Owen is outraged and threatens legal action. (Apparently the desire for earthly possessions is more important than the mother-son bond.) Mona tells Owen the marriage is off until the things are returned to Poynton. She wants to marry Owen, it seems, only if Poynton and everything in it are part of the bargain.

Mrs. Gereth’s friend, Fleda Vetch, is faced with a dilemma. She loves Owen and he apparently loves her, but she believes it would be improper for her to take him away from Mona. The only way she will get Owen herself is if Mona chooses to break off with him. Owen believes it his duty to follow through on his marriage to Mona, even though he seems at times to prefer Fleda. Which way will he go? Will Mona tell him she no longer wants to marry him? What will happen to the “spoils” of Poynton?

Somebody once said that Henry James could find more drama in a raised eyebrow than most people could find in an earthquake. The Spoils of Poynton is a simple and engaging story told in Henry James’s inimitable grand literary style. If a thing could be said in five hundred words, he will more than likely use five thousand. Let’s see…how many ways are there to say the same thing?

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp


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