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Find Out Where the Train is Going

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Find Out Where the Train is Going ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

We’re in a long room that was once used for something else. There are thirty beds in two rows. These are accommodations for guests of the state: check bouncers, bigamists, shoplifters, pickpockets, prostitutes. You could go on and on calling out their misdeeds, but why bother? They are the morally bankrupt repeat offenders who are not beyond being redeemed or reformed. Give them two years, or four or five, and they’ll be out if they’re lucky. Redeemed? Probably not. The really bad ones, the hardened criminals, the murderers, the ones that would throw acid in your face and enjoy doing it, are in another part.

Juniper Tarrant has only been in residence for a few days. She didn’t do anything. She is innocent. She was left with some hash or something—she wasn’t even sure what it was called—that belonged to her boyfriend, a man named Ed King. He disappeared and she went to jail, no matter how many times she told them it wasn’t her fault. Her one hope is that he comes back and tells them what really happened. Of course, she’s going to stick a knife in his ribs if she ever gets the chance, but that’s something that is going to have to wait.

On her fifth or sixth day (she has lost count already), her lawyer, an elderly man named Arthur Lux, comes to see her. She meets with him in a tiny room with a table and two chairs. A blank-faced guard stands against the wall, a silent observer. As she tells the lawyer again everything that happened, he writes it all down.

“When I woke up,” she says, “he was gone.”

Who was gone?” the lawyer asks. “You have to be specific in your answers.”

“Ed King.”

“Was that his real name?”

“It’s the name he gave me.”

“Did he use any other names?”

“I don’t know. Why would he do that?”

“How long had you known him?”

“I don’t know. A few months.”

“How many months?”

“About six.”

“You didn’t know he was involved in the selling and distribution of drugs?”

“No! And if he was, I wasn’t!”

“Do you have any reason to believe he deliberately framed you?”

“No! Why would he do that?”

“So, the two of you were living in this hotel together. What was it called?”

“The Excelsior. And I wouldn’t say we were living there. We were staying there for a few days.”

“For what purpose?”

“Why does anybody stay in a hotel?”

“Hotel records show the room was registered in your name alone.”

“Ed always took the room in my name.”

“Why is that?”

“He always had the feeling that somebody was following him. Watching him.”

“And you suspected nothing?”

“No. I stayed out of his business.”

“After the Excelsior Hotel, where were you planning on going?”

“I don’t know. If Ed knew what our next move was, he hadn’t told me.”

“So, you traveled around with him from place to place and you didn’t know what kind of activities he was involved in?”

“He told me he was a salesman.”

“What did he tell you he sold?”

“In his day he sold cars, washing machines, life insurance policies and other things, too. He didn’t like to talk about it.”

“And you didn’t question him?”

“Why should I?”

“And you thought he was a perfectly legitimate salesman?”

“I had no reason to believe otherwise.”

Arthur Lux closes his notebook, puts his pen away and places one hand on top of the other. “Would you be able to identify him if you saw him again?” he asks.

“Of course!” she says.

“Were you in love with him?”

“I thought I was but right now I hate him so much I could kill him.”

“Did you give him money?”

She shrugs and pushes her hair back out of her face. “All I had,” she says.

“How much?”

“Five thousand dollars and some change.”

“It looks like he did you a dirty deed.”

“If he would only come back and square me with the police,” she says. “Tell them the truth about what really happened. That’s all I ask. I would never bother him again.”

“Maybe you should be more prudent in your associations in the future,” Arthur Lux says with a sad smile.

“Thanks for the advice. It’s a little late.”

“We’re doing all we can but, in spite of our best efforts, we haven’t been able to locate him.”

“You’ve got to find him!”

“There’s no indication that he even exists.”

“What are you saying? Do you think I made him up?”

“I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that he probably gave you a false name and that he planned on running out on you from the very beginning.”

“I fell for his line. I was such a fool.”

“We’re all fools.”

“Can’t you pull some strings to get me out of here? Some writ of habeas corpus or something? I don’t belong in prison.”

Arthur Lux reaches across the table and pats her arm. “Don’t despair, my dear. Something is bound to turn up.”

Now, every night at nine-ten, just before lights out, a passenger train goes by the prison. For fifteen or twenty seconds the long room with the thirty beds is filled with the clatter and excitement of a train on its way to some undisclosed location. Some of the prisoners cover their heads with their pillows to try to drown it out, while others wait to catch a glimpse of it and, if the light is just right, to catch a glimpse of some of the people riding on it. The train goes by so fast that it is just a blur, but some of the prisoners claim to have seen passengers on the train that they recognized. One woman said she saw her husband who was supposed to be in a mental institution but was obviously out having a good time. Another claimed to see the daughter and son, twins, that she gave up for adoption at the time of their birth twenty-seven years earlier.

Juniper Tarrant falls into the habit of watching the train every night. She is one of those, who, for a few seconds at least, feels a curious sense of release and possibility as the train goes by in the night. As long as trains carry happy people from city to city, the world cannot be all terrible and bad. Some day I’ll be free and I’ll be the one on the train.

After a week or so of watching the train, she sees Ed King, looking out at her from one of the sleek passenger cars that glides through the night like a bullet. She sees his face so clearly she cannot be mistaken: the dark hair with a little gray mixed in, the brown-green eyes, the little scar above the right eyebrow, the commanding chin. He is wearing a gray suit with a light-blue shirt and a red tie. She remembers the tie. It was the one tie of his that he liked the best.

She turns away from the window, lets out a little cry and is sick. Lying on the floor, she has a kind of seizure. The prisoner in the bed next to her calls for help and she is taken to the infirmary. When the doctor examines her, he tells her she is going to be a mother in about seven months time.

She is given a sedative and kept in the infirmary overnight for observation. In the morning she is desperate to talk to Arthur Lux, her lawyer. When she asks to call him, she is denied. (“What do you think this is? A sorority?”) One of the matrons will try to get a message to him if she can. The message is simple: I saw Ed King on the train. Find out where the train is going and there you will find Ed King.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Swimsuits are Optional

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Swimsuits are Optional ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

August completed the tenth grade and would go on to the eleventh when school took up again. He was looking forward to a summer of doing what he wanted and not so much what he was told to do. He planned to spend the summer alone, mostly indoors, thinking and cultivating his own interests. Exactly what those interests were wasn’t clear to anybody and especially not to him. He would watch old movies on television (he liked Kay Francis and Mary Astor), read some good books, listen to music (all of Beethoven’s symphonies) and, when he felt like getting out, take a book to the park and find a shady spot under a tree and commune with nature until ants starting crawling up his pants leg. Most other people his age, he knew, would be going out on dates, going to swimming parties and getting their drivers’ licenses. He didn’t have his driver’s license; he would get it someday but not just yet. If he was able to drive on his own, his father would probably expect him to get a summer job and buy a car that he would have to pay for out of his own money. No thank you! All that could wait.

On the very first day of summer vacation a girl he hardly knew named Beulah Buffington called him on the phone.

“I don’t think I remember you,” he said. “I can’t place the name.”

“Well, if that doesn’t beat all!” she said. “I see you every day at school.”

“I’m not good with names,” he said. “Describe yourself to me.”

He did remember her but was only playing with her in a way she didn’t appreciate. If he disavowed knowledge of her, he wouldn’t need to be nice to her.

“I’m as tall as most of the boys at school. I have brown hair and a full face. I’m what people call big-boned.”

“A lot of people fit that description.”

“I failed the Constitution test two times. I passed it on the third try.”

“You had a crying fit in American history class and called the teacher a bozo.”

“That’s me,” she said. “I think if I had known I was going to have to describe myself to you, I wouldn’t have bothered calling.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” he laughed. “The thing with girls is that they all kind of blend together for me.”

“I can see this wasn’t a good idea,” she said.

“No, no, that’s all right! What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Next week is Dot Gilmore’s seventeenth and we’re having a pool party at my house to surprise her.”

“I didn’t know you had a pool.”

“There isn’t any reason why you should.”

“Who did you say the party is for?”

“Dot Gilmore.”

“I don’t think I know her.”

“August, you are impossible!”

“Can you describe her for me?”

“She’s one of the most popular girls in school. She was yearbook queen. Her picture is everywhere.”

“Oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard the name. What about her?”

“We’re having a pool party for her at my house.”

“I didn’t know you had a pool.”

“When we were discussing who to invite, it seems your name came up. I don’t know why.”

“I don’t know why, either.”

“Would you like to come? It’ll be from three o’clock in the afternoon on Thursday until about dark.”

“I don’t really know how to swim, Betty,” he said.

“It’s Beulah,” she said.

“Oh, yeah!”

“I don’t think any of us knows how to swim. We just splash around in the water. The boys try to drown each other. There’s a diving board but people don’t dive; they just jump off. There’ll be water volleyball, music and lots of food.”

“I don’t know how to play water volleyball.”

“It doesn’t matter. Anybody can play.”

“Would I need to wear a swimsuit?”

“Swimsuits are optional.”

“What does that mean?”

“You can swim naked if you want to, as long there are no grownups present.”

“And what day is that?”

“Thursday next week.”

“What time?”

“Three o’clock.”

“Um, hold on a minute. I need to check my calendar.” He kept her hanging on for a good two minutes and when he went back to the phone he said, “Sorry, I can’t come. I’m having abdominal surgery that day.”

“Oh. Okay. I really didn’t think you’d want to come, but I thought I’d at least try.”

As he was hanging up the phone, his father came into the room, reeking of aftershave.

“Who was that on the phone?”

“Nobody,” August said. “Wrong number.”

“I’m going away for a few days on business. I want you to go stay with Aunt Vivian.”

“I hate staying with Aunt Vivian.”

“I could probably pull some strings and still get you into Camp Bonhomie.”

“I’m not going through that again.”

“What will you do while I’m away?”

“The same things I do when you’re here.”

“I worry about going off and leaving a tenth grader at home by himself.”

“I’m very mature for my age. I like being alone. And I’m in the eleventh grade now.”

“A young boy shouldn’t spend so much time alone.”

“It doesn’t bother me.”

“What would you say if I told you I’ll probably get married again by the end of summer?”

“Not Mrs. Bone, I hope.”

“No, she’s completely out of the picture. I heard she was in Europe. Good riddance.”

“Where do you meet all those women?”

“They’re just…around. You’d never believe how many there are just waiting to fling themselves at a halfway decent fellow.”

“Desperate, huh?”

“Just give them a little encouragement and they’re all over you like flies on honey.”

“I thought your interests lay elsewhere. What about Paul? What about Luke?”

“I think a man ought to have a wife, don’t you?”

“In your case, it probably isn’t a good idea.”

“Don’t you want to be a family again?”

“No!”

“Your mother has been gone for eight years now.”

“I know. I was there. I found her, remember? I’ve been screwed up ever since.”

“We all have our painful childhood memories.”

“Most people don’t come home from school and find their mother swinging from a rafter, though.”

“I know it was awful for you. I’ve been trying to make it up to you all these years.”

“You can make it up to me by not getting married again.”

“You wouldn’t like to have a baby brother or sister?”

“Hell no!”

“I’ve been thinking I might like to have more children before it’s too late for me.”

“Am I not proof enough that you should never go any farther in that direction?”

“Oh, August!” his father laughed. “I don’t know where you come up with that shit! It’s grand that you read a lot of books, but sometimes you can overdo even that.”

“Okay, I’ll make a point of reading less.”

“I want you to get out more. Cultivate some friendships. I know you’re naturally reserved, but you have to at least try. Meet people halfway.”

“Thanks for the advice, father.”

“You’re young. It’s summer. You need to be out having some fun. Don’t stay cooped up in the house all the time by yourself.”

“I was just invited to a pool party.”

“Wonderful! When is it?”

“Next Thursday afternoon.”

“I know you’ll have a really good time.”

“I need to buy a bathing suit and some other things.”

He took two fifty-dollar bills out of his wallet and put them on the table. “If that’s not enough,” he said, “charge the rest.”

“I will.”

“Get whatever food you want. Try to eat some healthy things. Fish and vegetables.”

“I will.”

“Aunt Vivian will drop by often to see how things are going.”

“I hope she gives me some warning.”

“If you need anything, you can call her any time of the day or night.”

“I know. She’ll be all over me like flies on honey.”

“Hah-hah! Get out and get some fresh air.”

“Okay.”

He breathed a sigh of relief when his father finally left and then, without missing a beat, he went to the phone and called his friend Colin Mayhew. Colin was one of the few people in school with whom he had anything in common. They were both repeatedly humiliated in gym class when they were chosen last for basketball.

“How are you, old friend?” he said cheerily into the phone.

“Fine,” Colin said. “Who is this?”

“This is your old friend August Wellington.”

“Oh, yeah. Hi.”

“What’s new and different with you today?”

“My mother is making me move some furniture for the painters.”

“Why don’t you sneak out and come over?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“My father is gone and I have the whole house to myself.”

“I always love it when my parents go away and leave me alone,” Colin said.

“Yeah.”

“It doesn’t happen very often, though. They still think I’m a child.”

“So, do you feel like coming over or not?”

“I don’t know, August. I’m not much in the mood.”

“Well, get in the mood.”

“Some other time maybe. I’ve got a lot to do today and I’m tired.”

“You’re sixteen years old! How can you be tired?”

“It happens. My blood sugar is low.”

“Somebody called me this morning,” August said. “You’ll never guess who!”

“Beulah Buffington.”

“How do you know?”

“She called me, too. She’s calling everybody. She’s trying to get a big crowd at her swimming party next week.”

“You’re not going, are you?”

“Yeah,” Colin said. “I think I’ll go. It might be fun. If I feel uncomfortable, I can always say I have a funeral to go to and leave. How about you? Are you going?”

“I told her no.”

“That’s kind of rude, isn’t it?”

“I told her I’m having surgery that day.”

“You aren’t really, are you?”

“Get with it, Colin! You know me better than that.”

“When I can’t see your face, I can’t read the cues.”

“Well, do you want to come over and read some cues?”

“Not today, August. My head hurts and I’ve got eczema on my feet.”

“I get the idea. Well, maybe we’ll bump into each other some time this summer.”

“Sure, August. See you around.”

After he hung up the phone, he tried to call Aunt Vivian but her line was busy. It was probably better not to get her started, anyway.

He went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door to see what was there and then closed it again. Then into the dining room, where he pulled back the curtain and lifted the blind and looked out at the house next door. The people were away and the curtains drawn. Everybody has flown the coop. Nobody here but us chickens.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Glass Eye

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Glass Eye ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He was a monster to even think such a thing, but the thoughts came into his head unbidden. He and Jewel didn’t have nearly enough money. What if it was just the two of them and they didn’t have Laurette to take care of? She was only two months old, so helpless lying on the bed, and something could easily happen to her. Babies die all the time.

Wait a minute, he thought. How could I even think such a thing? She exists in the world because of me and it’s not my place to think about removing her. Wait another minute. She’s mine and Jewel’s and we can do whatever we want with her, can’t we? The law doesn’t look at it that way. People can’t go around murdering (who said anything about murder?) children just because they’re not convenient or they cost too much money. Think about the stain on your immortal soul just for thinking such a thing.

I’m sorry, Lord. I would never do anything to hurt the precious little thing. But what if somebody was to take her off our hands? And who would that be? I don’t know. We could adopt her out. Adopt her out? Whoever heard of such a thing? People do much worse than that all the time.

When Jewel came home she was exhausted. She was pale and her hands were shaking. Black circles around her eyes.

“Where’s the baby?” she asked.

“Asleep,” he said.

She went into the bedroom and when she came out she had changed from her uniform into her bathrobe. Then to the kitchen to get started on supper.

He sat down at the table, his back against the wall, and opened the newspaper while she began peeling potatoes.

“You know I would never do anything to hurt Laurette, don’t you?” he said.

She turned and looked at him. “I guess I know that,” she said.

“If anything happened to her, I would die.”

“Did something happen today?”

“No. Why?”

“I don’t know. You seem guilty or something.”

“I’m not guilty.”

“What is it, then?”

“Feeling a little blue, I guess.”

She sighed and put down the knife. “You’re about to get even bluer,” she said.

“Why?”

“I got fired today.”

What?”

“They let me go today. One of the patients, an old woman, filed a complaint against me.”

“What kind of complaint?”

“She said I deliberately threw her glass eye in the trash.”

“Did you?”

She threw it in the trash. By mistake. All I did was empty the trash.”

“You knew it was in the trash?”

“Well, truthfully, I did know, but I pretended I didn’t. I was trying to teach the old bat a lesson to be more careful. Honestly, I never heard such a fuss over a stupid old glass eye. It’s just an old marble. She can easily get another one.”

“So they fired you over a glass eye.”

“Well, there were other complaints, too.”

“What about?”

“It doesn’t matter now. I want to put it all behind me.”

Later, when they were eating, he said, “I’m a terrible father.”

“Why do you say that?” she asked, not bothering to tell him it wasn’t true.

“You and Laurette would be better off if I went away somewhere.”

“Where would you go?”

“I don’t know. Drowning myself in the ocean seems like a sensible thing to do at this moment.”

“Feeling a little sorry for yourself?”

“No. Just speaking the truth.”

“I’m the one that got fired today and you’re feeling sorry for yourself.”

He pushed his plate aside and lit a cigarette, knowing she didn’t like it at the table.

“You’re smoking a lot,” she said.

“You’re not as hungry when you smoke.”

“Maybe I should take it up.”

“This afternoon I was thinking,” he said, “how much easier our lives would be if it was just the two of us and we didn’t have Laurette to take care of.”

“You can’t exactly wish her out of existence.”

“I wouldn’t even if I could.”

“Well, now I think there’s going to be another one.”

What?

“I haven’t been to the doctor yet, but I’m pretty sure.”

“Tell me this isn’t happening.”

“You’re not happy about it?”

“Are you?”

“I think you’re sorry you married me,” she said.

“That’s not quite true.”

“What do you mean, not quite true?”

“Well, tell me honestly,” he said, “if you knew then what you know now, would you do it again?”

“No.”

“I wouldn’t either.”

“There’s never been a divorce in my family,” she said.

“And there won’t be one now.”

When they were finished eating, he cleared the table and washed the dishes while she tended to the baby.

She went to bed early, as soon as the sun went down, and lay on her back and made little buzzing sounds in her nose like a giant insect. He sat in front of the TV with the volume turned down, barely paying attention to what he was seeing. At eleven o’clock he got up and went to bed.

He dozed intermittently and when he heard the clock chime two, he got out of bed and dressed quietly. He walked through the house, looking at the furniture, the walls, the floors, everything. Finally he took one more look at Laurette and left.

He walked out to the edge of town to the highway and began walking westward out into the country. The farther he got from town, the more traffic picked up, mostly trucks. He began hitchhiking and in just a few minutes a truck driver stopped for him. He climbed up into the cab of the truck and smiled.

The driver wasn’t interested in talking or asking questions, so he put his head back and went to sleep. He wanted to lose himself in sleep and awake a better man in a different land, exactly as in a dream he once had that he wanted always to remember.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Baby

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Baby

Baby ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Louise was gone for three days. When she returned home, she was carrying a bundle in the crook of her arm.

“Where have you been all this time?” Theodore asked. “I was about to call the police.”

“Oh, you silly thing!” Louise said. “Where do you think I’ve been? I’ve been giving birth to your son.”

She lifted the corner of the blanket to show him the baby’s face.

“This one has blue eyes,” Theodore said.

“He has your eyes.”

“My eyes are brown.”

“I think I’m going to name him Nathaniel,” she said. “After Hawthorne.”

“Name him whatever you want.”

“If I give him the name of a great writer, he might turn out to be a great writer himself.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You like that name?”

“It’s as good as any other, I suppose.”

She laid the baby down gently on the couch and took off her coat and laughed. “Believe me,” she said. “It’s not easy carrying a newborn baby home on the uptown bus. I had to stand up the whole way, holding the baby in one hand and trying to keep from falling with the other. You’d think a gentleman might have given me his seat, but nobody even noticed me.”

“I could have come down and met you.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” she said. “I managed perfectly fine. And, anyway, I wanted to surprise you. What do you think of our new son?”

“He’s, uh…I can’t seem to find the words. I’m speechless.”

“I know! It’s a shock, isn’t it? Seeing him for the first time?”

“Especially since I didn’t know he was expected.”

“But that makes it that much more fun, doesn’t it?”

“If you say so.”

“Now, don’t you be an old grump puss! I’m going to need lots of help from you with this baby. Feeding him, changing his diapers, bathing him, and all the rest of it.”

“I don’t think that baby is going to be any trouble at all,” he said.

“No, of course not! He’s such a good baby! I can tell already, as young as he is.”

Theodore played piano in a jazz combo in a bar, so he had to leave to go to work. “Don’t wait up for me,” he said.

“Have a good time,” she said, “and don’t worry about me. The baby and I will be here when you get back.”

With Theodore gone, Louise was glad to have some time alone with the baby. She carried him into every room in the apartment, talking to him all the while, even though she knew he didn’t understand a word she said. She fed him, bathed him, and put him to bed in the crib at the foot of her own bed.

She slept until one o’clock, at which time she got up and fed him again. After she put him back in his crib and got back into bed, she had trouble going back to sleep. She kept thinking about how Theodore didn’t seem very happy about the baby. Well, men, she thought. You can’t ever tell what they’re thinking or how they really feel. They keep it all bottled up inside.

At two o’clock she still hadn’t gone back to sleep. She got up and checked on the baby and when she saw he was sleeping peacefully she knew the problem wasn’t with the baby but with her. She was lonely and sad. She picked up the sleeping baby and put him in the bed beside her. After that she was able to go to sleep.

Theodore came home about three-thirty. He undressed quietly and got into bed and after he had lain there a couple of minutes Louise began to cry.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“I’m not going to have any more children,” she said.

“Okay.”

“I don’t think you love them.”

“Could we postpone this conversation to another time? I’m very tired.”

“Take Nathaniel and put him with the others. They need to get acquainted.”

“I just got into bed. Can’t you do it?”

“You’re the father.”

He sighed and got out of bed again without turning on the light. He picked Nathaniel up by the neck and carried him out of the room and down the hallway to another room. In this room was a bed with six lifelike plastic dolls lying side by side, all exactly like Nathaniel. He added Nathaniel to the collection and went back to bed.

“Better now?” he asked Louise.

“Yes.”

“And this is going to be the last one?”

“Yes, I think so. Seven is my lucky number.”

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

I’m Watching You

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I'm Watching You

I’m Watching You ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

From the time she was born, Minnette Shortridge lived a charmed life. She lived with her family in a beautiful brick house on the best street in the best part of town. Her mother was stylish and slender, her father a successful businessman from whose fingertips money seemed to flow.

In school everybody envied Minnette. She made perfect grades and had read more books than anybody else. In addition to being the smartest girl in her class, she was also talented and accomplished. She had a beautiful singing voice and a natural talent for playing the piano. She rode horses, painted pictures and wrote poetry. She had twice flown to Europe on a plane (and back) and knew a smattering of French, German and Russian.

It was the way she looked, though, that made her stand out from the others. She had long auburn-colored hair held in perfect place with barrettes. Her clothes were the best and most expensive without being ostentatious or showy. Her complexion was peaches and cream and, in junior high, when other girls were experimenting with makeup and lipstick, she knew she didn’t need any of it because she had a natural beauty that doesn’t need paint or artifice. Everybody agreed she would go far in life—if not a movie star or a fashion model, at the very least the wife of the governor or president.

Minnette had many admirers, some near and some from afar. In going around with her mother in town, somebody would inevitably spot her and attempt to strike up an acquaintance or ask a friend of a friend to arrange an introduction. And these weren’t only boys her own age but in some cases grown men who assumed she was older than she was. If any of them came too close or tried to stop her on the street and engage her in conversation, she usually ran from them and had a good laugh about it afterwards.

She had her first boyfriend when she was sixteen and there were others after that, but she could never take any of them seriously. To her they seemed shallow, self-absorbed and not very interesting. She knew that someday the right one would come along and when that happened everything would be different.

When she was in her last year of high school, a boy named Rupert Merkel asked her to go with him to the spring dance at the country club and she readily accepted. If she was the prettiest girl in school, Rupert was the handsomest boy. He was a track star and had the highest scholastic average of anybody in his class. There were no limits to what he might achieve in life.

On the evening of the dance, Minnette wore a red chiffon dress and her mother’s diamond necklace. Rupert arrived to pick her up at exactly the right time with a corsage that looked perfect with her dress. With Minnette’s mother and father looking on, Rupert helped Minnette into his sleek red and car and drove off into the beautiful evening light.

At the country club, rather than wait in line for valet parking, Rupert parked his own car. Since there were so many people who had already arrived before him, he had to go all the way to the far edge of the parking lot, down a hill near some trees.

“Do you mind walking?” he asked Minnette.

“Of course not, my handsome prince,” she said. “I’ll take your arm and we’ll walk up the hill together and make quite an entrance.”

 He smiled, not knowing what awaited them.

One week before, Rupert had been going to take another girl to the country club dance, a girl named Vivian Periwinkle, until he discovered that she had taken a paper he wrote for English composition and passed it off as her own. He called her a liar and a cheat and said he didn’t ever want to see her again.

“I don’t know what difference it makes,” she said. “It’s just a stupid high school paper. Nobody will ever know the difference.”

I’ll know,” he said.

She tried to laugh it off but he pushed her away and ran home.

If he thought he was finished with Vivian Periwinkle, he was wrong. When she found out he was taking somebody else to the dance besides her, she couldn’t let it stand. Nobody had ever stiffed her before and they weren’t going to do it now. She would make him pay, one way or another.

She hitchhiked to the country club and watched and waited behind the trees. When she saw Rupert’s car pull onto the parking lot, she crouched down and watched as he got out and went around the car to help Minnette out with her long dress and high-heeled shoes.

As Rupert and Minnette began the walk up the hill toward the country club, Vivian followed them a short distance before taking the handgun out of her purse that she had stolen from her father’s desk drawer. She pointed it at the back of Rupert’s head. She had never fired a gun before and her hand trembled. She fired one shot and it scared her so badly that she ran off without seeing what—or who—the bullet hit.

Rupert heard the shot but he didn’t know what it was. Minnette was holding on to his arm and when she began to go down, he looked at her in horror. He screamed for help and when he had eased her onto her back to the ground, he realized that blood was gushing from the back of her head.

A crowd gathered and somebody called an ambulance. When it was discovered that Minnette had been shot from at the base of the skull, the police were summoned. As they began trying to piece together what had happened, the dance was called off and people began to go home.

After the police had gleaned what evidence they could from Minnette’s body, the funeral home people came and took her away in their white van. The funeral would be held on Monday, it was announced,  and it would be a big funeral because everybody knew and loved Minnette.

If Minnette’s sudden and unexpected death hadn’t been bad enough, a circumstance arose at the funeral home that nobody could have foreseen. While she was waiting overnight to be embalmed, somebody broke in and took her body. There were no fingerprints and no clues other than two broken locks. The funeral home people had no explanation. Nothing like it had ever happened before.

His name was Phillip Sidney. He lived alone a few miles outside of town on his family’s fifty-acre estate. He spotted Minnette one day when she was waiting outside a movie theatre. After that, he found out what he could about her, where she lived and where she went to school. He began watching her, following her whenever he could. He knew who her friends were, learned their names and came to recognize them on sight. He took pictures of her when he could do so unobtrusively and kept a scrapbook on her; took detailed notes of where he saw her, what time, what she was wearing, and anything else about her that he was able to gather in the fleeting glimpses he had of her. When he learned she had been killed, he wept bitter tears. He vowed that he wasn’t going to let her go into the ground to rot and decay. She was far too lovely for that.

He learned everything he needed to know from newspaper and television accounts of the incident. He was familiar with funeral home procedure, having worked for his mortician uncle in his younger days. Taking Minnette’s body was easy for him. He was, in his own way of thinking, “taking her home.”

He had learned taxidermy from his father and his grandfather. He had all the tools and chemicals he needed. He put her on a table in his basement work room and, after two days of continuous work, he was proud of the results. He preserved her beauty for all time, fixed her legs and arms so she could be posed in different ways: sitting in a chair, lying in bed. He still had his mother’s clothes and, though they might be a little dated and mature for a girl of Minnette’s age, they were perfect in every other way.

No longer would he have to come home to an empty house. Minnette was there waiting for him with a smile on her face, her eyes glowing. He sat her at the dining room table and put food on a plate for her while he ate his dinner, talking quietly in an amusing way about things that had happened to him that day. While he took a dip in the pool, he sat her in a chair just on the other side of the glass door so that she seemed to be looking out at him. And at bedtime he would change her into her frilly nightgown and place her in the bed beside him. Good night, my sweet, he would say. The sweetest of sweet dreams to you.

After a while he realized that one thing was missing, the thing without which a family is not a family. It was time for him and Minnette to have children: a boy six and a girl three. He imagined them sitting on either side of Minnette at the table, smiles on their faces. He would find them and bring them home, no matter how long it took. Only then would everything be as perfect as it ought to be.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Time Theft

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Time Theft image 1

Time Theft ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(I posted this short story earlier under a different title.)

Two years out of high school, Virgie Smalls worked in the Handy Dandy Laundry. She hated the white uniform she had to wear and almost everything else about the job. The work was tiring, monotonous and steamy. All day long she moved her arms up and down, in and out, over and under, until they seemed to move of their own accord. When she looked ahead to the future, it made her sick to think that she might have to spend her entire life in such a place.

The workers at the laundry were all older women, smokers and drinkers, whose idea of a good time was Friday night bingo at the VFW hall. Virgie didn’t bother to make them think she liked them, so, as a consequence, they didn’t like her. They never invited her to their baby showers or after-work drinking parties. When she walked into the room where they were talking, they fell silent.

Another person at the laundry who was just as disliked as Virgie was Sterling Fingers, the truck driver. He was only five feet, three inches tall and had to sit on a built-up seat when he drove his truck to be able to see over the steering wheel. The ladies called him shortstop and tittered when he walked by. He got back at them, though, by coming up behind them and making pig sounds and then pretending he didn’t do it when they turned around and were ready to slap him. He also liked to play tricks on them by going into their locker room while they were working and switching their purses or tying their shoes together by the shoelaces in such hard knots that they weren’t able to get them apart.

One day one of the ladies went to the boss and complained about Sterling Fingers. She said he put his hand on her ass cheek and said a dirty word in her ear. The boss called Sterling into his office and told him what the woman had said.

“She’s full of shit,” Sterling said. “I never did no such thing.”

“We can’t have that kind of behavior here,” the boss said.

“I said I didn’t do it.”

“All right. I’ll take your word for it this time, but I have to warn you. You’re on probation.”

“Why isn’t the heifer that told a lie about me the one that’s on probation?”

“Remember what I said, Sterling.”

He wanted to do something bad to the woman who told the tale on him, but he knew if he did it would only get him fired. (What he really wanted to do would get him sent to jail.) His way of dealing with the situation was to stay as far away from the ladies as he could so none of them could ever have any complaints against him. Pretending they didn’t exist was easy for him, as he found nothing about any of them that could ever interest him.

One Friday when the boss was away and Sterling was emptying some trash, he saw the woman who had told the lie about him slip out the side door that opened into an alley. Curious, he went to the door and opened it just enough to see out. The alleyway was private, closed in on three sides. The woman, whose name was Bernadette, got into the back of a black van with a man and they closed the doors. The windows had curtains on them so Sterling could only imagine what they were doing. A while later Bernadette was back on the line as if nothing had happened.

Now, he didn’t care one whit what Bernadette did or with whom, but he knew it was a strict policy of the company that you were not supposed to leave without first punching out at the time clock. Anybody who left and didn’t punch their time card was guilty of what they called time theft. Sterling could have gone to the boss on Monday morning and told him what he saw, but he knew it would seem that he was only trying to get even, so he decided to wait and see how things played out.

He began watching Bernadette without letting her know he was watching: as she cut up with the ladies, as she went into the restroom and came out again, as she took her lunch break and as she left to go home at the end of her shift. If she ever looked at him looking at her, he yawned with affected nonchalance and looked down at his fingernails.

His vigilance paid off, finally. The next time he saw Bernadette sneaking out the side door, he was ready. He had a tiny camera that he had bought especially for the occasion. He took pictures of her kissing the man, getting into the back of the van with him, and of the man reaching out and pulling the doors closed as Bernadette began to unbutton her uniform. Her face was plain as daylight. There could be no question that it was her.

When he got the pictures back from the developer, he wrote DURING WORKING HOURS in the little white margin at the top of each one and put them in an envelope. He carried the envelope in his shirt pocket for several days before doing anything about it.

He saw Virgie Smalls sitting in the break room alone one afternoon, drinking a Coke. He sat down across from her and lit a cigarette.

“You hate Bernadette, don’t you?” he said.

“What?”

“Bernadette. I said you hate her.”

“If I ever thought about her,” Virgie said, “I’d hate her.”

“You think about her and you hate her.”

“Well, let’s just say I despise her.”

“Same thing.”

“What’s this about?”

“We can get back at the silly cow now.”

“How?”

He took the pictures from his pocket and handed them to Virgie. “This is just between the two of us,” he said.

She looked at the pictures and smiled for the first time that day. “Who took these?” she asked.

“Who do you think took them? Yours truly took them.”

“Who’s the guy?”

“It doesn’t matter who he is. The thing that matters is we’ve got the goods on a person we hate.”

“All right. So now what?”

“I need your help in this.”

She handed the pictures across the table as if they had become hot. “No! I’m not getting involved in anything like that.”

“All you have to do is get them to the boss.”

“Why can’t you do it?”

“For reasons that I don’t care to elaborate on right now.”

“So, all you want me to do is just hand them to him?”

“That’s the idea.”

“When he sees what they are, he’ll want to know where I got them.”

“Wait until he’s out and take them in and put them on his desk in a place where he’ll be sure and see them.”

“I guess I could do that.”

“I guarantee Bernadette will be gone in a matter of minutes.”

“You’re very naughty, aren’t you?”

“I don’t think anybody’s as naughty as Bernadette,” he said.

He waved the pictures in her face and watched as she took them from him and put them in the pocket of her uniform.

The next time the boss was out for the day, Virgie gave Sterling a sign that the pictures were on the boss’s desk.

When the boss called Bernadette into his office, presented her with the evidence and fired her, she bellowed like a bull. She ran through the building, turning things over as she went. Sterling was loading the truck at the dock, but he heard the commotion and went to have a look.

“You little rat bastard!” Bernadette screamed when she saw him. “You did this, I know you did!”

“Get her out of here,” the boss said to some of his men, “before she kills somebody.”

The next time Sterling saw Virgie, he smiled and made a dusting-off motion with his hands.

Bernadette’s dismissal was all the ladies of the laundry could talk about. The rumor mill was rife with speculation. The man she was meeting in the alley was really her husband, someone said. He’s an escaped convict and the police are after him to send him back to prison. No, that’s not true, another said. He’s an important man in politics and he has to be careful because if he’s caught cheating on his wife it could ruin his reputation. The question, then, begged to be asked: out of all the women in the world, why would he want to cheat with unattractive Bernadette?

In a few days, though, they all moved on to other things. A new girl named Josephine was brought in to replace Bernadette. She was newly arrived from Puerto Rico and was just learning to speak English. The ladies loved to gather around her and laugh at her fractured pronunciation of words. Every time they laughed, she blushed fetchingly and covered her face with her hands, eliciting more laughter. The ladies were all in love with Josephine, at least for the time being.

Anybody who knew Bernadette well knew she would have to have her vengeance, and when it came it was on a day that it was least expected.

The laundry was shutting down for a week for repairs and everybody was happy. A whole week off with pay to carouse around at night and sleep late in the morning. It was just like heaven.

Sterling Fingers was all caught up on his deliveries on that last day before the week off and was pushing some dirt around with a broom near the front door when who should come rushing in but Bernadette. She was staggering and obviously drunk and when she saw that Sterling was right there and she wasn’t even going to have to go look for him, her face lit up with an evil grin.

“Bernadette!” he said. “How lovely to see you! Ugly as ever, I see!”

“This is for you, you little son of a bitch!” she said.

She approached him and plunged a knife into his gut and turned and ran out the door.

“Oh-oh-oh!” he said, going down on the floor. “Oh-oh-oh!”

One of the girls in the front office screamed and everybody who heard her came running to see what had happened. Several others screamed and covered their eyes when they saw Sterling on his back on the floor holding his hands to his gut, blood gushing out around his fingers.

“Mother of Mercy!” he said. “Is this the end of Rico?”

Nobody made a move to help him except Virgie. She knelt down beside him and took his hand between hers.

“Somebody call an ambulance!” she yelled.

One of the ladies went and got some towels and handed them to Virgie. She pressed them against his abdomen where the blood was pouring out.

“It’s going to be all right, dear,” she said. “The ambulance is on its way.”

“It was Bernadette,” he said.

“I know.”

The paramedics arrived and lifted Sterling onto a stretcher. Virgie held onto his hand as long as she could.

He looked into her eyes, his voice weak, and said, “You called me dear.”

“Don’t try to talk now,” she said.

“You helped me,” he said. “You were the only one.”

“They’ll take you to the hospital now and get you fixed up.”

“Will I see you again?” he asked.

“I’ll be here,” she said.

As the paramedics lifted him into the ambulance, he said to one of them, “I want you to get the minge that did this to me.” He fainted then and didn’t say anything else.

The police caught Bernadette drinking vodka cocktails at a bar a few blocks from the laundry. She was smiling, smoking cigarettes and chatting with the bartender as if she stabbed somebody in the gut every day of the week.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Morphine

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Morphine

Morphine ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(I posted this short story earlier under a different title.)

Sterling Fingers lay in a semi-conscious state for three days. When he finally came fully awake, he found himself in a bed with rails like a baby bed. A woman in white with a face like an Indian chief stood beside the bed, her hands on the rail, looking down at him.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked.

“Pulse a hundred and ten,” she said.

“Am I dead?”

“Not quite.”

“I have to get up. I have to go to work.”

“No, you don’t. You won’t be going anywhere for a while.”

“What happened here?”

“You’re recovering from surgery.”

“Surgery for what?”

“A stab wound to the abdomen.”

“I didn’t have no stab wound to the abdomen.”

“I assure you you did.”

“I don’t feel anything.”

“Morphine.”

“Oh, yeah. I think I remember now. I was attacked by a vengeful woman.”

“I wouldn’t know,” the nurse said. “That’s a police matter.”

“There’s nothing more terrible than a vengeful woman.”

“You should know.”

“Has my old lady been here?”

“Your wife?”

“No, my mother, you goose.”

“No one has been here that I know of.”

“When you see my mother, tell her I need my gun.”

The nurse smiled for the first time. “You don’t need no gun,” she said. “And even if you did you couldn’t have it in the hospital.”

“This is a hospital?”

“What do you think it is? A whore house?”

He looked around to see if there was a telephone beside the bed. “I need to call someone,” he said.

“Who?”

“I have to tell my mother where I am. She’ll be worried.”

“I’m sure she was told as soon as you were brought here.”

“I want my gun.”

“What for?”

“For protection.”

“Protection from what?”

“From the lunatic that tried to kill me.”

“The hospital is safe. Nobody will get in here who isn’t supposed to be here.”

“I don’t feel safe without my gun.”

“Think about it, Mr. Fingers. Use your head. If we start allowing patients to have guns, they’ll end up shooting somebody they wished they hadn’t. A doctor or a nurse. Maybe even an important person like the head of the hospital.”

“There’s only one person I want to shoot.”

“You’re at a critical stage of your recovery. You want to go on living, don’t you?”

“I want to get out of here is what I want. I have things to do.”

“The only thing you have to do now is concentrate on getting well.”

“When did all this happen?”

“Four days ago.”

“I’ve been here four days? I have to get up and go to work. I’ll get fired for being gone that long.”

“Now, Mr. Fingers! You have to calm yourself down. I’m sure your employer knows what happened and why you’re not at work.

“Four days,” he said. “Oh, my Lord, four days!”

“Would you like a sedative to help calm you?”

“No!”

“We’ll have your doctor prescribe you a sedative.”

“In all the time I’ve been here, hasn’t anybody been in to see me?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Virgie didn’t come?”

“Would you like to talk to a priest?”

“No! I don’t want to talk to anybody! I want out of here!”

He felt the prick of the needle that plunged him into dreamland.

He opened a door to a cavernous room that had no bottom. He was in danger of falling but then he saw some stairs that went down into blackness. If he could make it to those stairs he wouldn’t fall, but when he tried to get to them they kept moving and shifting like an accordion. He flailed his arms and reached out for something to hold onto but it did no good. He felt a moment of panic, a moment of weightlessness, and then he was floating in space past the planet Saturn. Then he was lying on a table where a black-hooded figure like a medieval executioner slit his stomach open, releasing a flock of blackbirds with women’s faces and bloody claws. The blackbirds rose in the air and then swooped down to devour his liver.

He slept for a week, a day or an hour. When he woke up again, one of the blackbirds was standing beside his bed where the woman in white had been earlier. This one didn’t have a woman’s face, though, but a man’s.

“How are you feeling, my son?” the blackbird asked.

“Who are you?” Sterling asked.

“Father Pilbeam.”

“A priest?”

“Yes.”

“Am I dying?”

“The nurse says you’re improving.”

“If I’m not dying, why do I need a priest?”

“I’m the hospital chaplain. I make my way around to all the patients.”

“I need you to help me do something, father.”

“If I can.”

“I want a gun.”

The priest laughed and patted him on the shoulder. “I think that’s the last thing you need,” he said.

“You don’t understand,” Sterling said. “Somebody is trying to kill me. A big woman named Bernadette. When she finds out she didn’t do the job the first time, she’ll be back.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about. You’re perfectly safe here.”

“You don’t know what kind of a person we’re talking about, father. She’s evil. Surely you must know a thing or two about evil in your profession.”

“Would you like me to pray with you?”

“No!”

“I can ask the nurse to give you a sedative.”

“No! If Bernadette is going to come back and finish the job, I want to be awake when she does.”

“Just calm yourself. Everything is all right. Nurse! Oh, nurse!

The next day Doctor Fisbee came in to see him, an owlish man with round glasses and a small mustache reminiscent of Adolf Hitler.

“You’re a lucky man,” the doctor said.

“How so?”

“The knife missed your aorta by a quarter inch.”

“The crazed Amazon who tried to kill me won’t miss next time. She’ll be back with an even bigger knife or maybe a gun.”

“No one will get past Nurse Zorina. You’re perfectly safe here.”

“That’s what everybody keeps telling me, but I won’t feel safe until I have a gun under my pillow to pull out whenever I need it.”

“We can’t allow our patients to carry firearms.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“You’ll be fine.”

“What is this, a prison? You won’t let people protect themselves?”

“Would you like me to give you a sedative so you can take a nice nap?”

“No! Just get the hell out of here and leave me alone!”

Once when he awoke, Sterling saw his mother, gray and mouse-like, standing beside his bed. He wasn’t sure if she was really there or if he was imagining it.

“I came to visit you,” she said.

“Mama?”

“How are you feeling?”

“All right.”

“Does it hurt much?”

“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“You got your name in the paper.”

She laid a folded newspaper on his chest. He picked it up and began reading: A truck driver at the Handy Dandy Laundry, Sterling Fingers, 32, was stabbed at the laundry’s headquarters at 1347 Fairview Avenue on Friday afternoon, May 12. The female suspect fled on foot and was later taken into custody. Several laundry employees witnessed the incident. Fingers was taken to an undisclosed hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

“Who was she?” his mother asked after he put the paper on the table beside the bed.

“Just a dame that works in the laundry. Her name is Bernadette something or other. I’m not sure what her last name is.”

“Were you messing with her?”

“God, no, mama! She’s trash.”

“You’re trash, too, son.”

“You don’t have to remind me.”

“Was it some kind of a quarrel?”

“No, just a little misunderstanding. Nothing for you to worry about.”

She folded her wrinkled hands over the railing and smiled nervously. “Tippy misses you,” she said.

“Have you been feeding him and giving him water every day?”

“Of course.”

He coughed, took a drink of water, and said, “There is somebody at the laundry I like, though,” he said.

“A woman?”

“Would you expect it to be a man?”

“I didn’t mean it that way.”

“She’s only about twenty. Her name is Virgie.”

“Virginia?”

“She doesn’t belong in the laundry. The foul-mouthed slobs that work there will only crush her. In a few years she’ll be just like them, with their smoking and drinking.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’d like to take her out of there.”

“And marry her?”

“She was the only one that helped me after I was stabbed. Those other dopes just stood around and gaped at me like the useless swine they are.”

“Maybe you should try harder to get along, son.”

“Thanks for the advice, mama.”

On the day he was discharged from the hospital, he told them a friend was waiting to take him home; there was no friend, though, only the bus.

Feeling weak, dressed in the unfamiliar clothes the hospital gave him and with the thick bandage around his middle, he felt strange and egg-like, as if he might break into pieces if he moved too fast. And if he did break, nobody would be able to put him back together again.

Walking two blocks from the hospital to the bus, he saw a couple of women who could have been Bernadette, but they turned out both times to be somebody else. He was comforted only slightly by the words “taken into custody.” It didn’t mean much in his book. She might get a slick lawyer to get herself released. He wished again, for the thousandth time, that he had his old gun that he kept in his dresser drawer at home.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

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