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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

Small Men

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Small Men

Small Men ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

All morning long Mr. Honegger pushed and prodded them. They were behind and their competitors were taking away their business. Every fifteen minutes or so he came out of his office and stood where they could see him so they wouldn’t be inclined to slacken the pace. They gave him looks fraught with meaning, as if they might kill him if only they had the chance, but he didn’t seem to notice and if he did he didn’t care. When he went back out of sight again, they breathed easier and let their shoulders slump.

“I wish that bastard would choke on his cigar,” someone would invariably say (or a variation), and the rest would laugh.

“If Bernadette was here, she’d stab him,” someone else would say and it was a remark that always brought a round of suppressed giggles.

Bernadette’s stabbing someone had become a sort of joke at the Handy Dandy Laundry. She was currently in jail awaiting trial for stabbing and almost killing the laundry’s truck driver, Sterling Fingers, right there under their noses on a Friday in May. Whenever any of them were having trouble with a husband, a parole officer or a pesky son-in-law, they would always say, “I’ll get Bernadette to stab the son of a bitch for me when she gets back.”

“I don’t think she’s coming back.”

“Oh, no? Why is that?”

“She almost killed a man.”

“Who’s to say he didn’t have it coming?”

Virgie Smalls, at twenty-one, was the youngest of the ladies of the laundry. The nearest one to her in age was Flo O’Leary at age thirty-seven. All the rest were in their forties and fifties and they were a rough bunch. Some had been in prison and behaved as if they still were (tattoos on their biceps, a chaw of tobacco in their cheeks and heads tied up in rags). At least two of them had worked as prostitutes in their younger days. Almost all of them had a drinking problem or some kind of addiction.

Finally it was lunch time. Virgie took her paper sack and sat apart from the others. She took her sandwich out of her bag and began reading a paperback novel. This was one of the reasons the other ladies didn’t like her. They thought she was snooty when really she only wanted a few minutes to herself. She had always been solitary that way.

Soon Josephine Day, the new girl from Puerto Rico who was just learning to speak English, came and sat across from her. Virgie looked up from her book and smiled but kept on reading.

“What book?” Josephine asked.

“It’s a murder mystery,” Virgie said.

“Why you read at lunch?”

“I’ve always done it.”

“I learn English better by reading book. Learn which words go where.”

“Yes.”

“Don’t like read, though.”

“Hey, pigeon!” one of the other ladies, Ruthie Joy, the ever-present cigarette dangling from her lip, called to Josephine. “Come over here and sit with us!”

“That’s okay,” Josephine said. “I sit with Virgie.”

“Virgie doesn’t like you,” Ethel Diamante said, and all the other ladies laughed.

Josephine turned to Virgie. “You don’t like me?”

Virgie leaned forward and spoke in a whisper so only Josephine could hear. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She thinks she knows me but she doesn’t.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will after you’ve been here longer.”

The ladies’ conversation consisted mostly of stories about their run-ins with authority, relations with men, bowling scores and the criminal activities of their children. None of it interested Virgie and she tried to tune it out as much as she could. When the conversation inevitably turned to Bernadette Crowder and Sterling Fingers, though, she listened to what they were saying.

“When’s that little son of a bitch Sterling coming back to work?” asked the woman known only as Fly.

“Never, I hope,” Nellie Felton said. “He gives me the creeps.”

“That’s because you want him so bad and you know you can’t have him,” Ethel Diamante said and all the ladies hooted with laughter.

“He’s like that little midget in that white suit on that TV show about an island.”

“He’s short but not that short.”

“Well, I think he’s kind of cute,” Bebe Fallon said. She only had one eye so she continually kept her head tilted to the side.

“That’s because you can’t see, bitch!” Ruthie Joy said, and the others rocked with laughter.

“No, really,” Bebe Fallon said. “I like small men.”

“There’s no accounting for tastes.”

“Do you think Bernadette’s really going to jail?”

“Well, there were witnesses. I don’t see how she’s going to get out of it. It was assault with a deadly weapon. That don’t get you a slap on the wrist.”

“Maybe if she killed all the witnesses.”

“How is she going to do that, you dope, if she’s in jail?”

“She could get somebody else to do it.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work.”

“Well, you never know. I’d hate to be one of the witnesses.”

“We’re not even supposed to be talking about it,” Lena Ellery said, who had been a witness and had been questioned several times by the police.

“You’re going to have to testify in court, aren’t you, babe?” Fly asked.

“Don’t remind me,” Lena Ellery said. “I hate courtrooms.”

“I’ll bet you’ve never even been in one, have you?”

“Only on TV.”

Lunch was over and it was back to work. By a concerted effort, Virgie avoided looking at the clock but she knew she had to get through a lot of hours before it was time to go home.

A few minutes after lunch Mr. Honegger came and stood close to Virgie and looked down at her until he had her attention.

“I want to see you in my office,” he said in her ear to keep the others from hearing.

“What for?” she asked, but he was already walking away.

When she was seated across from him in his quiet office, with cool air blowing out the air conditioner vent, he looked at her solemnly and shook his head.

“You’re not like the others, are you?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t mix in much.”

“Does it matter?”

“Not in my book. Not as long as you do your work.”

“Are you firing me?”

“No, but I can see how you would think that.”

“What is this about, then?”

“I need a floor supervisor, somebody to keep an eye on the girls. I have too much work to do to keep going out there every few minutes to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

“What does that have to do with me?”

“It’s twenty dollars more a week.”

“So?”

“You couldn’t use twenty more a week?”

“You’re saying you want me to be floor supervisor?”

“Out of the people I have now, you’re the logical choice.”

“Why is that?”

“You seem—I don’t know—more sensible than the others.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You don’t want it?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Those women would resent me. They already do resent me.”

“Why do you think that?”

“It goes back to your original statement. I’m not like them.”

“That’s why you’re my choice for the job.”

“I don’t follow.”

“If they liked you on a personal level, if they were friends with you, they’d think they could get around you. You wouldn’t carry tales about them to the boss if they liked you and you liked them.”

“I don’t like them. They don’t like me.”

“That’s why I think you’d be a good floor supervisor.”

“They’d never respect me.”

“You’d have to earn their respect.”

“How would I do that?”

“I don’t know. Make them fear you.”

Virgie couldn’t keep from laughing. “They’d chew me up and spit me out,” she said.

“Will you at least think about it?”

“I already have and the answer is no.”

When Virgie went back to the line, Ethel Diamante asked her what Mr. Honegger said to her.

“He wanted to ask me how my mother is,” she said.

That evening at the dinner table, Virgie told her mother about the floor supervisor job.

“I think you’re a fool to turn it down,” her mother said. “You certainly could use the extra money.”

“I don’t want it.”

“Why not?”

“It’ll make it harder for me to get away when the time comes.”

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“I think you should go into that Mr. What’s-his-name’s office in the morning and tell him you’ve thought it over and decided to take the job.”

“I’m not going to do that.”

“Stubborn. Just like your father.”

“I’ll tell him you’re available. But I have to warn you. He’ll want you to start right away.”

“That isn’t funny.”

Her mother refused to speak to her for the rest of the evening and went into her room before dark and closed the door.

At nine o’clock someone knocked, causing Virgie to let out a little yelp because it was so unexpected. She went to the door and said, “Who is it?”

“Sterling Fingers,” a voice said.

She opened the door and looked at him. “We’ve been wondering how you are,” she said.

“We?”

“The Handy Dandy people.”

“Were you wondering a little more than the others because you care and they don’t?”

“If that’s the way you want to look at it.”

“You were the only one that helped me the day I was stabbed. Those other clods just stood around with their eyes popping out of their heads.”

“None of them had ever seen that much blood before. I think they were in shock.”

“Do we have to stand here and talk through the screen door?”

“I can’t ask you in. My mother has retired for the night.”

“You come out here, then.”

She hesitated for a moment and then stepped out the door. They both sat on the porch swing.

“So you live with your mother,” he said.

“Yes.”

“I live with my mother, too. She’s a case.”

“How’s your, uh, injury?” she asked.

“Do you want to see my scar?”

“No, thank you.”

“I still feel weak and I have shooting pains and nightmares. Except for that, I’m doing all right. I still might die, though.”

“If you’re in danger of dying, why did they let you leave the hospital?”

“They needed the bed.”

“When are you coming back to the laundry?”

“Yet to be decided. Maybe never. I might just go away and get a fresh start in a new place.”

“You know Bernadette’s in jail?”

“I’m not counting on her staying there, though.” He lifted up his jacket and showed her his gun that he had taken to wearing in a shoulder holster. “It’s why I’m wearing a jacket on a hot night.”

“You’re afraid of Bernadette? She’s kind of stupid, you know.”

“When she finds out she missed my aorta she’ll be back to take another shot at it, stupid or not.”

“I don’t think she’d dare to try it again.”

“I have nightmares about her coming after me. She kills me and then I kill her, but neither one of us is dead and we have to do it all over again. I think it’s a sign that she has murder in her heart.”

“Do you have murder in your heart?”

“Only when it comes to Bernadette.”

“Why don’t you get yourself a lawyer? He could get a court order or something to make sure Bernadette stays away from you if she gets out of jail.”

“A court order isn’t going to stop her.”

“From what I’ve heard, she’ll probably be in jail for a long time.”

“Forever, I hope,” he said.

“Mr. Honegger called me into his office today.”

“What did that old turd want?”

“He offered me the job of floor supervisor.”

“No! Did you take it?”

“I turned him down.”

“He’ll probably fire you on some pretext, now that you’ve crossed him.”

“I don’t much care.”

“You don’t belong in the laundry, anyway. You’re not like the others.”

“That’s what he said.”

“In about six years, though, you’ll be just like them.”

“Lord, no!”

“How would you like to be like Ethel and Ruthie Joy and Bebe Fallon?”

“Bebe Fallon likes you. She was talking about you today at lunchtime.”

“What did she say?”

“She said she thinks you’re cute and she likes small men.”

“That’s her one eye talking.”

He left, not knowing if he would ever see her again. Virgie, for her part, stood on the porch and watched him walk away on the sidewalk until she could no longer see him. Then she went into the house and upstairs to bed. Tomorrow it would all start over again, as if today and the day before hadn’t been enough.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

I Don’t Want to Miss Any of This

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I Don't Want to Miss Any of This image 2

I Don’t Want to Miss Any of This ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He tap danced in his tennis shoes on the bare wood floor between the kitchen and dining room. He didn’t seem to be able to stand still anymore but always wanted to be dancing. He was ten years old and his name was Alva Fritchie. When his mother called told him to come to supper, he danced his way to the kitchen table, where his mother, father and sister were already seated.

“I’m going to get taps put on my shoes,” Alva said as he sat down.

“I don’t think so,” mother said. “They make marks on the floors.”

“Does it matter?”

“It matters if you have to get down on your hands and knees and try to get rid of them.”

“Dancing is for sissies,” father said. “What do you want to dance for?”

“He’s not really dancing,” Cecelia, his sister, said. “He’s only imitating what he’s seen on TV.”

Cecelia was sixteen. She had washed and pinned up her hair after school and had a scarf on her head, peasant style. She also had an outbreak of acne on her chin.

“I can so dance, pimple face,” he said. “I’m good at it. I can give you a demonstration any time you want.”

“That would be never,” Cecelia said.

“I like to dance. It makes me feel young.”

“You are young,” mother said.

“Anybody can stand and move their feet,” father said. “That doesn’t make it dancing.”

“He’s such an idiot,” Cecelia said.

“Don’t call your brother that,” mother said. “We should be glad he isn’t an idiot. I’ve seen idiots and they’re no laughing matter.”

“Isn’t Bobo Mitchell an idiot?” his father said.

“I think he might be a moron. Or maybe an imbecile. A long time ago I knew the difference but I guess I forgot.”

“I guess you forgot,” father said mockingly. “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know.”

“That’s stupid,” Cecelia said.

“Don’t be disrespectful to your father.”

“He’s disrespectful to me. You hear all the time about kids being disrespectful to their parents. What about parents being disrespectful to their kids?”

“I guess that doesn’t matter so much,” mother said.

“Life’s a bitch,” Alva said.

“We don’t use that kind of language at the supper table,” mother said. “It’s a vulgar, ugly word.”

“Kids at school say it all the time.”

His mother shook her head. “And that’s today’s ten-year-olds,” she said. “I never heard that kind of language until I was married to your father.”

“That’s a kindergarten word compared to the things I hear,” Cecelia said.

“What do you hear?” Alva asked.

“Never mind,” mother said. “Eat your stew.”

“I don’t like it. I want a hamburger.”

“Well, then, why don’t you just hop in your car and run downtown and get yourself one while the rest of us sit here and eat this stew?”

“I don’t have a car,” Alva said. “If I did, I’d get in it and drive a long way from here.”

“Where do you think you’d go?” Cecelia asked.

“I’d go to Hollywood, California and get a job dancing in the movies.”

“Hah!” Cecelia said. “Who’d pay money to see you? You’re a freak!”

“What is this obsession with dancing?” father asked.

“I don’t know,” mother said. “It’s something he saw on TV. Tomorrow it might be something different.”

“All I want to do is dance, dance, dance!” Alva said.

“If you only knew how stupid you look,” Cecelia said.

“Shut up!”

You shut up!”

“Both of you shut up and finish your dinner,” father said.

Alva took a couple bites of the tepid stew and said, “Birdie Leonard went to the bathroom in her pants today at school.”

“Oh, my!” mother said. “Why didn’t she ask to be excused to visit the restroom?”

“I guess she didn’t know she had to go until it started coming out on its own.”

“I’m not sure that’s a fit subject for conversation at the dinner table.”

“What was funny, though, was she started blubbering. Miss Gottschalk slapped her across the mouth.”

“She did not!” Cecelia said. “Teachers aren’t allowed to do that anymore. They can get into a lot of trouble.”

“Well, she wanted to slap her. I could tell she was thinking about it.”

“So, you know what people are thinking now?”

“Sometimes I do.”

“You’re a liar.”

“So they had to call Birdie’s mother to come and get her and take her home. When Birdie got home, she washed off and put on some clean underpants.”

“How do you know what she did when she got home?” Cecelia asked.

“Well, isn’t that what you’d do if you went to the bathroom in your pants at school?”

“Whatever I did, it wouldn’t be any of your business.”

“That’s enough of that kind of talk at the table,” mother said.

“Why don’t you go study up for your driving test so you can fail it again?” Alva said.

“Mother, make him shut up!” Cecelia said.

“You both shut up!” father said. “You’re making my headache worse.”

“He’s such a little weasel.”

“At least I didn’t fail the driving test six times.”

“It was not six times!”

“How many was it then?”

“None of your business! That’s how many it was!”

“You’re a sloppy pig. You’ve got pimples all over your face. You look like a whore!”

“Why don’t you go dance yourself over a cliff and make us all very happy?”

“Don’t you ever let me hear you call your sister a whore again,” mother said. “Do you understand me?”

“I didn’t call her a whore,” Alva said. “I said she looked like a whore.”

“I don’t even want to hear that word.”

“It’s a good word,” father said.

“Don’t encourage him!” mother said.

“I saw her getting into a black car with a man down at the corner,” Alva said.

“Shut up, you little liar! You did not!”

“She was standing there all by herself. She didn’t know I was watching. A man drove up in a black car and stopped. When he got out and walked over to where she was standing, she became all girly and giggly. She flapped her arms and rolled her eyes and waggled her hips.”

“I did not!”

“They talked for a minute and then they both got into the black car and he peeled out.”

“He did not!”

Mother took a deep breath. “What are you saying?” she asked.

“I saw it all and I wished I had had a camera so she wouldn’t be able to lie her way out of it.”

Mother turned and looked closely at Cecelia. “Anything to this?” she asked.

“Oh, he’s got it all wrong. It wasn’t anything like he said.”

“So you did get into a black car with a man you didn’t know?”

“Who said I didn’t know him?”

Hah-hah-hah!” Alva laughed.

“You little snake!” Cecelia said. “I’m going to slit your throat the first chance I get!”

“You’d better explain yourself while your head is still attached to your shoulders,” father said.

“It was Alice Terry’s brother. He’s home on leave from the navy.”

“How old is he?”

“I don’t know. About twenty-two, I guess.”

“What were you doing with him?”

“He was just giving Alice and me a ride to the library.”

“Alice wasn’t there!” Alva said.

“Oh, yes, she was, you little turd! She was in the back seat.”

“I didn’t see her.”

“That’s because her brother has tinted windows on his car.”

“I’m not liking the sound of this,” father said.

“It was all perfectly innocent, believe me.”

“Why should anybody believe a big liar like you?” Alva said.

“That’s enough, Alva!” mother said. “If you’re finished eating, you may go to your room.”

“I want some dessert and, besides, I don’t want to miss any of this.”

“Give me Alice Terry’s telephone number,” mother said. “I’m going to call her and see if she confirms what you’re telling me.”

“She isn’t home.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s going to be in a play at school. They’re having rehearsal tonight.”

“I will be talking to Alice Terry and her mother,” mother said, “even if I have to wait until midnight to do it.”

Cecelia threw down her fork. “Why are you all picking on me?” she said. “I haven’t done anything!”

She began bawling in much the same way that Birdie Leonard had done when she went to the bathroom in her pants at school. Her eyes bulged tragically and bits of food came out her thin-lipped mouth and dripped off her chin. She reminded Alva at that moment of a frog, but he kept it to himself. He would have a new name to taunt her with later, though.

Cecelia ran out of the room with mother right behind her. “Women!” father said to himself. He threw his napkin down disgustedly and went out the back door.

Alva was left alone at the table. He stood up and danced his way to the refrigerator, where he opened the freezer and helped himself to a generous bowlful of chocolate ice cream.

While he sat at the table and ate it, he heard the drama going on upstairs: Cecelia’s wailing, slamming doors and hurried footsteps. Mother would be trying to console Cecelia, as she always did, but Cecelia, at this moment, would be inconsolable.

When he was finished, he left the bowl on the table, pushed the chair in and danced in the big space between the table and the sink. The floor was tile and good for dancing. He was working on some new steps that he made up himself. He would dance the night away if only he could.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

His Last Good Time

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His Last Good Time

His Last Good Time ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

He stepped off the bus onto the hot asphalt and looked around at the strange place he was in that he had never seen before. He walked a few blocks and was amazed at the sight of the monoliths that rose hundreds of feet into the air and blotted out the sun. Other people didn’t look up and didn’t seem to notice anything at all other than what was in front of their faces and maybe not even that. When he spotted a well-dressed old couple walking toward him—his idea of mother and father—he took off his hat and approached them with a smile. “Where do people go around here to die?” he asked. The woman looked insulted and the man angry and they passed on as quickly as they could. He didn’t see anything wrong with asking this question. The rebuff was his first experience with the coldness of the city.

His name was Ellis Gage and he had ridden six hundred miles for two days on the bus. It was incumbent upon him to leave home because he had killed his stepfather. He had seen enough movies to know that nobody gets away with killing another person and he wouldn’t get away with it either.

This is how it happened. His mother was away tending to a sick relative and he was left alone in the house with the man who had been his stepfather for five years, Nelson Niles. Nelson had been drinking all day, as he often did. In the evening after supper, a thunderstorm came up. Rain pelted the house and lightning ripped the sky. Nelson became blubbery. He said he was lonely. He didn’t like to admit it, he said, but he had always been afraid of thunderstorms.

“Go to bed and sleep it off,” Ellis said. “The thunderstorm is nothing.”

The lights went off but Ellis didn’t mind. He liked storms and he planned on getting into bed and listening to the rain. There’s no sweeter music to drop off to sleep by.

“I want you to sleep in my bed with me,” Nelson said.

“What?”

“I don’t like sleeping alone.”

“Mother will be back in a few days,” Ellis said.

“Yes, but she’s not here now. I want you to sleep with me.”

“Just get into bed and close your eyes and soon you’ll be asleep.”

“You’re like a son to me.”

“You sleep in your bed and I’ll sleep in mine.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it. Nobody will ever know.”

“I’ll know!”

“We can have us a fine time.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m sorry.” He rubbed his head as with a headache. “I can see how you misunderstand. It’s the liquor talking.”

“Why do you drink so much?”

“I was born this way. My daddy was an alcoholic and his daddy before him and his before him. All the way back to Adam.”

“That’s no excuse.”

“Not excusing. Only explaining.”

“I’m going to bed now and I think you should do the same,” Ellis said.

He went into the kitchen to make sure the door was closed and locked and then he went up the stairs. By the time he was at the top, though, Nelson was right there behind him in the dark, quick as a cat. He grabbed Ellis in a hug and tried to put his mouth on his in a drunken semblance of a kiss.

Ellis was caught off-guard. “Get off me!” he said. “What’s the matter with you?”

Nelson was not to be deterred this time, though. Even though he let go of Ellis, he wouldn’t let him pass into his room. “When your mother and I got married,” he said, “you were underage, but you’re not underage anymore. We can do whatever we want. I’ve always been drawn to you in a way that nobody ever knew about. When I found out your ma was going to be gone for a few days, I knew the time had come to do the thing I’ve always wanted to do.”

“You stink!” Ellis said. “You make me sick! I could kill you and no jury would ever convict me after I told them what you just said to me.”

“Oh, don’t push me away!”

They grappled at the top of the stairs. When Nelson tried to kiss Ellis again, he pushed him, not to hurt him but only to get away. Nelson misjudged the distance between himself and the top of the stairs. He staggered and tried to right himself and in doing so lost his balance and fell headlong to the bottom. Ellis believed he could hear his bones cracking as he fell.

A tremendous lightning flash rocked the house. Ellis went down the stairs slowly, feeling his way along the wall. He didn’t want to touch Nelson but he did so only to the extent that he had to. He put his ear to Nelson’s chest and wasn’t able to detect a heartbeat; his face to Nelson’s face and could feel no movement of air.

He had never been in any kind of trouble with the law. He believed they would put him in jail now and never let him out. They wouldn’t believe it had been an accident. They would think he had meant to do it. They might even execute him. It would be the end for his mother. Her husband and her son both gone. She’d take to her bed and never get up again.

After a night of thinking, he decided what he would do. He would go away to spare his mother and do away with himself. He wasn’t sure how he would do it, but he would figure it out when he needed to. It would be better to take care of his own end, he believed, than to be captured and hauled off to jail. He couldn’t stand the thought of being locked up. There was only one way out and he was going to take it.

Packing a small bag, he took what money he had out of his dresser drawer and left the house before dawn. The rain had stopped but there were still a tumult of clouds in the sky and a low rumble like a growl. He walked the three miles into town to the bus station. By the time he was able to get on the bus, he was so exhausted from a night without rest and from his long walk that he fell asleep next to a window with the hot wind in his face.

In the city, he checked into a modest hotel and on his first night there he counted his money out on the bed. Factoring in the cost of the room per day and of eating every meal in a restaurant, he figured he would last about a week in the city. It took him more than a year to save that money, but it didn’t matter. He would have as good a time as he could in the time left to him because it would be the last good time he would ever have.

The first couple of days he spent mostly in his room, lying on the bed and smoking cigarettes. (He had recently picked up the habit in spite of his mother’s objections.) He thought about his life but mostly he thought about his mother coming home after her trip and finding Nelson (dead for several days by then) at the bottom of the stairs. Of course, she would wonder where Ellis was, but he hoped she didn’t connect his being gone with Nelson’s death in any way. She would think that Nelson had fallen down the stairs because he was drunk while Ellis was away visiting his friend Delroy, who had a cabin on the river.

When he became so hungry he could no longer stand it, he would go out and get something to eat. There was a restaurant on the first floor of the hotel but, finding the food there tasteless and overpriced, he preferred to go to a café three or four blocks from the hotel where there was a waitress named Rosalie.

Rosalie was older than him, about thirty, and married, but it didn’t make any difference. She made him feel good because she smiled at him and told him what was good from the bill of fare and what wasn’t. She had thick auburn hair and when she smiled she showed front teeth that overlapped. She joked with him and asked him questions, not too personal, about where he was from and where he was headed. He told her he had always wanted to see the city and had decided finally to have his little fling. She laughed when he said the word fling as if she had never heard it before and set down a piece of apple pie in front of him with vanilla ice cream on top. She told him if he wanted anything else to give her a holler. He wanted to ask her to go someplace with him other than the café where they might talk, but he saw the wedding ring on her finger and knew that doing so would be too forward and might spoil the friendly feeling between them. He always left her a tip, though, more than he could afford, and would catch her eye and give her a friendly wave as he left.

As his days in the city began to pile one of top of the other, he began to think about how he might do himself in. He didn’t want to create a public spectacle, so that eliminated the possibility of jumping out a window or throwing himself in front of a bus. He had heard about people going to sleep and not waking up from the right combination of strong liquor and pills. He could get himself a bottle of whiskey, all right, all right, but he didn’t know what kind of pills to get and if he knew he wasn’t sure he could get them.

He began walking the streets to see as much of the city as he could before checking out. He visited a museum, where he looked at some paintings; when he discovered a park with a zoo, he began to spend a lot of his time there with the monkeys and lions. People rarely spoke to him, as if he wasn’t there at all, but when they did they were cordial and friendly enough; they had no reason not to be. Rosalie remained the only person in the city, though, with whom he had any real connection.

The day came when he realized, on counting his money again, that he only had enough to make it through the next day, which was Sunday. Sunday seemed a good day to die.

He didn’t want to spend Saturday night, his last night on earth, moping around in his room, so he spent the whole night walking the streets, which were always thronging with people. And in everything he saw—drunks and prostitutes, a bar brawl spilling out into the streets, two women engaged in a fistfight,  a well-dressed crowd pouring out of a theatre, a taxicab smashing into the back of a truck—he was as detached as a ghost. At a newsstand, when he saw a length of thin rope on top of a pile of newspapers, he asked the vendor if he might have it. The vendor thought for a moment and told him he could take it for the price of thirty cents.

When he got back to his hotel room, the sun was just coming up. He was glad to see it was going to be a sunny day. He ate a light breakfast and went up to his room and took a hot bath. He slept for a couple of hours and when he awoke he put on his clean clothes and sat down at the desk to write his mother a farewell letter.

With pen in hand, he couldn’t think of what to write. Trying to explain to her what he was going to do and why didn’t make any sense. If it didn’t make any sense to him, it certainly wouldn’t to her. He could simply apologize and tell her goodbye, but he believed she deserved more than that.

The only thing that would do would be for him to speak to her on the phone one last time. And he wouldn’t tell her what he was going to do because that would only alarm her. Just hearing her voice, though, would give him the courage he needed. It would be the fitting end to his time on earth that he needed.

His heart was pounding as he picked up the phone. He had to go through the hotel switchboard to make the call, but it only took a minute and after the phone rang just two rings his mother answered.

“Did I wake you up, mother?” he asked casually.

“Ellis, is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Where in the world are you?”

“Delroy invited me up to his cabin. I’ve been here for a few days.”

“Thank goodness. We didn’t know where you were.”

“We?”

“Nelson and me.”

“Nelson?”

“Yes, he was drunk and had a bad fall while I was gone but he’s better now. He broke his shoulder and three ribs. He’s such a baby. He wants his pain pills regularly. I don’t know what he’d do if he ever had any real pain.”

“You said Nelson?”

“Yes. Who else? Are you all right? You sound a little funny.”

“I’m fine now.”

“Nelson didn’t remember a thing because he was so drunk. He said you were in the house before he fell and gone after he fell. He didn’t know where you were. He was worried about you.”

“I’m fine, mother.”

“When are you coming home?”

“I don’t know. In a day or two.”

“So you’re having a good time?”

“The best time I’ve ever had. I’d like to stay for a few more days but I’m afraid I’m out of money.”

“Oh, honey! Do you want me to send you some?”

“No, that’s all right, mother. I don’t want to take your money.”

“Well, it certainly is good to hear your voice, son, and I’m so relieved you’re all right.”

“Why wouldn’t I be all right?”

“I guess I still think of you as my little boy, as big as you are.”

“I’ll be home soon, mother. Don’t worry about me.”

He hung up the phone and laughed. He danced around the room as if he had an invisible waltzing partner, as there was no one there to see him. How happy he was! How agreeably his dilemma had resolved itself! He loved his mother so much and, yes, he even loved Nelson. He loved Rosalie, his friend Delroy, the news vendor who sold him the rope and everybody else he had ever seen or known.

He put on his shoes, his hat and jacket and took the elevator down to the hotel lobby. He went out to the sidewalk. He would go down to Rosalie’s café and have a good lunch. She would be happy because he was happy. Maybe she would sit down across from him while he ate and talk to him. Maybe she wasn’t really married but only wore the ring to discourage any unwanted advances from male customers.

He had to cross the street but was too impatient to wait until he got to the intersection so he crossed in the middle of the block. He looked both ways but didn’t see the speeding taxicab. When it hit him, he was thrown through the air about ten feet. A woman screamed. People ran toward him. Somebody covered his face. There was nothing else to be done.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp  

The Door That’s Always Closed

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The Door That's Always Closed

The Door That’s Always Closed ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

My name is Charles Anson. I moved in with my mother in her apartment after my father died. At first I hated the idea of living with her at the age of thirty-seven, but soon I got used to it and thought of her home as my home. And I have to admit my life was easier than when I had my own place. My mother had a cook and housekeeper, so I no longer had to buy my own food or cook it and no longer had to do any housecleaning, which I was never very good at anyway.

My mother didn’t give birth to me until her mid-forties, so to me she seemed old before her time. She had developed a bad heart in the years after my father’s death and told me she was happy to have me there with her—I was her only family that counted, she said—even though we argued quite a lot at times about my drinking habits and the late hours I sometimes kept. My mother had a bad temper, which my father could have told you about if he had still been alive. I remember when I was little and heard them fighting late at night. It wasn’t unusual to hear glass breaking or wood splintering. When my father got enough of being goaded, he would end up breaking something. In the morning when I asked about whatever it was that got broken, my mother would laugh and say my father had a little accident while sleepwalking. I knew it wasn’t the truth but it was a good way to gloss over an ugly situation.

I went to work every day and when I came home my mother was there and dinner on the table and all was well. After dinner, I would usually step out if I felt like it, and I see now that my mother was a little jealous that I didn’t spend all my time with her when I wasn’t working. She watched movies on television and she was always happy to have me watch with her, but it wasn’t my idea of a good time. I could only take so many Bette Davis or Joan Crawford movies.

Most of the time when I came home from a night on the town, sometimes at one or two in the morning, my mother would have all the lights on in the place and also the TV but would have retired to her room. This made her feel safer when she was alone, she said. I would turn everything off, starting with the TV, and make my way to bed, sleep for about four hours, get up and begin my day all over again, as so many of us working stiffs do. My mother had told me I didn’t even need to work, that she had plenty of money for us both to live on, but I couldn’t see myself hanging around all day with just her to talk to and having to ask her for money anytime I wanted to go out and have a few drinks.

On weekends I always tried to spend either Saturday or Sunday with my mother, just the two of us. She liked to go for a drive and I would very often take her to the cemetery where my father was and take her to a hamburger place for lunch. If it was a Sunday, we would try to take in a museum or a concert. If we ever went to a movie, she always said she preferred seeing movies on TV, and when I told her most people who liked movies wanted to see them at the theatre and not on TV, she only shook her head as if she didn’t understand.

“Movies today are not like the old ones they have on TV,” she said.

“To each his own,” I said.

All in all, my life was agreeable. I didn’t spend most of the money I made so I was able to invest. The market was doing well, so I did well. I didn’t miss the things I didn’t have that other people had, like a marriage and children. I had learned early in life that not everybody in the world is the same and I found it out more and more as I got older.

My mother went on for years with her bad heart, but she came to a point where she couldn’t go on any longer. She looked pale and drawn all the time and spent most of her time lying down. She stopped fixing herself up and having her hair done up. Most days she didn’t even bother to get dressed.

She went to the hospital for a few days and when she came home she swore she would never go back, no matter what. She wanted to be in the privacy of her own home and not have a bunch of strangers around her at the end. I hired a nurse to be with her during the day when I was at work and another at night. They just did their work quietly and effectively and didn’t bother me. I paid them when the time came and left them to do whatever needed to be done.

I decided to quit my job in early summer. I didn’t need to work, as I said before, and all the time I was away I was worried that the end would come for my mother and I wouldn’t be there when she needed me. I dismissed both nurses and told them I would take over from there.

My mother moved into one of the guest bedrooms—she didn’t want to mess up her own room where all her treasures were—and became entirely bedridden. Her doctor sympathized with her desire to be at home and gave me lots of pills to give to her. He told me I didn’t have to hold back in administering her medicine and nobody would ever know the difference. I knew what he was talking about without having it explained.

We kept her heavily sedated and I knew she wasn’t in any pain. Every so often she would open her eyes and look at me and I knew she was happy with the way things had turned out. She drifted away peacefully on a blazing day in August. She was breathing and then she wasn’t.

Now, when a loved one dies, there are things that need to be done. I was supposed to call the doctor and get a death certificate and then call the funeral home and have them come and get her. I found I wasn’t able to do those things, though. I could not speak the words to anybody that she was gone. All I did was close the door and lock it. I placed a beautiful Chinese screen she was fond of in front of the door to make it look like there was no door there at all.

I knew it was wrong to just leave my mother in the room that way, but it seemed the only thing I could do. I was distraught. My world had been ripped asunder. How could I go on living day after day, year after year? I had nothing to live for.

I kept the apartment dark and I started drinking heavily and taking my mother’s pills. If I didn’t know what they were for, it didn’t make any difference. If I took too many and went to sleep and didn’t wake up, it was all the same to me. I was in a state between living and dying. Time lost all meaning for me.

Then, after two weeks or so, I suppose I snapped out of it, at least partway. I looked at myself in the mirror and vomited. After that, I cleaned myself up and went out and had a good meal in a restaurant. The next day I hired some cleaning people to come in and clean the apartment and air everything out from top to bottom. Except for the room my mother was in, of course.

I began eating regular meals again and gained some weight. I bought some cook books and learned to fix dishes I had never fixed before, like leg of lamb and Hungarian goulash. I bought myself some new clothes and began going out more, but always alone.

In the evenings I would pass the time reading novels, listening to classical music or watching old movies on TV as my mother had loved to do. I became as knowledgeable in movie lore as she had ever been. I saw all the films of Ramon Novarro and Ruth Chatterton. Kay Francis came to seem like an old friend.

To keep from feeling so alone, I bought a life-sized human female doll. It was supposed to be a young and beautiful woman, of course, a substitute companion for lonely men, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted it to resemble my mother. I put makeup on it to make it look older, put one of my mother’s wigs on it and dressed it in my mother’s clothes. I created an illusion. At night in the dark, with just the light from the TV screen, I would have sworn it was her sitting there if I hadn’t known better. I know she would have been pleased.

From there I took the next logical step and began dressing in her clothes myself. It made me feel close to her as though I were absorbing her essence into my body. She wasn’t a rotting corpse behind a closed door. She was right there with me and had been all the time.

After I dressed in her clothing a few times, I started experimenting with makeup. I applied it to my own face exactly as she would have applied it to her face. She had a couple of wigs on the top shelf of her closet and I got them down and tried them with different outfits. I would spend the entire day dressed as her. If it made me feel better and less alone, what did it hurt?

As I stood and looked at myself in her full-length mirror, I realized for the first time how much like her I was. My face was the same shape as hers, down to the dimple in my chin, and I had the same coloring. My beard stubble was light and nonexistent for at least a day after I shaved. I was the embodiment of my mother. I saw nothing of my father in me. He had been large with fleshy ears and a nose like a lump of cauliflower. When I was a child, I used to wonder how the two of them ever came to be together.

I spent hours practicing her walk, her laugh, the way she spoke, lit a cigarette or downed her vodka and tonic. I could match her signature so well that the most highly trained handwriting expert in the world would never have been able to tell the difference. But for whom was I doing all this? Was it was just tricks to be performed for my own amusement or was it something else?

One day when I was feeling brave and more than a little bold I decided to try a little experiment. Dressed as my mother—in her clothes, shoes, wig, hat and coat—I went down in the elevator and down the street to the market on the corner and bought a bag of groceries. I expected people to look at me and know I wasn’t what, or who, I appeared to be. If anybody noticed me at all, though, they looked away without giving me a thought. It was exactly the effect I hoped for.

On my way home, a neighbor woman stopped me on the sidewalk. She put her hand on my arm and leaned in familiarly.

“I heard you were sick,” she said. “I’m glad to see you looking so well.”

“I’m much better now,” I (my mother) said. “My son has been taking care of me.”

I began going out more as my mother. People who had known her for years weren’t able to tell the difference. I kept them from looking at me too closely but, even if they had, I don’t think they would have suspected anything. People see what they want to see and are not all that observant.

Take my mother’s lawyer, for example. He had some documents he wanted her to sign. Now, my mother and her lawyer had known each since high school. Making him believe I was her would be the ultimate test. I was sure I could do it but I was little anxious he would take one look at me and know I was somebody other than my mother. Would he then think I had murdered her or something equally bizarre? I knew I was taking a chance, but I was willing to risk it.

I didn’t need to worry. The lawyer held onto my gloved hand longer than was needed and led me to a chair in front of his desk.

“I’ve never seen you looking so radiant,” he said.

“Why, thank you!”

“I don’t know how you do it.”

“Lots of broccoli and blueberries.”

“It has to be more than that.”

“Well, we all have our little secrets.”

“You can’t fool me about your age. I know exactly how old you are because I’m the same age.”

“It’s only a number,” I (my mother) said. “I stopped counting a long time ago.”

After I signed the papers, he invited me to lunch but I lied and told him I had an appointment to see my doctor. I wasn’t sure I could keep up the illusion through a long, liquor-infused sit-down.

When I went out of the apartment now, about half the time it was as my mother. People were attentive and polite to a well-dressed woman alone. I got the best tables in restaurants and some man or other was always more than willing to give me a seat on a crowded subway or bus. People lit my cigarettes, opened doors for me and held elevators. I could always get a smile out of even the most sour-faced old buzzard.

Sometimes, but not often, I thought about my mother lying on the bed in that room behind the screen. I couldn’t visualize her as a rotting corpse. You hear stories about a dead body being closed up in a house and people realizing it’s there only because they can smell it. There had been no odors in my apartment and no complaints from any of the neighbors. I had heard stories about the bodies of saints that aren’t subject to the laws of decay. I could almost believe that my mother was one of those. Wondrous are the workings of heaven and not of nature.

I dreamed often about my mother, a happy dream in which I could hear her voice and see her laughing face. She was always excited about something she had seen or read, a trip she was taking, a play she was going to or an old friend she had met again by chance. She was the only truly good person I had ever known. Everybody loved her.

When I was myself, Charles, I felt dull and uninteresting. My clothes were ill-fitting, no matter how much I paid for them or with what care I chose them. In conversation I was a nonentity. I had nothing to say to people and no desire to be with them.

I went to a lecture on Nebuchadnezzar at a museum, not as my mother but as myself. There I ran into an old acquaintance named Hulga Bosworth. We had dated for a while right after college. It was never what I would have called a romance but more just something I did back then because it’s what everybody else was doing. Hulga told me she had been married and divorced two times. When I asked her if she thought she was ever going to get it right, she just laughed.

She gave me her phone number and a few days later, when I was feeling low, I called her and we spent the next couple of hours filling each other in on our lives. We went out to dinner the next day and a couple of days after that we went to a piano recital. She told me on our second outing that she had never stopped thinking about me and hoped we would somehow meet again. When I said I was surprised that she had ever given me another thought, she laughed and said my modesty was one of the things she had always loved about me.

Hulga and I started spending a lot of time together. Since we were both alone, getting married seemed the next logical step. I wasn’t in love with her but we were compatible and I didn’t relish the idea of spending the rest of my life with nobody to talk to or eat dinner with. When I asked her if she’d like to get married, she didn’t hesitate before saying yes.

It wasn’t to be, though. When she told me I would have to give up my apartment, I refused.

“But darling,” she said, “we don’t need ten rooms for just the two of us.”

“I’m not moving,” I said. “This is my mother’s apartment. She expects me to keep it up while she’s away.”

“Isn’t your name on the lease?”

“It doesn’t matter if it is or not. I’m not moving.”

“You’re being childish.”

“Women always think that men are being childish when they refuse to take orders.”

We had a terrible argument, during which she demanded that I open the door to the room behind the Chinese screen.

“It hasn’t been opened in years,” I said.

“I want to see what’s in it.”

“Maybe it’s none of your business. Did you ever think of that?”

“It seems that since we’re to be married, your business is my business.”

“Not always,” I said.

She cried and threw an expensive vase at me and stormed out the door. The next day when she called to apologize I wouldn’t take her call or the calls that came after.

It was for the best, I knew. I didn’t want to enter into a bad marriage and then have to end up giving her half of everything I owned in a divorce settlement.

After that I drowned Charles in the bathtub, burning his tuxedo as a symbolic gesture, and lived my life as Margaret, mother of Charles. I never did like Charles anyway and I was sure nobody else did. But I continued in the hope that someday there would be somebody for me. If not my mother then somebody like her. Somebody to close the door and lock it when the time came and make sure nobody ever got in.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

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