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Mr. Doodles’ Thanksgiving

Mr. Doodles' Thanksgiving

Mr. Doodles’ Thanksgiving ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story has appeared on my website before.)

The four-day Thanksgiving weekend was upon us. Everybody had to leave school; nobody could stay, no matter how much they wanted to. The cafeteria would be closed and the heat shut off. It was time for the university to take a little snooze. Get out and don’t come back until Sunday night at the earliest.

On Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving, I walked downtown to the bus station in a light rain to catch my bus. After a bumpy, smelly, two-hour ride, during which I tried unsuccessfully to take a nap, I arrived in my hometown. It was raining there, too.

I called my mother and asked her if she could come and pick me up because I had a sore throat and didn’t feel like walking home in the rain and didn’t have the money for cab fare. She sighed and banged the phone down in my ear. Ten minutes later she pulled into the parking lot of the bus station in her old beat-up Oldsmobile the color of an army tank.

“Thanks for making me come out in the rain,” she said by way of greeting.

“I didn’t make it rain,” I said.

“I thought you said you weren’t coming home for Thanksgiving.”

“Had to. No choice.”

“Well, I’m kind of glad you’re here because I need your help tomorrow.”

“Why do you need my help?”

“Everybody’s coming and I have to fix a lot of food. You can help entertain.”

“Who is ‘everybody’?”

“Grandma will be there with her friend Bunny. Lindley is coming and she’s going to bring her new beau. Your father said he’ll be there if he doesn’t get a better offer. I think he has somebody he wants us to meet.”

“How about if I just catch the next bus back to school?” I said. “I’ll spend the weekend in a homeless shelter.”

Mother and father were divorced. Mother still lived in the house I grew up in. Father lived not far away. They prided themselves on still being  “friends,” though no longer married. They had a peaceable arrangement whereby mother still called father over to the house to fix things that were broken, while she sent him an occasional cake or plate of food, or mended his clothes when needed. They were very adult about the whole thing.

While I sat at the table and ate my dinner of leftover stew and hot chocolate, mother sat across from me and blew cigarette smoke above my head.

“How is school?” she said.

“All right.”

“Are you making lots of nice friends?”

“Sure.”

“You were always so shy. I used to worry about you being such a loner.”

“I have thousands of friends.”

“Do you remember that boy in high school who had blond hair and spoke with a lisp?”

“No, I never knew anybody like that.”

“I can’t think of his name, but I heard he works as a cake decorator now. I guess he just wasn’t smart enough to go to college.”

“You don’t have to be especially smart to go to college.”

“One of Lindley’s friends from school was caught embezzling money from the bank where she worked. She’s in lots of trouble now. She’s probably going to jail. It was in the newspaper. I’ll have to be sure and tell Lindley about it when I see her tomorrow. Can you imagine how terrible her parents must feel?”

“Maybe they were lucky and died before their daughter became a criminal,” I said.

“Her first name was Paula or Patsy or something like that, but I can’t remember her last name.”

And so went our conversation, a mother and son who hadn’t seen each other for three months.

The next morning she was up before daylight banging around in the kitchen. She had been thawing the turkey in the refrigerator for two days and wanted to get it baked so she could have the oven free to bake the pies. She made me set the dining room table as soon as I finished with breakfast.

The first to arrive were grandma and her friend, Bunny. They had identical silvery hairdos, fresh from the beauty parlor. Grandma was carrying an orange peel cake and Bunny the little wicker basket that contained her tiny chihuahua dog, Mr. Doodles.

Grandma kissed me, leaving the imprint of her lips on my cheek. “How’s the big college man?” she asked. “Keeping all those pretty coeds in line?”

“Oh, you know it grandma!” I said.

Bunny shook my hand and let Mr. Doodles out of his basket. He ran into the living room and crawled under the couch.

Bunny was a seventy-five-year-old retired nurse. She still smoked Kool cigarettes and drank gin right out of the bottle. She and grandma were the best of friends. They had recently moved into grandma’s house together and had purchased side-by-side cemetery plots. They were in it together for the long haul.

Grandma and Bunny went into the kitchen to help mother with the dinner, while I tried to coax Mr. Doodles out from under the couch. When I set his basket down where he could see it, he ran to it and jumped in. He laid down and licked himself like a cat and went to sleep.

When my sister, Lindley, arrived, she had a man with her I had never seen before. He was no more than five feet tall with a pear-shaped body (Mr. Five-by-Five). His head was covered in blond corkscrew curls that hung down around his ears to his shoulders.

“This is my friend, Stubby Miller,” Lindley said.

“I’m so happy to make your acquaintance,” Stubby said, taking my hand in both of his and pumping it vigorously.

“Stubby has an interesting job,” Lindley said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“He’s a professional clown.”

“I prefer to think of myself as an entertainer,” he said.

“I know lots of non-professional clowns,” I said, “but I never met a professional one before.”

Of all of Lindley’s boyfriends, I had to admit that Stubby Miller was one of the better ones.

Lindley went into the kitchen and left me alone with Stubby Miller and Mr. Doodles. Stubby crossed his squat legs on the couch while Mr. Doodles raised his head and looked at us and went back to sleep.

“Is that your pup?” Stubby asked.

“No, it’s Bunny’s.”

“Who’s Bunny?”

“You’ll meet her later,” I said. “She’s my grandma’s friend.”

After an uncomfortable silence, Stubby said, “I hear you’re up at state university.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I never had a chance to go to college myself.”

“It’s vastly overrated,” I said.

“Don’t you like it?”

“Of course I like it,” I said. “It gives me time to decide how I want to ruin the rest of my life.”

I offered him a glass of wine, which he was glad to accept to keep from having to talk to me any further.

Father arrived with a bottle of champagne and a henna-haired woman on his arm, one Shugie Sherwood, dressed all in red. Red, in fact, seemed to be Shugie’s color. Besides her red dress, her lips were the color of a Valentine heart and her cheeks as rosy as mother’s were pale.

Father called us all into the living room. He opened his bottle of champagne and when he made sure everybody had a full glass, he held up his arms like a minister about to bless a crowd of sinners.

“To our little family gathered here today,” he said, “I have an important announcement to make.”

“Well, for heaven’s sake!” grandma said. “Why all the ceremony?”

Father was obviously relishing the moment. “Shugie and I are going to be married next week at the court house,” he said. “Since we’ve both been married before, we decided to dispense with all the formalities.”

On the collective intake of breath, he held his arms up again for silence.

“And that’s not all,” he said. “After we’re married we’re moving to Phoenix, Arizona. That’s where Shugie is from. She owns two apartment buildings there and I’m going to manage them for her!”

Shugie giggled and her face turned even redder.

“Well, congratulations!” Stubby Miller said, holding up his glass of champagne and drinking it all in one gulp. He seemed to be the only one truly moved by the news, and he didn’t even know father and Shugie.

Grandma moved forward and kissed Shugie on the cheek and Bunny shook her hand. Mother set her glass of champagne down and left the room.

Before we ate, I went into the kitchen to get some glasses. Mother was in there alone, putting the turkey on the platter.

“What did you think of father’s news?” I asked. I couldn’t resist.

“It’s his life,” she said, shrugging.

“What do you think of Shugie?”

“Whore.”

“Won’t you miss father, being so far away?”

She looked at me as if realizing for the first time how truly stupid I was. “If I hadn’t wanted him out of my life,” she said, “I never would have divorced him.”

When we were all seated at the table, including Mr. Doodles, mother made us sit with our hands in our laps while she said grace. She had never said grace before in her life, as far as I knew.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” she said with her head bowed, “the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

When she was finished and gave us the cue to begin eating, Lindley laughed. “Are you trying to tell us you’ve joined Alcoholics Anonymous, mother?” she said.

“I thought it was lovely,” grandma said.

Bunny held Mr. Doodles in the crook of her arm and fed him small bites of turkey and potatoes from her plate. As he chewed, he looked at all of us sitting around the table with his enormous eyes like brown marbles. I wondered what he was thinking.

“He’s just the most precious little boy in the whole wide world!” Bunny cooed.

During the meal, Lindley and Stubby Miller sat very close. Sometimes he put his arm around her but he had to reach up because she was taller than he was. He said little things to her that only she could hear, causing her to blush. I began to think they were serious about each other. I could easily see my odd sister married to a fat little clown.

Father and Shugie talked excitedly about the things they were going to do when they got to Phoenix. The trips they were going to take. The sights they were going to see. At least once every minute he reached over and took her hand in his own and squeezed it. Her eye makeup ran in rivulets down her cheeks. It seemed she was melting before our eyes.

Mother ate quietly, speaking only when spoken to. I knew she wasn’t happy about father and Shugie but would never reveal what she really thought. It was our way to keep things bottled up inside until they burst out on their own.

After everybody left, I helped her stow the leftovers in the refrigerator and wash the dishes. When we were done, she went to bed without a word while I stayed up and watched TV until I could no longer stay awake.

The next day she wanted me to put up her enormous artificial Christmas tree, string it with lights and decorate it, which I did without complaint. It was a ritual with her to put it up on that day. She wouldn’t take it down until after New Year’s.

The rest of the weekend passed in a blur. I ate lots of leftovers and slept at ten-hour intervals. Mother wanted me to go to church with her on Sunday but I said I had a sore throat and cough and didn’t want to pass it on to anybody there. She accepted that excuse and went without me.

On Sunday evening she drove me to the bus station to catch the bus back to school. As I was getting out of the car, she asked, “Will we be seeing you at Christmas?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I said.

The bus was on time and the rain had stopped. I took these things as a good sign. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and tell my thousands of imaginary friends about my Thanksgiving weekend at home.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Thanksgiving for Poor People

Thanksgiving for Poor People

Thanksgiving for Poor People ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(This short story has appeared on my website before.)

Veradean showed Vicki-Vicki a picture in a magazine of a family at Thanksgiving. An older woman with gray hair, obviously a grandmother, was holding up a huge turkey on a platter before a table full of smiling family members, including a small boy and girl. On the table were bountiful bowls of all kinds of food:  dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, pickles, green beans, cranberry relish, carrots, peas, corn, rolls, pumpkin pie, chocolate cake. What you know but what you don’t see is grandma setting the turkey in the middle of the table and all her family beginning to eat.

“This makes me hungry,” Veradean said.

Vicki-Vicki took the picture from her and studied it. “You can’t eat a picture,” she said.

“Why can’t we be like that?”

“Because we’re not,” Vicki-Vicki said. “We’re poor and poor people don’t set a table like that.”

“Why are we poor?”

“Because we live in Scraptown and we don’t have any money. We’re trash and our mother is trash and her mother before her.”

“I’m not trash!” Baby Eddie said.

“You’re trash just as much as I am,” Veradean said.

“Yes, you’re trash,” Vicki-Vicki said, “and the sooner you realize it the better.”

“Once trash, always trash,” Veradean said. “You can take the person out of the trash, but you can’t take the trash out of the person.”

“I don’t want to be trash!” Baby Eddie trilled. “I don’t like trash!”

“The pilgrims were trash, too,” Veradean said. “They didn’t have any money, either. Miss Edmonds read us a story about them. They wore black and prayed all the time. The king got mad at them and kicked them out of the country. They didn’t have anyplace to go so they came over here in a little wooden boat. They landed on a big rock. When they climbed down off the rock and looked around them, they saw that the land was nothing but woods and wild animals. There were no supermarkets or schools or cars or buses or anything like that. The Indians that already lived here were afraid of the pilgrims. They hid from them and threw rocks at them.

“The pilgrims didn’t know how to take care of themselves and a lot of them died right away in the snow. They couldn’t figure out how to make corn and stuff grow in the ground just right. Finally the Indians weren’t so afraid of the pilgrims anymore and came out from where they were hiding and started helping the pilgrims. They showed them how to grow stuff so they would always have something to eat.

“When the pilgrims finally started to get the hang of living here and learned what they needed to know to get by, they had a big feast after the harvest to show everybody how well they had done. Since the Indians had helped them get started and had kept them from starving, the pilgrims asked the Indians to join them in the feast. The Indians brought along some of their stuff, too, that the pilgrims hadn’t yet learned how to make on their own. This feast was the first Thanksgiving and it’s been held every year at the same time ever since.”

“Very interesting, I’m sure,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“So, are we going to have a turkey for Thanksgiving?”

“I want a turkey!” Baby Eddie squealed.

“We don’t have money for turkey.”

“We can’t have anything like in that picture?”

Vicki-Vicki had a little money for food that her mother had left before she went away with her latest boyfriend, but not enough for anything special. They would probably have Campbell’s vegetable soup and open a can of tuna if they were lucky. Maybe some Twinkies for dessert.

“We’ll try to have something special but I don’t know what it’ll be.”

“Will it be a surprise?” Baby Eddie asked.

“Yes, it will be a surprise.”

The next day she saw an ad in the newspaper that attracted her attention. The Everlasting Light Mission would be serving Thanksgiving dinner from noon until six. Good food and Christian fellowship, the ad said. Come One, Come All.

On Thanksgiving morning she made Baby Eddie and Verdean each take a bath and then she found some special clothes in a trunk for them to wear: a 1940s schoolgirl dress with puff sleeves and a sash in the back for Veradean and a 1930s sailor suit for Baby Eddie. For herself she chose an old gray suit that smelled of moth balls, exactly like the one Kim Novak wore in Vertigo.

If she was going as Kim Novak, she had to look the part. She fixed her hair in a sophisticated upsweep and put on lots of makeup and drew her eyebrows on with an eyebrow pencil. She was poor and would be surrounded by other poor people, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t be stylish. People might take her for a movie star, but she didn’t care if they did.

When they got to the Everlasting Light Mission, they took their place in a long line that snaked down the block. She was a little disappointed at having to wait so long just to get in, but Veradean and Baby Eddie were excited. They were doing something they had never done before. It was their special thing that she had promised them for Thanksgiving.

The Everlasting Light Mission was an enormous old building that used to be a warehouse. Long rows of tables bearing white tablecloths and paper pumpkins were set up in rows to accommodate the hundreds of people who needed a meal and had no place else to get it.

When finally they came to the place where the food was being served, Vicki-Vicki took two plates onto a tray, one for herself and one for Baby Eddie, while Veradean managed a tray all on her own. When they passed on to the dessert table, they all three chose pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Baby Eddie had never tasted pumpkin pie before, but Veradean remembered having it once before when she was little.

They went to the far end of one of the long tables and sat down, Vicki-Vicki on the end, Baby Eddie to her left and Veradean to her right. They began eating, just like the family in the picture would have done.

“This is some good shit,” Veradean said after she had taken a few bites.

Soon Vicki-Vicki saw a man moving slowly down the table toward her. He smiled as he spoke to everybody, patting them on the backs or shaking their hands. She knew he was a minister because he was dressed all in black like a pilgrim. He gave her a slightly uneasy feeling. When he came to her end of the table, he paused beside her and looked down his nose at her.

“So happy to see you here today, sister,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve met you before. What is your name?”

“Vicki-Vicki Novak,” she said.

“And are these your children?” he asked, gesturing toward Baby Eddie and Veradean.

“Brother and sister,” she said. She could hardly keep from laughing.

“I hope you will honor us with your presence at a church service immediately following,” he said.

She figured it was the price she had to pay for the food.

“May the Lord bless you and keep you,” he said as he moved on to the next table.

“I don’t like him,” Veradean said. “He looks like Dracula.”

“I like Dracula,” Baby Eddie said.

They ate everything on their plates and when they had finished they went into the part of the warehouse that had been made into a church. They took a seat on the back row, just as a wheezing organ began playing solemnly.

There were fifty or so other people waiting for the service to begin. They were mostly men, Skid Row types and bums. Some of them dozed, while others folded their arms and trained their empty gazes on the ceiling.

In a little while the organ music stopped and the minister in black stood up at the pulpit and raised his arms.

“Brothers and sisters,” he said, “rejoice, for this is a day that the Lord hath made.”

“Amen!” somebody shouted.

“We are so happy that you have made your way into our little fold on this blessed day. I’m here to tell you that the Lord loves you, no matter what you’ve done and no matter how low you might have sunk in this life. That is our message of hope at the Eternal Light Mission: You are loved, in spite of all your transgressions, as only He can love!”

Baby Eddie went to sleep, leaning his head against Vicki-Vicki’s side, while Veradean played with a piece of string. Vicki-Vicki listened as attentively as she could for about ten minutes and then she began to wish she was someplace else. When the minister had his eyes closed, she stood up and pulled Baby Eddie and Veradean toward the exit as quietly as she could.

Outside the Eternal Light Mission were half-a-dozen bums standing in a circle. They were talking and laughing but when Vicki-Vicki came out the door they stopped and looked at her. She was barely aware of them because she wasn’t interested in them. When she paused and opened her Kim Novak shoulder bag and took out a cigarette, one of the bums stepped forward and lit it for her. He was fairly clean-looking for a bum and he had on a nice hat, probably stolen. She smiled at him and started to walk away.

“Live around here?” he asked.

“No, I live in the South of France,” she said.

“I saw you inside with them kids. They yours?”

“Well, they’re with me, aren’t they?”

“Could I give you a lift someplace?”

“Don’t trouble yourself.”

“I’ve got a car. Parked right around the corner.”

She looked at the sky, took Baby Eddie by the hand, and the three of them walked away.

“I think he was going to ask you for a date,” Veradean said.

“You don’t know anything about men,” Vicki-Vicki said.

When they had walked no more than a quarter-mile from the Eternal Light Mission, a white car pulled up alongside them. It was the bum in the nice hat. He rolled along beside them, keeping pace with their walking.

“It looks like it’s going to rain,” he said. “I sure would like to give you a ride to wherever you’re going.”

“I think I’ve already declined your invitation,” she said, trying not to smile at him.

“I don’t believe them kids are yours. You’re too young to have kids that old.”

“If you must know, they’re my brother and sister.”

“I knew it! I bet you don’t even have a husband, do you?”

“Yes, I do. He’s likely to be along any minute and he won’t like it if you’re bothering me.”

“Just tell me where you live and I’ll come and pay you a visit tonight, after you get them kids put to bed.”

“Let’s get him to take us home,” Veradean said. “I’m tired of walking and it’s going to start raining. We’re not going to get a better offer.”

Vicki-Vicki signaled to him to stop. She opened the back door for Veradean and Baby Eddie and then she went around and got into the front seat. The bum looked at her and smiled. Since she was accepting a ride from him, the least she could do was smile back.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Beauty Queen

Beauty Queen

Beauty Queen ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

I had fifteen minutes before bus time so, after buying my ticket, I sat down on one of the ratty bus station seats that had some of the stuffing coming out. It had been a difficult week (they all were) and I felt terrible. My toothache was killing me, I felt like I had a cold coming on, and I had heartburn from the Hungarian goulash I had for dinner. I took another one of my pills for my tooth, washing it down with a shot of the watered-down whiskey from the flask I carried. I closed my eyes and felt myself growing drowsy in the warm, stale air of the bus station when somebody sat down beside me. I opened my eyes and saw it was Wanda Guilfoyle.

“How are you, Warren?” she said.

She had never spoken to me before and I was surprised she even knew my name.

“All right,” I said.

“Going home for the weekend?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“It’s always good to get away from school for a couple of days, isn’t it?”

Wanda was homecoming queen and the most beautiful girl in school. She had perfect skin and honey-blond hair that cascaded down her back. She was a drama major; I had seen her in Dial M for Murder in the part that Grace Kelly played in the movie. Everybody believed she would go to Hollywood after she finished school and become a big movie star.

Wanda and I moved in different circles, as you might imagine. The only reason I knew her at all was because her boyfriend, Mickey Farrington, was an acquaintance of mine and we roomed on the same floor.

“Yes, it’s always good to go back home,” I said.

“Did you hear that Mickey and I got engaged?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “When did that happen?”

“At the sweethearts’ dance a couple of weeks ago.”

“I wasn’t there,” I said. “I never go to those things.”

“You should go! They’re lots of fun.”

I shook my head. I was sure my face turned a shade of crimson.

“Some people are meant to go to dances and some are meant to stay at home,” I said.

“Oh, Warren,” she laughed. “You are funny! Don’t you even have a girlfriend?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t want one.”

She laughed again. “Every boy needs a girlfriend. I know three or four girls who would be so happy to go out with you.”

“You mean ugly girls?”

“You’re just shy. You need to work on overcoming your shyness.”

“It’s more social ineptness than shyness,” I said, pleased with my own cleverness and flattered that she and I were sitting there talking about such things.

“Anyway,” she said. “So Mickey and I will be getting married soon.”

“Marriage can thwart your career goals,” I said. I knew I sounded idiotic but she didn’t seem to mind.

“Well, that’s true,” she said, “but to me the most important thing is marriage. Then I’ll worry about my career.”

“Are you going to be an actress?” I asked.

“Who knows?” she said. “I might be a laundress or a clerk in a department store, like countless others. One thing is as good as another.”

“No ambition?” I asked.

“Not much.”

“I don’t have any, either.”

“All human endeavor is essentially pointless,” she said.

“I’ve always thought that,” I said, amazed that she and I had anything in common.

“How well do you know Mickey?” she asked.

“Oh, I’ve talked to him a few times. I’ve sat across the table from him in the cafeteria. I wouldn’t say we were friends, though.”

“Do you know a girl named Marsha Dethers?”

“No.”

“She goes around with all her body parts hanging out. She has no taste and no class. She’s a whore, a total slut.”

“I get the impression you don’t like her very much.”

“I think Mickey is cheating on me with her.”

“That’s a bad sign, isn’t it?” I said.

“If I find out it’s true, first I’ll kill her and then I’ll kill him.”

“Maybe it’s not such a good idea for you to marry him,” I said, “if you already suspect him of infidelity.”

“Oh, he’s the one all right. If I can’t have him, I don’t want anybody.”

“You’re young,” I said, and I knew I was on the verge of saying something stupid again.

“Do you think you could have a private conversation with Mickey, man to man I mean, and find out if anything like that is going on?”

“I don’t think he would tell me, even if it was.”

“You could use your charm on him and draw him out. He loves to talk about himself.”

“I don’t think I have any charm,” I said.

“Invite him to go have a hamburger with you on Sunday evening and get him to talk. Once he starts talking, he’ll tell you everything.”

“He’d think I was making sexual advances. Asking him out on a date.”

She laughed. “You say the funniest things,” she said.

“I wasn’t trying to be funny.”

“I’d make it worth your while.”

“What do you mean?”

“I would pay you for any valuable information. That’s how important it is to me.”

“I couldn’t take your money,” I said.

“It’s very warm in here,” she said, putting her palm against her forehead as if checking for a fever. “I’m sorry. I’m not feeling well at all.”

I was just about to ask her if I could get her a Coke or a drink of water when she began twitching all over and pitched forward onto the filthy floor. She arched her back and, with arms and legs at unnatural angles, flopped around like a fish out of water.

“Could somebody help here?” I screamed, not knowing what else to do.

A bus station employee, an old woman, came out from behind the ticket counter and knelt down beside Wanda. She put a folded-up towel under her head and pulled her legs out straight and turned her slightly off her back onto her side.

My bus was announced. I hated to leave Wanda on the floor like that, but she was being taken care of. With one last look, I went outside and got on the bus.

It was only about half full. I went all the way to the back and slouched down in the seat. I was almost ready to cry at what had happened to Wanda and my toothache was hurting worse now from gritting my teeth. I took two more of the pain pills and two Dramamine tablets to keep from being bus sick. The Dramamine had the added effect of making me sleep.

In spite of the lurching of the bus and the gas fumes in my nose, I went soundly asleep and after a while began dreaming about Wanda. Dreams so real they made me believe she was really there beside me.

“I’m sorry you had to see me that way,” she said, taking my calloused paw in her delicate, soft hand.

“No reason to apologize,” I said.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it?” she said.

“What is?”

“Everybody thinks I’m so perfect and I’ve had these awful epileptic seizures for as long as I can remember.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “We all have things we’d like to keep hidden.”

“You won’t tell anybody you saw me in such an ugly state?”

“Of course I won’t.”

“You’re a sweet boy, Warren.”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m mostly a turd.”

“Any girl would be lucky to have you for a boyfriend.”

She nuzzled against me and put her head on my shoulder and went to sleep. We slept there together in that way, side by side, until I reached my destination. I had never been so intimate with anyone before in my life.

My sour-faced mother picked me up at the bus stop in her ancient white Cadillac. She didn’t even look at me. Just puffed on her cigarette and listened to the country music on the radio.

“I have a girlfriend,” I said.

She looked over at me as if discovering for the first time that I was in the car with her. “You?” she said.

“She’s a beauty queen. She’s going to be a movie star.”

“What would she want with you?”

“She thinks I’m sweet. And funny.”

“Maybe she can support you. I’m pretty sure you’ll never be able to support yourself.”

All weekend long I felt a glow inside my chest when I thought of Wanda. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and see her again. I’d call her up on Sunday evening and ask her to go downtown and have a hamburger with me.

Sitting with me in the diner, breathing deeply of the grease-saturated air, she’d reach across the table and take my hand in hers and her eyes would glisten with tears. We’d laugh about her little misadventure in the bus station. I’d tell her to forget about Mickey Farrington. Let the whore have him. You don’t need him. You have me now.

I could see it all happening.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

False Alarm

False Alarm image 2

False Alarm ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Little Thelma Kane and her mother, Nova Kane, presented themselves in the principal’s office.

“We want to see Mr. Middledyke,” Nova Kane said.

Ima Chiclet, Mr. Middledyke’s secretary, eyed Nova Kane with contempt. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked.

“No.”

“Well, then, you can’t see him without an appointment. He’s a very busy man.”

“Look, doll face,” Nova Kane said. “I’m in no mood. I took off from work to be here.”

“What is the nature of your visit?”

“That’s none of your business. It’s for Mr. Middledyke to know.”

Ima Chiclet sighed and stuck the tip of her tongue out between her ruby-red lips. “I don’t think Mr. Middledyke will see you without knowing the reason.”

“Just tell him I need to see him on a personal matter.”

“Name?”

“Mrs. Nova Kane, mother of eleventh grader Little Thelma Kane.”

“I’ll see if he’s free to see you.”

She stood up from her desk, went to a closed door behind the desk, tapped on it and went inside. In a moment she came back out.

“Mr. Middledyke says he’ll see you on one condition,” she said.

“What’s that?” Nova Kane asked.

“That you’re not carrying a gun.”

Nova Kane held open the sides of her coat and whirled around. “No guns,” she said.

“How about you?” Ima Chiclet asked Little Thelma.

“I don’t have a gun, either,” Little Thelma said, “but I wish I did.”

“If you’re both clean, then you may go right in.”

Mr. Middledyke was a small, dapper man with protruding ears and a thatch of sparse black hair on the top of his head. In his pinstriped suit, he looked like a junior-league gangster. He remained sitting at his desk and looked up from a crossword puzzle he was working.

“Yes?” he said. “What’s on your tiny little mind?”

“I’m here to sign the parental consent form,” Nova Kane said.

“Consent for what?” he asked.

“For my daughter, Little Thelma Kane, to quit school.”

“She wants to quit school? Why, if I may be so bold?”

“She’s getting married.”

“How old is she?”

“Sixteen.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little young?”

“I’m in love,” Little Thelma said.

He put down his pencil and looked Little Thelma up and down. “Are you a student here?” he asked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before.”

“Yes,” Little Thelma said. “For years and years.”

“She’s Little Thelma Kane,” Nova Kane said.

“Oh, yes,” he said, clearly confused. “Have a seat.”

After Little Thelma and Nova Kane were seated in the soft high-backed chairs facing his desk, Mr. Middledyke laced his fingers together and smiled, showing his long, crooked teeth.

“Whenever anybody tells me they want to quit school,” he said, “it’s my job to try to talk them out of it. Have you considered the consequences of quitting school at your age?”

“Yeah,” Little Thelma said, yawning.

“Without a high school diploma, you will be hard-pressed to face life’s challenges.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Nobody will hire you, even to flip hamburgers, if you haven’t graduated from high school.”

“I don’t want to flip hamburgers,” she said.

“May I ask who it is that you intend to marry?”

“His name is Buster Foster,” she said. “You wouldn’t know him.”

“Is he a student in this school?”

“No, he don’t go to school.”

“He’s twenty-seven years old,” Nova Kane said.

“He used to go to school,” Little Thelma said.

“You’re sixteen and you’re marrying a man twenty-seven?”

“Uh-huh. And he’s got a good job, too, so I don’t need to worry about flipping hamburgers or anything else.”

“What does he do?”

“He works in a scrap metal place. People bring in stuff to sell and he weighs it and gives them the money for it.”

Mr. Middledyke turned to Nova Kane. “And you approve of this marriage?” he asked.

Nova Kane lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “It doesn’t much matter if I approve or not,” she said. “It needs to happen.”

“It’s a question of maternity, then?” Mr. Middledyke asked.

“There’ll be no bastard children in my family,” Nova Kane said.

Mr. Middledyke buzzed Ima Chiclet into his office and told her to get a parental consent form.

“Consent for what?” she asked.

“To drop out of school.”

Ima Chiclet looked from Little Thelma to Nova Kane and back again. “This young girl wants to quit school?” she asked.

“That’s right,” Mr. Middledyke said.

“Oh, honey!” Ima Chiclet said. “You’ll be sorry if you quit school!”

“She’s getting married,” Mr. Middledyke said.

“Oh, don’t do it, honey!”

“That’ll be all, Ima! Just bring me the form.”

“I’m not sure where it is.”

“I’m sure you’ll find it,” he said.

“We haven’t got all day,” Nova Kane said, taking a cigarette out of her purse and fumbling it in her fingers.

While Little Thelma, Nova Kane and Mr. Middledyke were waiting in strained silence for Ima Chiclet to bring in the form, the fire alarms in the building went off, a shattering wall of sound foretelling doom.

Ima Chiclet burst into Mr. Middledyke’s office. “Fire on third floor!” she yelled.

Mr. Middledyke ran out of the room, as if he was the one on fire, leaving Nova Kane and Little Thelma sitting there in their bewilderment.

“We’re evacuating the building!” Ima Chiclet said. “Everybody out! Now!”

Little Thelma and Nova Kane pushed their way out of the building, along with everybody else trying to make it to the big double doors at the end of the long hallway. When they made it outside and to the car, Nova Kane gunned the engine and lurched away from the curb just as the fire trucks were pulling up.

“School is not usually so exciting,” Little Thelma said.

The next day the thing happened that told Little Thelma there was to be no baby. On her usual Saturday night date with Buster Foster, she told him the news.

“We don’t have to get married now,” she said.

“I thought you wanted to marry me,” he said, nearly in tears.

“Well, I thought I did, but I see now I didn’t.”

“Can’t we still go out together?”

“I don’t think so. I’m all finished with dating and men and things like that. You find you a nice lady about thirty.”

“But baby!” he whined. “It’s you I love!”

“You’ll get over it,” she said.

She wouldn’t have wanted her baby to die, but she was glad there was to be no baby in the first place and glad also that the fire at school kept Nova Kane from signing the form. She had had a narrow escape but things worked out just right for her, maybe for the first time in her life.

She wouldn’t squander her good luck. She would keep going to school if it hadn’t burned all the way to the ground and see it through to the end even if it killed her. And then? Morning would follow the night.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Broomstick

Broomstick image 1

Broomstick ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a re-post on my website.) 

She was old and stayed shut up inside her castle high on a lonely mountaintop. There was one night in the year, though, that she had to go out into the world, and that night was Halloween. She wouldn’t be much of a witch if she didn’t fly on Halloween.

As the sun sank behind the mountains in the west, she woke up her old black cat, Lucifer, who was sleeping in front of the fire, and told him to get up and have a snack and wash his face in preparation for leaving.

“I’m not going with you this time,” he said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“I’ve seen enough of the world. I’ve flown with you on countless Halloweens. I just want to be left in peace.”

“Well, suit yourself,” she said. “You’ll be missing a good time.”

“I’ll guard the castle while you’re gone,” he said, going back to sleep.

As she flew off on her broomstick, she realized she hadn’t flown since the previous Halloween. She really needed to get out more. She was a little wobbly at first, as if she might fall off, but soon she hit her stride and did a couple of loop-the-loops and reverse maneuvers to prove to herself that she still could.

After she had flown a good distance away from her castle, she felt an urgent need to do something bad, to cause some mischief and mayhem, as witches do on Halloween. Seeing a church in a village, she threw a ball of fire that caused the steeple to burst into flame. Then, outside the village, she caused some railroad tracks to buckle so that the next train to come along would derail. She turned a cow standing in a field into stone and two small children into white mice. Feeling less than fulfilled, she redirected a creek so that it would flood some farmland. These things were nothing, though, compared to what she did next: Hovering over the roof of a maternity hospital, she cast a spell that would cause the next baby to be born to have two heads. Now there was a fiendish accomplishment!

As good a time as she was having, she felt that something was missing. In the old days of her witchery, she always had somebody with her; if not a victim, then a fellow witch. Doing bad things just wasn’t as much fun if there wasn’t somebody along to tell her how terrible she was. She needed to hunt up the old gang to see what they were up to.

She flew on until she came to the environs of her youth, the place where she got her start as a witch. The forests, mountains, and rivers all looked the same. The village was much the same but had grown shabbier and poorer. The witches’ nightclub, Eye of Newt, was still there, thank goodness! She went inside, carrying her broomstick in her hand.

A hunchback dwarf greeted her at the door. She recognized him at once.

“Raphael, is that you?” she said.

The dwarf squinted up at her in the dim light. “Have we met?” he asked.

“It’s Mignonette, the witch. Don’t you remember me?”

“Oh, yes! Mignonette! Of course, I remember you, but I thought you were dead.”

“Not yet.”

“My eyes are not what they used to be.”

“Any of the old crowd here?”

“I think you’ll find a few of them at the table in the corner.”

As she made her way through the crowd to the last table against the wall, nobody turned to look at her. There was a time when she could command an entire room with her presence.

Two witches and a ghoul were sitting at the table. She recognized the two witches from the long-ago, but she didn’t know the ghoul.

“And who might you be?” one the witches, the one known as Hildegard, asked.

“Why, it’s Mignonette,” she said. “Your old friend.”

“I don’t remember anybody by the name of Mignonette,” Hildegard said stubbornly.

“Why, of course you remember her!” the other witch said. (Her name was Carlotta.) “There was the time that Mignonette was the toast of the town.”

“Oh, yes, I remember now,” Hildegard said. “She tried to kill me once.”

“Only once?” the ghoul asked, standing to hold the chair out for Mignonette as she sat down.

He was Erich, a holdover from the Third Reich. (People always wanted to hear the stories about his association with Herr Hitler.) He wore a top hat and pince nez. With his long, emaciated body, skin the color of ivory and black circles around his eyes, he was every inch the ghoul.

“I’m so happy to make your acquaintance, mademoiselle,” he said in his smooth continental accent, taking Mignonette’s hand in his own and kissing it.

“Likewise, I’m sure,” Mignonette said.

He motioned for the waiter and ordered a round of witches’ brew.

“So, I’m wondering where all our old friends are this evening,” Mignonette said. “Ethelbert, Lulu, Patsy, Lucille, Laverne and the others.”

“Oh, haven’t you heard?” Carlotta asked.

“Heard what?”

“Lucille and Patsy are dead. Ethelbert got married and went back to the Old Country. Lulu’s in a hospital for the criminally insane and, last I heard, Laverne was in jail for something or other.”

“So, it’s just the two of you left in our little coven?” Mignonette asked.

“I’m afraid so.”

“There are lots of new young witches coming along,” Carlotta said, ever the optimist. “I’m thinking we can recruit some of them to join us in our crusade of evil.”

At the mention of young witches, they all turned to look at the crowd that was hemming them in against the wall. The young witches were nothing like the older generation, which included Mignonette, Carlotta and Hildegard. They were sleek and didn’t go in for scary ugliness as the older generation had done. They had done away with the long black dresses, pointed hats, green skin, facial hair, and warts. Some of them didn’t even look like witches. They seemed to be more interested in flaunting their assets than in casting spells and riding around on broomsticks.

“I’m afraid things have changed,” Hildegard said.

“The old ways are still the best,” Mignonette said. “We can still have fun doing what we always did.”

“My motto exactly!” Erich said.

“It’s the one night in the year that witches should be having a good time.”

“Yes, yes, that’s so true,” Hildegard said.

“You’re not going to sit here all evening and drink witches’ brew, are you?”

“Well,” Carlotta said, “Hildegard and I were thinking about kidnapping a couple of teenagers from lovers’ lane and scaring the hell out of them. Make them think we’re going to kill them and then let them go at the last minute.”

“We’ve done all that,” Mignonette said. “Time and again. Maybe it’s time of think of other things to do.”

“Like what?”

“May I make a suggestion?” Erich asked. “Forget your teenagers. Some friends of mine, fellow ghouls, are getting up a party in the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost for around midnight. It’ll be a lot of fun. Skeletons dancing around a fire and that sort of thing. I’d be happy for the three of you lady witches to accompany me. And you won’t have to fly on your broomsticks. I have my car outside.”

“Can you imagine three witches and a ghoul in a car on Halloween night?” Carlotta said. “What do we do if a policeman stops us?”

“You either turn him into a toad or we tell him we’re on our way to a costume ball,” Erich said.

“It really isn’t any of his business,” Hildegard said.

“You three run along,” Mignonette said. “I don’t think I’ll come along.”

“Why not?” Carlotta asked.

“I think my time as a witch has passed. Do you know that I haven’t even left my castle since last Halloween night? My black cat, Lucifer, didn’t feel like coming with me tonight. It just isn’t the same without him.”

“Oh, I haven’t had a black cat for years,” Hildegard said.

“I have another suggestion,” Erich said. “The two of you run along and I’ll stay here with Mignonette. I’ll even lend you my car. You know how to drive, I trust?”

“Well, I like that!” Hildegard said. “She’s still doing it, after all these years! Stealing away all the men!”

“I’m not stealing away anybody,” Mignonette said.

“It’s parked just down the street,” Erich said. “You can’t miss it. It’s a 1932 Cadillac V16 Fleetwood sedan. The keys are in the ignition.”

“Let’s go,” Carlotta said. “I haven’t been to a cemetery party in years. We’ll have the pick of the men there.”

After Hildegard and Carlotta were gone, Erich ordered more drinks and moved his chair over as close to Mignonette as he could get. He put his arm around her waist and whispered in her ear.

“My place is very cozy,” he said. “I have embalming fluid.”

“Why me?” she asked. “I’m just as old and ugly as they are.”

“No, you’re not,” he said. “You’re different.”

“I’m not.”

“Wouldn’t you like to see my collection of Nazi memorabilia?”

“If I go with you, will you tell me all about Herr Hitler?”

“Would you be surprised if I told you I have his body in a trunk in my bedroom?”

“What for?”

“We’re going to try to bring him back to life.”

“Who is?”

“Come along with me and you can meet them.”

She blushed and pulled the brim of her hat down farther so her eyes were hidden. He stood up and took her by the hand.

She hadn’t had a passenger behind her on her broomstick for many years, especially a man. As he leaned forward and put him arms around her waist, she felt a quickening in her blood that she thought was long dead. He was a gentleman, she could see, and a Nazi gentleman at that. It was turning out to be a very fine evening after all.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween tree

All Hallow’s Eve ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(This is a re-post on my website.)

Farnsworth ate the liver and onions without tasting. When his mother was satisfied he had eaten enough, she let him go. He ran upstairs and put on his costume.

He was a ghost this year, same as last year. Next year he would try to dig up something different; more than two years as the same thing was boring.

The false face still had dried spit around the mouth, but he didn’t care. It was his spit. He put it on and checked himself in the mirror. Something was missing. Oh, yes, the old derby hat. It was the one thing that made his costume look just a little bit creepy and scary. Without the hat, the costume was just a cheap little-kid’s getup.

Mother was in the living room and heard him come down the stairs.

“Come here, Farnie,” she said, “and let me look at you.”

He stepped reluctantly into the living room.

“You be careful now, won’t you?” she said.

“We’ve already been all through that!” he said.

“Just a couple of years ago you wanted me to take you around trick-or-treating in the car. What was wrong with that?”

“Nobody does that anymore.”

“Who are you going with?”

“I already told you. Some friends from school.”

“What are their names?”

“Charlie, Eric, and Stan.”

“I’m going to call their parents and speak to them.”

“Please don’t do that!”

“As young as you are, you need adult supervision.”

“I think Charlie’s older sister is coming along.”

“How old is she?”

“I don’t know but she’s in high school.”

“That’s not exactly an adult.”

“We’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

“Be home by nine-thirty. Ten at the latest. You have school tomorrow.”

“No, I don’t,” he said as he went out the door. “Tomorrow is Saturday.”

He was glad to finally be out of the house. He breathed deeply of the cool air that smelled of the fallen leaves and began running. Trick-or-treaters were already in his neighborhood in twos and threes, even though it wasn’t all-the-way dark yet. The littlest kids were accompanied by their mothers.

He met his friends at the corner by the park. Eric was a skeleton, Stan a hobo, and Charlie the Long Ranger. Charlie’s sister, Oda May, was smoking a cigarette. She wore a tight tweed skirt that came to below her knees and a boy’s jacket. In her hand was a gorilla mask.

“You had that same stupid ghost costume last year,” Eric said.

“So what?” Farnsworth said.

“Let’s get going,” Charlie said. “All the good candy will be gone.”

Oda May flipped away her cigarette and put on the gorilla mask and they headed for the neighborhood on the other side of the park where all the best houses were.

A few of the houses were dark, meaning stay away, but most were brightly lit. Oda May was the leader of the little group. She chose the houses and rang the doorbells or knocked as fitted the occasion. When people opened their doors and saw her in her gorilla mask and tight skirt, as tall as a grown woman, they looked alarmed and readily forked over the candy. After an hour or so on the same street, their bags were getting heavy.

“And that’s how it’s done,” Oda May said as she sat down on the curb, hefting the bag of candy appreciatively between her legs. She lit a cigarette without taking off the gorilla mask.

“Where to now?” Charlie asked.

“I don’t know about you punks,” Oda May said, “but I’m going to go meet my boyfriend.”

“What about us?” Stan asked.

“You’re on your own. I’ve played nursemaid long enough.”

“It’s all right,” Charlie said. “We don’t need her.”

“And don’t you dare follow me!” she said, and then she was gone, carrying her bag of candy.

“Leave the mask on!” Charlie called after her. “Your boyfriend might like you better that way!”

“What will she do with all that candy?” Farnsworth asked.

“Probably give it to her boyfriend.”

“Who is her boyfriend, anyway?” Eric asked. “Why don’t we get to meet him?”

“He’s a criminal, I think,” Charlie said. “She doesn’t want me to see him because she’s afraid I’ll tell on her. I think he’s really terrible looking, like a convict.”

“I’d like to see him,” Stan said.

“Hey, I stole some of her cigarettes when she wasn’t looking,” Charlie said, passing them around and lighting them.

Farnsworth took a puff and began coughing, causing the others to laugh.

“I’ll bet you haven’t ever smoked before, have you?” Charlie said.

“I’ve smoked plenty!” Farnsworth said.

“It tastes terrible!” Stan said, taking the smoke into his mouth and blowing it out.

“Why do people like doing that?” Eric asked. He threw his cigarette down and spit on the ground.

“Oh, you big babies!” Charlie said. “I like to smoke! I inhale it all the way down into my lungs. Tastes so good! So smooth!”

“My mother says smoking is bad for you,” Farnsworth says. “She used to smoke but she quit.”

“Are you always going to listen to what she says? They’re always going to be telling you not to do things you want to do!”

“Why are we just standing here?” Eric said. “Let’s get going before all the candy is gone.”

They went into a neighborhood they didn’t know. After a couple of houses, a gang of older kids began chasing them to steal their candy, so they ran down an alley to get away. When they came out the other end they were almost downtown, so they kept going in that direction.

“This is just like The Wizard of Oz,” Stan said, “with the Wicked Witch after us.”

“This is nothing like The Wizard of Oz,” Farnsworth said.

They stopped at a delicatessen, where an old man ran them out with a broom as soon as they walked through the door.

“Ain’t givin’ away no candy here,” he said. “If you want to buy something, then buy. Otherwise don’t come in here in no spook disguises.”

“How’s that for hospitality?” Charlie said.

“Let’s play a trick on him,” Stan said. “It’s ‘trick or treat,’ remember?”

They were going to throw a brick through the front window, but no bricks were available, so they put chewing gum on the back side of the door handle and ran down the street giggling.

They had better luck at a tavern. A large man in an apron was standing outside the door, handing out candy from a plastic pumpkin.

“Yous kids need to be home in bed,” he said, as he threw handfuls of candy into their bags.

At a bakery a woman gave them day-old cupcakes, which they ate on the spot. A girl at a music store gave them each a miniature harmonica wrapped in plastic. Somebody at a fruit market gave them apples. They weren’t so quick to eat the apples but stowed them away in their bags.

“You have to check for razor blades before you eat them,” Charlie said knowingly, but the others didn’t know what he was talking about.

They came to a bright oasis of light that was a movie theatre. A crowd was milling about, waiting for the next feature to begin.

“Do you see what I see?” Charlie said.

Standing in line at the ticket booth was a person not to be missed, a woman wearing a gorilla mask and a tight tweed skirt. It was Oda May and she wasn’t alone, either.

“She’s got a kid with her,” Stan said.

“That’s no kid,” Farnsworth said.

“Oh, my god!” Charlie said.

They could see clearly that the person accompanying Oda May wasn’t a child but a fully grown man of a child’s size. He was dressed in a cowboy costume, including large white hat, chaps, boots, spurs, and guns and holsters. Oda May was leaning over to him with her hand on his shoulder.

“Her boyfriend is a tiny cowboy?” Eric said.

“It’s a midget,” Charlie said. “She’s dating a midget. And he must be thirty years old. I am definitely going to tell on her now.”

When it was Oda May and the midget’s turn at the ticket booth, Oda May went around behind him, put her arms around his waist and lifted him up. After he had paid for the tickets and had them in his hand, she set him back on the ground and the two of them went into the theatre, seemingly oblivious to all else except each other.

“Now I’ve seen everything,” Charlie said. “Can you imagine what their children will be like? I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Let’s go,” Eric said. “We’ve spent enough time here. If we’re going to do any more trick-or-treating, let’s do it before all the candy is gone.”

It was starting to rain and Stan figured it was about time to go home, so they worked their way over to his house, stopping to trick-or-treat at all the houses that still had their porch lights on.

Now, the interesting thing about Stan was that his father was an undertaker and the family lived above the funeral parlor. It was a subject of endless fascination to Stan’s friends.

“I think I’m going to call it a night,” Stan said when they were at the corner near his house. “Thanks for walking me home.”

“Do you mean you’re not going to ask us in after we’ve come all this way?” Charlie said.

“Do you have a body in a casket we can look at?” Eric asked.

“Stan’s right,” Farnsworth said. “I should be getting home, too.”

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Charlie said. “I don’t think I can wait until I get home.”

“Oh, all right!” Stan said. “You can come in but you have to wipe your feet first.”

They were delighted to discover that Stan’s parents were out for the evening and they had the house to themselves. Stan took them down to the basement to show them around but made them promise not to touch anything. First he showed them the room where the embalming was done and then the adjoining room with its cabinets full of jars and bottles where the bodies were dressed and prepared for burial. The most impressive part of the tour, though, was the casket room, where more than fifty caskets were opened up for display. After removing their shoes, they were each allowed to lie in a casket with the lid closed to see how it felt. They were all subdued afterwards.

“I’m going to be cremated,” Charlie said. “That’s the best way.”

“I’m not ever going to die,” Eric said. “It’s too awful.”

“It’s only awful for living people,” Stan said. “Dead people don’t know anything that’s going on.”

“I need to get home,” Farnsworth said. “It’s after ten o’clock.”

He walked part of the way home with Charlie and Eric, but they left him and he had to walk the last four blocks alone. He held his bag of candy, his treasure, in his arms because it was so heavy and the bottom was a little soggy and might easily break through. He was a little afraid that the older kids would jump out at him and try to rob him, but he encountered no one. Everybody seemed to have gone home.

His mother was waiting for him at the door in her bathrobe. “Did you have a good time?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Now I can breathe easy. My baby is home.”

Without saying anything else, he took his bag of candy and went upstairs and locked himself in the bathroom and weighed himself on the bathroom scale, first with the candy and then without. He weighed eleven pounds more with the candy. It was the best Halloween ever.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp 

Without Sin

Without Sin image x

Without Sin ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story was published in Paranormal Horror Anthology and is a re-post on my website.) 

The service ended. All the mourners departed, and the caretaker, whose name was Lemon, was left alone. He stood beside the open grave, his hands in his pockets, looking off into the distance. He was waiting for the two grave diggers to come and finish the job.

He approached the coffin. The lid had not yet been secured; he lifted it and looked inside. The deceased was a woman with artificial-looking red hair, about fifty years old. He wondered, as he always did, what had taken her. She looked healthy enough. He had heard of many suicides—something inexplicable in the air, perhaps, that made people melancholy and want to do away with themselves. Maybe she was one of those.

She was wearing a necklace with one fairly large red stone, apparently a ruby, and several smaller ones. It could be a real ruby or it could be colored glass. Her family looked prosperous enough. They wouldn’t want her to go to her eternal glory wearing fake stones. She was also wearing a wedding ring with a medium-sized diamond and some smallish earrings, no doubt worth a lot of money. He shook his head in amazement, as he had many times before, at the foolishness of people. Burying precious jewelry forever in the ground where it will never do anybody any good.

He heard someone coming and closed the lid. He looked up and saw the two gravediggers coming toward him. Drexel was the older of the two and out in front. He walked with a swagger wherever he was, even when no one was around. He thought he was cock of the walk and wasn’t bothered one bit that he displaced dirt and buried dead people for a living. The profession, for him, had certain advantages. He had few rules and could always do the job no matter how drunk he was.

The other gravedigger was as much a boy as a man. His name was Lanier. He lived with his mother in town. People believed him simple-minded but he was a good worker and never complained or caused trouble. He was happy to work as a gravedigger and looked up to Drexel, who was his third or fourth cousin. The two of them got along well because Drexel didn’t mistreat Lanier and Lanier always did as he was told without question.

“Where the hell have you been?” Lemon asked.

“Around,” Drexel said. “We’re here now.”

“I could have you fired in a flash for not being here when you’re supposed to be.”

“Well, we’re here now,” Lanier said in the cheeky tone he used only when he was backing up Drexel.

“What have we got here?” Drexel asked, pointing toward the coffin.

“A good lady, waiting for you to send her off to her eternal slumber,” Lemon said.

Drexel raised the lid and looked inside. “Looks like she’s already started on that,” he said with a little laugh.

Lanier looked away when the lid was opened. He didn’t like looking at dead people.

“That’s a ruby necklace she’s wearing around her neck,” Drexel said. “Must be worth something, if I know my jewelry.”

“Not this time,” Lemon said.

“What do you mean ‘not this time’?”

“I mean the good lady keeps her jewelry.”

“How is it that you get to say? You’re not the only one here.”

“Every living thing on earth is part of a hierarchy,” Lemon said.

“Part of a what?”

“In the hierarchy of things, the caretaker of the cemetery is above the gravedigger in all matters.”

“That’s crazy talk.”

“Nevertheless, it seems this woman is a distant relative of my mother’s. I don’t want to defile her person at a time when she is most unable to prevent it.”

“You haven’t got a mother.”

 “Very well, then. We’ll let a coin toss decide the matter.” He reached into his pocket and took out a coin. “Call it,” he said.

“Tails,” Drexel said.

“Very well. If the coin lands on its tail, we take the goods, bury the lady, and nobody is any the wiser. If, however, the coin lands on its head, the lady goes to her eternal slumber fully equipped.”

He flipped the coin into the air and made no attempt to catch it when it came down. It landed at his feet.

“Hah!” Drexel said. “It’s tails! I want the ruby necklace. I have a dear friend that it would look very good on.”

“I saw it first!” Lemon said. “The necklace is mine. And I’m not so stupid as to give it to somebody who might wear it in public and have it recognized.”

“Oh, and what are you going to do with it?”

“I’ll sell it to the acquaintance of mine in the faraway city who pays a good price and doesn’t ask questions, as with the other stuff. You see, there’s a way to remount a stone like that so the lady herself would never recognize it.”

“Says you!”

“A worthy rejoinder, if I ever heard one!”

“You talk like a damn fool. Let’s get the goods before somebody comes and get the old dame in the ground and get it over with.”

Lemon opened the coffin again and took hold of the necklace and gave it a tug. He couldn’t see how to get it off and didn’t want to break it, so he slipped it off over the dead woman’s head. Once he had the necklace in his hands, he held it up to his own neck, waggled his hips and took a few mincing steps.

“Oh, what a lovely girl!” Drexel said with a sneer.

Lanier had turned his back on Drexel and Lemon and didn’t want to think about what they were doing. He knew they were doing something bad and he wanted no part of it, although he did nothing to stop it.

“I’m going over there,” he said and walked quickly away out of sight.

“That boy is without sin,” Lemon said, “rather like those three little monkeys: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”

Drexel removed the woman’s wedding ring with a devilish chortle and put it in his pocket. When he tried to remove the earrings, though, he couldn’t see how to get them off.

“There’s a little thing in back that releases them,” Lemon said.

He helped Drexel turn the woman partway over so they could see the backs of her ears. She was as stiff as a pillar of salt and didn’t bend at the joints.

“She’s really truly dead,” Lemon said.

“I think I hear someone coming,” Drexel said.

He let the woman fall back into place and took out the pruning shears. He cut off the woman’s earlobes neatly and wrapped them, earrings and all, in a rag and put it in his pocket along with the wedding ring.

“The good woman will arrive at the gates of heaven with her earlobes missing,” Lemon said. “St. Peter will take one look at her and believe she has met with an accident.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Drexel said. “When you’re dead, nothing matters.”

“Nevertheless, she shall be welcomed with open arms!”

Drexel whistled for Lanier to come back and began to secure the lid of the coffin.

“One moment!” Lemon said. “I wish to bid the good lady the fond farewell that she so richly deserves.”

He bent over and kissed the dead woman full on the lips. Drexel did the same and, not to be outdone, licked her lips and squeezed her breast.

“Ah-ah-ah!” Lemon said. “There’ll be no necrophilia in my presence.”

“As if you yourself don’t engage in the practice every chance you get!”

Lanier returned and they secured the lid and lowered the coffin into the grave. Before they were finished replacing all the dirt, another service began in another part of the cemetery. They tidied up the gravesite, cleared away their tools and left unnoticed.

Two days later Lemon and Drexel were both dead.

When Lemon failed to appear to perform his duties as caretaker, the cemetery owner and his assistant went looking for him, expecting to find him in a drunken stupor. Instead they found him in the caretaker’s cottage, lying on the bed in full woman’s rigging, including dress, stockings, shoes and curly red wig. Around his neck was the ruby necklace he filched from the dead woman. They thought to revive him but on closer inspection discovered he had been dead long enough to stiffen. His tongue was swollen out if his mouth and his eyes and ears were seeping old blood.

As for Drexel, an old farmer saw him standing in the middle of an empty field with his arms outraised. When the farmer went to him to find out who he was and what he was doing, Drexel was babbling and insensate. While the farmer was asking Drexel useless questions, he fell dead at the farmer’s feet. The farmer looked through Drexel’s clothing to try to find some clue to his identity and discovered the handkerchief containing the earlobes with the diamond earrings attached and the wedding ring.

The woman with the ruby necklace had sickened and died with alarming suddenness. Her doctors didn’t know how to treat her illness because they didn’t know what the illness was. How or where she contracted it was never known. It was obviously an illness that came about through contact with one infected, rather than through the air. Had the lady led a secret life of some kind?

Lanier never touched the woman or her jewelry, so he escaped the illness. His mother forced him to abandon his profession as grave digger, however, as she suspected that Lemon’s and Drexel’s deaths had something or other to do with acts they performed on a dead body when nobody was around. The thought sickened her.

When Lanier was asked what Lemon and Drexel were doing on that last day in the cemetery that might have made them sick, he shrugged his shoulders and smiled his benign smile. They were always doing and saying things that didn’t interest him, he said. He was in another part of the cemetery tending to some flowers he had planted, minding his own business while other people minded theirs.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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