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A Good Part of the Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

In a Cemetery on Halloween Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m right here,” the voice said.

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

“Who are you?” I asked.

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

“Who’s Edith?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, it’s Halloween,” I said.

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

“So you understand the significance of the holiday?”

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

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

“Are there others here also?”

“No. I’m by myself.”

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

“No! Oh, no!”

“Then why are you seeing us right now?”

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

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

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

“Why not?” I asked.

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

“I won’t tell a soul.”

“No, indeed, you will not!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Celeste

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Celeste ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anybody hurt?” the officer asked.

“No,” she said.

“I’ll call a tow for you.”

“Thank you.”

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

“I think so,” she said.

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

“They’re…my family,” she said.

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

“They’re surrogates.” she said.

“They’re what?”

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

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

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

“Shut up!” he said.

He slammed the door, locking her inside.

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

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

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

Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp

On the Face of It

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

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

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

“Looking for somebody?” she asked.

“I’ve found her,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s he looking for?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No gag and no trick,” he said.

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

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

“Charmed, I’m sure,” Olga said.

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

“I was the last time I looked.”

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

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

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

“I come to pay a social call.”

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

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

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

“I’m not, I swear.”

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

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

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

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

“I’d love one,” he said.

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

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

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

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

“Ah, so refreshing!” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s fine,” he said. “She’s dead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“People like what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, maybe not.”

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

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

“I want someone to share my success with.”

“Get a dog.”

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

”Speak for yourself!”

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

“Are you offering me a job?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s closer than you think.”

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you do that?” she said.

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

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

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

“Come with me now,” he said.

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

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

“And you won’t touch me?”

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

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

“It’s not a prison.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are we waiting for, then?”

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

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

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

A Happy Starfish

A Happy Starfish image 3

A Happy Starfish ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Washing my hands” I said curtly.

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

“I’m sick.”

“You don’t look sick.”

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

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

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

“It’s none of your business!”

“Are you skipping?”

“Why should you care?”

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

“Go to hell!” I said.

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

“I said, ‘go to hell’.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No!”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in class?”

“American history class,” Dutch said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s coming around,” he said.

“I want to go home,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I figured it was time,” I said.

“Algebra test today?”

“No, I failed that last week.”

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

“Thank you,” I said.

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

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Let Me Count the Ways

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Let Me Count the Ways

Let Me Count the Ways ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Nils picked Dorcas up at the hairdresser’s in the rain. She slid across the seat and gave him a wet peck on the cheek.

“Damned rain,” she said. “I spend three hours at the hairdresser’s and it’s all ruined in a few seconds.”

“You look fine,” he said. “You have that plastic thing on your head. Doesn’t that keep it dry?”

“Rain is just such a nuisance!”

“I like the rain,” he said as he accelerated the car into the flow of traffic.

“You would! Anything to be different.”

“I know others who like rain, too.”

“Have you been smoking again?” she asked.

“No,” he lied.

“It seems I smell a cigarette.” She opened the ashtray and looked inside.

“It’s on my clothes,” he said. “I stopped at the drugstore and while I was standing in line to pay there was an old lady next to me puffing on a cigarette.” He lifted his sleeve to his nose and took an extravagant whiff.

“What did you buy at the drugstore?”

“I bought some gum, a candy bar and a birthday card.”

“Who is the card for?”

“My friend Spencer that I grew up with.”

“I thought we agreed you weren’t going to associate with Spencer anymore.”

“I’ve known him since first grade. He may be something of a bum but I like him.”

“I don’t think he’s the kind of person we should have as a friend. He still lives with his mother and he doesn’t seem to be interested in getting married and having children at all.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“He looks at me funny.”

“Funny how?”

“He looks at me like he’s imagining what it would feel like to strangle me.”

“I can’t imagine why he would do that.”

“He gives me the creeps. If you’re not man enough to tell him to leave us alone, I’ll do it.”

“I don’t want to tell him to leave me alone. He’s my friend.”

“Oh, baby doll,” she said. “Please, let’s not argue.”

“I’m not arguing.”

“Just think what it’ll be like after we’re married.” She moved over to him so their hips were touching suggestively. She took his right hand off the wheel and entwined her fingers in his. “We can be together twenty-four hours a day and nobody to keep us apart. Man and wife.”

“I’m not able to visualize it yet,” he said. “I need some time.”

“Aunt Violet told mother she wanted to give us an old orange couch she has in her basement. She thinks she’s doing me a great big favor but, honestly, I don’t want the ugly old thing.”

“Why not? Maybe we could use it someplace.”

“I think I’ll just get mother to tell her tactfully that we just don’t have room for it. I want everything in our home to be brand new.”

“What about that saying ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’?”

“Oh, silly! That’s about something else altogether!” She looked at him disgustedly and moved back over to the door. “Sometimes I just don’t think you’re very bright,” she said.

“I’m sure you’re right.”

By the time they arrived at Dorcas’s mother’s house, it was raining even harder. Nils helped Dorcas into the house, keeping her dry by holding the umbrella over her head. He would have carried her if she had asked him.

“I didn’t think you were ever coming,” Dorcas’s mother complained. “I’ve been waiting dinner for you.”

Dinner was fish and rice with Brussels sprouts. Nils found the fish terribly underdone, almost raw, and could hardly eat it. Dorcas’s mother seemed to have never acquired the knack for cooking. He took a few bites to be polite.

“Good fish!” he said cheerfully, but Dorcas and her mother ignored him.

“I had a pelvic exam this week,” Dorcas said. “The doctor says everything looks fine. I want to start having children as soon as I’m married.”

“You were always so practical,” Dorcas’s mother said admiringly. “So level-headed.”

“Why did you have a pelvic exam?” Nils asked. He believed his position as prospective bridegroom entitled him to ask the question.

“I just told you,” Dorcas said. “I want to start having children right away.”

“Have you talked about this with the man you’re going to marry, darling?” he asked. He looked at Dorcas’s mother to see if his little riposte had made her smile, but she was looking at him with the sour face of disapproval.

Dorcas heaved a weary sigh. “I told you as soon as we got engaged that I wanted to be pregnant by Christmas.”

“Yes, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with me!” he said. (He hated words like pregnant and pelvic exam.)

“I’m not even going to bother with any kind of birth control at first,” Dorcas said. “I was measured for one of those stopper things for later on after we’ve had a few children.”

Nils was embarrassed. “Do you think it’s a good idea to be talking about those things while we’re eating dinner?” he asked.

“I don’t know why not!” Dorcas said. “I can talk about anything in the world with my own mother!”

“It’s all part of being practical!” Dorcas’s mother said.

“How many are you planning on having, anyway?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Dorcas said. “Maybe six. I believe in a large family, the way people used to do a long time ago.”

“Catholics,” Dorcas’s mother said.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“What don’t you know?”

“I don’t think I’m ready to be a parent.”

“Well, of course, not yet! We’re not even married yet! But I can tell you that after we’re married you’ll be a father within a year, God willing.”

“Maybe he should have a pelvic exam, too,” Dorcas’s mother said reasonably. “To make sure he can accommodate. Some men have a low sperm count. He’s never had syphilis, has he?”

Dorcas smiled prettily. “You’ve never had syphilis, have you, sweetheart?” she asked.

“I think I have a case of it now,” he said.

“Oh, you’re horrid!” she said. “You know how I hate gallows humor!”

To change the subject, he said, “Did I tell you I asked Spencer to be best man at our wedding and he accepted!”

“Oh, Nils!” she said. “Why him?”

“Because he’s my oldest and best friend. Isn’t that who you have as your best man?”

“Yes, but him! I think we can find somebody more suitable. How about that fellow you work with?

“Which one?”

“Isn’t his name Carson or something?”

“Carson Whitcomb?”

“Yes, he’s the one. He’s very good looking and he’d look so good in the pictures as a member of the wedding party.”

“I don’t really care that much for him. We work together and that’s all. We’re not friends.”

“Oh, really!” Dorcas said. “You can always find some way to be difficult, can’t you?”

“I think he’s got a point,” Dorcas’s mother said. “He should be able to have the best man he wants.”

“Not if it’s somebody of whom I disapprove!” she said.

“I don’t have that many friends to choose from,” he said.

“If it’s going to be Spencer,” she said, “make sure he dresses properly. Go shopping with him and buy him an appropriate suit. I don’t want him looking like the yokel he is. And make sure he doesn’t wear his cowboy boots! Tell him it’s not going to be a hillbilly wedding.”

“Anything you say, dear,” he said.

“Have you talked to him yet about the two of you moving in here with me?” Dorcas’s mother asked.

“Oh, yes!” Dorcas said, almost choking in her excitement. “Mother and I thought it would be a really splendid idea if we lived here with her for a while after we’re married.”

“What?” he said. “Why would we do that?”

“Well, she’s all alone now and she has this big comfortable house. She can help us and we can help her.”

“I thought we would have a place of our own,” he said.

“That means renting an apartment. You know how I hate the idea of living in an apartment building with the kind of questionable people who live in those places. The very idea of an apartment suggests instability and impermanence.”

“I was going to surprise you by taking out a lease on a beautiful apartment near work,” he said. “One that allows animals.”

“Oh, Nils!” she said. “Without my even seeing it?”

“It was going to be a surprise.”

“You know how I hate surprises!”

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Dorcas’s mother said. “I promise I won’t butt in any more than I have to. You’ll have the entire upstairs to yourselves.”

“Yes, but it won’t be our upstairs. It’ll be your upstairs.”

“Mother is offering to let us live here rent-free for the first years of our marriage,” Dorcas said. “I never dreamed you’d have any objections to such a generous offer! I might have known!”

“Don’t you want just the two of us to be alone?”

“Well, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything so selfish and inconsiderate! It seems I’m seeing you in an entirely different light!”

“You don’t have to decide right now,” Dorcas’s mother said. “Think it over and talk about it when you’re alone.”

When Dorcas’s mother got up from the table and went into the kitchen, Dorcas turned to Nils and said in a whisper, “You hurt her feelings, you dope!”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“She’s getting older and she needs me here to take care of her.”

“You don’t have to get married to do that.”

“And another thing,” Dorcas said. “If we’re living here when she dies, she’ll leave the house to me.”

“She’ll live thirty more years,” he said.

Dorcas’s mother came back from the kitchen bearing a pecan pie that she had bought and not made herself. She was smiling but it was apparent she had had a little private crying spell in the kitchen. “Who wants dessert?” she said cheerily.

I’ll cut the pie,” Dorcas said.

“No pie for me,” Nils said.

“Why not?”

“Pecan pie gives me heartburn.”

“That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard!” She cut a generous portion and set it firmly down in front of him. “Now, eat it!” she said. “You ate hardly any dinner.”

“I don’t really care for it,” he said, but Dorcas and her mother pretended not to have heard.

“You know, mummy,” Dorcas said as she forked chunks of pie into her mouth, “I was thinking that before we move in we might have some work done on that bathroom upstairs.”

“I think the bathroom is fine as it is,” Dorcas’s mother said.

“Oh, nothing major,” Dorcas said. “Just repaper the walls and give the woodwork a fresh coat of paint.”

“You could do it yourself.”

“I could but I don’t want to.”

“I’d like to do it,” Nils said.

Dorcas and her mother turned and looked at him as if he had just sprouted horns and grown a tail.

“What did you say?” Dorcas asked.

“I said I could do it.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because it’s going to be my bathroom too, isn’t it? I’d like to feel that I’m a part of the preparations.”

“No, offense,” Dorcas said, “but I’d hate to think what it would look like after you’d finished with it. We’ll find something else for you to do.”

“Some men are handy that way,” Dorcas’s mother said.

“Well, this one isn’t!” Dorcas said. “He has absolutely no taste!”

“I don’t think that’s fair,” Nils said. “I think I have very good taste.”

“Oh, honestly, darling!” Dorcas said with a dismissive laugh. “All anybody has to do is look at the way you dress to see you have no taste.”

“What’s wrong with the way I dress?”

“You have no sense of color or style. After we’re married all that is going to change because I’m going to pick out your clothes from now on. I don’t want my husband looking like a clown!”

“I don’t think I look like a clown,” he said.

“Well, you do, but nobody has ever had the nerve to say it to your face before. If it hurts your feelings, I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.”

“What other aspects of my life are you going to take over after we’re married?” he asked.

“Why, absolutely everything, darling!” she said. “Isn’t that what wives do? They civilize and domesticate their men. They teach them manners, rid them of their bad habits and bring them down to earth where they belong.”

“That’s what I had to do with my husband,” Dorcas’s mother said.

“My friend Freda said that before she married her husband he ate nothing but pizza and cheeseburgers. Can you imagine how unhealthy that is? When she took him in hand, he lost forty pounds and started taking an interest again in the way he looked. Then my friend Judith said that her husband wanted to be a professional dancer. Well, she disabused him of that notion pretty fast after they were married.”

“I have a cat and a dog,” Nils said to Dorcas’s mother in a way that made it sound like a confession.

“What?”

“I said I have a cat and a dog.”

“Yes, we know you do,” Dorcas said. “That’s one of the little things we need to discuss before we’re married.”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Nils said. “I was talking to your mother.”

“Something about a cat and a dog?” Dorcas’s mother said.

“I have a cat and a dog. I’ve had my cat, Chester, for six years and my dog, Skippy, for eight years.”

Dorcas’s mother looked at him as if he had just confessed to murdering a busload of people. “I can’t have animals in my house,” she said.

“She’s allergic,” Dorcas said.

“Well, isn’t that just too bad?”

“You can find a good home for them,” Dorcas said. “There’s still time. And if you don’t, there’s always the pound.”

“Do you know what you’re saying?” he said. “Do you think I could in good conscience put them in a pound?”

“I don’t know why not!” she said. “I’d be happy to do it for you.”

“Would you be happy to stick a knife into my heart? It would amount to the same thing!”

“Oh, you’re being childish and melodramatic! When are you going to grow up?”

“Not until you take complete control of my life, dearest.”

“So we’re agreed then about the two animals? You’ll find homes for them?”

“They have a home.”

“Are you saying you’re not going to agree to get rid of them?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“So they’re more important to you than I am?”

“I would rather die than part with them. You can draw your own conclusions.”

“One day, very soon, while you’re at work, I’ll gather them up and dispose of them. You won’t even have to be bothered with it. How will that be?”

“If you touch either one of them, so help me, I’ll kill you!”

“Did you hear what he just said to me, mother? You’re my witness! What do you think of a man who threatens to kill his fiancée?”

“I think it’s better to be threatened by him before the marriage than after.”

He stood up from the table, wadded his napkin and threw it in the plate. “Let me give you a little advice about cooking fish,” he said to Dorcas’s mother. “Make sure it’s cooked all the way through. I’m not an Eskimo! I don’t eat raw fish!”

“Where do you think you’re going?” Dorcas said. “Sit back down. We’re not finished eating yet.”

“I think you got some of that wonderful pecan pie on your dress,” he said, dumping the remainder of it in her lap.

She jumped up as if the pie were hot coals. “Are you insane?” she said. “What’s gotten into you?”

“You won’t be seeing me again,” he said.

“Why not? What do you mean? You can’t back out of the marriage now! I’ve already sent out the invitations!”

As he was going out the door, he said, “I can’t say it’s been a pleasure knowing you because it hasn’t. You can keep the engagement ring. It’s not real anyway.”

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

On This Day

On This Day image 3

On This Day ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Traffic was light. Billie Rose Flint arrived at the cemetery at five minutes after three on a bright October afternoon. She knew the cemetery well and parked the car in the same familiar spot, underneath an old oak tree that at the moment was so suffused with sunstruck color that it was as pretty as any picture in a magazine. She breathed deeply of the pleasant leafy smell and, not even bothering to lock the car, walked up the hill that she knew so well, past the gravestones whose names she knew by heart.

By the time she came to her son’s grave, she was winded and her legs ached; she was, after all, getting old. She spread the blanket on the ground, kicked off her shoes and sat down facing the gravestone. It was a simple red-granite affair, not as showy as some of the others, with the name, Randall Wallace Flint, the date of his birth and the date of his death.

As always when she was in the cemetery and there was no one else around, she began to feel sleepy. She reclined on her back and looked up into the trees. The breeze on her face was fragrant and cooling. A little hump in the ground pressed comfortably into the small of her back as if it had been placed there especially for that purpose.

She dozed and in a moment she was aware of someone standing beside her. She opened her eyes and looked up into his face but the sun kept her from seeing him. He smiled and sat down beside her on the edge of the old quilt.

“How have you been keeping yourself?” he asked.

“Just peachy keen,” she said.

“I had a feeling you’d be here today.”

“It’s a special anniversary,” she said.

“Anniversary of what? You can say it.”

She looked at him and saw he was trying to keep from laughing, as if it was all a joke to him.

“Thirty years ago today,” she said, “you hanged yourself from a rafter in the garage after school.”

“Go on,” he said.

“I found you when I opened the door to pull the car in. You were just hanging there. There was a tipped-over chair. I knew right away it was too late.”

“And then what did you do?”

“I screamed. The woman who lived next door, Doris Ellsworth, was in her backyard and heard me. She came running to see what was wrong. When she saw what had happened, she closed the garage door and took me into the house and called an ambulance.”

“And then what?”

“They came and cut you down. By then, all the neighbors had gathered around to watch. The paramedics carried you out on a stretcher and put you into the back of the ambulance. They were moving very slowly because they knew there was nothing to be done.”

“What did you do then?”

“I drank a glass of scotch and called your father and told him he needed to come home.”

“And did he?”

“He was there in a few minutes. At first he didn’t believe you were really dead. He wanted to see to make sure for himself. They let him see you, with all those people watching, and then he turned to the ambulance driver and very calmly told him to take you to the funeral home. Then he made me get into the car with him and we drove there behind the ambulance and bought you a casket. Your father wrote a check to pay for it.”

“It was some funeral, though, wasn’t it?” he said.

“Yes, it was a big funeral.”

“Everybody from school was there. Standing-room only. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Suddenly everybody likes you when you’re dead.”

“They liked you before you were dead but you didn’t see it.”

“I was going through an adolescent phase. I thought I couldn’t go on.”

“If only there had been some way to help you before it was too late.”

“It doesn’t do any good to think that way. What’s done is done.”

“Was your life really so unbearable?”

“I was a misfit. I was failing algebra. I had acne. I couldn’t take being chosen last for basketball any more. Do you know how much I despise basketball to this day?”

“Those things would have passed. If you had only talked to me about what was bothering you, I could have helped.”

“Maybe not,” he said. “Who knows?”

“Insanity has always run in my family,” she said.

He laughed. “Do you think that’s what was wrong with me?”

“Who can say?”

“If that helps you to understand what I did,” he said, “I guess it’s as logical an explanation as any.”

“Do you think about all the things you missed?”

“Not much,” he said. “ I think more about the things I avoided. Like having to get a job, paying taxes and having a bad marriage.”

“What makes you think you would have had a bad marriage?”

“I don’t know. Aren’t all marriages bad in one way or another?”

“It depends on who you talk to, I guess.”

“You and father had a terrible marriage.”

“I wouldn’t say it was terrible.”

“You fought all the time.”

“Did we? I don’t remember.”

“I call that ‘convenient forgetting’,” he said.

“Anyway, it’s all in the past now and no longer matters.”

“Yes, all in the past.”

“I’m just glad you’re not in torment for what you did,” she said.

“No, not in torment. Not in heaven, either.”

“I won’t ask you what it’s like where you are because I don’t want to know. All I want to know is that you’re not being made to suffer for what you did.”

“Of course I’m not. There isn’t any such thing as hell.”

“Now you’re forty-five,” she said. “Or you would be if you had lived. When I look at you, I see a forty-five-year-old man. You look a little like your father but more like my side of the family.”

“You see what you want to see,” he said.

“The unhappy fifteen-year-old is gone. I can no longer even see his face.”

“Good riddance,” he said. “I never liked him much, anyway.”

“Are you sorry for what you did? I mean, ending your life before it even had a chance to begin?”

“If you say so, mother.”

She heard voices and when she turned her head to see who it was, she saw two very old ladies hovering over a fresh grave nearby. When she turned back to her son, he was gone. The spell was broken. He wouldn’t have wanted anybody else to see him.

She picked up her blanket and walked over to where the old ladies were and greeted them. One of the old ladies had an excess of makeup caked on her face and the other wore a man’s hat and suit, as if they had just come from a costume party.

“Lovely day,” the woman dressed as a man said.

“Fall is my favorite time of the year,” makeup face said.

“A sad day for me,” Billie Rose Flint said. “My son died thirty years ago today.”

“Oh, my!” makeup face said. “How sad! How old was he?”

“Fifteen.”

“Aww.”

She picked up a lily from the flowers that were left on the fresh grave and handed it to Billie Rose Flint. “In remembrance,” she said.

Billie Rose Flint took the flower and, in spite of herself, began crying uncontrollably, trying to cover her face with her handkerchief to keep the old ladies from looking at her. She opened her mouth to speak again but instead hurried off with the flower before she felt compelled to tell them the whole story.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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