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I’m Nobody

The Stone Angel

I’m Nobody ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

It was a city in itself, a city of the dead but also of the living. The dead belonged there but the living did not. Each night, there were as many as a hundred people hiding out and among them was the girl named Vicki-Vicki.

She had been in residence through parts of the summer when she didn’t have anyplace else to go but now summer was over and the nights were getting cold. She looked ahead to the winter with dread and believed she would die. When she was at her sickest and loneliest, she welcomed the thought of dying and believed that only in death would she find escape and surcease of pain.

When she looked back on the time since she left home, she could no longer remember how long was a day or an hour or a minute; those words had lost meaning for her. But now it was October—of that she was certain—and the days were still warm. She stopped by one of the ancient fountains and put her hands down in the murky water and her eyes were drawn upward to the face of the stone angel that formed the top of the fountain. She was not surprised to see the angel turn its head and look at her. It wasn’t the first such thing she had seen in the cemetery.

“Who are you?” the angel asked Vicki-Vicki

“I’m nobody,” she said.

“You must have a name.”

“My name no longer matters. If I was sure I even had a name, I would try to forget it.”

“How long since you’ve eaten?” the angel asked.

“I don’t think I’ve eaten this year.”

“This is a terrible life you’ve chosen for yourself, isn’t it?”


“Why don’t you go back home?”

“I wouldn’t even if I could.”

“Isn’t something better than nothing?”

“Not always.”

“It’s going to be a long, hard winter,” the angel said.

“Aren’t they all?”

“They’ve called in extra guards for tonight. You know what that means.”

“They’ll hit me in the head with a stick if they find me,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“And then they’ll most likely throw you in jail for vagrancy.”

“I won’t be the only one.”

“Better to get out now while you can.”

“Tell me where to go,” Vicki-Vicki said, “and I’ll go.”

“If ever a child needed a friend,” the angel said and, as soon as these words were out of its mouth, it went back to being a stone angel and Vicki-Vicki drew her hands from the water.

“I have to hide,” she said, “or they’ll find me.”

She went to a remote part of the cemetery that a forgotten friend had told her about. It had the biggest trees and the oldest graves. A lot of people were afraid to go there because of the ghosts, but she didn’t mind them. If the thought of ghosts had ever scared her, she didn’t remember.

Some of the large old monuments were very close together with only a foot or so of space between them. One cozy niche in particular acted as repository for blown leaves. She burrowed into the leaves, lay on her back and covered herself up. With her face covered, the leaves had a pleasant smell and she was still able to breathe. It was probably as good a hiding place as any she would find. She was surprised that nobody else had thought of it.

She lay very still and breathed deeply. She could see a little patch of sky and she knew that soon it would be dark. She was certain that, no matter how many men combed the place for what they called “vags,” they would somehow not find her. Two different times she heard faraway voices and footsteps that seemed to come closer, but she wasn’t sure if they were real or if she had only imagined them.

At the moment, while she had nothing else to think of, her thoughts turned again to food. The pain of hunger had mostly passed; she no longer thought of food and had almost forgotten what it felt like to have food in her mouth and to chew and swallow it. She knew, though, that people don’t live forever without eating. She would have to get something to eat, and soon, or it was going to be the end of her.

Covered up with leaves as she was, she drifted into a deep sleep that might have lasted for hours or only minutes, and when she awoke it was to the voices of men. They were talking and laughing and she could tell by the sounds they made that they were coming closer. Her heart beat faster but she was certain that if she didn’t make a sound they wouldn’t know she was there. She lay as one of the dead.

Soon the men did pass on, none the wiser. The night was still and she didn’t hear a sound except for a breeze in the tops of the trees and the call of the occasional night bird. She was secure in the knowledge that she was alone and that if there had been any living thing nearby she would hear it.

She would spend the night right there in her bed of leaves, but first she had nature’s duty to perform. She stood up, walked a few feet away and crouched down in the shadow of a giant oak. When she was finished she grabbed at a handful of leaves to clean herself with and that’s when her hand brushed against a soft canvas bag. It was a kind of knapsack with a strap that went all the way around it. Her first thought was that it might have money in it or something valuable, but what was really inside was even better: a sandwich wrapped in paper and a small bottle of milk. It was the stone angel, she knew, that put it there.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The End as I See It

The End as I See It image 1

The End as I See It ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Mrs. Pinnock sat in her darkened house, drinking shots of whiskey from a tiny glass and smoking cigarettes. It was a summer day, late in July. She was aware of some unusual sounds in the back yard and she didn’t know what it was. Oh, yes, she remembered now. Her son, Carl Junior, was having some friends over. They were playing a game in the back yard.

After a half-hour or so she no longer heard the sounds so she went to the back door and opened it to make sure the children weren’t getting themselves into any mischief or hurting each other. After all, she was the mother and she was supposed to keep things running smoothly when their father wasn’t around to watch them.

Opening the door revealed a small boy sitting hunched over on her back steps. He had short brown hair and wore a red shirt with white horizontal stripes. When she stepped out the back door, he turned around and looked at her.

“Hello,” she said. “Do I know you?”

The boy shook his head and looked away.

“Well, since I don’t know you,” she said, “I might ask you what you’re doing sitting here on my back steps.”

“We were playing but they left.”

“They left. Who are they?”

“Carl and Leghorn.”

“Well, I know who Carl is since he’s my son but I don’t know who Leghorn is.”

“He’s just a kid.”

“So, you, Carl and Leghorn were playing, and in the middle of it Carl and Leghorn left. Is that right?”


“Where did they go?”

“I don’t know. They played a trick on me. They told me to hide my eyes and when I did they ran off and didn’t come back.”

“That wasn’t very nice, was it?”


“Carl Junior invited you and this Leghorn kid over to play and then Carl Junior and Leghorn abandoned you.”

“I don’t mind.”

“You don’t like Carl Junior very much, do you?”


“You have this instinctive feeling that he’s not to be trusted.”

“Leghorn too.”

“If you feel that way about them, then why do you play with them?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know that many people, I guess.”

She flipped her cigarette over the porch railing. “Can’t you just go on home?” she asked. “I mean, instead of waiting for those two little shits to come back?”

“My mother told me to stay here until three o’clock. She’s coming to pick me up then.”

“Can’t you walk?”

“It’s about two miles and I’m not sure if I remember the way.”

“You’re new in town, I take it.”


“I can drive you home if you’d like.”

“No, thank you. That would only confuse my mother.”

“Well, you might as well come in, then. You can’t sit out there in the sun until three o’clock.”

She led him into the living room and pointed to the couch for him to sit down. “Would you like me to call your mother and tell her there’s been a change of plan?” she asked.

“No, she’s not at home. She had an appointment.”

“Oh, I see.”

Realizing the room was unusually dark for one who had just been sitting in the sun, she opened the blinds. “Would you like a soda or a drink?” she asked.

“No, but I would like to use the bathroom.”

“Well, make yourself at home,” she said. “It’s right back through there.”

He was gone for about two minutes and when he came back his shirt was tucked neatly into his pants.

“I just realized I don’t know your name,” she said.

“It’s Paul.”

“Paul what?”

“Paul Marmelow.”

“That’s kind of like ‘marshmallow,’ isn’t it?” she said and laughed a little too loud.

“I guess so,” he said, sitting on the edge with one arm twisted round the other.

“How old are you, Paul Marmelow?”


“You’re getting close to that dangerous in-between age.”


“You don’t know what the dangerous in-between age is?”


“It’s where you’re halfway between childhood and adulthood. You like to think of yourself as an adult but the world is telling you you’re still a child.”


She was tense and making him tense. “Well, just relax,” she said. “I’m not a wicked witch in spite of appearances to the contrary and I’m not going to devour you.”

He leaned all the way back and untwisted his arms. “You have a pretty house,” he said.

“Thank you.”

“It’s big.”

“Yes, it’s big. When Carl Senior buys a house, he buys the biggest and the best that money can buy.”

“Do you have a dog?”

“No, we don’t have a dog. We have two children and that’s enough in the way of pets. Besides Carl Junior, there’s my daughter Cecelia. You probably don’t know her, do you? She’s only eight.”


“You must know, now that the whole can of worms has been opened, that I’m not really the mother of Carl Junior and Cecelia. I’m their stepmother.”


“Don’t you find that interesting?”


“I’ll bet Carl Junior never told you he had a stepmother, did he?”

“What happened to their mother?”

“Well, the rumor is that she died, but I have reason to believe she’s hiding out someplace.”


“If I only knew the answer to that question, I would go and find her and bring her back.”

“Maybe she wouldn’t want to come back.”

“I’m sure she wouldn’t or she wouldn’t have run off in the first place.”

“I have a dog,” he said.

“What’s his name?”


“What kind of a dog is Skippy?”

“I think he’s part collie and part something else.”

“So he’s a big dog.”

He leaned forward and held his hand two feet from the floor. “About this big,” he said.

“Do you let Skippy stay in the house?”

“He can come into the basement as long he leaves his fleas outside.”

“A good policy.”

“I don’t think he has any fleas, though. He wears a flea collar.”

She leaned forward and lit another cigarette and blew the smoke out the side of her mouth. “Something else you probably don’t know about me—and I’m not even sure if I should tell you this or not—is that I’m about three-quarters drunk right now. What my mother would call ‘three sheets to the wind’.”

He laughed. “You drink beer?”

“Stronger than beer.”

“You drink whiskey?”

“That’s it exactly! I’ve been taking shots of whiskey all morning.”

“Does it taste good?”

“No, it tastes like crap, but I don’t drink it for the taste.”

“What do you drink it for?”

“Well, that’s something you’ll have to be older to understand. You don’t know anything about disappointment yet.”

“I know what it means.”

“I’ll bet your mommy doesn’t drink straight whiskey, does she?”

“I’ve never seen her if she does.”

“What about your daddy? Is he a good father?”

“I guess so.”

“What does he do for a living?”

“He’s a painter.”

“You mean landscapes and portraits and things like that?”

“No, he paints houses and sometimes he drives out into the country and paints barns.”

“Is there a lot of money in painting barns?”

“I don’t know.”

“Of course not. You wouldn’t know. When you’re eleven years old, you don’t think about things like that, do you?”


“I think I’d like to be eleven again,” she said. “If God could grant me one wish, it would be to start all over again and do it right this time without all the things I did wrong.”

“My older brother picks on me,” he said.

“Why does he do that?”

“He’s fifteen.”

“Do you have any other brothers or sisters?”

“No, just the one brother.”

“It’s wise not to have any more than two children. Two are enough for anybody.”

“I’m not having any when I grow up,” he said.

“And you’ll be happier for it if you don’t.”

“I’ll just have lots of animals.”

“Live on a farm, you mean?”


“And, since you bring up the subject of farm animals, I want to warn you about my stepson Carl Junior.”

“What about him?”

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get far away from him and not try to be friends with him anymore.”

He laughed because he thought she was making a joke. “Why is that?” he asked.

“Because he will lead you astray or hurt you.”

“How do you know?”

“How do I know? I know because that is his function in life. He is the unwitting purveyor of chaos.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Of course you don’t because you haven’t seen it in him yet but, believe me, it’s there and he’s just getting started.”

“I don’t know. He seems all right to me.”

“That’s how his kind always gets started. He seems all right at first so you aren’t able to see the terrible thing that’s coming. I know this because Carl Senior is exactly the same way. Carl Junior is a miniature version of Carl Senior.”

“Why do they both have the same name?”

“You don’t need to know that. Just know that you have been warned.”


“Please keep it in mind in your future dealings with Carl Junior.”

“I will.”

“Believe me, if I had a criminal nature and if I wasn’t afraid of going to jail, I’d sneak into his room at night when he’s asleep and strangle him with the drapery cord.”

“You would do that to him?”

“Probably not, but I can still think about it, can’t I? Savor the moment?”

“I’ve never thought about killing anybody.”

“You’re still young.”

“I have an uncle in jail,” he said. “He didn’t kill anybody, though. I think he wrote bad checks.”

“Now that I’m divulging secrets,” she said, “I might as well tell you the big one.”

He reclined partway on the couch and leaned his head on his hand. “What is it?” he asked.

“Our life here is about to blow up.”

“Do you mean like with a bomb?”

“No, I don’t mean ‘blow up’ literally; I mean it figuratively.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Well, you will. Do you know what an embezzler is?”


“It’s a person who steals money in an orderly way. Not somebody who robs a bank or holds up a gas station but a person who systematically siphons money in a way that he thinks won’t be noticed. You know, a little bit here and a little bit there.”


“Do you know what he then does with the money he embezzles?”


“He puts it into a secret account in a foreign country. If this goes on long enough, the money can grow to a very sizeable amount.”


“Then the embezzler absconds with the money he has accumulated in a foreign bank account to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It means that even if they know where he is they can’t have him brought back.”


“Carl Senior is one of those embezzlers. He’s been doing it for about six years. I’m the only one who knows. And you know what else I know?”


“He’s going to run off with the money he has embezzled to Central America or someplace like that and leave me here to deal with Carl Junior and Cecelia.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Because he wants more than anything in the world to be able to live a life of luxury and seclusion and not be bothered with a wife and children.”


“I’m thinking about calling the place where he works and telling them everything I know. Or, on the other hand, I could just kill the son of a bitch. If it was you, what would you do?”

“I don’t know. Run away from home, I guess.”

“Would you like to be my little boy?”

“No. I already have a mother.”

“Do you think she’d mind awfully much if she didn’t see you anymore.”

“I don’t know. I guess.”

“Well, it’s just a thought. I seem to be able to talk to you so easily. I can see you’re miles ahead of Carl Junior in intelligence and sensitivity.”

“Carl Junior’s a clod, isn’t he?”

“Yes, he certainly is that. Exceeded only by his father.”

When he looked at the sunburst clock on the dining room wall and saw it was fifteen minutes to three, he stood up. “I think I’ll walk down to the corner now and meet my mother,” he said.

“Must you go already?” she asked.

“She’ll be mad if I keep her waiting.”

She stood up and walked him to the door and when they got to the door she opened it and took his hand in hers. “You’ve helped me to see things more clearly,” she said. “It’s been awfully good talking to you.”

“You too,” he said.

“I’m sorry Carl Junior and his friend ran out on you.”

“I don’t mind.”

“It’s all part of growing up. You learn who your real friends are but, more importantly, you learn who they’re not.”

“Thank you.”

“I hope you’ll come back and visit me again real soon.”

“I will,” he said and then he stepped out the door into the blazing July afternoon and was gone.

She poured herself another drink, lit another cigarette. She took a gun out of the desk drawer and, making sure it was loaded, sat down in the chair that faced the front door. Carl Senior would walk through that door in a few minutes and she knew now what it was that she was going to do.

Copyright 2015 by Allen Kopp

A Good Meal and Cheap

A Good Meal and Cheap

A Good Meal and Cheap ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Her name in the real world was Margaret Jessel but, to separate “this” life from “that” one, she now went by the name of Toots. She sat on a bench in the park in the sun, her arms folded across her chest. When she heard someone coming, their feet crunching the leaves, she opened her eyes and squinted into the face of her friend, a girl she had come to know as Vicki-Vicki.

“How are you feeling, old girl?” she asked as Vicki-Vicki sat down beside her.

“I feel like I’m about a hundred years old,” Vicki-Vicki said.

Toots laughed. “That’s what happens when you’re living in a graveyard.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say I’m living there.”

“Well, it seems to me you’ve learned the first lesson of living without four walls.”

“What lesson is that?”

“How to stay alive with winter coming on.”

Vicki-Vicki gazed out at the duck pond and sighed. “I think I’ll freeze to death this winter,” she said. “Not long ago that thought would have scared me, but now it gives me comfort.”

“You’re too young to look for comfort in death,” Toots said. “Just look at me. I’m fifty-six years old, I look twenty years older, and I just keep right on a-goin’.”

“Do you think there’s a God?”

“I don’t know. I’d like to think there is. If there isn’t, that means there’s no meaning to anything and if there’s no meaning to anything, that means all the crap we go through is for nothing.”

“I’ve been thinking about going back home.”

“Maybe you should.”

“I’m worried about my brother and sister. I wish I could know how they’re faring without me there to look after them.”

“If I gave you the money for a bus ticket, would you use it to go home?” Toots asked.

“And then what do I do after I get there? I wouldn’t be any better off there than I am here.”

“There’s the conundrum of life,” Toots said.

“I see ghosts in the cemetery,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“If there’s a God, then there’s probably ghosts, too.”

“They seem to be trying to tell me something.”

“Get off the streets and go home while you still have the chance. That’s what they’re trying to tell you.”

“I like living on the streets.”

“No, you don’t. Nobody likes it. The only way to stand it is to numb yourself to it.”

“I don’t think I can ever do that.”

“Give it a few more years.”

“I don’t have that long.”

“Well, cheer up, old girl,” Toots said. “I know something you don’t know.”

“You have a place to flop tonight.”

“Better than that,” Toots said with a grin. She opened her coat and showed a lady’s patent leather pocket book.

“You sly dog!” Vicki-Vicki said. “Where did you get that?”

“I found it!”

“Stole it is more like it.”

“Well, I come about it when I was in the bus station. If it wasn’t in an entirely honest way, it ain’t altogether my fault.”

“Somebody looked the other way and you picked it up and ran.”

“No! I’m more subtle than that! I was in the ladies’ room performing my ablutions when some ladies come in with their luggage and bundles. They were talking and laughing and having a good time. They didn’t even notice I was there. They laid all their stuff against the wall and then one went into one stall and locked the door and another into another stall. I eyed the pocket book from across the room in the mirror. I hurried up and dried my hands and before you could say Benjamin Franklin, I made for the door, bent down and picked up the pocket book in one graceful motion on my way out, and from there on, it was easy. I hung the pocket book from my arm as if it belonged to me, made my way through the crowds to the street unnoticed and when I got to the street, I went into the alley, put the pocket book under my coat, and here I am!”

“That was sure lucky for you and unlucky for the lady who owned the pocket book.”

“Yeah, but what are you going to do? She’s probably got dozens in her closet at home. She was just that type. She was all snooty and everything.”

“Well, did you look inside?”

“Did I? There’s over two hundred dollars!”

“I don’t believe you,” Vicki-Vicki said. “Nobody has that much money.”

“Oh, yes they do. Lots of people do. Two hundred dollars is nothing to people like that.”

“How do you know so much about it?”

“I used to be one of them.”

“Well, what are you going to do with all that money?”

“I’m going to get myself a room tonight—a real room in a hotel—and get myself all cleaned up.”

“That sounds wonderful!”

“It would be more wonderful if I had someone to enjoy it with me.”

“You mean me?”

“Do you see anybody else sitting here?”

“Oh, I couldn’t,” Vicki-Vicki said. “It’s your money. It’s for you to enjoy.”

“I’m inviting you, though, you see.”

“No, you spend your money on yourself.”

“I can get a room for two for the same price I can get a room for one. And they’ve got plenty of hot water that don’t cost extra. Wouldn’t you like to take a hot bath?”

“Of course I would!”

“Well, come on then! What are we waiting for?”

“I’m supposed to have a date tonight.”

“Who with?”

“I don’t know his name.”

“So it’s that kind of a deal, is it?”

“I promised.”

“Wouldn’t you rather sleep in a real bed and have a nice hot bath than to have a date with some stranger?”

“Yes, I guess I would.”

“So what’s stopping you?”

“A promise is only as good as the person who makes it,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“Yeah, that’s a hot one, kid! Let’s go!”

They made their way up the hill to where Toots had parked her old car, a seventeen-year-old heap of indeterminate make and model.

“You’re the only bum I know who has her own car,” Vicki-Vicki said, laying her hand on the dash as if petting it.

“Here today, gone tomorrow,” Toots said.

“What do you mean?”

“Today this car is in my possession, but that’s only until somebody steals it from me.”

“You stole it from somebody else, didn’t you?”

“I don’t even remember. All I know is I hope nobody stops me and asks to see my registration or license because I ain’t got either one.”

“They might put you in jail.”

“No, they won’t. Not for not havin’ no license. If I get stopped, I’ll just pretend I’m crazy. That usually works. They don’t want to get involved.”

“I’ll remember that,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“It probably wouldn’t work with somebody as young and pretty as you are,” Toots said.

“I’m not pretty. I used to be but I’m not anymore.”

“Maybe not exactly pretty but you’ve got a cute way about you.”

“How far does cute get you in the world?”

“I see the men looking at you.”

“They’re mostly old and ugly,” Vicki-Vicki said. “They make me wish I was dead.”

“Just don’t give ‘em no encouragement.”

“I don’t.”

“I’ve seen your type before,” Toots said. “A man will be your downfall. I just know it.”

“Could we please change the subject?”

With a wrenching sideways motion and without slowing down much, Toots pulled into a gas station and hailed the attendant like a woman of substance and asked him for two dollars’ worth of gas.

“Why not get a full tank?” Vicki-Vicki asked. “You’ve got all that money.”

“And have somebody steal it from me?”

“You stole from somebody and somebody else will steal from you, and a person we never saw before will steal from that person and on and on. Isn’t it funny the way the world works?”

“It’s just side-splitting comedy all the time,” Toots said.

It was about dinner time, so after leaving the gas station Toots drove to a nice quiet place where they could get a good meal and cheap. It was a cafeteria kind of place where you go in and pick up your tray and silverware and get in line and pick up the food you want from the tables in front of you and when you get to the end of the line you pay the cashier and after you’ve paid your money and been handed your change, you sit down and eat.

“Get anything you want,” Toots said. “The sky’s the limit.”

She kept the patent leather pocket book dangling from her arm in plain view so nobody would look askance at them and think they weren’t able to pay. After they loaded up on fried chicken and other unaccustomed delicacies, Toots paid with a flourish and they sat next to a window and enjoyed the best meal either of them had had for a long time and watched the daylight outside as it faded into night.

After they left the cafeteria, Toots stopped at Millie’s Package Store to pick up a bottle of Old Crow bourbon and then it was on to the hotel.

The Edison was a six-story brick structure dating from the 1920s. It was on the edge of the less savory section of the city but still maintained an aura of respectability. Toots parked the car in the “customer parking only” space behind the hotel and she and Vicki-Vicki walked around to the front and went inside.

“I want a room for tonight, my good man,” Toots said to the desk clerk.

“Pay in advance.”

“Since when?”

“Since I said so.”

While Toots was fumbling with the money to pay for the room and signing the register, Vicki-Vicki looked around and saw someone she knew in the hotel lobby, a man she had met when she first came to the city. She couldn’t remember his name at first but then remembered it was Sid Gooch.

“Vicki-Vicki!” he said, stepping forward and giving her a hug.

“Hello,” she said. “How are you?”

“Do you remember me?” he asked.

“Sid Gooch.”

“What a memory she has!”

Toots turned around and looked at him. “Who is this?” she said.

“He’s an old acquaintance of mine,” Vicki-Vicki said. “His name is Sid Gooch.”

“How are you?” Sid asked, stepping forward and taking Toots by the hand. To Vicki-Vicki he said, “Is she your grandma?”

“No, just a friend,” Vicki-Vicki said. “We’re on vacation.”

“Well, well, well!” Sid said. “It certainly is nice to see you!”

The clerk gave Toots the key to room four-two-eight and she took hold of Vicki-Vicki’s arm and pulled her toward the elevator.

“I’ll be around if you get lonesome later!” Sid Gooch called.

“He looks like the unsavory type,” Toots said after the elevator door closed.

“I’m the unsavory type, too,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“What’s going on between the two of you?”

“Nothing at all.”

“I heard that crack he made about me being your grandma.”

The room was clean and tidy. With so little furniture in it, it seemed unusually large. Vicki-Vicki crossed the room to the window and opened it.

“Thinking of jumping?” Toots asked.

“Not just yet.”

“If you change your mind, let me know.”

Toots took the bottle of Old Crow out of the patent leather pocket book and kicked off her shoes and lay down on the bed and began drinking. Vicki-Vicki went into the bathroom, locked the door and turned on the hot and cold spigots on the bathtub. She took off all her clothes, piled them in a heap on the floor and got into the tub, slowly at first because the water was so hot. She soaped herself all over, including her hair, and then rinsed and did it all over again.

When she was finished with her bath, she wrapped herself in a big white towel and, since she didn’t have any clean clothes to put on, she rinsed her underclothes out in the sink and draped them over the edge of the tub to dry. She would sleep in the raw if she had to but she didn’t feel comfortable doing that with Toots in the room. While she was doing these things, she thought ahead to tomorrow and what the day would likely bring. She would keep company with Toots for a while and see how she planned on spending the rest of the two hundred dollars.

Toots was asleep on the bed, breathing heavily through her nose. She had drunk about half the bottle of Old Crow and was in danger of spilling the rest, so Vicki-Vicki, still wrapped in a towel, took the bottle from her hand and set it on the bedside table beside the patent leather pocket book.

The room was quiet and she didn’t want to make any noise to wake Toots. With nobody to talk to, she might as well get into bed and try to go to sleep herself. Oddly enough, she didn’t feel tired or the least bit sleepy.

She sat at the foot of the bed and leaned back against the metal frame and begin picking at her fingernails with a bobby pin when there came a soft tapping at the door. She stood up and opened the door an inch or two to see who it was. She was not very surprised to see Sid Gooch peering in at her.

“Is grandma here?” he asked.

“She’s asleep,” Vicki-Vicki said. “And she’s not my grandma.”

“Could you use a little company?”

She opened the door a little farther and said, “As you can see, I’m not dressed.”

“That’s the way I like you best!”

“Not here, Sid!”

“Let’s go someplace else, then.”

“I don’t know. I’m supposed to be keeping Toots company.”

“She won’t even know you’re gone,” he said. He leaned in and took her by the upper arm and whispered in her ear, ”I saw her bankroll.”

“What of it?” Vicki-Vicki said.

“Looked like she had quite a lot of money there in that pocket book of hers. Bet she stole it.”

“It doesn’t matter if she stole it or not. It’s hers. ”

“Some of it might be yours. Or mine. You never know.”

“I’m not going to touch her money. She just bought my dinner.”

“I don’t think she’d mind if you took at least part of it. What are grandmas for?”

“No, Sid!”

“We could have a really nice time. The night is young.”

“Doing what?”

He whispered in her ear again. She was shocked and also stimulated by the words and by his hot breath on her skin.

“You’ll have to give me a few minutes to get dressed,” she said. “My clothes are still wet.”

“I’ll wait right here for you.”

She found those six words more comforting than anything she had heard in a long time. She went back into the bathroom and struggled into her clothes, afraid that Toots would wake up and ask her what she was doing.

But Toots didn’t wake up and Vicki-Vicki slipped into her shoes and grabbed the patent leather pocket book with nearly all of the two hundred dollars inside and went out the door as quietly as she could. Sid was waiting for her, as he said he would, leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette. Instead of waiting for the elevator, they ran down the stairs, trying to be quiet but hardly able to keep from laughing. 

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Don’t Leave Anybody Out

Don't Leave Anybody Out

Don’t Leave Anybody Out ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The place is full of happy people. The orchestra has just warmed up and is playing a lively dance tune. Glasses clink, laughter comes from a certain quarter and seems infectious. It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1942. For one evening at least, we can forget we’re a country at war. The sky has been overcast all day, with periods of light snow and frigid, blustery winds, but the weather doesn’t dampen the spirits of the holiday crowd. If you can’t be happy tonight, you’re not capable of being happy.

Her name is Lena Rift. She is just twenty-two years old and not long out of school. She has dreams of being a professional photographer, a regular artiste, but she’s not sure if she can ever make the grade. For the time being, at least, she believes she has made an excellent start. She is a freelance portrait photographer. She wears a striking green evening gown of modest design—her mother would approve—and walks among the crowd smiling as if she is enjoying herself. Her camera alone tells people who she is and what she is there for. More often than not, especially on a busy night such as this one, she can’t go more than a few feet without somebody stopping her and wanting a photograph.

Among the photographic subjects that evening are two business men who have just pulled off a deal that will make them rich. They are both slightly drunk and pose with their cocktail glasses raised toward the camera. Then there’s the cowboy movie star sitting in his booth flanked by excited female fans who can hardly sit still long enough to have their picture taken. Then it’s on to the older man and his much-younger female companion in a low-cut red gown. As he puts his arm around her for the picture, she winces but tries to smile. Over there is a rowdy table with ten people sitting around it. Be sure and get all of us in, one of the men says drunkenly, and don’t leave anybody out.

Lena can’t help noticing a young couple sitting against the wall by themselves. The man has his arm around the girl and she leans into him as if she can barely sit upright. They listen dreamily to the music and look at each other. Lena approaches them with a smile.

“Just married?”

“Does it show?” the man says.

“Four hours ago,” the girl says.

“Would you like a picture?”

They look at each other and laugh and the girl nods her head. “I just said I wished we had a picture of this evening,” she says.

“This is your lucky day,” Lena says, standing back and snapping the picture.

“How can we get a copy?” the man asks.

“I’ll have them developed in about a half-hour,” Lena says. “Will you still be here then?”

“Sure,” the man says.

As Lena starts to walk away, the girl says, “Don’t we need to give you our names?”

“You can if you want.”

“My name is Carmen and he’s Luther.”

“All right,” Lena says. “I’ll remember that.”

“Albrecht,” the man says. “Mr. and Mrs. Luther Albrecht, married on this day in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-two.”

“Got it.”

“Would you like to have a glass of champagne with us?” the girl asks.

“Can’t,” Lena says. “I’m working. Some other time.”

She gets her coat, slings her camera case over her shoulder and sets out for her darkroom in her little apartment three blocks away. She walks as fast as she can, not only because of the cold, but because she wants to have the picture for the newlyweds in half an hour as she promised.

It’s when she’s holed up in her darkroom that she first hears the commotion outside: sirens and racing engines and loud male voices. Must have been a holdup or something somewhere, she thinks. She finishes as fast as she can and puts the prints in her camera case.

As soon as she steps outside again, she knows that something is terribly wrong. There’s an unusual smell in the air like singed wool and a muffled roar coming from a certain quarter. Whatever it is she will soon know because it’s in the direction she’s going.

Halfway to the club she hears the more distinct sound of breaking glass and the roar of fire engines and underneath those sounds screaming almost like people on a roller coaster when it gets to its highest pinnacle and plunges downward. She begins running but she has to be careful because of frozen patches on the sidewalk that she can’t see very well in the dark.

She rounds the corner and what she sees is a vision of hell. The club is engulfed in flame. How could it have happened so fast? It must have been a bomb or an explosion, she thinks. There is, after all, a war going on.

Thick smoke pours up into the air from the roof. People are everywhere, rushing back and forth, trying to get away or move in closer to help. Firefighters with their axes and hoses attempt to move on the building but are pushed back by billowing smoke and heat, roars and concussions from within. Part of the roof collapses as the fire builds in intensity, and the worst part is to think that hundreds of people are trapped inside.

A cordon of police holds spectators back. Lena can never get close enough to offer assistance to anybody who might need it, but what she sees is the worst thing she ever saw. Dead bodies laid out in a row on the street. Ambulances trying to move in to take away the injured. People running and wailing, some tearing at their hair or clothing. All is chaos and despair.

Newspapers the next day reveal the details. Hundreds dead and many more injured. Many victims overwhelmed by noxious fumes, super-heated air; never touched by flames. The fire started on a lower level and spread faster than anybody could imagine. Curtains, fake trees and other décor highly flammable; some exit doors covered up or locked. Club owners cited for safety violations.

Among the many dead are Carmen and Luther Albrecht. Lena recognizes a few of the other names, people she knew in passing from the club. Her father hears the news and calls to make sure she is all right. He offers to come and get her after her awful experience, but she tells him she’s fine.

“Why do you think I was spared?” she asks him.

“If I had an answer to that,” he says, “I wouldn’t be driving a cab.”

She keeps the picture of Carmen and Luther on her bureau. Wherever they are, she tells herself, they will always be together. Always smiling. Always young and happy as they were on that day.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Your Friend August Wellington

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Your Friend August Wellington ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He selected several pairs of swimsuits from the men’s-small rack and locked himself in the dressing room. After checking the door three times to make sure nobody could get in, he took everything off except his underpants and, standing before the mirror, began trying them on: first a plaid pair that he immediately rejected because they were too skimpy; then a yellow pair with a black stripe up each side and a slit at the thigh that made him look like something he wasn’t; then a black, baggy pair that hung down almost to his knees and made him look like an old man; then a red pair that wasn’t too baggy or too tight. He turned this way and that, looking at himself from every angle. The red pair would do, even though he hated the way he looked with his chest, arms and legs uncovered. No doubt about it, he was meant to be clothed. He wasn’t sure he would ever let anybody see him in the red swimsuit, but buying it was the first step and then he would see. He couldn’t look any worse than a lot of other people.

Of course, he had already turned down the invitation to the pool party, but he still might change his mind. He could see himself calling at the last minute and graciously accepting, after all, the invitation that he had declined. “I thought I was having abdominal surgery that day but it turns out the doctor says I don’t need the operation after all. Hah-hah-hah!”

When he got home, Aunt Vivian was waiting for him in her Cadillac, smoking a cigarette. She saw him in her rearview mirror and jumped out.

“August, where the hell have you been?” She reeked of perfume and her lipstick was smeared down to her chin.

“I had some shopping to do,” he said.

“I was about to call the police.”


“You didn’t answer the door. I thought something terrible must have happened to you.”

“And how many martinis did you have for lunch today?” he asked.

She stood behind him while he fumbled with the key in the lock and when he opened the door she went inside behind him as if the house belonged to her.

“I want you to come and stay at our house until your daddy gets back from his business trip,” she said.

“I’ve already said I’m not going to do that.”

“When you’re in school, it’s different, but now that school is out you don’t have any business staying in this big house all alone.”

“I like being alone.”

“You get lonely.”

“No, I don’t!”

“You daddy had no business going off and leaving you alone. You’re still a child.”

“No, I’m not!”

“I worry about you.”

“No need.”

“So you’re saying you won’t come and stay at my house?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“I could still put you over my knee and whale the living daylights out of you,” she said.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m bigger than you are.”

She swiped her fingers on the dining room table to see how much dust had collected there and then she went into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and all the cabinets and looking inside.

“Are you eating properly?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“I’m afraid you’re just eating pizza and junk food.”

“I don’t even like pizza that much.”

“I could bring you some things.”

“No need.”

“You know how to cook?”

“I have a cookbook,” he said. “I can cook when I need to. Do you want me to show you?”

“You have eggs and milk?”

“I have flour, sugar, coffee and tea. What I don’t have I can go buy.”

“All right. I know you had to grow up fast with your mother dying so young the way she did.”

“Please don’t mention that to me again.”

“I hope Dana gets married again, for his sake and for yours.”

“He said something before he left about getting married soon.”

She nodded her head and smiled. “Oh, well, that’s encouraging! Have you met her?”

“I don’t think he has anybody in mind yet.”

“Is he seeing someone?”

“He was seeing a Mrs. Bone with three daughters but I think that romance fell through. I didn’t like her, so that might have had something to do with it.”

“You met her?”

“He took me out to dinner with them one night.”

“Oh, that’s lovely! Did you have a nice time?”

“No. Father isn’t supposed to eat lobster but he ate it anyway and got sick. While he was in the men’s room vomiting, I had a little tête-à-tête with Mrs. Bone. I think I scared her off.”

“Was that your intention?”

“I just told her the way things are.”

“I’m sure that was very naughty of you!”

A few minutes after Aunt Vivian left, there was a knock at the door. It was his friend from school, Colin Mayhew. He was carrying his gym bag.

“Is the paterfamilias still gone?” Colin asked.

“Who wants to know?” August asked.

“I’d like to stay here tonight if you don’t mind.”


“My parents are fighting again. I had to get away from all the yelling.”

“You can stay only if you promise you aren’t carrying any bugs or communicable diseases.”

“Very funny.”

“You can sleep on the couch or in the guest bedroom. You’re not sleeping with me.”

“Thank goodness! I was afraid that was going to be a condition for letting me stay.”

After they consumed a jar of peanuts and two glasses of wine apiece, the talk turned to the pool party.

“I’ve decided to go after all,” August said. “I bought a red swimsuit this morning.”

“You can’t do that,” Colin said. “You already turned down the invitation.”

“Yes, I can.”

“It would be very rude to show up after you’ve said you’re not coming.”

“Why are you always so concerned about what’s rude and what’s not?”

“I’m just telling you what I think.”

“That’s what’s wrong with the world. Too many people expressing their opinions.”

“Pardon me for living.”

“So you think I should call Beulah Buffington and tell her I’d like to come after all?”

“I know her. She’ll probably take your head off.”

“Let her try.”

“I wouldn’t have the nerve.”

“Are you still going?”

“Of course!” Colin said. “My dad’s letting me take the car.”

“You can come by and pick me up and we’ll go together.”

“I don’t think you should do that.”

“Why not?”

“If you told Beulah you’re not coming, that’s the same as not being invited at all. You don’t want to be a gate crasher, do you?”

“I’ll call her first and arrange it.”

Colin picked up the phone, handed it to August and dialed the number. Beulah answered on the first ring.

“Hello?” August said. “Is that you, Beulah?”

“Yes. Who is this?”

“This is August.”

“August who?”


“Do I know you?”

“From school?”

“Um, I don’t seem to remember you. Can you describe yourself?”

“Look, Beulah, I know why you’re doing this.”

“Doing what?”

”Pretending not to know me.”

“I’m terribly busy,” she said. “I’m going to have to hang up now.”

“I just wanted to ask you a question.”

“What is it?”

“It’s about your pool party.”

“What about it?”

“I was wondering if it would be all right if I change my mind and accept your invitation after all.”

An icy silence on the other end, after which she said, “I don’t want to be mean, August, but I’m afraid you weren’t on the invitation list.”

“You called me just the other day and invited me.”

“I did? Are you sure it was me?”

“Well, yes. I had no reason to believe it was anybody else.”

“This is very odd,” she said. “I’ve never had anybody call and invite themselves to one of my parties. Are you sure this isn’t a joke?”

“No, it’s not a joke. I just thought…”

“What did you say your name is again?”

“It’s okay, Beulah. Just forget it.”

“Well, I suppose it’ll be all right for you to come since you place yourself in such an awkward position, but I have to warn you. We’ve already invited more people than we can handle and we probably won’t have room for all of them. We’re hoping some of them change their minds and don’t show up after all.”

“No, I wouldn’t dream of…”

“I have to go now,” Beulah said. “It was awfully lovely speaking to you.”

August hung up and shook his head at Colin.

“What did she say?” Colin asked.

“She was very obtuse. She pretended she didn’t know me. She said she never called and invited me to the party.”

“Are you sure it was her?”

“She said I could come anyway but there probably wouldn’t be enough room.”

“That’s terrible.”

“No, it isn’t. I don’t care.”

“You don’t want to go?”


“I’ll fill you in on everything that happens,” Colin said.

“Do you mean you’re still going?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“I thought you were my friend.”

“I am.”

“We’ve known each other since the beginning of school.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“You can still go knowing that I’m not invited?”


“Loyalty means nothing to you?”

“Look, August, just because you’re a loser doesn’t mean I have to be one, too.”

“So now I’m a loser, am I?”

“I only meant…”

“I don’t care what you meant. I want you to get out of my house.”

“If it means that much to you, I won’t go.”

“No, it’s too late now. I’ve already discovered what a rat you are.”

“Do you want me to talk to Beulah and wangle you an invitation?”

“No! I want you to leave. Right now!”

“I thought it’d be fun to come over here and spend the night with you. I was wrong.”

“Colin, if you don’t get out of my house right now, I’m going to stick a knife all the way through you!”

“Nobody likes you, August, but you’re not able to see it.”

“Do you want me to throw you out?”

“I know your mother killed herself because she was crazy. I think craziness runs in your family.”

August picked up a letter opener and began brandishing it in Colin’s face. “Have you ever seen a person stabbed with one of these things?” he said.

“I hope your father marries a horrible woman!” Colin said. “I hope you end up with a stepmother who makes your life miserable!”

August threw the letter opener, narrowly missing Colin’s head. As he was looking around for something else to throw, Colin grabbed his gym bag and ran for the door. August watched him as he ran across the street and disappeared down the block.

He went upstairs to his room and locked himself in, slowly took off all his clothes and put on the red swimsuit he had bought just that morning. He turned this way and that, looking at himself in the full-length mirror. To himself he looked like a hairless monkey, all joints and angles, his skin as white as paste. He could hear people in his head laughing and making fun of him for trying to get invited to Beulah’s party.

“This will never do,” he said.

He took the scissors and cut the swimsuit into strips, feeling he was relieving himself of a burden. And he left the strips on the floor around his bed to remind himself of just how foolish he had been.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Busy Will You Wait

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Busy Will You Wait ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Dot Crandall kicked off her shoes after one hour behind the desk and put on her fleece-lined mules. “My dogs are barking already,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll make it to the end of the day.”

“You have to make it,” Zora Costello said. “You ain’t got any choice.”

“One day I’m going to show them who’s got a choice and who hasn’t!”

“Maybe you ought to buy a different kind of shoes if they hurt your feet all the time that way.”

“It’s not my shoes. It’s my feet. They’re not normal”

“Nothing else about you is normal, either.”

Before Dot could take exception to Zora’s remark, there was a chirp-chirp sound, meaning the phone was ringing.

“Goodapple and Rood,” Zora said. “I’ll connect you.” Pause. “Busy-will-you-wait?” Click.

“People are calling here all day long with their problems,” Dot said. “It makes me sick.”

“I know, but that’s the world of business.”

“I don’t think I can stand much more of it.”


“Goodapple and Rood,” Zora said. “I’ll connect you.” Pause. “Busy-will-you-wait?” Click. “Okay, I didn’t want to talk to you, anyway!”

“Nobody’s waiting?” Dot asked.

“They just hang up.”

“My, but people are impatient today!”

“I’m glad they hang up,” Zora said. “Then I don’t have to deal with them.”


“Goodapple and Rood,” Zora said. “I’ll connect you.” Pause. “Busy-will-you-wait?” Click.

“I’ve got a pain in my side,” Dot said.

“Pregnant, I’ll bet.”

Dot’s laugh was a sudden release of air, as from a gas bag. “Now, that would be a miracle!”

“Call that old man of yours and tell him you’re got a little bundle of joy on the way.”

“Not that one! He’s got alcoholics’ disease and, if that isn’t bad enough, his brain has gone soft from watching too much TV. When he’s asleep he dreams he’s watching Bonanza.”

“Well, that’s what happens to old men, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so, but I’m not ready to take care of an old man yet. I’m still young.”

“You’re not as young as you’d like to think you are.”

“You should talk!”

“I know. We’re both old.”

“And still going to work every day. That’s the sad part.”

“How long do we have to go until we can retire?” Zora asked.

“I don’t think that day will ever come,” Dot said. “We’ll both still be here when we’re ninety-five.”

“You’ll be ninety-five before I will!”

“We’ll die chained to these desks and nobody will even notice.”

“We’re already dead and in hell. That’s the only explanation.”


“Goodapple and Rood,” Zora said. “I’ll connect you.” Pause. “Busy-will-you-wait?” Click.

“Fix your face, honey! Here comes that cute postman!”

With the precision of an acrobat, he came through the door, deposited the mail on the desk and went out again, all without looking up.

“I wish I could get him to look at me just once,” Dot said.


“I think he’s cute. Don’t you think he’s cute?”

Zora hooted with laughter. “If he looks at you, he would probably only be noticing the resemblance to his great-grandmother.”

“If I was only twenty years younger, I could go for him in a big way.”

“If you were forty years younger, it would still be a stretch.”

“He looks like a boy I was crazy about when I was fifteen. He was a couple years older than me and he wouldn’t give me a tumble.”

“He probably liked other boys.”

“You never forget your first love.”

“Are you sure he was the first?”

“I wonder what his name is.”

“You were in love with him and you didn’t know his name?”

“No! The postman! I wonder what his name is.”

“You could always ask him,” Zora said.

“I’m too shy. I wouldn’t be able to get the words out.”

“Do you want me to ask him for you? It’s probably Nelson or Kenny or something like that. Or maybe Kenny Nelson.”

“I think he looks like a Freddie.”

“Okay, then, we’ll say his name is Freddie.”

“One day when he comes in here,” Dot said, “I’m going to ask him if it’s raining. You know, engage him in conversation.”

“The janitor is more your type.”

“He’s too much like my husband and, anyway, he’s married.”

“Yeah, all the good ones are taken.”


“Goodapple and Rood,” Zora said. “I’ll connect you.” Pause. “Busy-will-you-wait?” Click.

“They hung up?”

“I think it was Freddie the postman calling to see if you would answer.  It sounded like his breathing.”

“If he calls again, tell him I’m waiting for him to make the first move.”

“Tell him yourself! He’s your love interest.”

“The pain in my side is getting worse,” Dot said. “Now I’ve got the same kind of pain in my head. I think I’ll go home sick for the rest of the day.”

“And leave me here to cope all by myself? I don’t think so!”


“Goodapple and Rood,” Zora said. “I’ll connect you.” Pause. “Busy-will-you-wait?” Click.

“Hung up again?”


“I think you’re pushing the wrong button, honey. When you try to put them on hold, you’re disconnecting them.”

“Which button am I supposed to push?”

“This one.”

“I’ve been pushing that one.”

“That’s why they all seem to hang up. You’re cutting them off.”

“Well, isn’t that funny? Hah-hah-hah! The joke’s on me! Hah-hah-hah!”

“You’d better not let Mr. Goodapple know you’ve been hanging up on his clients. He wouldn’t like it.”

“You know what Mr. Goodapple can do! I’ll just say there’s something wrong with the phone.”

“The problem isn’t with the phone but with the person using the phone.”

“Yeah, who cares? I’m hungry.”

“Me too. I didn’t eat any breakfast this morning.”

“Maybe we could slip out and get a real sit-down lunch today.”

“We can’t both be gone at the same time. We’ll have to go one at a time or one of us will have to bring back.”

“I’ll go.”

“And leave me alone to answer the phone? I don’t think so!”

“You go, then. Bring me back a bacon and tomato on whole wheat toast, a large Coke and a pack of Luckies.”

Their thoughts were just then interrupted by the smell of Mr. Goodapple’s cologne and the sound of his footsteps in the hallway coming toward them. Dot opened a ledger and began studiously copying figures from it onto a pad. Zora opened her desk drawer and began rearranging the things inside.

“Well, well, well!” the great man boomed. “How are we all doing today?”

“Just fine, Mr. Goodapple!” Zora said.

“Very good, sir!” Dot said.

“Keeping busy, are we?”

“Oh, yes, sir!

“I like to check up on the girls in the front office and make sure things are running smoothly.”

“We’re getting along swimmingly,” Dot said.

“We’ve been so busy this morning!” Zora said. “Hardly time to catch our breath.”

Haw-haw-haw!” he laughed, showing his mule-like teeth. “That’s the way we like it, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes, sir!”

“The busier we are, the more we feel we’re earning our pay.”

“I was saying that very thing a little while ago,” Zora said. “We do love our jobs so.”

“You’ve both been here a long time, haven’t you?”

“Oh, yes, sir! Many, many years in fact.”

“More years than we can count,” Dot said.

“Some people just can’t stand to ever think of retiring, can they?” he said.

“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have my job to go to every day,” Zora said.

“I feel the same way,” Dot said.

Mr. Goodapple smiled in his self-satisfied way. “I like to see dedication in my people,” he said. “And loyalty. Nothing is more important.”

Somebody came up behind Mr. Goodapple and tapped him on the shoulder and he left. Zora and Dot let out their breath with relief.

“That bastard!” Zora said. “Spying on us!”

“He’s got his nerve!”

“He thinks he’s so important and he’s just the white on top of old chicken doodle.”

“The smell of his cologne makes me sick.”

“For two cents I’d tell him what I think of him!”

“The pain in my side just got worse!” Dot said. “I have to get out of here!”

She stood up and shuffled in her mules down the hallway to the ladies’ room. When she came back, she was pale and her intricate hairdo had come undone.

“I was just sick in the bathroom,” she said. “The stress is too much for me.”

“You’d better go home and lie down, then, honey,” Zora said. “I can cover for you.”

“You’re right,” Dot said. “I guess maybe that’s the thing I ought to do.”

After Dot was gone, Zora combed her hair and fixed her face. Then she left the office to get herself a good lunch. She would take as long as she wanted, if not the entire afternoon, and if Mr. Goodapple didn’t like it, well, she’d be glad to tell him what he could do about it.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Find Out Where the Train is Going

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ed King.”

“Was that his real name?”

“It’s the name he gave me.”

“Did he use any other names?”

“I don’t know. Why would he do that?”

“How long had you known him?”

“I don’t know. A few months.”

“How many months?”

“About six.”

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

“No! And if he was, I wasn’t!”

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

“No! Why would he do that?”

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

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

“For what purpose?”

“Why does anybody stay in a hotel?”

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

“Ed always took the room in my name.”

“Why is that?”

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

“And you suspected nothing?”

“No. I stayed out of his business.”

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

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

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

“He told me he was a salesman.”

“What did he tell you he sold?”

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

“And you didn’t question him?”

“Why should I?”

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

“I had no reason to believe otherwise.”

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

“Of course!” she says.

“Were you in love with him?”

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

“Did you give him money?”

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

“How much?”

“Five thousand dollars and some change.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ve got to find him!”

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

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

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

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

“We’re all fools.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp


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