All Hallow’s Eve
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
(This is a repost.)
Mother stood over him while he ate his dinner of liver and onions. When she decided he had eaten enough, she told him he could go. He ran up the stairs to his room and put on his Halloween costume. A ghost this year, same as last year. Next year he was going to have to be something different. Wearing the same costume more than two years in a row was terrible.
His false face still had dried spit around the mouth, but it was his own spit so he didn’t care. He put it on and checked the entire effect in the mirror, costume, mask and all. Something was missing. Oh, yes, the old derby hat. It was the one thing that made his costume look just a little bit creepy and scary. Without the hat, the costume was just a cheap little-kid’s getup.
Mother was in the living room when he came down the stairs. “Come here, Buster, and let me take a look at your outfit,” she said.
“It’s a costume,” Buster said.
“Oh, don’t you look cute!”
“I’m supposed to look scary!”
“So, where are you going tonight? What are you plans?”
“I’m going tricking-or-treating, mother, the same as every Halloween.”
“Who are you going with?”
“I don’t know. Some of the kids from my class, I guess.”
“What are their names?”
“You want the names of all the kids in my class?”
“Of course I don’t. You’ll be careful, now, won’t you?”
“Yeah, I’ll be careful.”
“Make sure you’re not alone. Wherever you go, go in a group.”
“I don’t care.”
“I said okay, I’ll go in a group.”
“Be home by ten o’clock.”
“Mother! It’s Halloween and tomorrow is Saturday!”
“All right, then. Eleven.”
When he finally got out the door, he broke into a run. The evening air felt good after the stuffy house and smelled good, like leaves and burning candle wax. It wasn’t all the way dark yet, but trick-or-treaters were everywhere, mostly little kids accompanied by their mothers.
He met his friends at the corner by the park. Eric was a skeleton, Stan a hobo, and Squeamy the Lone Ranger. Squeamy’s sister, Oda May, stood apart from the others, smoking a cigarette and looked bored. She carried a rubber-and-fur gorilla mask loosely in her hand like a rag.
“What’s Oda May doing here?” Buster asked.
“My mother wouldn’t let me go out without an adult,” Squeamy said.
“I guess that’s enough of an adult.”
“Let’s get going, you losers,” Stan said, “before all the good candy is gone!”
Oda May flipped away her cigarette and put on the gorilla mask and they headed for the neighborhood on the other side of the park where all the best houses were.
It was a lucrative neighborhood. Three-quarters of the houses had their porch lights on. When people took one look at adult-sized Oda May in her gorilla mask, their smiles usually faded.
The treats were good, Hershey bars and popcorn balls instead of stale jelly beans. After three blocks, their bags were starting to get heavy. They sat down on the curb to rest for a while.
“That’s how it’s done,” Oda May said, hefting the bag of candy appreciatively between her legs. “If they’re just a little bit scared of you, they’ll fork over the candy quick enough so they can get rid of you.” She lit a cigarette without taking off the gorilla mask.
“Where to now?” Buster asked.
“I don’t know about you little turds,” Oda May said, “but I’m going to go meet my boyfriend.”
“What about us?” Stan asked.
“You’re on your own. I’ve played nursemaid long enough.”
“It’s all right,” Squeamy said. “We don’t need her.”
“And don’t follow me,” she said, “or somebody’s gonna lose some teeth!”
“Leave the mask on!” Squeamy called after her. “Your boyfriend might like you better that way!”
“What will she do with all that candy?” Buster asked.
“Probably give it to her boyfriend.”
“Who is this boyfriend, anyway?” Eric asked. “Why don’t we get to meet him?”
“He’s a criminal, I think,” Squeamy said. “She doesn’t want me to see him because she’s afraid I’ll tell on her. He’s twenty-three years old. I’ll bet he’s really terrible looking, like a convict.”
“I’d like to see him,” Stan said.
“Hey, I stole some of her cigarettes when she wasn’t looking,” Squeamy said, passing them around and lighting them.
“Boy, I like smoking!” Eric said. “I inhale the smoke deep down into my lungs and let it stay there.”
“Me too,” Stan said. “I’m always going to smoke for as long as I live.”
“My mother told me if she ever caught me smoking a cigarette she’d knock it down my throat,” Squeamy said.
“Doesn’t she smoke?” Eric asked.
“Of course she does. They all smoke.”
“Then why does she care?”
“Because I’m in fifth grade.”
“She’s a hypocrite,” Stan said.
Buster had never smoked before except for a quick puff off his mother’s cigarette when she wasn’t looking. He didn’t like the taste of it, but he wasn’t going to be the only one not to smoke.
Several times, he took the smoke into his mouth and quickly blew it out again. He wanted to have the others see him with smoke coming out his nose like a dragon, but he wasn’t sure how to do it without inhaling.
“Don’t you like smoking, Buster?” Squeamy asked.
“Yeah, I like it all right. I smoke all the time when my mother isn’t looking.”
“Well, finish your cigarettes, ladies,” Eric said. “We’ve still got a lot of territory to cover.”
They went over a couple of blocks to another neighborhood where the treats were bound to be good. They covered several blocks, both sides of the street, in just under an hour.
“My bag is getting really heavy,” Squeamy said. “I think I’d probably better go on home now.”
“Somebody gave me a guitar pick as a treat. Isn’t that weird?”
“Hey, it looks like it’s going to rain! If our bags get wet, they’ll bust through on the bottom and all our candy will spill out!”
“What time is it?”
“I think it’s about a quarter to ten.”
“I think we should call it a night.”
Some older kids, sixteen and seventeen, came up behind them with the intention of stealing their candy, so they began running furiously into the dark to get away from them. Stan knew the neighborhood better than the others, so they all followed him.
He led them around in a circuitous loop over to Main Street, where there were lots of lots of lights, people and cars.
“I think we outran them!” he said.
“Can you imagine the nerve?” Eric said. “We’ve been out all night trick-or-treating for our candy, and somebody thinks they can just come along and take it from us? What is the world coming to?”
Some of the businesses on Main Street were giving out treats. A lady at a bakery gave them day-old pumpkin cookies, which they devoured like hungry wolves.
A man standing in front of a tavern was giving out treats from a large plastic pumpkin. “You kids need to be home in bed,” he said.
“If we come inside, will you give us a beer?” Stan asked.
“Come back in ten years,” the man said.
There was a big crowd at the Regal Theatre, a long line of people waiting to buy tickets to the Halloween double feature: Bride of the Gorilla and The Terror of Tiny Town. Anybody in costume could get in for half-price.
“If we had enough money, we could go,” Stan said.
“Aw, I can’t stay out that late,” Buster said. “My mother would come looking for me.”
They were about to walk past the theatre, but Squeamy spotted Oda May in the ticket line in the gorilla mask and stopped. She wasn’t alone, either.
“She’s with a little kid and he’s a cowboy!” Squeamy said. “Her boyfriend is a child and a cowboy! That’s why she didn’t want us to meet him!”
From where they were standing, they all had a good look at the little cowboy. When he turned around to look at the line behind him, Buster saw his face. “That’s no little kid,” he said. “That’s a midget!”
“Oda May’s boyfriend is a midget and his face is all wrinkled! He must be thirty years old!”
“Oh, boy!” Squeamy said. “I’m really going to tell on her now!”
“I think we should go over and say ‘hi’ to her,” Eric said.
“No!” Squeamy said. “She’ll think we’ve been following her!”
They stood and watched Oda May and the midget cowboy move up in the line. When it was their turn, Oda May moved around behind the midget, put her hands on his waist and lifted him up so he could buy the tickets and then set him down again. Several people in line behind them laughed, but they seemed not to notice.
“Now I’m seen everything!” Squeamy said. “Can you imagine what their children will be like? I don’t even want to think about it.”
“Let’s go,” Stan said. “It’s ten o’clock and it’s starting to rain again.”
They decided to walk home with Stan, since he lived the closest. The interesting thing about Stan was that his father was an undertaker and the family lived above the funeral parlor. It was a subject of endless fascination to Stan’s friends.
“I think I’m going to call it a night,” Stan said when they were at the corner near his house. “Thanks for walking me home.”
“Do you mean you’re not going to ask us in after we’ve come all this way?” Squeamy said.
“Do you have a body in a casket we can look at?” Eric asked.
“Stan’s right,” Buster said. “I should be getting home, too.”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Squeamy said. “I don’t think I can wait until I get home.”
“Oh, all right!” Stan said. “You can come in but you have to wipe your feet first.”
Stan’s parents were out for the evening, so they had the place to themselves. Stan took them down to the basement to show them around but made them promise not to touch anything. First he showed them the room where the embalming was done with its white cabinets full of jars and bottles and then a separate room where bodies were dressed and prepared for burial. The most impressive part of the tour was the casket room, where more than fifty caskets were opened up so people could see inside them. Eric, Buster and Squeamy took turns taking off their shoes and getting into a casket to see what it felt like, while Stan closed the lid on each of them for a few seconds and then made them get out.
“My dad wouldn’t like it if he knew we were down here,” he said.
“Let us know when there’s a body so we can come back and see it,” Eric said.
“I’ve seen plenty of dead bodies. It’s people you don’t know. You don’t feel anything looking at them.”
“You are so lucky! I’ve never seen a dead body!”
“I need to get home,” Buster said. “It’s getting late.”
Buster walked part of the way home with Squeamy and Eric, but they left him at the corner by the church and he had to walk the last four blocks alone. He held his bag of candy in his arms because it was heavy and soggy and he didn’t want the bottom breaking through. He didn’t see a single other person on his way home. Everybody was finished for the night. Halloween was over for another year.
Mother was sitting on the couch in her bathrobe and slippers watching a Charlie Chan movie on TV. “Did you have a nice time?” she asked.
“Yeah, it was okay.”
“I’m glad you’re home.”
“I always worry about you when you’re out by yourself.”
“I wasn’t by myself.”
“There’s an escapee on the loose killing people. I just heard it on TV.”
“We just missed him.”
“Now don’t eat all that candy at once. You’ll make yourself sick. You still have to eat your fruits and vegetables.”
“I know. I want to go to bed now. I’m tired.”
She was saying something else as he went up the stairs, but he didn’t hear what it was.
He weighed himself on the bathroom scale, first without the bag and then with it. He weighed eighty-four pounds without the bag and ninety-five pounds with it. Eleven pounds of candy. One pound for every year of his life.
He undressed and put on his pajamas and set the bag of candy on top of the chest of drawers where he could see it from the bed. He got into bed, took one last look at it, turned off the light. Before he could have counted to ten, he was asleep.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp
I Heard a Fly Buzz
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
I’m in a dark place here and always searching. What I’m searching for isn’t always clear in my mind. Sometimes I’m searching for a way out (or in) and other times I’m searching for something else, but I can’t always say what it is. There are other people here, just like me, but they are also searching and seem just as confused as I am. I bump into them sometimes in the dark—that’s how I know they’re here. Sometimes I try to speak to them, if only to apologize for bumping into them, but I can’t seem to form the words, as if I’ve forgotten any language.
The darkness here is not like darkness anywhere on earth. Sometimes there is flashing green light from above that is like lightning, but isn’t lightning because there’s no thunder and never any rain. I stumble along; sometimes I can see where I’m going and sometimes I can’t, so I’m always running into things that I can’t see—or can’t see very well. Occasionally—very rarely, though—I see a few seconds of light that is like daylight. I call it daylight, even though I’m not sure it’s light from the sun, and it always lifts my spirits and makes me think I’ve found what I’m looking for, or that finally I’m going to be able to leave this place and go to a better place.
Sometimes I hear sounds but I don’t know where they’re coming from. I hear voices, nearby and far away, but I can never make out the words. I hear music, but when I try to find out where it’s coming from it turns into something else, like a wolf howling or an elephant trumpeting. A lot of confused sounds. When I hear gunfire, it scares me and I think I need to take cover, but then the gunfire stops and I hear screaming and crying, worse than the gunfire.
I know why I’m here. I did a bad thing. I went up to the attic and committed suicide by hanging. As soon as I stepped off the table with the rope around my neck, I knew I had done a foolish thing, but it was too late to take it back. In those few seconds while I dangled at the end of the rope, I struggled mightily to undo what I had done, but the more I struggled and tried to make the rope release me, the tighter it became around my neck. They say when you are hanged you die of a broken neck. My neck wasn’t broken, though. I died of strangulation, pure and simple, which means I was deprived of air enough to go on living. In two minutes I was unconscious and in four minutes my heart stopped beating and I was dead.
What I was seeking was Oblivion. The Great Void. The Divine Nothing. What I got instead was an absolute awareness of what I had done and that I was in a place of torment and confusion. I’m not sure how long I’ve been here because here there is no time; words like “hour,” “minute” and “day” have no meaning here.
One day (or night) when I was crossing a field to God-knows-where, I crashed into a tree trunk. Crashing into a tree trunk was nothing unusual for me, but this tree was different because it was lit by a faint light from above—just enough light for me to see a sign hanging from the tree at eye level. Printed on the sign were these words: Keep going to Wind Mountain and you will find a way out.
I can’t know who else saw the sign, but I was sure it was intended only for me. I didn’t know where Wind Mountain was and had never heard of it, but I would keep going until I found it. Maybe there would be other signs along the way to guide me. Maybe I would meet another person and could ask for directions. Anything seemed possible. For the first time since coming to this place, I had hope.
I traveled for what seemed like years looking for Wind Mountain but might have been only hours or days. Whenever I tried to ask the people I crashed into if they could direct me to Wind Mountain, they only looked at me in terror and tried to get away from me. They were no help at all. I was beginning to think that Wind Mountain didn’t exist and that the sign I saw on the tree was a hoax or just another cruel trick.
At the end of a long, weary road, I came to a man in a dark cloak with a hood covering his head. I couldn’t see his face or any part to of him but, since he didn’t recoil from me, I got the distinct impression he was waiting for me.
“I’m looking for Wind Mountain,” I managed to say, and I knew they were the first words I had spoken in this place that made any sense.
The road I had been walking on for so long ended here. The man in the cloak pointed upward and I knew there was a mountain here and I was meant to climb it, even though I had never climbed a mountain before and wasn’t sure if I had the strength.
I turned my back on the man in the cloak and looked up at the mountain. “That’s a big mountain!” I said. “What happens when I get to the top?”
But when I turned around again the man was no longer there. He had disappeared as completely as if he never existed or as if I had just imagined him.
I began climbing. It wasn’t easy because I was weak and tired. When I looked up, I could see light up above, but it was still dark down below where I was. I heard music then, faint and faraway, but unmistakable. I felt fresh air on my face and hands that didn’t have the smell of damp earth or decay. I began climbing faster, getting closer and closer, I believed, to that thing for which I had searched for so long.
It took me years to climb Wind Mountain. When I finally came to the top, there was an opening through which I could see blue sky and white clouds. When I emerged from the opening—like being born—the glorious sunlight blinded me. I covered both eyes with my hands and that’s when I knew I no longer had human hands and arms but the appendages of a different species altogether.
I tumbled clumsily away from the opening and that’s when I saw, rushing toward me, others of my kind. There were five or six of them. They laid me out flat on the ground, either to give me aid or to pluck the gizzard out of my body. I asked for a drink of water in the only language I knew and they looked at me uncomprehendingly. It was going to take some time, I could see.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp
It’s Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
(This is a repost. It has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)
They sat on the front porch to catch the cooling breezes. Mrs. Llewellyn fanned herself with a cardboard fan courtesy of Benoist Funeral Home and took pulls on a bottle of “medicinal” whiskey she kept in her apron pocket. Miss Clemson, the nearest neighbor, sat on the steps close to Mrs. Llewellyn, holding her hands demurely around her ankles to keep her skirt in place.
“Gets mighty lonely over at my place sometimes,” Miss Clemson said. “Especially of an evening.”
“You should have found yourself a man to marry,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.
“I still might.”
“At your age?”
“I’m only fifty-four,” Miss Clemson said. “And, anyway, the world don’t revolve around no man. I know plenty of women manage just fine without a man orderin’ ‘em about the place.”
“Well, I’ve had four husbands and I can’t say I’d recommend it,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.
“There’s a rumor going around that you just received a proposal of marriage from a Mr. Chin. Is that right?”
“Yes, a Mr. Chin asked me to marry him,” Mrs. Llewellyn said, “but I turned him down.”
“Is he a Chinaman?”
“No, why would he be a Chinaman?”
“Well, that’s what the name sounds like.”
“No, he ain’t a Chinaman.”
“Well, what then?”
“I don’t know what he is, but he ain’t no Chinaman.”
“Why don’t you marry him if he wants to marry you?”
“Well, for one thing, he’s covered with scales.”
“You mean like a snake?”
“Exactly like a snake.”
“I guess a woman could get used to a few snake scales if the man was a good man,” Miss Clemson said.
“I don’t think I ever could. I’d have to turn away when he was gettin’ dressed, or at least turn the light off.”
“Maybe he’ll just shed them scales in the woods during moltin’ season and not have them anymore.”
“Why are you so interested in Mr. Chin’s scales?”
“Well, if he’s marriage-minded, maybe the two of us ought to meet. We might strike up a real lively friendship.”
“The next time I see him I’ll send him over your way,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.
“Will you really?”
“When you see them scales, you might change your mind.”
“Well, I really don’t think I’d mind the scales all that much as long as he keeps them hidden during the daytime when he’s dressed. The scales are not on his face, are they?”
“As long as they’re not on his face, I think we’d be all right, then.”
“The scales is not the only reason I don’t want to marry Mr. Chin,” Mrs. Llewellyn confided.
“I don’t want him moonin’ around over my granddaughter Laura Louise all the time.”
“Oh, yes. I almost forgot about Laura Louise.”
“She lives with me, you know. I’m all the family she’s got left since her maw killed herself in the river.”
“Do you think Mr. Chin might be particularly drawn to her?”
“I think he’d never stop starin’ at her.”
“Well, if staring’s all he done, that wouldn’t be so bad.”
“Yeah, but the starin’ would lead to pawin’ and the pawin’ would lead to other things.”
“I think I see what you mean. She has turned into a right pretty little thing.”
“She’s got her womanly wiles. It’ll just take the right man to bring it out in her.”
“Do you think Mr. Chin might be the one to do that?”
“I think any man might do it, even one covered in scales.”
“Does she still go swimmin’ naked in the river?”
“I don’t think she swims naked no more, no. Not since she accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as her personal savior.”
“The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.”
“Don’t He, though?”
“There for a while she seemed headed down the road to damnation.”
“Most of that was rumor. You know what nasty tongues people have.”
“They said she was havin’ an affair with I-don’t-know-who-all, even Dr. Birke in town.”
“She went to him for a bladder infection. He treated her and she came home and that’s all there was to it.”
“That’s not what people says.”
“Do you think I care what people says?”
“No, I know you don’t care.”
“But, I’ll tell you on the other hand. I didn’t definitely turn Mr. Chin down.”
“What? You think you still might marry him?”
“If that’s the way the chips fall.”
“What do you mean? What chips?”
“Well, since Laura Louise has got herself so keen on religion, she thinks she might want to dedicate her life to the spreading of the Gospel.”
“You mean as a lady preacher?”
“Well, something like that. She’s got it into her head that she wants to go to Darkest Africa and become a missionary.”
“Darkest Africa? What would she do there?”
“She’d teach them headhunters to put down their spears and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior, same as she done.”
“Lord, I wouldn’t want to go to Darkest Africa!” Miss Clemson said. “I’d be scared out of my wits every minute!”
“That’s because you’re an ignorant woman. Them missionaries get training before they go. They learn how to deal with them natives and make their sit down and read the Bible and listen to hymns.”
“Well, it might be right for some people, but I don’t think I would ever choose that kind of life for myself.”
“Laura Louise is all the family I got left. All my children and grandchildren has died or run off and left me. Laura Louise is the only one left to sweep out the house and fetch me what I need and cook me a little supper of an evening. She’s the only one left to keep me company in my old age. And she’s the only one to see that I’m put into the ground proper when my time comes.”
“Oh, I think I see what you’re sayin’,” Miss Clemson said. “If Laura Louise goes off to Darkest Africa, you could still marry Mr. Chin and he could do all them things for you that Laura Louise does now.”
“You catch on quick.”
“But you’d only marry Mr. Chin if you don’t still have Laura Louise at home?”
“I’m sure the Lord will work it all out for you. He’ll come up with the solution that’s right for all parties concerned.”
“I guess so,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.
“I think I see somebody comin’ up the road now,” Miss Clemson said.
“That’ll be Laura Louise, come from service.”
“Good evening, Laura Louise, dear!” Miss Clemson said in a loud voice. “How are you? There’s going to be a lovely full moon tonight, did you know that? It kind of puts you in mind of romance, don’t it?”
“Hello,” Laura Louise said.
“Them services are gettin’ longer and longer, ain’t they?” Mrs. Llewellyn said. “I’ve been waitin’ for my supper.”
“Your supper will just have to wait, gran,” Laura Louise said. “I just got some good news at the end of service and I’ve just got to tell you what it is!”
“Whatever could it be?” Miss Clemson asked.
“I’ve been accepted in missionary school in Memphis, Tennessee! School starts in two weeks. It’ll last for two months and after that I’ll go over to Darkest Africa to do the Lord’s work!”
“My goodness!” Miss Clemson said. “That is excitin’ news, ain’t it?”
“How long will you be gone?” Mrs. Llewellyn asked.
“Oh, I don’t know! Years and years, I guess! Isn’t it wonderful? Brother Rabbit arranged the whole thing over the telephone. He told the people in Memphis what a good worker I am and how dedicated I am to the Lord. They told him to send me on up. They can’t wait for me to get started.”
“That’s fine,” Mrs. Llewellyn said, “but who’s goin’ to do your work around here while you’re gone?”
“What work?” Laura Louise asked.
“You would say that, wouldn’t you? That’s because you’re so selfish! What work do you suppose? Cleanin’ and cookin’ and washin’ and all the rest of the housework waitin’ to be done, that’s what work!”
“Why, I don’t know, gran. I guess you’ll have to get yourself a hired girl to help out, won’t you?”
“And just where am I goin’ to get the money for that?”
“The Lord will provide.”
“I think it’s just wonderful!” Miss Clemson said. “You were turnin’ out to be such a tramp around these parts, takin’ up with any man that would give you the time of day—including Dr. Birke in town—and now just look at you! The Lord has taken a-holt of you and turned you around into the kind of girl He always wanted you to be! Praise the Lord!”
“I’m just so excited about it I’m about to burst! I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep a wink tonight!”
“Well, just go on in now and get started on my supper now,” Mrs. Llewellyn said. “There’ll be plenty of time later to be excited.”
“Do you want to stay and eat supper with us, Miss Clemson?” Laura Louise asked.
“I don’t think so, honey, but thanks for askin’. I need to get myself on home.”
After Laura Louise went into the house to start cooking supper, Miss Clemson turned to Mrs. Llewellyn and said, “I think I hear wedding bells!”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Well, now that Laura Louise is goin’ off to Darkest Africa to be a missionary, you’ll want to marry Mr. Chin as fast as you can so he can do all your work for you, won’t you?”
“Not so fast! She thinks right now that she’s goin’ to Darkest Africa to be a missionary, but what if I say she’s not?”
“You mean you gonna try to stop her?”
“I think I’m goin’ to pay a call on Brother Rabbit at the church tomorrow and tell him to stop meddlin’ in my affairs. Laura Louise ain’t nothin’ but a child and she’s almost feeble-minded to boot. She needs her grandma, her only living family, to look after her and keep her safe. She can’t be goin’ off on her own to no Darkest Africa to be no missionary. She’d be a babe in the woods. Why, they’d eat her alive!”
“Well, I don’t know,” Miss Clemson said. “It certainly seems the Lord is pointin’ her in that direction and if He’s decided it’s the right thing for her to do, then He’ll make it happen, no matter what.”
“Well, we’ll see about that.”
“Are you really goin’ to see Brother Rabbit tomorrow at the church?”
“I said I am, didn’t I?”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
“No, I’d rather go alone.”
“Well, good luck, but I don’t think you should go pokin’ your nose in. Laura Louise is a grown woman and if she’s decided she wants to go to Darkest Africa to be missionary, then I think you should just let it alone.”
“Do you have a granddaughter?”
“You know I ain’t. I ain’t ever even been married.”
“Well, until you have your own granddaughter, you can’t know what it’s like to have her leave you and go off to Darkest Africa to be a missionary.”
“Well, all right, then, honey. I won’t say another word about it.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my supper is about ready and I’m hungry. I don’t like to be kept waitin’.”
“All right, honey. I’ll go on home now and eat my own lonely supper. And after I’m finished and all the dishes are washed up and put away, I’ll get into bed and look out the window at the big old sad yellow moon. It’ll remind me of all the things that might have been and never were.”
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~
My Policeman, a novel by Bethan Roberts, is set mostly in 1957 in the seaside town of Brighton, England. Marion Taylor is an unmarried teacher of small children. There is a man she likes named Tom Burgess. She doesn’t understand Tom very well; she wonders why he is cool toward her and rather aloof. He is handsome, blond, athletic and well-built; he goes swimming in the sea every morning and he eventually teaches her to swim.
Tom is what might be called a straight-arrow type. As a police officer, he is interested in projecting an image of conventionality and respectability. Marion falls in love with him, while he remains blasé on the whole matter of courtship and marriage. She begins to suspect he is gay but believes that she can get him to change, if only he will marry her. Because marriage is what is expected of every young man and because he must project an image of respectability to the world, Tom marries Marion. We can see it’s a marriage that probably isn’t going to be a smashing success.
Tom meets a man thirteen years older than himself named Patrick Hazelwood. Patrick is worldly and sophisticated; he works as a curator in a museum and knows the world of art, music and books. He is also unabashedly gay, at a time in England when sexual activity between men was still a crime and punishable by confinement in prison.
Patrick and Tom begin a “discreet” relationship, although Tom, as a police constable, must be very careful that his “secret” is never revealed. Marion knows that Tom and Patrick are “friends” but doesn’t suspect (at first) the true nature of the relationship. She wants to believe that Tom, with her help, might be cured of his “affliction.” (None so blind as those who will not see.)
Patrick invites Tom to go on a trip with him to romantic Venice. While Tom thinks there is nothing wrong with the two of them going to Venice together, Marion, as Tom’s wife, doesn’t take it well; she is jealous and moved to commit an uncharitable act, to put it mildly. It is this trip to Venice that provides the catalyst for the novel’s tragic third act.
The novel alternates between first-person passages narrated first by Marion and then by Patrick. They are both besotted with Tom. While most of the action takes place in the late 1950s, some of the novel is set in the late 1990s, showing how these three characters change over forty years through the unique dynamic they share.
My Policeman espouses the themes of jealousy, guilt, and the stupidity of laws that govern human sexual behavior (the lengths to which these laws force people to go to conceal their true natures). It is a memorable, intelligent, adult story. It’s not a story I would recommend to my elderly mother but, then, she and I are tuned to completely different frequencies.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp