Picture Window ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
It was just a small wash-off tattoo of a skull and crossbones. Carson put it on Mickey’s upper arm. Mickey looked down at it and laughed. He looked like a baby pirate in diapers. Carson was going to put a shooting star on Mickey’s forehead, but he thought that might be going a little too far.
When Eadie came home and saw the skull and crossbones, she jerked Mickey up and carried him into the bathroom and started scrubbing at the tattoo with a washcloth and soap. She rubbed so hard Mickey started crying, not only because the rubbing hurt but because her anger scared and upset him.
“How dare you do such a thing!” Eadie ranted at Carson. “He’s just a tiny baby!”
“He’s fifteen months,” Carson said.
“How could you mark up the body of a baby like that?”
“It wears off in a few days,” Carson said. “It didn’t hurt him. I showed it to him in the mirror and he liked it.”
“You are just an ignorant little son of a bitch! I should have known better than to put you in charge of my baby. When you get your own baby—which I doubt will ever happen because no girl in her right mind will never have anything to do with you—you can mark him up with cheap tattoos all you want, but in the meantime you keep your filthy paws off my child!”
“You don’t have to get so hateful about it,” Carson said. “I didn’t hurt him and it’s easy to wash off if you know how. Why don’t you let me do it? I can do it without hurting him.”
“Do you think I’d let you touch my baby now?”
“You mean I’m not ever supposed to touch him again?”
“You stay away from him! Do you understand me?”
Mickey was crying. To get him to shut up, Eadie put him to bed, much earlier than he was used to.
“Aren’t you supposed to feed him before you put him to bed?” Carson asked, standing in the doorway to the bedroom.
“I don’t remember asking for your advice,” she said.
“When did you become such a bitch?” he said.
She lost control and slapped him hard in the face. It was so sudden he didn’t have time to put his hands up.
He touched his stinging cheek and said, “All right, but don’t ever ask me for anything else ever again.”
“You have nothing I want,” she said.
Carson didn’t tell anybody what Eadie said to him or that she slapped him. Instead he avoided her, going out of the room whenever she entered. He didn’t look directly at her and wouldn’t tell her when somebody wanted to speak to her on the phone or when the mailman knocked on the door to give her a package. When she baked a cherry pie, he refused to eat any of it.
Three days later Carson was in his room studying for a test when Leslie, Eadie’s husband, knocked on the door and came in.
“Are you busy?” Leslie asked.
“What does it look like?” Carson asked.
Leslie laughed and sat on the bed. “I wanted to have a word with you.”
Leslie took a bill out of his pocket and put it on Carson’s desk. Carson looked at it and saw it was a two-dollar bill.
“What’s that for?” Carson asked.
“My brother and I used to collect them when we were in school. I thought you might like to have it.”
“Okay,” Carson said. “What’s the gag?”
Leslie interlocked his fingers and began studying his thumb nails. “I want to ask a favor.”
“What kind of a favor?”
“I wanted to ask you if you’ve seen anything suspicious around the house lately. Involving Eadie.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Anything out of the ordinary. Phone calls or people dropping by.”
“I don’t care what Eadie does.”
“I’m sure you don’t, but I’m asking you to keep your eyes open.”
“You want me to spy on my sister?”
“If you want to call it that.”
“The other day she got a call that she took in the kitchen,” Carson said. “As soon as she hung up, she said she had to leave. Nobody else was here, so she asked me to watch Mickey for a while.”
“Did she say where she was going?”
“No, but she changed her clothes posthaste and then she left.”
“How long was she gone?”
“I don’t know. About an hour.”
“Did she drive her car?”
“No, somebody picked her up in a red car.”
“One of her girlfriends?”
“I don’t think so. It was a man driving.”
Leslie nodded his head and stood up from the bed. “You have a camera, don’t you?”
“Take a picture of the red car and of the man driving it. Don’t let him see you. Try to get the license plate number if you can.”
“That means I’d have to take the picture out the window.”
Leslie went over to the window and looked out. “You have a clear view of the street from here and, best of all, nobody will see you.”
“I don’t know if I want to get involved in a domestic dispute,” Carson said.
“There’s plenty more where that came from,” Leslie said, tapping the two-dollar bill on his way out of the room.
Carson didn’t have to wait long to get some pictures. On Friday afternoon, as soon as he got home from school, Eadie left in a hurry. Mickey was taking his nap. Carson was the only one at home.
He ran up to his room and aimed his camera out the window. Eadie got into the red car. Picture number one. The red car pulled into the driveway across the street to turn around, affording a clear view of the license plate. Picture number two. As the car backed out onto the street to turn around, Carson got a perfect view of the man driving. Shiny black hair and dark glasses. Picture number three.
He went downstairs to make sure Mickey was still sleeping and then he went into the kitchen and had a peanut butter sandwich and a root beer. After that he went back up to his room and read from his history book for an hour or so until he heard a car stop out front. He went to the window and aimed the camera.
Eadie got out of the car. As she started to walk away, the man got out, too, and, meeting Eadie halfway around the car, took her by the arm. They kissed the way people kiss in movies. Carson got it all on film.
When presented with proof of Eadie’s infidelity, Leslie was shocked but not terribly surprised. He packed his suitcases and left the house. His only message to Eadie was that she would hear from his lawyer and that he, Leslie, would seek custody of Mickey.
Leslie was going to give Carson fifty dollars for the pictures that ended his marriage to Eadie. Carson wouldn’t take it. He didn’t want money. He had something far better.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp
Selected Places: Anthology of Short Stories
From Simone Press
(My short story, “Find Out Where the Train is Going” is in this brand-new short story anthology.)
With short stories by Fariel Shafee, Gillian Rioja, John Mueter, Victoria Whittaker, Matthew McKiernan, Melodie Corrigall, William Doreski, Priscilla Cook, Rob Pope, Billie Louise Jones, Stephen McQuiggan, Katarina Boudreaux, Thomas Larsen, Michael Estabrook, Allen Kopp, Jim Meirose, Ken Leland, Gary Beck, Columbkill Noonan, Paul Lamble.
Available from Amazon for $12.99 at this link:
Reggie ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Grandma spooned ice cream into two bowls and set the bowls on the table. Reggie began eating his ice cream with relish, taking big bites and making little moaning noises as he always did when he ate something that tasted especially good.
“You gave him more than you gave me,” Lane said, looking from one bowl to the other.
“They were the same,” grandma said.
“They were not the same. You always give him more than you give me.”
“You can have my bowl,” Reggie said. “I don’t mind.”
“After you’re already eaten half of it and slobbered over the rest? How stupid do you think I am?”
“Next time I’ll weigh the ice cream ounce for ounce to make sure they’re the same,” grandma said. “That’s the only way you’ll be satisfied.”
Reggie looked at Lane across the table with his sparkling blue eyes, and the way he smiled at her, in his smug, mocking way, made her hate him more than ever.
“I’d like to drop a brick on your head,” Lane said.
“Go ahead and try it,” he said.
“Leave your brother alone!” grandma said. “He’s not bothering you.”
“He always bothers me. He bothers me just by being where I can see him.”
“I’m afraid you’re one of those that will always find a reason to be unhappy,” grandma said.
“She’s not right in the head,” Reggie said and nearly fell off the chair laughing.
“I’m a lot more right in the head than you’ll ever be!”
“Bicker, bicker, bicker!” grandma said. “You are just going to have to try to get along.”
“I just don’t like him!” Lane said.
“I don’t care,” Reggie said. “I don’t like you, either.”
That was one of the things she hated about him most. He never backed down. When she said something mean to him, he always came back with something just as mean or meaner.
“You may find one day,” grandma said, “that all you have in this world is each other.”
“That will never happen,” Lane said.
She began taking dainty bites of her ice cream, already half-melted, and refused to look again at Reggie. He was enjoying his ice cream too much to suit her. She’d like to put some rat poison in it. He was always too happy, too sure of himself. She hated him more than she hated any other person on earth.
After Reggie finished his ice cream and went outside to play, Lane told herself it really wasn’t right to hate Reggie. She had been saved in church and she knew that as a good Christian she shouldn’t hate anybody, especially her own brother.
Well, she didn’t exactly hate him, then. And she didn’t really want him dead, either. She did, however, wish he had never been born. But, since he was born without anybody seeking her opinion in the matter, she wished somebody living in another state would adopt him and take him away to a place where she would never have to see him again.
Just think! No more Reggie! No more little white underpants for her to fold on laundry day and put in his drawer. No more having to share the back seat with him when they went on trips. No more having to give him one of her Twinkies out of her cellophane wrapper that held two. No more hearing mother coo about what a wonderful speller or what a good roller skater he is. No more having people make over him, patting him on his perfect blond head and telling him what lovely blue eyes he has while they ignore her as if she isn’t even there.
She had listened with interest to the talk going around about a child snatcher on the loose. People liked to talk about it and how awful it was. They said there were two of them driving around in a car. Not always the same car but different cars. The snatchers looked for children alone and when they found one, they stopped the car and grabbed the child and threw him into the back of the car and drove off. Nobody ever saw the child again.
She wished—without telling anybody, of course—that the snatcher would come and take little Reggie away. Not kill him or hurt him, but take him away someplace else and give him another life that he would end up liking. That would be the best thing for everybody concerned. Mother and daddy and grandma would be upset about it at first, of course, but after a while they’d get used to it. Not knowing what happened to Reggie would be the thing that would make them think it had all turned out for the best.
Any time she was slighted in the portioning out of ice cream or in any other way, she indulged in these fantasies.
In the afternoon, grandma had a headache and went to lay down for a while in her room. Lane took her library book and made herself comfortable in the big porch swing on the back porch. She opened her book and lay her head back on the pillow and began reading.
Grandma’s yard sloped down to the road behind the house about a hundred and fifty feet. Reggie was down close to the road, sitting with his back to the house, playing with the next-door neighbor’s dog, trying to get it to catch a ball in its mouth. Lane heard the dog yipping and heard Reggie laughing and talking to the dog. She concentrated on her reading and tried to tune out the noise.
She heard a car stop at the foot of grandma’s yard, heard the brakes squeal. She raised up to look over the top of the porch railing and saw a dark-green car. A man got out of the car and Reggie stood up. The man motioned to Reggie and Reggie threw the ball to the dog and went over to the man.
The man was tall and thin but Lane couldn’t see what he looked like because he wore a hat and wore dark, baggy clothing. He reached out and touched Reggie on the shoulder. They talked back and forth for a minute and then the man opened the rear door of the car and Reggie got in. He wasn’t forced in; he seemed to get in of his own accord. The man closed the door, got into the car himself, and the car drove off.
Lane wasn’t sure what she had just seen. She thought about it for a minute and then, finding herself very drowsy, went to sleep.
When she awoke, the sunny day had turned cloudy and it seemed to be about to rain. She scanned the back yard, expecting Reggie to be there, but she saw no one, not even the dog. When she went into the house, grandma turned from the stove where she was fixing supper.
“Where’s Reggie?” she asked.
“How should I know?” Lane said.
“Wasn’t he out back with you?”
“He was out back but he wasn’t with me.”
She wanted to tell grandma about the green car but decided it was in her best interests not to. Everybody would take Reggie’s side, as they always did, and she would end up getting in trouble.
At nine o’clock that night, Reggie still hadn’t turned up. Grandma, mother and daddy were in the living room. Dressed in her pajamas and bath robe, Lane stood just out of sight and listened. Mother was crying and grandma was trying to keep from crying. Daddy was mad, trying to keep from yelling at somebody for not taking better care of his son.
Lane walked into the room where they were. Mother took her by the hand.
“You didn’t see anything?” mother asked.
“Not a thing,” Lane said.
“Well, I’m calling the police,” daddy said. “Maybe they can find him.”
Lane went upstairs to her room, closed and locked the door. She looked at herself in the mirror. She had a very happy expression on her face, which she would have to try to keep hidden until this whole thing had been carried out to its inevitable conclusion.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp
And Now a Word from Our Sponsor ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Mrs. Gloria Dawkins has been a widow for fifteen years. She is all alone in the world and loves her TV. She knows all the shows and loves them all. They make her laugh and sometimes they make her cry. They lift her up and take her out of herself. They make her think of something other than her aloneness. TV is her never-failing companion. People may die or go off and leave you, but TV is forever. Just get up and go out of the room or go to the store and buy something or go into the hospital and have an operation and when you come back TV is still there for you.
A certain TV station never goes off the air. It broadcasts all night long to accommodate its constant viewers, like Mrs. Dawkins, and its night shifters who get off work at one or two in the morning. Old movies usually run through the night.
It’s two in the morning. Mrs. Dawkins is lying on the couch, watching a movie with her favorite movie star of all time, Miss Joan Crawford. Joan’s perfect face is marred by a terrible scar that draws her eye down and makes her look like a ghoul. She’s had the scar since childhood and it turns her into a criminal and a blackmailer. She’s currently blackmailing an adulterous woman, whose husband is a doctor. While Joan is tormenting the woman she’s blackmailing, she meets the woman’s husband and it’s Melvyn Douglas. Since he is a doctor, he immediately takes a professional interest in the scar on Joan’s face. He has worked on cases like it, he says, and he believes he might be able to help.
The movie is interrupted by a stream of commercials for cat food, cars, soap, bug killer, shampoo, toothpaste, hemorrhoid suppositories, nasal spray, breakfast cereal, wrinkle cream, lawn mowers, fruit drink, hair dye for men, eye bag remover, exercise equipment, coffee makers, popcorn and lift chairs. Mrs. Dawkins’s attention wavers during the interval and she falls into a very deep sleep.
She had thought often about how she would die, but she never believed it would be so easy. Without pain and without consciousness of what is happening, she goes from sleep to death in the wink of an eye. Without a twinge of pain, her heart simply stops beating and her breathing ceases. It’s a death that anybody might envy.
Well, the TV plays on, of course. There’s nothing to stop it.
The weeks go by and the months and we see just how alone Mrs. Dawkins is. No visitors drop by to check on her, no relatives or neighbors. Nobody ever gives her a thought or cares if she lives or dies. It’s just her and her TV, which plays on, through the change of the seasons. Summer ends and fall turns to winter, and then spring comes around again. It’s been a year now, and still the TV plays on.
One year and then two, and still the TV plays on ceaselessly. The shows come and go: the game shows, the movies, the news bulletins, the sporting events, the cartoons, the police dramas, the soap operas, the situation comedies, the beauty pageants and award shows.
For many long months Mrs. Dawkins is a horrible mess lying there dead, but after a while the mice, ants, bugs (and the occasional crow that somehow gets into the house) consume all her flesh and she’s just a skeleton lying there in her pajamas and bathrobe. Not horrible at all, just a skeleton lying there in her clothes with an afghan she made herself covering her legs. If you had a camera you would want to take a picture of her. A ghoulish picture but really not without a touch of sweetness.
Three years pass and still the TV plays on. Nobody knows that Mrs. Dawkins is lying there dead. Nobody ever thinks of Mrs. Dawkins. Nobody knows she exists. The people who knew her have all died or gone away.
Huey Belasco is a bum. Not a hobo or a homeless man but a bum. He steals what he can, drinks what he can, injects into his body whatever he can. Some other bums are after him for stealing their money. It wasn’t that much—only about six dollars or so—but they will kill him if they get the chance. They’re after him and they’re getting closer. He picks Mrs. Dawkins’s little house among all the other houses in her falling-down neighborhood and breaks in.
It’s easy to force the lock on the back door. He’s met with a terrible smell that he can’t identify: a closed-up smell, like a tomb, but also it’s something else, like socks that have been worn a long time without being washed.
He finds himself in a small kitchen, dark but with just light enough to see where he’s going. Wait a minute! He hears something! A low murmur. It’s a TV turned low. Somebody is home after all. He starts to leave again, but he knows he’d rather deal with what’s inside the house than what’s outside.
He goes from the kitchen into the next room, which is a small dining area. Just beyond that is the living room where the TV is. The glow from the TV lets him see the rest of the room. There are a couple of chairs, some pictures on the wall, a table with a lamp, and a couch.
Slowly walking around the couch, he doesn’t make a sound. When he sees Mrs. Dawkins—or what’s left of her—from the glow of the TV screen, he lets out a little yelp and jumps back. He thinks for a moment he is going to be sick. After he recovers himself, he takes a closer look at Mrs. Dawkins and right away he knows she has been dead for a long time. There isn’t even much of a smell because all her flesh is gone. That tells him that nobody—nobody living, that is—has been in the house for months or maybe years and he will be safe there for the time being.
He is so exhausted from running and feels so bad from his lung and stomach troubles that he lays down on the floor right there in the living room and goes to sleep.
When he awakes, it’s daylight again. He looks at Mrs. Dawkins, as if expecting to see that she has moved, but of course she is the same. He goes into the kitchen and looks to see if there is anything to eat. In the freezer are some rectangular packages of vegetables, covered with ice. Even to a starving man, they aren’t very appetizing.
He opens the doors of the cabinets and finds some cans of stuff, spaghetti and fruit and soup. Finding a can opener in the drawer by the sink, he opens a can of chicken noodle soup, a thing he always liked when he was a child, and, taking a spoon from the same drawer where the can opener was, begins eating right out of the can.
Then a thought occurs to him. There’s a stove. There must be some pans somewhere. He finds a pan, empties the can of soup into the pan, sets it on the burner and when he turns the knob the burner comes to life with a blue flame. He heats the soup and when it is warm enough he sits down at the little table and eats it out of the pan as if he is in his own home.
After he finishes eating, he goes into the bathroom and looks into the medicine cabinet above the sink. There are several bottles of pills, none that he knows the use of except sleeping pills. Sleeping pills he can use. For later.
He hasn’t had a bath in so long he can’t remember the last time. He takes off his stinking clothes and fills the tub with water and steps in. With a bar of soap he lathers his body all over. Then he soaks for an hour or so in the warm water and when he gets out he dries himself with a towel that’s hanging above the tub and goes into the bedroom. Now that he’s clean, he doesn’t want to put his filthy old clothes back on. He needs something to wear.
He rifles through the closet and finds only women’s clothes. Well, that’s all right; he’s worn them before. He selects a dress of soft brown material and steps into it and puts his arms through the arm holes and fastens the dress in the back while looking at himself in the dresser mirror. A perfect fit. He doesn’t look too silly, he thinks. Only moderately silly. Nobody will ever see him and even if they do he’s past caring.
He sits for hours in the comfortable chair opposite the couch where Mrs. Dawkins reclines and he feels at home for the first time in years. The TV is still on, of course, but he doesn’t pay much attention. The sound of it is comforting in a way. He would never think of turning it off or changing the channel. It’s the way she wanted it and it’s the way it will stay for as long as there’s a God in heaven.
Looking at Mrs. Dawkins, he begins to wonder what she was like when she was alive. Did she have a husband? Children? What did she like to do besides watch TV? Wearing her clothes, eating her food and enjoying the hospitality of her house as he is, he begins to feels a connection to her. The more time he spends in her company, the more he begins to think of her as mother and protector.
He never though much of his own mother, or she of him. She was a drug addict. She used to hit him in the head with her fists, throw lighted matches at him, and lock him in the closet and then forget he was there. She died of a drug overdose when he was fifteen. He lived with an uncle, his mother’s brother, for two years after his mother’s death, but he ran away when he was wanted in connection with a gas station holdup and has been on the run ever since.
Now, at age twenty-seven, he knows his time on this earth is drawing to a close. He is sick most of the time. Sometimes he can’t breathe. He coughs up blood and has blackout spells. He has tuberculosis, he knows. He’s been on the streets for the better part of ten years, a life he abhors and would never wish on anybody. He envies Mrs. Dawkins in a way. She has left this awful world behind and has journeyed to a place where nothing bad can ever happen to her again.
He spends five days in Mrs. Dawkins’ company, without ever knowing her name. He eats her food and sleeps on her bed and studies her skeleton face by the hour. He sees the lights of police cars outside the house and he knows they have come for him. No—wait a minute!—that’s something that’s happening on the TV. He hears footsteps and voices just outside around the house and his heart pounds because it’s real and not on the TV, and he’s sick all over again and then he’s so weak he can’t stand and he cries for it all to be over.
It’s two o’clock in the morning, exactly five days since he came into Mrs. Dawkins’ company. He’s thankful for many things, but mostly he’s thankful to have come to a place where he can lay his head down for the last time. A place that’s not an alley or a filthy city sidewalk or a derelict building or even a hospital. He feels at peace with himself and with the world and he knows he may never find a better time than this to take his leave.
He pours the sleeping pills from the bathroom into his palm and counts them. There are eighteen. He’s weak and sick already, so he believes eighteen will be enough. He washes them down with a part bottle of sherry he found in the cabinet above the refrigerator. Right away he begins to feel an overpowering drowsiness.
He lays down beside Mrs. Dawkins on the couch; there’s enough room for both of them; neither of them are very large or take up much space. He puts his right arm over her abdomen and his nose close to where her left ear would be if she still had an ear. He feels a sublime peace unlike any he has ever known before. They will meet in the by and by, he knows, and he will have the chance to tell her all that happened.
The TV plays on, of course. There’s nothing to stop it.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp