Twenty-Minute Rest Stop ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Paul Penlow waited two hours for the bus and when it came he was the first to board. He took a seat in the back next to the window and watched the other passengers as they boarded and took their seats. When about half the seats were taken, the big-bellied driver got on, took a quick look behind him, and roared off the narrow parking lot onto the highway.
In the next small town, the bus stopped to take on more passengers. Three nearly identical old ladies with white hair boarded, moved slowly down the aisle, and surrounded Paul Penlow where he sat. Two sat in the seat in front of him and the other one took the aisle seat to his left.
He could have stood the intrusion of the trio into “his” space, but what he could not tolerate was the smell of their perfume. He would become ill if had to breathe it all the way to where he was going. He considered standing up and moving to another seat (there were plenty) but instead he opened the window a couple of inches and let the wind blow in his face.
“Do you mind, kiddo?” the old woman beside him said. “This is not a good day to be blown away.”
“I could move to another seat,” he said.
“Oh, please don’t do that! I want you to stay right where you are!”
“You could move to another seat.”
“Yes, but why would I do that? I just sat down and this is where I want to be.”
“I have asthma,” he said. “I need the window open to help me breathe.”
“Well, in that case let’s compromise. You keep the window open one inch instead of two and I’ll put on my headscarf.”
She took a lavender headscarf out of her purse, put in on her head and tied it under her chin.
“That’s better,” she said.
“Are you three sisters?” Paul asked.
They all three laughed the same musical laugh.
“Not only are we sisters but we’re triplets! It’s quite rare. I’ll bet you’ve never met any triplets before, have you?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“We were all born within one hour of each other on October the tenth. I won’t tell you what year because then you’d know how old we are! I’m Peg and these are my sisters Dot and Lou.”
“I’m Paul,” he said.
Dot and Lou turned around in their seats so they could shake his hand.
“We travel a lot, the three of us,” Peg said. “You meet some interesting people when you travel. Any time we take a bus trip, we always try to find a nice young person to sit with. It doesn’t matter if it’s a he or a she. If you strike up an interesting conversation with your seatmate, it makes the trip that much more enjoyable.”
Dot and Lou stayed turned around so they could join in the conversation.
“Everybody has a story,” Dot said, “and most of the stories are more interesting than you could ever imagine.”
“I have a story,” Paul said. “I’m going home. I haven’t been home for three years. I’ll bet you’d never guess where I’ve been.”
“At sea?” Lou asked.
“No. Guess again.”
“No, but you’re getting warm.”
“I know where you’ve been,” Peg said. “You’ve been in a mental hospital.”
“That’s right! How did you know?”
“Oh, I know things about people.”
“She’s been doing it all her life,” Dot said. “She looks at people and knows things about them that nobody else knows.”
“What else do you know about me?” he asked.
“Well, let’s see,” Peg said. “You killed somebody but you didn’t mean to.”
“Why, that’s uncanny!” he said.
“Who did you kill?” Lou asked. “Was it your wife?”
“No, I never had a wife. It was my father.”
“Why did you kill him?” Peg asked.
“I had a mental disorder. I thought he was somebody other than who he was. I was afraid of him. I thought he was going to kill my mother and me, so I killed him first.”
“Who did you think he was?” Dot asked.
“I thought he was a demon like you see in a horror movie. The demon had killed the man who was really my father and taken over his body. He was just waiting until the time was right to kill me too.”
“Did the demon have horns?” Peg asked.
“Yes, horns, and eyes that glowed like coals.”
“How did you kill him? Did you shoot him?”
“No, I strangled him with a length of rope. It was so easy! I was so strong!”
“So what happened after that?” Lou asked.
“My mother found him dead in his bed the next morning with the rope still around his neck. She called the police. When they came, they knew right away I had done it, but of course I denied it.”
“Oh, that’s a sad story!” Peg said.
“Those are the best kind!” Dot said.
“They were going to lock me up in the penitentiary for the rest of my life, but psychiatrists examined me and said I had a textbook mental illness. I didn’t kill my father because I hated him or because he was mean to me or anything like that. I killed him, I believed, to save myself. They put me in a hospital for the dangerously insane. Now, after three years, they’re letting me go home. They say I’m cured. If you want to know the truth, I think they wanted my room to give to somebody else.”
“Are you cured?” Lou asked.
“No, I don’t think so. Not entirely, anyway. Do you know what I’m going to do when I get home?”
“We live on a farm. Out back is an old barn. When I was little I liked to play in the barn to get away from my family and be alone. The barn has a hayloft and strong rafters. I’m going to climb up into the hayloft, tie a rope to one of the rafters with the other end around my neck, and jump off.”
“You’re going to kill yourself?”
“That’s right. I’ve been thinking about it for three years. It’s the only reason I’m going back home. There’s no other reason, really.”
“I won’t tell you you shouldn’t do it,” Peg said. “I’m sure you already know that.”
“I made up my mind a long time ago.”
“Well, if that’s what you want,” Peg said, “you’re a grown-up person.”
“C’est la vie!” Lou said.
“The world will go on without you,” Dot said.
“I sure would like to see my mother’s face when she finds me hanging there.”
“Won’t it be awfully upsetting for her?” Peg asked.
“I think she’ll be glad. She never really liked me.”
At the next twenty-minute rest stop, he got off the bus, while the triplet sisters stayed in their seats. He had to stand in line outside the door to the men’s room and when he was finished there, he had to stand in line to buy a Coke out of a vending machine.
He bought four Cokes. He thought the triplet sisters would appreciate a cold drink on a warm day. He had always been thoughtful that way; generous, you might say.
He had a little trouble carrying four Cokes in two hands, but he couldn’t keep from smiling as he re-boarded the bus. He stopped in the aisle, though, Cokes in hands, when he saw the triplet sisters were no longer there. He thought for a minute he was on the wrong bus, but, no, it was the same driver and the same passengers. It was the same bus, all right.
He drank all four Cokes and when he was finished he stowed the empty bottles under the seat. When he got home, he wouldn’t be hungry and wouldn’t need to eat before going to bed. His stomach was full of Coca-Cola.
His mother sure would be surprised he was home after all this time. He had been going to call her and tell her he was coming, but he somehow forgot.
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp
Muscle for the Wing ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
We first met boxer-turned-policeman Rene Shade in Daniel Woodrell’s 1986 novel, Under the Bright Lights. He’s back two years later in Muscle for the Wing, another crime romp set in the fictional bayou city of St. Bruno. Muscle for the Wing is not as atmospheric as Under the Bright Lights, but there’s still plenty of murder, mayhem and people doing ugly things to each other.
Wanda Bone Bouvier is the redhaired femme fatale in Muscle for the Wing. (She inflames men’s passions, don’t you know.) She’s married to the much-older Ronnie Bouvier, who is behind bars. She claims to love Ronnie, but that does not keep her from being carnally unfaithful with tough-guy Emil Jadick. She’s going to get revenge on Emil for Ronnie’s sake (and at his direction from the state penitentiary), but she admits openly that she “digs” Emil’s muscular body. (She’s a good-time girl who will take her fun wherever she can get it.) Emil wants Wanda to be his number-one girl—and his alone—not knowing she will eventually hurt him in a big way. When she gets a job as a do-anything stripper in a naughty nightclub, it’s all part of Ronnie’s plan.
When young, off-duty police officer Gerry Bell is shot to death at a gentlemen’s poker game at the country club by intruders set on robbing the wealthy poker players, police officer Rene Shade is called in to figure out what happened. Evidence leads to Emil Jadick and his two dimwitted associates, all members of a white supremacist prison clique called “the Wing.”
World-weary, boxer-turned-policeman Rene Shade has lived in St. Bruno his whole life; he knows the city and he knows the people. In investigating the murder of Gerry Bell, he’s drawn into a morass of crime and corruption, involving some of his old friends and associates, including friend-since-childhood Shuggie Zeck, who beats his wife to a bloody pulp. In St. Bruno, everybody is tainted in some way. There’s no such thing as innocence. Everybody is guilty of something. You can’t even tell the good people from the bad ones.
Daniel Woodrell is one of the best current American writers. If you like redneck noir, nobody does it better. His books are a delight to read, even if you are on your second reading. I highly recommend The Death of Sweet Mister and Tomato Red.
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp