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Walk by on the Road

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Walk by on the Road ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“Where does the baby come out?” he asked.

“None of your business,” she said. “You don’t need to bother with things like that until you’re a grown-up man, and maybe not even then.”

A shining example of the cruelty of nature and of the world in general: children having children of their own.

Eunice was born in the first month of the first year of the twentieth century, making her seventeen at the time of which we speak. Not a womanish seventeen but a childish seventeen, and with a baby due any day now. Her husband, George Coyle, had left her. She didn’t entirely blame George. He was in trouble for something he didn’t do and had no intention of going to jail. He was keeping out of sight until the trouble was over. He’d be back to get Eunice and the baby as soon as he could. She was sure of it.

The only person Eunice had with her was Del, her brother. He was thirteen and far from being a man. Del was scared when he saw Eunice lying on the bed, looking like she was going to die. It had been a difficult pregnancy. She felt so bad all the time and couldn’t keep anything down. There was no doctor, only Miss Settles, the midwife. She had come two times and had taken a look at Eunice and said everything was fine. Come and get me when it’s time, she said. Until then, just stay down as much as you can and don’t exert yourself.

“I think I’ll name the baby Ouida,” Eunice said. “A name I saw once in a story book.”

“I don’t want to be no daddy,” Del said.

“What?”

“I said I don’t want to be no daddy!”

Eunice laughed. “You don’t know anything,” she said. “George is the daddy. You’re the uncle.”

“I don’t want to be no uncle, either.”

“Don’t be cranky with me! I’m not the cause of your troubles.”

“You’re the one married George. Nobody forced you to it.”

“I married him because I loved him. Still do.”

Eunice and Del’s mother and father, Lester and Adele Pierce, had gone away before George Coyle disappeared. Adele was insane and was confined to the state mental hospital in the town of Bellibeau fifty miles away. After Adele left, Lester took up with another woman and went off to be with her. Lester left believing that George Coyle would take care of Eunice and Del until he decided to return. George would just naturally take care of Eunice, his wife, but Eunice’s brother, Del, was another matter. Lester made George Coyle promise that he would look after Del as if he were one of his own kin.

“Don’t worry,” George had said. “I won’t let anything happen to him.”

Of course, that was before the trouble that was the cause of George running off.

Del and Eunice were left with a little money to buy food. Del was in charge of buying the groceries. He bought a loaf of bread or a small box of crackers at a time and a little bit of meat and sometimes turnips or corn. He longed to buy candy or little cakes or soda pop, but he knew those things were going to have to wait. One day, he knew, he’d have as much money as he wanted to buy any kind of food his heart desired.

Eunice had told Del as soon as they were left alone: “Don’t tell anybody it’s just the two of us. They’ll come and take you away and put you in an orphanage and make you go to school. They’ll probably throw me in jail for being in my condition and having no husband to throw rocks at.”

These warnings made Del reticent with strangers. When he noticed the storekeeper or people on the street looking at him with more the usual amount of interest, he put his head down and hurried to remove himself from their presence before they had a chance to grow too inquisitive.

On a soggy day in spring, Del was in the store buying something for his and Eunice’s supper that would need to last two days. He had a can of vegetable soup in his hands, a can of peaches and two potatoes, and when he went to pay for them, Hennepin, the storekeeper, gave him an evil look with his one squinty eye.

“Lester Pierce is your daddy, ain’t he?” Hennepin asked.

“Yeah,” Del said.

“You say ‘yes. sir’ when you speakin’ to me.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ain’t seen old Lester around in a while. Where’s he keepin’ hisself these days?”

“He, uh, he had to go away for a while,” Del said. “He’ll be back, though.”

With just those few words, Del was afraid he had already told too much.

“Had to go away where?” Hennepin asked.

“I don’t know for sure. Up north somewhere.”

“Well, the next time you see your daddy, you tell him he owes Hennepin money and that Hennepin wants his money.”

Hennepin gave Del his thirteen cents in change and Del ran all the way home to tell Eunice what Hennepin had said and to ask her what she thought they should do. As soon as he went into the house, he heard Eunice calling to him and he knew something was wrong.

She was lying on the bed, twisted in great pain. She gripped the bedsheets in her hands as though she would fall if she didn’t.

“It’s time,” she said through gritted teeth. “Run and get Miss Settles. And tell her to hurry!”

Miss Settles has just washed her hair but as soon as Del told her she was needed, she grabbed her bag and was off. Del rested for a few minutes on Miss Settles’ front porch and then ran home, getting there about the same time that Miss Settles arrived with her assistant, a large albino woman named January Maitland.

As Miss Settles and January Maitland began working over Eunice on the bed, Del stood in the background, wondering what he should do or how he might help. He winced every time Eunice thrashed or screamed and thought he might be sick.

“You don’t want to see any of this,” Miss Settles said to Del. “Why don’t you take a long walk and, once you’ve found yourself a quiet, lonely place, take yourself a nap and don’t come back until you’ve slept yourself out.”

He didn’t want to abandon Eunice but he was glad in a way that his help would not be needed and he could remove himself from the awful scene.

As he walked along the road away from the house, he indulged in fantasy. Far ahead of him, two men came toward him, an older and a younger. They were tiny specks at first, but as they got closer he knew who they were: his father, Lester Pierce, and Eunice’s husband, George Coyle.

He ran toward them and when they recognized him they both cried out and embraced him, first one and then the other. He tried not to cry but he couldn’t help it as he told them in a torrent of words that the time had come for Eunice’s baby to be born and that they were down to the last of their money and they hadn’t had much to eat for a few days. He felt such relief at being able to hand the burden over to them. After he had told them all, they would run to Eunice and take care of everything and keep her from dying. With the baby safely delivered, they would all have a sumptuous meal and sit around and laugh and talk about how terrible things were for a while but how they soon got better.

In another fantasy, he saw a woman walking toward him. She was tall and dressed in a long black dress, like a woman in a magazine photo or in moving pictures. She wore a fur piece around her shoulders and neck and a big hat with feathers. He didn’t know her at first but when she looked at him he knew it was his mother, released from the mental hospital and cured. She would know, without being told, the troubles he had been through. And now that she was back, everything would be right again. He wouldn’t have to be hungry anymore, or lonely, or worried about getting through the next day or night.

For four hours he walked, all the way to the county line. When he got back home, Miss Settles and January Maitland were coming out the door.

“I’m sorry,” Miss Settles said when she saw him. “I did all I could.”

“What?”

“The baby was born dead, a little boy, and the momma lost so much blood I couldn’t save her.”

“She’s dead?”

“I did all I could. You have my sympathy.”

He looked from the albino woman to Miss Settles and back again. They were both looking at him as though waiting to see how he would take the news. “What do I do now?” he asked.

“You don’t need to do nothing,” Miss Settles said. “Try to get word to her husband.”

“He’s run off. I don’t know where he is.”

“Look,” she said, shifting her bag from one hand to another. “My brother, Hiram Settles, will come by tomorrow to perform the burial. In the meantime, sit with her tonight. Say your goodbyes. That’s what family does. Light a candle and say a prayer for the repose of her soul.”

He nodded his head; stepped toward the door and hesitated.

“You don’t need to be afraid to go in there,” Miss Settles said. “There’s no mess. We cleaned it all up. They’re lying side by side on the bed. They look like they’re asleep. There’s nothing equal to the peace of death.”

Near starved, he ate the food he had bought at Hennepin’s store. He ate all of it, without thinking of saving any for later. When he was finished, it was nighttime and a hard rain, punctuated by lightning and thunder, was pelting the little house. He lit the candle his mother kept behind the cook stove and carried it to the bed.

Miss Settles was right. His sister, childlike as she was, looked to be asleep. Her dead, nameless baby lying beside her might have been a doll she had been playing with before she drifted off.

He pulled the rocker up beside the bed, placed the candle on the bedside table and sat down. He tried to think of a prayer for his sister and her baby, as Miss Settles told him to do, but he didn’t know any prayers and couldn’t think of the right words, even if he tried. Looking at the two of them, he believed they were already in heaven and wouldn’t be helped by anything he might say or do.

He slept sitting up in the rocker. His full stomach and the sound of the rain helped him.

Once in the night he heard somebody at the front door. He got up and opened the door and his father, Lester Pierce, was standing there in the wet dark. Del took Lester by the hand and led him over to the bed. Lester stood there, hollow-eyed and emotionless, looking at his dead daughter and grandson. Del started to say something but a clap of thunder woke him and he knew it had only been a dream.

In the morning, barely daylight, Hiram Settles and his young graveyard assistant came to take away the bodies of Eunice and her baby. They were businesslike and barely looked at Del as he held the door for them. Del watched them as they drove away on the muddy road until he could no longer see them. The rain had stopped, though, and soon the sun would be shining again.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

1930 Austin Roadster

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1930 Austin Roadster as seen in the 1931 Buster Keaton comedy film, Parlor, Bedroom and Bath. (From “Vintage Handsome Men” blog.)

Bacchus ~ A Painting by Peter Paul Rubens

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Bacchus (1638-1640) by Peter Paul Rubens

In this famous painting by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), the god Bacchus is flabby and out of shape from overindulgence. In the clever parody below, Bacchus has been replaced by a large orange cat, corpulent, no doubt, from overindengence.

 

Thick Ankles

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Thick Ankles ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He heard her voice downstairs and recognized her tread across the floor. She’d be up—he knew it—but it would take a long time, she had grown so fat. He smelled her awful perfume already; the whole house would smell of it long after she had left. He counted to himself the seconds it would take her to get up the stairs. He heard her pulling herself up by the banister; heard her huffing, her joints creaking. He pretended to be asleep, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Before he was ready, she burst into the room like a steer out of a chute, throwing out her arms like the winner in a beauty pageant. He wouldn’t have been surprised if she had thrown some kisses.

“Uncle Hale!” she almost screamed. “You old rascal! How in the heck are you doing today?”

He opened his eyes and managed a weak smile. “How do you think?” he asked. “Now that you’re here, I’m worse than ever.”

“Always the joker!” she said. “You’ll be cracking jokes right up until the very end, won’t you?”

“What can I do for you today, Pert?” he asked. “You must want something or you wouldn’t be here.”

“Well, can’t a girl pay her old uncle a visit?”

He gestured toward her wide hips as if to indicate a girl was not the thing she was, but she didn’t catch the implication. Instead she plopped herself down in the nearest chair and placed her patent leather pocketbook daintily over her broad thighs.

“I swear!” Uncle Hale said, looking down at her feet. “Your ankles are as thick as logs.”

Suddenly Pert was solemn. “Well, if you must know,” she said, “they’re swollen.”

“Why are they swollen?”

“They’re swollen with worry.”

He laughed. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that condition. Usually worry makes your stomach hurt or your hair turn gray. Worry doesn’t usually make your ankles swell.”

“Well, a lot you know.”

“Where’s Alveda?” he asked. “I want her in the room.”

“Why?” Pert asked.

“Because if she’s in the room, plopping up the pillows and taking my temperature every few minutes, you won’t be inclined to stay so long.”

“I left her downstairs,” Pert said. “I told her she didn’t need to show me up.”

“Well, I want her here, or you’re going to have to leave.”

“Why?”

“I want my nurse with me, that’s why.”

“She’s not really a nurse,” Pert said, but she stood up and went out of the room to the head of the stairs and screamed down: “Alveda! He wants you in the room! For some reason that only God knows!”

When she went back into the room, Uncle Hale was shaking his head. “A voice like that ought to win you a first-place ribbon in a hog-calling contest.”

“Well, I’m sure I didn’t come here to be insulted,” she said, taking her handkerchief out of her pocketbook and fanning it in front of her face.

“Which brings us back to the original question,” he said. “Why are you here?”

“David’s in trouble again. We need to get him a lawyer.”

“What is it this time?”

“Well, the kids were drinking and having a barbecue or something. There was a rape. There were about five boys. David was one of them. They all say the girl was willing, but after she got back to town she wasn’t so willing anymore. She went to the sheriff’s office and charges were filed.”

“And David is innocent, I suppose?”

“He says he didn’t do anything. He was just there, he says. Never laid a finger or any other part of his anatomy on the girl.”

“Of course, that’s the story he would tell to his mother.”

“It’s serious this time, Uncle Hale. We need to get him a good lawyer. No mother wants to see her child in prison.” She sniffled into her hankie. “That’s why my ankles are swollen.”

Alveda, Uncle Hale’s nurse, pushed open the door and came into the room just as Pert was working herself up into a good cry. Pert immediately stiffened her back to let Alveda know she disliked her.

“Did you want something, Mr. Hale?” Alveda asked.

“I want you in the room so this old heifer will go away and leave me alone.”

Alveda smiled at his little joke and took a seat in a chair against the wall on the other side of the room that was hardly ever sat upon.

Pert managed a little laugh so that Alveda would know his calling her an old heifer didn’t bother her in the least. “I’d be careful who you’re calling names,” she said airily. “I could think of a few to call you too, old man, without trying very hard.”

“It’s true,” Uncle Hale said. “I am an old man. Nobody will dispute that fact. I remember when you were born. I was thirteen years old. You were my brother Ivan’s child. He was eleven years older than me. So, if I’m eighty-three now and I was thirteen when you were born, that means you’re seventy years old now.”

“What of it?” Pert asked.

“Well, if you call me old, that means I can call you old, too.”

“So what? It’s all in good fun.”

“So, that’s your idea of fun? Me calling you old and you calling me old?”

“For your information, I’m not seventy yet, not until November. I’m sixty-nine.”

“Well, that makes all the difference in the world, then, doesn’t it?”

“I didn’t come here to talk about my age,” Pert said. “I need eighteen thousand dollars and I need it bad.”

“Good God!” Uncle Hale said. “Is that how much it takes to retain a lawyer in a rape case?”

“It’s not just for a lawyer. It’s for other expenses, too.”

“What other expenses?”

“I have doctor bills.”

“You’ve had to see a doctor?”

The tears started flowing again and she dabbed at each eye in turn with her hankie. “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I’m dying.”

“What is it this time?”

“I have a terribly weak heart.”

“Too many cigarettes.”

“I had to give up smoking.”

“If you’d lose a couple hundred pounds,” he said, “your heart would be able to pump blood the way it’s supposed to.”

“Please stop joking for one moment and listen to me,” she said. “The doctor has given me no more than six months to live.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“It’s not so much myself that I care about. It’s David. I’m all he has in the world. I’m afraid I’ll die while he’s in this rape mess and there won’t be anybody to help him through it.”

“How old is David now?”

“He’s thirty-nine.”

“Most men age thirty-nine no longer rely on their mothers to pull them along through life.”

“David is not like others,” she said. “He was a breach birth. He came out feet first. The doctor thought he would die right away but he survived and I think the only reason he survived was because he had a mother like me.”

“And he’s been nothing but trouble ever since.”

“Having children is like a game of roulette. You spin the wheel and you don’t know what you’ll get. You hope they turn out well and most of the time they do, but when they don’t you have to take the bad with the good and help them through whatever mess they make of their lives.”

“Very sad,” Uncle Hale said, “but I’m not going to give you eighteen thousand dollars.”

The tears came out in a torrent then. “Why the hell not?” she sobbed. “You’re all the family that David and I have left in the world. I have nobody else to turn to for help.”

“Forget the expensive lawyer,” Uncle Hale said. “If David is innocent, a court-appointed attorney will be good enough.”

“I’m afraid that’s too risky! I abhor the thought of dying with my son in the penitentiary and not even being able to stand beside my grave as they lower my body into the cold ground.”

“Find out who the girl is. The victim in the rape case.”

“I already know who she is. Her name is Willie Walls.”

“More than likely a tramp. She probably makes it a practice of accusing men of raping her.”

“What’s your point, Uncle Hale? You’re making me sick to my stomach talking about that terrible woman.”

“Offer her a thousand dollars to drop the case. I’ll bet that’s more money than she ever dreamed of owning in her life.”

“Why would she drop the case for a thousand dollars?”

“She’ll be exposed in court. They’ll bring up her past to discredit her. She’ll be exposed for what she really is and will lose the case and end up with nothing. If she’s offered a thousand dollars to drop the case, she’ll be spared the embarrassment of a trial and she’ll have a thousand dollars to boot.”

“I don’t know if I would try that or not,” Pert said.

“So you want to throw away thousands on a lawyer if you don’t have to?”

“I just don’t know what’s best! I’m at the end of my tether!”

“I’ve given you what I consider sound advice. That’s the best I can do.”

“Advice is one thing, but I need money! Money is the oil that greases the machinery of the world.”

“What machinery are we talking about, Pert?”

“You have this big house and I know you have plenty in stocks and securities.”

“You don’t know any such thing.”

“Are you planning on taking it with you when you die? David and I are all the family you have left. You might as well spend some of it to help us now instead of leaving it to those who don’t deserve it.”

“Once again, Pert, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It’s not as if I’ve ever asked you for much. It seems like now, when I’m pushed absolutely to the wall, you’d be able to help me out a little bit.”

“Eighteen thousand is not a little bit, dear. It’s a considerable sum of money. And if I gave you the eighteen thousand now, you’d be back again in no time with your hand extended even farther.”

“That is so mean and ungenerous of you, Uncle Hale! I will just never understand how you can be so heartless.”

All this time Alveda had been sitting across the room, her arm leaning on the occasional table next to the chair on which she sat, her attention divided between looking out the window at the street and the conversation going on in the room. Uncle Hale motioned for her to get up and cross the room to his bed.

“My niece is just leaving, Alveda,” he said. “You can show her out and make sure she understands that she won’t be admitted to this house again if she’s going to ask me for money.”

Alveda looked at Pert, but Pert remained sitting.

“Just what are you planning on doing with this house and all its furnishings after you die?” Pert asked. “At your advanced age, it must have crossed your mind at least once or twice.”

“I don’t think it’s necessary for me to divulge my business dealings to you,” Uncle Hale said.

“You are a mean, nasty, contemptible old man!”

“Good bye, dear! Drive carefully on your way home. Don’t let your heart fail you while you’re driving in traffic.”

“I want to know! Who are you going to leave your house and money to when you die? David and I are your only family! Isn’t it just right and natural that we should get everything?”

“You just informed me that you have six months to live. Why would you be concerned about inheriting a house?”

“It’s for David, you dolt!”

“So he can have drinking parties in it or turn it into a brothel? Maybe sell it on the cheap to support his drug habit?”

“You don’t know David. He’s a fine boy.”

“I’ve made Alveda my power of attorney, in all matters pertaining to my health and finances.”

What?

“She’s worked for me for more than three years, always doing what is required without complaint. She knows the meaning of loyalty, if nobody in my family does. Because of her faithfulness and her great help to me in the face of my declining health, I’ve signed the house over to her. When I die, she and her four fatherless children will make this house their home. And I trust they’ll be very happy here.”

“What? People like that don’t belong in a house like this!”

“People like what?”

“People from Shantytown!”

“Haven’t you heard? A law has been passed. People from Shantytown can live anywhere now.”

“I won’t let you get away with this! I’ll engage a lawyer. I’ll have you declared incompetent! I’ll fight you in a court of law. You can’t disinherit your only kin!”

“Be careful going down the stairs, dear. I know your girth makes stairs difficult for you to negotiate.”

“I’ll show you out, ma’am,” Alveda said.

“Don’t bother yourself!” Pert snapped.

They heard Pert going down the stairs and then the front door slam.

“Go to the window and watch her,” Uncle Hale said. “Make sure she gets into her car and drives away. She’s desperate now and might try something stupid.”

Alveda went and stood at the window and looked down into the street.

“Tell me what you see,” Uncle Hale said.

“She’s going down the walk. Stops and looks back. Takes a pack of Lucky Strikes out of her purse and lights up.”

“Had to give up smoking!” Uncle Hale said.

“Did you know she’s got a beautiful new Cadillac? It’s dark blue. Very fancy.”

“Does that sound like a woman desperately in need of money to you?”

“She opens the door but doesn’t get in just yet. She just stands there with the cigarette in the corner of her mouth and looks up and down the street. She takes a couple of deep drags on the cigarette and throws it down and stomps it out with the toe of her shoe. Now she’s reaching into the car for something.”

“Might be a gun,” Uncle Hale says.

“No, wait a minute. It’s a jacket. A fur jacket. It looks like mink. That woman has got herself a new mink fur jacket. She drapes it over her shoulders and gets into the beautiful new Cadillac and slams the door and starts the engine. She looks at herself in the mirror and pulls at the front of her hair. She puts the car in gear and checks to make sure no cars are coming. And now she’s driving away.”

“Whew!” Uncle Hale says. “What a liar and a hypocrite that woman is! It just takes everything out of me to be in the room with her for a few minutes.”

“Why don’t you take a little nap while I get lunch ready?”

“The doctor says I’m getting better and I can get up in a few days and get dressed. I want you to go downtown with me.”

“Okay.”

“It’ll be fun. I want to stop in and see my lawyer and I really will do the things I told Pert I’ve already done.”

“What things?”

“I’m going to make you my power of attorney and I’m going to put the house in your name, with the stipulation that you don’t take possession until I’m dead.”

“Do you think that’s wise? You niece will be laying for you now.”

“I can do what I damn well please. There’s not a thing she can do about it.”

“How do you know I won’t steal your money and poison you to get the house early?”

“You wouldn’t. I know. You’re not the grasping type.”

She smiled at him and went out of the room. He turned over on his side, adjusted the pillow under his head and settled himself down for a sleep that would rid himself of the memory of his niece’s fat buttocks and thick ankles. When he woke up, though, he would still be able to smell her perfume.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946)

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Alfred Stieglitz was an American photographer who lived from 1864 to 1946. He was instrumental in popularizing photography as an art form. He was married to painter Georgia O’Keefe. Below are some examples of his groundbreaking photographic work.

Grand Central Terminal (1929)

Wet Day on the Boulevard

The Last Joke (1897)

Venetian Canal (1894)

Winter on Fifth Avenue

The Steerage

City Dump

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City Dump image 1

City Dump ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a repost from November 2015 and has been published in 1947 Journal.)

When I was in the eighth grade, the Dutchman decided our old house needed a new roof. Instead of consulting the Yellow Pages to find a reputable roofer, he decided to save a few greenbacks by—no, not by doing the job himself—but by having a “friend” do it at a cut-rate price.

The price at which the friend agreed to replace the roof didn’t, oddly enough, include any clean-up. That means that pieces of the old roof dating from the time the house was built—boards, shingles, chunks of asbestos, nails, what-have-you—were scattered in the yard on all four sides of the house, looking like the scene of an unspeakable natural disaster. How many houses, I ask you, have a new roof while the old roof adorns the yard in the ugliest way imaginable?

The Dutchman’s solution to the clean-up was simple. He had a thirteen-year-old son: me. I weighed ninety-two pounds but was more than capable of picking chunks of debris out of the shrubs and off the lawn and placing them in a washtub. How many washtubs full does it take to hold the thousands of splintered pieces of an old roof? More than you can imagine.

He didn’t own a pickup truck so he borrowed one from another “friend.” (Where do all these friends come from?) It was an old dark blue truck that had seen better days. It was only a one-day loan, so that meant we only had one day to get rid of all the crap that surrounded the house. I was wishing I would lose consciousness and not regain it until well into the next week. I would rather have thirty hours of gym class than a day of enforced yard clean-up with the Dutchman.

After I got the washtub loaded up with stuff, it was too heavy to lift on my own. “Candy ass,” the Dutchman said. “You’re not worth the powder to blow you to hell.”

“I know,” I said. And I did know, as this phrase had been repeated to me in some form or another almost every day of my life.

The Dutchman saw that I could manage the loaded washtub only if he took the other handle. It occurred to him then for the first time that I didn’t have the strength of a grown man. Who knew?

With about eight tubs full of stuff, we had enough in the back of the truck to make a full load. I had to take a rake and distribute the stuff so we could get more in. Then, when the Dutchman was convinced the truck would hold no more, we headed for the city dump, about two miles outside of town. It felt good to sit down, even if the inside of the truck smelled like an old woman who never takes a bath.

At the city dump, the Dutchman carefully backed the truck as close to the edge of the embankment as he could get without going over the side, and we got out and started unloading. I stood up in the bed of the truck and tossed the stuff over the side but, of course, I wasn’t doing it fast enough to suit the Dutchman.

“Do you want to still be working at this at midnight?” he asked.

“I’m starting to feel sick,” I said.

By the time we got back to the house to begin work on the second load, it had started to rain the kind of rain you get in November: slow, cold and steady. The Dutchman made me put on a hat—not to protect my health but because he was thinking about how much money it might cost him if I got sick and had to see a doctor.

The second truckload to the city dump didn’t go any faster than the first one and, after two loads, we had made very little progress. This was taking a lot longer than the Dutchman thought it would. There weren’t going to be enough hours in the day. I was happy, maybe for the first time in my life, at the prospect of going to school the next day.

It was when we were working on the third load that an old man from the neighborhood stepped into the yard and motioned to us. The Dutchman stopped what he was doing and went over to him. I was near enough that I could hear.

“I know somebody that will take all that stuff away for you for a good price,” the old man said.

The Dutchman thought about it for a minute and shook his head. “No, thanks,” he said. “I can do it myself.”

“Looks like that boy there’s about worn out,” the old man said. He meant me, of course.

The Dutchman looked at me as though noticing me for the first time. “He’s stronger than he looks,” he said with a little laugh.

My mother came out of the house then in her plastic rain bonnet. “You know somebody that’ll do this hard work?” she asked.

“My nephew and his friend,” the old man said. “They’ve got themselves an old truck and will do little jobs here and there to earn enough money to fill it up with gas.”

“Does your nephew have a phone number?” she asked.

The old man gave the number and my mother said she would remember it without writing it down. She thanked the old man and he left.

“You come into the house,” she said to me, “and get cleaned up before supper.”

“He’s not going in,” the Dutchman said, “until the work is finished.”

“Says you,” she said.

She put her hand on my shoulder and drew me along with her into the house. It was one of the few times I ever saw her stand up to the Dutchman.

I took a bath as hot as I could stand it to get the roof grit off and put on my pajamas. I had the sniffles afterwards and there were some bleeding cuts on my hands, but I was happy and was sure I would be all right.

The next day when I came home from school, all the roof junk in the yard had been taken away. Mother told me she paid for it out of her own money and that it had been a real bargain. I was beaming with satisfaction at the dinner table that evening while the Dutchman looked unhappy and defeated, too dispirited even to complain that the mashed potatoes weren’t the way he liked them.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

With This Switchblade I Thee Wed

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With This Switchblade I Thee Wed ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

His face was skeletal, all chalky skin like raw chicken and white stubble. The only thing alive about the face was the blue eyes, filled with hate. He pointed his finger for emphasis and trembled.

“My daughter is a good girl,” he said, “and I’m not going to let you make her into a bad one.”

Carl Dickey didn’t know what to say. Anything he said wouldn’t make any difference. He stood on the front lawn, smiling to let the old man know he wasn’t afraid. Wanda stood behind the old man on the porch, a smirk on her face. Her mother stood beside her, a protective arm around her shoulders.

“She’s sixteen years old,” the old man said. “I don’t know how old you are but I’d guess you’re about twice that. She don’t know anything yet, and you’re not going to be the one to teach her.”

Carl turned his head and spit on the grass. He opened his mouth to speak but changed his mind.

“Now, I’ve got a twelve-gauge shotgun in the house,” the old man continued, “that I keep behind the bedroom door. Anybody that knows me knows I’m a crackerjack shot and they also know I mean business.”

“Are you threatening me?” Carl asked.

“Just get off my property right now before I call the sheriff!”

“I think it’s against the law to threaten people.”

Wanda’s mother whisked her into the house and the old man followed, slamming the door for emphasis.

A dog in a yard across the street began barking. Carl stood there in the dark for a couple of minutes, taking some deep breaths. He was still a little shaken at how mean Wanda’s father was. He shouldn’t have just stood there and taken it without saying anything back. By not saying anything, though, he believed himself to be the better person. Why should I stand there all night and bicker with the old ass? he asked himself. What’s to be gained by that?

He got into his car and drove off into the night. It was only eight o’clock and he didn’t want to go home. His parents would be installed in front of the TV, his father in his undershirt and his mother in her pajamas and housecoat with her hair in curling pins. He saw himself going into his room and lying down on the bed, wishing he was somewhere else, exactly as he had done in high school.

When he met somebody new, as with Wanda Fritchie, he felt a little funny for them to know he still lived with his parents, like a recent high school graduate, long after the age of thirty. His brother, two years younger, was long gone. He had a job in the city, living what his mother called the “extravagant lifestyle.” Carl envied him and wished he had the courage to do the same.

He drove around for a while, feeling a little lonely—he and Wanda had been going out tonight—and a little put out because of the way Wanda’s father had treated him. How can people be so mean? So what if there’s an age difference? It happens all the time. Women get old quicker than men, so if the man is a few years older, it works out just about right. Not that he had any intention of ever marrying Wanda. He didn’t know her well enough yet and maybe never would.

He drove to the movie theatre, almost deserted on a week night. He bought a bag of popcorn and a large Coke and sat at the front of the balcony, his favorite place to sit. Sitting there, he could see the screen without anything in his way, and he liked the feeling of being up high and knowing that people were down below. He could see them if he leaned forward in his seat, but just hearing them was enough. Except tonight it was quiet because the place was practically deserted.

The picture was loud and long and it gave him a headache. At the end of a picture he always knew if he liked it or not by the way he felt. If he felt in a good mood and not tired, he enjoyed the picture and hadn’t wanted it to end. It he felt out of sorts, irritated by one thing and another, and dreaded going to work the next day, he didn’t like the picture and would have been better off if he hadn’t seen it. The picture he just saw fell into the second category.

He felt lonelier than ever leaving the movie theatre because he was the last to leave and the old man who worked there was sweeping up popcorn and candy wrappers from between the rows of seats. When he got into his car to leave, he felt like the last person on earth because they had turned off all the outside lights and everybody else had already left. To add to his feeling of disconnectedness, a train whistle blew from a long way off.

It was eleven-thirty when he got home and he wasn’t even sleepy yet. He took off his clothes and got into bed, though, because he had to get up early and go to work.

He laid there for hours thinking about what Wanda’s father said to him. He knew the old man had a point, but he didn’t have to be so mean about it. What was he doing dating a high school girl, anyway? Anybody with any sense could see he was only asking for trouble. Quit now while you’re still in possession of your pride, he told himself.

He left work early the next day so that he might pick up Wanda as she was getting out of school. He saw her coming out of the building with a bunch of other girls. She whooped when she saw him and detached herself from the others.

She scooted across the seat and put her arms around his neck and gave him an open-mouthed kiss, which he always hated. Her mouth tasted like the bad food she had eaten, the cigarettes she had smoked and the stale air she had breathed.

“Get off me!” he said. “People are looking at us.”

“Let them look!” she said. “They’re just jealous, anyway.”

“Your old man really was really riled up last night, wasn’t he?”

She laughed. “I should say he was! He can be a real shit whenever he wants to be!”

“I don’t appreciate being threatened on somebody else’s lawn,” he said.

“Oh, he’s just full of hot air! He doesn’t mean a word he says!”

“He doesn’t know you very well, does he? He thinks you’re so innocent.”

“He still thinks of me as an eight-year-old little angel in a taffeta dress hunting for Easter eggs.”

She took a cigarette out of her book satchel and lit it. He opened his window to let out the smoke.

“I am so sick of living at home with my parents,” she said. “I hate school and I would quit in a minute if I had a good reason.”

“Better finish school,” he said weakly. “You’ll be sorry later if you don’t.”

“I’ve got two whole years to go! I don’t think I’ll make it without killing somebody.”

“Nobody likes their life. Everybody wishes they were somebody else.”

“I’ve got a plan, though,” she said.

“What plan?”

“We’ll run off and get married!”

“I never said anything about marriage!” he said.

“With us legally married, nobody can touch us. My father will just have to shut his trap because there won’t be a thing he can do about it.”

“Isn’t that a little drastic?”

“I figured you wouldn’t be quite as receptive to that idea as I might have liked, so I have an alternative plan!”

“What is it?”

“You get me pregnant and then I can quit school and, whether we get married or not, we can get an apartment and live together.”

“Wait a minute!” he said. “You’d want to get pregnant just so you could quit school?”

“Sure, that and other reasons.”

“What other reasons?”

“So you and I can be together always.”

“Yes, and with a third party there, too. Babies scream all the time and need constant attention. Are you willing to give up high school for that?”

“Sure, it happens all the time!”

“Are you up to taking care of a baby?”

“We’d manage. People always do.”

“It sounds like a living hell on earth,” he said, “if you want to know what I think about it.”

She looked at him and her smile faded and her eyes narrowed. “Are you saying you don’t want to have a baby with me?”

“No, I don’t want to have a baby with you.”

“If you loved me, you wouldn’t say that.”

“Nobody said anything about love and nobody said anything about having a baby.”

“You’re just a chickenshit, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I’m just a chickenshit.”

“You’re not even a man. I don’t know why I ever even bothered with you. Daddy was right about you. You are a no-good bum who will never amount to shit. I’ll have you know that I can have any boy anywhere I am, in high school or anyplace else.”

“I’m so happy for you.”

“When daddy was saying mean things to you last night, I couldn’t believe you just stood there and took it without a word. A real man would have stood up for me and declared his love and told him that nothing on earth would keep us a part.”

“I’m just not a real man, I guess.”

“I’m sorry I ever wasted a moment of my time with you. I could have gone out with good-looking men with things going for them who want to make something out of their lives.”

“I’m sorry I ever wasted a moment of my time with you, too,” he said. “You’re a sniveling little baby and your breath stinks.”

Oh!” she said, seething with indignation.

She started to get out of the car, but before she did she took a switchblade knife out of her book satchel and sliced him across the top of his arm.

“I hope you bleed to death!” she said before she slammed the door. “I hope you rot in hell!”

His arm was bleeding all over the inside of his car and he didn’t know what to do to make it stop, so he stepped out of the car and took off his shirt and wrapped it around his arm. He knew he needed help—it wasn’t one of those cuts that would heal on its own—so he drove to the hospital emergency room.

He waited about half an hour and when his turn came a young doctor took him into an examining room and closed the door. The doctor cleaned the cut, took twelve stiches and bandaged it.

“Who did this to you?” the doctor asked as he administered a tetanus shot.

“I cut myself shaving,” Carl said.

“Hah-hah,” the doctor said. “Who did this to you?”

“I had a fight with my girlfriend. I guess you’d say she’s my former girlfriend now.”

“If she did this to you, what did you do to her?”

“Not nearly as much as I would have liked.”

Carl had no trouble forgetting about Wanda. He knew he should never have become involved with one of her type in the first place. He learned his lesson.

About a month after his arm was sliced, he heard through a friend that Wanda ran off and married a twenty-eight-year-old divorced car salesman with two children and alimony payments through the roof. It didn’t take a genius to know it was never going to work out. And after him, there’d be somebody else and then somebody else and somebody else after that. Poor Wanda. He got out just in time.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp