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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

Tulip Fever ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Tulip Fever ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Tulip Fever is a novel by Deborah Moggach set in picturesque Amsterdam, Holland, in the year 1636. Cornelis Sandvoort is a wealthy merchant. At sixty-one, he is in the twilight of his years. His young wife, Sophia, is only twenty-six. Cornelis lost his first wife and child to disease; he wants nothing more than for Sophia to give him another child to carry on his name and his business after he is gone. Sophia honors and respects Cornelis—after all, he saved her family from poverty—but she doesn’t love him. She finds his physical presence repellant.

When Cornelis commissions a young painter, Jan Van Loos, to paint his and Sophia’s portrait, Sophia quickly becomes enamored of the painter. She falls so easily. She sneaks out of the house at odd times to meet the painter. They become lovers. She goes to great pains to make sure her husband doesn’t find out.

Sophia has a maid named Maria. Maria has a lover named Willem. Maria and Willem are intimate together and plan on being married. Maria finds herself expecting Willem’s child. Willem, through a misunderstanding, believes that Maria has been unfaithful to him with another man. Heartbroken, he runs off and joins the navy, not even knowing that Maria is going to have his baby.

Sophia tells Maria she will soon have to leave the household since she is going to have a baby and isn’t married. With nothing to lose, Maria threatens to expose Sophia for carrying on a clandestine love affair with the painter Jan Van Loos. Rather than part on bitter terms, Sophia and Maria together devise a plan whereby Sophia will pretend to be pregnant (by her husband, of course), while concealing Maria’s pregnancy. Then, when Maria’s baby is born, they will pretend it is Sophia’s and that Sophia died during the delivery. Pretending to be dead, Sophia will then be free to run off with her lover, Jan Van Loos, to Batavia in the East Indies and start a new life.

While Sophia and Jan’s elaborate deception plays out, the city (Amsterdam) and the country (Holland) are in the grip of “tulip fever.” Fortunes are being made and lost in tulip bulb speculation. Some bulbs are worth a fortune. Never has the adage “a thing is worth what somebody is willing to pay for it” been more appropriate. Jan is counting on one fabulously expensive bulb (which he plans on selling for much more than he paid for it) to get him out of debt and pay for his and Sophia’s passage to a new country and a new life. Their plot to trick Sophia’s husband—and the world—has worked so far. All they need is a bit more luck and for Jan’s bumbling servant, Gerrit, to pick up the bulb and bring it to Jan.

Tulip Fever is a tautly written 280 pages. The themes of infidelity, greed, self-delusion and human failing that we see here are universal. Jan and Sophia’s illicit love affair was one thing, but their plan to fool Sophia’s husband with Maria’s baby and then to run away to another country was something else. Failure was built in from the beginning. A strong story about the extraordinary lengths to which people will go to achieve their own version of happiness.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

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~ St. Louis World’s Fair 1904 ~

Celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1804.

In My House are Many Rooms

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In My House are Many Rooms ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This stand-alone short story is a continuation of two previous stories: “I Have Never Known the River Ischabob to Flood” and “Birth of the Dodo.”)

For several days, rain and thunderstorms kept me inside, but I didn’t mind. I had always liked the rain. The sound of the thunder gently rolling over the hills was pleasing in a way I wouldn’t have been able to explain. I had no obligations to fulfill and so spent my time—for the first time in my life, it seemed—doing exactly as I pleased. I read, napped and, of course, I still had plenty to do putting my house in order.

Sometimes I liked getting out the hammer and nails and hanging a picture on the wall in a certain spot and then sitting for an hour or more looking at the picture, trying to decide what I had liked about it in the first place. Some of the pictures, and some of the books and other articles I took out of boxes, I couldn’t remember from my previous home. My memory continued to play tricks on me. I remembered things that hadn’t happened and forgot things I should be able to remember. I wondered if I should see a doctor, but, if I did, what kind of doctor would it be? Was I losing my mind? Mrs. Goldoni, when I bothered to ask, could offer no explanation. I told you it’s a different kind of house, she’d say.

In the evenings after supper I enjoyed sitting and reading with some music playing quietly in the background. We had no radio or television—Mrs. Goldoni explained we were too far away to get the signal—but I didn’t mind. Sometimes I would close my eyes and when I opened them again Lulu the life-sized doll and Sheridan, my dodo bird son, would be sitting in the room with me. When Sheridan saw I was looking at him, he’d give a playful squawk to let me know he knew I was there, and I was astounded all over again by his existence. I had had pets all my life, cats and dogs, but I never expected to own a real-live dodo bird. As for Lulu, she never made a sound and only moved when I wasn’t looking.

On the day one week after I had sat for my photographic portrait in the town of New Garland, I purposed to go back and get my finished portrait, as the man in the shop had told me it would be ready on that day. The rain had stopped, at least temporarily, so the day seemed auspicious for walking. I put on the same walking shoes and clothes I wore the first time I made the trip and then appeared in the kitchen to tell Mrs. Goldoni not to expect me for lunch as I intended to dine again at Fine Eats.

“I can go with you if you’d like,” she said.

I could barely suppress a smile, thinking about walking out anywhere with an old woman who was becoming an insect, with many legs to prove it. “It’s all right,” I said. “I don’t need a chaperone.”

“You have no experience with the Followers,” she said. “They can be especially nasty when they know you are uninformed. I know how to handle them.”

“Believe me, I’ll be fine. I remember: they can’t hurt me if they can’t touch me and they can’t touch me unless I let them.”

“Be suspicious of all,” she said.

“I can take care of myself.”

I was a half-mile or so from my house, walking toward the town of New Garland, when I saw a disturbing sight. A group of eight or so small children were pelting a man with rocks and clumps of mud. He, the man, was bent over, holding his coat up around his head. I don’t like getting involved in something that isn’t my business, but if I see a person or a thing being mistreated for no apparent reason, I must try to help if I can.

“Here, now!” I said, very loud, causing all the children to stop what they were doing and look at me. “Stop that! What has that poor fellow done for you to stone him?”

A grotesque girl of about eight, shoulders back and head thrust forward, approached me. She was very dirty and dressed in rags. Her matted hair hung about her head like tangled moss. I thought she was going to spit on me or jump at me and rip out my throat.

Here, now!” she said, imitating me. “Why don’t you mind your own damn business?”

The other children laughed and they all turned their attention on me. I saw at once they were Followers. The man they had been pelting looked helplessly at me across a distance of about thirty feet.

When I saw a small boy with a large, deformed head about to throw a rock at me, I held up my finger at him threateningly and said, “I have a gun in my pocket and, while I may not like to shoot children, I won’t hesitate for a second to shoot you if you throw that.”

The children laughed derisively at me, but the boy let the rock fall to the ground without throwing it. I picked a limb off the ground as big as a man’s arm and when I took a few steps toward them with the limb raised in the air, I could see they were afraid of me. They receded and retreated down a hole in the ground. A few seconds after they had all jumped in, the hole disappeared.

The man was sobbing softly. I approached him to see if I might be of help. “Are you hurt?” I asked.

His head was bleeding and the blood was running down the side of his face onto his neck. All I could do was take my handkerchief out of my pocket and hand it to him. Realizing that he might also be a Follower, I made sure my hand didn’t touch his.

“I’m new to this place,” I said. “Every day I see sights that surprise me.”

He managed a weak smile. “I’ve been her a while,” he said. “I don’t remember every being any place else.”

“Do you live around here?” I asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“How can you not know where you live?”

He shrugged his shoulders and I had a chance to look at him closely. He had red hair the color of a new penny, skin as white as alabaster, and a small, pencil-line mustache. His eyes were a clear blue, but they had dark rings around them, as though he had been ill. He seemed all right, but I still wasn’t sure he wasn’t a Follower.

“How did those children come to be throwing rocks at you?” I asked.

“They wanted me to play a game with me and I wouldn’t comply. The object of the game was to get me in a vulnerable position and then to snatch my soul and take it with them back to hell. That’s what they’ve been trained to do.”

“That seems highly implausible,” I said. “Small children?”

“Sometimes they’re worse than the adults.”

“And you’re not a Follower?” I asked.

“Do I look like one to you?”

“I couldn’t say. What’s your name?”

“Farina Alvarez,” he said.

“Well, Farina Alvarez, since you are obviously in a bad way, I’ll help you get to where you’re going.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I’m only trying to keep away from the Followers.”

“I have a house,” I said, “on the banks of the River Ishcabob, which I have been told never floods.”

“I’m so happy for you,” he said, closing his eyes as though experiencing a wave of nausea.

“In my house I have many rooms,” I continued. “So many rooms that I haven’t even seen all of them yet.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I think we could put you up for a while, at least until you find out where you live and where you’re going.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you out any,” he said.

“I have a housekeeper. Her name is Mrs. Goldoni. She has arthritis that’s turning her into an insect.”

“What kind of an insect?”

“I also have a son named Sheridan who is a dodo bird.”

“Aren’t they extinct?”

“Well, not all of them, I guess.”

“I have a wife named Lulu. She’s not my wife in the biblical sense. She’s a doll with a funny, old-fashioned cap on her head. I was in the room when she gave birth to Sheridan.”

“Quite a family you have there,” Farina Alvarez said.

“Well, with all the room we have, I was thinking you could come and stay with us for a few days. I don’t have any friends here and you seem like a decent sort, if we can fully establish that you’re not one of them.”

“I’ve already told you I’m not.”

“Mrs. Goldoni will know as soon as she lays eyes on you.”

“Where is this house on the banks of the River Ishcabob?” Farina Alvarez asked.

“It’s back that way,” I said, pointing with the index finger of my left hand.

“But you were headed this way,” he said, pointing in the opposing direction.

“Yes, I’m on my way to the town of New Garland on an errand. If you want, you can wait here for me and I’ll pick you up on my way back home. I don’t mean that in a literal sense, of course.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “If I wait around here, the Followers are sure to come back and get me.”

“Suit yourself,” I said.

“How long do you think it’ll be before you come back this way?” he asked.

“I’m not sure. Clocks and time don’t seem to have much meaning here. Let’s just say in about three hours.”

“I know what I’ll do,” he said. “I’ll find a hiding place in a tree or a cave and in three hours I’ll meet you here on this spot.”

“All right,” I said, “but if you’re not here, I’m not going to wait.”

I walked on to the town of New Garland and went straight to Witherspoon’s Photographic Studio. The same man with the drooping mustache and high collar greeted me at the door.

“Remember me?” I asked.

“Indeed, I do, sir!” he said with a smile. “You’re the one with the dodo bird son.”

“What a memory you have!”

“Not at all, sir. It’s only been one week.”

“Is my photo portrait ready for me to take home?”

“Yes, it is, sir. I have it right here.”

He bent over and produced a little photo album from underneath the counter, which he hastily wrapped in paper, tied up with a string. After he was finished wrapping the album, he put it inside a small drawstring canvas bag and handed it over the counter to me.

“For you to look at later, when you’re at home, sir,” he said.

I paid the man and thanked him and went across the street to Fine Eats. I sat at the same table as before and the same tiny waitress came out from the back. Her hair was higher and more triangular than before, her brilliant, round eyes staring and unblinking. I wasn’t sure how she was seeing me because she always seemed to be looking out the window at the street.

When I tried to get her to look directly at me and she didn’t, it occurred to me that she wasn’t a “she” but an “it.” She was a doll endowed with motion like my Lulu at home. Had the man in the photographic studio with the dropping mustache been a doll, too? Was I a doll? I was pretty sure Mrs. Goldoni wasn’t a doll because she was an insect. Was Sheridan a real dodo bird, or was he, too, a mechanical “thing.” I would be most disappointed to find out that he, above all the others, wasn’t what he appeared to be.

“Today’s special is pickled herring or spaghetti and meatballs served with a red wine and breadsticks,” the waitress intoned in her odd voice that seemed to be coming from another room.

“I’ll have the spaghetti,” I said, having no desire to engage her in further talk.

She brought the wine before the food was ready and I had two full glasses while I waited. As before, there was nobody else in the place. The street also was empty. I heard music coming from some faraway place. When I strained to hear the music better, it stopped and then when I stopped thinking about it, it started up again.

The waitress brought the food and set it down in front of me and I began eating. It was the best spaghetti and meatballs I ever had. The wine was the best I had ever tasted. When I finished eating and was ready to leave, I was a little wobbly on my legs from all the wine. I threw some money on the table and went back out onto the sunny street.

When I came to the spot where I had left Farina Alvarez, he was waiting there for me, sitting on a little hillock beside the road. He smiled and stood up and waved at me.

“No more trouble with Followers?” I asked.

“I think you scared them off for now,” he said.

After we had walked some little ways without speaking, I turned to him and said, “Are you a thing other than what you appear to be?”

“I don’t understand the question,” he said.

“Some of the people here are dolls.”

“I know it,” he said, “but I don’t think I’m one of them. And, another thing about these dolls, they can change their size really fast. One minute they’re full-sized and the next minute they’re small enough to fit into a shoebox.”

“What’s it all about?” I asked.

“I don’t know anything,” he said.

When we got to my house on the banks of the River Ishcabob, it had been raining on us for the last quarter mile or so. I didn’t mind so much because it was a warm rain and I knew I was near home and could dry off and get into clean clothes soon enough, but Farina Alvarez was freezing. His teeth chattered; he held the collar of his thin coat up around his ears. Still, I made him wait outside for a minute while I went into the house and got Mrs. Goldoni. I wanted her to look at him and confirm that he really wasn’t a Follower.

She took a step outside the front door and shaded her eyes with her hand, even though the sun wasn’t shining. Insect eyes are different from human eyes.

“Who do we have here?” she asked.

“His name is Farina Alvarez,” I said. “On my way to New Garland, I happened on a bunch of Followers taunting him and throwing rocks at him. I took pity.”

She made little clicking insect sounds with her mouth and looked him up and down. “Tell me, son,” she said. “What’s the Holy Trinity?”

“Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” Farina Alvarez said.

“He’s all right,” Mrs. Goldoni said. “He’s not a Follower.”

“You can tell just from asking that one little question?” I asked.

“Sure can,” she said. “If you ask a Follower a religious question, it makes them vomit.”

“So, he’s all right, then.”

“I just said he was, didn’t I?”

I smiled at Farina Alvarez and took him by the sleeve and pulled him into the house.

“He’s going to be staying with us for a few days,” I explained to Mrs. Goldoni. “Find a comfortable room for him to stay in.”

“Do you suppose I could get a bath?” Farina Alvarez asked.

Mrs. Goldoni took him by the arm and started to lead him away. “Give him a good room that has a view and that isn’t gloomy and scary,” I said, “and give him some of my clothes to wear. I have more clothes than I know what to do with. Let him take his pick.”

I was weary from my long walk to and from New Garland, so I laid down and had a little nap. In an hour or so, Farina Alvarez emerged, looking scrubbed and wearing some of my clothes. Mrs. Goldoni had fixed him up with a bandage on his head.

“Feeling better?” I asked.

“Except for a headache,” he said.

We sat down to supper and, as we ate, a tremendous thunderstorm shook the house and made the lights go off. Mrs. Goldoni appeared with an antique candelabra and set it in the middle of the table.

“I like I good thunderstorm,” Farina Alvarez said, “as long as I have a roof over my head.”

I could tell we were going to be friends.

After supper the lights came back on. Mrs. Goldoni washed the supper dishes and went to bed. Farina Alvarez retired to his room and I was left all alone. I remembered I hadn’t yet looked at the little photographic album wrapped in paper that I had carried home with me in a drawstring canvas bag from the photographic studio in New Garland.

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in the album. The first picture was of me laid out dead in a coffin, my hands crossed over my chest. I’m wearing a dress suit, my hair is neatly parted and I have a tiny pencil-line mustache, but, more astonishingly, Sheridan the dodo bird is sitting on the half-open lid of my coffin looking down into my face. He is obviously dismayed at seeing me dead. His beak is open partway as if he is emitting one of his most pitiful squawks and his eyes look watery.

I turn the page and the second picture is equally surprising. It’s of Mrs. Goldoni, dead in a coffin, a lily in her crossed hands. Her mouth is drawn down at the corners and her hair is arranged in a severe style. I had only ever seen her with Jean Harlow hair, but this dead woman is obviously her.

On the third page is a picture of Farina Alvarez. I had only known him for a few hours, so I didn’t know why his picture would be in my photographic album. If I had learned anything in my new home, though, it was not to ask questions for which there were no answers.

On the other pages of the album were photographs of other dead people I didn’t know, even though a couple of them looked slightly familiar. The others were, I suppose, of people who somehow played a part in my long-ago life that I didn’t remember.

Then I remembered the letters on the window of the photographic studio: Photographs of the Deceased.

I could hear it raining through much of the night. Ordinarily the sound of rain acts as a soporific to me, but I had trouble sleeping. About daylight I got out of bed since I couldn’t sleep, took a long shower, and dressed. When I went into the kitchen, Mrs. Goldoni was cooking breakfast.

“We’re all dead, aren’t we?” I said to her by way of greeting.

She stopped what she was doing and looked at me. “I knew you’d figure it out on your own,” she said. “That’s what we all have to do.”

“Why didn’t you tell me when I first came here?” I asked.

“Because that’s not the way it works. For it to be meaningful, you have to find it yourself.”

“Like an Easter egg hunt?” I asked.

“We’re all put here to learn,” she said. “To find things out. You’re no different from any of the rest of us.”

“We’re in hell, aren’t we?”

“No, it’s not hell,” she said. “And it’s not heaven, either. It’s somewhere in between. It’s what the Catholics used to call Purgatory. We have to learn what we’re sent here to learn before we can advance to the next step.”

“What’s the next step?” I asked.

“Nobody knows.”

“Some people have been here for hundreds of years, if not longer. This is not a physical place. It exists in the spirit world. That’s why things are so different here from what you’re used to.”

“I have to tell you,” I said. “I don’t feel dead.”

“I know,” she said. “I don’t feel dead, either.”

“So, we just wait here and let things happen to us and try to escape from the clutches of the Followers and then, one day, we move on.”

“That’s right.”

“Why are you turning into an insect?”

“I wish I knew. It’s part of the plan of the one who made us all.”

“What will happen when you’re an insect and no longer a person?” I asked.

“I try not to think about it,” she said.

“You want to keep on being a person?”

“Yes. That’s why I say my trouble is arthritis. It’s a little conceit of mine. I don’t think insects get arthritis. If I can convince the world, and myself, that arthritis is the reason I’m turning into an insect, it makes me feel more human.”

I went and got the photo album and showed it to her. She turned the pages to the end, making the clicking sounds with her mouth.

“It’s the same for all of us,” she said.

She turned to her own picture and laid the album flat on the breakfast table.

“That’s you, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Have you asked yourself why I’m in your photographic album?” she asked.

“My mother died when I was five years old,” I said. “I don’t remember much about her.”

“I remember everything about you, though,” she said. “I remember the day you were born.”

“So, you’re telling me you’re my mother?”

“Yes.”

“Who is Farina Alvarez?”

“I suppose you’ll find out one day.”

I put the photographic album away and Farina Alvarez emerged from his room and we had breakfast. I wanted to ask him if he knew we were dead; I wanted to show him the photographic album, but I knew I couldn’t. He had to discover these things on his own, just as I had done.

I took Farina Alvarez on a tour of my four-story house. I showed him the room with the haunted watches and the room where Sheridan was born. I took him into the room where Lulu the human-sized doll and Sheridan my dodo bird son spent most of my time, and he seemed genuinely happy to see them. He was as astonished as I was at seeing a real-live dodo bird.

When I saw the people I didn’t know lurking in the hallways or standing in a doorway, he saw them too, and he saw them as they seemed to dissolve in the air. I explained to him that they were always there but never bothered me. I showed him the River Ishcabob, which I had been told would never flood, and he saw the hundreds of workers on the river who moved so fast they were just a blur. I took him next door to the bed and breakfast and introduced him to the smashed-flat woman, Mrs. Woolwine. She gave us beer and we spent a couple of hours laughing and talking at her kitchen table.

In our long and serious conversations, Farina Alvarez told me he didn’t know how long he had been in this place and he couldn’t remember being in any other. I was gratified in a way to know that his experiences paralleled my own.

It continued to rain almost every day for two weeks and I started feeling sick. For a while I could keep my sickness hidden, but then I started to feel worse and couldn’t get out of bed. My days passed in a blur. I woke and slept and woke. I couldn’t tell the waking from the sleeping. At times I was aware that Mrs. Goldoni, Mrs. Woolwine, Farina Alvarez, and Lulu the doll were standing around my bed, looking anxiously on. Sheridan the dodo perched on the footboard, looking intently at me.

And then, once when I woke up, I was in a different place. I was in a high bed. To my right was a blue wall and to my left a bank of medical instruments. A man stood at the foot of the bed, looking down at something he held in his hands. He didn’t know I was awake so I spoke his name.

He looked at my face and smiled. He had red hair the color of a new penny and a pencil-line mustache and icy blue eyes. I was glad to see somebody there that I knew.

“Farina Alvarez,” I said again.

He came around to side of the bed where he was closer and I could see him better. “What did you say?” he asked.

“I just spoke your name. Are you going to tell me you don’t know who I am?”

“Yes, I know who you are,” he said. “You’re my patient. You’ve been very ill for a while.”

“I know,” I said. “You don’t need to tell me I’m dead because I already know it.”

“I could call you Sleepy Beauty, but since you’re a man, I guess I’ll have to settle for Rip Van Winkle.”

“Where’s Mrs. Goldoni? She needs to know where I am.”

“Is that somebody you know?” he asked.

“She’s my mother. She’s my housekeeper.”

“All right. Just keep yourself calm. We’ll bring you back by degrees.”

He turned to a woman all dressed in white. She stepped forward and took his place beside the bed. I felt a needle jabbed into my arm and then she began fussing with something I couldn’t see that was over my head.

“What is that place?” I asked.

“You’re in a hospital,” the woman in white said. “You’re going to be fine.”

“Where did he go? Where did Farina Alvarez go?”

“If you mean your doctor, he’ll be right back. He went to see another patient for a minute.”

“Tell him I need to see him. I need to tell him something.”

“You can tell me,” the woman in white said.

“I don’t want to be here! I want to go back to where I was! Tell him for me! Will you tell him for me? It’s very important!”

“Would you like to try to sit up?”

“No! I want to go back to where I was! I have people waiting for me. If I don’t come back, they’ll wonder where I am! I have to see my dodo bird and make sure he’s all right.”

“You’re very confused,” the woman in white said, “but that will pass.”

“No!” I said. “I don’t want it to pass. I want to go back to my home on the banks of the River Ishcabob.”

“There is no such place,” she said. “You’ve been dreaming. Imagining things.”

“No,” I said, more weakly this time. “I have a four-story house with many rooms on the banks of the River Ishcabob. I have family there and friends. They’ll be worried about me. I want to go back. I don’t want to be here. I want to be back there, in my home, with my friends and family.”

Farina Alvarez came back into the room and I felt comforted. He took my hand in both of his. He smiled at me and I smiled at him. He had hair the color of a new penny and a pencil-line mustache. His eyes were the bluest I had ever seen. He squeezed my hand and when he did I was borne away on a bank of black fog. I knew then that in just a few seconds I’d be back where I belonged.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp