RSS Feed

There Was a Bird

There Was a Bird ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

She sat on a bench at the edge of the park to rest before going on home. The bag of groceries she carried was heavy and her arm ached. She wasn’t as young as she used to be and she didn’t have the stamina she once had. Her heart seemed to be turning over in her chest.

A small boy went running past on the sidewalk, first one way and then the other. He couldn’t have been more than nine years old. On his third circuit around the bench, she smiled at him and he slowed down.

“In a hurry?” she asked.

“I’ve got to find my friends,” he said.

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re all out of breath. Why don’t you sit down and rest for a while?”

He sat beside her on the bench and when he leaned back his feet were a long way from the ground.

“They were here and they ran away,” he said.

“Friends do that sometimes.”

“I guess I should go on home, then.”

“Where do you live?”

“Over there.” He pointed over his shoulder up the street.

“Where’s your mother? Does she know you’re in the park by yourself?”

“She’s at work. She’s a waitress.”

“She’s goes off and leaves you by yourself?”

“I have a sister. She’s fourteen.”

“How old are you?”

“Nine.”

“Nine is kind of young.”

“Yeah,” he said, looking down and fiddling with his shoelace.

“People snatch kids sometimes in the park,” she said. “And they’re never seen again.”

“What do you mean? Like kidnapping?”

“That’s right. You have to be careful.”

“I know all about it,” he said.

“What’s your name?”

“Bob.”

“Don’t you have a last name?”

“Bob White.”

“Your name is Bob White?”

“Yeah.”

“There used to be a bird by that name,” she said.

“A bird?”

“Yeah. Of course, you don’t see them in the city, but I used to see and hear them all the time when I was growing up in the country.”

“Oh.”

“They say their name.”

“What?”

“Their bird call. It sounds like they’re saying Bob White. That’s how they get their name.”

“I haven’t ever heard of a bird that says its own name.”

“Well, you’re young yet. There’s still time. I’m Almeda Hawkins. Missus, but my husband is dead.”

“You have any kids?”

“I have a boy and a girl. My daughter died. My son lives in California.”

“What does he do out there?”

“Oh, he goes to work every day. He has three kids of his own. I’ve only seen pictures of them.”

“Why don’t you go live with them?”

She laughed. “Well, I haven’t been asked.”

They sat silently for a while and watched the cars go by. A bus roared by in a cloud of exhaust.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

“Three more blocks and I’m home,” she said.

“Do you live in a house?”

“No, I live in an apartment.”

“Do you like it?”

“It’s all right. Gets kind of lonely sometimes. I used to be friendly with the neighbors but they moved away. I don’t hardly ever see the new people.”

“We live in an apartment, too. On the third floor.”

“Would you like to come home with me?” she asked. “Are you hungry?”

“I’d better not,” he said. “I’d get in trouble.”

“Well, who’s to know?”

He shrugged. “Well, nobody, I guess.”

“I have some nice cottage cheese and some canned pears. There’s nothing better on a hot day.”

“I haven’t ever had cottage cheese but I know what it is and I don’t think I’d like it.”

“Well, I have some baloney and cheese and I just brought some fresh bread. I could fix you a sandwich and I have some root beer.”

“Do you have mayonnaise to put on the sandwich?”

They stood up and began walking. He offered to carry her bag of groceries for her but she thought he was too little to be carrying heavy packages, so she carried it herself.

Her half-basement apartment was in an old, thirteen-story apartment building that had seen better days. She opened the door with her key and stood aside while he entered first.

The front room was dark and cool. She opened the blinds and the room became cheerful and inviting.

“This is nice!” the boy said, bouncing on the couch. “Who are those people in the pictures?”

“It’s my husband and me when we were young and the other one is my mother and father and my two sisters and me. They’ll all dead now except me.”

“What happened to them?”

“Oh, people die, you know.”

“Do you have a bird?” he asked, spying a bird cage sitting in the corner.

“Well, I had a bird but he got old and died. I kept the cage because I thought I’d get myself another one sometime.”

“Do you have a dog or a cat?”

“No, not in an apartment,” she said.

She turned on the TV and went into the kitchen to put the groceries away. “Turn the TV to whatever channel you like to watch,” she said. “I won’t be a minute.”

When she came back into the room, he said, “I wouldn’t mind living here. It’s so peaceful.”

She laughed. “Is it noisy at your place?”

“Yeah, sometimes,” he said. “The walls are thin and you can hear people.”

“Yes, I like the quiet, too,” she said. “The people here are very quiet. I hardly know they’re there.”

“Do you ever go to the circus?” he asked.

“A long time ago when I was about eight years old. I remember the elephants because as we were going to our seats we passed really close to them and I had never seen one up close before.”

“Have you ever been to the opera?” he asked.

“A long time ago.”

“What was it like?”

“I don’t seem to remember much about it.”

“I saw on TV about people going to the opera. It’s a lot of singing.”

“Yes, you have to be in the mood for it,” she said.

“I should probably go now,” he said, looking at the door.

“Why? You just got here.”

“I know, but I’d get in trouble if my mother knew I was here.”

“Your mother doesn’t have to know you were here, does she?”

“I guess not.”

“You don’t have to tell her if you don’t want to.”

“I know.”

“I would never hurt you,” she said, “but you know you have to be careful with strangers. Not ever get into the car with them.”

“I know,” he said. “I hear that all the time.”

“You can’t trust just anybody these days.”

“I know.”

“You never know what people have it in their minds to do.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re not afraid with me, though, are you?”

He thought for a minute, leaning his head to the side. “No, I’m not,” he said.

“Well, how about that sandwich, then?”

She took Bob White into the kitchen and sat him down at her little white table with its red vinyl chairs.

“The chair feels good,” he said. “Cool.”

“You like baloney?”

“Yeah.”

She made the sandwich, putting it on a plate, and gave him a knife and the jar of mayonnaise so he might put as much on as he wanted. After he had taken a couple of bites, she got a root beer out of the refrigerator, opened it, and put a straw in.

He ate hungrily and in just a minute the sandwich was gone.

“Would you like another one?” she asked.

“No. I should be going home now, I guess.”

“Don’t be in such a fizz.”

“My sister will wonder where I am.”

“Let her wonder.”

He drank the root beer in its entirety and handed her the empty bottle. “Thank you,” he said. “It was very good.”

“Would you like some cookies?”

“No. I’m full.”

“Well, let’s go back into the front room and we’ll sit and visit for a while.”

He sat by himself on the couch and she sat in a chair by the window.

“My friends are probably wondering what happened to me,” he said.

“It seems they weren’t thinking of you at all if they ran off and left you.”

“Yeah. Maybe somebody kidnapped them.”

“You know, I don’t get many visitors,” she said. “I’m so glad I ran into you today in the park and you spoke to me. Most people just ignore me.”

“They do?”

“Yes. They just go on their busy way.”

“Is it all right if I lay down here?”

“Sure. Make yourself at home.”

“It’s so cool and quiet here, I’m getting sleepy,” he said.

He lay full length on the couch, his arms behind his head, careful not to put his shoes on the coverlet.

She turned on the little oscillating fan on the table beside the chair. It made a gentle whirring sound, lifting the still air and giving it wings.

When she knew he was all the way asleep, she propped up her feet and smiled. In repose, he was such a beautiful boy. The fine, light-brown hair that she wanted to touch but didn’t because she knew it would wake him. The long eyelashes that tilted upward in a way that any girl might envy. The sweet, uncorrupted breaths that made his chest rise and fall. She wondered if his mother knew what a treasure she had and was sure that she did not. She was probably a foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking slattern who never wanted children in the first place.

She imagined what it would be like to have a boy like him with her all the time. They would be happy and she would watch him grow into a man and she would help him and guide him every step of the way. He would come to call her his mother because that’s really what she would be to him and he would be her long-lost son, the son she never had but always wanted. The son in California with three children of his own was just a tale she told.

The sleeping powder she put in the root beer when he wasn’t looking was a mild one. He would sleep maybe four or five hours and while he slept she could sit and look at him without interference and pretend he belonged to her and would never go away.

The phone rang in the kitchen but she ignored it. Now, who could be calling her? She didn’t care. She had better things to do. She had a visitor to entertain. She expected the ringing phone to cause the boy to open his eyes, but he kept right on sleeping the sleep of the innocent, breathing the breath of purity.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Advertisements

It ~ A Capsule Movie Review

It ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Early in It, a small boy named Georgie has an encounter with a strange, though interesting, clown in a storm drain during a rainstorm. That’s the last that’s seen of little Georgie. His older brother Bill misses Georgie terribly and refuses to believe he’s dead. Bill and his group of adolescent friends (all troubled in some way) believe there’s something terrible going on in the little town of Derry, Maine, in the late 1980s. There are far too many missing kids and nobody knows what’s happened to them. The self-absorbed adults in the town don’t seem very interested in solving the mystery, so it’s left to Bill and his friends to confront the evil force, whatever it is. Welcome to the world of Stephen King. It is based on his massive, 1200-page novel.

There’s a pattern to the bad things that happen in the town. In 1908, an ironworks exploded, killing over a hundred people. Every twenty-seven years since 1908, tragedies have occurred. It’s now 1989 and that’s twenty-seven years since the latest town tragedy in 1962. By studying maps, the boys figure out that the places where the tragic events occurred all have something in common: they are all connected via the town’s sewer system and a thing called the well house. Just where is this well house, and how do the boys find it?

The clown, Pennywise, is by far the most interesting character in It. He is the personification of the evil force in the town. He lives in the town’s labyrinthine sewer system. Depending on your own perception of clowns (I like them), Pennywise is grotesque, scary, fascinating, creepy, compelling, or silly. Maybe all of these things.

Most of the characters in It are like cardboard cutouts. Some of the kid actors who play the parts talk so fast that we don’t understand a lot of what they say and they aren’t very convincing or likeable, with the exception of stuttering Bill and the one girl in the group, Beverly, who has to fight off the advances of her creepy, leering father.  If you are a Stephen King fan, you will probably love this film adaptation of one of his most famous works. If you are not a Stephen King fan, you might find the onscreen horror of the ho-hum, obvious kind involving thirteen-year-olds and things jumping out at you in the dark.

We don’t know until the end of It that we have just seen chapter 1 of the story, meaning there will be more. The young girl who plays Beverly in the movie looks very much like the fortyish actress Amy Adams, so I’m figuring that Amy will be in the next movie playing Beverly as she would now look in the year 2017. And Pennywise? He’ll be back! He may be down but not out. Oh, that clown!

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

If Mother Goes to the Penitentiary

If Mother Goes to the Penitentiary ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in The Bone Parade. This is a repost.)

Daddy Earl drove slowly on the night-time street, looking for an address. When he found the one he wanted, he parked the car under a street lamp and killed the engine.

“This looks like the place,” he said. “You two wait here. This shouldn’t take long.”

“What do you think Daddy Earl does on these calls he makes?” Freda said to Julian after Daddy Earl was gone.

“How should I know?” Julian said. He was lying on his back looking upside down out the window.

“Well, I hope this doesn’t take long. It’s boring just sitting here in the dark and it’s kind of scary.”

“I’m not scared,” Julian said.

“If anybody walking along the street tries to bother us, I’ll honk the horn to attract somebody’s attention.”

“What do you think mother’s doing right now?” Julian asked.

“She’s probably sitting on the bunk in her little jail cell in her plain gray prison dress, thinking about where she stashed those jewels.”

“What jewels?”

“The jewels she stole, silly. I just know she has them hidden away in a safe place and when she gets out of jail she’ll know right where they are and go and get them. Then we’ll have to go away to Mexico or Nicaragua or someplace like that to keep the police from locking her away in jail again.”

“Daddy Earl too?” Julian asked.

“No, I think Daddy Earl will stay here,” Freda said.

“Maybe mother and Daddy Earl will get married.”

“I don’t think so. I don’t think Daddy Earl gives mother much of a thrill. He’s nice and everything, but he’s not very good looking and he’s kind of dumb. He sleeps in his socks.”

“How do you know he sleeps in his socks?”

“Mother told me, silly. It’s to keep his feet warm. He doesn’t have good circulation, so his feet are cold all the time.”

“I sleep in my socks, too,” Julian said. “Sometimes.”

“That’s just because you’re ignorant and you don’t know any better.”

“You’re just as ignorant as I am.”

“Yes, but I’m trying to overcome my ignorance, but you’ll go through your whole life getting more ignorant all the time.”

Julian yawned and then coughed. “Do you see Daddy Earl coming?”

“It’s only been about two minutes,” Freda said. “He wouldn’t be back this soon.”

“Why did they put mother in jail?” Julian asked.

“It was her third conviction, that’s why.”

“What’s ‘conviction’?”

“It means she was caught three times stealing jewelry and stuff. On the third time, they lock you up to try to teach you a lesson.”

“What’s the lesson?”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s not to steal anymore.”

“I heard Daddy Earl telling somebody on the phone that mother’s shoplifting is a psychological addiction,” Julian said. “She can’t keep from doing it, even if it means she’ll have to go to jail.”

“Who was Daddy Earl talking to?”

“How should I know?”

“Maybe it was a lawyer.”

“He said she’s going to end up in the penitentiary if she’s not careful.”

“It’s kind of funny to have a criminal for a mother,” Freda said. “I mean funny in an odd way, not in a laughing way.”

“Hah-hah-hah,” Julian said.

“If mother goes to the penitentiary, I think I have a pretty good idea what will happen to us,” Freda said.

“Us?”

“Yeah, you and me, dumbbell! We’re minors. Do you think they’re going to leave us with Daddy Earl?”

“I don’t know.”

“Daddy Earl doesn’t want us for all the time. He’ll only let us stay with him until mother gets out of jail and then all bets are off.”

“All bets are off,” Julian said. “Maybe we can go live in the penitentiary with mother.”

“Do you think they let kids stay there?”

“I don’t know why not.”

“Well, that shows how much you know! You wouldn’t want to live in the penitentiary even if you could.

“Why not?”

“They eat gruel and stale bread every meal. There are rats and cockroaches everywhere and the people roaming around there would slit your throat just for looking at them. If the guards catch you doing something you’re not supposed to do, they lock you up in solitary confinement.”

“What’s solitary confinement?”

“It’s a dark place where they lock you away from everybody else and they only give you a little sip of water and a crust of moldy bread, and that’s all you get for the whole day.”

“Do they have TV in solitary confinement?”

“Of course not, silly! What would be the point in that? You don’t have books or newspapers or music or anything. That makes the punishment worse. Then when they finally let you out, you’re so grateful to be out that you promise you won’t ever act up again.”

“I don’t think I’d like it very much,” Julian said.

“No, if mother goes to the penitentiary, it’s off to foster care for you and me.”

“What’s foster care?”

“It means they put you in a place with strangers where they watch you all the time to make sure you’re not going to turn out to be a criminal, too. They make you scrub floors and wash dishes and go to church.”

“Why do they make you go to church?”

“Why do you think? They want to scare you into thinking you’re going to go to hell if you don’t try to be a good person.”

“I try to be a good person.”

“That’s because you’re only a small child. When you get older, you’ll get into things like gambling and drinking and chasing after women.”

“How do you know so much about it?”

“I’ve read a lot of books beyond my grade level and have watched a lot of TV. You find out about life from reading books and watching TV.”

“Like the Three Stooges?”

“No, I don’t mean like the Three Stooges. I mean real-life drama shows like detective shows and doctor shows and old movies that they show late at night.”

“Oh, I don’t like those.”

“You’ll never get past the Three Stooges phase, I’m afraid.”

The windows were starting to steam up. Freda swiped the sleeve of her coat across the glass.

“I wish he’d come on.” she said. “I want to get home.”

“Why?”

“It’s Saturday night and I’ve got a date.”

“Who with?”

“None of your business, that’s who with.”

“I’m going to tell mother!”

“Yeah, she’s in prison. Do you think she cares if I have a date?”

“She’d tell you you can’t go.”

“I’ll bet you didn’t know I had a boyfriend, did you?”

“Who cares?” Julian said. “What’s his name?”

“His name is Mickey Littlejohn, if it’s any of your business. He’s in the tenth grade, two years older than I am.”

“Is he the one with rotten teeth?”

“No, that’s Harvey Greaves. They’re nothing alike.”

“I don’t know him.”

“Mickey Littlejohn and I are going to run off and get married. We’re that much in love.”

“Mother won’t let you.”

“I don’t know how she can stop me, since she’s in prison.”

“She’ll tell Daddy Earl to stop you.”

“Did you ever notice how Daddy Earl doesn’t ever look right at us? He looks through us like we’re not even there. It’s like he’s thinking about something else all the time.”

“What’s he thinking about?”

“I don’t know. He’s a sphinx.”

“What’s a sphinx?”

“You’re too young to know.”

“I don’t care, anyway.”

Freda took a comb out of her purse and began combing her hair in the dark, imagining she was seeing herself in a mirror. “Mickey’s not going to like it when he comes by to pick me up tonight and I’m not at home because I’m waiting in some old car on some old street with my little brother.”

“Daddy Earl would chase him away.”

“Daddy Earl doesn’t know anything about Mickey and that’s the way I want to keep it.”

“Why?”

“Mickey Littlejohn is the one person in the world who will keep me from having to go to foster care when mother goes to live at the penitentiary.”

“How is he going to do that?”

“If they see I’m married and am living with Mickey in his own home with his parents, they’ll have to leave me alone. They won’t make me go to foster care because I’ll be a married woman living with my husband. It’s the law.”

“Can I come and live with you and Mickey Littlejohn?”

“Of course not, silly! You’ll have to go to foster care. A newly married woman doesn’t take her little brother along to live with her husband.”

“I don’t know why not!”

“It just isn’t done.”

“I’m not going to foster care,” Julian said.

“Oh, yes, you will! You’ll have to do what you’re told to do because you’re a minor. When you’re a minor, you don’t get to make any decisions for yourself.”

“Oh. I’ll go and live with my father, then.”

“You don’t have a father, dope!”

“Does he live in the penitentiary too?”

“Nobody knows where he is. Mother doesn’t know. He was just a brief infatuation for her.”

“I’ll put an ad in the paper and I’ll find him that way,” Julian said.

“He doesn’t want to be found, silly. That’s the way it is when you’re a man and a woman you’re not married to has a baby by you.”

“Don’t we have a grandma or an aunt or somebody that I could go live with?”

“All dead,” Freda said. “It’s foster care for you.”

“I’m not going!”

“When the time comes, they won’t ask you. They’ll pack you off no matter how much you cry and scream.”

“No, they won’t. I’ll buy a gun and kill them.”

Freda sighed deeply and knowingly. “Oh, well,” she said. “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you. Mother’s not in the penitentiary yet and maybe she won’t even have to go.”

“She needs to promise she won’t ever steal any more jewels,” Julian said.

“She should never have become a mother in the first place,” Freda said, “but these things will happen.”

“I think I see Daddy Earl coming now,” Julian said.

“No,” Freda said. “It’s only a tree moving in the wind.”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Suffused with Light

Suffused with Light ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Phillip Call awoke at the usual time, washed the sleep from his eyes, brushed his teeth and dressed himself. He went into the kitchen, expecting to see his mother sitting at the table drinking coffee, but she wasn’t there. Neither was she on the couch in the living room, in her bedroom, or anyplace else in the house. She hadn’t told him she was going to be gone. He wondered where she was but he wasn’t worried.

He was twelve years old and in the seventh grade. He didn’t like school very much but he tried to make the best of it. He was a fair student, better in English and reading than in math and science. In a few years when he was finished with school, he wanted to go into the navy and have a different kind of life where he would see places like Italy and South America.

He never knew his father. His mother had been married, but not to Phillip’s father, and then the man she was married to left and was seen no more. He knew she wasn’t a very good mother. She took pills, chain-smoked cigarettes, and drank whiskey and wine. Some days she didn’t even get out of bed or she laid on the couch all day in front of the TV. She had moods where she cried and yelled at him for no reason, only because he was there, and at those times he tried to stay away from her.

He had a piece of toast with jelly and set out to school. He was going to write his mother a note for her to see when she came home, but she would know that he got himself up and off to school and would be home at the usual time.

The day at school was uneventful. In his usual quiet way, he didn’t speak to anybody and nobody spoke to him. He had a spelling test, on which he scored a hundred percent, and a math quiz. Two eighth grade boys got into a fistfight in the cafeteria and had to be pulled apart. He spent the hour in study hall reading out-of-town newspapers on sticks. All in all, a very routine day. Nothing to write home about.

When he got home, his mother still wasn’t there. He looked for a note that she might have written, but there wasn’t any. He dug up something to eat for supper, did his homework and watched TV until bedtime. He expected her to come home all evening but she didn’t.

The next morning when he got up, she was sitting on the couch in her bathrobe. She was crying, smoking her Camels and drinking shots of whiskey. When he walked into the room, she didn’t look at him.

“Where were you, mother?” he asked. “I was worried.”

“I couldn’t take care of a kid,” she said, sobbing. “I hated to do it but I couldn’t go on any longer.”

“What?”

He stood right in front of her and still she didn’t look at him.

“I’ll have to tell them it was an accident. That I found him that way.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

“I didn’t really poison him. He took those pills by mistake. He had a toothache and he thought it was something for the toothache.”

“Who are you talking about?” he asked.

He spoke in a very loud voice and she didn’t hear him. He waved his arms and she didn’t see him.

“Then he turned over and his face was smashed into the pillow,” she sobbed. “He couldn’t breathe. Poor little thing!”

“Mother!” he said. “Why won’t you answer me?”

“Now I can get away somewhere and start over. I’ll just have myself to take care of and I’ll get along fine. I’ll get myself cleaned up and forget all this happened.”

Somebody came quietly up behind him and touched him on the shoulder. When he turned to look, he saw a man whose face was a bright spot of light. He could only see the outline of the head, ears and a neat brown haircut.

“Who are you?” Phillip asked. “How did you get in?”

“It doesn’t matter,” the man said.

“Are you my grandpa?”

“No.”

“Why can’t I see your face?”

“You’re to come with me now.”

“Where?”

“Away from here.”

As the man began to lead him away with a gentle pressure on the shoulder, Phillip turned for a last look at his mother, who saw and heard nothing.

“What about her?” Phillip asked.

“She’s already said her goodbyes,” the man said.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Nobody I’d Rather Be With

1912 White Rock Ad

His Master’s Voice

On July 10, 1900, “His Master’s Voice” was registered with the U.S. Patent Office as the trademark for the Victor Recording Company (later known as RCA Victor). The painting of a terrier named Nipper looking into the horn of a phonograph machine is by British artist Francis Barraud.  The image became an icon and one of the most recognized corporate trademarks of the 20th century and beyond.