Celeste ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This short story was published in Gothic City Press: Gas Lamp and is a re-post on my website.)
She owed everything to M and F. They brought her into the world, fed and clothed her, educated her, gave her a wonderful childhood. When the world was against her, M and F were always in her corner.
After she grew up, she married and left M and F. The marriage didn’t last, though, and after it came to its sad end she moved back home. M and F were growing old by then and needed her in the same way she needed them when she was a little girl growing up. She would never leave them again.
She did everything for them. They were helpless without her. She got them up in the morning, dressed them, sat them in their chairs, turned the TV or radio on for them. She read the newspaper to F and helped M with all the housework. She loved them so much that she told them all her secrets, like the time she pushed a girl down a long flight of stairs or the time at the lake when she could have saved a drowning boy but instead let him die.
On a beautiful autumn day, when the leaves were bright colors and the air held that wonderful crispness that can only mean the end of October, she bundled M and F up in their coats. F looked so sweet in the knit cap she made for him and M seemed to glow with the prospect of the fun they were going to have.
With M and F snuggly secured in the back seat, she drove out to the country road that she remembered from her childhood. They used to take long drives on Sunday afternoons in autumn, stopping to pick bittersweet or wild flowers or a few persimmons off a scraggly tree. She laughed to remember how eating a persimmon would make the inside of her mouth so puckery that she would have to spit it out on the ground. Autumn was her favorite time of year.
The road was just as she remembered it, the hills, curves, and sudden dips that made the stomach turn over. In fact, everything was exactly the same. There was the old red barn, there the grain silo and over there the horses grazing in a field behind a fence. The rickety old bridge still spanned the creek and the old country store still sold ice-cold drinks and pumpkins.
She looked away for a moment and when she looked back a porcupine was running across the road in front of the car. Porcupines don’t run very fast. If she had run over it and killed it, she would have been upset for the rest of the day. She swerved the car too much and lost control. The car careened off the road, across a ditch and into a tree.
Her first thought was for M and F. They had slid off the seat onto the floor but were unhurt. After she tended to them, she got out of the car to assess the damage. She had hit the tree squarely; water was dripping out of the radiator. She could not drive the car another inch in its present state.
It was too far to walk to town and, besides, she couldn’t leave M and F in the car alone. She could think of nothing else to do but stand by the side of the road and wait for somebody to come along and help.
There wasn’t much traffic and the few people who went by just stared at her as if she were a lunatic and went on past. Finally a police officer in a patrol car came along and, seeing her and the car smashed into the tree, pulled off onto the shoulder and got out.
“Anybody hurt?” the officer asked.
“No,” she said.
“I’ll call a tow for you.”
He spotted M and F in the back seat of the car. “Are they all right?” he asked.
“I think so,” she said.
He went closer to the car and leaned over to get a better look. “Why, they’re wax figures!” he said. “Aren’t they?”
“They’re…my family,” she said.
He straightened up and looked closely at her to see if she was making a joke. “Are you made of wax, too?”
“They’re surrogates.” she said.
She was wearing an old coat that belonged to F. She thrust her hands into the pockets and felt in the right-hand pocket a small knife that F used to use for whittling. She brought the knife out and stabbed the officer in the forearm.
He yelped with surprise. When she saw the knife sticking into his arm, she turned and started to run, but he grabbed onto her and wrapped his arms around her to subdue her. He pushed her toward the patrol car, opened the back door and shoved her inside.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she said. “I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“Shut up!” he said.
He slammed the door, locking her inside.
“Let me out of here!” she said. “They need me!”
The officer went over to her car and opened the back door. F tumbled out onto the ground head-first in a very undignified manner. The officer picked him up by the arm and tossed him back inside.
She winced as if she had been struck and then laughed at herself because she knew then that it wasn’t the real F. They—the real F and the real M—were asleep in a big trunk in the basement. Only she knew where they were. Nobody else would ever know. She was so much smarter than she had ever been given credit for.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp