The Place Where He Lives ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
The young man, Boyd Bell, age twenty-two, had just been released from a mental hospital and was on his way home by bus. He settled himself in a seat toward the back where he believed he would not be bothered by any of his fellow passengers, when two old ladies came and sat in the seat directly in front of him. He was going to get up and move to a seat farther away, when a third old lady came and sat in the aisle seat beside him, hemming him in.
It soon became obvious that the three old ladies were traveling together. They looked alike, all three of them, and had identical white hairdos, curly on top and flat on the sides. The thing about them that was most remarkable, though, was that each wore a plastic flower above the right ear: one blue, one yellow and one pink.
Right away Boyd could smell the perfume of one of the old ladies (maybe all three) and didn’t like it. It smelled like sweet skunk and reminded him that he hadn’t eaten all day and that he might be sick on the trip home. He opened the window a couple of inches and smelled the air outside, cow manure and carbon monoxide fumes.
As soon as the bus began to move, the old lady sitting beside Boyd scowled at him and took a headscarf out of her patent leather purse (identical to what the other ladies had) and put the headscarf over her head and tied it under the chin. She held onto the knot with her liver-spotted old hand as if the headscarf would blow off if she didn’t.
Boyd smiled, suppressing a laugh, and turned his nose toward the opened window. He put his head back, not minding that the seat back was greasy, and hoped that he might be able to go to sleep to help pass the time.
He soon forgot the old ladies were there. After a few miles, though, the old lady sitting beside him pressed her fingers into his arm.
“Kiddo,” she said. “Today is not a good day to be blown completely away. Will you close that window?”
“You can always move to another seat if you don’t like it,” Boyd said.
“But I’m sitting here,” she said. “This is where I want to sit.”
“If you must know the truth,” Boyd said, “I like having the window open because your perfume makes me feel sick. I’d like to get where I’m going without vomiting, if it’s all the same to you.”
“I have Dramamine, if you’d like one,” the old lady said.
He sighed, mollified by her kindness, and closed the window with a loud smack. He closed his eyes again and tried to pretend the old ladies weren’t there.
Soon she was pressing her fingers into his arm again.
“Would you like a cookie?” she asked. “I made them myself.”
He didn’t want a cookie but when he saw it was oatmeal raisin, he took one and ate it and then had another.
“Good,” he said. “I haven’t had anything to eat all day.”
“My cookies always gets ‘em,” she said.
She gave a cookie to the two old ladies on the seat in front and there they sat, the four of them, silently eating cookies as the bus churned through farm country.
“Are the three of you sisters?” he asked.
“We’re triplets, split from the same egg.”
“Ugh,” he said.
“I’m Peachie and these are my sisters Billie and Zelda.”
They lifted themselves up far enough to see over the seat and looked at him.
“How do you do?” Billie said.
“So pleased to make your acquaintance,” Zelda said.
“We’re very old, not to mention very odd,” Peachie said. “All our lives we’ve never been apart and people always marvel at how much alike we are.”
“Why do you wear those plastic flowers in your hair?” he asked.
Peachie laughed. “You noticed that, did you? It’s so people can tell us apart and we can tell each other apart, now that our eyesight is no longer what it used to be. I’m the sunny one so my flower is yellow. Billie tends to be morose so her flower is blue. Zelda is, well, Zelda is Zelda, so her flower is pink.”
“Where you headed on this old bus?” he asked.
“Oh, here and there,” Peachie said. “We like to ramble about meeting interesting people. Like you.”
“I’m not interesting,” he said.
“I beg to differ,” Billie said.
“All our family is gone,” Peachie said, “so it’s just the three of us. We stick together. We don’t like to stay at home all the time and do nothing—there’s no quicker way in the world to get old before your time—so we go out into the world and have adventures. Then when we get tired we go back home and rest for a while before setting out again. We’re just as free as birds.”
“I’ve heard that witches travel in groups of three,” he said. “Also demons.”
Peachie laughed. “We might be witches in some quarters but I doubt that we’re demons. Anything is possible, though, I suppose.”
“If you were a demon, I think you’d know it,” Billie said.
“We’ve been called lots of things in our time,” Zelda said.
“I’ll bet you’ll never guess where I’ve been for the last two years,” he said.
“Let me guess,” Peachie said. “It’s jail, I’ll bet, isn’t it?”
“Not quite, but close.”
She put her hands to the sides of her head as though looking into the past. “I see white walls,” she said. “Bars on the windows. Stern women in white.”
“You’ve almost got it,” he said.
“I know!” she said. “You’ve been in a mental institution.”
“But you were lucky, though.”
“You didn’t mean to kill that boy. The district attorney wanted to put you in jail for the rest of your life, but they just put you away for two years instead. It was a lenient sentence.”
“How do you know that?”
“I don’t know how I know. I just know.”
“She’s been doing this ever since she was a child,” Billie said. “There’s no figuring it out. It just is.”
“It’s a gift,” Zelda said.
“So now you’re free,” Peachie said, “you can begin your life all over again.”
“I don’t want to begin my life all over again,” he said. “At home out back we have an old barn with sturdy rafters. I’m going to climb up to the hayloft, tie a rope around my neck, and jump off.”
“I won’t tell you you shouldn’t do it,” Peachie said, “because you already know that.”
“Don’t you have any family?” Zelda asked.
“Just my mother. She’ll be waiting for the chance to split my head open with an axe and say it was an accident, so I’ll save her the bother.”
“Think how she’ll feel when she sees you hanging from the rafter in the barn,” Billie said.
“I’d give anything to see her face,” he said.
Suddenly feeling disgusted with himself for telling his innermost secrets to strangers, he slouched down in the seat, turned his face toward the window again and went to sleep. When he awoke, he was aware that three people had been there and were gone, but he couldn’t remember anything about them.
The bus let him out two miles from home and he began walking slowly along the highway. He ignored the cars that passed him and they ignored him. Finally an old-fashioned black car the likes of which he had seen only in pictures stopped for him and the back door swung open to allow him to enter.
There were three very old ladies in the car, two in the front seat and one in the back. He smiled as he got in and they smiled back.
“Whereabouts you headed?” the old woman in the back seat asked him. She wore a yellow plastic flower above her right ear.
“I’m going home after a long absence,” he said. “If you could just give me a ride to the crossroads, I’d appreciate it. I sure am tired.”
As he looked closer at the three old ladies, he saw how alike they were. They had identical white hairdos, curly on top and flat on the sides. The old ladies in the front seat had plastic flowers above their right ear, too, but theirs were blue and pink.
“Are you all sisters?” he asked.
“We’re triplets,” yellow flower said. “Split from the same egg.”
“I never met any triplets before,” he said. “Why do you wear plastic flowers in your hair?”
“So people can tell us apart and so we can tell each other apart, now that our eyesight is no longer what it used to be.”
“Where did you say you wanted me to let you out?” blue flower asked, driving the car.
“At the crossroads, if you don’t mind,” he said. “You’ll see it when you come to it.”
As they approached the crossroads, blue flower made no attempt to even slow down.
“I think you just passed it up,” he said, looking over his shoulder out the back window.
“Yes, that was it,” yellow flower said.
He rubbed his eyes, leaned into the corner of the back seat and slept the sweetest sleep he had ever known. When he woke up he was hungry and had a crick in his neck. He looked out the window but could see nothing. Night had come on unexpectedly.
“Where we going?” he asked. “I hope we can stop and get a hamburger soon.”
The old ladies didn’t answer because they didn’t seem to hear. They were lost in their own nighttime thoughts.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp