Living Well is the Best Revenge ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This is a story I posted earlier with a different title and a different ending.)
Mrs. Pinnock sat in her darkened house, drinking shots of whiskey from a tiny glass and smoking cigarettes. It was a summer day, late in July. She was aware of some unusual sounds in the back yard and she didn’t know what it was. Oh, yes, she remembered now. Her son, Carl Junior, was having some friends over. They were playing a game in the back yard.
After a half-hour or so she no longer heard the sounds so she went to the back door and opened it to make sure the children weren’t getting themselves into any mischief or hurting each other. After all, she was the mother and she was supposed to keep things running smoothly when their father wasn’t around to watch them.
Opening the door revealed a small boy sitting hunched over on her back steps. He had short brown hair and wore a red shirt with white horizontal stripes. When she stepped out the back door, he turned around and looked at her.
“Hello,” she said. “Do I know you?”
The boy shook his head and looked away.
“Well, since I don’t know you,” she said, “I might ask you what you’re doing sitting here on my back steps.”
“We were playing but they left.”
“They left. Who are they?”
“Carl and Leghorn.”
“Well, I know who Carl is since he’s my son but I don’t know who Leghorn is.”
“He’s just a kid.”
“So, you, Carl and Leghorn were playing, and in the middle of it Carl and Leghorn left. Is that right?”
“Where did they go?”
“I don’t know. They played a trick on me. They told me to hide my eyes and when I did they ran off and didn’t come back.”
“That wasn’t very nice, was it?”
“Carl Junior invited you and this Leghorn kid over to play and then Carl Junior and Leghorn abandoned you.”
“I don’t mind.”
“Um, you don’t like Carl Junior very much, do you?”
“You have this instinctive feeling that he’s not to be trusted.”
“If you feel that way about them, then why do you play with them?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know that many people, I guess.”
She flipped her cigarette over the porch railing. “Can’t you just go on home?” she asked. “I mean, instead of waiting for those two little shits to come back?”
“My mother told me to stay here until three o’clock. She’s coming to pick me up then.”
“Can’t you walk?”
“It’s about two miles and I’m not sure if I remember the way.”
“You’re new in town, I take it.”
“I can drive you home if you’d like.”
“No, thank you. That would only confuse my mother.”
“Well, you might as well come in, then. You can’t sit out there in the sun until three o’clock.”
She led him into the living room and pointed to the couch for him to sit down. “Would you like me to call your mother and tell her there’s been a change of plan?” she asked.
“No, she’s not at home. She had an appointment.”
“Oh, I see.”
Realizing the room was unusually dark for one who had just been sitting in the sun, she opened the blinds. “Would you like a soda or a drink?” she asked.
“No, but I would like to use the bathroom.”
“Well, make yourself at home,” she said. “It’s right back through there.”
He was gone for about two minutes and when he came back his shirt was tucked neatly into his pants.
“I just realized I don’t know your name,” she said.
“That’s kind of like ‘marshmallow,’ isn’t it?” she said and laughed her boozy laugh.
“I guess so,” he said, sitting on the edge with one arm twisted round the other.
“How old are you, Paul Marmelow?”
“You’re getting close to that dangerous in-between age.”
“You don’t know what the dangerous in-between age is?”
“It’s where you’re halfway between childhood and adulthood. You like to think of yourself as an adult but the world is telling you you’re still a child.”
She was tense and making him tense. “Well, just relax,” she said. “I’m not a wicked witch in spite of appearances to the contrary and I’m not going to devour you.”
He leaned all the way back and untwisted his arms. “You have a pretty house,” he said.
“Yes, it’s big. When Carl Senior buys a house, he buys the biggest and the best that money can buy.”
“Do you have a dog?”
“No, we don’t have a dog. We have two children and that’s enough in the way of pets. Besides Carl Junior, there’s my daughter Cecelia. She’s only eight. You probably don’t know her, do you?”
“Now that the whole can of worms has been opened, you must know that I’m not really the mother of Carl Junior and Cecelia. I’m their stepmother.”
“Don’t you find that interesting?”
“I’ll bet Carl Junior never told you he had a stepmother, did he?”
“What happened to their mother?”
“Well, the rumor is that she died, but I have reason to believe she’s hiding out someplace.”
“If I only knew the answer to that question, I would go and find her and bring her back.”
“Maybe she wouldn’t want to come back.”
“I’m sure she wouldn’t or she wouldn’t have run off in the first place.”
“I have a dog,” he said.
“What’s his name?”
“What kind of a dog is Skippy?”
“I think he’s part collie and part something else.”
“So he’s a big dog.”
He leaned forward and held his hand two feet from the floor. “About this big,” he said.
“Do you let Skippy stay in the house?”
“He can come into the basement as long he leaves his fleas outside.”
“A good policy.”
“I don’t think he has any fleas, though. He wears a flea collar.”
She leaned forward and lit another cigarette and blew the smoke out the side of her mouth. “Something else you probably don’t know about me—and I’m not even sure if I should tell you this or not—is that I’m about three-quarters drunk right now. What my mother would call ‘three sheets to the wind’.”
He laughed. “You drink beer?”
“Stronger than beer.”
“You drink whiskey?”
“That’s it exactly! I’ve been taking shots of whiskey all morning.”
“Does it taste good?”
“No, it tastes like crap, but I don’t drink it for the taste.”
“What do you drink it for?”
“Well, that’s something you’ll have to be older to understand. You don’t know anything about disappointment yet.”
“I know what it means.”
“I’ll bet your mommy doesn’t drink straight whiskey, does she?”
“I’ve never seen her if she does.”
“What about your daddy? Is he a good father?”
“I guess so.”
“What does he do for a living?”
“He’s a painter.”
“You mean landscapes and portraits and things like that?”
“No, he paints houses and sometimes he drives out into the country and paints barns.”
“Is there a lot of money in painting barns?”
“I don’t know.”
“Of course not. You wouldn’t know. When you’re eleven years old, you don’t think about things like that, do you?”
“I think I’d like to be eleven again,” she said. “If God could grant me one wish, it would be to start all over again and do it right this time without all the things I did wrong.”
“My older brother picks on me,” he said.
“Why does he do that?”
“Do you have any other brothers or sisters?”
“No, just the one brother.”
“It’s wise not to have any more than two children. Two are enough for anybody.”
“I’m not having any when I grow up,” he said.
“And you’ll be happier for it if you don’t.”
“I’ll just have lots of animals.”
“Live on a farm, you mean?”
“And, since you bring up the subject of farm animals, I want to warn you about my stepson Carl Junior.”
“What about him?”
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get far away from him and not try to be friends with him anymore.”
He laughed because he thought she was making a joke. “Why is that?” he asked.
“Because he will lead you astray or hurt you.”
“How do you know?”
“How do I know? I know because that is his function in life. He is the unwitting purveyor of chaos.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Of course you don’t because you haven’t seen it in him yet but, believe me, it’s there and he’s just getting started.”
“I don’t know. He seems all right to me.”
“That’s how his kind always gets started. He seems all right at first so you aren’t able to see the terrible thing that’s coming. I know this because Carl Senior is exactly the same way. Carl Junior is a miniature version of Carl Senior.”
“Why do they both have the same name?”
“You don’t need to know that. Just know that you have been warned.”
“Please keep it in mind in your future dealings with Carl Junior.”
“Believe me, if I had a criminal nature and if I wasn’t afraid of going to jail, I’d sneak into his room at night when he’s asleep and strangle him with the drapery cord.”
“You would do that to him?”
“Probably not, but I can still think about it, can’t I? Savor the moment?”
“I’ve never thought about killing anybody.”
“You’re still young.”
“I have an uncle in jail,” he said. “He didn’t kill anybody, though. I think he wrote bad checks.”
“Now that I’m divulging secrets,” she said, “I might as well tell you the big one.”
He reclined partway on the couch and leaned his head on his hand. “What is it?” he asked.
“Our life here is about to blow up.”
“Do you mean like with a bomb?”
“No, I don’t mean ‘blow up’ literally; I mean it figuratively.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Well, you will. Do you know what an embezzler is?”
“It’s a person who steals money in an orderly way. Not somebody who robs a bank or holds up a gas station but a person who systematically siphons money in a way that he thinks won’t be noticed. You know, a little bit here and a little bit there.”
“Do you know what he then does with the money he embezzles?”
“He puts it into a secret account in a foreign country. If this goes on long enough, the money can grow to a very sizeable amount.”
“Then the embezzler absconds with the money he has accumulated in a foreign bank account to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means that even if they know where he is they can’t have him brought back.”
“Carl Senior is one of those embezzlers. He’s been doing it for about six years. I’m the only one who knows. And you know what else I know?”
“He’s going to run off with the money he has embezzled to Central America or someplace like that and leave me here to deal with Carl Junior and Cecelia.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because he wants more than anything in the world to be able to live a life of luxury and seclusion and not be bothered with a wife and children.”
“I’m thinking about calling the place where he works and telling them everything I know. Or, on the other hand, I could just kill the son of a bitch. If it was you, what would you do?”
“I don’t know. Run away from home, I guess.”
“Would you like to be my little boy?”
“No. I already have a mother.”
“Well, it’s just a thought. I seem to be able to talk to you so easily. I can see you’re miles ahead of Carl Junior in intelligence and sensitivity.”
“I didn’t want to tell you this before but I think Carl Junior is an asshole.”
“Yes, he certainly is that. Exceeded only by his father.”
When he looked at the sunburst clock on the dining room wall and saw it was fifteen minutes to three, he stood up. “I think I’ll walk down to the corner now and meet my mother,” he said.
“Must you go already?” she asked.
“She’ll be mad if I keep her waiting.”
She stood up and walked him to the door and when they got to the door she opened it and took his hand in hers. “You’ve helped me to see things more clearly,” she said. “It’s been awfully good talking to you.”
“You too,” he said.
“I’m sorry Carl Junior and his friend ran out on you.”
“I don’t mind.”
“It’s all part of growing up. You learn who your real friends are but, more importantly, you learn who they’re not.”
“I hope you’ll come back and visit me again real soon.”
“I will,” he said and then he stepped out the door into the blazing July afternoon and was gone.
She poured herself another drink, lit another cigarette. She took a gun out of the desk drawer, checked to make sure it was loaded and ready to fire, and sat down with it in the chair facing the door.
Right on schedule, she heard Carl Senior’s car in the driveway and then the sound of the engine shutting off and his car door opening and closing. In one minute he was on the porch, inserting his key in the front door.
She held the gun in her right hand, swallowed hard and slowed her breathing. As soon as the door opened, she fired once at the dark bulk standing in the doorway in the bright light. She feared for a second that it was somebody other than Carl Senior and she had made a terrible mistake, but as he groaned and fell to the floor, she knew it had to be him. As she watched him, his right foot still outside the door, writhing in pain and trying to hold his own blood in with his hands, she lit another cigarette and blew out a cloud of smoke.
“Either come in or go out,” she said. “Please make up your mind.”
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp