Six and a Half ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
A loud, insistent knock. She opened the door, quickly, so as not to have to hear another knock like that one, and there, standing on her doorstep, was a strange, blonde-haired woman holding a young girl by the hand.
“Mrs. Tovey?” the strange woman asked, smiling, or trying to smile.
“Yes,” Mrs. Tovey said, already annoyed by the sight of the woman. “If you’re soliciting for something or trying to get me to vote for a certain political candidate, I’m not interested.”
“Oh, no!” the woman said. “It isn’t anything like that! I was wondering if I might have a word with you.”
“Do I know you?” Mrs. Tovey asked.
“No, but you might know of me.”
“What is this about?”
A car went by on the street and the woman looked nervously over her shoulder. “Can we come in?” she asked.
Mrs. Tovey sighed and stood aside to let the woman and the little girl enter her home. Closing the door, she gestured toward the couch like a TV hostess, where the woman sat down, pulling the little girl down beside her. Mrs. Tovey remained standing.
“First off, I’d better tell you my name,” the woman said, leaning forward on the couch and crossing her ankles. “I’m Gilda Gray.”
“I’m sure we haven’t met,” Mrs. Tovey said. “What can I do for you?”
“I was at your husband’s funeral last week. I know you didn’t see me but I saw you.”
“There were lots of people at my husband’s funeral.”
“I was a friend of his.”
“Oh? I wasn’t aware that my husband had any friends that I didn’t know about.”
“Of course you didn’t know who I was or anything about me, but I figured you at least knew that I existed.”
“Why would I know anything about you at all?”
Gilda Gray put her arm around the little girl beside her. “This is my daughter,” she said. “She’s six and a half. We call her Ta-Ta.”
“That’s a ridiculous name,” Mrs. Tovey said.
“Her name is really Tatiana.”
Mrs. Tovey sighed. “I don’t mean to be rude,” she said, “but I’m awfully busy and it’s taking you a very long time to say what it is you want to say.”
“Does Ta-Ta look at all familiar to you?”
Mrs. Tovey drew in her breath and lowered her gaze at Ta-Ta. “She looks like thousands of other little girls I’ve seen. I’ve never seen her before, either.”
“The shape of her face or the way her chin sticks out?”
“Where is all this leading?”
“Your husband and I have been very good friends for about eight years. Right up until the time of his death.”
“I’m trying to be patient,” Mrs. Tovey said, “but I’m quite sure I don’t have time for this. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
Gilda Gray drew from her purse an envelope and handed it to Mrs. Tovey. “This might help explain things a little better,” she said.
Mrs. Tovey opened the envelope and withdrew a little packet of pictures, which she glanced through and quickly handed back.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to do,” she said, “but it’s not going to work! That is not my husband in those pictures!”
“They were taken when we—your husband and I—were in Florida together.”
“My husband was never in Florida.”
“I assure you he was!”
“How do I know those pictures are real? Anybody can change a picture to make one person look like another.”
“I also have these,” Gilda Gray said.
“And just what is that?”
“It’s letters your husband wrote to me. He had a very distinctive handwriting. Are you going to tell me that’s not his writing?”
“I have no intention of reading your letters!” Mrs. Tovey said. “And if you don’t get out of my house in about five seconds, I’m going to call the police.”
“Your husband made me a lot of promises. He told me he would get a divorce and marry me. I was young and naïve and I believed every word. Of course, none of it turned out to be true.”
“If you proved to me in a court of law that my husband wrote those letters, I still wouldn’t believe you.”
“You’ll believe what you choose to believe.”
“What exactly is it you want?”
“I’m not a very good mother.”
“That I can easily believe! Your daughter is overweight and has far too much curl in her hair.”
“I don’t have a job. I can’t take care of her. I can’t even take care of myself.”
“Why should that be my concern?”
“You have this big house and property, and know you have plenty of dough in the bank.”
“That is no concern of yours.”
“I’m appealing to your sense of decency.”
“What makes you think I have one?”
“I’d like a hundred thousand dollars.”
“I think it’s safe to say that anybody would like a hundred thousand dollars.”
“It’s what your husband would have given me if he had lived.”
“You should have taken it up with him before he died.”
“I can get myself a lawyer if you refuse to play fair.”
“I can get myself a lawyer, too!” Mrs. Tovey said. “In fact, I already have one who was a good friend of my husband’s. He won’t stand for any kind of a shakedown like this.”
“You really think it’s a shakedown?”
“Indeed, I do!”
“You can’t see that I am in any way entitled to a hundred thousand dollars?”
“I could cause you a considerable amount of trouble. If I wanted to.”
“I’m sure you think you could!”
“So, you’re refusing the hundred thousand dollars?”
“I most emphatically am!”
“I have a counter-proposal, then.”
“You are in no position to propose anything! I believe you are only a thieving liar who heard about my husband’s death and are conducting—or trying to conduct—a scam.”
“I propose that you adopt Ta-Ta and raise her as your own daughter.”
“What? Why would I do that?”
“Because I believe you know in your heart that what I’m saying is true and you wouldn’t want your husband’s child to live a disadvantaged life.”
“The kind of life your daughter lives is no concern of mine!”
“If you adopted her, I would completely remove myself from the picture. I swear I would never bother you again!”
“You are a lying, thieving tramp! It’s written all over you!”
Little Ta-Ta looked from her mother to Mrs. Tovey and back again at her mother and then began crying. She sobbed and wiped at her eyes with her knuckles.
“There, there, darling!” Gilda Gray said. “We’ll go in just a little bit. Mother is just finishing up here.”
“There’s nothing more to say!” Mrs. Tovey said. “You might as well take her and go right now!”
Gilda Gray stood up from the couch. “All right, I’ll go,” she said. “I won’t give you the satisfaction of throwing me out.”
“And if you ever think of coming here again, my door will not be open to you!”
After Gilda Gray was gone, Mrs. Tovey tried to put the episode out of her head. She knew, or thought she knew, that there was no woman like that in her husband’s life. He was too conventional, too boring. No young woman would ever have found him attractive or even mildly interesting. In the morning she would call the police and tell them what happened and she was sure they would be sympathetic. She hoped they would tell her that there had been a rash of these cases and it was nothing to worry about. It happens all the time and all you can do to protect yourself is be a little bit smarter than they are.
Just as it was getting dark that evening, there was another knock at the door, a small, timid knock. When Mrs. Tovey opened the door, there was little Ta-Ta looking up at her. She raised her little fist in greeting and the corners of her mouth turned down as though she knew she would not be welcome.
Mrs. Tovey looked behind Ta-Ta, but there was no one else there. “Why, where’s your mother?” she asked.
“They let me out of the car and drove on,” Ta-Ta said.
“My mother and a man.”
“And I bet they’re laughing their socks off about now.”
“Can I come in?” Ta-Ta asked.
“I guess you’ll have to,” Mrs. Tovey said.
“My mother said you would love me and take care of me. Do you love me?”
“Why, child, I don’t even know you.”
“I’m very smart.”
“I’m sure you are.”
“Can I have a hot dog?”
“I don’t think I have any hot dogs, but come on into the kitchen and we’ll see what’s there.”
Mrs. Tovey pulled a chair out from the table for Ta-Ta to sit on and went to the refrigerator to see what she might fix for her to eat. There was some leftover liver and onions and some congealed spinach, but she was sure they weren’t appropriate for a child. She fixed her a ham and cheese sandwich and slathered it with mayonnaise.
After Ta-Ta had taken a couple of bites, she said, “This is so good!”
“You haven’t eaten for a while?” Mrs. Tovey asked.
“I don’t remember. Can I watch TV?”
“Finish eating and then we’ll see.”
“Can I stay here forever and ever? My mother said I could.”
“You can stay the night.”
“Can I sleep with you?”
“No. You can sleep in one of the spare bedrooms upstairs.”
“I might get scared.”
“That’s a chance you’ll have to take.”
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp