I Have Never Known the River Ishcabob to Flood ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
I was in a place where I had never been before. I was buying a house next to a rocky river. The house was four stories tall and there were four houses in a row, all the same shape and height. (Things seem to come in fours here.) Mrs. Goldoni was the woman from whom I was buying the house. She had white-blonde hair like Jean Harlow but that’s where the similarity ended. Her face was very wrinkled and, due to an arthritic condition, she sometimes walked parallel to the floor like an insect. Think of a cockroach or a cricket and there you have the image I’m trying to convey.
I was on the top floor looking out the window at the view. “What’s the name of the river?” I asked Mrs. Goldoni, who was standing on her hind legs fussing with the curtains.
“It’s the River Ishcabob,” she said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it,” I said.
“It’s a popular tourist attraction.”
“Does it ever flood?”
“Oh, no, sir!” she said. “Why would it flood?”
“Where I come from the rivers flood and cause a great deal of damage.”
“I’ve lived here all my life,” Mrs. Goldoni said, “and I’ve never know the River Ishcabob to flood.”
“That’s a relief,” I said. “I don’t like floods, especially if they inconvenience me.”
I had been talking to Mrs. Goldoni over my shoulder and when I turned and looked out the window again, I saw hundreds of workmen swarming over the river and on the rocky beach between the house and the river. Just a few seconds ago, they hadn’t been there. They were moving very fast so I couldn’t see what they were trying to accomplish.
“What are those workmen doing?” I asked Mrs. Goldoni.
“They’ve incurred debt, sir,” she said.
“What kind of debt?” I asked.
“Not the kind that has to do with money.”
“You mean like moral debt?”
She laughed her tinkling laugh. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand yet, sir.”
“Understand what? Am I missing something?”
Mrs. Goldoni chuckled and dropped to her tiny, clicking feet and skittered out of the room.
“What kind of arthritis is it that makes you walk like that?” I asked, but of course she was gone and didn’t hear me.
After lunch, I noticed a little room in my house that I hadn’t seen before. There were two steps going up to it and at the top of the steps were French doors just like my Aunt Susie had between her living room and dining room when I was a little boy. When you see the doors, you can’t keep from opening them.
“What’s in here?” I asked Mrs. Goldoni, who just seemed to appear from nowhere.
“Oh, we don’t go in there!” she said.
“This is my house!” I said “I think I’ll go wherever I want!”
When I opened the French doors, I could see they hadn’t been opened in a long time. Gobs of cobwebs came loose in artful drapes, and little chips of paint and tiny slivers of wood fell on my head.
Mrs. Goldoni was standing at my right shoulder looking anxiously on, and when I turned my head to look at her, I realized there were other people standing all around me.
“Who are they?” I asked Mrs. Goldoni.
“Oh, they’re always here,” she said. “They won’t bother you.”
“This is my house,” I said. “I came here to get away. I don’t want lots of strange people hanging around.”
“You’ll get used to them,” Mrs. Goldoni said, “and you’ll forget they’re even here.”
“Lord in heaven,” I said. “What have I got myself in to?”
I swung the French doors open as far as they would go and stepped inside the little room, which, to my surprise, had pink wallpaper on the walls. A tiny window kept the room from being without light. I took a few cautious steps into the room, with Mrs. Goldoni and the others behind me.
In the little room were hundreds of obviously very old, gold pocket watches suspended from gold chains, displayed on racks.
“What’s all this?” I asked.
I reached out to pick up one of the watches to get a better look and Mrs. Goldoni said, “I wouldn’t touch those if I were you!”
“Why not?” I said. “They’re in my house. Anything in my house belongs to me, doesn’t it?”
“They’re haunted,” she said.
I turned and looked at her, not sure if my ears were working right. “How can a watch be haunted?” I asked.
“If you don’t leave them alone,” she said, “you’ll find out the hard way.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You’ll stir up some mean merde if you’re not careful!”
I knew just enough French to know what she was saying. I refrained from handling the watches any further while promising myself I’d find out more about them later.
After I reclosed the French doors and the crowd around me had dispersed, I decided to take a little walk outside and have a look at my immediate environs.
The “beach” between my house and the river wasn’t pretty. It was very rocky. You could walk on it, but only with sturdy shoes. I walked down close to the river and turned and looked at my house.
There they were: four, narrow, four-story houses of identical shape; almost like four pillars. The four houses were so close together, there wasn’t even room to park a car between them, but that didn’t seem to make any difference because nobody here seemed to have cars, anyway.
My house was the third house in the row, if you count from the left. I figured that all the other houses were occupied, but I knew nothing of the people who lived in them. All I knew was the fourth house in the row was a “bed and breakfast” run by an old woman who looked as if she had at some point in her life been smashed flat. I wasn’t quite sure what a bed and breakfast was, but I knew it to be some kind of commercial enterprise. I would have to let the smashed-flat woman know that I didn’t intend to take any kind of merde from anybody.
When I turned back to the river, I saw the workmen moving around furiously. One man who came near to me slowed down long enough for me to make eye contact with him.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“You’re not supposed to ask questions,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“You’re not supposed to talk to us.”
“What kind of a place is this?” I asked.
And then I went furniture shopping. There was a piece of furniture I wanted for my new house. I didn’t know what it was or what purpose it served, but I only knew I had to have it. After looking around for a long time in the store, I found one I liked. It looked like an old console TV in a wood cabinet, but nobody had those anymore. A salesman in a suit hovered near me. He spent a lot of time with me while I made my selection.
Finally I found the one I wanted to buy. The salesman said it cost four hundred dollars. I told him I’d take it and I wanted it delivered.
When I went to pay for the piece of furniture, the salesman told me it was four thousand and four hundred dollars.
“I thought you said four hundred,” I said.
“Oh, no, sir!” he said. “Its four thousand and four hundred.”
“That’s too much!” I said. “The thing’s not worth that much money.”
I found another one that I liked better that was nearer to the price I wanted to pay, and when I got home it was waiting there for me in a big box.
The pleasant-faced actor named Kyle Chandler was in a recent movie I had seen. He wasn’t the lead in the movie, but he played the brother of the lead. In the construct of the movie I saw him in, he had a congestive heart condition and died, even though he was only forty-five. We saw him dead in the hospital morgue when his brother, the lead character in the movie, showed up to identify the body.
Anyway, when I got home from buying my piece of furniture that looked like an old-fashioned console TV in a wood cabinet but wasn’t that because nobody had those anymore, Kyle Chandler was there and he was waiting to help me take the thing out of the box. We got the thing out of the box and were struggling with it to get it to the place in the room that was just right for it, when Kyle Chandler grabbed his chest and fell to the floor on his back.
Lying on the floor, his eyes were closed and he seemed to not be breathing. I leaned over and put my ear against his chest. There was no heartbeat. I realized then that all the people who had been standing around me when I opened the little room with the French doors were there again.
“Somebody get a doctor!” I said.
Nobody made a move to do anything, so I began thumping Kyle Chandler on the chest where I thought his heart must be, the way I had seen it done in the movies. I put one hand over his heart and hit the top of my hand with my other fist as hard as I could.
Kyle Chandler sputtered and opened his eyes. He looked at me and smiled. “What happened?” he asked.
“I think you were having a heart episode,” I said, “but you seem all right now.”
He stood up, smiling, not seeming to realize he would be dead if it hadn’t been for me.
At the end of the day I was lying on the floor with my biggest cat on top of me. He was purring and covered almost my entire body. I felt, as always, comforted by his warm and loving presence. We were listening to the fifties station on satellite radio and Little Richard was singing You Keep A-Knocking but You Can’t Come In!”
There was a woman sitting behind a desk a few feet away from me, but she didn’t seem to notice me. I found it very easy to pretend she wasn’t there. Mrs. Goldoni was right—I was getting used to those people in my house and wasn’t bothered so much by their presence. I still didn’t know who they were or why they didn’t leave since it was my house, but I felt sure all would be revealed in time.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp