We Always Called Him Snap ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Mrs. Crosswhite was a young-looking widow, fifty-seven years old. She lived comfortably in a commodious house on a corner lot of a pleasant street. She had a wide expanse of lawn, beautiful shade trees, and a variety of flowers and shrubs that she paid a professional gardener to tend. If not exactly rich, she was at least comfortably well off to the extent that she might buy anything she pleased and not have to worry about how much it cost. Her closest living relative was her son Snap. He was thirty and had always lived with her.
At times Mrs. Crosswhite was alarmed by Snap’s lack of ambition. In all the years he had been out of high school, he never showed much interest in bettering himself. He tried college but had not developed good study habits in high school and wasn’t able to keep up. He worked for a while in a restaurant but didn’t move fast enough. A warehouse job ended when he fell off a ladder and broke his foot. He drove a pickup-and-delivery truck for a dry cleaner but, through his carelessness, the truck was stolen and he was fired. Since his last disastrous job, that of counter person in a delicatessen, he had stopped looking for work and resigned himself to eating, sleeping, watching TV and slouching around in his underwear.
As a boy and young man, Snap Crosswhite was always slender, dark and good-looking. As he advanced through his twenties and on to thirty, though, he put on an alarming amount of weight and stopped taking care of himself. He didn’t care if he combed his hair or took a bath. He rarely went out and when he did, he drank to excess and spent the next couple of days in bed with a hangover.
Mrs. Crosswhite believed her son just hadn’t found his way yet. He was slow in getting started. If he wanted to be an auto mechanic, a dancer, or an interior decorator, she would gladly pay for his schooling. She tried to lead him, gently, in the direction she wanted to see him go, but she didn’t want to alienate or antagonize him. She didn’t want to be like her own mother, a woman whose ceaseless complaining and nagging drove her children away.
The days slipped away, one after the other, unchanging. Then one day someone came and took Snap away.
He came down in the middle of the morning in his bathrobe and ate his breakfast of three eggs, half a pound of bacon, toast with lots of butter and jelly, and Dr. Pepper. He ate without looking up and without speaking and when he was finished he went back upstairs to his room. Mrs. Crosswhite knew she wouldn’t see him again until lunchtime.
She was in the kitchen washing the dishes when she heard a knock on the door. When she went to the door and opened it, she saw two stylish young men in dark suits and dark glasses looking in at her. They were officially grim as if they were acting in a television drama.
“Yes?” she said, shading her eyes with her hand.
“Is this the home of Mr. Stanislaus Crosswhite?” one of the two men said.
“We always called him Snap,” she said. “Ever since he was a baby.”
“Is Mr. Crosswhite at home?”
“What is this about? I’m his mother.”
“We need to see him, ma’am.”
“All right. I’ll go and get him.”
She went upstairs and leaned her ear against the door of Snap’s room and tapped lightly. “Are you there?” she said.
“Yes?” came his muffled voice.
“There are two men at the door who say they want to see you.”
“Who is it?” Snap asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Take a message and tell them I’ll call them back.”
“No, it’s not on the phone,” she said. “They’re here. At the door.”
She heard him walking toward the door and undoing the lock. When he opened the door, he was pulling his bathrobe around his front and tying it. She was going to try to explain the men at the door, give him a word of warning, but he brushed past her without giving her a chance to speak.
He went down the stairs in his bare feet and when he turned the corner and saw the two men standing at the door, he turned around and ran back up the stairs to his room and slammed the door.
The men came running into the house and up the stairs without so much as a nod to Mrs. Crosswhite. Two uniformed men came rushing in from outside and followed the suited men up the stairs. Four men charging up her stairs was something of an affront to a middle-aged mother. She watched them with something akin to astonishment.
One of the suited men tried to open the door to Snap’s room, but of course it was locked.
“Open up, Mr. Crosswhite!” the man said. “We know you’re in there!”
“What is this all about?” Mrs. Crosswhite asked, having followed them up the stairs.
“Is there a window to that room?”
“Why, yes,” she said. “There are two.”
“Would he try to escape out the window?”
“Escape? Why should he?”
The suited man gestured to the larger of the two uniformed men and he put his shoulder to the door. With his third shoulder lunge, the door facing cracked and gave way and the door opened.
When the four men ran into the room, Snap was trying to hide himself in the closet. He whimpered and attempted to conceal himself behind some hanging clothes. The two uniformed men seized him by the arms and began trying to extricate him.
“Leave me alone!” Snap screamed. “I haven’t done anything! There’s been some mistake!”
“For heaven’s sake, what do you think he did?” Mrs. Crosswhite asked from the doorway to Snap’s room.
They freed him from the closet and when they let go of his arms he threw himself on the bed, bellowing like a bull.
“Make it easy on yourself, son,” one of the suited men said.
“Don’t let them do this to me, mother!” Snap screamed.
When they tried to pull him up from the bed, the sheets came off in his fists. He wrapped his arms around the edge of the mattress like a drowning man holding onto a log. His clothing became terribly disarranged. His bathrobe rode up onto his shoulders. His boxer shorts were pulled down, exposing his enormous white buttocks.
The suited man turned to Mrs. Crosswhite and said, “I think you’d better wait downstairs, ma’am. We’ll stay with him and get some clothes on him.”
“Is there something I should do? Somebody I should call?”
“No, ma’am. Just go back downstairs for now.”
Snap stopped screaming and, in a few minutes, the uniformed men escorted him down the stairs. They had dressed him in jeans, sweatshirt and sneakers. Hands cuffed in front of him, he was like a subdued animal. He didn’t look at Mrs. Crosswhite as they took him out the door.
The two suited men stayed behind to have a word with her.
“Where are you taking him?” she asked. “When will I see him again?”
“It won’t do for you to worry,” the man said. “We’ll take the very best of care.”
“Yes, but what do you think he did?”
“All will be revealed,” he said. “For now, just maintain a positive attitude and don’t speak to reporters.”
“Speak to them about what?”
“You’ll receive a call, apprising you of all the details.”
“Well, all right,” she said, “but I wish you could tell me more than that.”
“You have a really fine day, now,” he said, and then they were gone.
She waited anxiously by the phone for the rest of the day but it didn’t ring. That night her sleep was tormented by disturbing dreams in which Snap as a child was calling to her.
“Help me, mother!” he screamed in the dream. “I’m here! Can’t you see me?”
But the harder she tried to see him the more indistinct he became, until finally he faded into the air like a wisp of smoke and in his place was the jack-in-the-box toy that used to make him cry when he was three years old.
The next day she felt numb, sick with worry. She stayed within easy reach of the phone but still it didn’t ring. She kept the TV on to keep from feeling so alone but paid no attention to its silly game shows, commercials and soap operas. When it came time to eat, she went into the kitchen and prepared food that just sat there.
On the second day, she felt a little better. No news is good news, as they used to say. She felt sure they would clear up the whole matter, whatever it was, and bring Snap home and deliver him on the doorstep.
To keep herself occupied, she’d give Snap’s room a thorough cleaning. I can clean the room better with him gone and when he comes home it’ll be to a clean room, she thought.
She opened the windows to let in some fresh air. Then she cleared out all the trash and debris: old newspapers and magazines, food cartons, candy wrappers, soda and beer bottles, dirty clothes, socks and underwear. She loaded everything into trash cans, including the clothes, and put the cans in the alley to be emptied on trash day.
With the room free of clutter, she cleaned the walls and floors, clearing away the cobwebs that had accumulated close to the ceiling; pulled the furniture away from the walls and sucked up all the dust mice into the vacuum cleaner; scrubbed the mysterious stains out of the rug that had formed over the years; cleaned and polished the bedstead, dresser and chest of drawers; emptied all the drawers into trash bags; replaced the old pillows and sheets on the bed with new ones that had never been used; scoured and disinfected the bathroom, cleaning all the mirrors and polishing the chrome fixtures. From the closet she took all of Snap’s old clothes and threw them away. When he came home, the two of them would go shopping and buy all new things, wipe the slate clean and begin afresh.
When the worked was finished, she was tired but pleased with the results. The room was cleaner than it had been for years. Snap would just naturally want to develop more responsible personal habits.
Two weeks went by and then three, and still no word from Snap. No matter how much she wanted the phone to ring and willed it to ring, it was still silent. She called the police department a couple of times and gave them her name; they always transferred her call and she had to speak to someone, after a prolonged wait, who would give her no information at all. She wanted to complain to the mayor or the police commissioner, but she didn’t know their names.
She would be so happy to see Snap again and have him clear everything up for her. She imagined herself saying, “So, that’s all it was!” If only that day would come! She would even be happy to see him in his bathrobe and boxer shorts, eating and sleeping and hardly ever speaking.
She took to napping on the couch during the afternoons, next to the phone. It was during one of these afternoon naps that a knock on the front door roused her. She woke instantly, jumped to her feet.
When she opened the door, she saw a young man standing there, smiling at her. He was slender with short hair gleaming in the sun and a toothy smile.
“Aren’t you going to let me in?” he asked.
“It took a long time for you to come to the door,” he said.
“I was taking a nap on the couch. I can’t sleep at night.”
“Well, anyway,” he said. “I’m here.”
She held the door for him and he came inside. She couldn’t take her eyes off him.
“You look so different,” she said.
“Better, I hope.”
“You got your hair cut. It looks good. And new clothes, too, I see.”
“Red looks good on you.”
He set his small bag on the floor and sat in the green chair. “Place still looks the same,” he said.
“Where in the world have you been?” she said. “I was so worried.”
“I have a lot to tell you,” he said, “but first I want to rest up a little and take a shower.”
“You already look so clean and well-groomed! I can’t get over it!”
He laughed. “What have you been doing with yourself?” he asked.
“I’ve been so worried!”
“You, of course, Snap!”
“About that name. I want you to call me Stan now. That’s a better soubriquet for Stanislaus, don’t you think?”
“Nickname,” he said. “Snap belongs to my adolescence. I’m not an adolescent anymore.”
“Well, all right, but Stan is going to take some getting used to. We’ve called you Snap since you were a tiny baby.”
“I like the way Stan sounds, don’t you? So manly!”
“It just occurred to me who you remind me of,” she said.
“My father. He was so handsome when he was young. You look just the way he looked before he ran off and left us.”
“Well, my goodness, isn’t that a coincidence!”
“His name was Stan, you know.”
“No, I don’t think you ever told me your father’s name.”
“I’m just so glad to have you home again! I can hardly believe you’re really here!”
“I’m here, all right!”
“What would you like for dinner?” she asked. “I want to cook something special for your first night back.”
“You don’t have to cook anything,” he said. “I want us to go out to a good restaurant and really celebrate my rebirth. Champagne and everything.”
“Oh, Snap! Do you really think we should?”
“Well, don’t you feel like celebrating?”
“Of course, I do!” she said. “I’m so glad to have you back!”
She touched him on the arm to make sure he was really there.
“I’m going to start my own business,” he said. “We’ll talk about it over dinner.”
“What kind of business?” she asked.
“I’ll save it for later. I think you’ll be as excited as I am.”
“Oh, that is wonderful news!” she said. “Whatever you want to do, I’m sure I’ll approve, and, of course, I’ll do anything I can to help you!”
“But first I want to get cleaned up,” he said.
He stood up and picked his bag up from the floor.
“I gave your room a thorough cleaning,” she said. “It’s cleaner than it’s been in years. I thought we’d go shopping and buy some new furniture and get new carpet on the floor and maybe some new drapes.
“Sounds wonderful!” he said.
She watched him as he walked up the stairs: the neat khaki pants, the red shirt and brown tasseled loafers. She hadn’t seen him looking so good since he was a senior in high school.
A loud knock and she awoke with a start. The sofa cushion had left an imprint on her face. She stumbled into her shoes and banged her knee painfully against the coffee table.
Two men stood at the door. They were older men, gray-heads. They wore suits and looked grim, as if they were acting in a television drama.
“Yes?” she said.
“Mrs. Crosswhite?” one of the men asked.
“Yes,” she said. “What is it?”
“Are you the mother of Mr. Stanislaus Crosswhite?”
“We always called him Snap,” she said. “Ever since he was a baby.”
“I’m afraid we have some bad news, Mrs. Crosswhite.”
“About your son Stanislaus.”
“But he’s upstairs. I can go get him if you want.”
“No, Mrs. Crosswhite. I regret to inform you that your son died last night of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.”
“Never mind,” she said. “I don’t need to hear anything like that.”
She slammed the door in the faces of the two gray-heads, turned away and walked through the house, into the dining room and then the kitchen. She took an onion out of the refrigerator and a knife from the drawer and began cutting the onion up into small pieces. Over her head she could hear the comforting sound of the water running in Snap’s bathroom. He was taking a shower and after he was dressed the two of them were going out to a good restaurant to celebrate his coming home.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp