We Always Called Him Snap ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Mrs. Arlene Oberhausen was a young-looking widow, fifty-seven years old. She lived in a comfortable, twelve-room house without a mortgage on a tree-lined boulevard in a small city. She lived well, without extravagance, employed a gardener and part-time kitchen help, bought new drapes for the dining room every two years. All her family was dead except for her son, Stanislaus Oberhausen, who went by the nickname of Snap. He was thirty years old and had always lived with Mrs. Oberhausen in her comfortable, twelve-room house without a mortgage on a tree-lined boulevard. He never planned on living anywhere else.
At times Mrs. Oberhausen was dismayed by Snap’s lack of ambition. While other thirty-year-old men had careers, families and homes of their own, Snap seemed uninterested in those things. He was content to eat, sleep, lie around in his underwear, read comic books and watch TV. In recent years he had put on an alarming amount of weight. He rarely bathed, combed his hair, or bothered to get dressed. He hardly left the house and sometimes when he did leave the house, he was gone for two days at a time without any explanation, as if he had been captured by aliens in a flying saucer and then had no recollection of the experience.
Mrs. Oberhausen believed that Snap just hadn’t found his way yet. He was strangely uninspired by life but, given time, he would discover his God-given talents (whatever they were) and take his place in the world along with every other successful person who ever lived. He was the rose that doesn’t bloom until August.
If he wanted to be a prizefighter, a ballet dancer, an auto mechanic or a horticulturist, she would finance his education and do whatever it might take to get him to put his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder and begin the ascent. She would be patient and give him as much time and space as he needed. She wouldn’t be like her own mother who drove her own children away, a fishwife if there ever was one.
On a Friday afternoon in April, everything changed. Some men came and took Snap away.
It began like any other day. Snap came down in his bathrobe at ten in the morning and ate his usual breakfast of half-a-dozen eggs, half-a-pound of bacon, and family-sized bottle of Dr. Pepper. He ate without looking up or speaking and when he was finished he went back upstairs to his room. Mrs. Oberhausen 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 an older man with gray hair and a younger man with no hair at all. They both wore dark suits and 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 Oberhausen?” the younger man with no hair said.
“We always called him Snap,” she said. “Ever since he was a baby.”
“Is Mr. Oberhausen at home?”
When she seemed to hesitate, he opened his wallet and flashed a badge in her face. “We need to see him, ma’am,” he said. “It’s important.”
“All right. If you’ll wait here, I’ll go and see if he’s awake.”
She went up the stairs and leaned her ear against the door of Snap’s room and tapped lightly. “Are you there, dear?” she asked.
“Yes?” came Snap’s faraway voice.
“There are two men at the door who say they want to see you.”
“What do they want?”
“I don’t know.”
“Find out who it is and tell them I’ll call them back.”
“It’s not the phone, dear!” 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 middle and tying it. She was going to try to warn him about the men at the door, but he went past her without giving her a chance to speak.
He went down the stairs in his bare feet and when he turned the corner at the bottom of the steps and saw the two men standing at the door, he turned around and ran back up the stairs liked a scared rabbit.
The older man with gray hair and the younger one with no hair at all came running into the house and up the stairs after Snap. The older man with gray hair called to somebody outside and two uniformed men came rushing in and they also ran up the stairs. The four of them, slightly out of breath, positioned themselves outside the door of Snap’s room. The older man with gray hair tried the knob and knocked.
“It’s the police, Mr. Oberhausen,” he said. “We need to talk to you.”
“No!” Snap’s muffled voice said. “I don’t want to talk to you! Go away!”
“For heaven’s sake!” Mrs. Oberhausen said. “What is this all about, anyway?”
“Is there a window in that room?” the younger man with no hair at all asked.
“Why, yes,” she said. “There are two.”
“Would he try to escape?”
“Escape? Why would he do that?”
The older man with gray hair gestured to one of the two uniformed men to force the door open. The uniformed man promptly applied his shoulder to the door with considerable force. On the third thrust, the door frame splintered and the door opened.
When the four of them ran into Snap’s room, with Mrs. Oberhausen behind them, 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!”
“I demand to know what this is all about!” Mrs. Oberhausen said. “You don’t just barge into people’s houses this way and…”
They freed Snap 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,” the older man with gray hair said.
“Don’t let them do this to me, mother!” Snap screamed.
When they tried to pull Snap off the bed, the sheets came off in his fists. He tried holding onto the mattress with his arms and legs. His bathrobe rode up onto his shoulders. His underpants came partway down, exposing his enormous white buttocks.
The older man with gray hair turned to Mrs. Oberhausen 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.”
Clenching a handkerchief in both hands, Mrs. Oberhausen waited at the bottom of the stairs. She listened to the muffled voices coming from upstairs, including a couple of sharp exclamations from Snap indicating he was being hurt in some way. After five anxious minutes, the older man with gray hair and the younger man with no hair at all came down the stairs, leading Snap between them by his elbows.
The first thing Mrs. Oberhausen saw was that Snap’s hands were cuffed in front of him. She was going to protest, but when she saw his tearful face and the grim, subdued manner of the older man with gray hair and the younger man with no hair at all, she decided it was probably best to say nothing at the moment. If they had to “take him in” (in TV parlance), the whole thing would be cleared up in minutes and he would be released, she was sure of it.
The older man with gray hair and the younger man with no hair at all stood aside and let the two uniformed men take Snap out the door, while they remained behind to have a word with Mrs. Oberhausen.
“Where are you taking him?” she asked. “What do I do now?”
“You don’t need to do anything, ma’am,” the younger man with no hair at all said.
“Do I need to engage a lawyer?”
“Not at the moment, ma’am. You’ll be notified.”
“When? How long is this going to take?”
“Try not to worry, ma’am. The wheels of justice turn slowly at times.”
“How can I not worry? You come into my house and take away my son and I don’t even know the reason!”
“I know, ma’am. These things are always hard for the parents.”
“What things? What do you think my son did?”
“The only advice we can give you now, ma’am, is maintain a positive attitude and don’t speak to reporters.”
“Speak to reporters about what?”
“Somebody will be calling you and all your questions will be answered.”
“When? When will that be?”
“Soon. It’ll be soon. Just live your life and do everything you would ordinarily do.”
“You have a really fine day now.”
After the men left, Mrs. Oberhausen fixed herself a pitcher of martinis. She wasn’t used to drinking alcohol, especially in the middle of the day, but she needed something to calm her down. After she had drunk more than half the pitcher, she fell into an uneasy sleep on the couch (telephone in reach) and was surprised when she woke up and saw it was seven o’clock and nearly dark out.
She got up and turned on all the lights. Had the phone rung while she was sleeping? Wouldn’t she have heard? She went to the front door and walked out onto the porch and looked up and down the street. What she was looking for? Just a sign that Snap was all right and would be coming home soon. He’d have lots to tell her, they’d have a good laugh, and she’d cook him a steak.
She sat up until after midnight, waiting for the phone to ring, but it didn’t ring a single ring. When she finally went to bed, the phone by her side, she wasn’t able to sleep most of the night. She imagined that Snap was downstairs without his key and was trying to get her attention by throwing stones at her window. Finally she got up and, pillow and blanket in hand, went downstairs and slept the rest of the night on the couch, where she managed, after daybreak, to fall into the oblivion she desired.
At nine o’clock, Betty Ann, the part-time maid, came in, letting herself in by the back door. When Mrs. Oberhausen heard Betty Ann in the kitchen, she thought it might be Snap come home but, of course, it wasn’t.
She was going to tell Betty Ann about the men horrible coming and taking her Snap away, thinking it might relieve some of her inner tension to talk about the matter, but she knew that Betty Ann was a notorious gossip and it was best not to give her fodder for the rumor mill just yet.
“I got the grocery list all made out to if you want to add anything before I go,” Betty Ann said.
“No, you stay here and answer the phone,” Mrs. Oberhausen said. “I’ll go to the store myself. There are a few things I need. Personal things.”
“All right, ma’am.”
“If anybody calls me for, write down everything they say and tell them I’ll call them back as soon as I come home.”
“All right, ma’am. Is your son in his room?”
“No. He, uh, he’s out with some friends.”
“I’ll do the upstairs vacuuming, then.”
“No, don’t do it just yet if it keeps you from answering the phone.”
Mrs. Oberhausen felt better, somehow, at being outside the confines of her own home, behind the wheel of her car, seeing other people. She forgot the grocery list but it didn’t matter. With a fixed smile, she loaded up her cart with bread, meat, fresh fruit, vegetables, beer, wine, vermouth and vodka. (She had a book somewhere with recipes for mixed drinks.) Before she left the store, she remembered to buy several cans of pie cherries. Cherry pie was Snap’s favorite dessert and she would be sure and bake a big one for him for his homecoming.
Before going home, she drove out of her way by three or four miles to go by the police station. She was going to stop the car and go in and demand to at least see Snap and know that he was all right, but she remembered what the younger man with no hair at all had said about wheels of justice turning slowly. It had only been one day.
When she got back home, Betty Ann was cleaning out the refrigerator. She was certain the expected call would have come through while she was out but, as Betty Ann said, nobody called.
That night she wasn’t able to sleep at all. At three a.m. she remembered some narcotic sleeping pills she had from two or three years earlier that she didn’t like to take because of their aftereffects. She dug the bottle out of her dresser drawer and swallowed a couple of the old pills with a glass of wine. She slept heavily after that, without any disturbing dreams, and in the morning she awoke with a headache and a sinking heart.
After a light breakfast, she was certain the call about Snap would come through that day and the whole matter would be easily and quickly resolved. The friendly voice on the phone would tell her she could come and pick Snap up at her earliest convenience. The sun would be shining and it would be a happy occasion.
It rained all day, though. Betty Ann came in at nine in the morning. After the upstairs vacuuming, Mrs. Oberhausen paid her for the rest of the day and told her she could leave and wouldn’t be needed again for at least a week. After that, Mrs. Oberhausen drank and dozed for the rest of the day on the couch in front of the TV with the sound turned down so low she couldn’t hear it. The phone never rang; a couple of times she picked up the receiver to make sure it was still working.
Wide awake at midnight, she again took two of the sleeping pills with a glass of wine. Two hours later, still awake, she took two more.
By the fourth day, there was still no word about Snap. Mrs. Oberhausen, in an attempt to avoid another miserable day waiting for the phone to ring, set about giving Snap’s room a good cleaning.
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 at the curb for trash pickup.
With the room free of clutter, she cleaned the walls and floors, clearing away the cobwebs; 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. From the drawers, she took his socks and underwear—all old things, not to be used anymore. When he came home, they’d go shopping and buy everything new, wipe the slate clean and begin all over again.
An indeterminate number of days went by, cruel and unchanging. The phone didn’t ring and Snap didn’t come home. Mrs. Oberhausen drank and took pills, eating practically nothing. Feeling not quite dissipated enough, she resumed her old habit of smoking. She had periods where she couldn’t remember anything. Whole blocks of time were lost. At times she imagined Snap was there, in the house, and then she knew he wasn’t there at all. Nobody was in the house. She was hardly there herself.
She was dozing on the couch in the middle of the afternoon when she heard faraway voices and a knock at the door. When the knock persisted, she realized it was not coming from the TV as she first thought. She stumbled to the door, rearranging her clothing, and when she opened it she saw a slender young man standing on the doorstep. Familiar somehow but not familiar.
“Yes?” she said.
“Hello, mother,” the young man said in Snap’s voice.
“You were a long time answering the door.”
“I-I guess I must have fallen asleep.”
“In the middle of the day?”
“I haven’t been sleeping well at night.”
“Aren’t you going to let me in?”
She opened the door and stood aside to let him come in, even though she wasn’t quite sure who he was. He was carrying a suitcase and wearing a red shirt and black pants, clothes she had never seen before. His brown hair had been cut and was neatly combed. Snap but not Snap.
He took a few steps into the room, took off his dark glasses, set his suitcase on the floor. “It’s good to be home,” he said.
“Snap?” she said.
“Yes? Is something wrong? You seem not quite yourself. You haven’t been sick, have you?”
“No, I’m fine. I’ve just been a little worried, that’s all.”
“There was no need to worry about me,” he said. “I’ve been perfectly all right.”
“Did they treat you well?”
“Did who treat me well, mother?”
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about any of that now,” he said. “It’s all in the past. The important thing is I’m home now.”
“You seem so different,” she said. “I hardly knew you.”
“Can’t a person change?” he said. “Become better?”
“Of course, he can!”
“I’m a different person now. The person I should have always been. I know I’ve failed you as a son, but now things are going to be different.”
“What happened to you while you were away?”
“Oh, we don’t need to talk about that now, mother. We can talk about that another time.”
He laughed and sat down on the couch, took both her hands and pulled her down beside him.
“I’ve never been happier,” he said, “than I am at this moment.”
“I just realized who it is you remind me of,” she said. “My father. I named you after him. He was Stanislaus but everybody called him Stan. He went away when I was nine years old and I never saw him again after that.”
“I’ve seen pictures of him.”
“He was always so dark and slim and handsome. I thought all the men in the world should look just like him.”
“I guess I should take it as a compliment, then,” he said, laughing and shaking his head.
“You must be starving! I have some steaks in the refrigerator that I’ve been saving for your homecoming.”
“Cherry pie,” he said.
“That goes without saying!”
“First I want to go upstairs and take a shower, if you don’t mind.”
“Lie down and rest and take a nap if you want. I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”
He picked up his suitcase and walked up the stairs, clothes neat, shoes shiny, waist trim. He looked so different from the Snap she had become so used to in recent years that she could hardly believe he was the same person. Miracles do happen, although not very often.
In the kitchen she turned on the broiler and the oven and took two steaks out of the refrigerator and unwrapped them and put them on a platter beside the sink. The sound of the shower running in Snap’s bathroom right above the kitchen made her heart glad. Finally, he was home!
She was setting the table in the dining room—Snap’s homecoming was too special an occasion to eat in the kitchen—when she heard someone knocking on the front door. With a handful of knives and forks in her hand, she went to the door and opened it. Her smile faded when she saw the same two men standing on the doorstep as before, the older man with gray hair and the younger man with no hair at all. They both wore dark suits and were officially grim as if they were acting in a television drama.
“Yes?” she said.
“Mrs. Oberhausen?” the younger man with no hair at all said.
“Yes,” she said.
“My name is Lonnie Swale. My partner here is Arthur Pogue. We’re with the city police department.”
“Might we come in and have a word with you?”
“Well, I’m busy right now. What is the nature of your business?”
“Stanislaus Oberhausen is your son?”
“We always called him Snap.”
“I’m afraid we have some very bad news for you regarding your son.”
“What was that?”
“I said I’m afraid we have some very bad news.”
“He’s resting now, in his room. He just came home a little while ago and I don’t want to bother him.”
“Mrs. Oberhausen, we have some bad news about your son.”
“What is it? Can’t it wait until another time?”
“Mrs. Oberhausen, your son took his own life in his jail cell early this morning.”
“What did you say? That’s not possible. He’s upstairs in his bathroom taking a shower. I hear the water running. I’m fixing dinner for him.”
“Mrs. Oberhausen, is there someone else we can talk to?”
“No, they’re all dead. You’ll have to come back another time. Can’t you ever leave anybody alone?”
She closed the door with considerable force in the faces of the older man with gray hair and the younger man with no hair at all and locked it and went back into the kitchen. She put the steaks into the broiler and opened three cans of pie cherries and emptied them into a big bowl and began rolling out her piecrust on the counter. She could still hear the water running in the bathroom upstairs. She hoped her beloved Snap had enough towels and anything else he needed. In a little while she would go up and tap on the door and tell him that dinner was nearly ready.
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp