Go and Sin No More
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
They were acquaintances, though not quite friends. They lived the same kind of life, but they were a study in contrasts. Zelda Zane (a name she chose for herself) was in her late fifties but looked much older. She was an indiscriminate alcoholic, known to drink turpentine or paint thinner if it was all she had. A frequent user of drugs, she was always on the lookout for any new sensation, any kind of substance to ingest or pills to take. She would take anything, even pills intended for dogs. Sometimes pills she took made her feel good and other times they nearly killed her.
Her companion sitting beside her on the park bench in the mellow, late-October light was one Vicki-Vicki Vale. She was twenty-three and still wore the bloom of youth. Her hair was and clothes were not quite clean, but she made the effort every day to tidy herself up, the way a cat might do. She was a shoplifter, a sneak thief, a sometime prostitute (when she had no other choice), a dope fiend, a social drinker, a check forger, a con artist, a liar, a fourth for bridge, and just about anything else she needed to be when the occasion called for it. You name it and she had done it.
“Where did you sleep last night, princess?” Zelda asked.
“In the cemetery,” Vicki-Vicki replied.
“Anybody try to mess with you?”
“There was nobody around, except for a few ghosts. I went over to the oldest part, where the moss hangs down from the trees.”
“That’s where the cholera victims are. Their ghosts, I mean.”
“Yeah, but ghosts don’t bother me nearly as much as living men do.”
“The grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace,” Zelda said.
“Isn’t that the truth?”
“It got pretty cold last night,” Zelda Zane said.
“I would have been all right if I had just had a warm blanket to roll up in.”
“No blankets for bums.”
“I had to settle for leaves. I covered myself over with leaves, the way my brother and I used to do when we were little. I shivered my ass off for a while, but then I went to sleep. If anybody had come along, they wouldn’t have even known I was there unless they stepped on me.”
“Last night was a mild autumn night,” Zelda Zane said. “It’s nothing compared to what’s coming.”
“I know. Winter. I try not to think about it too much.”
“Winters are rough when you don’t have a roof over your head.”
“Winters are rough when you do have a roof over your head.”
“Why don’t you go back home before winter comes?” Zelda Zane said.
“I don’t have a home to go to.”
“You have family.”
“My mother said she’d kill me when she sees me again. She means it, too.”
“She couldn’t be that mad at you.”
“She is, though.”
“What did you do to her?”
“We got into a fight. A fist fight. We drew blood. It wasn’t pretty. She hit me, so I punched her in the face. Broke her nose.”
“Why don’t you give her a call? I bet she’d be glad to hear from you.”
“No, she wouldn’t. She’d tell me to go to hell.”
“She’s still your mother.”
“She’d like to kill me, honest and true.” Vicki-Vicki said. “I hope I never lay eyes on her again in my life.”
“More’s the pity. My own mother died when I was eight. I lived with my grandparents until I was married the first time.”
“How did that work out?”
“The results you see before you.”
“What about you? Where did you spend the mild autumn night last night?”
“I’ve stayed the last two nights at the mission shelter. I don’t like staying there, but sometimes you just have to get inside where there are four walls and a roof.”
“I stayed in the mission shelter one night,” Vicki-Vicki said. “I swore I’d never stay there again. I’d rather die. Some of the people there have diseases, coughing their lungs out. And some of them have got bugs crawling on them.”
“I know it’s not the best company, darling, but if you live on the streets long enough, you’ll have bugs crawling on you, too.”
“I haven’t quite reached that point yet.”
“Do you have a place to stay tonight?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Well, weep no more, my lady, because I hit the jackpot this morning!” Zelda Zane said.
“What do you mean?”
“When I left the shelter at eight o’clock this morning, I was cutting across the parking lot when I happened to notice, in a big black Cadillac sitting there, a lady’s purse inside the car, on the front seat, clearly visible through the window.”
“A lady’s purse? No kidding?”
“If there is a God, I thought, the door won’t be locked. And do you know what? It wasn’t!”
“So, that means there’s a God?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I opened the door of the big black Cadillac and, as slick as a pig sliding down a chute, I grabbed the purse by its handle and ran away with it.”
“The dish ran away with the spoon! Did you remember to shut the door of the big black Cadillac?”
“Well, of course I shut the door! That just comes natural. You open a door and then you shut it.”
“Well, all right. Then what?”
“I went to the library across the street and went into the ladies’ room and closed myself up in one of the stalls and I opened the son of a bitch to see what was inside.”
“Well, what was inside?”
“A lot of junk that didn’t interest me, but what did interest me was a wallet with some money in it!”
“How much money?”
“A hundred and seven dollars and sixty-three cents! I left the sixty-three cents and I took the rest and put it in my pocket.”
“Then what did you do?”
“I dumped the purse and the rest of the stuff in the trash and then I came over here to the park and I’ve been here ever since.”
“A hundred and seven dollars! What are you thinking of doing with all that money? Go on an epic toot?”
“No. I was thinking I might give it to somebody in need.”
“Yeah? Who’s that?”
“Well, I was thinking I might give it to you.”
“It’s enough for a bus ticket.”
“Bus ticket? I don’t need a bus ticket. I’m not going anywhere!”
“I’d be happy to give you the whole kaboodle!”
“Why would you do that?”
“You need to get the hell out of the city and go home while you still can.”
“Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been telling you? I don’t have a home to go to!”
“You don’t want to be stuck here when winter comes.”
“You don’t need to worry about me. I can worry about myself.”
“Just tryin’ to help a friend in need.”
“I could never take your money! It’s your money!”
“Not really my money. I stole it.”
“It is your money. You found it. You seized the opportunity and you took it.”
“It belongs to the woman I stole it from.”
“Then take it back to her!”
“You know I can’t do that! The only way for this money to do any good in the world is for you to take it and get yourself home with it!”
“I’d rather die first!”
“All right, then. I won’t say anything else about it.”
“But if you should happen to change your mind, you know where I can be found.”
They parted then. Vicki-Vicki said she had an important appointment, but it was only an excuse to end the conversation with Zelda Zane.
After Vicki-Vicki left, Zelda Zane continued to sit on the bench in the park until the sun went down behind the trees and the air turned colder. She tried to cheer herself with the thought of the hundred and seven dollars she had in her pocket, but there wasn’t much pleasure in it for her.
She went directly to the liquor store and bought an ample supply of whiskey and wine. Carrying her bulky treasure to the Chichester Motel a few blocks away, she engaged a room for two nights and possibly three. Locked away from the world in her motel room, she began the epic drinking binge that would result in her stuporous death two nights later.
The winter to come was a harsh and cruel one. People were found frozen to death all over the city: in alleyways, in the park, in the cemetery. In December, Vicki-Vicki disappeared and was never heard from again. Nobody ever knew what really happened to her.
Copyright 2022 by Allen Kopp