The Literary Hatchet, Issue 30

The Literary Hatchet cover, Issue 30

The Literary Hatchet, Issue 30

The Literary Hatchet is an independent international journal devoted to emerging and established voices crafting provocative short fiction and thoughtful poetry and prose. Published three times a year! (Stefani Koorey, editor; Eugene Hosey, editor; Michael Brimbau, editor.)

Contributing writers and artists for Issue 30 include Robert Beveridge, Mahmood Bilal, Bhupin Butaney, Shawn Chang, Sally Connors, Barbara Demarco-Barrett, Tak Erzinger, Matt Gleason, David Greske, Himan Heidari, Greg Huteson, Jill Jepson, Ferris E. Jones, Robert Jones, Gloria Keeley, Allen Kopp, Edward Lee, Aurora M. Lewis, Fabiyas MV, Denny Marshall, Bruce McRae, Marshall Pipkin, Emma Raymond, Sandip Saha, Wayne Scheer, Dean Schreck, Michael Seeger, Stuart Stromin, Bill Thomas, John Tustin, Brian Volck, and Todd Zack.

Available for purchase for $12 a copy at this link on Amazon:

Amazon.com

*****

(A little note: I have six short stories in Issue 30 of The Literary Hatchet: “Everybody Else Went on Ahead,” “Frozen Charlotte,” “Marrying Quintus Cavender,” “My Father’s Pajamas,” “The Million-Year Experiment,” “Your Time, My Time.”)

The Last of Our Money

The Last of Our Money image 4
The Last of Our Money
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Vance Rutherford was a reckless driver, especially when he was mad or upset. He ran through a red light and barely missed hitting a car going in the other direction. A little farther along, he made a right turn so fast that Rachelle hit her head on the side window.

“Slow down, Vance!” she said. “You’re gonna get a ticket!”

“I don’t care! If they try to stop me, I’ll outrun them!”

Rachelle groaned and rubbed her head. “You don’t want them to start shooting at you, do you?”

“I can always shoot back.”

“How are you going to do that if you don’t have a gun?”

“Who says I don’t have a gun? I have a gun in the inside pocket of my coat.”

“You do not! You are such a liar!”

“I know. I’m a fool, too, and lots of other things.”

“Don’t I know it!”

“Are you sorry you married me?” Vance asked.

“Every day of my life.”

“You can always divorce me, you know.”

“You’re forgetting that little bundle of pink flesh we have waiting for us at home.”

“Oh, yeah. Arlene. I almost forgot about her.”

“She’s the only reason I stay married to you.”

“One day you might decide she’s better off without her daddy.”

“And when that day comes I’ll let you know.”

“I’m a loser, Rachelle. I need money. Bad.

“How much this time?”

“Four hundred.”

“I don’t have four hundred dollars, Vance.”

“I know you don’t. If you did, all my problems would be solved.”

“For the moment. Tomorrow you’d be in trouble again.”

“Are you sorry you married me?”

“Never more than at this moment.”

“Have you talked to your grandma this week?”

“No, I haven’t. And I’m not going to ask her for any more money.”

“You know she’s got it, Rachelle. She’s got whole boxfuls of cash stashed away in that house.”

“That’s just what you believe!”

“You’re her favorite grandchild, Rachelle. You know she would never say no to you.”

“I’m not going to ask her for four hundred dollars, so you can just forget about it.”

“Not even if it would save my skin?”

“It might save your skin today, but tomorrow it’ll be something else. Some other trouble. Some other desperate need for money.”

“No, you’re wrong. I’ve grown up a lot in the last year or so. I’m changing, Rachelle. Really I am.”

“Somehow I just don’t see it.”

“No, I promise. If I can just get my hands on four hundred dollars right now, I’ll be all squared away.”

“For how long, Vance?”

“How long what?”

“How long will you be squared away?”

“You’re not very encouraging, you know that?”

“Let’s go home. I can fix us something to eat.”

“How about if I swing by your grandma’s house and you go inside and ask her for a little loan?”

“You know it’s not a loan, Vance. You don’t ever have any intention of paying it back. A loan is something you pay back.”

“She’ll be sitting in her chair watching TV. She’ll be glad to see you.”

“No!”

“It’s the only way, Rachelle.”

“You’ll have to think of some other way. I’m not going to ask my grandma for more money. She needs her money.”

“For what?”

“She’s old, Vance! Old people like to hang onto their money.”

“So the answer is no?”

“Yes, the answer is definitely no!”

“Just tell her we don’t have any food in the house. The rent is past due and you need your asthma medication. She won’t be able to turn you down if you put it in those terms.”

“I’m not going to lie to her on top of everything else, Vance!”

“It’s not a lie!

“I thought you paid the rent!”

“I was going to but I had to use the money for something else.”

“What did you use it for?”

“I don’t remember now. It was something important.”

“Oh, Vance! You’ll never grow up, will you?”

“I’m as grown up as you.”

“Let’s go home and I’ll cook some spaghetti.”

“No. Grandma’s first.”

Rachelle knew it was useless to object further. In ten minutes, Vance pulled up in front of Rachelle’s grandma’s house.

“I don’t think she’s home,” Rachelle said. “It’s her night for church.”

“All the lights are on, as you can plainly see.”

“Oh, Vance! I don’t want to do this!”

“She’ll be glad to see you. Try to get five hundred.”

“You said four hundred!”

“Well, five hundred would be even better!”

“Oh, Vance, you’re hopeless!”

“I’ll wait right here. Take your time.”

He cracked the window and lit a cigarette and turned on the car radio. He had smoked two cigarettes and was on his third one when Rachelle came back.

“Well, how much did she give you?” he asked impatiently before she was all the way in the car.

“She only had fifty dollars on hand. I think it was her grocery money.”

“Fifty dollars! That’s all she gave you?”

“It’s all she had.”

 “She would let you starve to death? Her favorite grandchild?”

“I’m not going to starve to death, Vance. We can use the fifty dollars to get some groceries.”

“Yeah, but it’s not enough! I feel like going in there and talking to her myself! Fifty dollars! The very idea!”

“Leave her alone, Vance. She has a cold and she’s not feeling well.”

“Well, isn’t that just too bad? I’m not feeling very well, either.”

“Let it go, Vance! We’ll use the fifty dollars to buy some groceries. We can get quite a lot with that.”

“I don’t want any of that stuff. I’m hungry. I want a steak. Let’s go to Roland’s and get a steak. I think that’s the best idea I’ve had all day.”

“That’ll take all the fifty dollars!”

“So what?”

“You would use the last of our money for a steak dinner?”

“Sure. Wouldn’t you? That’s how hungry I am.”

“I told grandma we were going to use it to buy food.”

“We are going to use it to buy food.”

“You’re a pig, Vance.”

“No more of a pig than you are.”

They had to wait for a table at Roland’s. Eating there always made Vance feel like an important person. He always hoped he’d see somebody he knew.

Finally they were seated at a small booth in the back of the room. Vance ordered an expensive bottle of wine. While waiting for their food to arrive, Vance sipped the wine and gave Rachelle a sly grin across the table.

“I have a secret concealed somewhere on my person,” he said.

“How nice for you,” she said.

“Don’t you want to know what it is?”

“Not especially.”

He seemed pleased with himself as he opened his jacket and showed her the gun he had hidden there.

“You’re a lunatic!” she said. “What do you think you’re going to do with that?”

“Well, grandma didn’t come through for us. Now things are getting pretty desperate.”

“What are you going to do? Hold up a liquor store?”

“Not a liquor store, but I do have a plan.”

“What plan?”

“Well, since you are my wife, I’ll tell you. I’m going to drive twenty or thirty miles outside of town where nobody knows me and hold up an all-night gas station.”

“That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard!”

“I won’t really shoot anybody. I’ll just use the gun to scare them.”

“Don’t think I’ll come and visit you behind bars.”

“You don’t like my idea? Do you have a better one?”

“Why not just rob the bank downtown? I’m sure they’d have a lot more money than an all-night gas station.”

“That’s my alternate plan in case the all-night liquor store doesn’t work out.”

They finished eating and the waiter brought the check. Vance stood up to go to the men’s room, taking off his jacket and laying it carefully across the chair.

Rachelle was sure he wouldn’t be back for at least ten minutes. He’d take his time going to the toilet and when he was finished he’d wash his hands thoroughly and comb his hair in the mirror. She reached around the table where he had been sitting and with one deft movement took the gun out of the pocket of his jacket and hid it in her purse. He had drunk too much wine; he wouldn’t notice for a long time that the gun wasn’t where he thought it was.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

The Boy Contemplating Suicide

The Boy Contemplating Suicide

The Boy Contemplating Suicide
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

The shoes were on sale. He saved eight dollars. Instead of giving the eight dollars back to his father the way he should if he was completely honest, he would keep it. He would add the eight dollars to his growing savings. He was sure he would need it later on when he made his escape.

He carried the shoe with the bag containing the shoes under his arm. He was on his way to the book store when he saw, half a block in front of him, someone who looked familiar. She had her back to him, but he had seen her so many times, for so long, that he knew who she was. He half-ran to catch up with her before he lost her in the throng of pedestrians.

“Mother!” he said.

She turned and looked at him. He had startled her, he could tell.

“Anson!” she said. “I didn’t expect to see you here. What are you doing downtown?”

“Shoes,” he said, holding up the bag. “For school.”

“We’re just in town for a couple of days,” she said. “I was going to call you and ask you to come to our hotel and have dinner with us.”

“How’s Tony?”

“Who?”

“Your husband.”

“His name is Richard. He’s fine. He flew in for a conference at the university and I came along with him this time. It was a chance for me to see Dr. Spaulding.”

Dr. Spaulding? Are you sick?”

“No, just routine. Just a checkup.”

“Don’t they have doctors in New Mexico?”

“Of course they do. It’s just that I’ve been going to Dr. Spaulding for twenty years and I think he’s the only doctor in the world.”

“Are you going to have a baby?”

She laughed. “No. Why would you think that?”

“Isn’t that the way it is with newlyweds?”

“Not this newlywed.”

“I figured I’d have a half-brother or -sister by now.”

“Richard’s nearly fifty. I think he’s had enough of fatherhood.”

“I can’t say I blame him.”

“There’ll be no new offspring.”

“No! Really! Why did you see Dr. Spaulding? You can tell me the truth. I’m not eight years old.”

“I told you. Just a little run down. I’m anemic. Nothing too serious.”

“Is that all?”

“Nothing startling or dramatic, I assure you.”

“You look pale.”

“I stay out of the sun as much as I can.”

“You live in a state where there’s nothing but sun, and you stay out of the sun?”

“Well, tell me. How’s school?”

“Boring. It starts again in two weeks.”

“Are you excited?”

“I think mortified is more the word.”

“You still don’t like school?”

“I can’t wait to be finished with it.”

“And then what?”

“I don’t know. I’d like to go live on Mars or, if that turns out to be a bad idea, I think I’ll probably join the circus and be a clown.”

“Whatever you do, it’d help to get a good education first.”

“That’s what everybody says.”

“Maybe you should listen to them.”

“I think I’ve had enough of school. I learned how to read and write. What else is there?”

“I don’t know where you get your cynicism. You don’t get it from me.”

“It skips generations.”

“Have you had lunch yet?” she asked.

“No.”

“There’s a good place to eat down in the next block. Let’s go have some lunch.”

They sat at a booth beside a window. She lit a cigarette and smiled. “How have you and your father been getting along?” she asked.

“He’s been in a bad mood with me all summer.”

“Why?”

“He signed me up for swimming lessons and I refused to go.”

“You refused? Don’t you want to learn to swim?”

“No!”

“Why not?”

“I hate the thought of undressing in front of all those strangers.”

She laughed and blew smoke out her nose, a trick Anson had always wanted to master. “You’d better not ever go into the army.”

“I won’t. They wouldn’t want me.”

“I think swimming lessons would be good for you. You’d get plenty of exercise and you’d get out of the house and mix with people your own age.”

“When you were fifteen, would you have wanted to take swimming lessons?”

“Probably not. I would have avoided it like the plague.”

“Exactly! Don’t you think I ought to be able to decide for myself on a matter so important?”

“Fifteen-year-olds usually do what their parents tell them to do.”

“Not when it comes to swimming lessons.”

“I don’t think I should weigh in on that argument. That’s between you and your father.”

“I very subtly threatened suicide if he made me do it. Take the swimming lessons, I mean. He’s been steering clear me of since then.”

Anson! You didn’t!”

“Yes, I did!”

“You shouldn’t threaten suicide. It makes people think you’re crazy. There’s insanity in the family, you know.”

“Yes, I know. So, if I did it, it shouldn’t surprise anybody too much.”

“You wouldn’t really kill yourself, would you?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a thought. There’s a new thirty-story building down by the park, with an observation deck on the top floor. It would be so easy to take the elevator to the top floor and take a swan dive. That’s three hundred feet. Nobody would even pay any attention to me until I was a pile of goo on the sidewalk.”

“Anson, that’s horrible!”

“So, how is that new husband of yours?”

“You already asked me that.”

“I’m asking again.”

“He has high blood pressure and eczema but except for that…”

“Does he still wear a suit all the time?”

“It’s his job.”

“Is he a male model?”

“No, he’s not a male model. He’s a businessman.”

“Oh, a businessman! I get it!”

“We’d love to have you fly out to visit us sometime. Maybe spend Christmas with us. You must see the desert.”

“I’ve seen the desert in Lawrence of Arabia.”

“The American desert isn’t quite like that.”

“Aren’t all deserts alike?”

“That I couldn’t say.”

“How are Richard’s daughters? Are they both still alive?”

“Yes, they’re still alive.”

“How old are they now?”

“Rachel is seven and Veronica is nine.”

“Oh, yes! Rachel and Veronica! They’re the reason I can’t come and live with you because the house you live in is too small.”

“Anson! We’ve been all through that! Your father and I decided it was best for you to go on living with him. You wouldn’t want him to live all alone, would you?”

“I think he’d like to be rid of me.”

“When we move to a bigger place, we’ll talk about having you come and live with us. In the meantime…”

“It’s easy to keep putting things off, isn’t it? That way you’ll make sure it never happens.”

“Anson, that’s not true!”

“If Rachel or Veronica dies, you’ll be sure and let me know, won’t you? Then you’ll have room for me. I can come and take the place of the one who’s dead. Sleep in her room.”

“Anson, that’s not funny!”

“You could always poison one of them, you know. Your least favorite of the two. I can do some research on some poisons, if you’d like. You’d need to get a good non-traceable poison.”

“Anson, that’s enough of that kind of talk! Nobody is going to poison anybody!”

“Well, it’s a thought, anyway. You can mull it over and get back to me.”

“You seem preoccupied with death. Death should be the farthest thing from your mind. You’re still a child.”

In the midst of life we are in death.”

“Anson, could we talk about something else, please?”

“What else is there?”

“I’d like to buy you something while I’m here. Do you have everything you need for school?”

“Yes, mother, I do.”

“How about a winter coat?”

“It’s August, mother! Nobody thinks about a winter coat in August.”

“Winter will be here before you know it.”

“I might be dead by then.”

“How about a suit? Do you need a new suit?”

“I have two new suits that I’ve never worn.”

“Socks? Underwear?”

“I have plenty as long as I remember to do the laundry.”

“You can’t think of anything?”

“I would like to have a cell phone, but your former husband, the man who calls himself my father, says I can’t have one.”

“Why not?”

“Too much of a distraction, he says.”

“I think he has a point.”

“I wouldn’t let it distract me! Honest! Everybody I know has a cell phone. I’m the only one without one.”

“Do all the poor kids in school have one?”

“Of course they do! They might not have any money for lunch, but they all have their cell phones.”

“Things have certainly changed since I was in junior high school.”

“I don’t need any clothes, but I do need a cell phone. That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

“Anson, I don’t think you can honestly say you need a cell phone! I think you can go on living without it.”

“There’s an electronics store just a couple blocks from here. They have lots of cell phones to choose from and I’ll bet they’re not as expensive as you think!”

“Do you want me to give you the money to buy it?”

“No, I want you to go with me. We’ll pick it out together.”

“Would it make you happy?”

“It would make me very happy!”

When his father came in from work at six o’clock, Anson was sitting at the kitchen table, learning how to use his cell phone.

“What have you got there?” his father asked.

“A cell phone.”

“Whose is it?”

“Mine.”

“Where did it come from?”

“The electronics store downtown.”

“I told you you’re too young for a cell phone. It’s too much of a distraction from your studies.”

“I know, but I met mother downtown…”

“You met who downtown?”

“My mother. Don’t you remember? The woman you used to be married to?”

“You just happened to meet your mother downtown?”

“That’s right.”

“And she bought you a cell phone.”

“Yeah. She asked me if I needed anything for school and when I said I needed a cell phone, she bought me one.”

“I told you I didn’t want you to have a cell phone.”

“I know, but mother was going to buy me one, so I couldn’t exactly turn it down, could I?”

“I want you to take it back to the store, get the money back for it, and send the money to your mother.”

“I won’t do it!”

“And tell her not to interfere again!”

“I’m keeping the phone!”

“No, you’re not!”

His father reached across the table, grabbed the phone out of Anson’s hand, and smashed it against the wall.

Anson looked at the pieces of broken plastic on the floor in amazement, as though it were a small animal his father had just killed. “What did you do that for?”

“This is not going to be like the swimming lessons! If you want to go on living in my house and expect me to support you, you cannot openly defy me. I won’t allow it!”

“I know why mother left you! You’re an ogre! She couldn’t stand being married to you! She told me so! I don’t know why people like you become parents in the first place! You’re a terrible father!”

“That’s enough, Anson! Go to your room!”

“I want to go live with my mother. I can’t stand living here with you any longer!”

“Suit yourself, you ungrateful little…”

Anson didn’t hear what his father was going to call him because he ran into his room and slammed the door. He wouldn’t leave his room again. He would go to bed and stay there. He wouldn’t eat any dinner. If he never ate again, he wouldn’t care.

He had some sleeping pills he had been saving that he filched from his mother before the divorce. He poured them out onto his palm and counted them. There were twelve. He took two and after he got into bed, he took two more and then two more. He turned off the light, got into bed and kept taking the pills until there were none left. He didn’t know if it was enough to kill him, but he could only hope.

He pulled the covers up to his chin. It wasn’t all the way dark outside. Soon he began to have a funny feeling in his head and a sick feeling in his stomach. He hoped it was the beginning of death and that it would be quick.

Before he drifted off—maybe for the last time—he saw his mother’s face with the little wrinkles around the eyes, the orange-colored lipstick, and the hair tinted the color of a red fox. At first he didn’t know where he and his mother were, and then he saw they were in a high place. Yes, they were together on top of the new thirty-story building over by the park. They smiled at each other and joined hands and jumped. The best part was they never fell to the ground but floated off together into the infinite sky. And they were so happy! Finally everything was going to be the way it was always meant to be.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Thanksgiving With Mr. Doodles and the Others

Thanksgiving 2021
Thanksgiving With Mr. Doodles and the Others
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This short story is a repost. It has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)

It was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, that great American holiday. The residence halls had to be vacated. The heat would be shut off and the cafeteria closed. Get the hell out and don’t come back until after seven o’clock Sunday night. This means you.

I took my suitcase to my last class Wednesday afternoon so I could leave from there and not have to go back to my room again. When the class was over, I walked the two miles downtown to the bus station in the rain. I had a sore throat that was bound to turn into a chest cold if I didn’t take care of myself. I used my umbrella; I had been called unkind names for carrying an umbrella, but I didn’t care. If there were any names in the dictionary that I hadn’t been called at some time in my life, I don’t know what they were.

The bus was about one-third full of the usual derelicts and undesirables. I sat in the back, next to the window, hoping that nobody came and sat too close. I tried to doze to pass the time but every time I went to sleep the bus gave a lurch or the brakes squealed or somebody coughed or talked in a loud voice and I got woke up. The world is full of people who don’t want you to sleep.

After two-and-a-half fairly uncomfortable hours the bus pulled into my hometown. It was raining there, too, making it only slightly more bleak than usual. I didn’t think much of my hometown and wouldn’t care if I never saw it again. I comforted myself with the thought that someday I would be free of my hometown and everybody who lived in it, my family included. One  day I would be the lucky fellow who got away.

My mother wasn’t happy that I called her and asked her to come and pick me at the bus station.

“I thought you weren’t coming home for Thanksgiving,” she said. I could see the menthol cigarette and the scarf tied around her just-washed hair.

“Everybody had to get out,” I said. “The residence halls are being shut down until Sunday.”

“Well, I never heard of such a thing!”

She slammed down the phone and in ten minutes her tank-like Chevrolet rolled onto the bus station lot. She glared at me while I stowed my suitcase in the back seat and got into the front.

“You don’t seem very happy to see me,” I said.

“I don’t appreciate having to come out in this rain,” she said.

“I didn’t make it rain.”

“Have you suddenly become too lazy to walk a couple of miles?”

“I have a sore throat and, besides, I’m tired.”

“Oh, listen to you! You sound just like your father every time somebody asks him to do something. He’s tired or he has this alarming pain right around the kidneys.”

My parents were divorced and my mother never passed up the chance to denigrate my father. She almost always found him horribly lacking in some way.

As for me, I’m sure my mother cared for me in her own peculiar way, but the truth is she and I were, and always had been, tuned to entirely different frequencies. I concluded in seventh grade that she and my father were both temperamentally unsuited for parenthood. Most people enter into it  (parenthood) blindly, without giving much thought to what’s in store for them. I would advise them to get a kitten or a puppy. They’re a lot more fun and their poop is a lot easier to clean up.

“In a way, it’s good you decided to come home,” she said.

“I didn’t decide. It was decided for me.”

“Your father called and asked if he could come for Thanksgiving dinner. He wants  to bring someone.”

“Who?”

“It seems he has a new girlfriend. Her name is Kitty Fox.”

“Is she a stripper?”

“I didn’t ask.”

“Is she going to pop out of a cake?”

“I guess we’ll find out.”

“Look,” I said. “I don’t feel very well and I’ve been really, really tired lately. I was just planning on staying in bed all day tomorrow. I was hoping you’d bring me my dinner on a tray.”

“I don’t think so, mister. You can help entertain your father and Kitty Fox.”

“I think I’ll just go to a hotel until it’s time to go back to school.”

“You have money for a hotel?”

“Not exactly. I was hoping you’d pay for it.”

“What do you think I am? A genie popping out of a bottle to grant your every wish?”

“I might have something catching.”

“It’s no use. You’re tagged for service tomorrow.”

“Just drop me off downtown. I’ll spend Thanksgiving at the homeless shelter until it’s time to catch the bus back to school.”

Grandma and her best friend Bunny arrived on Thursday morning to help with dinner before I was even out of bed. When I went into the kitchen in my bathrobe, grandma grabbed me and gave me a big kiss.

“Gilbert!” she screeched in my ear. “You’ve changed since the last time I saw you!”

“It’s only been three months,” I said.

As an extension of grandma, Bunny also gave me a kiss and a bear hug. “You’re just so good-looking!” Bunny said. “I don’t know where you get your looks from.”

“Not from his father’s side,” mother said.

Grandma and Bunny both had on their church dresses and their finest costume jewelry. Their shellacked beauty-parlor hairdos glistened in the light. They had known each other all their lives and now, in old age widowhood, were always together. Bunny sold her house after her husband died and moved in with grandma. When they died, they would be in side-by-side graves.

“How are things going up at that school of yours?” grandma asked.

“All right,” I said.

“Are you learning how not to be a loser like your father so you can make a good living?”

“Sure. That’s what I’m majoring in: how not to be a loser like my father.”

“And lots of girls, I’ll bet.”

“Girls?”

“Well, you have girlfriends, don’t you?”

“Oh, sure! Lots!”

“Be sure and marry the right one. We don’t want another failed marriage in the family.”

“I have several lined up right now,” I said. “I’ll let you know when I make my final decision.”

“Good boy!”

I fixed myself some eggs and toast and after I was finished eating mother told me she needed me go to the store to get ten or twelve last-minute items she needed for dinner.

Bunny’s Mexican Chihuahua dog Mr. Doodles was asleep on the floor beside the couch in the living room. When I passed through on my way upstairs to get dressed, he raised his head and growled at me, yawned, and then put his head back down. Bunny had had Mr. Doodles for a long time. Wherever Bunny went, Mr. Doodles went. She wasn’t about to leave him at home by himself on Thanksgiving while she went out and had a good dinner.

I had to drive to three different places to find a store that was open. I got all the stuff on the list and drove back as quick as I could. There were no other cars on the road. Anybody with any sense got themselves inside out of the icy rain.

While I was out, my sister Lindsey and her new boyfriend had arrived. Lindsey and I greeted each other tepidly as I carried the grocery bags into the kitchen and set them down on the table. There was still lots of childhood animosity between Lindsey and me, I suppose. She always pictured a rivalry between the two of us that, to me, never existed. She was jealous that I was going to college while she was stuck working in a bank with a high school diploma.

The boyfriend’s name was Chick Olmstead. He was thirty or so, a little on the short side, with thinning blond hair and stubbly cheeks. He was wearing a suit with a loud bow tie and suspenders. As I shook his hand, I could smell that he had been smoking.

“Chick’s a professional clown,” Lindsey told me.

“Well, that’s a new one!” I said. “Lindsey’s last boyfriend was an accountant.”

Mother gave me a warning looking as I steered Chick Olmstead into the living room. I wanted to hear more about being a professional clown. I knew lots of non-professional clowns and I was fascinated by the idea of one who made a living at it.

“Do you skydive?” Chick Olmstead asked me as we sat on the couch.

“Me? No, I don’t even like flying. I don’t think I’d ever be able to jump out of an airplane. I’d rather die in a crash.”

“It’s the thrill of a lifetime,” he said.

“Not for everybody, though.”

“I’ve been doing it now for about a year. I’m trying to get Lesley to try it, but I think she’s scared.”

“She’s scared of just about everything,” I said.

He laughed loudly and fidgeted with his hands. “Lesley tells me you go to state university.”

“Yeah.”

“That must be fun.”

“It’s a real blast.”

“I see you as the ironic sort,” he said.

“I don’t know. I guess irony can be a useful tool sometime.”

Chick Olmstead looked at me as if he didn’t know what I was talking about. He straightened his tie nervously and cleared his throat.

“Look,” I said, “you don’t have to be nervous around us. We’re just very casual around here. You can take off your jacket and tie. There’s no reason to put on the dog around us.”

“I think I’ll leave them on for now.”

“Would you like a beer?” I asked.

“Not just yet. Thanks.”

“How well do you know Lindsey?”

“Not very well. We’ve seen each other a few times.”

“Keep your right flank covered. She’s not what she appears to be.”

He laughed as if I was making a joke. “What do you mean?”

“She’s more trouble than you know, but you may not realize it until it’s too late.”

“Too late for what?”

“If you stick around long enough, you’ll find out.”

At looked at me with curiosity but didn’t pursue it any farther.

Mr. Doodles stood up, yawned effusively, and began washing his nether parts.

“Is that your dog?” Chick Olmstead asked.

“No, he’s Bunny’s dog. He’s her son. His name is Mr. Doodles.”

“Who’s Bunny?”

“You met her in the kitchen. She’s the old lady in the red church dress. She’s grandma’s best friend. They live together and will die together when the time comes.”

“Oh, yes. The one with orange hair.”

“Fresh from the parlor of beauty,” I said.

Bunny came in from the kitchen carrying Mr. Doodles’ leash. “I want him to have a little walk before dinner,” she said. “Would you be a dear and take him out for me? As soon as he wee-wees and drops a little turd or two, you can bring him back in. He really doesn’t like being outside after he’s finished his business.”

“It would be more than an honor and a privilege,” I said.

I slipped on my jacket and as I was on my way out the door with Mr. Doodles on his leash, Chick Olmstead was right behind me. Lindsey was ignoring him; he felt awkward and wanted to get out of the house. I can’t say I blamed him.

We walked Mr. Doodles down to the corner. He scratched in the wet leaves and relieved himself by the stop sign. Chick Olmstead lit up a cigarette and offered me one, which I declined.

“So, what’s it like being a clown?” I asked.

“It’s just more rewarding than I could ever say.”

“Do you travel with a circus?”

He laughed. “Nothing like that. I do children’s parties and events at the hospital for crippled children. Occasionally I get a gig at a church or a school.”

“Is that year-round work?” I asked.

“It’s seasonal,” he said. “I don’t work all the time.”

“What do you do the rest of the time?” I asked.

“I’m writing a novel,” he said.

When we got back to the house with Mr. Doodles, Bunny was waiting at the door with a towel to dry off his feet. Then I watched in amazement as she slipped little knitted booties on all four of his feet. She ran her fingertips along his nose and head to make sure he hadn’t caught a chill.

“Mr. Doodles is lucky,” I said, “to have someone to care about him so much.”

Mr. Doodles ran through the house and began yipping and begging to be let up on the dining room table, which mother had just laid out with her best china and cutlery. He jumped up on a chair but couldn’t quite make it all the way to the table.

Bunny gave him a little boost and he spent the next few minutes walking on the table among the plates, glasses, bowls, napkins and silverware, without ever touching anything.

“He likes shiny objects,” Bunny explained. “He just wants to take a good look so he doesn’t feel left out.”

While we all admiring how well-behaved Mr. Doodles was on the table in his little booties, the doorbell rang.

“That’ll be Frank,” mother said, meaning my long-lost father.

Mother went to the door and opened it with a put-upon smile. “You’re late,” she said. “We were just about to start eating without you.”

“You said two o’clock,” he said.

“Have you forgotten how to tell time? It’s after two-thirty.”

“Tell it to the marines.”

He stepped inside with his guest. It was Kitty Fox, whose name we already knew and, no, she didn’t look like a stripper; she looked more like a librarian or a schoolteacher. The thing about her that would surprise my mother, grandma and Bunny the most was that she wasn’t the same race as my father.

“I brought a cake,” Kitty Fox said. “I knew there’d be plenty of food, but I wanted to contribute something.”

“Thank you!” mother gushed, taking the cake and handing it to Bunny. “That’s just lovely of you!”

Kitty Fox shook mother’s hand. “You must be Frank’s wife,” she said.

“Used-to-be wife,” mother said.

Kitty Fox shook hands with me, Lindsey, Chick Olmstead, grandma and Bunny.

“Your house is lovely!” Kitty Fox said, as she took off her coat and handed it to grandma.

Father had brought a bottle of champagne. He handed it to me awkwardly and told me to open it and get some glasses. I took the bottle into the kitchen, opened it with a corkscrew, and scouted around in the upper cabinets for some glasses. We didn’t have any champagne glasses, so I settled for wine glasses. I arranged eight of them on a tray with the bottle of champagne in the middle and, with the tray balanced precariously in one hand like a waiter at the Trocadero, I went back into the front room.

Father picked the bottle of champagne off the tray, along with one of the glasses, filled it to the brim and handed it to Kitty Fox.

“Before we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner,” he said, “I have an announcement I want to make.”

“Why all the formality?” grandma asked.

After we all had a glass of the bubbly stuff in our hands, father held his glass high and put his other arm around Kitty Fox.

“This is a happy day for me!” he announced like a sideshow barker. “Maybe the happiest day of my life!”

“What is it, daddy?” Lindsey asked.

He beamed at all of us and I knew from his eyes that he had already had a few, even though he was supposed to have stopped drinking. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.

“Kitty and I have just become man and wife!” he said with tears in his eyes. “And that’s not all!”

We waited breathlessly to hear the rest.

“And sometime next year! Sometime in the summer! Yes, it’s true! Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen! Sometime next summer we will welcome a new addition to our little family!”

“What?” grandma asked. “You mean she’s going to have a baby?”

He grabbed hold of Kitty and held her against this chest. She squealed like a schoolgirl and tried to push away from him.

“Congratulations,” mother said, but I knew she was anything but pleased. She set down her glass of champagne and went into the kitchen.

“Daddy!” Lindsey said. “Who would have ever thought? At your age?”

“It looks like you’re going to have a little brother,” Chick Olmstead said, shaking my hand as if I should also be congratulated.

Grandma and Bunny went into the kitchen to help mother get the dinner on the table and, finally, we were ready to sit down and eat.

Mother was quiet during dinner. She kept drinking glass after glass of wine and soon she was glassy-eyed. She passed dishes automatically but ate little herself.

Lindsey launched into an involved story about a female co-worker at her bank who embezzled money for years and was finally caught. Nobody paid much attention. Everybody seemed lost in his or her own thoughts.

Mr. Doodles ran around the table yipping, until Bunny picked him up and set him on her lap. She fed him little bites of turkey and mashed potato with the fork she had been eating with. When he was finished eating, he wanted to climb from lap to lap all the way around the table.

“Isn’t he just the most precious little angel you’ve ever seen?” Bunny cooed.

My father and Kitty Fox sat side by side, nuzzling each other and giggling. It was pretty sickening, but I was all for letting them enjoy their moment of happiness. Soon reality and drunkenness would set in.

Grandma and Bunny shot curious glances at Kitty Fox as if they had never expected to see anybody so exotic sitting at the table with them. I hoped they would at least be civil to her, if that’s all they could manage. She seemed too good for my father.

Lindsey glared across the table at me as if she wanted to plunge the carving knife into my heart. She mostly ignored Chick Olmstead during dinner. I felt sorry for him for having Lindsey as his girlfriend. I hardly knew him, but he seemed like a decent fellow and I was certain he deserved better.

Finally the ritual of Thanksgiving dinner, including five different kinds of dessert, was at an end. Mother, grandma and Bunny washed the dishes and cleaned up in the kitchen, stowing all the leftovers in the refrigerator or in the trash can.

My father and Kitty Fox put on their coats to leave. My father surprised me by giving me a bear hug and kissing me on the cheek. He asked me if everything was all right at school and I told him everything was wonderful. He said he hoped to see me at Christmastime, and then they were gone.

Grandma and Bunny didn’t like to drive after dark, so they put Mr. Doodles in his carrier and left right after my father and Kitty Fox. Lindsey wanted to go to a movie and Chick Olmstead was obliged to take her to complete his Thanksgiving obligation, so the two of them also left.

After all the guests were gone, mother sat down on the couch and had a good cry. Crying spells were common with her.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, not really wanting or expecting to hear any kind of an answer. “Feeling a little blue about father’s getting married again?”

“I don’t care what he does. I hope he rots in hell.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“That poor woman doesn’t know what she’s in for, but she’ll soon find out.”

“I was thinking the same thing.”

“And a baby? Can you believe the old bastard is about to become a father again? He’s forty-seven years old!”

“It doesn’t seem real. I’ll have to see it to believe it.”

“Mother and child both have my sympathy.”

The next day mother wanted me to help her put up the artificial Christmas tree, string it with lights and decorate it, which I did without complaint. It was a ritual with her to put the tree up on the day after Thanksgiving and not take it down again until the day after New Year’s.

The Thanksgiving weekend passed in a blur. I ate leftovers and slept at ten-hour intervals. Mother wanted me to go to church with her on Sunday morning but I had a pretty good cough by then and I said I thought I was probably contagious. She accepted that as an excuse and went without me.

On Sunday evening she drove me to the bus station to catch the bus back to school.

“Will you be home for Christmas?” she asked as I was getting out of the car.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Hang up my stocking and make sure Santa fills it with lots of good stuff.”

She smiled and waved and I slammed the door and boarded my bus. As soon as the bus pulled off the lot and picked up speed on the highway, I was feeling lonely. I was glad it was dark because I felt like I was going to cry.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp