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Since Can’t Remember When

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Since Can’t Remember When ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The service ended and everybody stood up. Jewell Catlett took hold of her son’s arm; she would cling to him until they were in the car. She was always more dependent on him in the presence of other people. As for her son, he tried to smile, but he was, as usual, uncomfortable in the church crowd. He only wanted to be free of the press of people and go home.   

Outside the church door, Jewell and her son both shook the reverend’s hand, as was the custom. The reverend held the son’s hand (his name was Bramley) longer than necessary.

“So glad to see you here today with your dear mother,” the reverend said sincerely.

“Thanks,” Bramley said, grimacing.  

“Such a lovely sermon, reverend,” Jewell said. She beamed up at him as if she was looking at a top of a skyscraper. He was a good foot-and-a-half taller than she was.

“I hope it touched your heart,” the reverend.

“You may be sure of that,” Jewell said.    

All the people inside the church were now outside on the little patch of lawn. They were talking and laughing and having a fine time, seemingly reluctant to leave. Jewell stopped to talk to a couple of her old friends, Madge Overstreet and Opal Peek. Bramley stood patiently for a minute-and-a-half and listened to them talk and then moved slightly away so that Jewell had no other choice but to go along, since she was hanging onto his arm.

“Why are you in such as damn hurry?” she hissed when she was away from her friends.       

“Wasn’t the service long enough?” he asked. “I want to go home.”

“I like to visit with my friends that I don’t see very often.”

“You can call them on the phone any time.”

They were working their way through the crowd and were closer to the edge, getting nearer their car, when they encountered Verna Vermilion and her son Vincent. They were both inveterate talkers.

Jewell Catlett!” Verna Vermilion shrieked. “I haven’t seen you since I can’t remember when! How the hell are you?”

“About as well as might be expected,” Jewell said. “I soldier on the best I can.”

They made a show of kissing each other on the cheek. Verna transferred some of her face powder to the side of Jewell’s head.

Verna took hold of Vincent’s arm and pulled him forward. “You remember my son Vincent, don’t you?”

“Of course I do!” Jewell said. “How are you, Vincent?”

Vincent took Jewell’s hand and kissed it. “Never better, darling!”

“You remember my son Bramley, of course!” Jewell said. “Bramley, come and say hello!”

Bramley had been hanging back, hoping to avoid being drawn into a discussion with the Vermilions. Smiling wanly, he shook Verna’s hand and then Vincent’s.  

“Bramley and I go way back,” Vincent said. “When we were younger, we were very good friends!”

“That’s not the way I remember it,” Bramley said.

“I think we ought to rekindle our friendship,” Vincent said. “There are so few people like us in this town!”

Like us?”  

“You know. Unmarried bachelors of a certain age living with their mothers.”

“It’s just a temporary arrangement for me,” Bramley said. “Living with my mother, I mean. And technically I’m not a bachelor because I used to be married.”

“Well, everybody makes mistakes,” Vincent said. “That’s why there’s such a thing as divorce. Hah-hah-hah!”

“It’s been grand having Bramley living at home again,” Jewell said. “He’s such a big help. He does all the shopping and he takes me for my doctor’s appointments. I gave up driving a few years ago. I just found it too nerve-wracking!”

Vincent took hold of Bramley’s arm above the elbow. “Do you remember that Fourth of July party at Mastodon Point all those years ago? It was such a wild time! You can’t have forgotten it! I don’t think I’ll forget it as long as I live!”

“I’ve never been to Mastodon Point,” Bramley said. “I think you have me confused with somebody else.”

“No, now, you can’t fool me, you little dickens! I know it was you! I wouldn’t forget a thing like that!

“I’ve never been to a Fourth of July party at Mastodon Point in my life.”

All right! All right! I promise never to mention it again if you’ll think about joining our Boys’ Club.”

“Your what?”

“We have a discussion group that meets on alternating Fridays. We call it the Boys’ Club. No ladies allowed.”  

“I don’t think so, Vincent.”

“We have a few drinks and a lot of laughs. Very informal. You can wear your swimsuit if you want because sometimes we meet at the pool. And we talk about books and all sorts of things we like. Haven’t you ever wanted to talk about a book you read or a movie you saw, and there just isn’t anybody to talk to about it?”

“Not really, Vincent.”

Jewell and Verna had been listening to this conversation with interest. Jewell said, “I think that sounds like a wonderful idea. I’m always telling Bramley he doesn’t get out enough. Doesn’t meet any new people.”

“We have some really interesting fellows in the group, Bramley. I think it would be just the kind of thing you’d like.”

“What makes you think I’d like what you like, Vincent? What makes you think I’m like you at all.”

All right! No reason to get defensive! It’s just something I’d like you to think about. If you decide to join, you can call me any time.”   

“I don’t have to think about it.”

“Vincent and I were just going to Pepe’s for lunch,” Verna said. “Why don’t the two of you come along? We’re make it a foursome.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea!” Jewell said.

“They have a delightful salmon salad with little slivers of lemon,” Vincent said.

“I don’t think so,” Bramley said.

“Oh, Bramley!” Jewell said. “Why not?”

“I have a pounding headache and I need to get out of the sun. I want only to go home.”

“Do you feel sick at all?”

“I feel very sick!”

Verna and Jewell exchanged a quick hug goodbye. “Call me sometime soon, dear!” Verna said. “We’ll plan a luncheon date!”

“Not without me!” Vincent said.

Bramley turned and, practically pulling Jewell along at his side, walked away. In Bramley’s haste, Jewell step into a tiny indentation in the ground and fell on her face, landing partly on the grass and partly on the sidewalk. Both her shoes flew off in different directions.

There was a gasp from those who saw her fall; several people ran forward to help her up. After they stood her upright, a couple of the ladies brushed the dead grass off her dress. They wanted to call an ambulance, but she insisted she was all right, despite her paleness and the blood running down her face.

“I only want my son to take me home,” she said pitifully.

Bramley put his arm around her waist and helped her to the car. As he was driving away, she turned to him and said, “You did that on purpose!”

“Did what on purpose?”

“Made me fall!”

“Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know. You tell me!”

“You’re being ridiculous, mother. I’m going to drive you to the emergency room. You took a hard fall. You need to see a doctor.”

“I don’t want to see a doctor. I only want this day to be over.”

“All right. I can’t make you see a doctor if you don’t want to.”

“Why were you so rude to those people?”

“What people?”

“Verna and her son Vincent.”

“I don’t think I was rude. I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“Why wouldn’t you admit that you and Vincent were good friends in your younger days and that you used to pal around together all the time? The two of you were practically inseparable.”

“That’s not true, mother. We were in the same class at school. We were acquaintances, that’s all. I never liked Vincent at all.”

When they got home, she went into her bedroom and closed the door. She didn’t come out for the rest of the day, not even to eat dinner. He went to her door to check on her at bedtime. He knew she was all right because he heard the subdued blat of her television.

He looked up Vincent’s number in the phone book. At ten-thirty, when the house was quiet as a tomb, a dog barking off in the distance somewhere, he went to the phone and called the number. When Vincent answered on the third ring, he hung up.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

I Want You

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1920s ~ Worker Paints Flagpole on Wall Street

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Remembering Evelyn Bines

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Remembering Evelyn Bines ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Davis Deal owned and operated Hair Heaven on Main Street between a dry cleaner’s and an insurance agent’s office. All day long, six days a week, she stood on her feet, curling, cutting and dyeing hair while listening to an endless stream of blather, innuendo, distasteful personal revelation and catty gossip from her customers. At closing time she was so tired and frazzled, so sick of the sound of the human voice, that she wanted to pull out her own hair, but she looked at all that beautiful cash in the cash drawer and that was what made it all worth the effort.

One Friday afternoon, when she was just cleaning up before going home,  she heard a commotion outside. When she went to the window to see what was going on, she saw that a new business was moving in across the street. Uniformed men were unloading crates and boxes from the back of a big truck and carrying them inside. A sign across the front window proclaimed in big red letters: Gertrude’s Wig Shop Opening Soon…Wigs, Hairpieces, Falls, Hair Extenders, Hats, Scarves, Turbans, Babushkas, and Other Assorted Headwear for Anybody With a Head.

She felt her stomach turn over. She had been building up her business for five long, difficult years and she didn’t relish any competition right at her front door. It had been a trying day, so she took a pill to help put the new business out of her mind and went home. She told herself she had nothing to worry about. Businesses come and go all the time. With any luck, a wig shop at that location would fail.  

The next week the wig shop opened. On its first day, it drew an unexpectedly large crowd, with a traffic jam and customers thronging the sidewalk. It’s natural at first, Davis thought. People are curious about a new business. They’ll come at first and then they’ll stop coming and calm will be restored.    

Then came the gawdy sign across the front of the wig shop: You Don’t Need a Beauty Parlor—You Need a Wig!

Davis regarded the sign as an affront. More than an affront, it was an assault, a shot fired right across the bow of her ship. And then the ads started in the newspapers that ran: Don’t Spend Beaucoup Dollars Getting Your Hair Styled Every Week! Buy a Wig Instead that Stays Styled! Nobody Will Ever Know It’s Not Your Real Hair!  

Well, this was too much! Davis wasn’t going to let them get away with it. She phoned her lawyer, a boy she had known since grade school named Phillip Follett, and told him she needed to see him right away.  

She explained the situation across Phillip Follett’s huge desk in his fancy office. “Can they do this?” she asked. “Can I sue the hell out of them!”

“On what grounds?” Phillip Follett asked.

“They’re trying to take away my customers!”

“With a sign?”

“Yes, with a sign, or with any means at their disposal!”

“From what you’ve told me so far, I don’t think they’re doing anything illegal.”

“Taking away my customers is not illegal?”

“No, it’s not illegal. It’s business competition, that’s all.”

“I’m supposed to stand by and let them steal all my customers?”

“You worry too much. Have they hurt your business in any way yet?”

“They just opened.”

“Well, I’d advise you to give it a month or so and see if your business is really affected in any way. You’re probably worrying for nothing.”

“You’re a big help, Phillip Follett!”

It took less than a month for Davis to see a falling-off of her business. She knew for certain that several of her loyal, long-time customers had bought wigs. She knew she could kiss those buttholes goodbye! So much for loyalty! She’d like to snatch the wigs off every one of them and trample them under her feet!

Well, two could play at the old competition game! Wigs were fakery, no matter how good they looked. There was nothing like one’s natural hair, even if it was brittle, ugly, thinning and unhealthy-looking.

To lure in new customers, and retain the old ones, she hired a manicurist named Dolores and offered free manicures with a wash and set. Then she hired a cosmetologist named Skippy to give facials and free makeup advice. These two extra people ate into her profits, of course, but she believed that hiring them would prove beneficial in the long term.

After a few days of watching Dolores and Skippy sitting around with nothing to do except talk about their boyfriends, Davis decided to go across the street to the wig shop and confront the enemy on her own turf. Under ordinary circumstances she would never set foot in the wig shop, but now she was moved to extremities.

She winced when she saw how lively the store was and how freely people were spending money. When a sales clerk came forward and asked if she needed help, she said she needed to speak to Evelyn herself.

She waited for ten minutes; finally Evelyn emerged from the back. She was a tall, brassy redhead dressed in gawdy colors and wearing too much makeup.

“You wanted to see me?” Evelyn asked.

“Yes. My name is Davis Deal.”

“What kind of a name is that?”

“I own the beauty parlor across the street.”

“Oh.”

“I just wanted to tell you you’re talking away my customers.”

“Oh, Boo-Hoo! And just what do you want me to do about it? Bust into tears?”

“No, I want you to move to a different location.”

Hah! Do you know how much it cost me to get set up here?”

“No, I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s not my concern. What is my concern is that you’re taking away my customers.”

“Well, now, isn’t that a terrible tragedy? But I believe I have the right to set up shop wherever I want. Isn’t that the way the system works?”

“Maybe so, but do you just expect me to stand idly by and do nothing while you decimate my business?”

Decimate? Oh, now, that is a big word, isn’t it? I’ll bet you’ve been to college and everything.”

“I’m asking you in a neighborly way to move to a different location.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Well, if you don’t move, there’s just no way of knowing what might happen, is there?”

“It sounds like you’re threatening me!”

“I’m just giving you a friendly little warning, that’s all.”

“My goodness! You are full of Christian kindness, aren’t you?”

“However you want to look at it.”

That night, as Davis lay in bed trying to go to sleep, a disturbing thought came to her. That Evelyn person was somebody she had once known, a long time ago. Just when was it, now?  Could it have been all the way back in high school?

She went to the closet and dug out her old high school yearbook from a boxful of high school memorabilia. She made herself comfortable and began thumbing through the pages that she hadn’t perused in fifteen years or more. Soon she found what she was looking for: Evelyn Bines in the eleventh grade—elaborate red hairdo, smug smile and a “beauty mark” on her cheek.

It all came back to her then. Evelyn Bines in high school was a pushy, loud-mouthed know-it-all. She was one of those girls whose face was everywhere. She ran for student body president (losing to a boy named Ronnie Feldman). She was “first attendant” in the homecoming queen’s court, meaning she got the second most votes in the whole school for that esteemed title. She was the best-dressed girl, the most popular (though a lot of people hated her), and always in demand by the handsomest athletes for a Saturday night date. She was the “girl most likely to succeed,” and succeed she would, walking all over anybody who got in her way.     

Davis was one of the haters in high school. She hated Evelyn Bines then, but not nearly as much as she hated her now. She wasn’t going to stand by and let the bitch take away all her customers and ruin her business and her life. If the law couldn’t help her, she’d have to find another way.    

She called her younger brother, a parolee named Everett Deal. He was a thug and a part-time hood, but he could be a lot of help in a jam. He had broken the law before and had no qualms about doing it again. He agreed to meet Davis for dinner and a tete-a-tete, especially since she was paying.

Certain she was not being overheard in the back booth of a roadside café, she explained the situation. Everett listened attentively, fingers intertwined.

“I don’t want to have her killed,” Davis said. “Not yet, anyway.”

“What do you want, then? A fire?”

“A fire is good.”

“If she had a fire, though, she’d probably just clean up at the expense of her insurance company and then reopen.”

“You’re probably right.”

“So, what do you want, then? Fear? Intimidation? Persuasion? A brick through the front window? Death threats?”

“Death threats might do it.”

“We could have her roughed up a little bit in an alley and then threaten to kill her. I believe that’s been known to be effective.”

“Let me think about it.”

“I have to tell you, though,” Everett said. “I think killing her would be your best bet. It could be done in a professional way—quick, clean and efficient.”

“How much?”

“Ten to fifteen thousand.”

“That’s more than I thought.”

“You could always do the deed yourself.”

“I’d be afraid to do it myself. I wouldn’t want to get caught.”

“You won’t, as long as you do it right.”

“I’ll have to think about it.”

“All right,” Everett said. “You know where you can find me. Just give me a call and we’ll get the ball rolling”

A few days later Davis had just opened the shop when none other than Evelyn Bines came rushing in.

“I need to speak to you!” Evelyn said breathlessly.

“Sorry, dear. We’re all booked up for today. You’ll need to call for an appointment.”

“I don’t want an appointment! I want to speak to you!”

“What’s the problem?”

“My store was broken into last night.”

“And what do you want me to do about it? Bust into tears?”

“They didn’t steal anything. They just broke some things and made a mess. It’s what you’d call vandalism.”

“Did you call the police?”

“Of course, I did! They’re there now.”

“Well, I hope you find out who did it.”

“I know who did it,” Evelyn said.

“What?”

“I think you’d do anything to get back at me!”

“Are you saying I did it?”

“Who else?”

Davis laughed. “Well, you got me there! I’m no Sherlock Holmes!”

“No, I don’t think it’ll take a Sherlock Holmes to crack this case!”

“Well, it’s been lovely talking to you, but I really don’t have time to stand here all day and listen to your innuendoes. I’ve got customers!”

“Funny, I don’t see any!”

Davis looked closely at Evelyn’s hair, studying it. “You’re not wearing one of your wigs, are you?” she asked.

“I don’t see how that could possibly be any of your business.”

“You have a few loose hairs right at the back of the neck. Sit down and I’ll take care of it for you. No charge.”

Evelyn sighed and sat in the chair. Davis put the cape around her shoulders and turned the chair around just so. She chose her sharpest professional hair-cutting scissors made from surgical steel and began snipping away at the back of Evelyn’s head.

“After we spoke the other day,” Evelyn said, “I thought I remembered you from high school, but I couldn’t place your name.”

“What’s in a name? I might have changed it.”

“If I remember correctly, you were one of my snottiest and most jealous rivals in those long-ago high school days. It was all I could do to keep from slapping the shit out of you.”

“I was never jealous of you,” Davis said, “but maybe I wanted to slap the shit out of you.”

“It’s been so long ago. Old rivalries should not become new rivalries.”

“That’s so profound!”

“Look, I don’t intend to engage in warfare with you. You know and I know that I’m taking away your customers right and left, and you’re so jealous you can’t stand it.

Me jealous of you?”

“I have a proposition for you.”  

“Yeah? What is that?”

“I can give you a job in my wig shop. Business is booming, as you know.”

“A job doing what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Sweeping up. Waiting on customers. Taking orders. You name it. Of course, it wouldn’t be much money at first, but there’s always room for advancement.”

“Why would I want to work for you?”

“Well, as you discovered all those years ago in high school, you cannot compete with me, so why even try? You’re hopelessly second-best and you always will be. I will lead and you will follow. That’s the way things are.”

“You’re saying you’re number-one, then, and I’m number-two?

“You’re number-two, yes, to put it charitably.”

“What if something happened and number-one died?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Number-one can die. People die all the time. You know that.”  

“Yes, but that’s not going to happen to me. I’m in perfect health. Longevity runs in my family.”

Not always!”

Davis thrust the professional hair-cutting scissors made from surgical steel into Evelyn’s neck, severing the carotid artery. Evelyn fell forward and then to the floor. She struggled to get up and struggled to speak but could do neither. In a few minutes she bled out and was dead.

Davis was able to contain the flow of blood with towels and beautician’s capes. She was just finishing cleaning up when Skippy and Dolores came in.  

When she had a minute to herself, she called Everett from the back room.

“There’s a smelly dead rat in my basement,” she said, sotto voce, so the girls in front wouldn’t hear. “I found it in the shop this morning and killed it and kicked it down the stairs.”

“Good for you!” he said. “I’m proud of you! Mama would be proud of you, too!”

“Before this big dead rat smells up the place,” Davis said, “I want you to send somebody over to take care of it.”

“Easiest thing in the world,” he said. “I know a man who would be tickled to death to do the job.”  

“Tonight?”  

“Of course, tonight! It’ll be taken care of. Don’t worry about a thing.”

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Fashionable Side Whiskers

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Come and Help Me Pin Up My Hair, Bitch!

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1939 ~ Greene County, Georgia

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Psychotic Episode

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1923 ~ Times Square

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Circa 1920 ~ Another Ash Can

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