Gluteus Maximus ~ A Short Story
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
School let out at three-fifteen. It took me fifteen minutes to walk home, about five blocks. I was always told to come straight home. Don’t dawdle. Don’t fool around. I was seven years old.
My mother had started working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office, so I knew she wouldn’t be home until later in the afternoon. I didn’t mind being on my own. I always liked it. I liked to get some cookies or potato chips or something and then not have anybody around while I watched cartoons on TV.
On a day in the middle of October, my father was sleeping when I came home, though, so I couldn’t turn on the TV. Even with the sound turned all the way down, he said, it kept him awake. Anything I did might keep him awake. If I opened a drawer, he would hear it and get mad. I could be quiet if I had to, but it was always so boring, like being in jail.
He was working night shift; he would get up about five-thirty and get ready for work. Can you imagine working all night and sleeping all day? It suited him somehow.
I went in my room and laid on my bed for a while. I tried reading a comic book but I was too restless after being in school all day. Then I went into the kitchen and played with the phone. I called time and temperature and then I called the bowling alley and hung up when they answered.
While I was in the kitchen, I had a snack. I ate a cold hot dog right out of the package. I liked the taste. Then I ate a couple of marshmallows and a couple of chocolate cookies. My mother always told me not to eat anything when I got home from school because it would spoil my appetite and I wouldn’t want any dinner. I wouldn’t want any dinner anyway unless we had noodles or macaroni and cheese.
I was bored and starting to get sleepy. I could have gone to sleep until my mother got home from work, but I didn’t want to be too much like my father. My mother would think I was sick if she came home and I was asleep.
I was looking around for something to help me pass the time, when I heard voices out in front of the house. I went to the front door and opened it a couple of inches and looked out. There were a couple of police cars and an ambulance at the house across the street. People were standing out on the sidewalk to watch.
I had to know what was going on. I ventured out into the front yard. I couldn’t see much from there, so I went out to the street. I had to look around all the tall people.
At the house across the street, a couple of uniformed police officers stood sentinel on either side of the door. The door was open. I was just standing there, trying to see what was happening, when Miss Katz from up the street approached me.
“You’d better get back inside!” she said. “There might be more shooting!”
“I just wanted to see,” I said.
“Where’s your mother?”
“She hasn’t come home from work yet.”
“What about your pa?”
“He’s taking a nap.”
“Better go back in.”
“Miss Burford shot her old man.”
“No! She shot her husband, Harry Burford.”
“Did she kill him?”
“I don’t know. That’s what we’re all waiting to find out.”
Two police officers brought Miss Burford out of the house with her hands cuffed behind her back. She was bawling but not saying anything. They put her in the back of a police car and drove away, not too fast but with the red lights spinning. Then a little while later they brought Harry Burford out of the house on a stretcher. He clearly wasn’t dead but didn’t look too happy. His face was pale and his eyes were closed. They loaded him into the back of the ambulance, slammed the doors shut, and drove off with the siren going.
“I think he looks like he might die,” Miss Katz said.
“Why’d she shoot him?” I asked.
“She probably found him fooling around with another woman. She shot him in both cheeks!”
“She shot him in the face?”
“No, she shot him in the ass cheeks. The butt!”
“He probably won’t be sitting comfortably for the rest of the year.”
“What will they do to her?”
“I think they should lock her up for a good long time, don’t you? If old Harry dies, they’ll probably put her in the penitentiary for life. She always was crazy if you ask me. She just has a funny look about her. She’s the kind of woman that when you see her coming you feel like turning around and running.”
“She always seemed okay to me,” I said.
“That’s because you’re a child. She wouldn’t dare do anything crazy to a child.”
“Well, I’d better get back inside.”
“What time does your mama come home?”
“Not for a while yet.”
“Are you hungry? I can fix you a baloney sandwich if you want to come home with me. You can sit with me, if you want, until your mama comes home.”
She didn’t exactly hold me by the hand, but she kept her hand on my shoulder as we walked the short distance to her house. We went into her kitchen and she set me down at the kitchen table.
“Your house is pretty,” I said.
Her kitchen didn’t look anything like ours. Everything was shiny and clean-looking. Everything was in its place. I didn’t know much about Miss Katz. I think she used to have a husband, but I don’t know what happened to him. He must have died. I know she had a son who died in a war.
Do you like baloney?” she asked me.
“Do you like mayonnaise?”
“I love mayonnaise!”
She fixed the sandwich and set it on a plate in front of me. It was two slices of baloney, with one slice of cheese in between, on fresh bread, with lots of mayonnaise. It was delicious.
“I used to know your mother a long time ago when she was a little girl,” Miss Katz said. “I worked in the cafeteria at school when she was just a little thing. She had the prettiest blond curls.”
“She works in a doctor’s office now,” I said.
“Life plays some dirty tricks sometimes, doesn’t it?”
“It sure does.”
“What about that father of yours?”
“He’s working nightshift tonight. When I got home from school, he was sleeping so I wasn’t supposed to make any noise. He didn’t even know when I came outside. He gets up to go to work about the time my mother comes home. Sometimes I wish he would stay gone all the time.”
She made some sympathetic noises in her throat and then put a bowl of fruit in front of me.
“Do you have any Pepsi?” I asked.
When I got home, my father had already left for work. My mother was in the kitchen.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“I was talking to Miss Katz. Did you hear what happened?”
“Miss Burford shot Mr. Burford.”
“Shot him where?”
“In both ass cheeks! That’s got to hurt!”
“Who told you that?”
“Miss Katz. I was standing there when the police brought Miss Burford out of the house in handcuffs! Then they brought Mr. Burford out on a stretcher and took him away in the ambulance! If he dies, Miss Burford will go to the penitentiary.”
“I want you to stay away from those people! I always suspected something funny was going on with them.”
“I don’t ever go near them,” I said.
She fixed chow mein with rice for dinner. I wasn’t hungry by then, but I picked at it with my fork and tried to eat a little of it. I didn’t want to hurt my mother’s feelings.
Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp
The Last of Us ~ A Capsule TV Review
The Last of Us
~ A Capsule TV Review by Allen Kopp ~
The Sunday night HBO series, The Last of Us, is set in a dystopian world of present-day America. Civilization is ravaged, America is in tatters, and the people remaining are in big trouble. What happened, you may ask? Ever hear the word “pandemic”? (Of course you have!) In 2003, twenty years before the action of the story takes place, the Outbreak occurred. In one weekend, the world (or most of the people in it) was decimated by a parasitic fungus known as Cordyceps.
Cordyceps is a nasty thing from hell. It wasn’t supposed to infect humans, but it did. Since it’s a parasite, it takes over the host (whoever he or she might be) and eventually kills them, in a matter of days or weeks. While the infected are free to roam, they are ravaging, horrifying beasts, with things like tree roots growing from their heads and bodies. The one objective of the infected is to infect those who are not yet infected by and turn them into more horrifying beasts. Is there any antidote or cure? Not that anybody knows.
We have to have a main character to deal with this mess, don’t we? He’s a middle-aged man named Joel Miller. He’s stolid, square-jawed, and reluctantly heroic. He has known plenty of heartache. On the day of the Outbreak, he lost his teenage daughter. Fast-forward twenty years to 2023. He has a girlfriend named Tess.
Joel and Tess have been living the best they could in such a horrible world. Well, Tess is quickly dispatched and Joel ends up with a fourteen-year-old girl in his care named Ellie. How he happened to have Ellie with him isn’t fully explained, but I suppose it will be explained further in future episodes. He has a brother named Tommy who is out west somewhere, presumably in the state of Wyoming. He is trying to get to his brother because he has heard he’s in trouble. He’s taking Ellie with him because there’s some kind of clinic out there that might be able to use her in finding a cure for the Cordyceps. She has been bitten by one of the infected—don’t you know?—but didn’t come to be infected herself. It might be that she, unlike anybody else, has natural immunity. She might (or might not) be the hope of mankind. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed.
We’ve seen stories before like The Last of Us set in a post-apocalyptic world, so it isn’t anything entirely new. (Did anybody see the movie The Road or read the novel? Did anybody see the movie The Book of Eli?) People seem to be fascinated with end-of-the-world stories. It’s speculative, horror, science fiction and fantasy all rolled into one. Not for eight-year-olds.
Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp
The Planet Factory ~ A Capsule Book Review
The Planet Factory
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~
Do you know what an “exoplanet” is? I didn’t know, either, until I read this book, The Planet Factory. An exoplanet is any planet outside our Solar System that orbits a star, the way the Earth orbits the Sun. An “exomoon” is a moon that orbits an exoplanet. So far, there have been more than 5,000 exoplanets located and identified. The search for exoplanets has exploded in the past ten years due to advanced technology and bigger, stronger telescopes.
Planet scientists are always hoping to find a planet that is sufficiently Earth-like. The search for such planets reveals just how unique and unusual the Earth is. So far, no exoplanets have been discovered that are significantly like the Earth. All the elements that combine to make the Earth the perfect spot for life to proliferate are just not that easy to find.
When it comes to space and space travel, the main thing people want to know is whether or not there is life outside of the Earth and, if so, what kind of life. Is there plant life on other planets? Animal life? If there a possibility we will ever encounter a race of beings on other planets with a technology advanced enough to recognize our own and respond in kind?
Outside our own little Solar System of eight planets orbiting the Sun (there used to be nine planets, but Pluto was demoted to a non-planet), are unimagined vastnesses of space. There are potentially billions of planets that might harbor life. The problem is that they are so far away that they are too difficult to observe. At the current rate of space travel, it would take us about 700,00 years to travel four lightyears. (A lightyear is the distance light travels in one year.) We need to figure out a way to circumvent the laws of physics to travel much, much faster than we do now.
The Planet Factory is not an easy book to read for the non-scientific reader. It’s full of statistics, measurements, distances, technical terms, and scientific data. Some of it is extremely interesting, such as the material about Jupiter’s moons and the search for life on other planets. I read every word but didn’t grasp a lot of it. I slogged ahead, though, and made my way through the entire book. I was glad to get to the end.
Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp