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The Lights Flickered and Went Out

The Lights Flickered and Went Out ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in Backhair Advocate.)

The room was very quiet. Miss Adele’s teeth made little clicking sounds as she chewed. Miss Florence grunted as she tried to cut her meat and couldn’t. The knife slipped out of her hand and clattered to the floor. Mr. Benny looked around to see what the sound was but lost interest before he figured it out. Mr. Wilhelm was hearing nothing; he was asleep, his head hanging over his plate. Like the points on a compass, the four of them sat at a circular table.

“Don’t you think you should wake him up so he can finish his dinner?” Miss Florence said.

“Huh?” Mr. Benny said.

“Why don’t you wake him up before he falls out of his chair?”

“Let him fall,” Mr. Benny said. He was trying to soak up the gravy on his plate with a piece of bread but his hands were shaking so much he couldn’t manage it.

“My, but this is delicious,” Miss Adele said.

“What is?” Miss Florence asked.

“I don’t know what it is. There’s a little bit of tomato in it, I think, but I don’t recognize anything else.”

“You’re better off not knowing,” Mr. Benny said.

“What time is it?” Mr. Wilhelm asked, suddenly coming awake.            

“Why should you care?” Mr. Benny said. “You’re not going anywhere.”

“It was six o’clock about an hour ago,” Miss Florence said.

“It’s anybody’s guess,” Miss Adele said.

“A funny thing about time,” Mr. Benny said but he began coughing and didn’t finish the thought.

“What month is it?” Miss Adele asked.

“It’s April,” Mr. Benny said.

“Is it still the same year?”

“Yes, it’s still the same year.”

“This year is going along rather slowly, isn’t it?”

“Like a great big turtle in a race with death. See who comes out ahead.”

“Just ask your body what month it is,” Miss Florence said.

“What do you mean?” Miss Adele asked.

“When your toes are freezing off, it’s probably December or January.”

“When you see Christmas decorations everywhere, you know it’s probably December.”

“Good thinking,” Mr. Benny said. “You ought to go to work for the FBI.”

“Oh, they wouldn’t want me!”

“I don’t seem to be able to stay awake long enough to eat dinner,” Mr. Wilhelm said, picking up his knife and fork and going at his food again.

“Don’t you sleep well at night?” Miss Florence asked.

“I sleep all right, I guess.”

“Sleep comes in large doses or really small ones,” Miss Adele said, but nobody knew what she meant.

“After dinner let’s play some cards the way we used to,” Miss Florence said. “That ought to be fun.”

“What do you mean ‘the way we used to’?” Mr. Benny said. “I’ve never played cards with you in my life!”

“When we were children, we used to play ‘old maid’,” Miss Adele said.

“I’m happy to say I’m not one of those,” Miss Florence said. “I’m a widow.”

“And how many times were you married, dear?” Miss Adele asked.

“It really isn’t any of your business, but if you must know I was married three times.”

“I’ll bet all three of your husbands tried to kill you, didn’t they?” Mr. Benny said.

“Why would they do that?” Miss Adele asked.

“Well, just look at her.”

“They did not try to kill me,” Miss Florence said. “They worshipped me.”

“Well, what happened to them, then?”

“Two died, and the other one, well, it’s best if we don’t speak of him.”

“I never got married,” Mr. Wilhelm said. “I didn’t have time. I ran a company that employed five thousand people. I worked night and day. I was married to the business.”

“Oh, brother!” Mr. Benny said.

“Didn’t you get lonely?” Miss Adele asked.

“I did not!”

“I bet you had plenty of lady friends, though, didn’t you?” Miss Florence said. “A handsome fellow like you.”

“I did not. There was someone once, though. We lived together for about ten years.”

“What was her name?”

“It wasn’t a ‘her’. It was a ‘him’.”

“Oh, dear!” Miss Adele said.

“His name was Zachary. What he and I had together was very rare.”

“I never took you for one of those,” Miss Florence said.

“I knew there was something about him!” Mr. Benny said.

“Have you ever had the good fortune to meet another person in your life with whom you have a spiritual connection? It doesn’t happen more than once. It was that way with Zachary and me.”

“Now I’ve heard everything!” Mr. Benny said. “It’s like finding out that General Eisenhower liked boys.”

“I’m ashamed of nothing,” Mr. Wilhelm said.

“What happened to Zachary?” Miss Florence asked.

“He died.”

“Oh, that’s a crying shame!”

“He’s buried in his home town in Tennessee. When it’s my time to go, I’m going to be placed in the grave next to him.”

Mr. Benny rolled his eyes. “On that note,” he said, “I think I’ll leave you good people and go back to my room, if I can remember how to get there.”

A sudden flash of lightning and rumble of thunder made them all turn toward the window. Miss Adele screamed and turned over her water glass.

“It’s been too warm all day,” Miss Florence said. “I knew a storm was coming.”

“Storms scare me,” Miss Adele said. “I can feel the electricity in the air. It makes my skin prickle.”

“Your skin was already pickled,” Mr. Benny said.

“I’d rather die in a storm than some other ways I can think of,” Miss Florence said.

“Do you notice how we always get around to the subject of death?” Mr. Benny asked.

“Well, what’s wrong with that?” Miss Florence asked. “There’s nothing wrong with death. It’s part of life. I, for one, believe that death is not the end.”

“What is the end?” Mr. Benny asked.

“How should I know?”

“Heaven? Angels and fluffy white clouds?”

“I think that heaven is what you want it to be.”

“So, you’re saying that heaven exists only in the mind.”

“I’m not saying that at all.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“You don’t need to be rude,” Miss Florence said. “I can still get up from this chair and slap you silly if I want to. I’ve smacked old men around before and I don’t mind doing it again.”

With the next flash of lightning, the lights flickered and went out. Miss Adele squealed and put her hands to her throat. “What do we do now?” she said desperately.

“They’ll be back on in just a minute,” Miss Florence said. “No need to panic.”

“Hey, I like it better like this!” Mr. Benny said. “You all look much better in the dark.”

“The only way you would look good to me,” Miss Florence said, “would be if you disappeared.”

“Now who’s being rude?”

Somebody brought in a kerosene lamp, set it in the middle of the table and went away again without a word.

“Oh, how nice!” Miss Adele said. “Just like olden times before there was such a thing as electricity.”

Mr. Benny raised his wine glass. “Here’s to storms,” he said. “May they always be on the outside.”

“I hear music,” Miss Florence said.

“How lovely!” Miss Adele said. “Somebody’s playing the piano.”

Miss Florence in her spectator pumps and Miss Adele in her mules stood up and began shuffling their feet together in an approximation of dancing. Mr. Benny lit his one cigar of the day and blew out a cloud of smoke that looked, in the distorting lamplight, like ectoplasm at a séance. Mr. Wilhelm fanned his hand in front of his face and sighed as Miss Florence and Miss Adele danced away into the darkness on the far side of the room. And outside, the thunder and lightning raged as rain pounded against the glass and the storm gathered nearer.

Copyright 2017 by Allen Kopp    

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Rabbit is Rich ~ A Capsule Book Review

Rabbit is Rich ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

John Updike (1933-2009) was an American writer who wrote compellingly about ordinary people. He was a chronicler of his age, in much the same way that F. Scott Fitzgerald and John O’Hara were of their age.

Updike’s series of four “Rabbit” novels (Rabbit Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest) are about the different stages in the life of one Harold (Harry) “Rabbit” Angstrom: high school basketball star, linotype operator, husband, son, father, brother, lover, and Toyota dealer.

Rabbit Angstrom is a sort of contemporary antihero. He is flawed. He is less than admirable. He is sentimental. He is sex-obsessed (as Updike male characters always are). In Rabbit is Rich, he is forty-six years old and overweight, in what you might call the third quarter of his life. He has reached the stage of his life where he knows affluence for the first time, thanks to his father-in-law, Fred Springer, who brought him into his Toyota dealership in Brewer, Pennsylvania, and then conveniently died, leaving Rabbit in charge. Rabbit and his ditzy wife Janice live with his crabby, Charlie’s Angels-loving mother-in-law, Bessie, in her stately house.

Rabbit and Janice have a son, Nelson, a confused and rebellious young man who dropped out of Kent State one year short of graduating. Nelson has just married pregnant Pru (whose real name is Teresa). Pru and Nelson seem mismatched. We know it’s a union that isn’t going to last. Rabbit is sexually drawn to Pru. (When it comes to sex, nothing is off limits with these people.) Nelson doesn’t want to return to college but instead wants to work at the not-very-successful-these-days Toyota lot with his father. Rabbit will have to let one of his long-term employees go to make a place for Nelson and he doesn’t want to do that. The women in his life (his mother-in-law and his wife) are pressuring him to bring Nelson on. He knows that Nelson will mess it up, as he has messed up everything else in his life.

Rabbit thinks a lot about death. He can’t stop thinking about his deceased working-class parents and about the other people in his life who have died. He and Janice had an infant daughter named Becky who Janice accidentally drowned in the bathtub when she was drunk. Rabbit has, or believes he has, an illegitimate daughter from an affair he had twenty years ago. He is sentimental about his supposed illegitimate daughter; he fantasizes about encountering her and introducing himself to her as her father, even though she believes another man holds that title.

Rabbit is Rich is a slice of late-1970s life. It’s a rich reading experience about marriage, disillusionment, mortality, fatherhood and success. It shows us how good contemporary American literature (after Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald) can be in the hands of a master. If you are a reader, you owe it to yourself to read all four of the Rabbit novels in order.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

The Military Man

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The Military Man ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Gunner was nine. His father died when he was five and his mother married a man named Lindell Blevins and Lindell became Gunner’s stepfather. Lindell worked in a store downtown selling appliances. He didn’t know anything about children and, being a former military man himself, believed in military-style discipline for them. He would be the first person in Gunner’s life that Gunner didn’t like.

Lindell made Gunner mow the lawn and stood over him to make sure he mowed in straight rows, lining up the wheels of the machine with the edge of the row he just mowed. After the mowing was finished, Gunner raked up the cut grass and put in in bags. Then he had to sweep the grass off the walks and the driveway with an old push broom, and when that was finished there were the weeds in the flower beds that had to be pulled out by the roots.

Gunner had to go to bed every night at nine o’clock, Lindell’s edict, even on nights when there was no school the next day. Mother used to let Gunner stay up until ten-thirty or eleven whenever there was something good on TV he wanted to watch, but those days were over. Gunner stopped watching TV in the evenings all together, especially when Lindell was watching. He didn’t want to watch anything that Lindell watched. He didn’t want to be in the same room where Lindell was.

Lindell barged into Gunner’s room whenever he felt like it, no matter if Gunner was sleeping or getting dressed. He wanted to make sure Gunner hung his clothes in the closet and put away any articles that had no business being left out. A place for everything and everything in its place.

On Saturday mornings Lindell presented Gunner with the vacuum cleaner and a dust cloth and made him give his room a “good going over.” When it came to food, Lindell made Gunner limit his sugar intake and made him stop drinking soda, “except on very rare occasions.” Gunner could only have dessert on alternating days and ice cream no more than once a week. He was forced to eat squash and lima beans, no matter how much he hated them. And then there was milk: he hated the taste of it but had to have it with every meal. Sometimes he would take a couple sips out of the glass and then pour the rest down the sink when Lindell went into the other room.

“Lindell doesn’t like me,” Gunner said to mother when Lindell was gone on a weekend fishing trip and it was just the two of them.

“Of course he likes you,” mother said. “He isn’t used to children. We have to give him time.”

“How much time?” Gunner asked.

“He’s trying to be patient with us. You have to give him credit for that.”

“He doesn’t like me.”

“He does like you.”

“Has he said he likes me?”

“He doesn’t have to say it. I know he does. He’s trying to be a father to you.”

“I don’t like him. I hate him.”

“Do you know how much it would hurt him if he heard you say that?”

“I don’t care! I don’t want him to ever come back. I hope he dies.”

To punish Gunner for saying such things, mother made him stay in his room and read a book and wouldn’t let him watch TV. Gunner didn’t mind. He was glad he said it; it was finally out in the open. He hoped there would be a phone call saying that Lindell had fallen out of the boat and drowned while trying to catch his stupid fish and wasn’t coming home.

Gunner had a G.I. Joe doll in his toy box that he never played with anymore. He sat on the bed, holding the doll in his hands, thinking about how much it looked like Lindell. He stripped the army uniform off the doll and stuck pins in its head and where its genitals would be if it had any.

Gunner had seen a story on TV about voodoo. He had never heard of voodoo before and thought it was a good idea. In the story, a woman made an “effigy” of her enemy, a woman whose husband she wanted for her own, and stuck pins in the effigy’s back, neck and eyes. The enemy of the woman became afflicted with terrible pains all over her body and it took a long time for people to figure out what was wrong with her.

Every night before bed, Gunner took the G.I. Joe doll that looked like Lindell out of its hiding place and stuck new pins in it: in the heels, the top of the head, up the nose, the stomach—in all the places where he hadn’t stuck a pin before. He began watching Lindell during mealtimes to see if he showed any signs of unendurable physical pain, but Lindell was just his same old terrible self. The voodoo didn’t seem to be working, but maybe he hadn’t given it enough time.

It was autumn. There was a walnut tree in the back yard and the yard was littered with walnuts. Mother had husked some while others still remained in the tight green outer husk, drying in the sun. There’s nasty brown stuff inside the husk. If you get it on your hands, it’s the very devil to get off. If you go to school with brown stuff on your hands, people will think you don’t take a bath.

Gunner had to rake the leaves in the back yard every day, except on days when it rained. If you catch them as they fall, Lindell said, it will be a lot easier than raking them all up at once. After he raked the leaves into a pile, he had to keep bending over to pick them up and put them in trash cans. When he ran out of trash cans, he had to put them in stiff paper bags bigger than he was.

Lindell was in the side yard working on an old Cadillac he had bought. He had removed the tires and the only thing holding the car up in the air was a jack, a thin arm of metal at a slight slant. Lindell was underneath the car on his back, his ankles and feet—big, comical feet like a clown—sticking out.

Gunner had been raking for a half-hour. A yellow jacket flew around his head and he threw the rake down and ran to get out of its way. He knew that Lindell couldn’t see him from underneath the Cadillac, so he was in no hurry to get back to raking. He found a slingshot that the older boy who lived next door had left in the yard. He picked it up and liked the way the grip felt in his hand.

It was a big slingshot, and a walnut in its hard, green husk was the perfect projectile. He shot several walnuts up into the tree and watched them as they came down and hit the ground. He liked the disturbance they made in the leaves and the whump sound as they hit the ground. As long as Lindell couldn’t see him, he could fool around until dark, and then it would be time to go in and eat supper.

He shot several more walnuts at the trunk of a tree, the foundation of the house, the back fence, a broken flower pot and an old upturned bucket. It was a lot more fun than raking leaves.

The yellow jacket flew at his head again and he loaded a walnut into the slingshot and took a wild shot at it. The walnut took out the yellow jacket and continued with ferocious speed toward the Cadillac. It hit the jack holding up the Cadillac with a ping! sound and brought the car down on top of Lindell. Gunner saw the legs twitching. He turned away and screamed.

Mother was in the kitchen close to the back door. When she heard Gunner scream, she came running out the door. A couple of the neighbors came running, too. Mother tried to lift the car off Lindell, but of course she couldn’t move it at all.

Somebody called an ambulance and in less than five minutes it screeched to a halt in front of the house. The ambulance people had to get a special lift to lift the Cadillac off Lindell and when they did he was dead.

Two days later Gunner stood with mother in front of Lindell’s silvery casket at the funeral home. Lindell was dressed in a pinstripe suit with a red rose in his lapel and he looked to be asleep. It seemed to Gunner that he had only to open his eyes and look at him and start giving orders.

“I’m thirty-four years old,” mother said in a soft voice so that only Gunner could hear, “and twice a widow.”

“Who are all these people?” Gunner asked.

“Lindell’s family, friends, people he worked with.”

He looked at Lindell’s ear, at the side of his face where the razor had made a small cut. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“I know you are,” mother said.

“No! I’m sorry! I didn’t know this would happen.”

She looked down at him and he began to cry. She put her arm around his shoulder and pulled her toward him.

“I don’t think I’ll get married again,” she said with a little laugh.

He continued to cry. He didn’t have a Kleenex so he wiped his eyes with the tips of his fingers. People who saw him thought he was crying because Lindell was dead. They would never know the real reason. 

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Ironized Yeast

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Times Square

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Vertiginous picture of Times Square, looking up at the winter sky as a jet flies over. The claustrophobic feel of big cities. A good place to spend a few days but I wouldn’t want to live there.

The Other ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Other ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The Other is a gothic horror novel by actor-turned-writer Thomas Tryon (1926-1991) that has become something of an American classic and has sold millions of copies. It is set in 1935 in a small Connecticut town.

The Perry family has had more than its share of tragedy. The father died accidentally when a trap door fell on him as he was going down stairs to a cellar. His widow, Alexandra, is fluttery and nervous and can’t leave her room. A visiting cousin, named Russell, falls on a pitchfork concealed in hay while playing in the barn and dies. A neighbor woman dies mysteriously and her body isn’t discovered for a week. A newborn baby disappears and a frantic search is underway to find her. Alexandra is badly injured when she falls down the stairs. What is going on here?

Niles and Holland are twins, age thirteen. Alexandra is their mother and Ada, Alexandra’s mother, is their grandmother. Ada is the matriarch of the family. She is a Russian immigrant and speaks with an accent. She brings superstitions with her from the old country. She teaches Holland and Niles a game of transference in which they imagine they are something or someone other than themselves. This game of transference is an important plot point.

Even though Holland and Niles shared the same womb for nine months, they are very different. Holland is cruel and sadistic. He enjoys hurting and killing people and animals. Niles is just the opposite. He is a ray of sunshine and a help to his shut-in mother and his elderly Russian grandmother. Niles worships Holland. The good drawn to the bad. A moth to flame.

The Other is a breezy and clever (you might say, gimmicky) 288 pages and full of atmosphere. Can you guess the secret of The Others? If you can’t, the secret is revealed about three-quarter of the way through the novel. It has to do with twins Holland and Niles and the game of transference their grandmother teaches them. Holland gets what he deserves, but does angelic Niles deserve what he gets? It is, in a way, a story about mental illness.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

We Always Called Him Snap

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We Always Called Him Snap ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Mrs. Crosswhite was a young-looking widow, fifty-seven years old. She lived comfortably in a commodious house on a corner lot of a pleasant street. She had a wide expanse of lawn, beautiful shade trees, and a variety of flowers and shrubs that she paid a professional gardener to tend. If not exactly rich, she was at least comfortably well off to the extent that she might buy anything she pleased and not have to worry about how much it cost. Her closest living relative was her son Snap. He was thirty and had always lived with her.

At times Mrs. Crosswhite was alarmed by Snap’s lack of ambition. In all the years he had been out of high school, he never showed much interest in bettering himself. He tried college but had not developed good study habits in high school and wasn’t able to keep up. He worked for a while in a restaurant but didn’t move fast enough. A warehouse job ended when he fell off a ladder and broke his foot. He drove a pickup-and-delivery truck for a dry cleaner but, through his carelessness, the truck was stolen and he was fired. Since his last disastrous job, that of counter person in a delicatessen, he had stopped looking for work and resigned himself to eating, sleeping, watching TV and slouching around in his underwear.

As a boy and young man, Snap Crosswhite was always slender, dark and good-looking. As he advanced through his twenties and on to thirty, though, he put on an alarming amount of weight and stopped taking care of himself. He didn’t care if he combed his hair or took a bath. He rarely went out and when he did, he drank to excess and spent the next couple of days in bed with a hangover.

Mrs. Crosswhite believed her son just hadn’t found his way yet. He was slow in getting started. If he wanted to be an auto mechanic, a dancer, or an interior decorator, she would gladly pay for his schooling. She tried to lead him, gently, in the direction she wanted to see him go, but she didn’t want to alienate or antagonize him. She didn’t want to be like her own mother, a woman whose ceaseless complaining and nagging drove her children away.

The days slipped away, one after the other, unchanging. Then one day someone came and took Snap away.

He came down in the middle of the morning in his bathrobe and ate his breakfast of three eggs, half a pound of bacon, toast with lots of butter and jelly, and Dr. Pepper. He ate without looking up and without speaking and when he was finished he went back upstairs to his room. Mrs. Crosswhite 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 two stylish young men in dark suits and dark glasses looking in at her. They 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 Crosswhite?” one of the two men said.

“We always called him Snap,” she said. “Ever since he was a baby.”

“Is Mr. Crosswhite at home?”

“What is this about? I’m his mother.”

“We need to see him, ma’am.”

“All right. I’ll go and get him.”

She went upstairs and leaned her ear against the door of Snap’s room and tapped lightly. “Are you there?” she said.

“Yes?” came his muffled voice.

“There are two men at the door who say they want to see you.”

“Who is it?” Snap asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Take a message and tell them I’ll call them back.”

“No, it’s not on the phone,” 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 front and tying it. She was going to try to explain the men at the door, give him a word of warning, but he brushed past her without giving her a chance to speak.

He went down the stairs in his bare feet and when he turned the corner and saw the two men standing at the door, he turned around and ran back up the stairs to his room and slammed the door.

The men came running into the house and up the stairs without so much as a nod to Mrs. Crosswhite. Two uniformed men came rushing in from outside and followed the suited men up the stairs. Four men charging up her stairs was something of an affront to a middle-aged mother. She watched them with something akin to astonishment.

One of the suited men tried to open the door to Snap’s room, but of course it was locked.

“Open up, Mr. Crosswhite!” the man said. “We know you’re in there!”

“What is this all about?” Mrs. Crosswhite asked, having followed them up the stairs.

“Is there a window to that room?”

“Why, yes,” she said. “There are two.”

“Would he try to escape out the window?”

“Escape? Why should he?”

The suited man gestured to the larger of the two uniformed men and he put his shoulder to the door. With his third shoulder lunge, the door facing cracked and gave way and the door opened.

When the four men ran into the room, 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!”

“For heaven’s sake, what do you think he did?” Mrs. Crosswhite asked from the doorway to Snap’s room.

They freed him 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,” one of the suited men said.

“Don’t let them do this to me, mother!” Snap screamed.

When they tried to pull him up from the bed, the sheets came off in his fists. He wrapped his arms around the edge of the mattress like a drowning man holding onto a log. His clothing became terribly disarranged. His bathrobe rode up onto his shoulders. His boxer shorts were pulled down, exposing his enormous white buttocks.

The suited man turned to Mrs. Crosswhite 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.”

Snap stopped screaming and, in a few minutes, the uniformed men escorted him down the stairs. They had dressed him in jeans, sweatshirt and sneakers. Hands cuffed in front of him, he was like a subdued animal. He didn’t look at Mrs. Crosswhite as they took him out the door.

The two suited men stayed behind to have a word with her.

“Where are you taking him?” she asked. “When will I see him again?”

“It won’t do for you to worry,” the man said. “We’ll take the very best of care.”

“Yes, but what do you think he did?”

“All will be revealed,” he said. “For now, just maintain a positive attitude and don’t speak to reporters.”

“Speak to them about what?”

“You’ll receive a call, apprising you of all the details.”

“Well, all right,” she said, “but I wish you could tell me more than that.”

“You have a really fine day, now,” he said, and then they were gone.

She waited anxiously by the phone for the rest of the day but it didn’t ring. That night her sleep was tormented by disturbing dreams in which Snap as a child was calling to her.

“Help me, mother!” he screamed in the dream. “I’m here! Can’t you see me?”

But the harder she tried to see him the more indistinct he became, until finally he faded into the air like a wisp of smoke and in his place was the jack-in-the-box toy that used to make him cry when he was three years old.

The next day she felt numb, sick with worry. She stayed within easy reach of the phone but still it didn’t ring. She kept the TV on to keep from feeling so alone but paid no attention to its silly game shows, commercials and soap operas. When it came time to eat, she went into the kitchen and prepared food that just sat there.

On the second day, she felt a little better. No news is good news, as they used to say. She felt sure they would clear up the whole matter, whatever it was, and bring Snap home and deliver him on the doorstep.

To keep herself occupied, she’d give Snap’s room a thorough cleaning. I can clean the room better with him gone and when he comes home it’ll be to a clean room, she thought.

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 in the alley to be emptied on trash day.

With the room free of clutter, she cleaned the walls and floors, clearing away the cobwebs that had accumulated close to the ceiling; 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. When he came home, the two of them would go shopping and buy all new things, wipe the slate clean and begin afresh.

When the worked was finished, she was tired but pleased with the results. The room was cleaner than it had been for years. Snap would just naturally want to develop more responsible personal habits.

Two weeks went by and then three, and still no word from Snap.  No matter how much she wanted the phone to ring and willed it to ring, it was still silent. She called the police department a couple of times and gave them her name; they always transferred her call and she had to speak to someone, after a prolonged wait, who would give her no information at all. She wanted to complain to the mayor or the police commissioner, but she didn’t know their names.

She would be so happy to see Snap again and have him clear everything up for her. She imagined herself saying, “So, that’s all it was!” If only that day would come! She would even be happy to see him in his bathrobe and boxer shorts, eating and sleeping and hardly ever speaking.

She took to napping on the couch during the afternoons, next to the phone. It was during one of these afternoon naps that a knock on the front door roused her. She woke instantly, jumped to her feet.

When she opened the door, she saw a young man standing there, smiling at her. He was slender with short hair gleaming in the sun and a toothy smile.

“Aren’t you going to let me in?” he asked.

“Snap?”

“It took a long time for you to come to the door,” he said.

“I was taking a nap on the couch. I can’t sleep at night.”

“Well, anyway,” he said. “I’m here.”

She held the door for him and he came inside. She couldn’t take her eyes off him.

“You look so different,” she said.

“Better, I hope.”

“You got your hair cut. It looks good. And new clothes, too, I see.”

“Like them?”

“Red looks good on you.”

He set his small bag on the floor and sat in the green chair. “Place still looks the same,” he said.

“Where in the world have you been?” she said. “I was so worried.”

“I have a lot to tell you,” he said, “but first I want to rest up a little and take a shower.”

“You already look so clean and well-groomed! I can’t get over it!”

He laughed. “What have you been doing with yourself?” he asked.

“I’ve been so worried!”

“About what?”

“You, of course, Snap!”

“About that name. I want you to call me Stan now. That’s a better soubriquet for Stanislaus, don’t you think?”

“Soubriquet?”

“Nickname,” he said. “Snap belongs to my adolescence. I’m not an adolescent anymore.”

“Well, all right, but Stan is going to take some getting used to. We’ve called you Snap since you were a tiny baby.”

“I like the way Stan sounds, don’t you? So manly!”

“It just occurred to me who you remind me of,” she said.

“Who?”

“My father. He was so handsome when he was young. You look just the way he looked before he ran off and left us.”

“Well, my goodness, isn’t that a coincidence!”

“His name was Stan, you know.”

“No, I don’t think you ever told me your father’s name.”

“I’m just so glad to have you home again! I can hardly believe you’re really here!”

“I’m here, all right!”

“What would you like for dinner?” she asked. “I want to cook something special for your first night back.”

“You don’t have to cook anything,” he said. “I want us to go out to a good restaurant and really celebrate my rebirth. Champagne and everything.”

“Oh, Snap! Do you really think we should?”

“Well, don’t you feel like celebrating?”

“Of course, I do!” she said. “I’m so glad to have you back!”

She touched him on the arm to make sure he was really there.

“I’m going to start my own business,” he said. “We’ll talk about it over dinner.”

“What kind of business?” she asked.

“I’ll save it for later. I think you’ll be as excited as I am.”

“Oh, that is wonderful news!” she said. “Whatever you want to do, I’m sure I’ll approve, and, of course, I’ll do anything I can to help you!”

“But first I want to get cleaned up,” he said.

He stood up and picked his bag up from the floor.

“I gave your room a thorough cleaning,” she said. “It’s cleaner than it’s been in years. I thought we’d go shopping and buy some new furniture and get new carpet on the floor and maybe some new drapes.

“Sounds wonderful!” he said.

She watched him as he walked up the stairs: the neat khaki pants, the red shirt and brown tasseled loafers. She hadn’t seen him looking so good since he was a senior in high school.

***

A loud knock and she awoke with a start. The sofa cushion had left an imprint on her face. She stumbled into her shoes and banged her knee painfully against the coffee table.

Two men stood at the door. They were older men, gray-heads. They wore suits and looked grim, as if they were acting in a television drama.

“Yes?” she said.

“Mrs. Crosswhite?” one of the men asked.

“Yes,” she said. “What is it?”

“Are you the mother of Mr. Stanislaus Crosswhite?”

“We always called him Snap,” she said. “Ever since he was a baby.”

“I’m afraid we have some bad news, Mrs. Crosswhite.”

“About what?”

“About your son Stanislaus.”

“But he’s upstairs. I can go get him if you want.”

“No, Mrs. Crosswhite. I regret to inform you that your son died last night of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.”

“What?”

“I said…”

“Never mind,” she said. “I don’t need to hear anything like that.”

She slammed the door in the faces of the two gray-heads, turned away and walked through the house, into the dining room and then the kitchen. She took an onion out of the refrigerator and a knife from the drawer and began cutting the onion up into small pieces. Over her head she could hear the comforting sound of the water running in Snap’s bathroom. He was taking a shower and after he was dressed the two of them were going out to a good restaurant to celebrate his coming home.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp