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Unwed Babies

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Unwed Babies ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Little Thelma Kane hadn’t been to school for two weeks. When she returned, presumably for the last time, she was accompanied by her mother, Nova Kane. The two of them presented themselves in the principal’s office immediately after lunch on Friday afternoon.

“We want to see Mr. Middledyke,” Nova Kane said to Ima Chiclet, Mr. Middledyke’s secretary.

Ima Chiclet eyed Nova Kane suspiciously. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked.

“No.”

“You have to have an appointment to see Mr. Middledyke. He’s a very busy man.”

“Look here, doll face,” Nova Kane said. “I’m in no mood. I had to rearrange my schedule to be here.”

“What is the nature of your visit?”

“Of a private nature, for Mr. Middledyke to know.”

Ima Chiclet sighed and stuck the tip of her tongue out between her ruby-red lips. “I don’t think Mr. Middledyke will see you without knowing the reason.”

“Just tell him it’s personal.”

“Name?”

“Nova Kane, mother of eleventh grader Little Thelma Kane.”

“I’ll see if he’s free.”

She stood up from her desk, tapped on a door and went inside. In a moment she came back out.

“Mr. Middledyke says he’ll see you on one condition,” she said.

“What’s that?” Nova Kane asked.

“That you’re not carrying a gun.”

Nova Kane held open the sides of her coat and whirled around. “No guns,” she said.

“How about you?” Ima Chiclet asked Little Thelma Kane.

“I don’t have a gun, either,” Little Thelma said, “but I wish I did.”

“If you’re both clean, then you may go right in.”

Mr. Middledyke was a small man with protruding ears and a thatch of sparse reddish hair on top of his head. In his pinstripe suit, he resembled a junior-league gangster. Not at all pleased that his after-lunch solitude was being interrupted, he ushered Nova Kane and Little Thelma Kane into his office and pointed to two chairs.

“Yes?” he said. “How may I help you today?”

“My daughter here, Little Thelma Kane, wants to quit school,” Nova said, settling her wide hips in the high-backed chair. “Show me where to sign and I’ll sign the damn form.”

Mr. Middledyke looked from Nova Kane to Little Thelma and back again. “She wants to quit school? For what reason?”

“She’s getting married.”

“She’s just a child!”

“She’s sixteen.”

“Have you thought long and hard about this, young lady?” Mr. Middledyke asked Little Thelma.

“Yeah,” Little Thelma said, looking bored.

“It’s a very big step to quit school,” he said.

“I know.”

“Without a high school diploma, you may find yourself unable to meet life’s challenges.”

“I’ve told her all that,” Nova Kane said.

“Don’t you think you’d be better off to wait a couple of years until after you’ve graduated and have your diploma in hand?” Mr. Middledyke asked.

“It won’t wait,” Nova Kane said.

“And why not, may I ask?”

“It seems there’s going to be a baby.”

For a few seconds Mr. Middledyke was speechless. He looked at Little Thelma Kane and didn’t recall ever seeing her before among the students at the school. She was dowdy, pasty-faced and unattractive; so easy to overlook or not see at all.

“Is the boy also a student here?” he asked.

Nova Kane and Little Thelma looked at each other and laughed.

“No, his name is Finn Wozniak,” Little Thelma said. “He’s almost thirty years old.”

“He’s in scrap metal,” Nova Kane said.

“You’re marrying a man thirty years old?”

“Yeah, what of it?”

“The age of consent in this state is eighteen.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that if a thirty-year-old man has had sexual relations with a girl of sixteen, it’s statutory rape, no matter how willing she is.”

“Finn didn’t rape me,” Little Thelma said.

“The way the law sees it, he did.”

“What are you saying?” Nova Kane asked.

“This girl does not have to marry a thirty-year-old man and have his baby.”

“Maybe I want to!” Little Thelma said.

“It’s my duty to report these cases to the police,” Mr. Middledyke said.

“Do you mean I can’t quit school?” Little Thelma asked. She surprised Mr. Middledyke by starting to cry.

“See what you’ve done?” Nova Kane said. “She was perfectly happy and now you’ve made her cry.”

“Are you sure there’s going to be a baby?” Mr. Middledyke asked.

“Pretty sure.”

“Have you seen a doctor?”

“No.”

“Why do you think you’re going to have a baby?”

“I just am, that’s all.”

“You can’t ask a woman questions like that!” Nova Kane said.

“If you weren’t going to have a baby, would you still want to quit school and get married at your age?”

“Well, I haven’t thought about it.”

“There’ll be no unwed babies in my family!” Nova Kane said.

“I’m asking her.”

“Well, I don’t much like school,” Little Thelma said, “but I guess I’d choose school over some things.”

Nova Kane glared at Little Thelma. “You got me here for nothing!” she said.

Mr. Middledyke buzzed for Ima Chiclet. When she came in without delay, he knew she had been listening at the door.

“Get me the parental consent form,” he said.

“Parental consent for what?” Ima Chiclet asked.

“For this young girl to quit school and marry her thirty-year-old boyfriend.”

When Ima Chiclet brought him the form, he signed his scrawl to it and handed it over to Nova Kane.

“Wait a minute!” Little Thelma said. “Don’t sign it! I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to quit school.”

“What?”

“There’s no baby. I thought there was a for a while but I was wrong.”

Nova Kane regarded Little Thelma with disgust and punched her in the mouth with her knuckles, a sort of backhanded slap. Little Thelma grunted; her mouth began to bleed.

“I should have drowned this one at birth,” Nova Kane said.

“I’ll come back to school on Monday,” Little Thelma said. “I’m going to tell Finn Wozniak tonight that I’m not going to see him anymore.”

“Enjoy your high school years while they last,” Mr. Middledyke said, his eyes welling with tears.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Is Ruth Costello at Home?

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Is Ruth Costello at Home? ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He knocked and waited. A man with a mustache came and regarded him through the screen door.

“Hello, sir,” the knocking man said. “My name is Les Good. I’d like to speak to Ruth Costello, please.”

“Wrong house,” the mustached man said.

Mrs. Ruth Costello.”

“I don’t know who that is.”

Les Good stood back so he could see the number on the house. “Isn’t this 737 Windermere Lane?”

“That’s right.”

“And Ruth Costello doesn’t live here?”

“No.”

“Well, I think there’s been some mistake. My information clearly indicates that Mrs. Ruth Costello lives at 737 Windermere Lane.”

“She doesn’t.”

“And you live here, sir?”

“Yeah.”

“And you don’t know a Ruth Costello?”

“No.”

“Well, isn’t that funny?”

“Did you have important business with her?”

“What?”

“I said, did you have important business with Ruth Costello?”

“She called me and asked me to drop by and speak to her about some insurance.”

“Oh,” the man with the mustache said. “You’re an insurance salesman.”

“I’m an insurance agent.”

“Well, no Ruth Costello here. Sorry.”

“And you don’t know anyone named Ruth Costello?”

“No.”

“May I ask your name?”

“It isn’t Ruth Costello.”

“Is your name Costello?”

“No, and it’s not Abbott either.”

“Well, I wonder, since I’m here, if I might speak to you about your insurance needs?”

The mustached man sighed and said, “I don’t have any.”

“Don’t have any what?”

“Insurance needs.”

Les Good laughed his infectious laugh that had opened many doors. “Come, come, now, sir!” he said. “We all have insurance needs.”

“I’m not Ruth Costello, so I think there’s nothing more to be said.”

“May I ask if you have a wife and children, sir?”

“No.”

“So, you’re a single gentleman?”

“I didn’t say that. I said you may not ask if I have a wife and children.”

“May I ask your profession, sir?”

“No.”

“Could I have your place and date of birth?”

“No.”

“Your social security number?”

“No.”

“What kind of vehicle do you drive? I take it you’re an insured driver?”

“I’m not Ruth Costello.”

“What about health insurance? Do you have coverage with your employer?”

“I’m not Ruth Costello.”

“If you would just give me your name, I think we could get all this straightened out in a jiffy.”

“I think it’s time for you to leave,” the man with the mustache said.

“Before I go,” Les Good said, “I’d like to leave some brochures with you that explain our services. After you’ve had a chance to look them over, I hope you’ll give me a call and we can sit down and discuss all your insurance needs.”

“I don’t want any brochures.”

“At least take my card.”

“All I want is for you to get away from my door and off my porch.”

“I understand your hesitation, sir.”

“No more words. Leave now.”

“Well, it’s been lovely talking to you, sir, and I hope you have a wonderful day!”

Les Good wasn’t easily discouraged. At the next house over, a woman answered the door. He flashed his thousand-watt smile.

“Hello, ma’am,” he said. “My name is Les Good. I’d like to speak to Ruth Costello, please.”

“You have the wrong house.”

Mrs. Ruth Costello.”

“Nobody here by that name.”

Les Good stood back so he could see the number on the house. “Isn’t this 739 Windermere Lane?”

“Yes.”

“And Ruth Costello doesn’t live here?”

“No.”

“Well, I think there’s been some mistake. My information clearly indicates that Mrs. Ruth Costello lives at 739 Windermere Lane.”

“She doesn’t live here.”

“This is your home, ma’am?”

“Yes.”

“And you don’t know a Ruth Costello?”

“No.”

“Well, isn’t that funny?”

“What was it you wanted to see her about?”

“She called me and asked me to drop by and speak to her about some insurance.”

“I see.”

“Well, I wonder, since I’m here, if I might speak to you about your insurance needs?”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Atlantic City, 1904

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On the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1904.

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and George’s Mother ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and George’s Mother ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

This slim volume contains two short novels by Stephen Crane: Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (1893) and George’s Mother (1896). Both explore the lives of lower working-class people in the section of New York known as the Bowery in the 1890s. These people speak fractured English, labor in factories and sweatshops, and most of them drink to excess to make their lives more endurable. They are contemptuous of people of wealth, refinement and education, and they have little or no hope of ever rising above their class.

The title character in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets lives with her family in a wretched tenement. Her mother is a drunken harridan and her brother a brutish lout almost devoid of human feeling. Despite her surroundings and her family, Maggie somehow manages to be attractive to men (the quality that will prove to be her downfall). Pete is a friend of Maggie’s brother who takes an interest in her. He is a bartender and Maggie believes he is sophisticated and worldly wise. She begins going around with him and they engage in sexual relations. After he gets tired of her, he discards her in favor of another girl. Maggie, at this point, is seen as “ruined” in the eyes of the world because she has given herself to a man who has rejected her. She has no chance for redemption.

The subtitle of George’s Mother is A Tragic Tale of the Bowery. George Kelcey is a laborer who lives with his mother in a Bowery tenement. Since all her other children have died, George’s mother is especially attentive to him. She harangues him to hang up his coat when he returns from work and to do all the things a mother thinks a son is supposed to do. She wants nothing more than for him to be the type of son she thinks he should be. He has an overwhelming fondness for alcohol, though, and he loves to spend evenings in the company of his male friends. After alcohol and merriment get the best of him, he loses his job and his irresponsible behavior begins to wear on his mother’s health.

Stephen Crane was one of the first, if not the first, American writers to write in a naturalistic or realistic style. His most famous work is his Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage, which he wrote without ever seeing combat. His life and writing career were cut short when he died of tuberculosis in 1900 at age 28.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

New York, Times Square, 1900

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New York, Times Square, 1900

 

New York, Central Park, 1933

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New York, Central Park, 1933.

Empire State Building

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The Empire State Building from E. 41st Street, 1933.