Mr. Fellowes ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
“Ella! Ella! Ella! Oh, baby! Give me a great big kiss! Woo! Woo! Woo! Woo! Ella! Ella! Ella!”
The boys hid behind parked cars as they chanted. Ella Peebles walked on, her head down, trying to ignore them. She didn’t know who the boys were, but it didn’t matter. All boys were the same to her. She hated all of them.
“You’re not there,” she said, more to herself than to them. “You don’t exist.”
Ella was fifteen. She knew a girl one year older who went out with a boy just one time and ended up pregnant. Ella wasn’t going to let that happen to her. Just the word was awful: Pregnant. What a terrible, disgusting word! You’re sick for nine months and then this awful little thing comes out of your body and you have to feed it and take care of it for the rest of your life and put up with its sass. You are never free again to do the things you want to do and you’ll never have any money to go to the show or buy a magazine or an ice cream cone because the baby will take all your money and all your time.
She knew the chanting boys were out to get her pregnant. That’s the one thing boys wanted most. She heard it in health class in a girls-only lecture and slide show. The message of the lecture was clear: Don’t let your guard down and let boys get you pregnant! The awful sperm penetrating the egg! Could anything be more revolting? It only took one boy and it only took one time. It was just too easy and the consequences were too awful for the girl but not for the boy. After the boy gets you pregnant, he’s free to go and get somebody else pregnant. He can keep doing it over and over again, as many times as he wants. If God wasn’t a boy, things wouldn’t be the way they are.
When Ella walked through the door at home, she heard her brother Percy laughing. Laughing was better than crying. She went into the kitchen and saw Percy sitting on Mr. Fellowes’s lap. Mr. Fellowes was mother’s latest boyfriend. He was showing Percy how to drink beer out of a can and smoke a cigarette at the same time, which, he said, is something you must learn to do when you spend a lot of time in saloons. Mother was sitting at the table, too. She was laughing so hard her mascara was running down her cheeks and she had to keep wiping it off with her fingers. It was odd to see mother laughing that way because she took a lot of pills and drank whiskey straight out of the bottle and was usually either crying or knocked out in front of the TV.
“Oh, I wish I had a camera!” she spluttered out around her laughter.
Percy was nine, small for his age. He was enjoying the attention from mother and Mr. Fellowes. He held the cigarette between his fingers and took a puff on it and waggled his head like a girl.
“You should see yourself!” Ella said. “You look so silly!”
Percy stuck his tongue out at her and hopped off Mr. Fellowes’s lap. He wasn’t ready just yet to give up being the center of attention. He minced and waggled his hips from the stove to the refrigerator and back, while mother and Mr. Fellowes roared with laughter.
“You look just like a little queer!” Ella said.
“Ella! That’s not a very nice thing to say to your brother!” mother said, suddenly serious. “Where do you hear words like that?”
“Every day at school,” Ella said. “People say it all the time.”
“Well, not in this house!”
Mother pretended to be a righteous mother in front of Mr. Fellowes, but Ella and Percy knew otherwise. When she got mad enough, she could swear and rant better than any sailor. She could also slap people in the mouth and throw dishes across the room and break them against the wall and then make Ella clean up the broken pieces. Ella had just learned the word hypocrite and she knew that’s what her mother was. A person who pretends to abhor the thing that he or she really is.
Ella stood in the kitchen doorway and looked at mother and Mr. Fellowes. He was a large man with a lumpy body and a bald head. He wasn’t good-looking, but mother said she was finished with good-looking. They’re the ones that get what they want out of you and then they go off and leave you high and dry. Mr. Fellowes was the reliable type who could provide a woman with exactly what she needed. Sure, he wasn’t exciting, but who needs it? A home and security are much more important.
“Wash your hands for supper,” mother said to Ella and Percy. “Mr. Fellowes brought us supper and we’re all going to eat together.”
She began taking the stuff out of the refrigerator. There was a whole chicken, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and a bag of donuts. Percy wanted to get right to the donuts, but mother told him he couldn’t eat any of those until he had had a good supper.
Ella sat down at the little square table with her back to the wall. Percy sat across from her, mother to her right, and Mr. Fellowes on her left.
“I want a leg!” Percy squealed. “And I want some potato salad!”
While Ella was pulling the meat off a thigh with her fork, she felt Mr. Fellowes’s eyes on her. When she looked at him, he smiled and winked.
“How’s the world been treatin’ you, princess?” he asked.
She shrugged and said, “I’m not a princess.”
“She’s too ugly to be a princess!” Percy said, his mouth full of potato salad. “Princess is pretty.”
“Well, she needs to fix her hair up and wear a bit of makeup,” Mr. Fellowes said.
“I don’t know about makeup,” mother said. “I don’t want her lookin’ like a tramp before her time.”
“A little bit of makeup won’t make her look like a tramp,” Mr. Fellowes said. “Too much makeup could be bad, but a little bit applied artfully might make all the difference.”
“I don’t want any,” Ella said.
“He’s only trying to be nice,” mother said. “You don’t have to get snippy about it.”
“It’s all right,” Mr. Fellowes said. “I grew up with three sisters. I know all about the moods of young girls.”
“I’ve tried to get her to get a nice hairstyle,” mother said, “but she just doesn’t seem to care about it.”
“She’s at that age,” Mr. Fellowes said.
“Could we please talk about something else?” Ella said.
“You really do need to have your hair cut and styled, honey,” Mr. Fellowes said.
“Hey, I’ll get mine cut and styled!” Percy said. “How would that be?”
Mother started laughing again. “You’re a regular little comedian, aren’t you?” she said.
When the meal was finished and Percy had eaten three donuts, Ella stood up and started clearing the table. Mr. Fellowes had just lit a cigarette. He grabbed Ella by the wrist and pulled her onto his lap. She tried to get away but he put his arms around her and held her against his chest.
“She’s a little big for lap-sitting,” mother said.
“Nobody’s ever too big for a little lovin’,” Mr. Fellowes said.
“Let me up!” Ella said. “Your cigarette smoke is going right in my face.”
“Indulge me for a little while, girl. It’s been a long time since I had a pretty girl on my lap.”
“What about me?” mother said.
“You’re past the girl stage, I’m afraid. You’re now in the matron stage.”
“I don’t think I like that!”
Mr. Fellowes nuzzled his face into Ella’s neck and held her tight.
“She’s never been what I would call an affectionate child,” mother said.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Mr. Fellowes said, “but I think you need to take yourself a good bath.”
Percy laughed and mother slapped him on the arm to make him stop.
After the dishes were washed and put away, mother and Mr. Fellowes left to go to the show. Ella and Percy turned on all the lights in the house and sat in front of the TV and watched detective and doctor shows until time to go to bed.
The next morning Ella awoke with a pain her side. Her nose was all stopped up, she had a headache, and her eyes looked puffy. When she realized what was wrong, she had a mortified feeling unlike any she had ever felt in her life. It was like finding out she had a fatal disease and would soon be dead.
While Mr. Fellowes was holding her on his lap—in his arms—at the supper table, some of his sperms went inside her body and penetrated her eggs. She was—that horrible word!—pregnant. She must have breathed them in through her mouth and nose. That’s the only way it could have happened. Mother would die when she found out.
At school she could barely sit still and pay attention. When people spoke to her, she didn’t hear what they said because her mind was preoccupied with the predicament she was in. In gym class, which she had always hated anyway, she fainted during calisthenics and the gym teacher told her to get dressed and get herself to the nurse’s office right away. She might have something catching.
The nurse was out for the moment, but Ella made herself at home and laid down on the cot against the wall behind the file cabinets. She felt better lying on the cot because nobody could see her and the nurse’s office was quiet and cool.
In a half-hour or so the nurse came back and when she saw Ella on the cot, she asked her what was wrong.
“I got sick in gym class,” Ella said.
The nurse stuck a thermometer in her mouth and took her blood pressure. She had a fever of a hundred and one and her blood pressure was high.
“Now, tell me what’s wrong,” the nurse said. “Your clothes are soaked through and you’re pale.”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Ella said.
“Okay. Go on back to class then.”
“If I tell you what’s wrong, will you promise not to tell anybody?”
“Cross my heart.”
“Uh-oh! That’s not good, is it? Who’s the boy? Do you know?”
“The boy who impregnated you.”
“There’s no boy, except the ones that were yelling at me on the street yesterday, and I don’t think that’s when it happened. They were too far away.”
The nurse sighed and looked over her shoulder as if she might find some help there in another part of the room. “Okay, tell me what happened,” she said. “I’m here to help and I promise I won’t tell a soul.”
“It’s Mr. Fellowes,” Ella said.
“Who is Mr. Fellowes?” the nurse asked.
“He’s my mother’s boyfriend.”
“So, you had sexual relations with Mr. Fellowes?”
“Who, then? Who did you have sexual relations with?”
“Nobody. Not even myself.”
“Have you and your brother been experimenting?”
“He’s nine. He still believes in the Easter Bunny.”
“Okay. Well, we’re not getting anywhere, are we?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“If you’re pregnant, there has to be a boy or a man involved.”
“It happened yesterday.”
“Mr. Fellowes’s sperms got inside my body somehow and broke open my eggs. I knew as soon as I got up this morning that I was pregnant.”
“This happened yesterday?”
“And you did not have sexual relations with Mr. Fellowes?”
“Are you kidding? With my mother and little brother sitting right there?”
The nurse stood up and got a wet washcloth and put it on Ella’s forehead. “You just lie here for a while until you feel better,” she said. “I’ll call your mother and she can come and get you and take you to a doctor to find out what’s really wrong.”
“Please don’t call my mother! I think it’ll just about finish her off when she finds out I’m pregnant.”
The nurse went out of the room. When she didn’t come back right away, Ella knew she was calling her mother. It was the last thing she needed.
She stood up off the cot, feeling light-headed, and went out into the deserted hallway. All the way down at the far end were the doors leading out of the building. She put her head down, thinking that would make her less noticeable, and walked to the doors as quietly as she could.
The sunlight hurt her eyes and she thought she was going to be sick again, but she rallied herself and got away from the school as fast as she could before anybody saw her.
She walked a long way, a couple of miles at least, to the edge of town and beyond. She came to a high bridge that she remembered like a bridge from a dream. It was on an old highway that nobody used much anymore because a new one had been built.
She walked out onto the bridge, squinting in the sunlight, and when she was about halfway across, she stopped and looked down at the river. It looked ugly and dirty; moving fast because there had been a lot of rain lately. Limbs and cardboard boxes and other unidentifiable things floated along with the current.
She eased herself over the railing and stood on a little ledge not more than three inches wide. She had to turn her feet sideways to be able to stand on it. When she closed her eyes, she could hear the river and feel it churning, eighty or so feet down. With her eyes closed, it wouldn’t be so bad. She wouldn’t have to see the water as she jumped in. And when it was all over she wouldn’t have to go to school anymore. No more worries ever again, about being pregnant or anything else.
Tilting her head back as far as she could in the awkward position she was in, she saw birds nesting in the framework of the bridge high above her head. Something seemed to have upset them. They were flying around frantically, squawking and ruffling their feathers. They made her forget for a moment about everything else.
While she was watching the birds, a red pickup truck stopped on the bridge. She had to turn her head to see it. A man got out of the truck and walked over slowly to her. He wasn’t an old man but not so young, either. It was hard to tell exactly what he looked like because he wore dark glasses that kept his eyes hidden and a cowboy hat like cowboys wear in the movies.
“You shouldn’t be playing here on this old bridge,” he said. “It’s dangerous.”
“I wasn’t playing,” she said.
“What are you doing, then?”
“I wasn’t doing anything.”
“Are you a runaway?”
He took hold of her arm and helped her over the railing. “You’re just a kid,” he said. “Does your mother know you’re here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you here alone?”
“Most kids would be in school now, unless you’re special in some way.”
“I’m not special.”
“Do you want me to give you a ride back to town?”
“I just left town,” she said. “I think I’ll just keep walking.”
“Suit yourself,” he said. “Don’t let the wild animals get you.”
He got back into his truck and drove away. Ella watched him until he was out of sight and then she walked the rest of the way across the old bridge and down a hill. Weeds and wild flowers grew on both sides of the highway. She smelled something pleasant and flowery but she didn’t know what it was. She saw a fox looking out at her from the brush and it made her feel that she and the fox had something in common.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp