I Am Skippy Wellington ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

I Am Skippy Wellington ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(I posted a different version of this short story previously.)

I had fifteen minutes before bus time so I sat down on one of the ratty seats with part of the stuffing coming out. It was Friday night of a difficult week and I felt terrible. My toothache was killing me, I felt a cold coming on, and I had heartburn from the spicy goulash I had for dinner. I took another pain pill for my tooth and was beginning to feel sleepy when somebody sat down beside me. I turned my head and saw it was Skippy Wellington.

“How are you, Dickie?” she said.

I was surprised, not only that she would speak to me, but that she knew my name.

“Just wonderful,” I said, sounding more cheerful than I felt.

“I’m Skippy Wellington,” she said.

“Yes, I know.”

“Isn’t it funny that we should both be at the bus station at the same time?”

“Yes, isn’t it?”

“I hate the bus station, so it’s good to have somebody to talk to while I wait.”

“Yes, the bus station is, uh, ugly.”

“How do you like college so far?”

“It’s all right.”

“You’re in your first year?”

“Second.”

“I’ll bet you’re finding college much different from high school, aren’t you?”

“Well, I have to study more.”

“What’s your major?”

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“I guess you can decide that later on, when you’re further along.”

“Right.”

“As for me, I have a double major, English and drama. I want to be an actress and if that doesn’t work out I guess I’ll teach English. I was in one Drama Guild production in the fall. Now I’m studying another part in another play, to be staged in the spring. If you’ve ever carried the lead in a play, you know how much work it is.”

“No, I haven’t ever done that,” I said, realizing how stupid I sounded.

“And, you know, I don’t like the roommate I have now. Her name is Rocky. Isn’t that absurd? A girl named Rocky! If I can make it through another week without strangling her, it’ll be a miracle!  

“Why don’t you ask to move to a different room?”

“I have, but there isn’t a vacant room for me to move to now. I’ll have to wait until somebody drops out.”

“I was lucky to get an end room,” I said. “No roommate.”  

“Yes, that was lucky. Where do you room?”  

“Prentiss Hall.”

“Well, isn’t that a coincidence? That’s where my boyfriend rooms. You must know him. His name is Peter Piper.”

“Yes, I know him. He’s on my floor. I mean, we both room on the same floor.”

“Isn’t Peter something? He’s just the all-American boy, isn’t he?”

“The truth is, I don’t know him all that well. We don’t move in the same circles.”

She laughed. “You are funny, you know that?”

“No, I didn’t realize it until now.”

“He’s very good-looking, don’t you think, with his blond good looks?”

“I haven’t ever thought about it.”

Hah-hah-hah! Oh, Dickie! Come on, now! You can admit to me that you find Peter attractive. I won’t think you’re gay.”

“Well, I guess the casual observer might find him attractive.”

The casual observer! Hah-hah-hah! You are original!”

“Is that my bus? I think I just heard my bus! I don’t want to miss it!”

“No, it isn’t your bus yet, Dickie. Do you talk much to Peter? You know, man to man?”

“I hardly talk to him at all. A couple times in the TV lounge is all. He offered me a cigarette one time, but I didn’t take it because I don’t smoke.”

“You never heard him talk about girls or dates he’s been out on or anything like that?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“You see, I’m terribly in love with him. We’ve discussed getting married when we’re both finished with school, but I’m not too sure about him. I know a lot of people find him as terribly attractive as I do. When he tells me he’s in love with me and wants to spend his whole life with me, I’m not sure how seriously I can take him. Do you know what I mean?”

“I think I do.”  

“You’re never heard him say anything about a girl named Doris? She’s a biology major.”

“No, I don’t know her.”

“I’ve heard that Doris calls him up all the time, and she makes sure she’s in the places where she knows he’ll be. She is so forward! She’s such a swine and will do anything, I’m sure, to take him away from me! I’m terribly jealous. Oh, this is all too much! You probably think I’m just being silly, don’t you?”

“No, it’s okay.”  

“I’d like to strangle Doris.”

“I won’t tell anybody.”

“If we wait two or three years before we get married, I’m afraid I’ll lose him. I won’t be able to hold onto him that long with so many different girls after him.”

“That’s a tough one.”

“But if I go ahead and marry him now, I can kiss my acting career goodbye. You see, he doesn’t approve. He thinks women should be traditional like his mother and not be interested in bettering themselves. He thinks I’m just being silly when I say I want to be an actress. He doesn’t take me seriously as a person. Do you take me seriously as a person?”

“Sure.”

“I’m terribly serious about my acting. After I’ve acted on the stage for a few years—and I mean the real stage and not college productions—I plan to go to Hollywood. I think I have what it takes to make it big. People have told me I have talent; I know I have talent. I also have the drive and the ambition, which are just as important as talent.” 

“Do you have your bags packed? That’s important, too.”

Hah-hah-hah! Since you and Peter room on the same floor, I was wondering if you’d be willing to help me out.”

“Help you out how?”

“Well, it’s kind of a delicate situation. Keep your eyes and ears open and see if you see or hear anything.”

“Like what?”

“Well, boys love to talk about their conquests and things. They love to brag.”

“Peter would never brag to me.”

“I know, but you room on the same floor with him. You’re bound to see and hear things. Not only from Peter but from somebody else.”

“Are you saying you want me to spy on Peter for you?”

“Oh, no! Nothing like that! I just thought that if you do happen to come by any knowledge that you think might be of any interest to me you wouldn’t mind passing it along.”

“Oh, I don’t know…”

“I’d be willing to pay you!”

“Oh, no! I couldn’t take…”

“I know this is asking a lot, but you’re such a sweet and sensitive boy that I was certain I’d be able to talk to you about just anything.”  

“This is not really what…”

My phone number is in the student directory. Skippy Wellington. Call me any time, on any subject. It doesn’t have to be only about Peter. I knew the moment I started talking to you that you and I are simpatico. If you’re ever having trouble finding a date, I know dozens of girls who would be thrilled to death to go out with you!”

“Finding a date has never been my problem.”

Hah-hah-hah! You are so funny!”

“Here’s my bus,” I said. “I have to go.”

I stood up and she stood up beside me.

“Have a wonderful weekend!” she said.

She surprised me by putting her arms around me and kissing me on the lips. Her lips tasted like wax. I can’t say I liked it or disliked it; I was unmoved.

The bus ride home was longer than usual because it started raining and there was a wreck on the highway that caused a traffic jam. I tried to doze sitting in my seat in the dark, but just as soon as I went to sleep, somebody coughed or a baby somewhere behind me let out a piercing scream and I awoke with a start.

When the bus pulled into the station in my dreary home town, my mother was there to meet me in her ugly old Pontiac.  

“Hello, mother,” I said.

“Your bus is late. I was about to give up and go back home.”

“I could have spent the night at the bus station.”

“Don’t expect me to do your laundry and cook your favorite dishes all weekend long. I’ve got my hands full with your sister and the kids. She’s left Bobo for good this time and is ready to file for divorce.”

“Same old boring story,” I said.

“I think she means it this time. She’s terribly upset and the kids are out of control. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old on my hands all the time. Pixie has developed a smart-assed mouth that she’s picked up from watching TV. I’d like to wash her mouth out with soap, the way my mother used to do, but you can’t get away with that shit now.”

“Suddenly I feel sick,” I said. “I think I might have to spend the weekend in my room away from the rest of the family.”

“Nothing doing, mister! I need you to help me corral the kids. You can play Monopoly and Parcheesi with them.”

“I hate Monopoly and Parcheesi! I’d rather be sitting by myself in my room at school.”

“That’s very selfish of you,” she said.

“I have some news,” I said. “Of a personal nature.”

“What is it?”

“I have a girlfriend.”

“Is this a joke?”

“No, it’s not a joke. I just left her. She thinks I’m sweet and sensitive. She kissed me as we parted. She told me that any girl would be thrilled to death to go out with me. She’s very jealous.”

“I think you’re making this up.”

“No, I’m not! Her name is Skippy Wellington.”

“What kind of a name is that?”

“I don’t know. Chinese?”

“Is she pretty?”

“She’s a knockout. She’s going to be a big movie actress in Hollywood. Bigger than Lana Turner.”

“Sounds perfect for you.”

“We’ve discussed marriage. She wants to get married right away, but I told her it makes more sense to wait a few years until we’re both through school.”

“Don’t marry the wrong person like your sister did and have a miserable life.”

“Don’t worry. You may not believe it, but some people have good sense.”

She lit a cigarette and squinted at the oncoming traffic. She was distracted by her problems and didn’t seem all that interested in anything I had to say, whether it was true or not.  

Without signaling, she veered off the road onto the littered lot of a pizzeria, almost hitting a lamppost and a parked truck.

“I almost forgot,” she said. “I promised Pixie and Bucky I’d bring them a pizza.”

“Why is it that when I hear those names I always think of dogs?”

She took a couple of bills out of her purse and handed them to me. “Will you be a dear and go in and order a large pizza?”  

“I have a feeling I don’t have any choice,” I said.

Against my will, I got out of the car and went inside the pizzeria and ordered a large pizza with every topping available for my niece and nephew. While I stood at the counter like a dumbbell waiting for it until it was ready, I had a muscle spasm in my leg and I thought I was going to vomit. The perfect ending to a perfect day.  

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Out to Lunch ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Out to Lunch ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

On Friday morning I was about an hour late for work. I sat at my desk all morning, pretending to work but not doing much of anything except manicuring my nails and balancing my checkbook. Then I took an extra long lunch and when I got back Nipple Nose was waiting for me.

“I need to see you in my office right away, Aaron,” he said.

I hung up my coat, put on the best put-upon expression I could manage on such short notice, and went into his office.

“Sit down,” he said.

I sat in the smelly chair facing his desk and cleared my throat. “What is this about, Mr. Nipp?” I said defensively. “I have a pile of work to do.”

“You were late for work again this morning,” he said.

“I was up until two this morning watching the Joan Crawford festival on television and I couldn’t get up at the regular time. Have you ever seen The Damned Don’t Cry?”

“You were gone an hour and fifty-seven minutes for lunch.”

“You timed it?”

“Yesterday you were gone an hour and thirty-seven minutes for lunch and the day before an hour and fifty-one minutes.”

“You timed it!”  

“This is a highly competitive business,” he said, “and we need to operate efficiently to maintain our standing in the industry. We can’t afford to employ slackers.”

“Slackers?” I said. “What exactly are you saying?”

“I’ve noticed—and others have noticed—that you don’t take your job seriously enough. We want people here who believe in what they are doing and who want to succeed for themselves and for the company. I’m afraid we’ve come to a parting of the ways. You’re all washed up here.”

“Do you mean you’re firing me?” I said.

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

“What if I told you I have a good reason for taking extra long lunches?”

“I’m afraid it wouldn’t make any difference. Mr. Miggles and I have discussed this matter. He has already signed off on it. I’m afraid his decisions in these matters are irreversible.”

“If you fire me, I’ll probably have grounds for a lawsuit.”

“I believe I’ve heard that one before,” he said with a little laugh to let me know he wasn’t to be bluffed.

“You think I won’t sue you?”

“I think you’ll do what you believe you must do.”    

“You enjoy firing people, don’t you, Mr. Nipp?” I said.

“No, but it’s part of the life of an executive.”

“I’ll bet you belong to the country club, don’t you?”

He sighed and looked over my shoulder at the closed door. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“In all the time I’ve been here, you’ve fired a lot of people, haven’t you?”

“I don’t believe that’s any concern of yours.”

“You fired a single mother with two small children. You fired a man nearing retirement with a heart condition and a woman with a sick child who needed to take a lot of time off. You fired a young man just out of school for making a joke about your secretary’s falsies. I think you should reinstate all of them, or at least call them and make the offer, although I don’t know why anybody would want to come back to this place after they’ve left it.”

“You may collect your personal things from your desk and then I want you to leave. Remember I can always call security.”

“I need to speak to Mr. Miggles before I go,” I said.

“He isn’t in and, even if he was, he wouldn’t want to be disturbed.”

“I am in possession of some information that I’m sure he would want to be apprised of.”

He picked up the phone to make me think he was calling Big Shirley, the head of security, former lady wrestler and nightclub bouncer. 

I looked across the desk at him with narrowed eyes. “Do you know there’s at least one embezzler in the company?”

He put the phone back and looked at me. “What? Just what are you implying?”

“May I speak candidly?” I asked.

“I don’t see that there’s anything to be candid about.”

“You’ve been skimming funds from the company for years, to put it politely. Small amounts, to be sure, but lots of them.”

“I don’t have time for your little games,” he said wearily, going to the door and pulling it open.

“If people start looking around,” I said, “you might have trouble explaining your Swiss bank account in your wife’s name.”

He reclosed the door and went and sat back down at his desk. “It’s not exactly a secret,” he said. “It’s my wife’s inheritance.”

“That would be easy for an investigator to prove or disprove.”

“I have nothing to hide.”

“I know where Mr. Miggles lives,” I said. “I’m sure he’ll be willing to speak to me when I tell him I have some information that’s vital to the well-being of his beloved company.”

I stood up to leave.

“Wait a minute!” he said. “I won’t let you go to Mr. Miggles with a story like that!”

“Why not?”

“For one thing, it’s not true!”

“Yes, it is true, Mr. Nipp. You know it’s true and I know it.”

“Mr. Miggles has a bad heart. You don’t want to get him upset by making these false allegations.”

“I think he would thank me a thousand times for telling him what’s been going on behind his back.”

“No, don’t go to Mr. Miggles! Please!

“You said you have nothing to hide.”

“I don’t! It’s just that Mr. Miggles is an important man with a thousand things on his mind. You don’t need to bother him with trivial matters.”

“I doubt he’d find the theft of half-a-million dollars trivial.”

“I tell you what I’ll do,” Mr. Nipp said. “I’ll bring the matter up at the next board meeting. We’ll discuss it and take a vote.”

“No! I’m not going to let you get away with that!”

“I just fired you! You’re not in a position to make demands!”

“All right, then. How about if I go see my lawyer? His office is just a couple of blocks from here. I’ll tell him the whole story and he’ll advise me what to do. I’ll let him inform Mr. Miggles of all the hanky-panky that’s been going on this office.”

Mr. Nipp lowered his head and blew out his breath. It was as close to a gesture of defeat as I could expect.

“Just what is it you want?” he asked.  

“You know what I want. I want you to apologize for firing me and say you didn’t mean it.”

“All right, I apologize for firing you.”

“You don’t seem to really mean it, Mr. Nipp.”

“I mean it, Aaron. With all my heart.”

“And what else?”

“You’re not really fired. Go back to your desk as if nothing happened.”

“I’m also going to need an apology for the remark about being a slacker. That really hurt my feelings.”

“I’m sorry I called you a slacker.”

“Apology accepted. I’m going to need a raise, too, though.”

“I can’t give you a raise now, Aaron. It just isn’t going to happen.”

“I think fifteen percent to start. Don’t you think that’s reasonable?”

“I’ll have to pull some strings, Aaron. I’ll see what I can do.”

“I’m sure you can pull all the right strings, Mr. Nipp.”

“Before I do all these things for you, Aaron, you’ll have to promise me to never breathe a word of this to anyone.”

“A word of what, Mr. Nipp?”

“About the half-million dollars.”

“Do you mean the half-million you embezzled from the company?”

“Please don’t use that word! Do you want to go to prison?”

“I didn’t do anything, Mr. Nipp. If word gets out, you’ll be the one to go to prison.”

“Let’s just forget the whole matter. Shall we? None of it ever happened.”

“Well, we’ll see how good I am at forgetting things,” I said.

I gave Mr. Nipp a gracious smile as I went out his door. I went from his office down the hall to the men’s room. It was vacant, so I went into a stall and closed the door. The tiny tape recorder was still recording inside my pocket. I rewound the tape and listened to it from beginning to end. It was all there. Every word as clear as the nose on Mr. Nipp’s face.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

The Neon Bible ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Neon Bible ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

John Kennedy Toole was a New Orleans writer who was born in 1937. He was unable to get his famous novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, published during his lifetime. Through the persistence of his mother, Thelma Toole, the novel was finally published in 1980, more than ten years after John Kennedy Toole ended his own life in 1969. His only other (known) work is the novel The Neon Bible, which he wrote when he was only sixteen years old.   

For a sixteen-year-old writer, The Neon Bible is remarkably polished and accomplished. It demonstrates a raw writing talent that has to be extremely rare in adolescents in their mid-teens. The characters are well-drawn and believable, the dialogue crisp, the humor subtle, the story logical and rounded out to a satisfying conclusion. You never have the impression, while reading The Neon Bible, that here is a person who shouldn’t be writing a novel because he’s too young and doesn’t know enough.   

The lead character in The Neon Bible is a boy named David living in a small Southern town with his dysfunctional family. There’s a mother and a father, but the most interesting character is David’s Aunt Mae. She is an older woman past sixty who used to be “on the stage” singing and performing. She comes to live with David’s family because she has no place else to go. She can’t cook or do any of the domestic things most women do. She talks all the time about the men who used to be in love with her and about her experiences in show business.

David’s father loses his factory job, so the family has to go live in an old house out of town on a hill where the soil is bad and there are lots of trees. Every day David walks down the hill to school. Aunt Mae makes curtains for the house out of her old theatrical costumes. The people in the town don’t like her because she comes from some other place and she’s not like anybody else living in the town. She goes out on dates at night with men, frequently staying out all night. One of her men friends in particular is a musician and gets her a few singing engagements, which brings in a little money for the family to buy food.

David graduates from eighth grade and decides to quit school, while most of the other people in his class go on to high school and then to college. He gets a job in a drug store in town and has a girlfriend for a while, but she’s only in town for a little while and leaves, seriously jilting him.   

World War II intrudes and David’s father enlists. You get the impression he’s glad for the escape. He is sent to Italy, where he is eventually killed. David’s mother can’t handle the death of her husband, even though we got the impression when he was alive that she didn’t like him very much and the marriage was not a happy one. She gradually loses her mind and becomes like a ghost. Aunt Mae takes care of David’s mother during the day while David is working at the drug store.

Aunt Mae once again succumbs to the lure of show business and goes off to Nashville with her boyfriend to pursue fame and fortune as a singer. David can’t leave his mother unattended all day long, so he must quit his job at the drugstore. Aunt Mae tells him she will send for him and his mother in a “couple of weeks,” but we don’t believe her. Neither does David.

The story does not end well for David, as you might expect. He ends up running away on  a train. You have to read the book to know why he is running away and where he is going. If you are a fan of Southern fiction and coming-of-age stories, you are certain to enjoy the trip.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp