The Ship Sailed On ~ A Short Story

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The Ship Sailed On
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~ 

Wallace Weems didn’t like offices. They were places of confinement and discomfort. He squirmed in the chair, picked up a magazine and, finding it of no interest, threw it down again. He looked at his watch and then at the clock on the wall, confirming that it was fifteen minutes after the time of his appointment. He had arrived on time, and he wondered why they couldn’t extend the same courtesy to him.

He was thinking about getting up and going home, when, finally, the young secretary came out from behind a partition and told him Mr. Strang would see him now.

“How are you?” Mr. Strang asked, shaking his hand without smiling. “Have a seat. I’ll be with you in a minute.”

He sat in the leather chair in front of Mr. Strang’s desk and wondered if he was going to have to wait some more, while Mr. Strang fumbled through some papers on his desk. Finally he set the papers aside and sat down at his desk.

“I was sorry to hear of your mother’s passing,” Mr. Strang said.

“Thank you.”

“I represented her interests for more than twenty years.”

“Oh?”

“I wanted to come to her services, but I found myself unable to get away.”

“There weren’t any services to speak of. Just a simple cremation.”

“No family?”

“Only me.”

“Oh. That’s very sad.”

“Not so sad, really. Just a fact of life.”

“So, what are your plans now that she’s gone?”

“I don’t have any plans. I haven’t had time to think about it. She’s only been gone a few days. I still find myself in a state of shock.”

“That’s perfectly understandable.”

“Even though she was over ninety years old, I had convinced myself she would never die.”

Never die?”

“That’s not quite true. I mean, I knew she would die someday, but I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. My own death seemed more real to me than her death.”

“It was your own way of coping, I suppose.”

“Yes.”

“It helped you get through the difficult years with her.”

“When I graduated from high school, she was almost fifty years old and in failing health. She had a bad heart and cirrhosis of the liver from heavy drinking. She had smoked two or three packs of cigarettes a day since the seventh grade. She believed she would live for only two or three more years.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I also believed it. I tried to get away from her, but when I saw she was probably going to die soon, I thought I could wait. Two or three years. That’s not so long. I could ease her dying and keep her from being all alone. No more than three years and I’d be free and clear. I’d sell the house and go someplace far away. I always wanted to travel. I thought about Europe or Australia. I had always been attracted to Australia, for some reason.”

“It didn’t quite work out that way, did it?”

“No, it did not! The two or three years turned out to be more than forty years! Forty years is a big chunk out of your life. While I waited for her to die, I missed all my chances.  The boat sailed without me. I missed the chance for a college education or a career or a happy marriage. I didn’t even have any friends. I gave everything up for her!”

“Do you think she appreciated your sacrifice?”

“Of course she didn’t! She was selfish that way. She didn’t see me as a real person.”

“Surely, that’s an exaggeration!”

“No, it isn’t. She only saw me as an extension of herself. She was a person without empathy. She was unable to see anything from my standpoint.”

“Yet you loved her.”

“I wanted to kill her! I used to fantasize about pushing her down the basement steps or putting rat poison in her soup. I wanted to drop her from the highway overpass into rush-hour traffic. I wanted to take her on an ocean cruise and push her overboard in shark-infested waters.”

“Yet you never acted on these impulses.”

“Of course not! What do you think I am?”

“Well, cheer up! You’re not quite sixty. That’s not so old. You have a lot of years remaining to you. The best part is your mother left you some money. You can travel or do whatever you want now, without accounting to anyone.”

“She left me money?”

“Yes, she did.”

“She never talked to me about money, except to complain about not having enough. She always wanted me to think we were one step away from starvation and bankruptcy. We ate plenty of baloney and Ramen noodles because they were cheap.”

“She had money.”

“She wanted me to think we were poor because if I had known there was money, I might have robbed her and gone far away where she’d never find me. It makes perfect sense.”

“Well, your troubles are over. She left you in excess of one million, two hundred thousand dollars.”

What?

“She left you a fortune of over a million dollars.”

“She left me what?”

“One million, two hundred thousand dollars.”

“Are you sure there’s not some mistake?”

A few weeks later, he was on an ocean liner to the European continent. He wanted to see Paris, Rome and London. He might have flown on a plane and been there in a dozen hours, but he had always imagined himself on a mighty, ocean-going ship, and he couldn’t see it any other way.

He loved being at sea. It was everything he ever dreamed of. He was seasick on the first night out, but he refrained from eating dinner and the next morning he felt better than he had ever felt before. It was the beginning of a new life for him. He was casting off the old life like a snake shedding its skin.

He hadn’t spoken yet to any of the other passengers, but he studied them furtively and wondered what they were thinking. Some of them looked at him appreciatively and smiled knowingly. Surely they found him of some interest, or they wouldn’t bother looking at him at all.

The third night out he enjoyed a lavish dinner in the dining salon. When he was finished with his dinner, he didn’t feel like returning to his cabin alone, so he went into the bar and ordered a champagne cocktail. He found he was enjoying the music and the atmosphere, so he stayed for over an hour and had several drinks.

He returned to his cabin, more drunk than he had ever been in his life. As he switched on the lights and locked himself in, he wasn’t surprised to see his mother sitting in the chair beside the bed.

“Well, well, well!” she said in her raspy smoker’s voice. “What have we here?”

“Leave me alone, mother,” he said. “I’m enjoying myself and I’m just getting started”

“On my money!”

“It’s not your money anymore, mother. It’s my money now.”

“You’ve got a lot of nerve! Squandering my money! How much did this little trip of yours cost?”

“None of your business, mother. It doesn’t in any way concern you. You’re dead.”

“You’ll never be rid of me!”

“It’ll be easier than you think.”

“Why did you have me cremated? You know how I hate cremation!”

“I wanted to make sure you were really and truly gone.”

“I’m not gone! I’m right here beside you!”

“I want to show you something, mother.”

He opened his suitcase out on the bed and pulled out a modest-looking oblong box from underneath the pants and shirts.

“Do you know what this is, mother?”

She watched, fascinated, as he set the box on the bed and took off the lid, revealing a quantity of gray ash nestled in a plastic bag.

“This is you, mother! It’s you!”

“I think you’ve taken leave of your senses!”

“Not at all, mother. And do you know what I’m going to do with you? Come along with me and I’ll show you.”

Carrying the box of ashes, reeling from the liquor he had consumed, he left his cabin like a mad man and went out onto the deck. The wind was blowing and the sea was rough, but he was not to be deterred.

“Watch me now, mother!” he said. “This is where you and I part company!”

He lifted the plastic bag out of the box and began emptying his mother’s ashes over the railing. He leaned out a little too far and when the boat gave a little lurch he lost his balance and fell headlong into the sea.

He struggled to right himself in the frigid water. He emitted one pitiful little scream, but it was already too late. No one had seen him fall. No one heard him scream. The ship sailed on. The waves closed over his head. His absence was not noted for two carefree days.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Ramses, the Son of Light ~ A Capsule Book Review

Ramses, The Son of Light Book Cover
Ramses, The Son of Light
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II (also known as Ramses the Great) lived an astonishing ninety years, from 1303 BCE to 1213 BCE, about twelve hundred years before Christ. As Pharaoh, he was a builder of mighty monuments and an effective administrator. His father, Seti, was Pharaoh before him. Seti made Ramses his regent when Ramses was only fourteen years old, meaning he would be Pharaoh after Seti.

French writer Christian Jacq has written a series of six fictional books about the long-ago life of Ramses. The first book in the series is Ramses, the Son of Light. It’s about the early life of Ramses, from childhood into young adulthood. Though he was born into privilege, he did not have an easy life. There were always those who wanted to destroy him or marginalize him. His older brother, Shaanar, was his biggest rival and his greatest enemy. Shaanar saw himself as the future Pharaoh and would have done anything to remove Ramses from the scene, especially after it became clear that Seti wanted Ramses to succeed him.

Being regent meant that Ramses had to undergo many tests to prove that he could be an effective Pharaoh when the time came for him to ascend the throne. Not only would he have to deal with treachery and opposition in his own sphere, he would have to keep Egypt’s enemies at bay and do what needed to be done to avoid war.

Ramses was precocious, as one might expect, and manly in his teen years. He had a girlfriend, Iset the Fair, with whom he shared many passionate embraces, beginning when they were barely out of their teens. When it came time to marry, though, Ramses chose Nefertari as his blushing bride. A Pharaoh wasn’t limited to only one wife, so Iset the Fair became his number-two wife after Nefertari. With Nefertari he felt love, while with Iset the Fair he felt passion.

Ramses, the Son of Light is lightweight reading. It’s not a serious examination of a long-ago monarch or the time in which he lived. It’s what is called pop fiction instead of serious literature. Book two in the series, which I haven’t read, will be sure to pick up at the beginning of Ramses’ long and successful reign as Pharoah. There will be wars, there will be rivals, there will be intrigue, there will be dishonesty, there will be plenty of ugly and destructive human nature to go around.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp   

Swimsuit Optional ~ A Short Story

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Swimsuit Optional
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Gideon Sayers had just finished tenth grade and would move on to the eleventh when school took up again. He didn’t have any specific plans for summer, but he was looking forward to having plenty of time to himself and doing exactly as he pleased. His father would be at work all day.

On the very first day of summer vacation a girl from his class named Joyce Mahoney called him on the phone.

“I don’t think I remember you,” he said. “I can’t place the name.”

“What do you mean you don’t remember me?” she said. “You see me every day at school!”

“I’m not good with names,” he said. “Describe yourself.”

“Well, let’s see. I’m taller than most of the other girls. I have short brown hair. I’m not fat like a lot of the girls.”

“A lot of people fit that description.”

“I failed the Constitution test two times. I passed it on the third try.”

“Oh, yeah! You had a crying fit in American history class and you called the teacher an effing bastard.”

“That’s me!” she said. “If I had known I was going to have to describe myself, I wouldn’t have bothered calling.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” he laughed. “The thing with girls is that they all kind of blend together for me.”

“I can see this wasn’t a good idea,” she said.

“No, no, that’s all right! What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Next week is Christine Swanson’s seventeenth birthday and we’re having a pool party at my house to surprise her.”

“I didn’t know you had a pool.”

“There isn’t any reason why you should.”

“Who did you say the party is for?”

“Christine Swanson.”

“I don’t think I know her.”

“Gideon, you are impossible!”

“Can you describe her for me?”

“She’s only the most popular girl in school! She’s a cheerleader. She was yearbook queen. Her picture is absolutely everywhere.”

“Oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard or her. What about her?”

“We’re having a pool party for her at my house.”

“I didn’t know you had a pool.”

“We’re calling everybody in drama club. We didn’t want to leave anybody out.”

“I’m not in drama club.”

“That’s funny. Your name is on the list.”

“I’m not in drama club.”

“Well, somebody made a mistake, I guess.”

“Now that you’ve invited me, do you want to uninvite me?”

“No, I made the mistake of inviting you, so the invitation still stands, I suppose.”

“That’s awfully sweet of you, Janet, but I don’t really know how to swim.”

“It’s Joyce. My name is Joyce.”

“Oh. Right. I forgot for a moment to whom I was speaking. As I was saying, I’m not a swimmer. I don’t know how to swim.”

“That’s all right. Nobody knows how to swim. We just splash around in the water. The boys try to drown each other. There’s a diving board but nobody knows how to dive—they just jump off into the water. There’ll be water volleyball, music and lots of food.”

“I don’t know how to play water volleyball.”

“It doesn’t matter. Anybody can play.”

“Would I need to wear a swimsuit?”

“We have a swimsuits-optional policy.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you can swim naked if you have the nerve.”

“And what day is that?”

“Thursday next week.”

“What time?”

“Three o’clock.”

“Um, hold on a minute! I have to check my social calendar.”

He kept her hanging on for five minutes or more and when he went back to the phone, he said, “Janet, are you still there?”

“It’s Joyce.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Joyce. Well, I’m sorry, Joyce, but I won’t be able to come that day. I’m having abdominal surgery.”

“Oh. I see. I didn’t think you’d come, but I thought I’d try anyway since your name is on the list.”

“Well, thank you so much for the call. It was lovely speaking with you.”

“Yeah, you too. Good luck with your surgery.”

As he was hanging up the phone, his father came into the room, reeking of aftershave.

“Who was that on the phone?” his father asked.

“A girl from school. Joyce somebody-or-other. She invited me to a pool party at her house.”

“Are you going?”

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“I think you should go. You’ll have fun. You shouldn’t stay at home all the time by yourself.”

“I like being by myself.”

“I’m going away on business for a few days, until at least Monday or Tuesday. I want you to go stay with Aunt Vivian.”

“I hate staying with Aunt Vivian. I want to stay here.”

“I don’t feel right about leaving a child alone in the house that long.”

“I’m not a child. I’m almost seventeen. I’ll be in eleventh grade.”

“You’re not afraid here by yourself?”

“Of course not!”

“I can trust you to behave responsibly?”

“Of course you can!”

“And if there’s an emergency involving fire?”

“I’ll call the fire department. And if there’s an emergency involving crime, I’ll call the police department.”

“Good. I think we understand each other.”

“I’m going to need some money.”

“What for?”

“A swimsuit.”

“Of course. For the swimming party. How much do you need?”

“I don’t know. I never bought a swimsuit before. I guess about fifty dollars should cover it.”

His father took two fifty-dollar-bills out of his wallet and placed them carefully on the coffee table.

“I don’t want you drinking beer. High school boys seem to think it’s grown-up to drink beer.”

“You don’t have to worry about me. Drinking beer doesn’t interest me.”

His father jangled his keys, picked up his suitcase by the front door, waved goodbye, and then he was gone.

Before his father’s car was all the way out of the driveway, Gideon went to the phone and called his friend David Deluca. David was one of the few people in school with whom he had anything in common. Their hatred for algebra was only exceeded by their hatred for gym class.

“How are you, old friend?” Gideon said cheerily into the phone.

“Fine,” David said. “Who is this?”

“It’s your best friend Gideon Sayers.”

“Oh, yeah. Hi.”

“What’s new and different with you today?”

“My mother is finding jobs for me to do around the house.”

“Why don’t you sneak out and come over?”

“Why would I do that?”

“My father is gone and I have the whole house to myself.”

“I don’t think so, Gideon. If I left now, it would only get her started. Once she gets started, she doesn’t stop.”

“I don’t have a mother.”

“I know. She killed herself.”

“Well, you don’t have to sound so happy about it!”

“I’m not. It’s very sad.”

“Well, I’ve invited you. Are you going to accept the invitation or not?”

“I don’t think so, Gideon. I’m kind of tired.”

“You’re sixteen years old! How can you be tired?”

“My blood sugar is low.”

“Well, eat a Snickers bar and come on over.”

“I don’t think so, Gideon. I have eczema on my feet. It makes walking painful. We’ll make it another day.”

“Well, suit yourself. I had something I wanted to tell you, but now I’ll just keep it to myself.”

“What is it?”

“Joyce Mahoney called me this morning.”

“She called me, too. She’s calling everybody. She’s trying to get a big crowd at her swimming party next week.”

“Oh. She called you too?”

“Yeah, she called me too.”

“Well, are you going?”

“Sure. Why not? I think it’ll be fun. If I’m not having a good time, I can always say I have a funeral to go to and leave.”

“Are you going to swim naked?”

“I don’t think so. I have some new swimming trunks from Brazil. They’re yellow with a red stripe up the side. I want everybody to see me in them.”

“You’ll drive the girls wild, especially the fat ones.”

“How about you? Are you going to swim naked?”

“I’m not going. I told Joyce I’m having abdominal surgery that day.”

“You are such a liar!”

“Well, I had to think of something quick. That was the only thing that came to mind.”

“You should go, you know, and stop being such an old nelly. I think it’ll be fun. I’m going to borrow my brother’s car. If you want, I can stop by and pick you up and we can arrive at the party like a couple of big men on campus.”

“I don’t think so. I already told Joyce I’m not coming.”

“Call her back and tell her you are coming. Tell her your surgery has been postponed until an appropriate donor can be found and you’d be thrilled to come!”

“I don’t know, David. I feel kind of funny doing that.”

“Do you want me to call her for you?”

“No, I’ll do it. I need to think about it first, though.”

“What’s there to think about?”

“I don’t know. It’s just the way I am.”

The next day he walked downtown with his father’s two fifty-dollar bills in his shirt pocket. He went to the clothing store where his mother always bought his school clothes and found the men’s swimwear department. He selected several swim suits, size small, that he wouldn’t be too embarrassed to wear in public. He took the swimsuits into the changing room, quickly, before he met somebody he knew.

After checking the door of the changing room three times to make sure nobody could get in, he took everything off except his underpants and, standing before the mirror, began trying the swimsuits on. A yellow plaid was pleasing to the eye, but it made him look like a clown. A light-blue would have been acceptable but, when he saw it was slightly transparent, he ripped it off. A white one that hung down almost to his knees made him look like an old man and, anyway, white would show stains. He finally settled on a red one, not too tight and not too baggy, that he could see himself wearing in front of his whole class. It only made him look slightly ridiculous, instead of completely ridiculous. Well, he reasoned, he wouldn’t look any worse than a lot of other people.

When he got back home from his successful shopping trip, he felt emboldened to call Joyce Mahoney and tell her he was wrong about the day of his abdominal surgery and would be happy after all to attend the pool party.

Joyce answered on the first ring.

“Hello?” Gideon said. “Is that you, Joyce?”

“Yes, it is. Who is this?”

“This is Gideon.”

“Gideon who?”

“Sayers.”

“Do I know you?”

“From school?”

“Um, I don’t seem to remember you. Can you describe yourself?”

“Look, Joyce, I know why you’re doing this.”

“Doing what?”

”Pretending not to know me.”

“I’m terribly busy,” she said. “I’m going to have to hang up now.”

“I just wanted to ask you a question.”

“What is it?”

“It’s about your pool party.”

“What about it?”

“I was wondering if it would be all right if I change my mind and accept your invitation after all.”

There was a silence on the line, making Gideon wonder if she had hung up.

“What did you say your name is?” Joyce asked.

“Gideon Sayers.”

“Do I know you?”

“I’m in your class at school.”

“I don’t want to be mean, Glenn, but your name wasn’t on the invitation list.”

“It’s Gideon. Not Glenn.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but I don’t know who you are.”

“You just called me yesterday and invited me to your party!”

“Are you sure it was me?”

“Of course it was you! Don’t you remember talking to me?”

“No, I don’t! It must have been somebody playing a trick on you.”

“It’s all right, Joyce. I know what you’re doing. Just forget I called.”

“I have to go now,” Joyce said. “It was lovely speaking with you.”

After his phone conversation with Joyce had ended, he went upstairs to his room and closed the door and locked it, even though he was alone in the house. He took off all his clothes and took the red swimsuit out of the bag and pulled it on, up his legs and over his thin thighs. After tugging the swimsuit into place, he turned and looked at himself in the full-length mirror.

It was worse even than he thought. He looked like a hairless monkey, all joints and angles, his skin as white as paste. He was meant to always be clothed. He looked so ridiculous that he couldn’t keep from cringing.

“I can’t let anybody see me like this!” he said.

He took the scissors and cut the red swimsuit into strips, relieved he would never have to wear it where anybody could see him. And after he was finished, he left the strips of red material on the floor around his bed to remind himself just how close he had come to making a complete fool of himself.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Dune ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Dune 3
Dune
~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp ~

Frank Herbert’s famous science fiction novel, Dune, was first published in 1965. It is a long book, over 700 pages, a difficult and rather tedious book to read. Dune is now a long movie (two hours and forty minutes), and this is only Part One. Part Two will be along at some future time. We’ll be watching for it.

Dune, the movie, is a serious science fiction film, meaning that it’s for the thinking grown-ups in the audience and requires a lot of attention to keep track of what’s going on, what just happened, and what’s going to happen next. The main character is a boy-man named Paul Atreides (a grown man but still rather like a boy). He is the son of a government leader Duke Leto Atreides and Duke Leto’s “concubine,” a woman called Lady Jessica. They live on an alien (to us) planet called Caladan. Lady Jessica has been teaching Paul the special powers of the religious order to which she belongs called the Bene Gesserit. Paul has been having dreams that might or might not be visions involving the planet called Arrakis. Do these dreams/visions mean that he has a unique destiny among his people?

Arrakis is important to the people of Caladan because a valuable spice, mélange, is found only there. Mélange extends life and perception. It is also necessary for instantaneous interstellar space travel between planets.

Arrakis is a desert planet, a very inhospitable place. A race of people called the Fremen live on Arrakis. The Fremen must share their planet with gigantic and deadly “sand worms.” The cruel Harkonnens control Arrakis. The Fremen have been trying to expel the Harkonnens from Arrakis for a long time, but without success. Unexpectedly, the Emperor has ordered the Harkonnens to leave Arrakis and has awarded control of the planet to the House of Atreides. The Emperor has set up a conflict between House Atreides and House Harkonnen, to force them into a war that will weaken both of them and benefit himself. Duke Leto Atreides wants to strike an alliance with the Fremen to harness their “desert power” to outwit the Emperor.

Paul Atreides travels to Arrakis with his mother and father. When a crowd of Fremen gathers to witness their arrival, they begin chanting a phrase that Paul doesn’t recognize. Lady Jessica explains to Paul that it’s a local prophecy of the Lisan-al-Gaib, the “voice from outer world,” a prophesied Messiah on Arrakis. Will it be revealed that Paul Atreides is the long-awaited Messiah?

The Harkonnens are not going to easily give up control of Arrakis to House Atreides. They sabotage House Atreides at every turn. The Emperor’s wish of war between the two houses is being fulfilled. Paul Atreides and his family are in for some difficult times. Paul, at the end of the movie, is told what has happened to him so far is “only the beginning.”

Dune is weighty science-fiction/fantasy, much more in the vein of The Lord of the Rings than Star Wars. I wouldn’t take my eight-year-old son to see it, if I had an eight-year-old son. He wouldn’t understand it and the sand worms would cause him to have nightmares.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp