I Always Knew You Were Kind ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Geneva watches Booth Faraday in his back yard out her upstairs bedroom window. He holds a newspaper in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. After adjusting the crotch of his pants, he sits down in a lawn chair and unfolds the newspaper and takes a drink of the beer; turns the pages of the newspaper impatiently and ends by throwing it on the ground. He puts his head back with his face toward the sky and closes his eyes. He doesn’t know he’s being watched, she thinks. But then he opens his eyes and looks toward her and she jumps away from the window as if from an electric shock.
Booth and his mother have lived next door for three years and Geneva has never even spoken to them in passing. They are people who keep to themselves. Booth goes to work early every morning but Geneva doesn’t know what he does. Some blue-collar job. Maybe a factory worker or an automobile mechanic. When he comes home, he rarely goes out again. Never any visitors that Geneva has seen. On weekends she hardly sees him at all. Not that she’s watching for him. He’s nothing to me, she tells herself, after each of her secret spying sessions.
She goes downstairs where her sour-faced mother, Mrs. Bobo, is sitting at the kitchen table slurping her coffee. Ignoring her, Geneva turns to the want ads in the newspaper and sits down across from her.
“You’ve been watching him again, haven’t you?” Mrs. Bobo says.
Geneva circles an ad in red ink and looks up. “Did you say something?” she asks.
“I said, ‘you’ve been watching him again’.”
“That man next door. What’s-his-name. Mrs. Faraday’s son.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Geneva says.
“I would like some scrambled eggs this morning. I’ve been waiting for you to come down and fix them.”
Geneva stands up, takes two eggs out of the refrigerator and carries them to the stove.
“You really don’t need to be looking at those silly want ads,” Mrs. Bobo says.
“I’ll look at them if I want to.”
“How many jobs have you applied for that you didn’t get?”
“I don’t know. Dozens.”
“That’s right. Dozens. Doesn’t that tell you something?”
“It tells me I haven’t found the right one yet.”
“You really don’t need to find another job. Your father left us well-provided for. That’s one thing I can say about him.”
“People don’t work only because they have to. Some people work because they want to.”
Mrs. Bobo laughs her cruel laugh. “C’est la vie,” she says, but Geneva is sure she doesn’t know what it means.
At other times their conversation is less cordial, as two days later when Geneva is preparing to go for a job interview.
“I don’t think you’re going to get this job, either,” Mrs. Bobo says.
“Why not?” Geneva asks.
“They’re going to take one look at your qualifications and see you don’t know how to do a thing.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, as usual.”
“You look ridiculous. You have too much curl in your hair. It makes you look like a clown.”
“Too much makeup for your age. You look like a floozy.”
“Nobody uses words like ‘floozy’ anymore. It reminds me of just how old you are.”
“The old words are the best words for getting things said.”
“Why don’t you just shut up and let me alone for a change?”
“How can you tell your mother to shut up?”
“Easy. Shut up!”
“I have this terrible pain in my chest and you’re abandoning me. I might not still be alive when you get back.”
“Then I’ll call your favorite funeral home and let them know where to pick up the body. They’ll be glad for the business.”
“That isn’t funny. You break your mother’s heart.”
“Why don’t you go watch TV? Isn’t there one of your game shows on?”
“You know I don’t care for game shows.”
“Then why do you watch them all the time?”
“Because I have a daughter who can’t stand to be in the same room with me, that’s why.”
“Why don’t you take a nap or something? I’ll bring you a cheeseburger when I come home.”
“Don’t bother. I couldn’t eat a thing.”
The interview doesn’t go well. The interviewer is a man, no more than twenty-four years old. He talks about how youthful and vibrant the company is. Geneva can tell right away he doesn’t consider her a serious contender for the job.
“Why do you want to work here?” he asks, looking bored.
“I don’t,” she says.
“You don’t want to work here?”
“Then why are we both wasting our time?”
“I just now decided.”
“I guess we can consider the interview concluded then, can’t we?”
“Yes, and thanks for nothing.”
“Thank you for nothing,” he says.
The next day Mrs. Bobo is sulking in her room and doesn’t ask Geneva how the job interview went. To give herself something to do, Geneva goes into the kitchen and makes two batches of cookies, one chocolate chip and the other oatmeal raisin. While the cookies are cooling on the counter, she has an idea. What man doesn’t like cookies?
She puts on her new yellow-flowered blouse, brushes her teeth and fluffs up her hair, which, thank goodness, still looks decent from the interview the day before. She takes a round tin left over from Christmas, lines it with wax paper, and puts about three dozen of the cookies in it, half of each kind.
She tries to smile as she rings the doorbell at the house of Faraday, but her heart is pounding and she has a terrible taste in her mouth like an exhaust pipe. She is sure that Booth will answer the door because it’s Saturday, but Mrs. Faraday comes to the door instead. She’s a short, squat woman with bulging eyes like a frog and hardly any neck to speak of.
“Yes?” she says when she sees Geneva. She takes her cigarette out of her mouth and picks a piece of tobacco off her tongue.
“Yes. Who are you?”
“I’m your next-door neighbor. You must have seen me around.”
“Yeah, I guess so. What do you want?”
“I just wanted to pay a neighborly call and bring you this.” She holds out the tin of cookies.
Mrs. Faraday eyes it suspiciously. “What is it?” she asks.
“It’s cookies I made.”
“I’m not selling them. I’ve giving them to you.”
“I don’t eat sweets much, but thank you.” She takes the tin and holds it against her body under her elbow.
Geneva tries to see over Mrs. Faraday’ shoulder into the house, but it’s too dark to see a thing.
“Is your son home?” she asks.
“You know him?” Mrs. Faraday says.
“No. I can’t say that we’ve been properly introduced.”
“He’s busy right now.”
“Oh, that’s all right.”
“I can get him if you want.”
“Oh, no! Don’t bother. I just thought I’d say hello and introduce myself.”
“I’ll tell him you dropped by.”
“Oh, would you? Thank you!”
Her cheeks burn with embarrassment.
Relations between mother and daughter remain strained. Mrs. Bobo stays in her room watching her small portable TV at the toot of her bed and speaks to Geneva only when necessary. She eats her meals and then returns to her lair and locks the door.
“How long is the silent treatment going to last, mother?” Geneva asks at lunch.
“Why should I speak if I’m only going to be told to shut up in my own home?” Mrs. Bobo says.
On her birthday Geneva fixes herself up in a special way. She takes a bubble bath, washes and sets her hair and, sitting at her dressing table in her underwear, puts on her “full face,” including fake eyelashes. When everything else is done, she puts on the black dress that she wears to weddings and funerals.
She buys a bottle of wine and an expensive cut of steak. She gets out the good china and places candles in the middle of the table.
When Mrs. Bobo comes into the kitchen, her pink-tinged hair askew from her nap, she says, “What’s all this for?”
“Sit down and eat, mother, before the food gets cold,” Geneva says as she pours wine into the glasses.
After a couple of bites, Mrs. Bobo says, “The meat is tough. I can’t eat it.”
“Do you want me to cut it up for you?” Geneva asks.
“Of course not! I’m not a child!”
“Don’t eat it, then, if you don’t want it.”
“Well, I won’t eat it! And I want to know what you’re all gussied up for? You look like the cat that swallowed the canary. Are you wearing false eyelashes?”
“I have a date this evening,” Geneva says.
“Who with? I hope you’re not cavorting with some married man!”
“Why would I be?”
“Because that’s the only kind of man you could ever hope to get. Somebody who has completely given up on life.”
(The truth is: after she washes up the supper dishes, she is planning on driving downtown to a little getaway called the Melody Lounge, sitting at the bar, having a drink or two and listening to the music. Being asked to dance is not outside the realm of possibility.)
“Don’t you know what day this is?” she asks.
“It’s Thursday, isn’t it?” Mrs. Bobo says. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“You don’t remember what happened thirty-eight years ago today?”
“If it’s your sly way of telling me it’s your birthday, I already know it.”
“Aren’t you going to wish me many happy returns?”
“No. I don’t think your thirty-eighth birthday is anything to celebrate.”
“What have you ever done with your life? You still live with your mother in her house. You don’t have a career. You were never able to land a husband.”
Geneva has been drinking wine steadily for two hours. She finished off one bottle and has opened another. She holds up her glass and says, “Here’s to many more happy years in your c-c-company, mother!”
Mrs. Bobo gives a snort of disgust. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she says.
“Why? I haven’t done anything.”
“You’re a terrible disappointment to your mother!”
“Do you want me to leave?”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? To be absolved of all responsibility!”
“I don’t feel responsible for you, mother. I’ve stayed with you and helped you all these years because I didn’t want you to be alone. I can go anytime I please.”
“You ungrateful thing! After all I’ve done for you!”
“What have you done for me?”
“I’ve supported you for thirty-eight years!”
“You don’t think I could support myself?”
“No! You live on my money and that’s the way it will always be! Just how do you think you’d manage if I were to say you don’t get another penny of my money?”
“I have money of my own.”
“Bah! And don’t think you’ll get a cent when I die, either. I’ve already spoken to my attorney about changing my will.”
Geneva downs another glass of wine and says, “How about if I murder you before you change your will? I could always poison your food and you’d never know it. Or, how about this: I come into your room in the wee hours of the night and hold a pillow over your face until you’re no longer breathing. An old woman dying in her sleep. Nobody would ever question it.”
“Oh!” Mrs. Bobo says, sputtering with indignation.
“You are a horrible, spiteful, vindictive old woman and I wish I never had to lay eyes on you again!”
“God will strike you dead for saying such things!”
“I wish he would! Then I’d never have to look at your ugly old face again!”
Mrs. Bobo tries to get up, catches her foot on the leg of the chair and sits back down with a jolt, spilling the wine. “I want you out of my house by nightfall,” she says. “Take everything that belongs to you and get out!”
“It will give me the greatest of pleasure!” Geneva says. Not knowing what else to do, she picks a baked potato off her plate and throws it at Mrs. Bobo. It strikes her in the forehead; she falls off her chair onto the floor and begins wailing.
“She’s trying to kill me!” she screams. “Help me, somebody! My own daughter is going to kill me!”
“Get up, mother,” Geneva says. “You’re not hurt. It was just a squishy old cooked potato and I didn’t throw it that hard.”
“Oh! Oh! Oh! I think my leg is broken! I’m having a heart attack!”
Geneva knows she has had too much wine and believes she is about to do something she will regret. Wanting only to get away from Mrs. Bobo, she runs through the house and out the front door. She feels the blood rushing in her ears and has a couple of seconds where she loses consciousness, which happens in moments of extreme anxiety or anger. She runs to the house next door, the Faraday house, and pounds on the door.
When Mrs. Faraday comes to the door, Geneva rushes past her into the house as though escaping a fire.
“What the…?” Mrs. Faraday says.
Geneva runs through the dark house into the kitchen. There, standing beside the sink, is Booth Faraday in a bathrobe. He looks at Geneva as if she is a lion about to spring on him. Geneva runs to him, reaches up and encircles his neck with her arms.
“Please marry me!” she says. “I know I’m drunk and I do apologize for that. Today is my birthday. I’m older than I care to admit. My life is terrible. My mother and I hate each other. I just threatened to kill her. She’s lying on the floor in the kitchen screaming in pain. I don’t want to go to jail. Please help me!”
Booth pulls her arms from his neck, takes a step back and says the first words she has ever heard him speak: “Do I know you?”
Mrs. Faraday is standing in the doorway to the kitchen. “I’ll call the police,” she says in a calm voice.
Again Booth speaks: “No need. I’ll handle this.”
“There,” Geneva says, smiling. “I always knew you were kind.”
She takes a drunken step toward him. He steps out of the way as she falls to the floor. The thing she is aware of as she blacks out is that she is wetting her pants on the floor of the Faraday kitchen.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp