A Visit to Miss Goodapple’s ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
He sat on a hard-backed chair and wished he was someplace else. His name was Cleland Camden and he was eight years old. It was his day to stay with grandma and it was grandma’s day to visit friends. He had to go along with her whether he wanted to or not.
They were in Miss Goodapple’s home, in her comfortable living room. The chairs were arranged in a circle. Miss Goodapple sat in an upholstered chair next to the fireless fireplace. Then there was Gertrude Padovesi, Audrey Stoller, grandma, and of course, Cleland, who was there because grandma was. All the women were widows, except Miss Stoller, who never married. She was an old-maid schoolteacher, or had been, until she turned seventy years old and they told her she had to retire.
They had all lived a long time and had lots of memories to talk over. They liked to talk about things that happened to them when they were young. And, of course, there were always current things to talk about concerning people they knew: who had died or was about to die, who was in the hospital for an operation, who had a baby, who was stepping out on her husband, who came home drunk the other night and was dumped on the front porch, who smashed up her car, who was a slut, a whore, or a tramp, who was never any good to begin with, who was a shifty-eyed bastard or a known child molester, who had a nervous breakdown, who came into some money, or any number of things. The list went on and on.
“I had a conversation yesterday in the grocery story over the frozen foods with Ruby Zaza,” Miss Goodapple said.
“How is Ruby these days?”
“She’s put on a lot of weight and she stopped dyeing her hair, so now it’s an ugly salt-and-pepper.”
“It’s so sad when you think about what a beautiful girl she was in high school.”
“A bit of a tramp, too.”
“She knew how to have a good time.”
“One time she was arrested for dancing naked on the bandstand in the park. It was two o’clock in the morning and nobody was around but suddenly the police just appeared. Somebody must have tipped them off.”
“That story has been told about Ruby a million times.”
“Well, it’s true.”
“Were you there?”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“How do you know it happened, then?”
“Everybody said it happened.”
“That doesn’t mean it did.”
“We should invite Ruby for lunch one of these days. We could talk over old times. We could ask her if it was true about dancing naked in the park. ”
“Well, if I may change the subject,” Gertrude Padovesi said. “My niece Gloria finally found somebody who wants to marry her.”
“Isn’t she only about thirteen or fourteen?” Miss Goodapple asked.
“Who is she marrying?”
“He’s some kind of a doctor, I think, but it might just be an animal doctor. Maybe a brain specialist. I’m not sure.”
“I remember her,” Audrey Stoller said. “She was the one with the cleft palate, wasn’t she? She always looked like a scared little rabbit.”
“That’s why they call it a harelip, honey! A rabbit is a hare!”
“Don’t you think I know that?”
“Well, now she’s all grown up and no more ugly mouth.”
“What do you mean?”
“She got the thing fixed. After all these years!”
“And now she’s gorgeous?”
“Well, she won’t win any beauty contests but I guess she looks good enough for an animal doctor to want to marry her.”
“Isn’t that wonderful? Who paid for the operation?”
“The operation? There were about four.”
“Well, who paid for it?”
“Her mother. Who do you think paid for it? She would have spent her last dime to make her little girl happy.”
“Well, I hope Gloria appreciates it,” Miss Goodapple said. “There’s nothing worse than an unappreciative child.”
“When I got my children raised to adulthood,” grandma said, “I figured my duty to them was over. They were on their own after that.”
“Some never grow up,” Gertrude Padovesi said. “They’ll keep on suckin’ at the tit as long as you let ‘em.”
“You don’t have to be crude,” Audrey Stoller said. “Especially with a child sitting here listening to every word.”
All the women turned and looked at Cleland. He hadn’t been paying much attention to what they were saying but instead had been looking at his intertwined fingers.
“How are you doing there, honey?” Gertrude Padovesi said. “He’s a manly little fellow, isn’t he?”
“That’s my grandson, Cleland,” grandma said. “You’ve all met him before. I had him with me at the Royal Neighbors’ dinner at the Baptist Church last summer.”
“Yes, I remember him,” Audrey Stoller said. “He wanted the neck off the turkey.”
“I like the neck,” he said.
“Well, of course, you do, buddy! It’s good munching, especially if you’ve got a meager appetite.”
“Now, is he Kenny’s boy or Andy’s?” Miss Goodapple asked.
“Andy’s,” grandma said.
“And his mother is who?”
“Of course! I remember her. Awful pretty girl.”
“She’s got the lupus now.”
“Oh, isn’t that too bad!”
“I had a little brother,” Cleland said, “but he died. His name was Christopher. He was only six weeks old. He was in a little white casket with red roses all around.”
“Yes,” Miss Goodapple said. “We were all there and saw him.”
“There’s nothing worse than losing a child,” Gertrude Padovesi said.
“Your heart aches,” Audrey Stoller said.
“I think about him sometimes at night when I’m in bed and the lights are off,” Cleland said. “Sometimes it scares me and I have to cover up my head.”
“You need to think about happy things and then you won’t be scared anymore.”
“Andy and Janice are still young,” Audrey Stoller said. “They ought to have more children.”
“Janice can’t have any more,” grandma said. “And now she’s sick with the lupus.”
“Tsk-tsk-tsk! What a shame!”
“What’s the long-term outlook for the lupus?” Audrey Stoller asked.
“Not good,” grandma said, “but we hope for the best.”
“That’s all you can do, honey.”
“What grade are you in, cupcake?” Miss Goodapple asked.
“Third,” Cleland said.
“You learn all about geography in school?” Audrey Stoller asked. “About where Canada is and Mexico and the Rio Grande River and the Gulf of Mexico?”
“Did you know I used to be a school teacher? I taught little boys and girls just like you for about forty-five years until they told me I was too old to do it anymore.”
“They told you it was time to go home?” Cleland asked.
He stood up and laid across the chair he had been sitting on. He spied, from upside down, a picture in a frame on the mantel of a gray-haired man in a dark suit.
“Who’s that man?” he asked
“That’s my husband,” Miss Goodapple said.
“Is he in the other room taking a nap?”
“Is he at work?”
“No, he died.”
“What was the matter with him?”
“He had a pain in his head and he died.”
“What did he do before he died?”
“He was a businessman.”
“Yes, he owned a store downtown.”
“What kind of store?”
“A clothing store. Goodapple Fine Apparel. It was at the Corner of Main and Twelfth.”
“With suits and dresses and underwear and things like that?”
“That’s right. That was before your time.”
“What does ‘before my time’ mean?”
“It means it’s time for you to stop asking so many questions,” grandma said. “He sits there and doesn’t say a word and once you get him started talking, he doesn’t stop.”
All the women laughed and Cleland didn’t know exactly what they were laughing about, but it didn’t matter.
“Well, he’s a fine little fellow,” Miss Goodapple said, “and he’ll grow up to be a good-looking man with those dark eyes.”
“You got a girlfriend, honey?” Gertrude Padovesi asked.
“No. I don’t want one.”
All the women laughed again and Cleland, who enjoyed attention as much as the next fellow, wished they’d stop talking about him. What he wished more than anything was that it was time for him and grandma to leave.
“Grandchildren are the joy of your old age,” Miss Goodapple said.
“I don’t know,” Gertrude Padovesi said. “Out of my six, I’d gladly return two of them if I could.”
“Are you still having trouble with Diffie?” grandma asked.
“Yes, every time the phone rings I’m afraid it’s going to be her asking me for more money. I know that son-of-a-bitch Bean is standing right beside her telling her every word to say.”
“Oh, he’s that silly thing she’s married to. The only way Diffie’s ever going to get her life straightened out if she gets away from him. One of these days he’s going to meet with a crowbar to the head, if there’s any justice at all in the world.”
“Invite him over and feed him some rat poison, honey,” Audrey Stoller said.
“I don’t think I’d care to spend my declining years in jail, honey.”
“If you do it right, you’ll never get caught.”
“I suppose you’re the voice of authority when it comes to poisoning people.”
“Sure, I’ve done it a few times.”
“The mention of rat poison reminds me,” Miss Goodapple said, “I’ve got mice in my basement. I hope it’s only mice and not rats. Mice are bad enough but I’m deathly afraid of rats! I don’t want to kill them. I don’t want to hurt them. I just don’t want them in my house.”
“Get yourself a cat. It’ll scare the living daylights out of any mouse or rat.”
“Hey! Have any of you heard that Una Fairdale is getting married again?” Gertrude Padovesi said. “I heard it yesterday when I got my hair done.”
“No!” Audrey Stoller said. “Who would want to marry her?”
“He’s a younger fellow. They say he’s really good looking. Looks like Robert Taylor.”
“He must be blind in one eye and can’t see out the other if he wants to marry Una.”
“No, they say she’s very attractive now. She got herself a facelift and looks twenty years younger.”
“A facelift? How could she afford that?”
“Haven’t you heard? She got a ton of money from her husband’s life insurance settlement.”
“That explains why a younger, good-looking man would want to marry her. As soon as they’re married, he’ll poison her, and all her money will go to him. Then he can live the rest of his life in luxury without having to listen to Una’s squawking mouth.”
“That’s the second time this afternoon you’ve mentioning poisoning someone, honey! What are you trying to tell us?”
“Anyway,” Grace Padovesi said. “If anybody wants to buy a beauty salon, I know where you can get one cheap. My hairdresser—her name is Ruthie Twitchell—is selling out and moving out to North Dakota to live with her daughter.”
“She’ll hate North Dakota,” Miss Goodapple said. “She’ll freeze her buns off out there. She’ll want to move back here as soon as she lives through a North Dakota winter.”
“I hate to see her go. She’s been fixing my hair for twenty years and she knows just how I like it. These younger ones coming up don’t know anything.”
“They don’t know shit!” Audrey Stoller said.
“Now who’s being crude in front of a child?” Gertrude Padovesi said.
“I heard that Miss Lewis had to put her brother in a ‘place,” grandma said.
“Poor old soul!”
“He’s been off his rocker for years.”
“What exactly is the matter with him?”
“Who knows? I think it’s heredity insanity.”
“She kept him at home with her for as long as she could until he got to be too much for her.”
“Isn’t that sad!”
“Miss Lewis is a saint. Anybody else would have put him in a ‘place’ a long time ago.”
“Maybe now she’ll find herself a husband.”
“At her age?”
“Believe it or not, dear, not every woman is desperate for a husband,” Audrey Stoller said.
“Well, most are. I guess you were the exception, dear!”
“Yes, I was the exception. I chose a career instead.”
“Lots of women have both, you know!”
“Let’s not get started on that!”
“Well, when you die, you’ll die alone.”
“So will you!”
“I’ll be surrounded by loved ones.”
“That is, if they’re not too busy to come to wherever you are and watch you die, unless you’re leaving them some money and then they’ll be there to make sure they get their share.”
“That’s very cynical.”
“The thing to do is live for the moment and not think about dying,” Miss Goodapple said. “We’ll all die soon enough, but what good does it to do worry about it? The thing to do is live for the moment.”
“You can at least prepare yourself for it,” grandma said. “I went to Easley’s funeral home and bought myself a pre-paid funeral plan. I know exactly what casket I’ll be buried in, satin lining and all.”
“Didn’t that depress the hell out of you?”
“No. Why should it?”
“It’s cremation for me!” Gertrude Padovesi said. “It’s clean and quick and you don’t have to wait decades to turn to dust. It eliminates the part about your body turning to corruption.”
“And then you’re a pile of gray ash. Lovely!”
“Have you ever seen a rotting corpse, dear?”
“There’s nothing more grotesque.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“They do this thing now where they’ll turn your remains into a precious stone and your loved one can wear it around her neck, like a diamond necklace. How precious is that?”
“What if the loved one is a man?”
“He can have it made into cufflinks or a tie pin if he wants, I guess.”
“Or a stud for his ear.”
It was time to serve refreshments. Miss Goodapple went into the kitchen and came back a few minutes later pushing a little cart containing a pot of boiling tea and some cups, a plate of cookies, a bottle of wine and little glasses. She poured a cup of tea for everybody, without asking first if they wanted it, and then passed around the plate of cookies.
Cleland drank his tea, slowly at first and then faster. It was slightly bitter with a little tang of lemon and a little sugar, just the way he liked it. With his cup in his right hand, he took a cookie in his left hand and bit into it. Nobody admonished him about dropping crumbs on Miss Goodapple’s rug or spilling any of the tea. He was very neat for his age.
The cookies were lemon and delicious. He ate three of them and drank two cups of tea. The refreshments were always the best thing about the visits at Miss Goodapple’s.
When he was finished, he wasn’t shy about announcing that he needed to use the bathroom. Everybody stopped what they were doing and looked at him.
“Up the stairs,” Miss Goodapple said. “Down the hallway. The bathroom is on the left.”
He planned on taking his time because he was plenty tired of old-lady talk and wanted to go home. They wouldn’t notice he was gone. He enjoyed being in a strange house and he wanted to look at things.
He went up the stairs slowly, planting his feet firmly on the carpeted stairs and holding on to the mahogany banister. Halfway up the stairs, on a landing, was Miss Goodapple’s antique grandfather clock. It was old-looking and mysterious with its ponderous pendulum going back and forth, back and forth, counting out the endless minutes.
The bathroom was where Miss Goodapple said it would be. It was old-fashioned, all porcelain and white tile. He did what he had to do and, after he spent a long time washing and drying his hands, he opened the medicine cabinet over the sink and looked at the bottles, jars and little boxes sitting there. It was all stuff an old lady would use. Suppositories, seasick pills, denture cream and face cream. Nothing very interesting.
In the hallway across from the bathroom was a bedroom. It was cool and dark, with shades pulled down to the sills of the two windows and a high ceiling. He walked around the big bed to the other side, where there was a door. He opened the door and found it was a huge walk-in closet. Densely packed clothes hung on each side, high up over his head. He took a few steps inside the closet and saw something that startled him and almost made him turn around and run.
Standing at the back of the closet was a tall man in tuxedo and top hat. His head was turned slightly to the right and his arms extended at the elbow as if in supplication. Through smiling, red lips his teeth glistened like pearls.
“Hello,” Cleland said but the man said nothing and didn’t move an inch, so he said hello again. That’s when he realized the man was stuffed like people sometimes stuff wild animals they’ve killed. It must be the husband Miss Goodapple mentioned who died long ago, the one who owned the clothing store downtown. When he died, she had him stuffed and set him up at the back of her big closet so she could keep him near her without anybody knowing about it. It seemed like a good idea but also something that most people would never do. He wondered if grandma knew Miss Goodapple’s secret.
He walked closer to the man and reached out and touched the tips of his long, shiny fingers. He had never seen a dead body up close before and he was naturally fascinated. He would have something to tell the kids at school but, of course, without telling anybody in whose house he saw it.
A creak in some other part of the house made him think somebody was coming, so he started to leave the closet and go back downstairs when he saw a gray object at the feet of the man in the tuxedo. On closer inspection, it proved to be the body of a rat, dead for some time. Its eyes were fixed and staring, just like the eyes of the man in the tuxedo, and its little paws were outstretched, as if it had been in the act of running when it died. When Cleland saw how the whiskers had grown quite long and curved downward, he began to feel sorry for it and believed it deserved something better than being dead at the food of a stuffed man. He picked it up, stiff and dried-out as it was, and looked around for a more fitting place to put it.
On the dresser in Miss Goodapple’s bedroom was a jewelry box. He opened the box and saw it contained many precious jewels—diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. It was nearly full with the stuff, but there was still room in it for a good-sized dead rat.
From the top drawer of Miss Goodapple’s dresser he took two embroidered hankies. He refolded one of them length-wise, laid it on top of the precious jewels and placed the rat carefully on top of it. Then he covered up the rat with the other hankie and closed the box. He was sure the rat, if it could have known where it was, would like being in the box amid the splendor of precious jewels. It seemed a fitting place for a rat that had undoubtedly lived a good life.
When he went back downstairs, nobody remarked at how long he had been gone; nobody even seemed aware of it. He sat back down in in the chair he had been sitting in before and smiled.
The tea was all gone and now the women were drinking the wine. There was one glass still left on the little cart.
“Can I have some wine?” he interrupted the ongoing conversation to asked.
“Just a sip!” grandma said.
With his back to grandma so she wouldn’t see what he was doing, he filled the glass to the brim with the dark, rich-looking stuff and swallowed it down. It was bitter and sour and he hated it, but he said afterwards that he liked it.
Finally it was time for Cleland and grandma to go home. They put on their coats and hats and said their goodbyes. Audrey Stoller gave Cleland a wet kiss on the cheek. He turned away to hide his distaste and wiped his cheek with the back of his hand.
Going home, grandma had to walk slow because she was old and her legs hurt. She didn’t have much to say much because she wanted to get home and sit in her comfortable chair and rest for a while before time to start supper. Cleland wanted to tell her about the extraordinary thing he had seen in Miss Goodapple’s closet upstairs but he knew, even at his young age, that some things are better left unsaid.
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp