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The Drinking Song

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The Drinking Song ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Lloyd Stott had a lead on a three-day job in a cemetery. When he called to inquire about the job, he was told to take the bus to a certain address to speak to the man doing the hiring. He took the bus, all right, but he got lost and became so confused he ended up in a place that couldn’t have been the right place. It was a neighborhood of beautiful houses with attached garages; spacious, well-kept lawns and overarching shade trees. It was a neighborhood that might have made a confused hobo believe for a moment he was in heaven.

He walked around for a while, garnering hostile stares. Anybody who saw him would know he was in the wrong place. And what would he do if someone called the police? He’d have to explain what he was doing there, and anything he said would not be believed.

He was going to knock at the back door of one of the houses and ask for directions when he saw a police car a block away coming toward him. When he turned in the other direction, he saw another police car. Somebody must have already called the police and reported a stray hobo in the neighborhood, ready to wreak unspeakable carnage! Even though he wasn’t doing anything wrong, they could nab  him for vagrancy and trespassing, just when he was only trying to get a job and get himself straightened out.  

Across the way was a huge brick house with a spacious, park-like lawn—lots of trees and bushes. All he had to do was hide himself in the bushes for a half-hour or so, by which time the police would be gone, and then he could go back to where he came from and resume his career of racking balls at the pool hall.

Certain he hadn’t been seen, he ran into the yard and was looking for a good place to hide when a medium-sized dog, a black cocker spaniel, spied him and ran toward him barking. He was afraid of barking dogs, especially the ones that might possibly rip off a leg. He had heard that cocker spaniels were particularly vicious.

Heart pounding, he ran around the house away from the dog, hoping the dog would become distracted and not follow. Good boy! Good dog!

On the other side of the house were stairs to the basement. Down the stairs were a door and some trash barrels. Taking the steps two at a time, he crouched behind the barrels, hoping the dog would become bored with his attack-the-hobo game and go home.

The door beside which he was crouching had a window with a curtain. There were no sounds coming from beyond the door and the window was dark. Did that mean nobody was home? No, it probably meant that nobody was in the basement. The people who lived in the house were all upstairs.

Not thinking any particular thought, he stood up from his crouching position behind the trash barrels and put his hand on the door knob and turned it. The door wasn’t locked. He inserted his head as far as he dared. He saw a large, comfortable room with a television, a couch and some overstuffed chairs, a table for playing cards, some weight-lifting equipment, a bookcase with some books, a couple of lamps, a record player and some vinyl records. What a setup! Whoever lived here must be a movie star or a prince or something like that, he thought.

What caught his attention more than anything else, though, was a bar on the far wall. He never knew anybody before who had a full-sized bar in their basement. He approached the bar as quiet as a mouse, as grandma used to say, listening all the time for sounds from above.

Behind the bar on glass shelves were all shapes, sizes, and colors of bottles, as beautiful as any work of art. There were wines, liqueurs, vodka, tequila, rye whiskey, scotch, bourbon and other bottles with labels he couldn’t read because they were in foreign languages. He picked up a bottle of vodka, unscrewed the cap and took a generous swallow. He couldn’t resist. Then he had another drink of vodka and one of scotch. It was all of the best quality. No rot-gut stuff like they sell in his neighborhood.

He sat on the big couch, the bottle of vodka in one hand and the bottle of scotch in the other, and took a few more drinks, alternating between bottles. He thought: Man, this is living! I could get used to this shit!

Soon he was asleep. That’s the effect liquor had on him.

He awoke with a start, not knowing where he was. Neither did he know how long he had been asleep, but it had probably been too long. He remembered then that he was in the house of a stranger and he hadn’t been invited in, either. Technically he broke in, but he didn’t really have to break anything to get inside. It was so easy.

He should leave, but he hadn’t heard a sound from upstairs the whole time he had been in the house. What could it mean? It might mean that nobody was home. Might he go into the kitchen and grab something to eat before milord and milady came home? He hadn’t had anything to eat all day, and it was never a good idea to consume large amounts of alcohol on an empty stomach.

Realizing he was still holding liquor bottles in both hands, he set them on the bar and went quietly up the stairs, holding on to the wall. If there was anybody at home and they confronted him, he should be able to run out the way he came in before they called the police. Always a good idea to have an escape plan in mind.

At the top of the stairs was a hallway and then the kitchen. The kitchen was dark and quiet, orderly and neat. The refrigerator hummed quietly. He took a few steps and stood still, listening for any sounds coming from any of the other rooms. Hearing nothing, he proceeded.

Beyond the kitchen was the dining room and then a living room. Blinds were closed and curtains drawn. The air felt stale and uncirculated. Nobody was home, plain and simple. He could take as much time as he wanted and explore the entire house, but there was always a chance that whoever lived there would be coming back at any moment. He had to be constantly on guard for footsteps or voices.

And then he saw the note on the kitchen counter that liberated him:  

Dear Geta, We’ll be back on the twenty-fifth. On the twenty-fourth, come in early to vacuum and dust, collect the mail, newspapers, etc. Make the house presentable. You know how I like everything perfect! Ha-ha! I do hope everything has been all right while we’ve been away and that nobody has broken in and made off with all our valuables! See you on the twenty-fifth. I hope you’ve made good use of your free time, as we discussed. Yours sincerely, Mrs. Penelope Poindexter.

So, he had the house to himself until the twenty-fourth! That gave him four days. He could have a good rest, get himself clean, eat whatever food was there, drink the liquor, sleep in a comfortable bed. When the people who lived in the house returned and saw that somebody had been staying there, they’d call the police, of course, but by then he’d be long gone. They’d agonize over it, have a locksmith come and change the locks, upbraid the maid for not securing the basement door, and then, in time, forget it ever happened. No real harm done.

First things first, though: the bathroom. What a luxury to sit on the toilet and do one’s business with nobody else around and then just flush the effluvia away as if it never existed. Surely one of life’s greatest pleasures!

Later he would have a bath, but first some food. He went to the refrigerator and opened the door. The shelves were mostly bare: a jar of pickles, some mustard, a couple of shriveled onions, a part bottle of wine. He reached for the pickles and the wine and sat down at the kitchen table and drank wine and ate pickles, digging them out of the jar with his filthy fingers, until he believed he would be sick. Then he put the pickles and the wine back in the refrigerator where he found them and opened the freezer, in which he found, among other things, a full carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Finding a spoon easily enough, he began eating the ice cream greedily right out of the carton. Nothing in his life ever tasted so good.

He was sick then, but he made it into the bathroom before he made a mess on the floor. What a pleasure just to be sick in such a spacious, clean bathroom! The lucky ones don’t know how lucky they are, he thought, as he rinsed out his mouth afterwards, regarding his frightening face in the mirror above the sink.

Standing in front of the mirror, he stripped off his clothes, not failing to notice the awful smell emanating from his body. After he had taken everything off, he didn’t want to see himself. He got into the tub and filled it with scalding water.

The hot bath was the closest he had ever come to bliss on earth. After scrubbing every inch of himself, he let out the dirty water and started over, but this time he reclined in the tub and took a long, luxurious soak, making it last as long as he dared.   

Emerging from the tub, he dried himself all over with a beautiful pink towel and when he was finished, he felt like a different person in a different skin. He regarded his old clothes in a pile on the floor with distaste. He’d rather go unclothed than to put them on again. He didn’t know what to do with them so he kicked them out of the way where he wouldn’t have to look at them.

With the pink towel around his middle, he went into the bedroom at the end of the hallway to find something to wear. The men’s clothes he found in the closet weren’t right for him, too big and boxy; they swallowed him up. Since he was a small man, only five feet and four inches, he found the lady’s attire more to his liking.

Ever since he was a little tyke, he liked to dress in women’s clothes. His mother indulged him in this peculiarity, while his father beat him with a belt to discourage any feminizing ways. When his father went to prison for a twenty-year stretch, he was free to be either male or female, according to his mood.

Now he was getting on in years (over forty) and his indulgent mother was dead. He had found precious little opportunity in the last ten years or so to dress as a woman. Now, though, God had landed him in this rich person’s house for a few days where no one could see him and he could do as he pleased. Thank you, God!

The note he found in the kitchen told him that the lady who lived in the house was one Mrs. Penelope Poindexter. As he dressed himself in her clothes, (including frilly undergarments), he began to think of himself as the one, the only, Mrs. Penelope Poindexter.

What could be more comfortable after a bath than slipping into a silk Japanese lounging kimono with a  motif of red poppies, topped with a cascading, curly wig from the shelf in the closet? A prolonged examination of his mirrored image reminded him that his previous state of drunkenness had worn off in the act of bathing, and he knew that no good would come from being sober.  

He had never considered himself an alcoholic, but he had known other alcoholics, including his father and two of his brothers, and what he had in common with all of them was that he couldn’t leave the stuff alone. Remaining drunk all the time was the only way he could live. When he was sober, he had to face the hard reality of his life: despicable, distasteful, insupportable. My life has become insupportable, he remembered hearing someone say. It might have been a line from a movie.   

He drank a bottle of Jamaican rum and a bottle of tequila (small bottles) and then he tried on a cocktail dress of madame’s from the closet. He didn’t think the cocktail dress was quite right for him somehow, so he took it off and threw it on the floor and replaced it with a tea-length dress in a floral print. An auburn wig from madame’s wig collection set off the dress perfectly, calling for more ice cream. He ate the rest of the carton of mint chocolate chip and then he threw up again, barely making it into the bathroom.   

As he finished each bottle, he lined all up all the empties on the table in the kitchen like a row of toy soldiers. It made a pretty picture and served as a visual reminder of just how much liquor he had consumed and how much more he had to go: there were still lots of bottles left in the basement.   

He tried on some more of madame’s lovely clothes and then, realizing it was two in the morning—where does time go?—he carried the bottle of gin into the master bedroom and passed out on the king-sized bed.   

When he awoke in the morning to the sound of birds singing, he didn’t know where he was, but he knew it was someplace good. He had a terrible headache but was able to stumble into the bathroom, where he found a bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet. After taking two aspirin without water, he fainted on the tile floor, where he lay unconscious for several hours.

So, in this way, Lloyd Stott passed his four days in the home of an unwittingly generous benefactor: modeling all of madame’s clothes from the closet (discarding them in a heap on the floor in the bedroom when he took them off), drinking all the liquor from the bar in the basement, eating all the food in the kitchen. How lucky he was that the liquor and the food lasted just as long as he wanted them to! And madame had just enough clothes that he didn’t have to model any of them more than once.    

For his last night in the house—and he felt a little sad that he couldn’t stay longer—he wore madame’s shimmering, white, floor-length evening gown. And not only that, he saved one last bottle of his favorite rye whiskey. He would have a little going-away party. A party for one.

The maid would be in early the next morning, so he planned on being out well in advance of that time. He would doze until five or so and then get up and vamoose like a scared little rabbit while the world still slept.  

He had a wonderful time his last night, drinking straight from the bottle, dancing with an imaginary partner to music from the radio, remembering some good times he had when he was younger before he gave up his life to drinking. When he was twenty-three he was married for a time and became a father. He had traveled and seen the world. He had seen New York City and the Gulf of Mexico and Niagara Falls.

At midnight he retired to the master bedroom, taking the bottle of rye whiskey with him. There was still a little left in the bottle and he wanted to finish it off before he left in the morning. Before going to sleep, he thanked God, again, for the four happy days in the wonderful house.  

It was to be his last night on earth. He would not live to see another day. His heart, his stomach and his intestinal tract were overburdened by the huge amounts of liquor he had consumed. His heart stopped pumping and he died in his sleep; he didn’t know or feel anything.    

When the maid, Geta, came in at nine o’clock in the morning, she saw the bottles lined up on the table in the kitchen and she knew something was wrong. Then she went into the master bedroom and saw the contents of the closet turned out on the floor and the strange figure in the bed wearing Mrs. Poindexter’s evening gown. It gave Geta quite a fright because she thought it was Mrs. Poindexter herself. Her hands shook as she went to the phone and called the police.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Standing at the Gate of Heaven

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Standing at the Gate of Heaven ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Harry Hawkins had not lived an exemplary life. He was frequently harsh and impatient with his wife and children, with the result that his wife was afraid of him and his two sons grew up hating him. He despised his wife’s mother and her other family members and was jealous of his wife’s devotion to them. He was intolerant of anybody whose political or religious views were different from his own. He complained and found fault with everything and everybody, nearly every minute of every day. In short, he was a joyless man who led a joyless life.

In the last few years of his life, with his health deteriorating, he was afraid of dying and going to hell. Believing that religion might save him, he joined a splinter religious group and believed everything that representatives of the group (essentially salesmen) told him. He was promised a place in heaven by these godless know-nothings, if only he would do as they told him to do for as long as he lived. Since he lived in a fine house and seemed to have enough money, they persuaded him the best thing was for him to donate, every month, a certain percentage of his income to the church. This he readily agreed to do, surprising his wife, his sons and anybody who knew of his parsimonious nature—he had always been known how to pinch a penny until it cried for mercy.

Every month at the first of the month he sat down at the kitchen table and wrote out a sizeable check (enough to support an ordinary family of four) to the church. He believed he was “storing up treasure in heaven.” (What the church did with the money was not known, but the church fathers were known for their penchant for little jaunts to Mexico.)

He attended every church service and was always on call when somebody from the church needed a service he might perform, such as a ride to the doctor or a few dollars for medicine or to pay the light bill. If a special kind of cake was needed for a church dinner, he didn’t mind going to the bakery and buying an elaborate and expensive cake made to order, which he paid for out of his own pocket. He never complained, never balked at anything the church asked him to do. If, however, his wife or one of his sons asked him to do something for them, he was always too tired or was running a fever and needed to be in bed.

For the first time in Harry Hawkins’ life, he was beloved. He wanted to love back, but he didn’t know how. It didn’t matter that he didn’t love, though; he was doing more than enough to get what he wanted.

Harry Hawkins suffered a heart attack and then another and then another. After he was discharged from the hospital and feeling much better, the church fathers paid him a call. He had never let them down. He had proven himself to them time after time. He might always be relied upon. They had decided to go one step farther and make him one of them. There was a special (secret) ordination ceremony in which he re-affirmed his unshakeable belief in the teachings of the church. After the ceremony was over, he believed he had done everything he needed to do. He would certainly be admitted into heaven. Easily.

After a few more months of precarious life, he succumbed to his various afflictions while a patient in the hospital. After a period of darkness (let’s say three days), he found himself standing outside the gate of heaven. He waited patiently with a forbearing smile for someone to come and let him in. From what he could see from where he stood, heaven was everything he expected: golden light, feathery clouds, celestial music.

Finally the gate keeper came out of hiding and peered at him through the golden bars of the gate.

“How may I help you?” the gate keeper said with a hint of impatience.

“Are you going to let me in?” Harry Hawkins asked.

“Are you sure you’re in the right place?”

“Of course, I’m in the right place! Open the gate and let me in!”

“People are sometimes misdirected, you see.”

“Well, I’m not!”

“How do you come to be here?”

“I died and then I came here. End of story. What more do you need to know?”

“Where is your spirit guide? Did he bring you here?”

“I don’t have a spirit guide! I don’t even know what a spirit guide is.”

“You shouldn’t have come here without being directed by your spirit guide.”

“Listen! Who are you anyway?”

“I’m the gate keeper.”

“I want to speak to your superior!”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to talk to me.”

“This is heaven, isn’t it? You have no right to tell me I can’t come in! You’re just a nobody!”

“I’m terribly sorry, sir, but I believe you’ve been misdirected. We’re expecting no new arrivals at this time.”

“If I could reach you through these bars, you ass, I’d push your face in! Open these doors right now and let me in!”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, sir.”

“Why not?”

“You’re not supposed to be here, sir. You’ve been misdirected.”

Harry started stammering and was about to cry. “Now, listen, fella! I know you’re a right guy and I know I’m in the right place. I’ve known for years that I would go to heaven when I died. I was promised a place in heaven.”

“Who promised you?”

“Some very important people in my church, that’s who!”

“Oh, I think I’m beginning to understand! Was this promise somehow based on lucre?”

“What does lucre mean? You need to speak English here!”

“Was money involved? Were you promised a place in heaven depending on how much money you gave to the church?”

Bingo! You’re not as dumb as you look, Jocko! You are absolutely correct! I gave mucho money to the church over the years! Look it up!”

“I don’t wish to be rude to you, sir, but you’re not supposed to be here. You’ve been misdirected.”

Harry covered his face with his hands and began crying. When he was able to speak again, he said, “So, what am I supposed to do, then? Am I supposed to stand here by this goddamn gate like a crazy person throughout all eternity?”

“No, sir. You don’t have to do that,” the gate keeper said. “Your bus will be along shortly.”

“Bus? You have buses here?”

“Yes, a bus will come along in a little while. All you need to do is get on the bus and it will take you where you belong.”

“Another part of heaven? Is that where the bus will take me?”

“Just get on the bus.”

Harry opened his mouth to ask another question, but the gate keeper was gone.

He wiped away his tears and composed himself, gratified at what the gate keeper had said. A bus would be along to take him where he needed to go. Another part of heaven, no doubt. What else could it be?

In a little while, an enormous bus parted the clouds and came roaring to a stop in front of the gate. With a smile and without a moment’s hesitation, he got on the bus, ready to be kind to everybody.

The other people on the bus were faceless nonentities, but he didn’t care. He didn’t feel like talking to anybody, anyway. He took a seat about halfway back and continued to smile, happy that his problems were over.

From where he sat, though, he could see the face of the driver in the mirror above the driver’s head. The driver, who seemed to be the only person on the bus with a face, was looking at him, watching him, in the mirror. The bus swerved to avoid hitting a porcupine and he was thrown a little off-balance. He caught himself on the back of the seat in front of him, and when he again looked at the driver’s face in the mirror he knew he had seen those eyes before: they were the eyes of his own father.

His father was a difficult and unlikeable man, dead for thirty years. It all came back to him, then: how he hated that man when he was growing up;  how that man belittled him, called him names, and how he made him feel he was less than nothing.

He wasn’t looking only at his father, though. He was looking at himself, seeing himself, for the first time, as he really was.

“How cruel is life!” he said. “I never wanted to be like him! It wasn’t my fault!”

But the other passengers on the bus paid no attention. They all had problems of their own.

A sudden rain storm came up and the bus trundled on.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Death and the Afterlife: A Chronological Journey from Cremation to Quantum Resurrection ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Death and the Afterlife: A Chronological Journey from Cremation to Quantum Resurrection ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Death and what comes after have fascinated people for as long as people have existed. When we die, are we cast into a dark oblivion, or do our personalities survive in another place? Are we rewarded for our good deeds and punished for our bad deeds? Will we be born again in another body? Do heaven and hell exist? Where do we go if we’re not good enough for heaven and not bad enough for hell?

Death and the Afterlife will not answer any of these questions, but it is a book that deals with a wide range of topics associated with the science and sociology of death, dying and the afterlife, including such fascinating topics as vampires, zombies, euthanasia, embalming, executions, seances, reincarnation, resurrection, sin eaters, death masks, transhumanism, brain death, near-death experiences, electronic voice phenomena, quantum immortality, thanatourism (visiting sites of suffering and death such as Nazi death camps), death of the universe, and many other topics.

Each entry is only one page long, accompanied by an appropriate painting or drawing on the opposing (left-hand) page. At the end of the book is a list of references that might be consulted for further reading.

Did you know:

  • Certain cultures, going back to the Neolithic Age (13,000 years ago), practiced what was known as “sky burial.” This means that the bodies of the deceased were cut into small pieces, including the bones, and left out on a ledge or hilltop for scavenger birds to carry away.
  • Before Napoleon Bonaparte’s death in 1821 at the age of 51, he insisted that an autopsy be performed on his body, the results of which, he believed, would help his son. He was found, during autopsy, to have stomach cancer.
  • Since 1960, the number of autopsies has declined because doctors are afraid of medical malpractice suits.
  • During the 17th and 18th centuries, “plague doctors,” who often weren’t doctors at all, wore frightening “beak masks.” The idea was to fill the beak of the mask with aromatic spices or fragrant perfumes, which were thought to prevent the wearer from breathing the plague in through the nose or mouth.
  • Walking Corpse Syndrome (WCS) is a mental disorder in which the sufferer believes he is dead, but still living, or that some of his organs have been removed.
  • During the 18th century, fear of premature burial (burial of somebody who wasn’t really dead) led to the rise of “safety coffins,” equipped with air pipes and bells. (Make sure I’m dead first.)
  • In the 13th century, the bubonic plague, originating in Asia, swept through Europe, killing roughly two-thirds of the population. The plague, the greatest biomedical disaster in human history, was still causing problems in Europe five hundred years later.
  • Experiments show that the soul contained in a person’s body weighs seven-tenths (0.7) of an ounce. This weight was arrived at by weighing tuberculosis victims at the moment of death and comparing it with the weight before death.
  • Ondine’s curse is a mental disorder in which a person forgets to breathe while sleeping and dies. It’s named after a water nymph from folklore who is cursed with having to remember to breathe.
  • French painter James Tissot in 1890 painted a famous painting called What Our Lord Saw from the Cross. It is the artist’s vision of what Christ might have seen from the cross while being crucified.
  • While Joseph-Ignace Guillotine did not invent the guillotine (decapitation device), as many people have been led to believe, he promoted its use as a humane method of execution in France in the 1790s. “My machine will take off a head in a twinkling,” Dr. Guillotine stated, “and the victim will feel nothing but a refreshing coolness.”
  • Saint Vincent Pallotti (1795-1850) was an Italian saint who helped the poor in Rome. When his body was exhumed a hundred years after his death, it was found to show no signs of decay, a sign of true holiness.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Pay Phone 

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Pay Phone ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

While Charles was in the doctor’s office, his sister Vivienne insisted on waiting for him in the car on the parking lot, even though she might have easily waited inside.

“I hate doctors’ offices,” she said. “They’re full of sick people.”

“Suit yourself,” he said.

Charles was fourteen, too young to drive himself for his quarterly checkups. His mother usually drove him, but today she had to go a funeral out of town, so his sister Vivienne was pressed into service.

He had to wait in the doctor’s office much longer than usual. When he was finished and finally ready to go, Vivienne was standing by the front fender of the car smoking a cigarette.

“I thought maybe you died in there,” she said, flipping her butt away. “I was about ready to leave without you.”

“I could have walked home,” Charles  said. “It’s only about ten miles.”

“What is it with doctors?” she said. “They think their time is so precious, but your time means nothing at all.”

“I don’t think they ever think about it,” Charles  said.

“They’re all jerks, if you ask me!”

Vivienne was seven years older than Charles. She had always resented his existence. She always thought of him as unnecessary and something of an embarrassment. If she could have flipped a switch and snuffed out his life, she would gladly have done so.

“Mother shouldn’t ask me to do errands for her when I’m so busy,” Vivienne said. “I have a wedding gift to shop for and I still have to get my hair done. You’re her child, not mine!”

“Don’t tell me.

“I don’t ever want any children!”

“Fine by me.”

“They’re always wanting something and they make you old before your time. Ask any person who has children. If they had it to do all over again, they all say they would have remained childless.”

“Sounds like a wise decision,” Charles  said. “Say, I missed lunch today and I’m hungry. Let’s stop somewhere and get a hamburger.”

“No! There isn’t time. I’m late as it is.”

“Late for what?”

“Kenny is picking me up at six. We’re going to have supper at that new bistro and then we’re going to the theatre.”

“You mean a movie?”

“No, dumbbell. A movie is a movie. When you say, ‘the theatre’, you mean a play with living people acting on a stage.”

“Oh, right. I’ve seen plays before.”

“Where.”

“At school.”

“I’m not talking about that junk they put on at school. I’m talking about a professional play with professional actors in it. People who have trained for years to be able to do what they do.”

“I’m still hungry.”

“When mother practically begged me to take you for your doctor’s appointment, I didn’t imagine it would take all afternoon! I thought there’d be plenty of time.”

“Oh, try not to get your panties all in a bunch.”

She looked at him with disbelief. “What did you just say to me?”

“I said, ‘don’t get your panties all in a bunch’.”

She slapped at his shoulder with her right hand. “Where do you hear that kind of language?”

“I don’t know!” he said. “I hear it all the time!”

“I’m going to tell mother what you said.”

“I don’t care.”

“You know she doesn’t tolerate vulgar language.”

 “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

 “She’ll know soon enough because I’m going to tell her.”

 “I believe I said earlier I don’t care.”

 “It’s time you started acting your age.”

 “Why don’t you act your age?”

“You have a very smart mouth, you know that? If you were my child, I’d smack you in the mouth every time you made a snotty remark.”

He mimed being smacked in the mouth and being knocked out.

“That’s not funny!” Vivienne said. “You still act like kindergarten.”

“Well, I know I don’t ever want to act the way you act! You’re a big phony and nobody likes you.”

“That’s not true! Lots of people like me!”

“Who?”

“Kenny likes me. He’s asked me to marry him.”

“Oh, boy! He doesn’t know what he’s in for if you ever say yes.”

“I’m very seriously considering marrying him!”

“Go ahead and marry him, then, so I can have your room.”

“I don’t think so, mister! That room is mine!”

“If you marry Kenny, you won’t need it anymore. You’ll be living someplace else.”

“We’ve going to live with my folks after we’re married so we can save enough money to buy a house. I think that makes a lot of sense.”

Hah-hah! I don’t think so! I don’t think mother would ever go along with that.”

“Why not?”

“Well, for one thing, she doesn’t like Kenny.”

“She does so like Kenny. She loves Kenny. She told me so.”

“That’s not what she says when you’re not around.”

“What does she say?”

“She says, ‘I hope Vivienne never gets it into her head to marry ‘that Kenny’. That’s what calls him: that Kenny!

“She doesn’t!”

“She doesn’t like his hairdo. She says it makes him look like a woman. I don’t like his hairdo, either.”

“Well, isn’t that just too bad! I’m sure Kenny will be absolutely crushed to hear you don’t like his hair.”

“Do you really want to be married to a man who looks like a woman? If you ever have any kids, they’ll be mutants!

“Do you mean like you? You’re the mutant! As soon as I laid eyes on you when mother brought you home from the hospital, I knew there was something terribly wrong with you. I think aliens from outer space dropped you off at the hospital and mother was just unlucky enough to get stuck with you!”

“I hope that’s true,” Charles  said. “Because if it is, it means I’m not related to you in any way!”

“If you insult me one more time, I’m going to stop the car and you’re going to walk the rest of the way home.”

“Oh, what do I care?”

In another mile, the traffic slowed and then came to a standstill.

“That’s the thing about being out this time of the day,” Vivienne said. “Traffic is just too heavy!”

“What am I supposed to do?” Charles  said. “Bust into tears?”

“I hear sirens. That means there’s a wreck up there somewhere.”

“We might be stuck here for hours.”

“Go find a phone and call Kenny!”

“Are you crazy? I won’t do it!”

“Call him and tell him I’m stuck in traffic and I’ll be a little late.”

“I said no!”

“You might need me to do something for you some time.”

“I doubt it.”

“If you want my room, you can have it when I marry Kenny and move out of the house.”

“If you move out of the house, you won’t have anything to say about your room.”

“There’s a police officer over there! Go ask him what’s causing the delay!”

“Are you crazy? Do you think I want to get hit by a car?”

“Cars aren’t moving. We’re all just sitting here. Oh, this is maddening! This is the last time I will ever take you to the doctor!”

“Oh, you make me sick!”

Finally the police officer came closer to the car and Vivienne motioned him to her window.

“What’s the problem, officer?” she asked.

“Multi-car pileup about a mile ahead.”

“I’m in a hurry terrible!”

“Everybody’s in a hurry, ma’am! I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait it out. Nothing to be done until the wreck’s cleared away.”

After the officer was gone, Vivienne covered her face with her hands and began crying.

“Is your date with Kenny really that important?” Charles asked.

She reached into her purse and handed Charles her change purse.

“Here, take this!” she said. “Go and find a pay phone and call Kenny and after you’ve done that, have yourself a hamburger. On me.”

“And then what? I’m supposed to walk home?”

“Call yourself a cab. Pay for it out of my money. Mother can pay me back later.”

“Oh, all right! But you are a lunatic! You know that, don’t you?”

He put the change purse in his pocket and walked four or five blocks in the direction away from the logjam of stopped cars and angry drivers.

He didn’t see a pay phone, but he did see a restaurant and was instantly captivated by its smells of cooking food. He went inside, sat at a booth, and ordered from the elderly waiter a deluxe cheeseburger with everything on it and a chocolate milkshake.

When his food arrived, he ate quickly, not because he was in a hurry but because he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. The cheeseburger was the best he had ever tasted and he wanted another one, but he didn’t want to press his luck. He was supposed to call somebody, wasn’t he? Oh, yes, he was supposed to call Kenny and deliver a message from his sister, who might still be stuck in traffic.

While he was paying his check, he asked the cashier the whereabouts of the nearest pay phone.

“There’s a booth up the street about three blocks on the corner,” she said. “You can’t miss it.”

He thanked the woman and went back outside into the cool evening air.

He was walking along, thinking how carefree he felt and how grown up he must look to the casual observer, when a boy not much older than he was approached him from an alleyway.

“Can you give me a dollah?” the boy asked.

Before he had a chance to respond, the boy put out his hands and pushed him over backwards with unexpected force. He lost his balance and fell easily.

While he was on his back on the sidewalk, too stunned to move, two other boys rifled his pockets and took Vivienne’s change purse with her money in it. After they had what they wanted, they ran off laughing.

“That was too easy!” one of them yelled.

He groaned and tried to stand up, finding that his head hurt terribly and his elbow might be broken.

“I want to go home!” he said piteously, but only to himself, because nobody else was around.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

The End of Eddy ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The End of Eddy ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The End of Eddy, by young French writer Édouard Louis (born 1992), is a novel set in a small factory town in the North of France in a region known as Picardy. Eddy Belleguere is the fictional narrator of the novel, and we learn from the background information of the novel’s author that the story, though fictional, is, in fact, an account of his own life. Eddy Belleguere is the fictional alter-ego of real-life Édouard Louis.

Despite the charm of the region in France where the story takes place, the lives of the factory workers and their families are anything but charming. Life is hard in the factory, and the men who toil there all their lives sometimes die at an early age. They drink to excess, beat their wives, and watch porn and Wheel of Fortune on TV. The women, who sometimes also work in the factory, are long-suffering custodians of the children. The children are unmotivated, unhygienic boobs who usually want nothing more out of life than to get a minimum of education and then get a job in the factory and live the same life of toil that their parents have lived.

Every now and then a boy comes along who isn’t like the others, and that boy is Eddy Belleguere, the protagonist of the novel. He isn’t comfortable with the masculine gender role (as personified by his father, his brothers and every other male in his sphere) that he is supposed to adopt for himself. Eddy has feminine gestures and is attracted to boys and men. His friends at school are all girls. He is brutally bullied and abused by older boys in school and has no way to fight back. As he gets older and realizes he is gay, he tries to “fit in” and be like all the other boys, but he knows (and we know) that it isn’t going to work out. Eddy has an identity crisis and it is never going to resolves itself until he escapes his family, his town and his environment.

The End of Eddy is a story about identity, conforming, belonging, and finding one’s own place in the world, whatever that might be. It’s a breezy novel, simply written, engaging, engrossing and not at all taxing to the brain. Highly recommended to those readers who appreciate a good story about being “a square peg in a round hole.” I think we have all been there, at least in one way or another, when we were young. (Remember how you loathed gym class, dreaded it for days in advance, and might even still have nightmares about it?)

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Tchaikovsky, A Biography ~ A Capsule Book Review

Tchaikovsky ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The great Russian composer Peter (“Petyr”) Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840 and died in 1893. He was a complex man who experienced many setbacks in his life, but one who, despite his fragile psyche, managed to write some of the great symphonic masterpieces of Russian music and of the nineteenth century, including six symphonies, three ballets, several operas, four serenades for orchestra, chamber music, songs, and (still) wildly popular concertos for piano and orchestra and violin and orchestra. His music is, today, still very accessible and popular and is performed and played wherever music is appreciated. Tchaikovsky never falls “out of favor” or becomes “passé,” as some composers do. (Writer-physician Anton Chekhov said during Tchaikovsky’s life that Tolstoy occupied the first place in Russian art while Tchaikovsky occupied the second place and Chekhov himself occupied the ninety-eighth.)

Tchaikovsky was born into a large and loving family (four brothers and one sister), in an isolated region of Russian where his father was a civil servant. His mother was rather cold to her children, but Tchaikovsky idolized her. Her death at age forty from cholera was a terrible blow from which he never fully recovered.

Tchaikovsky was morbidly sensitive with the soul of an artist, tending to be withdrawn and introspective. He was a homosexual who openly engaged in homosexual activity from the time he was a young student. (His turbulent inner life played a large part in the music he composed.) While not hiding his sexuality, or denying it, he always believed that it wasn’t “right.” After he became famous and successful, he lived in fear that he would be “exposed” and his career ruined or irreparably damaged. In his efforts to appear “normal,” he entered into a disastrous marriage with an unstable (possibly insane) woman named Antonina Milyukova. It turned out to be the biggest mistake of his life. He only lived with Antonina for two or three months, but she spent the rest of his life antagonizing and threatening him. He referred to her as a “demon” and “spawn of hell.” He could only assuage her, temporarily, by giving her money. She was a bitch on wheels.

About the same time as Tchaikovsky’s disastrous marriage to Antonina, another woman entered his life. Her name was Nadezhda von Meck. She was a wealthy widow, whose deceased husband had made a fortune in railroads. She had an almost obsessive admiration for Tchaikovsky and his music. She idealized him as the perfect artist, the perfect musician, the perfect man. She became his patron, which means she partly subsidized (supported) him while he composed. Madame von Meck was as eccentric in her way as Tchaikovsky was in his. The one condition of her financial support was that the two of them never meet in person. They corresponded for fourteen years, thousands of letters, and were both in the same place at the same time on many occasions, but they never met. Many of the letters they wrote to each other still exist.

Unlike many composers, Tchaikovsky achieved astounding success and popularity during his lifetime. His fame spread from his native Russia to Europe and the United States. Despite his never-ending personal struggles, his output of orchestral masterworks is extraordinary.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky died unexpectedly in St. Petersburg in 1893 at the age of fifty-three. The official account of his death, and the one that was accepted for a century, was that he drank “unboiled water” and died of cholera during an epidemic. However, more than a hundred years after his death, new information came to light which strongly suggests that he deliberately ingested poison to kill himself.

Tchaikovsky, A Biography, by Anthony Holden, is an informative and engaging chronicle of the life and times of Russia’s greatest composer. It’s a long and exhaustively detailed biography, but never too long or too ponderously wordy. If Tchaikovsky’s music “speaks” to you, as it does to me, reading this book and understanding the life of this great man adds a new dimension to enjoyment of his music.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

The House He Lived In

The House He Lived In ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Sid Bone was small for his age. He was the boy in school with the funny clothes: the pants too big and the sweater too small, the shoe with the flapping sole and the holes in his socks. His classmates never invited him to any of their parties because he wasn’t the party type and, anyway, he had a funny smell.

Sid Bone would never grow to manhood. When he was twelve, his liquor-addled mother gave him sleeping pills to make him unconscious and then she wrapped an electrical cord around his neck and strangled him. She just couldn’t take care of a twelve-year-old boy anymore, she said. It cost too much money to feed him and just having a kid underfoot all the time wore on her nerves. Without him, she’d be able to get her life in order, get off the booze, find a decent man. Then, later on, when everything was jake, she’d have another baby and they’d all be happy. Maybe the new one would be a girl who would take care of her in her old age.

After she sobered up a little, she was sorry for what she had done to Sid Bone. She would never have had the courage to do it if she hadn’t been drunk. She sat in her easy chair and blubbered and wailed for a while. Since there was no one to hear her, she let loose with some anguished screams. After she had cried herself out, she gave a little laugh, peed in her pants because she couldn’t get up, and reached for the bottle again.

After a day and a night spent in the chair, drinking and feeling bad about her terrible life, she made herself get up and go into the bathroom and clean up, wash her face, comb the mats out of her hair and put on some clean clothes. She was going to have to call the police. They would send someone out. She needed to make herself look decent and presentable.

She had the story straight in her head. She worked out all the details. Her boy, Sid Bone, had met with a bad accident. She had been sick, sleeping in the other room; she didn’t hear a sound and she wasn’t even sure what happened. When she found him lying on the bed, unconscious, she tried to revive him, but, of course, it was too late. He must have done himself in because the kids at school laughed at him. There could be no other explanation.

For a while, several days at least, Sid Bone didn’t realize he was dead. He woke up in the morning and sleepily went to school as he always did. He thought it was a little funny that his mother wasn’t in any of her usual places, on her bed or sitting at the kitchen table, but he didn’t mind her not being there; he could manage fine on his own without her.

At school, he sat at his desk all day long, as he always did, doing what he was supposed to do: listen to teacher talk, copy problems off the blackboard, read this or that book, get up for recess or lunch. Then when school ended, he walked home as he always did. The next thing he knew, he was getting out of bed in the morning to start his day all over again. He had no recollection of anything in between.

On the fourth day, Sid Bone knew something was different; something had changed. Somebody new was sitting at the desk he had occupied all year. When he went to the front of the room and tried to ask teacher about it, she didn’t seem to see him but instead looked right through him. He turned around and faced the room at large, thirty-two of his classmates, and screamed Hey! in his loudest voice, but nobody looked up or turned their heads in his direction. It was if he no longer existed.

Not knowing what else to do, he went upstairs to the nurse’s office. Miss Faulk should be able to look at him, touch his head and tell what was wrong. She was better than any doctor.

Miss Faulk wasn’t in her office, though. The only person there was a woman he had never seen before, sitting at Miss Faulk’s desk, writing. When he paused in the doorway, she looked up at him and motioned for him to come into the room. He was a little relieved to know that somebody was seeing him, even if it was somebody he didn’t know.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” the woman said, standing up and coming around to the front of the desk. He saw that she was quite short and her face was crisscrossed with tiny lines like a road map.

“You have?” he asked, genuinely surprised. “Do you know me?”

“Well, I know of you. I’m Miss Munsendorfer. I used to be a teacher here a long time ago.”

“In horse-and-buggy days?”

“Not quite that long ago. We had cars then.”

“I was looking for Miss Faulk.”

“She’s not here right now, but I am here.”

“I wanted to see if Miss Faulk could take my temperature or something and see if I might be sick.”

“I think I can tell you you’re not sick.”

“How do you know?”

“You’ll never be sick again.”

“How do you know?”

“You don’t need to come to school anymore, either.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know how best to explain it to you, so I’ll just show you.”

She took him by the hand. Before he knew it, they were outside on the playground and then they were walking down the hill away from the school. Then, in the beat of a heart and the blink of an eye, they were in the church on Windsor Avenue.

“What are we doing here?” Sid Bone asked.

“You’ll see,” Miss Munsendorfer said. “Just be patient.”

The church was full of people, a funeral in progress. There was a closed casket at the front of the church draped in yellow-and-white flowers. All the people in the church looked solemn. Some of them dabbed at their eyes. An old man, a minister, was standing at the pulpit talking about evil in the world and how the only way to accept it is to recognize it as part of God’s plan. The words coming from the minister’s mouth sounded funny as if they were being spoken underwater.

Just when Sid Bone was looking out over the sea of faces in the church, picking out the ones he knew, Miss Munsendorfer touched his hand again and they were outside, moving away from the church and, once again, before he knew what was happening, they were in a different place: they were standing on the street where he lived.

The street was there, of course, but the falling-down house that he lived in with his mother was gone, as if by magic. In its place was bare dirt; even the junk and debris in the yard were gone.

Sid Bone was beginning to catch on. He wasn’t especially surprised the house was gone; he would have been more surprised if it had still been there.

Miss Munsendorfer again took him by the hand and, again, in the beat of a heart and the blink of an eye, they were standing in the hallway of the women’s penitentiary two hundred miles away.

“What is this place?” Sid Bone said. “I don’t like it here.”

Miss Munsendorfer pointed into one of the cells. When Sid Bone turned his head and looked, he saw his mother in the cell, sitting on the bed. She looked a human wreck: dejected, wretched, forlorn. He turned away before he started to cry.

Miss Munsendorfer again took by the hand, standing in that hallway of the women’s penitentiary, and in a flash they were back in the nurse’s office at school. Miss Faulk still wasn’t there.

Sid Bone found himself overpoweringly sleepy. He lay down on the nurse’s cot they kept in the corner for the suddenly ill and Miss Munsendorfer covered him over with an army blanket, tucking him in the way a mother would, with all but the kiss goodnight.

“Are you an angel?” Sid Bone asked her.

“No, I’m not an angel. I’m only here to help you.”

“Okay.”

“But you don’t need my help any more. You can do the rest on your own.”

She patted him on his shoulder and then she was gone.

When he awoke, he was in a place he had never been before. There were flowers and birds and lots of trees; animals of all kinds, but even the lions and bears wouldn’t hurt him because they were tame and gentle; he could walk right up to them and tug at their fur and they would only look at him. There were also people, some of whom he remembered or thought he remembered, but they left him alone whenever he wanted to be left alone. Most surprising of all, it never rained or got dark until he was ready.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp    

Hollywood Babylon ~ A Capsule Book Review

Hollywood Babylon ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The silent screen’s greatest lover, Rudolph Valentino, was married twice, both time to lesbians, and neither marriage was ever consummated.

Movie director William Desmond Taylor was murdered in his Hollywood apartment in 1922. Investigation into his death revealed that he had been living a double life. All his colleagues were suspects in his death but, even with this plethora of potential murderers, the truth was never uncovered. The real murderer took the secret to his/her grave.

Silent screen comedian, jovial Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, must certainly have wished he had never thrown a wild party in a San Francisco hotel room in 1921. The sexual shenanigans at the party led to the death of a trashy “starlet” named Virginia Rappe. Fatty was jailed and charged with first-degree murder in Rappe’s death. He was eventually cleared of the murder charge (after three lengthy trials), but his screen career was finished.

Thelma Todd, twenty-nine-year-old comedic actress (she starred with Laurel and Hardy and the Marx brothers), called the “Ice Cream Blonde,” was found murdered in the garage where she kept her car in 1935. Nobody ever found out what really happened, but Thelma was believed to have had an ongoing feud with gangster Lucky Luciano. Thelma Todd’s murder is one the most baffling unsolved murders in Hollywood history.

Twenty-five-year-old Olive Thomas, called “the most beautiful woman in the world,” was vacationing in Paris in 1920 with her husband Jack Pickford (brother of Mary Pickford) when, after a night of nightclubbing and drinking, she drank mercury from a bottle and died at a Paris hospital several days later. Evidence suggests that her poisoning was unintentional, but the story still persists that she killed herself on purpose.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Ramon Navarro was the biggest star in Hollywood. His most famous role was in the 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur. In 1968, age 69, he was brutally beaten to death in his Hollywood home by a pair of brothers out to rob him. The brothers were brought to justice but received only light sentences.

In 1932, would-be movie actress Peg Entwistle killed herself by climbing to the top of the famous “Hollywood” sign and jumping off. After her death, she became a symbol for Hollywood disillusionment and broken dreams.

Silent screen superstar Charlie Chaplin was quite a dog with the ladies. (Apparently he wasn’t too particular about which ladies.) In the 1920s, he impregnated sixteen-year-old, would-be actress Lita Grey. He did the right thing and married her, but the marriage was a disaster. It turned out that Lita Grey and her dear mama were planning on taking poor old Charlie for every cent he had.

Screen goddess Lana Turner’s sexy bad-boy boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, was a shadowy underworld figure with an Oscar-sized tool in his pants. (Lana found him exciting.) In 1958, he was abusing Lana with his fists, when Lana’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, intervened with a big knife, stabbing pour Johnny to death in Lana’s Beverly Hills mansion. It was eventually ruled a “justifiable homicide,” but Lana and Cheryl experienced much unfavorable press coverage, not to mention the heartache.

Nearly every Hollywood scandal, from the silent era through the 1960s, is covered, however superficially, in the book Hollywood Babylon. It was banned when first published in 1965 but managed somehow to resurface ten years later. People find Hollywood Babylon objectionable because it makes no pretense of journalistic integrity. A lot of the purported “truth” in it is false, exaggerated, scurrilous, sensationalized and unfair. That’s not to say it doesn’t hold your interest from first page to last, though, as long as you read it with the proper attitude.

Copyright 2021 by Allen Kopp    

Son of Stella

Son of Stella ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

From where I sit at my desk I see Logan out the window cutting the grass. Looking like nobody else, he wears loose-fitting khaki shorts with a belt and a white shirt. With his old-fashioned haircut—sheered close on the sides but longer on the top and combed straight back—he might have stepped out of Gunga Din or The Lives of the Bengal Lancers. I wonder, as I have many times during the summer, if he knows how beautiful he is.

The mower cuts off and he comes into the house through the kitchen. I hear him go upstairs and then I hear the shower running in the bathroom. I image the warm water pouring over his arms and chest and down his muscular legs. When he’s finished, he’ll straighten up in the bathroom and hang his towel neatly over the towel rack and take his clothes down to the basement and put them in the washer and pour in the soap and turn it on.

I finish a letter I’m writing and when I go into the living room he’s lying on the couch in his bathrobe. The robe is open and I can see he has nothing on underneath except white briefs. When he hears me coming, he closes the robe partway.

He looks up at me and smiles. “I’m hungry,” he says. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

“Do you want to go out and get something?” I ask.

“No, I’d rather stay here. It’s our last night.”

“Last night?”

“Before mother comes home.”

“Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. She’ll be home tomorrow.”

“I can make some chili,” he says.

“That’s fine with me. Anything. I’m not very hungry.”

“I should probably get dressed before we eat,” he says.

“You don’t have to get dressed on my account,” I say. “You’re fine the way you are.”

He gets up and goes into the kitchen and in a little while I smell the meat cooking for the chili. I lay down on the couch and drift off to sleep for a few minutes.

We don’t have a dinner bell, so when the chili is ready he comes and stands over me and clears his throat. I open my eyes and look up at him.

“Dinner is served,” he says.

I stand up and go into the kitchen and take my place at the kitchen table underneath the cock-a-doodle-doo clock on the wall.

“Where did you learn to cook?” I ask as I taste the chili.

“Living alone. Trying different recipes.”

“This is better chili than my mother ever made.”

“It’s easy. Anybody can do it.”

“Anybody can make chili. The hard part is making it taste good.”

We eat in silence for a few minutes and then he says, “I have some good news.”

“What is it?”

“I was going to wait until mother was here, but I’ll go ahead and tell you.”

“Well, what is it?”

“You know I told you I applied for a teaching job at the University of Louisiana?”

“Yeah.”

“I was hired. They want me to start right away. The fall semester starts in two weeks.”

“Louisiana. It’s hot there. They have hurricanes.”

“I don’t mind that. I’ll be all right.”

“I won’t see you anymore.”

“Sure, you will. You and mother can come and visit.”

I don’t know what else to say, so I shake his hand, congratulate him and we go on eating.

Since he cooked the chili, I wash the dishes and he goes up to his room. In a little while he comes back down, wearing dressy pants and a sporty plaid shirt.

“Going out?” I say.

“Yeah.”

“Have fun.”

I feel a little hurt that he would prefer to go out than stay at home with me on our last night alone, but I know I’m being ridiculous. He’s a grown man and my stepson, and I have nothing to say about where he goes.

I watch an old movie on television with Madge Evans and James Cagney called The Mayor of Hell and when it’s over I take a shower and get into bed and pick up where I left off reading The Confidential Agent by Graham Greene. I read about twenty pages and then I find I have a headache so I put the book down and turn off the light.

In a little while I hear his car in the driveway. I glance at the clock; it’s twenty minutes to twelve. I try to keep from wondering where he’s been for five hours. I lie on my back and take some deep breaths and try to clear my mind of all thought.

I’m barely asleep when a sound in the hallway outside my door wakes me up. I’m annoyed that I’m awake again, when the door to my room opens, light from the hallway spilling in, and I see Logan standing there in his white briefs, hand on the doorknob.

“Anything wrong?” I ask.

He doesn’t answer me, but instead comes around to the other side of the bed, pulls back the covers and gets in beside me.

“What are you doing?” I say.

“Getting into bed with you.”

“Why?”

“Isn’t it what you’ve wanted all summer?” he asks.

He kisses me and I tug at the white briefs.

I don’t need to go into detail about that night except to say it made me happy and I feel good about it. I have no guilt feelings and no fear of anybody finding out. Let them find out. How little do I care.

When I wake up in the morning, Logan’s asleep in the bed beside me. I get out of bed quietly and go downstairs. I feel hungry, as I usually do in the morning, so I scramble eggs and cook bacon in the cast-iron skillet for both of us. In a little while he comes downstairs in his bathrobe, his hair tousled, and sits down at the table. He smiles and we eat silently.

He seems a little distant and preoccupied.

“Any regrets?” I ask.

“Of course not. You?

“None at all.”

“It was inevitable,” he says. “It was always going to happen, at one time or another.”

“Was I that obvious?” I ask.

“Only to me.”

“Are you going to tell mother about it?” he asks.

“I don’t think so. At least not yet.”

“It’s up to you.”

“You don’t mind if I tell her?”

“No.”

“How things have changed in one generation,” I say, flicking a fly away from the orange marmalade.

When Stella arrives home in the middle of the afternoon, she seems glad to see us, but she says she is sick and she wants to go straight to her room and lie down before dinner. The truth is, she has had too many cocktails on the plane.

Logan goes to the store and buys some steaks for dinner. The smell of them cooking fills the house and brings Stella back downstairs.

“Do I smell meat cooking?” she asks. “I didn’t realize I was hungry.”

While we eat, Logan tells Stella all about his new job in Louisiana that will start in less than two weeks.

“So you’ll be leaving us?” she says.

“In a few days.”

“I know you’ll be happy and successful in Louisiana,” she says, a little boozily, “and you’ll meet a wonderful woman in the swamps you’ll be happy to bring home to your mother as your new bride.”

Logan and I exchange significant looks and I take a big gulp of my iced tea.

On Thursday of the next week, Logan loads all his possessions into his small car to begin his long journey. I fill my eyes with him every chance I get because I know it’ll be a long time before I see him again.

He hugs his mother and then he hugs me and gets behind the wheel of his car and, after another round of fussing from Stella, he’s ready to go. Stella and I stand on the sidewalk in front of the house and watch him until he’s almost out of sight.

“It’s bad luck to look until you no longer see the departing person,” I say.

“Who told you that?” Stella asks.

“I don’t remember.”

I don’t know how long it’ll be before I have him with me again, but I only know I will live for that day. I’ve got it bad and that’s not good.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

From Here To Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death ~ A Capsule Book Review

From Here To Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Did you know that 99.9% of people in Japan are cremated since a cemetery plot in Tokyo costs the equivalent of $53,000 American dollars? Did you know that there’s a “body farm” in North Carolina where people can choose to have their bodies “composted” after death? Did you know that the American funeral industry came into being with the sole purpose of selling you a casket? Did you know that, beginning in 2017, more Americans are choosing cremation over conventional burial? Did you know that the American funeral industry fears cremation because it’s cheaper (no embalming and no casket) than burial? Did you know that in Bolivia there are people who pray to human skulls, believing the skulls can intervene for them in heaven?

Did you know that cemeteries that require a casket to be buried in a steel or concrete vault do so to make maintaining the grounds easier? Did you know that in Colorado there’s a small town where you might have a “natural” cremation (as opposed to “industrial” cremation) for as little as $500? Did you know that many cemeteries have added a section for “natural” burial where (un-embalmed) bodies are buried in a wicker basket or a cardboard box? Did you know that, in Victorian times, crowded cemeteries in large European cities might have as many as twenty bodies in one grave and that dead bodies were frequently displaced to make way for somebody else? Did you know that these overcrowded cemeteries exuded noxious odors, especially after rainfall?  Did you know that, in a section of Indonesia, there are people who exhume the bodies of their long-dead relatives, talk to them, dress them, and bring them offerings of food?

These and other interesting nuggets of information are revealed in From Here To Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by author/mortician Caitlin Doughty. She writes on the grimmest of death-related subjects with humor and insight that only a person who works in the “death industry” could have. It’s an interesting, informative, nonfiction book that will expand your knowledge and make you ponder on your own mortality, unless, of course, you are planning on living forever, which I don’t think is a very pleasant prospect for most of us.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp