Shall We Have a Cigarette on It? ~ A Short Story

Shall We Have a Cigarette On It
Shall We Have a Cigarette on It?
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

“This is a lovely old house,” Jerry said, sipping his martini. “How many rooms does it have?”

“I never bothered to count them,” Charlotte said. “There are so many.”

“It isn’t any of your business how many rooms my house has,” Charlotte’s mother said. “That’s an impertinent question.”

“Mother, I thought we agreed that you were going to try to be civil this evening,” Charlotte said.

“I made no such agreement.”

“I apologize, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said with his humble smile. “I had no business asking such a question. It’s just that I admire these old houses so much.”

“Yes, and I’ll bet you’d like to see it knocked down and a parking garage or an office building put in its place!”

“That would be a great pity, ma’am.”

“Or maybe you can see yourself living in it. A life of ease and idleness.”

“Not at all, ma’am.”

Charlotte could see that her mother was determined to make Jerry feel uncomfortable. He would handle it with his customary grace, though, of that she was certain.

“Charlotte tells me she met you on a cruise to South America.”

“That’s right,” Jerry said.

“I don’t approve of cruises on which idle young women with too much money and too much time on their hands indulge themselves.”

“Not everybody on the cruise was rich, mother,” Charlotte said, “and they weren’t all young. I was talking to one middle-aged woman who told me that she and her husband saved for five years to be able to afford it.”

“What were you talking to her for?”

“Well, you know. Too much time on our hands.”

“I’ll bet there was lots of drinking and other activities on board that ship that decent people would rather not know about.”

“No doubt,” Jerry said.

“I suppose Charlotte told you all about herself.”

“As much as I needed to know.”

“Did she tell you that she had a nervous breakdown and, in so doing, was a patient in a sanatorium for almost a year?”


“It was only at the urging or her psychiatrist that I allowed her to go on the cruise at all without a chaperone. He said it was vital for her mental well-being. I never heard such hogwash but I allowed her to go nonetheless.”

“It was very kind of you.”

“I don’t believe in psychiatrists. Most people with mental problems have nothing to do but gain control of themselves and their emotions. When I was young, we weren’t allowed the luxury of nervous breakdowns and special doctors to treat them. We all bucked up and did whatever had to be done!”

“I don’t think Jerry wants to hear all that, mother,” Charlotte said. “We’ve already said all that needs to be said on the subject.”

“I’ll say whatever I want to say and ask whatever questions I want to ask in my own home!”

“No less than you deserve, ma’am,” Jerry said.

“And, under the guidance of her ‘progressive’ psychiatrist, Charlotte changed completely. She became a daughter I no longer recognized.”

“Don’t you think it was change for the better, ma’am?” Jerry asked.

“I do not! When a mother no longer recognizes her daughter, how can that be change for the better?”

“You decide for yourself, Jerry,” Charlotte said. “You saw the picture of what I looked like before.”

“She was fat!” Mrs. Vale said. “Comfortably fat! After her so-called illness, she lost thirty pounds. She changed her hair and eyebrows and began buying expensive clothes which, of course, she expected me to pay for!”

“You seem to forget that I have money of my own,” Charlotte said.

“Everything you have still belongs to me! Don’t you ever forget that! With one stroke of my pen, I could strip you of everything!”

“Yes, but you won’t, though, will you?”

As if on cue, Theda, the maid, appeared in the doorway. “Dinner is ready to be served!” she said, loudly.

“You don’t have to shout, Theda!” Mrs. Vale said. “You’re not announcing train departures.”

“Since there are just the three of us tonight,” Charlotte said, “we’re having dinner in the small dining room.”

“You have more than one dining room?” Jerry asked.

When they were seated at the table that seated fifteen (the small dining room), Theda began serving the dinner, first the soup and then the fish.

“The finest food I ever ate!” Jerry said.

“Don’t think there’s any reason for you to get used to it!” Mrs. Vale said.

“Mother, stop picking on my guest,” Charlotte said. “You needn’t attack him every time he opens his mouth.”

“It’s all right, Charlotte,” Jerry said. “She’s just exercising a mother’s prerogative.”

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s prerogative to be rude.”

“I’m not rude!” Mrs. Vale said. “I’m only being forthright!”

“And an admirable quality it is, too!” Jerry said.

Mrs. Vale gave a tiny smile. Charlotte believed that she was beginning to warm toward him, if ever so slightly.

“And what about you?” Mrs. Vale asked. “Have you had any nervous breakdowns?”

“Not yet,” Jerry said.

“But you will have at some time in the future?”

“He was making a joke, mother,” Charlotte said.

“Well, I want to know something about the men my daughter invites into my home for dinner.”

“What do you want to know about me, Mrs. Vale? You may ask me anything.”

“Are you going to marry Charlotte?”

“I’m already married, you see.”

“So, you’re not just after her for her money?”

He laughed and wiped his mouth. “No,” he said.

“Tell me about this wife of yours. If you’re running around with other women, why doesn’t she give you a divorce?”

“Her religious scruples prevent it. And, anyway, we’ve been separated for a long time.”

“So, you’re married to a woman you’re not living with? Not sharing the same bed?”

“Mother, really!” Charlotte said.

“I haven’t laid eyes on her in two years.”

“Have you and Charlotte been intimate?”

“Jerry, you don’t have to answer that question!” Charlotte said. “Mother, that’s not an appropriate line of questioning. I’m not fifteen years old!”

“You sometimes act as if you were!”

“I think what you want to know is if Jerry and I are serious about each other and how we plan to proceed if we are. Isn’t that it?”

“All right, then, you tell me!”

“Jerry and I are very much in love. We won’t be able to marry for some time, but that’s all right with me. We plan on going abroad and living together.”

“Not on my money you won’t!

“Really, mother, are you going to start in on money again?”

“I won’t have my daughter living in sin with a man she’s not married to!”

“I am of age and I may do whatever I wish.”

“I don’t think you have any real desire to be reduced to a pauper at any age.”

“No need to worry, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said. “I have plenty of money for the two of us to live comfortably.”

“I won’t allow my daughter to blacken her name and the memory of her father by cavorting with a married man.”

“If you don’t mind my saying so, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said, “that seems a hopelessly old-fashioned view to take.”

“Who are you to judge me? You don’t know Charlotte the way I do. You don’t know the family history that’s behind her.”

“Maybe it’s time to forget all that and begin anew.”

“Never! Not as long as I’m still living. I’ll call my lawyer tomorrow morning and have my will changed!”

“You go right ahead, mother,” Charlotte said. “I’ve had enough of your bullyragging and intimidation.”

“So, are you saying you don’t care about my twenty million dollars?”

“You can do whatever you want with it. We can meet with your lawyer and make a few suggestions.”

“So, it doesn’t frighten you anymore when I threaten to disinherit you?”

“Not in the least.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m in love.”

“Love! What could you possibly know about love?”

“Mother, if you don’t stop saying such mean things, I’m going to stick a knife through your heart.”

“You haven’t got the guts!”

“Try me!”

Theda brought in three cups of coffee, along with dessert, and withdrew again to the kitchen.

“No dessert for me,” Charlotte said. “I’m watching my figure.”

“What happened to the little girl who used to eat a whole pie at one sitting?” Mrs. Vale asked.

“She’s all grown up, mother. She’s somebody else now.”

“I’ll eat yours if you don’t want it,” Jerry said. “I love banana cream pie.”

“Watch out you don’t get fat,” Charlotte said.

“I’ve got a ways to go,” he said.

Mrs. Vale drank her coffee and called Theda in from the kitchen to give her another cup. When she was halfway through the second cup, her eyes closed, she gave a little shudder and fell forward. Her head banged loudly on the table and she fell onto the floor in a heap. Charlotte and Jerry sat quite still, Charlotte sipping her coffee and Jerry eating the pie.

After a couple of minutes, Theda opened the door to the kitchen a few inches and peeked around the edge of it. “Can I come in?” she asked.

“Yes, please do, Theda,” Charlotte said.

“Did it work?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. “I don’t see her breathing.”

“One of us should check to make sure,” Jerry said.

Theda put the tips of her fingers to Mrs. Vale’s neck. “I don’t feel no pulse,” she said.

After Jerry and Theda had pulled Mrs. Vale away from the table and laid her on her back on the floor, Theda put her ear to the old woman’s chest. “I don’t hear no heartbeat, neither,” she said. “You’d better listen for yourself, Miss Charlotte.”

Charlotte took off her earring and leaned over until her ear was touching the sunken chest. “She’s quite dead!” she said with a smile.

“Ah!” Jerry said. “Success!”

“Glory be!” Theda said. “It sure enough worked!”

“She really was a vile old woman,” Jerry said. “You didn’t exaggerate to the slightest degree, did you? But wherever did you find such an effective poison?”

“We Boston spinsters have our secrets too, you know,” Charlotte said.

“I won’t shed no tears over her!” Theda said. “She sure was mean to me! There’s never been a day since I worked here that I didn’t want to kill her myself!”

“And, Theda, you must never breathe a word of this to anybody!” Charlotte said. “You do understand that, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am! You don’t ever have to worry about me! I didn’t see nothin! I didn’t hear nothin’ and I don’t know nothin’! Forever and forever, a-men!”

“And I’ll give you enough money so you’ll never have to work hard again. You can go back home and do whatever you want for as long as you live.”

“I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate it, ma’am! I’m gonna buy me a dozen pairs of silk stockings and some gardenia perfume. It sure do smell elegant!”

“You’ll be able to buy anything you want now.”

“And who knows? I might even find me another man to marry.”

“The field will be wide open for you now,” Jerry said.

Charlotte and Jerry went into the library, Charlotte’s favorite room in the house. She went to the French doors that opened onto the terrace and opened them. The room was instantly filled with night smells from the garden.

“Just think!” Jerry said. “Free of that old buzzard at last!”

“Yes, finally, free of all encumbrances,” Charlotte said.

“I was thinking we might live here, at least for a while.”

“I don’t think so,” Charlotte said. “I want to get away, go abroad somewhere. There are too many unhappy memories for me in this house. Wherever I turn, I’ll always see mother there.”

“Of course, darling. Whatever you want.”

“Tomorrow I’ll call everybody and tell them mother’s dead. We’ll plan an elaborate funeral, of course, and I want you to be there by my side.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Jerry said. “I’ve been thinking, though.”


“Shouldn’t you have your mother cremated? You wouldn’t want anybody suspecting poison at any time in the future. They could have her body disinterred and make a big fuss over trying to find traces of it in her system.”

“I’ve been told by an expert that the poison is absolutely untraceable and no traces of it remain in the body.”

“It seems you’ve covered all the bases,” Jerry said. “Brilliantly planned and executed, if I may say so!”

“And the twenty million dollars?” Charlotte said. “It’s all mine now.”

“I’m getting hard!”

 “I won’t have to listen to her threats ever again about cutting me off without a penny.”

“Too wonderful to be believed!”

“It is rather wonderful, isn’t it?”

“Shall we have a cigarette on it?”

He put two cigarettes in his mouth, lit them together, and handed one to Charlotte. Her eyes glistened with tears as she took it from him.

Standing there, side by side, framed in the doors to the garden, they looked up at the sky. A half-moon was just visible over the treetops, surrounded by a million diamond-like stars.

“And will we be happy?” he asked.

“Oh, Jerry!” she said. “Let’s not ask for the moon! We have the stars!”

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

The Way of All Flesh ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Way of All Flesh book cover
The Way of All Flesh
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

English author Samuel Butler lived from 1835 to 1902. His most famous book, the novel The Way of All Flesh was first published in 1903. It is a highly regarded and influential work of English literature, number twelve on the Modern Library’s list of the hundred greatest books in English of the twentieth century.

The principal character in The Way of All Flesh is Ernest Pontifex, a middle-class youth born in 1835 to a country clergyman and his wife, Theobald and Christina Pontifex. As a father, Theobald lacks any insight into how to deal with his son Ernest. He is overbearing, unreasonable and feckless. He expects Ernest to embrace the life that he himself has laid out for him. Ernest, however, proves a disappointment to his father at every turn as he grows into manhood. He isn’t good at anything and isn’t interested in anything. He attends Cambridge University, where he achieves some kind of happiness for the first time in his life. After college, he becomes a clergyman because it’s what his father wanted him to do, but he finds after a while that he despises it. Every young clergyman needs a wife, but he would “rather be dead” than married to any of the ladies he knows.

Edward Overton is Ernest’s godfather and the narrator of the novel. He sees how Ernest’s father treats him and sympathizes with him. He admits that he doesn’t like Ernest’s parents any more than Ernest does. There are times when he is Ernest’s only friend.

As a young clergyman, Ernest decides he’d like to mix with the lower classes. He rents a room in a disreputable neighborhood and begins to rub shoulders with the hoi-polloi. He runs into some trouble with a young woman and is accused of a near sexual assault (handled in the story in a very vague way). He is sentenced to six months hard labor. On arriving at prison, however, he becomes ill with brain fever and spends most of his prison sentence in the prison hospital.

When he is released from prison, he meets a girl he knew before named Ellen. She worked for his parents. He thinks he is in love with her, but that’s only because he doesn’t know her. After they get married, he leaves the clergy and he and Ellen opened a little tailor shop. (He learned tailoring in prison.) Ernest at this time severs all connection with his parents.

Opening a tailoring ship with Ellen as his wife really wasn’t such a good idea. He learns things about Ellen that he didn’t know before. She is a drunk and thief and is drinking up all the profits. He discovers after a couple of terrible years that he and Ellen aren’t really married. She was married before and her marriage with her former husband still stands. Her marriage to Ernest is happily null and void.

Ernest’s aunt Alethea leaves him a modest fortune upon her death, but she doesn’t want Ernest to know about it (it will kill his initiative) and doesn’t want him to get the money until he is twenty-eight. He is pleasantly surprised when he turns twenty-eight and with his newly found wealth finds a measure of happiness and success as a writer.

The Way of All Flesh is unusual for its time because it’s a repudiation of Victorian values. The novel’s protagonist rejects the world he was born into. He rejects his parents’ (especially his father’s) narrow worldview. He repudiates his religion. He doubts the existence of God. He repudiates marriage. He repudiates business and the pursuit of money. It was a groundbreaking novel, but one that is not always easy to love. The story is interesting enough, but Samuel Butler frequently interrupts the story for dry philosophical asides that have nothing (very little) to do with the story. That complaint aside, it’s an interesting novel and one that is well worth the time and considerable effort it takes to read it.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

The People on the Ground ~ A Short Story

The People on the Ground image 1
The People on the Ground
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

From where I sit at my desk I see Bram out the window cutting the grass. He wears loose-fitting khaki shorts with a belt and a white shirt tucked into the shorts. I mean, who cuts the grass wearing a white shirt?

With his old-fashioned haircut—sheered very close on the sides but longer on the top and combed straight back—he might have stepped out of another time and place; he might be the Arrow Collar Man from the 1930s. I wonder, as I have many times during the summer since he came to stay with us, if he knows how beautiful he is.

In a little while I hear the mower cut off and he comes into the house quietly. Then I hear the shower running upstairs in the bathroom. I imagine the spray of warm water over his chest and arms. I finish some work and when I go into the front room he is lying on the couch in his bathrobe with his eyes closed. The robe is open enough that I can see his underpants.

He opens his eyes when I come into the room. “What do you want for dinner, Tommy?” he asks.

“I don’t care. We might go out if you want.”

“I don’t think so. I’d rather stay home. I’m a little tired. I don’t feel like making myself presentable to go out.”

“Fine with me.”

“I can whip up something for us to eat. You know I can cook a meal from practically nothing.”

 “Really, you don’t have to cook for me,” I say. “I’m not even very hungry.”

 “I don’t mind.”

I’m sitting in the back yard doing trying to keep a mosquito from lighting on my arm, when he comes out and tells me dinner is on the table. I notice right away that he has changed into crisp black pants and a red shirt with stripes. I want to say something about how neat he always looks, but I hesitate before I can get the words out and the moment is gone.

He pours wine into my glass and cuts a huge chunk of steak in two that he has broiled and puts half of it on my plate. “I think you like it a little pink,” he says. “That’s the way I like it too.”

I take a bite of the meat and after I’ve swallowed it I see he is looking at me.

“I have some news,” he says, “to brighten your day.”

“What news is that?”

“I’ll be going away by the end of August. The job I wanted in California has come through for me. I start in two weeks.”

“Why would that brighten my day?”

“You must be sick and tired of having me around.”

“Not at all.” I want to say more, but the words become tangled in my brain before I can get them out.

“I’m sure mother will be glad to hear I’m finally getting somewhere with my life,” he says. “I was determined to be gone by my twenty-fifth birthday.”

“That’s in September, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I’m not getting any younger.”

“You’re still young enough that you don’t need to worry about age.”

“I thought I’d be farther along by now.”

“Everybody thinks that. The thing is not to be so impatient. Just let it happen. It’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen.”

“You’re so wise,” he says.

“Not at all. And it’s not good news that you’ll be going away. Weemsy and I have loved having you here. You’ve been a lot of company for me when she’s away on her business trips.”

“I thought you liked being alone.”

“I do like being alone, but I also like having you here.”

“Why did you marry her?”


“I said, why did you marry my mother?”

I was a little surprised by the question and didn’t know how to answer it.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I didn’t want to be alone, I guess.”

“That’s not a very good reason.”

“Why does anybody marry anybody?”

“Probably more for convenience than anything else.”

“Yes, I find it very convenient to be married to Weemsy. She minds her own business and doesn’t ask me a lot of questions.”

When we’re finished eating, he stands up. “I think I will go out for a little while this evening,” he says.

“All right.”

“You don’t mind being here all alone?”

“Of course not. I’ll wash the dishes for starters.”

“You’re a prince,” he says, and then he’s gone.

While I’m loading the dishes into the dishwasher, I can’t help but wonder where he might be going and who he might be going to see, which, of course, is absolutely none of my business. I’m only a stepfather. Not a parent at all.

I watch an old movie from the 1940s on TV and after that I take a shower and get into bed and begin reading a massive novel from the library that I don’t like very much and am thinking about giving up on.

About 11:30 I hear Bram’s car pull into the driveway and after that, little sounds, a creak on the stairs, that tell me I’m not alone in the house. I try, once again, to keep from wondering where he’s been for five hours. I turn off the light and look at the cracks in the ceiling that look like the coastline of South America.

When I married Bram’s mother eight years ago (my second marriage, her fourth), Bram was in high school and living with his father about three hundred miles away. He came to visit us a few times during summer and the holidays. He was a gangly teen boy with a spotty complexion. I hardly gave him a passing thought. I steered clear of him and I’m sure he felt the same way about me.

We didn’t see much of him during his college years. I would speak to him briefly on the phone when he called to talk to Weemsy. I gave him little thought, as always.

After college he got a job teaching high school English, but he gave it up after a couple of years and went into business with an acquaintance. The business failed and the partners went bankrupt. Bram could no longer afford the expensive apartment he was keeping. Weemsy, taking pity on him, told him he could move in with us until his finances improved. He was happy to have a comfortable place to stay, but he promised it would only be for the summer. He would be on his own again by Labor Day, he said.

I wasn’t enthusiastic about having Bram as a semi-permanent house guest, but he it turned out to be a good thing for me. He helped with the housework, cooking, laundry and grocery shopping. He was neat and orderly, quiet when I wanted him to be, and a good conversationalist. He had a surprising interest in politics, and he and I were of the same political stripe.

I began to think about him a lot, to think about how he and I might be together always. Maybe Weemsy will decide she likes Japan so much that she doesn’t ever want to leave it. Maybe Weemsy’s plane will go down over the ocean, with no trace ever found. Less tragic, maybe Weemsy will fall in love with a co-worker and decides she no longer wants to be married to me.

I’m thinking these thoughts and a hundred other things, wondering how I’m ever going to get to sleep, when the door to my room opens, soundlessly. When I look up, I see Bram standing in the doorway in his underwear.

“Anything wrong?” I ask.

“No,” he says.

He comes around to the other side of the bed, shucks out of his underwear, pulls back the covers and gets into bed beside me.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Mother will be home tomorrow. This is our last chance.”

“Last chance for what?”

“For what you’ve wanted to do all summer but didn’t.

“Oh. What makes you think…”

“The time for questions is past.”

He laughs, settling himself in the bed beside me.

“Don’t you have pajamas?” I ask.

“I do but I’d rather sleep naked.”

“Suit yourself. I don’t mind.”

My heart is pounding and I think I’m going to die. I don’t even know what I’m saying.

I reach for him and kiss him the way I always wanted to kiss him and run my hands along those taut muscles. Just to touch him in that way is more than I ever hoped for.

When I wake up in the morning in a tangle of bedclothes, he’s asleep in the bed beside me, inches away. I get out of bed without making a sound and go downstairs. I boil the water for tea and begin to make scrambled eggs and bacon for two. In a little while he comes downstairs in his bathrobe, his hair tousled, and sits down at the table.

“How are you feeling this morning?” I ask.

“I feel fine,” he says.

I put his mug of tea on the table in front of him with the teabag still in it. He smiles at me for an instant.

“Any regrets?” I ask.

“About what?”

“About what happened last night.”

“Of course not. Do you have any regrets?”


“I was right, wasn’t I?” he says.

“You were right about many things.”

“What time does mother’s flight get in?”

“Ten after twelve.”

“That gives me plenty of time. I want to take a shower before we go.”

“You’re going with me to pick her up?”

“Of course.”

I’m pleased that he’s going with me. The airport always intimidates me a little. I can face it better if I have somebody with me.

“I’m thinking about telling Weemsy,” I said.

“Telling her what?”

“About what you and I did last night.”

“Suit yourself. It doesn’t make any difference to me.”

“It’s all right with you if I tell her?”

“Of course.”

“How do you think she’ll take it?”

“She won’t be surprised.”

“It is infidelity. You don’t think she’ll be concerned that I was unfaithful to her?”

“Let’s not play games, Tommy. We’re bigger than that. She doesn’t care what I do. She doesn’t care what you do.”

The traffic is all snarled up on the way to the airport, but we make it with time to spare. We make our way through the crowd to the appropriate gate.

Bram stands out in the crowd. He’s wearing a red shirt and black shorts.  Red is definitely his color. I’m proud to be seen with him.

Weemsy greets me tepidly, even though she’s been gone for more than a month this time. I can tell she’s been drinking on the plane. Her words are slurred. I smell the alcohol when she leans in to give me a little peck on the cheek.

“How is everything at home?” she asks.

“Fine,” I say.

I keep my eyes on Bram as he walks in front of us to get Weemsy’s suitcase. I should be happy my wife has returned safely from an overseas trip, but all I can think about is how long it will be before I can be alone with him again.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

Alexander Hamilton and the Battle of Yorktown ~ A Capsule Book Review

Alexander Hamilton and the Battle of Yorktown book cover
Alexander Hamilton and the Battle of Yorktown
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Alexander Hamilton was born, impoverished and out of wedlock, on the island of St. Croix in the West Indies in 1755. Through his ambition, intelligence and industry, he immigrated to the United States and, still in his twenties, became a pivotal figure in the American struggle for independence from Great Britain.

Though he wasn’t a native-born American, there wasn’t anybody more eager to see this young country gain its independence than Alexander Hamilton. He rose through the ranks in George Washington’s army in an advisory capacity, eventually serving as Chief of Staff. Washington recognized his intelligence and his competence and always looked to him for strategic advice.

In the decisive Battle of Yorktown, Hamilton assumed more of a military role rather than an administrative one. He bravely led the surprise advance on General Cornwallis’ British army. American forces were able to gain the upper hand, thanks in part to the element of surprise, and routed the British army. It was the decisive battle of the war and meant that the United States would indeed gain its independence from the foreign invader.

Alexander Hamilton was influenced by Age of Enlightenment reasoning. While Washington and Jefferson saw slavery as a necessity to maintain a vibrant agrarian economy, Hamilton was an abolitionist. He believed that black soldiers who fought for the American cause should be given their freedom.

Alexander Hamilton and the Battle of Yorktown by Phillip Thomas Tucker is a minutely detailed account of the important and decisive Battle of Yorktown, which occurred in October 1781. Going into that battle, British forces under Lord Cornwallis had the upper hand in the Revolutionary War. Many people believed that, if Cornwallis could secure the country in the south, victory was easily within his grasp.

The British had built an impressive fort on the York River, made up of earthen fortifications called redoubts. The redoubts had wooden spikes sticking out of them, making them appear formidable and impenetrable. Unknown to the British inside the fortress, American soldiers were gathering in the dark to strike. It was an ingenious plan that caught the British off-guard and worked to perfection. Knowing no fear, Alexander Hamilton led one of the American regiments in the battle and emerged as one of the true heroes of the Revolutionary War. It was the moment of military success that Hamilton had longed for.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

Gluteus Maximus ~ A Short Story

Gluteus Maximus image 5

Gluteus Maximus
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

School let out at three-fifteen. It took me fifteen minutes to walk home, about five blocks. I was always told to come straight home. Don’t dawdle. Don’t fool around. I was seven years old.

My mother had started working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office, so I knew she wouldn’t be home until later in the afternoon. I didn’t mind being on my own. I always liked it. I liked to get some cookies or potato chips or something and then not have anybody around while I watched cartoons on TV.

On a day in the middle of October, my father was sleeping when I came home, though, so I couldn’t turn on the TV. Even with the sound turned all the way down, he said, it kept him awake. Anything I did might keep him awake. If I opened a drawer, he would hear it and get mad. I could be quiet if I had to, but it was always so boring, like being in jail.

He was working night shift; he would get up about five-thirty and get ready for work. Can you imagine working all night and sleeping all day? It suited him somehow.

I went in my room and laid on my bed for a while. I tried reading a comic book but I was too restless after being in school all day. Then I went into the kitchen and played with the phone. I called time and temperature and then I called the bowling alley and hung up when they answered.

While I was in the kitchen, I had a snack. I ate a cold hot dog right out of the package. I liked the taste. Then I ate a couple of marshmallows and a couple of chocolate cookies. My mother always told me not to eat anything when I got home from school because it would spoil my appetite and I wouldn’t want any dinner. I wouldn’t want any dinner anyway unless we had noodles or macaroni and cheese.

I was bored and starting to get sleepy. I could have gone to sleep until my mother got home from work, but I didn’t want to be too much like my father. My mother would think I was sick if she came home and I was asleep.

I was looking around for something to help me pass the time, when I heard voices out in front of the house. I went to the front door and opened it a couple of inches and looked out. There were a couple of police cars and an ambulance at the house across the street. People were standing out on the sidewalk to watch.

I had to know what was going on. I ventured out into the front yard. I couldn’t see much from there, so I went out to the street. I had to look around all the tall people.

At the house across the street, a couple of uniformed police officers stood sentinel on either side of the door. The door was open. I was just standing there, trying to see what was happening, when Miss Katz from up the street approached me.

“You’d better get back inside!” she said. “There might be more shooting!”

“I just wanted to see,” I said.

“Where’s your mother?”

“She hasn’t come home from work yet.”

“What about your pa?”

“He’s taking a nap.”

“Better go back in.”

“What happened?”

“Miss Burford shot her old man.”

“Her father?”

“No! She shot her husband, Harry Burford.”

“Did she kill him?”

“I don’t know. That’s what we’re all waiting to find out.”

Two police officers brought Miss Burford out of the house with her hands cuffed behind her back. She was bawling but not saying anything. They put her in the back of a police car and drove away, not too fast but with the red lights spinning. Then a little while later they brought Harry Burford out of the house on a stretcher. He clearly wasn’t dead but didn’t look too happy. His face was pale and his eyes were closed. They loaded him into the back of the ambulance, slammed the doors shut, and drove off with the siren going.

“I think he looks like he might die,” Miss Katz said.

“Why’d she shoot him?” I asked.

“She probably found him fooling around with another woman. She shot him in both cheeks!”

“She shot him in the face?”

“No, she shot him in the ass cheeks. The butt!”


“He probably won’t be sitting comfortably for the rest of the year.”

“What will they do to her?”

“I think they should lock her up for a good long time, don’t you? If old Harry dies, they’ll probably put her in the penitentiary for life. She always was crazy if you ask me. She just has a funny look about her. She’s the kind of woman that when you see her coming you feel like turning around and running.”

“She always seemed okay to me,” I said.

“That’s because you’re a child. She wouldn’t dare do anything crazy to a child.”

“Well, I’d better get back inside.”

“What time does your mama come home?”

“Not for a while yet.”

“Are you hungry? I can fix you a baloney sandwich if you want to come home with me. You can sit with me, if you want, until your mama comes home.”


She didn’t exactly hold me by the hand, but she kept her hand on my shoulder as we walked the short distance to her house. We went into her kitchen and she set me down at the kitchen table.

“Your house is pretty,” I said.

Her kitchen didn’t look anything like ours. Everything was shiny and clean-looking. Everything was in its place. I didn’t know much about Miss Katz. I think she used to have a husband, but I don’t know what happened to him. He must have died. I know she had a son who died in a war.

Do you like baloney?” she asked me.


“Do you like mayonnaise?”

“I love mayonnaise!”

She fixed the sandwich and set it on a plate in front of me. It was two slices of baloney, with one slice of cheese in between, on fresh bread, with lots of mayonnaise. It was delicious.

“I used to know your mother a long time ago when she was a little girl,” Miss Katz said. “I worked in the cafeteria at school when she was just a little thing. She had the prettiest blond curls.”

“She works in a doctor’s office now,” I said.

“Life plays some dirty tricks sometimes, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does.”

“What about that father of yours?”

“He’s working nightshift tonight. When I got home from school, he was sleeping so I wasn’t supposed to make any noise. He didn’t even know when I came outside. He gets up to go to work about the time my mother comes home. Sometimes I wish he would stay gone all the time.”

She made some sympathetic noises in her throat and then put a bowl of fruit in front of me.

“Do you have any Pepsi?” I asked.

When I got home, my father had already left for work. My mother was in the kitchen.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“I was talking to Miss Katz. Did you hear what happened?”


“Miss Burford shot Mr. Burford.”

“Shot him where?”

“In both ass cheeks! That’s got to hurt!”

“Who told you that?”

“Miss Katz. I was standing there when the police brought Miss Burford out of the house in handcuffs! Then they brought Mr. Burford out on a stretcher and took him away in the ambulance! If he dies, Miss Burford will go to the penitentiary.”

“I want you to stay away from those people! I always suspected something funny was going on with them.”

“I don’t ever go near them,” I said.

She fixed chow mein with rice for dinner. I wasn’t hungry by then, but I picked at it with my fork and tried to eat a little of it. I didn’t want to hurt my mother’s feelings.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

The Last of Us ~ A Capsule TV Review

The Last of Us image x
The Last of Us
~ A Capsule TV Review by Allen Kopp ~

The Sunday night HBO series, The Last of Us, is set in a dystopian world of present-day America. Civilization is ravaged, America is in tatters, and the people remaining are in big trouble. What happened, you may ask? Ever hear the word “pandemic”? (Of course you have!)  In 2003, twenty years before the action of the story takes place, the Outbreak occurred. In one weekend, the world (or most of the people in it) was decimated by a parasitic fungus known as Cordyceps.

Cordyceps is a nasty thing from hell. It wasn’t supposed to infect humans, but it did. Since it’s a parasite, it takes over the host (whoever he or she might be) and eventually kills them, in a matter of days or weeks. While the infected are free to roam, they are ravaging, horrifying beasts, with things like tree roots growing from their heads and bodies. The one objective of the infected is to infect those who are not yet infected by and turn them into more horrifying beasts. Is there any antidote or cure? Not that anybody knows.

We have to have a main character to deal with this mess, don’t we? He’s a middle-aged man named Joel Miller. He’s stolid, square-jawed, and reluctantly heroic. He has known plenty of heartache. On the day of the Outbreak, he lost his teenage daughter. Fast-forward twenty years to 2023. He has a girlfriend named Tess.

Joel and Tess have been living the best they could in such a horrible world. Well, Tess is quickly dispatched and Joel ends up with a fourteen-year-old girl in his care named Ellie. How he happened to have Ellie with him isn’t fully explained, but I suppose it will be explained further in future episodes. He has a brother named Tommy who is out west somewhere, presumably in the state of Wyoming. He is trying to get to his brother because he has heard he’s in trouble. He’s taking Ellie with him because there’s some kind of clinic out there that might be able to use her in finding a cure for the Cordyceps. She has been bitten by one of the infected—don’t you know?—but didn’t come to be infected herself. It might be that she, unlike anybody else, has natural immunity. She might (or might not) be the hope of mankind. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed.

We’ve seen stories before like The Last of Us set in a post-apocalyptic world, so it isn’t anything entirely new. (Did anybody see the movie The Road or read the novel? Did anybody see the movie The Book of Eli?) People seem to be fascinated with end-of-the-world stories. It’s speculative, horror, science fiction and fantasy all rolled into one. Not for eight-year-olds.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

The Planet Factory ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Planet Factory book cover image 2
The Planet Factory
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Do you know what an “exoplanet” is? I didn’t know, either, until I read this book, The Planet Factory. An exoplanet is any planet outside our Solar System that orbits a star, the way the Earth orbits the Sun. An “exomoon” is a moon that orbits an exoplanet. So far, there have been more than 5,000 exoplanets located and identified. The search for exoplanets has exploded in the past ten years due to advanced technology and bigger, stronger telescopes.

Planet scientists are always hoping to find a planet that is sufficiently Earth-like. The search for such planets reveals just how unique and unusual the Earth is. So far, no exoplanets have been discovered that are significantly like the Earth. All the elements that combine to make the Earth the perfect spot for life to proliferate are just not that easy to find.

When it comes to space and space travel, the main thing people want to know is whether or not there is life outside of the Earth and, if so, what kind of life. Is there plant life on other planets? Animal life? If there a possibility we will ever encounter a race of beings on other planets with a technology advanced enough to recognize our own and respond in kind?

Outside our own little Solar System of eight planets orbiting the Sun (there used to be nine planets, but Pluto was demoted to a non-planet), are unimagined vastnesses of space. There are potentially billions of planets that might harbor life. The problem is that they are so far away that they are too difficult to observe. At the current rate of space travel, it would take us about 700,00 years to travel four lightyears. (A lightyear is the distance light travels in one year.) We need to figure out a way to circumvent the laws of physics to travel much, much faster than we do now.

The Planet Factory is not an easy book to read for the non-scientific reader. It’s full of statistics, measurements, distances, technical terms, and scientific data. Some of it is extremely interesting, such as the material about Jupiter’s moons and the search for life on other planets. I read every word but didn’t grasp a lot of it. I slogged ahead, though, and made my way through the entire book. I was glad to get to the end.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

Single Man in Large House ~ A Short Story

Single Man in Large House image 5
Single Man in Large House
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

They both died in their rooms upstairs, first the mother and then the father, only six months apart. The father was eighty-eight and the mother ninety-one. They left behind their only son, Gunter, age fifty-four. He was a gray, colorless man, a man without attachments or issue. He was a man who, in certain respects, barely existed.

Now that his parents were dead, the fourteen-room house belonged to him and him alone. For the first time in his life, he had absolute freedom. He could stay in bed all day if he wanted to, or eat dinner in front of the television, watching cartoons or old westerns. He could indulge any whim, such as putting on lipstick or wearing his mother’s wig just to see what it looked like.

The top floor of the old house was very hot during the summer. He liked to go up to the small bedroom all the way at the top of the house, spread a blanket on the floor, and sleep naked in front of the open windows. With the lights turned off, it was like sleeping outside. He would listen to the nightbirds and small animals doing whatever they do at night. He could feel the scented breeze wafting through the trees. The best part was when there was a thunderstorm with lighting, wind and rain. He would feel a tingle all over his body, as if he was part of the storm without a single drop of water touching him.

After his mother died, he went on a spending spree. He had always wanted a tuxedo, so he bought one, even though he didn’t need one and had no place to wear it. He would be buried in it, if nothing else.

He bought an expensive couch and matching chair and had the trash collector take away the old couch and chair. He bought all new linens for bath and bed, all new underwear and socks. He bought himself six pairs of silk pajamas in a variety of colors, including pink. He bought wine glasses and an expensive set of china. The list went on and on.

He always hated going to the grocery store and buying food. He never knew what to buy. There were too many choices and he wasn’t good at making decisions. He would end up buying impractical items, such as a three-pound box of candy or four bottles of wine because he thought the labels were pretty. After one trip to the store, he realized he hadn’t really bought anything he could eat for dinner, so he sat down and made out a list and went back to the store and bought only the things he had written down.

One day when he was in the store, surrounded by crowds of people and at least two screaming babies, the idea came to him to hire a woman as cook and housekeeper. He could afford it. It would have to be an older woman, a motherly type. She could vacuum the stairs, wash the clothes, dust the furniture and buy all the food. Then after she had bought the food she could carry it home and cook it. It was a wonderful idea and it put a crazy smile on his face.

The next day he placed an ad in the newspaper: Single man in large house seeks experienced cook, housekeeper for light housekeeping duties. Since he hated talking to people on the phone, he asked interested applicants to respond to a post office box. Within a week, he received sixteen replies.

After carefully reviewing all the applicants, he chose one out of all the others. She was an overweight, forty-five-year-old widow, an Austrian woman named Alma Bergner. She had lots of experience and glowing references, but, above all, she knew how to make genuine apple strudel. She agreed to his terms, he offered her a generous salary, and she started to work the next day.

The first day he gave her a list of items he wanted from the grocery store. When she returned from the store, she put away the groceries, made a delicious stew for dinner and did all the laundry that had been piling up for weeks. She vacuumed the stairs, cleaned the upstairs bathroom, and organized the kitchen pantry. He was so impressed with her quietly effective way of working that he wondered why he had waited as long as he did to hire her. She was unlike his own mother as a pig is from a giraffe.

One night, in the middle of the night, he awoke with the feeling that he wasn’t alone. Startled, he came partly awake and sat up in the bed.

“Who’s there?” he said.

He heard a muffled voice but couldn’t make out any words.

“If there’s anybody there, you’d better identify yourself!”

“It’s me, Vera, your mother,” a raspy voice said, and when he focused his eyes on the space at the foot of his bed, he could indeed see his mother standing there.

“My mother’s dead!” he said.

“Yes, my body is dead,” she said, a little more coherently, “but I’ve never left your side this whole time.”

He reached out to turn on the lamp beside the bed, but the lamp had vanished. It was like a dream he had when he was eight years old.

“Go away and leave me alone!” he said.

He covered up his head, but her voice only became louder.

“Look who’s giving the orders now!” she said. “Mr. Big Shot!”

“I’m so glad you’re dead!” he said. “I thought you’d never die!”

“I want that woman gone!”

“What woman?”

“That foreign woman!”

“Do you mean Alma?”

“Do you know she’s stealing from you?”

“She wouldn’t do that!”

“I saw her take a stick of butter out of the refrigerator and put it in her purse as she was leaving. Another time I saw her steal a stamp from your desk.”

“Why don’t you stop spying on people and stick to the business of being dead?”

“She’s going to poison you when she gets the chance.”

What? Why would she do that?”

“She’s going to get you to marry her and then she’s going to poison you so she can have the house.”

“Please believe me, mother, when I tell you I have absolutely no interest in being married to Alma or anybody else!”

“She’ll trick you.”

“She wouldn’t do that.”

“I know what she’s like!”

“All right. I’ll ask her tomorrow if she plans to marry me and then kill me so she can take the house.”

“You don’t think she’d tell you the truth, do you?”

“Not everybody’s a liar like you are, mother! Some people actually have some integrity.”

“I know how much you’re paying her and it’s far more than she deserves! You’re throwing my money away! Before you know it, there won’t be any left!”

“It’s my money now, mother! You have nothing to say about it!”

Just then, Tom, his father, came stumbling into the room. He looked disheveled and confused. He was wearing what looked like a choir robe.

“What’s all the turmoil about?” he said, rubbing his head. “You woke me from my nap.”

Gunter groaned. “Get out of here, both of you!” he screamed. “It’s the middle of the night. You’re both dead and you’re both crazy! Now that I’m finally free of the pair of you, I won’t have you intruding on my life and on my privacy! I won’t have you barging into my bedroom at all hours, interrupting my sleep!”

“You wouldn’t even have this house if it wasn’t for me!” his father said. “You wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for me!”

“He’s right, as much as I hate to admit it!” his mother said. “You wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for us!”

“You’ve both lived your lives and now it’s time for me to live mine!”

“I can cut off your money, you ingrate!” she said.

“How are you going to do that, mother? You’re dead!”

His mother and father both faded into the wall then, and that was the end of the dream, if a dream is what it was.

A few days later Gunter went downtown to see his lawyers. He was gone all morning and when he got home he had a terrible shock waiting for him. Alma was lying unconscious at the foot of the stairs. When he saw she was still breathing, he called an ambulance. They came and took her away and a few hours later she died at the hospital of a broken neck.

Nobody could be really sure what happened because she was alone at the time, but apparently Alma had tripped when she was vacuuming and fell the entire length of the stairs. After a thorough investigation, police ruled it an accident. Gunter wanted to tell them that there might be more to the “accident” than there appeared to be, but he knew that doing so would raise questions for which he had no answers.

Alma had no family living in the United States, so Gunter paid for her funeral and burial. He couldn’t help feeling at least partly responsible for her death.

Three days after Alma’s death, when Gunter got up in the morning, on his bathroom mirror was scrawled this message in lipstick: It was no accident. You’re next.

Now, why would a dead mother threaten to kill her living son? That was the foremost question in his mind. He had no answer, except that his mother and father were awfully strange when they were alive. Not like anybody else. Outside the norm. They wanted him dead, or gone, so they could have the house to themselves to haunt on their own. He, alive as he was, was in their way. He didn’t fit in with their future plans. His whole life, he had felt he wasn’t wanted, that he was an inconvenience. Looking back on his life, he wondered why one of them, his mother or his father, hadn’t killed him at some point in his childhood. It would have been so easy when he was a baby.

A few nights later he received a message in a dream: Look in the attic.

His mother never threw anything away. If there was something she no longer needed, she didn’t discard it the way most people would; she stored it in the attic.

He hadn’t been in the attic for years. When he opened the door, the cobwebs swirled and the mice ran for cover.

There were trunks, boxes, and barrels of stuff he had never seen before; shelves loaded with wrapped parcels. It was like opening the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh. He didn’t know where to begin, so he started with the nearest thing at hand, an old-fashioned trunk, what they used to call a portmanteau.

The trunk was full of books and papers on the subject of Satan worship, witchcraft, demonology, spells and incantations, black sabbath. His mother’s name was on all the books. He never had an intimation that she was interested in any such subject.

In the next trunk he found photo albums containing pictures of his mother and father performing Satanic rituals with other people. Some of the pictures were taken in their basement, where they had constructed a kind of altar. The most embarrassing aspect of these photos was that all the people, including his parents, were naked. He didn’t know how anybody could ever get his father to pose naked; it was so unlike him. They were probably in their late fifties or early sixties at the time.

Other pictures included his father fellating a man wearing a devil costume and his mother slavering over a goat. He was embarrassed for them. Such undignified behavior. He supposed it was all part of what they were required to do, but it made him want to vomit.

So, his parents were Satan worshipers. He never suspected, although it made perfect sense. They used to host parties for special people when he was growing up, but his mother always made sure he went to the movies or spent the evening at a friend’s house. There were the weekend trips to some undisclosed location, mysterious phone calls at odd times, heavy packages arriving by messenger. One time his parents took him on a trip with them to Mexico. He was excited about seeing a foreign country, but he saw nothing of it because they left him locked in a hotel room.

As for the altar in the basement, it was still there, or at least part of it was. When he was a child, his mother wouldn’t let him go down to the basement. He never knew why.

He began seeing his mother and his father every night when he was awakened from sleep. They floated over his bed, made a clatter on the stairs, or moaned and rattled chains. They were definitely taunting him.

Now, the question was how he might make his mother and father depart from the house so he could go on living there? It was the only house he had ever known, and he wanted to stay. It was a comfortable, commodious house. It was home. Hadn’t his parents lived in the house long enough? Now it belonged to him.

Again, it came to him in a dream: consult a professional spiritualist who had experience dealing with people who linger on the earth plane after they’re dead. He didn’t have a lot of confidence in spiritualism, but he supposed it couldn’t hurt to try.

Not knowing where else to begin, he read the classified ads in the newspaper. Right away one ad jumped out at him. It was a woman named Beatrice Corn. She was, according to her ad, a licensed, certified, reputable spiritualist, with one-hour consultations starting at $175.

Beatrice Corn agreed to come the next day at ten o’clock. When he told her what he wanted, she said she had seen many cases like it before. It wasn’t always easy to get an entrenched spirit to vacate the premises that they knew so well in life. She preferred the house to be as quiet as possible while performing her consultation. Also, she liked to be paid in cash but would accept a check.

She was an eighty-year-old eccentric dressed in an army uniform from the First World War and a gentleman’s top hat. He showed her the pictures of his parents engaged in Satanic worship and the books with his mother’s name on them about witchcraft, demonology, and spells and incantations. She clucked her tongue and asked to see the rest of the house.

When she went into his mother’s room, she said she felt a very strong psychic presence.

“The mother is definitely present in the house. The father too. There are also at least two other spirits in residence.

“Who are the other two?”

“I’m not sure. A couple your parents met in the afterlife, possibly. They all want you gone. I think their intention is to kill you in a horrible way so they can deliver your soul up to Satan.”

“They killed my housekeeper. I don’t have any proof that they killed her, but I know they did. They wrote on my bathroom mirror that I was next.”

“How long did your parents live in this house?” she asked.

“Over sixty years.”

“Then they won’t leave willingly.”

“Is there any way to get them to leave?”

“Burn them out.”

“What do you mean?”

“Burn the house down.”

“I’m obviously not going to do that.”

“I’d advise you to sell your house and get far away from here, for your own good. Otherwise something terrible will happen. You’ve seen what they’re capable of.”

“If I leave, how do I know they won’t come after me?”

“From all you’ve told me, I would say they’re not interested in you. They want the house and they want you out of it. Spirits are always unpredictable. I would advise you to do what your instinct tells you to do.”

He thanked Beatrice Corn for her professionalism and her sensible advice. She gave him her business card and told him to call her any time, day or night. He paid her her fee and she left.

Two days later he put the house up for sale. Within a week, a funeral home agreed to his price of two million dollars. They had two funeral homes in other locations and wanted to open a third one. They were eager to close the deal and take possession of the house as soon as possible.

He made his new home in the Old World. He lived in Paris for a while and then in the Italian countryside. He could live in style wherever he wanted. The world was finally opening up for him.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

Seven Eight Nine ~ A Short Story

Seven Eight Nine image 3

Seven Eight Nine
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~  

(This is a re-post.)

Milly Pogue was the guidance counselor. She walked with a limp because she had an artificial leg. She came into fifth-hour study hall where Penny Costello was looking at a magazine and told her she wanted to see her in her office. Without questioning the command (there would be time for that later), Penny stood up and followed Miss Pogue down the hallway to her office. Clunk, clunk, clunk went her artificial leg.

They went into the little windowless office and Miss Pogue closed the door.

“What did you want to see me about?” Penny asked. “I was busy.”

“You were looking at a magazine,” Miss Pogue said. “Sit down.”

Penny sat in the metal chair facing the metal desk and already she looked bored.

“You’re not living up to your potential, Penny,” Miss Pogue said.

“What do you mean?”

“Your math and reading scores are the lowest in your class.”

“I can’t help that! I’ve been sick!”

“You’ve missed too many days of school.”

“When you’re sick, aren’t you supposed to stay at home so you don’t spread your germs around?”

“The school nurse says there’s nothing wrong with you.”

“What does she know? She’s a crackpot. She’s not even a real nurse. She flunked out of nurses’ school.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“My mother heard it in the beauty shop.”

“It’s not true. She’s a fully accredited nurse.”

“Okay. That’s what you wanted to see me about?”

“I met with Mr. Bumpus this morning.”

“Was it good for both of you?”

“He asked me to have a private talk with you.”

“What about?”

“You won’t be passed on to the ninth grade.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’ll be repeating eighth grade next year.”


“In view of your low scholastic ranking, you’ll be required to repeat eighth grade again when the new school term begins.”

“Could you put that in plain English?”

“You flunked eighth grade. You’ll have to do it all over again.”


“In these cases, we find it’s better to inform the student privately beforehand. That gives you time to adjust to the idea of repeating a grade. You’ll have time to talk it over with your mother and father before anybody else has to know about it.”

“Are you saying that when school starts up again I’ll still be in eighth grade, while everybody else in my class is in the ninth?”

“It can be a difficult adjustment, I know, but I’ll be here as your guidance counselor to help you in any way I can.”

Penny began to cry as the truth of what she was being told took root in her brain.

“I can’t repeat the eighth grade!” she said.

“What not?”

“It makes me look so stupid! Everybody will laugh at me.”

“No, they won’t!”

“Am I the only one?”

Miss Pogue looked down at her paper. “There’s one other person.”

“Are you going to tell me who it is, or do I have to ask?”

“It’s really none of your business, but if you think it’ll help, I’ll tell you. It’s Hermie Malchick.”

Hermie Malchick! Why, he’s retarded! He can’t even write his own name!”

“I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.”

“Do you think I’m retarded?”

“No, Penny, I know you’re not retarded.  You have the ability. You just don’t use it.”

“Everybody will laugh at me for being such a loser. Me and the retarded boy are the only two that didn’t pass the eighth grade! That must mean I’m retarded, too!”

“No, Penny. It doesn’t mean you’re retarded. It means you have to try a little harder in the future.”

“I can’t repeat eighth grade! I won’t!”

“Penny, I don’t think you have much choice in the matter.”

“We’ll get a lawyer! They’ll make you pass me on to ninth grade!”

“Can your family afford a lawyer?”

“No, but we’ll get one, anyway!”

“It wouldn’t do you any good.”

“As of this moment, I’m quitting school! I won’t ever be back! Not to this school or any school!”

“You’re too young to quit school, Penny, and you know it. You have to be sixteen, and even then you have to have your parents’ permission.”

“There’s a very good reason I won’t be coming back and it’s not only because I’m flunking eighth grade.”

“What is it?”

“I’m going to have a baby.”

Oh, Penny! Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Who’s the boy?”

“You mean the father of the baby? He goes to a different school. He’s a senior.”

“Oh, Penny, that can’t be! You’re just a child yourself.”

“I know, but it sometimes happens.”

“Whoever he is, he could be facing legal issues. You’re a minor.”

“He knows all about that and he doesn’t care. You see, he’s in love with me and I’m in love with him.”

“What could you know about love at your age?”

“I know plenty. I’m not stupid.”

“Have you told your mother and father?”

“Sure. They know all about it.”

“And they approve?”

“They know there’s nothing they can do about it.”

“Oh, Penny! This is tragic. There’s no other word for it.”

“I’ll get over it. In about seven and a half months.”

“You can go on back to study hall now.”

“Hell, no! I’m not going back to study hall! I’m going home! I’m done with this place once and for all! No more school for me! Ever!”

When Penny was leaving Miss Pogue’s office, she almost ran into Hermie Malchick coming out of the boys’ restroom. She and Hermie were a matching pair. Two of a kind. Two cards from the same defective deck. If she had had a knife in her hand, she might have stabbed him in the throat with it.

Before she left school for the last time, she went up to the third floor and emptied the contents of her locker out onto the floor. One last act of defiance.

Walking home, she had to laugh at how readily Miss Pogue believed the lie about the baby. The only person she knew of who was going to have a baby was her own mother. She was an expert at it. She had had seven.

She was all smiles that evening, that school was finally out for the summer and she had three long months of vacation before she had to go back. If she had told her parents that she was never going back, it would not have gone well. There would have been a big scene, and either her mother or her father would have ended up slapping her. They would find out the truth when school took up again and she stayed at home in bed.

Her mother had her baby in the middle of June. It was a boy and they named him Skippy. Her mother had a difficult time with lasting effects. The doctor told her she’d better not think about having any more babies. Seven were enough. Any more would be excessive.

Throughout the summer, Penny began thinking of Skippy as her own child. She fed him, bathed him, got up with him in the night, and took him all over town in his perambulator, while her mother lay in bed and complained.

Old ladies looked at her with Skippy and turned up their noses, as old ladies do. It’s such a shame, they said, that a girl of such a tender age is already a mother. What is the world coming to? If she was my daughter, I’d keep her busy scrubbing the floors and cooking the meals. She wouldn’t have any time for nonsense with boys.

Copyright 2023 by Allen Kopp

Boulevard ~ A Capsule Book Review

Boulevard book cover 1
Boulevard, a Novel of New Orleans
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Jim Grimsley’s novel Boulevard is a coming-of-age story set in New Orleans in the 1970s. A young man named Newell is the main character and the novel’s protagonist. Coming from a small town in Alabama, he’s naïve and inexperienced, as we would expect him to be. Life in New Orleans is a revelation to him.

Alone in the big city. He only has a little money. He needs a job, fast, and he needs a place to stay. He walks the streets, going from restaurant to restaurant, hoping to find work as a waiter or a dishwasher. Finally he finds a job as a busboy, even though it’s not exactly what he had in mind. After checking many newspaper ads, he finds a room to rent. The room, located above a junk store in the Latin Quarter, is owned by an odd lady named Louise who turns out to be a lesbian (she also owns the junk store).

He’s delighted with the money he makes as a busboy. He furnishes his little apartment (more just a room) with purchases from the junk store. He’s doing well, until a snit among his fellow restaurant workers causes him to get fired. (Call it office politics.) Now he’s back where he started from.

He doesn’t have to wait long before finding another job. This one is in an “adult” bookstore that sells sex toys, pornographic books and magazines. In the back of the bookstore is a room where dirty movies are shown, via coin operated machines.

Newell thrives working in the bookstore in unexpected ways. He was hired by the crude manager of the bookstore because he’s “cute,” and because he’s cute he becomes a favorite with the (mostly gay) customers. He has some original ideas about presentation and organization of merchandise, bringing in more customers, and soon he is made manager and wears a dog collar.

More importantly, he discovers his own sexuality. He becomes a favorite in clubs and bars and makes some new friends, including Henry, a promiscuous, middle-aged homosexual, and Mark, a young man with whom he has a semi-serious affair. Another interesting character is Miss Sophia, the “cleaning lady” in the bookstore who has a silent crush on Newell. As we come to know Miss Sophia, we discover she is a transgender who used to be a lawyer living as a man. Also, there’s Jerry, a lonely, older, married man with whom Newell has an intense sexual encounter.

Boulevard is a story about New Orleans (and the seamy side) but is also about a sexual awakening and the loss of innocence. As the novel shows us (and is traditional in stories of this kind), you can only go so far with loss of innocence, and if you step over a certain boundary, you will find yourself in serious trouble.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp