Standing at the Gate of Heaven

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

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

The End of Eddy ~ A Capsule Book Review

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

State Hospital

State Hospital ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He slept for a long time and when he awoke he didn’t know where he was. He was in a bed with a blanket and sheet folded over his chest, wearing pajamas that belonged to somebody else. When he tried to raise himself, he saw that his wrists were tied to the bed frame with short, leather-like strips that allowed him to move only about six inches in any one direction. He didn’t like being tied down—he saw himself dying in a fire—and called out for somebody to come and help him but no one came.

The room was small and besides the bed there wasn’t much in it; only a metal cabinet near the bed. The walls were covered with green tiles, each one about four inches square. He began counting the green tiles that he could see from the bed; he had counted to thirty-seven when the door opened and a man in a white doctor’s coat entered the little room. He carried a clipboard and wore a striped tie peeking out of the white coat.

“Hello. How are you?” the man in the white coat said. “I’m Dr. Meacham. And what is your name?”

“I bet you already know my name,” the man in the bed said. “I bet you have it written on that clipboard.”

“Maybe I want to hear you say it.”

“All right, I’ll say it. My name is Christopher Spiller.”

“That’s what it says right here on my clipboard.”

“Now I have something I want to hear you say.”

“What is it?”

“Why are my wrists tied to the bed?”

“It’s for your own protection.”

“How do you mean?”

“You’re just waking up from treatment. We secure the wrists of patients who receive a particular kind of treatment.”

“What kind of treatment?”

“Treatment that will eventually make you better.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“If there isn’t, we’ll find out.”

“How long?”

“What?”

“How long will it take to find out there’s nothing wrong with me?”

“That all depends, doesn’t it?”

“Depends on what?”

“Lots of things.”

“The words come out of your mouth, but they don’t really mean anything, do they?”

“Tell me your age. How old are you?”

“I bet you already know that, don’t you?”

“Just answer the question, please.”

“Twenty-three. How old are you?”

“Forty-one.”

“So, you’ve passed through your thirties and now you’re working on your forties. I’ll bet you have a wife, don’t you?”

“It doesn’t matter if I do or not.”

“No, I think it’s interesting.”

“Well, then, the answer is no, I don’t have a wife. I had a wife and we got divorced. No more questions about me, please.”

“Whatever you say. You’re the boss, especially since I’m tied up and can’t move.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“I’m in a bed.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“I’m in a bed in a hospital on planet Earth.”

“How long have you been in the hospital?”

“I think I’ve been here about two years if I remember correctly.”

“My notes say you’re been here two months.”

“Yeah, a long time.”

“How do you feel?”

“A hundred years old.”

“You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

“I’ll feel better when I’m no longer tied to the bed.”

“A nurse will come along soon and take you back to your room.”

“And untie me?”

“Yes, and untie you.”

“Speaking of my room, I don’t like my roommate. I think he might be insane. Can’t I have a room to myself?”

“We don’t have any single rooms. All our rooms are for two.”

“How cozy. At home I always had a room to myself.”

“We all have to make certain adjustments.”

“Do you want to hear the story of how I came to be here?”

“I think we might save that for…”

“I lived with my parents. There are certain advantages to living with your parents, of course, but it also means you don’t have as much privacy as you’d like.”

“It’s usually a good idea, after a certain age, to live apart from your parents,” Dr. Meacham said.

“Especially my parents.”

“Why especially your parents?”

“They’re Christian fundamentalists. They belong to a fundamentalist religious sect. I’ve had a secret that I’ve kept hidden from them since eighth grade. They should have known my secret, but they never picked up on it, because, well, that’s just the way they are. They aren’t even aware of themselves, so how could they be aware of me?”

“Okay, so they found out your secret?”

“Well, my secret is to their way of thinking the worst thing there is. They believe there is no greater sin.”

“I see.”

“Well, my parents were gone for the weekend. They weren’t supposed to be back until Sunday night. I invited a friend over to spend the night with me Saturday night. His name was Raphael. He and I had been seeing each other for a while and things were going well between us. So, the two of—me and Raphael, Raphael and I—were in my bedroom with the door closed. Now, you have to understand, my bedroom—especially with the door closed—is supposed to be private. Don’t you think a closed door would suggest privacy?”

“Yes, I see what you mean.”

“Well, my parents returned unexpectedly on Saturday night, twenty-four hours before they were expected. They could have called to let me know they were coming home early, but that would have spoiled the fun, now, wouldn’t it?”

“You think they did it on purpose?”

“Of course they did! So, Raphael and I were alone in my room. There was no reason to believe we were not alone in the house and, then, the door to my room burst open—pow!—and both of my parents—both of them!—were standing at the foot of the bed looking at us.”

“What did they do?”

“My mother clapped her hands over her mouth and started screaming and speaking in tongues. She said she saw Satan standing over me and that I was going to burn in hell through all eternity. My father just looked at me and vomited on the floor. That’s the effect I always had on him.”

“What did Raphael do?”

“He ran! Can you blame him? Who wouldn’t run?”

“He was embarrassed, of course.”

“Well, they didn’t know what to do with a son as terrible as me. My mother wanted to call the police and have me thrown in jail, but you see, it’s not a crime for two men to be in the same bed at the same time, so she had to come up with a different plan. The next day my father enlisted the aid of his doctor and his lawyer, both Christian fundamentalists like himself, and the four of them—my mother, my father, the doctor and the lawyer—came up with the plan to draw up the papers to have me committed. The idea was not only to cure me and cleanse me, but also to punish me.”

“I see,” Dr. Meacham said.

“So the question is, when are you going to find out there’s nothing wrong with me and let me go home?”

“Back with your parents?”

“No, not there. When I say ‘home,’ I mean some place far away where I can be by myself.”

“Another state? California?”

“Farther away.”

“Another country?”

“Whatever it takes.”

“Well,” Dr. Meacham began slowly, looking down at the clipboard he held, “many questions must be answered before we can think about releasing you. We can’t put a time limit on it. Will it be weeks? Months? We just don’t know. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

“You sound like the Christian fundamentalists.”

“It won’t help you for you to look upon me as your enemy. I want to help you.”

Really help me?”

“Sure.”

“Unlock the door and look the other way as I slip out into the night.”

“Do you think I would be able to do that with a clear conscience?”

“Nobody has to know about it.”

“And what do I tell people when they ask where you are?”

“I don’t care what you tell them because I’ll be gone.”

“Look,” Dr. Meacham said, squinting at his clipboard, “we have an aggressive schedule of treatment scheduled for you for the next six weeks or so. At the end of that time, we’ll re-evaluate your situation.”

“I won’t be here that long.”

Dr. Meacham left and in a little while Nurse Nellie Watson of the continuously trembling head and chin wattles came into the room.

“What can I do for you?” she asked.

He held up his wrists and she unfastened the leather straps.

“I could give you a big kiss for that alone,” he said.

“Don’t bother.”

He could have walked down the hallway to his room, but she insisted on pushing him in the wheelchair.

“I’ll give you fifty dollars if you unlock the door for me and look the other way as I disappear like a little puff of smoke.”

“Where would you get fifty dollars?”

“I think I could go as high as seventy-five.”

“Don’t make me have to tie you up,” she said.

His roommate, Victor Hugo, was lying sprawled on his bed, snoring like a buzzsaw. His hospital gown and his bedsheet were down around his ankles.

“See what I have to put with?” he said to Nurse Nellie.

“Things are tough all over,” she said.

She helped him out of the wheelchair and into the bed. She tucked him in like an embittered nanny and turned off the light and left, her crepe souls squeaking on the tile floor.

When he was sure Nurse Nellie wasn’t coming back, he slipped off the bed and crawled underneath. Under his bed was the only place he felt really safe. He would wait under the bed in the dark until somebody else came in: that special someone who might be persuaded to unlock the door and look away as he slipped away into the night.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Pneumonia

Pneumonia ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

In third grade I wore a navy pea coat. Some of the kids in school made fun of me for wearing a kind of coat that nobody else had, but I didn’t care. I liked my pea coat. It made me look like a little navy man.

Any time I think about that pea coat I think about my mother lying sick in a hospital bed.

In November of that year, she slipped on gravel down the street from where she worked and hit her head on the sidewalk. She had a brain concussion and it made her plenty sick. Her doctor thought three or four days (a week at the most) in the hospital would fix her up, but she just kept getting sicker and the three or four days became weeks. (He eventually admitted she wasn’t getting any better and sent her to a hospital in the city, but that’s another story.)

Since I was only nine, I missed my mother while she was in the hospital. I wasn’t a baby and I could manage without her for a few days, but I was afraid she wouldn’t be out of the hospital in time for Christmas. My biggest fear, though, was that she would die in the hospital while I was in school and I’d be left alone with my father. He and I didn’t like each other very much. I don’t know why. It’s just the way it was.

We went to the hospital every evening to see my mother after eating our quick and meagre dinner (a tuna salad sandwich or Campbell’s chicken noodle soup). These visits were disheartening because she wasn’t like herself. She just lay there, hardly moving, and didn’t say much. She was pale, her hair looked terrible, and her eyes were hollow. When I asked her when they were going to let her come home, she just shrugged and didn’t seem to care one way or the other. I wasn’t the only one thinking she might die; she was thinking it herself.

Since it was November and the weather was turning cold, somebody at school was always sick, spreading germs all over the place. It was impossible to be in a closed, heated classroom and not breathe in some nasty germs. A couple of my friends came down with the flu or whatever was catching, and then, before I knew it, I was the sick one.

My mother noticed at the hospital during visiting hours that evening that I didn’t look quite right. She tried to get me to take my pea coat off, but I felt chilled and wanted to leave it on. My throat was raw and my chest hurt. I had developed a cough, which was impossible to hide.

“Aren’t you taking care of your son, Roy?” my mother asked my father.

“There’s nothing wrong with him,” my father said.

“Make sure he takes a hot bath and goes right to bed.”

“He thinks if he can convince you he’s sick, he won’t have to go to school.”

“I’m all right,” I said. “I’m not sick.”

The next morning I felt terrible and my cough was worse. My throat felt like I had been snacking on razor blades. I went to school and I sat in my seat all day long without telling anybody how bad I felt, but I was glad when the bell rang and it was time to go home at the end of the day. When I got home, I put on my pajamas and got into bed. I only wanted to shut everything out.

I hoped I would feel better in the morning, but I only felt worse. I got up at the usual time and went into the kitchen. My father was sitting at the table drinking coffee and smoking his Marlboro cigarettes. He barely looked at me.

“You’d better get a move on,” he said in his absent way, “or you’re going to be late for school.”

“I don’t feel like going to school today,” I said.

“What?”

“I said I’m sick and I don’t feel like going to school today.”

“You don’t look sick to me.”

“My throat really hurts and my chest hurts and I have a lump in my throat.”

“You’ll feel better after you get there.”

I sat down and poured some corn flakes into a bowl and got the milk out of the refrigerator, but I wasn’t able to eat anything.

“I’m running a fever,” I said. “I’m sure of it.”

“You’re just being a baby. There’s nothing wrong with you.”

“If mother was here, she’d take my temperature and know I’m too sick to go to school.”

“Well, she’s not here, so go brush your teeth and get dressed and get your little ass to school before I kick it up between your shoulder blades for you. I have to get to work. I don’t have time to mess with you.”

The wind and the cold air didn’t help my cough. By the time I got to school, I was wheezing and gasping for breath. I took my seat in the third row, as usual, and hoped I’d drop dead before too long.

I coughed and I coughed and I coughed some more. No matter how much I cleared my throat, that old frog seemed to have taken up permanent residence. Every time I coughed, somebody turned and looked at me with distaste. I couldn’t blame them. They were wondering what I had and if they were likely to catch it from me.

I hadn’t been sitting in my seat for long when Miss Goldschmidt came and stood over me and put her hand on my forehead.

“You don’t feel very well, do you?” she asked.

“I’m all right.”

She motioned for me to stand up and go along with her. She took me out into the hallway and down the stairs to the nurse’s office on the second floor.

“He’s too sick to be in school today,” Miss Goldschmidt said to Miss Bouchard, the school nurse.

Miss Bouchard looked at me and told me to sit in the chair beside her desk.

“Let’s see your throat, honey,” she said.

She took a tongue depressor and a flashlight and looked at my throat so long I thought I was going to choke.

“How long have you had this throat?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Three days, I guess.”

When she took my temperature, she found I had a fever of slightly over a hundred and two.

“I’m going to call your mother and tell her to come and get you.”

“She’s not home. She’s in the hospital.”

“Oh. What about daddy?”

“He’s at work.”

“Well, I guess we’re stuck with you, then, aren’t we?”

There was a cot made up like a bed against the wall. She told me to take off my shoes and get into the cot and cover up like a little baby. She would be in and out of the office all day long and if I felt worse to let her know.

She gave me two aspirin tablets and a cup of water and after I swallowed the tablets I covered up in the warm little bed and coughed my head off for a while but then my cough lessened and I went to sleep. I slept right through lunch and most of the rest of the day. When the bell rang to go home, I was surprised at how much time had gone by.

“Time to go home, little man,” Miss Bouchard said.

I sat up on the cot and put on my shoes and tied them.

“Do you feel like walking home?” she asked.

“Sure.”

“I can get the janitor to take you in the truck if you don’t feel like walking.”

“I can make it okay.”

“And don’t come back to school until you’ve seen a doctor.”

“What?”

“I’ve written a letter for you to give to your daddy. You need to see your doctor. We don’t want you in school if you’re sick. You might be contagious.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Being told I could stay home from school the next day, and maybe the day after that, cheered me considerably. It was the best news I had heard in a long time.

When I got home, he was sitting at the kitchen table smoking a cigarette. He gave me a sour look and blew smoke out his nostrils like a deranged bull. I put the envelope from Miss Bouchard on the table in front of him.

“What’s this?” he said.

“A letter,” I said.

“From one of my many admirers?”

I wanted to tell him he didn’t have any admirers, but all I said was, “No, it’s from the school nurse.”

He read the letter and crushed out his cigarette angrily.

“So, you’ve been complaining at school about how sick you are?”

“I didn’t say anything. They knew I was sick. Some people pay attention to those things.”

“I don’t have time for this crap!” he said. “You’re a lot more trouble than you’re worth, you know that?”

“Yeah, I know.”

In the morning he took me to see Dr. Froberger. He was an old man with cold hands and I was a little afraid of him, but I liked him well enough. His office girl complimented me on my navy pea coat.

Dr. Froberger set me up on a high table and looked at my throat and into my ears and felt my neck. He took my temperature and listened to my heart and lungs.

“This boy’s got pneumonia,” Dr. Froberger said. “His lungs are filled with fluid.”

“I didn’t think he was that sick,” my father said. “He’s always been quite a pretender.”

“Well, he’s not pretending now! I want him to go to the hospital. We need to start treatment right away, or he’s going to be very seriously ill.”

“I don’t want to go to the hospital,” I said.

“It’ll be all right,” Dr. Froberger said. “We’ll take good care of you and you’ll be back to normal in a few days.”

They took me to a different hospital than the one my mother was in. I was worried that she wouldn’t know where I was, but my father said he’d tell her and he’d bring her to see me as soon as she was able.

They took my clothes and put me in a high bed in a room by myself and stuck needles in both arms and gave me oxygen. For a couple of days I felt like I was dreaming or floating through the air, but it didn’t matter to me if I was. Nothing felt real. My father came a couple of times to see how I was doing, but he didn’t stay long; he always had something more important to do.

After I had been in the hospital for a while, a nurse arranged for me to talk to my mother on the phone. She sounded better than she had in a long time. They were giving her a different kind of medicine, she said, and her doctor had decided to send her to a better, smarter doctor at a hospital in the city.

“How long before they’ll let you come home?” I asked.

“I’ll be home before you know it.” she said.

She wasn’t going to die after all.

When the doctor finally released me from the hospital after a week (that’s how long it took for my lungs to clear up), he said I couldn’t go back to school for a while (two weeks or so), which was altogether fine with me. I had to have somebody, a “sitter,” stay with me during the day when my father was at work, so that’s where Barbara Legaspi entered the picture.

Barbara was recommended by Dr. Froberger’s office. She had experience as a nurse’s aide and was used to dealing with sick people. I could tell my father didn’t like her because she was fat and had big arms and a dark mustache, but he hired her because it was the easiest thing for him to do.

I liked Barbara right away. She bought me candy and comic books. She lived with her parents and had never been married and had lots of funny stories about men she had dated. The men she liked didn’t like her or were married, and the men who liked her were unacceptable and undesirable for one reason or another (one had rotten teeth and another one was a midget).

When we got to talking about my father, she told me she had an “instinctive” feeling about him. He was a “negative” individual from whom “nothing good” would ever come.

“How do you know these things?” I asked.

She told me she was psychic and “an old soul” who lived “many times” before. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but I thought it sounded good.

I told her how when I became sick with pneumonia and my mother was in the hospital, my father didn’t want to be bothered with me and made me go to school because he thought I wasn’t really sick at all but only pretending.

“He never wanted to be your father,” she said. “People who have children they don’t want make me sick.”

“Me too,” I said.

“He doesn’t treat your mother well, either, does he?”

“No. I don’t know how she stands being married to him.”

“I can take care of him for you if you want me to.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can put a spell on him.”

“You mean, like, kill him?”

“No, that would be a curse. I’m talking about a spell.”

“You can put spells on people?”

“If I can’t, I know somebody who can.”

“What kind of a spell would it be?” I asked, fascinated.

“A kind of spell where he gets what he deserves.”

“That sounds good. I don’t want you to kill him, though, or burn him up in a car crash or anything like that.”

“No, I know what you mean. Moderation is the key.”

“Yeah. Fix it so he has stay in the hospital for about a week.”

“I think it might be arranged.”

My mother came home from the hospital in the city a week before Christmas. She wasn’t over her brain concussion yet, but she was getting better every day. She and Barbara Legaspi had a long talk at the kitchen table. When Barbara left for the last time, she said I was her favorite sick person and she and I would be seeing each other again. She winked at me when mother wasn’t looking and I knew it meant that she and I had a secret together.

My mother gave my father the silent treatment for not taking care of me the way he should have and for not keeping me home from school when I was obviously sick. She cooked his meals at mealtime and then she went out of the kitchen while he sat at the table and ate alone. She slept in the spare bedroom and didn’t speak to him unless she had to.

We had a happy Christmas that year. I was over my pneumonia and had returned to school. My mother was still taking lots of medicine and it seemed to be helping her. She was going to return to her job after New Year’s. She wasn’t a stay-at-home; she liked being around other people, she said.

In the middle of January, my father passed out at work. They came and got him in an ambulance and took him to the hospital. After the doctor examined him, he said he had “smoker’s heart” and was going to have to cut back on his Marlboros and go on a diet.

When my mother and I visited him in the hospital, I stood at the foot of his bed and smiled. He barely looked at me, but I knew he knew I was there. If he had known what I was thinking and why I was smiling, he would have had to light up another Marlboro and blow an angry stream of smoke out his nose.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp