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Hotel de Dream ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Hotel de Dream ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

American writer Stephen Crane was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1871, and died of tuberculosis in Germany in 1900 at the age of twenty-eight. He was one of the most gifted young writers of his generation. His 1895 Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage, achieved worldwide acclaim for its realistic depiction of war, which Crane wrote without ever having seen battle.

Hotel de Dream, a 2007 novel by Edmund White, is a fictionalized account of Stephen Crane’s final illness and his struggle to complete his final work of fiction called The Painted Boy (which only exists in Hotel de Dream and Crane never actually wrote). The Painted Boy was in the mold of Crane’s earlier novel, Maggie, Girl of the Streets, and was quite daring for its time because it deals with an “invert” (a coy, turn-of-the-century word for a homosexual). The invert in question is named Elliott. He’s a sixteen-year-old boy of the streets, a male prostitute, who comes to New York from a farm, where he was sexually abused by his father and older brothers. As a rent-boy, Elliott meets stodgy, married, middle-aged banker Theodore Koch. After a few “dates,” Koch is convinced he is in love with the syphilitic boy and is willing to risk everything—career, marriage, home, children, place in the world—to be with him. He rents a room where he and Elliott can meet every day. When he is blackmailed, he begins stealing money from the bank where he works. This cannot end well, for him or for Elliott.

Hotel de Dream is a story-within-a-story. Sections about Crane’s private life are interspersed with his fictional story of Theodore Koch and Elliott. Crane is too weak from his tuberculosis to write, so he “dictates” The Painted Boy to his common-law wife, Cora. She knows that Crane is dying, is in love with him, and will do anything to help him.

If you are a student of American literature or a fan of Stephen Crane’s naturalistic style of writing, Hotel de Dream is well worth your time. It’s a fascinating fictional excursion into the life of a real-life American writer, his time and the people he knew. And it’s a reminder, once again, of what a terrible disease tuberculosis is and how fortunate we are to live in an age in which it has been eradicated.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

It’s Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me

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It’s Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

They sat on the front porch to catch the cooling breezes. Mrs. Llewellyn fanned herself with a cardboard fan courtesy of Benoist Funeral Home and took pulls on a bottle of “medicinal” whiskey she kept in her apron pocket. Miss Clemson, the nearest neighbor, sat on the steps close to Mrs. Llewellyn, holding her hands demurely around her ankles to keep her skirt in place.

“Gets mighty lonely over at my place sometimes,” Miss Clemson said. “Especially of an evening.”

“You should have found yourself a man to marry,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.

“I still might.”

“At your age?”

“I’m only fifty-four,” Miss Clemson said. “And, anyway, the world don’t revolve around no man. I know plenty of women manage just fine without a man orderin’ ‘em about the place.”

“Well, I’ve had four husbands and I can’t say I’d recommend it,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.

“There’s a rumor going around that you just received a proposal of marriage from a Mr. Chin. Is that right?”

“Yes, a Mr. Chin asked me to marry him,” Mrs. Llewellyn said, “but I turned him down.”

“Is he a Chinaman?”

“No, why would he be a Chinaman?”

“Well, that’s what the name sounds like.”

“No, he ain’t a Chinaman.”

“Well, what then?”

“I don’t know what he is, but he ain’t no Chinaman.”

“Why don’t you marry him if he wants to marry you?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s covered with scales.”

“You mean like a snake?”

“Exactly like a snake.”

“I guess a woman could get used to a few snake scales if the man was a good man,” Miss Clemson said.

“I don’t think I ever could. I’d have to turn away when he was gettin’ dressed, or at least turn the light off.”

“Maybe he’ll just shed them scales in the woods during moltin’ season and not have them anymore.”

“Why are you so interested in Mr. Chin’s scales?”

“Well, if he’s marriage-minded, maybe the two of us ought to meet. We might strike up a real lively friendship.”

“The next time I see him I’ll send him over your way,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.

“Will you really?”

“When you see them scales, you might change your mind.”

“Well, I really don’t think I’d mind the scales all that much as long as he keeps them hidden during the daytime when he’s dressed. The scales are not on his face, are they?”

“Not yet.”

“As long as they’re not on his face, I think we’d be all right, then.”

“The scales is not the only reason I don’t want to marry Mr. Chin,” Mrs. Llewellyn confided.

“What, then?”

“I don’t want him moonin’ around over my granddaughter Laura Louise all the time.”

“Oh, yes. I almost forgot about Laura Louise.”

“She lives with me, you know. I’m all the family she’s got left since her maw killed herself in the river.”

“Do you think Mr. Chin might be particularly drawn to her?”

“I think he’d never stop starin’ at her.”

“Well, if staring’s all he done, that wouldn’t be so bad.”

“Yeah, but the starin’ would lead to pawin’ and the pawin’ would lead to other things.”

“I think I see what you mean. She has turned into a right pretty little thing.”

“She’s got her womanly wiles. It’ll just take the right man to bring it out in her.”

“Do you think Mr. Chin might be the one to do that?”

“I think any man might do it, even one covered in scales.”

“Does she still go swimmin’ naked in the river?”

“I don’t think she swims naked no more, no. Not since she accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as her personal savior.”

“The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.”

“Don’t He, though?”

“There for a while she seemed headed down the road to damnation.”

“Most of that was rumor. You know what nasty tongues people have.”

“They said she was havin’ an affair with I-don’t-know-who-all, even Dr. Birke in town.”

“She went to him for a bladder infection. He treated her and she came home and that’s all there was to it.”

“That’s not what people says.”

“Do you think I care what people says?”

“No, I know you don’t care.”

“But, I’ll tell you on the other hand. I didn’t definitely turn Mr. Chin down.”

“What? You think you still might marry him?”

“If that’s the way the chips fall.”

“What do you mean? What chips?”

“Well, since Laura Louise has got herself so keen on religion, she thinks she might want to dedicate her life to the spreading of the Gospel.”

“You mean as a lady preacher?”

“Well, something like that. She’s got it into her head that she wants to go to Darkest Africa and become a missionary.”

“Darkest Africa? What would she do there?”

“She’d teach them headhunters to put down their spears and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior, same as she done.”

“Lord, I wouldn’t want to go to Darkest Africa!” Miss Clemson said. “I’d be scared out of my wits every minute!”

“That’s because you’re an ignorant woman. Them missionaries get training before they go. They learn how to deal with them natives and make their sit down and read the Bible and listen to hymns.”

“Well, it might be right for some people, but I don’t think I would ever choose that kind of life for myself.”

“Laura Louise is all the family I got left. All my children and grandchildren has died or run off and left me. Laura Louise is the only one left to sweep out the house and fetch me what I need and cook me a little supper of an evening. She’s the only one left to keep me company in my old age. And she’s the only one to see that I’m put into the ground proper when my time comes.”

“Oh, I think I see what you’re sayin’,” Miss Clemson said. “If Laura Louise goes off to Darkest Africa, you could still marry Mr. Chin and he could do all them things for you that Laura Louise does now.”

“You catch on quick.”

“But you’d only marry Mr. Chin if you don’t still have Laura Louise at home?”

“That’s right.”

“I’m sure the Lord will work it all out for you. He’ll come up with the solution that’s right for all parties concerned.”

“I guess so,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.

“I think I see somebody comin’ up the road now,” Miss Clemson said.

“That’ll be Laura Louise, come from service.”

“Good evening, Laura Louise, dear!” Miss Clemson said in a loud voice. “How are you? There’s going to be a lovely full moon tonight, did you know that? It kind of puts you in mind of romance, don’t it?”

“Hello,” Laura Louise said.

“Them services are gettin’ longer and longer, ain’t they?” Mrs. Llewellyn said. “I’ve been waitin’ for my supper.”

“Your supper will just have to wait, gran,” Laura Louise said. “I just got some good news at the end of service and I’ve just got to tell you what it is!”

“Whatever could it be?” Miss Clemson asked.

“I’ve been accepted in missionary school in Memphis, Tennessee! School starts in two weeks. It’ll last for two months and after that I’ll go over to Darkest Africa to do the Lord’s work!”

“My goodness!” Miss Clemson said. “That is excitin’ news, ain’t it?”

“How long will you be gone?” Mrs. Llewellyn asked.

“Oh, I don’t know! Years and years, I guess! Isn’t it wonderful? Brother Rabbit arranged the whole thing over the telephone. He told the people in Memphis what a good worker I am and how dedicated I am to the Lord. They told him to send me on up. They can’t wait for me to get started.”

“That’s fine,” Mrs. Llewellyn said, “but who’s goin’ to do your work around here while you’re gone?”

“What work?” Laura Louise asked.

“You would say that, wouldn’t you? That’s because you’re so selfish! What work do you suppose? Cleanin’ and cookin’ and washin’ and all the rest of the housework waitin’ to be done, that’s what work!”

“Why, I don’t know, gran. I guess you’ll have to get yourself a hired girl to help out, won’t you?”

“And just where am I goin’ to get the money for that?”

“The Lord will provide.”

“I think it’s just wonderful!” Miss Clemson said. “You were turnin’ out to be such a tramp around these parts, takin’ up with any man that would give you the time of day—including Dr. Birke in town—and now just look at you! The Lord has taken a-holt of you and turned you around into the kind of girl He always wanted you to be! Praise the Lord!”

“I’m just so excited about it I’m about to burst! I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep a wink tonight!”

“Well, just go on in now and get started on my supper now,” Mrs. Llewellyn said. “There’ll be plenty of time later to be excited.”

“Do you want to stay and eat supper with us, Miss Clemson?” Laura Louise asked.

“I don’t think so, honey, but thanks for askin’. I need to get myself on home.”

After Laura Louise went into the house to start cooking supper, Miss Clemson turned to Mrs. Llewellyn and said, “I think I hear wedding bells!”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Well, now that Laura Louise is goin’ off to Darkest Africa to be a missionary, you’ll want to marry Mr. Chin as fast as you can so he can do all your work for you, won’t you?”

“Not so fast! She thinks right now that she’s goin’ to Darkest Africa to be a missionary, but what if I say she’s not?”

“You mean you gonna try to stop her?”

“I think I’m goin’ to pay a call on Brother Rabbit at the church tomorrow and tell him to stop meddlin’ in my affairs. Laura Louise ain’t nothin’ but a child and she’s almost feeble-minded to boot. She needs her grandma, her only living family, to look after her and keep her safe. She can’t be goin’ off on her own to no Darkest Africa to be no missionary. She’d be a babe in the woods. Why, they’d eat her alive!”

“Well, I don’t know,” Miss Clemson said. “It certainly seems the Lord is pointin’ her in that direction and if He’s decided it’s the right thing for her to do, then He’ll make it happen, no matter what.”

“Well, we’ll see about that.”

“Are you really goin’ to see Brother Rabbit tomorrow at the church?”

“I said I am, didn’t I?”

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“No, I’d rather go alone.”

“Well, good luck, but I don’t think you should go pokin’ your nose in. Laura Louise is a grown woman and if she’s decided she wants to go to Darkest Africa to be missionary, then I think you should just let it alone.”

“Do you have a granddaughter?”

“You know I ain’t. I ain’t ever even been married.”

“Well, until you have your own granddaughter, you can’t know what it’s like to have her leave you and go off to Darkest Africa to be a missionary.”

“Well, all right, then, honey. I won’t say another word about it.”

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my supper is about ready and I’m hungry. I don’t like to be kept waitin’.”

“All right, honey. I’ll go on home now and eat my own lonely supper. And after I’m finished and all the dishes are washed up and put away, I’ll get into bed and look out the window at the big old sad yellow moon. It’ll remind me of all the things that might have been and never were.”

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

The Rise of Silas Lapham ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Rise of Silas Lapham ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

American writer William Dean Howells lived from 1837 to 1920. After the “romanticist” writers of the nineteenth century such as Hawthorne and Poe, Howells was an advocate of “realism” in fiction; realism, that is, that’s not sordid. He was at the forefront of a new wave of American writing and has been called the “Dean of American Letters.” Of the thirty-five novels he wrote, The Rise of Silas Lapham is the most popular and most enduring.

The fictional Silas Lapham is an American “type,” a self-made millionaire, one of Boston’s nouveau riche in the decades after the Civil War. Despite his fortune and his station in the business world, “Corporal” Lapham (he fought at the Battle of Gettysburg) is a little rough around the edges and doesn’t quite fit in with Boston crème de la crème. His grammar borders on the atrocious and he tends to be a bit of a blowhard.  He has a matter-of-fact (she nags) wife named Persis who speaks her mind and doesn’t mind telling Silas exactly what she thinks of him and his business dealings. He also has two deb daughters, Penelope and Irene, of marriageable age. Penelope is the older of the two; she’s serious, clever and not so pretty as Irene.

As you might expect, Silas came from humble beginnings. His family were people of the earth. When his father discovers a “mineral paint mine” on their property in Vermont, Silas is able to turn the enterprise into a successful money-making venture. Soon he is at the forefront of the American paint market and has all the heartache and responsibilities of a titan of industry. To solidity his family’s status in Boston society, he has his heart set on building a showy, expensive ($100,000 in 1875) mansion in one of the most fashionable sections of Boston.

The Coreys are a snooty, blue-blood Boston family of Silas Lapham’s acquaintance. He would like to be like the Coreys if only he had more “class.” He believes that any association with the Corey family would benefit him professionally and socially. The Coreys have a handsome son named Tom. When Tom begins hanging around the Lapham home, everybody believes he’s interested in Irene, the younger and prettier of the two daughters. No, wait a minute! He’s not interested in Irene, but in the older, homelier daughter, Penelope. This confusion sets up a love-story subplot with many complications. How can Penelope marry a man with whom her younger sister was once in love?

As might be expected, Silas Lapham experiences financial reverses in his business empire, facing some unexpected competition from a rival paint manufacturer. Not only that, his beloved Boston mansion, still under construction, is destroyed in a fire, one week after its insurance policy lapsed. As quick as you can say “financial collapse,” he faces insolvency and the loss of his world.

The Rise of Silas Lapham is a solid American classic, easy to read and with none of the antique qualities that are sometimes associated with 19th century American writing, such as tortured, twisted sentences and high-blown syntax. If you, like me, first encountered The Rise of Silas Lapham in your younger days in school, it is well worth another look.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

A Bee’s Life

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A Bee’s Life ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Queen Lucretia XXV, the Queen of all the Bees, came into the hive dragging her enormous egg sac, a cigarette dangling from her lips.

“Where the hell is everybody?” she said with a sneer. When she spoke, her ill-fitting dentures made a whistling sound, sending a chill down the spine of all the worker bees. Her harlequin glasses were crooked from when she sat on them on the bed with her full weight. If anybody felt like laughing, they didn’t.

When she saw one of the worker bees—her own offspring—working a crossword puzzle, she bit his head off and ate it without a moment’s hesitation. Before she went into her office and slammed the door, she turned to the room at large and said, “Now let that be a lesson to everybody!

“My goodness, she certainly is in a foul mood today!” Wallace said to Marge, the worker bee closest to him.

“She always gets that way right before she lays her eggs.”

“I’m not scared of her,” Vivian said. “She’s full of turkey doodle. Somebody’s going to drive a stake through her heart one of these days, and a lot of bees are going to be very happy.”

“And I suppose you’ll be the one driving the stake,” Wallace said.

“I’ve imagined it many times.”

“And then who will be our queen?” Carpathia asked.

“I’d make a better queen than her any day!” Vivian said. She stood up and sashayed up and down the aisle, trying her best to be queen-like. “My first official act would be to have her thrown out of the hive!”

“Be realistic,” Wallace said. “She’d raise an army and come back and re-take the hive.”

“That’s right,” Carpathia said. “Just ejecting her from the hive wouldn’t do any good. You’d also have to kill her.”

“I can’t do it alone,” Vivian said. “I’m going to need some help.”

“We’ll all help, Carpathia said.

“If she ever tries to eat my head,” Sherwood said tearfully. “I’m not going to just stand there like a statue and let her do it. I’ll put up a fight.”

Sherwood was still a little shaken over seeing the queen eat a worker bee’s head. He knew it happened all the time but had never seen it before.

“Oh, and just what do you think you’re going to do about it?” Wallace asked, turning around and facing Sherwood. “You know you’re powerless against the queen.”

“I’ll punch her in her egg sac and then when she doubles over I’ll stick a knife in her eye. When she’s howling in pain, I’ll leave the hive. I’ll fly so far away nobody will ever find me. I’ll fly to Tanzania.”

“You know that would never work,” Wallace said. “The drones would catch you, no matter where you are, and bring you back. She’d eat your head anyway and she wouldn’t do it quick either. It wouldn’t be pretty.”

“He’s right,” Carpathia said. “The queen always wins. The rest of us are puny nothings compared to her.”

“Be careful what you say,” Wallace whispered to the others. “I think Georgie is listening.”

They all turned and looked at Georgie. He seemed to be engrossed in his work but they knew he was listening to every word and would repeat it all to the queen the first chance he got. He was her pet worker bee. There were even rumors that she took him to bed with her sometimes.

“I say we kill him, too,” Sherwood said. “If we kill her, we’ll have to kill others.”

“We’re bees!” Wallace said. “Bees don’t kill other bees!”

“They do when they have to,” Sherwood said.

“Oh, he’s not going to kill anybody,” Vivian said. “He wouldn’t have the nerve to kill a maggot!”

“You think so, do you?” Sherwood said. “Maybe I’ll surprise you one day. Maybe this will be the day.”

The door to the queen’s office opened; she stepped out and stood at the front of the room, hands on hips. Everybody suddenly became very busy.

“There seems to be a lot of non-work going on here!” she screamed. “You jerk-offs need to realize I’m not blind and I’m not deaf. Just because I’m not in the room doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on!”

All the bees kept their eyes on their work and pretended the queen wasn’t yelling at them. Georgie was the only one who looked at her, and that was with adoration.

“Georgie!” the queen said, bringing him out of his reverie. “I want to see you in my office! Right now!”

“Yes, your majesty,” Georgie said.

He stood up, almost falling over his own wings, and ran into the queen’s office and slammed the door.

“He has always been such a toady!” Wallace said.

“She needs him to wipe her ass and she knows he’s the only one that will do it without complaining,” Sherwood said.

“Well, I’m relieved he’s out of the room,” Carpathia said. “I think I’m going to take a break and go to the little girls’ room. Want to come along, Vivian?”

“No thanks,” Vivian said. “My boyfriend’s going to call. I don’t want to be out of the room when the call comes through.”

A few minutes later Carpathia had returned from the little girls’ room and was freshening her makeup at her desk. Vivian was blatting into the phone to her boyfriend about where they were going to have dinner. Wallace was balancing his checkbook, trying to figure out exactly where he had made his latest mistake. Sherwood had taken off his shoe and sock and was picking at a scab on his foot while he whistled a happy tune. Suddenly the door to the queen’s office opened with a suck of air, and once again she was upon the worker bees like a Kansas cyclone.

“You should see yourselves!” she bellowed. “You all look like you think you’re vacationing on the Riviera. Well, I’m got a news flash for you! You’re not vacationing—but you are all really close to being on permanent vacation, if you get my drift!”

“Call you later!” Vivian said into the phone and hung up, hoping the queen hadn’t noticed she was on a personal call.

“Is there something we can do for you, Your Majesty?” Carpathia asked sweetly.

“I want all you lazy slugs to get your worthless asses into my office right now! And that means this minute! Pronto! Post-haste! Chop, chop!

The worker bees filed into the queen’s office with a sense of foreboding. They knew something unusual had occurred. Wallace had a lump of dread in his stomach. Carpathia had gone pale and her lipstick was smeared because the queen startled her when she was putting it on.

When they were all seated around the table, the queen closed the door loudly and regarded everybody with disgust.

“Is anything wrong, Your Majesty?” Wallace asked with a nervous smile.

“Wrong? I’ll say there’s something wrong! I’ve just been going over the figures from the last month. Honey production is down twenty-five percent! This is unacceptable! I feel like firing the whole lot of you!”

“Then who would make the honey?” Sherwood asked.

“I’ve just been discussing this problem with my lieutenant, Georgie. He suggests we work longer hours with fewer days off until honey production is what it should be.”

They all looked turned their heads and looked at Georgie. He was smirking with superiority. Wallace, remembering the remark he had made earlier about bees not killing other bees, wanted to kill him.

“Now, after today I’m going to be on maternity leave,” the queen said, “for I don’t know how long. Georgie will be in command while I’m gone. He will be my eyes and ears. He has assured me he knows how to increase honey production, so I’m going to turn everything over to him. We’ll see what stuff he’s made of. If production hasn’t increased by the time I get back, there’ll be some heads eaten, of that you can be sure!”

After the meeting, the calm after the storm, the worker bees were silent and worked very diligently. Georgie was working on a new work schedule whereby days-off and vacations were to be canceled. All worker bees were going to have to come in an hour earlier in the morning and stay an hour later in the evening until honey production was up.

When the queen left for the day, the worker bees still had hours to go before their day was over. They were tired and didn’t know if they were going to be able to keep up the pace, but they knew that Georgie was watching them and would report everything to the queen, so they at least tried to give the appearance of being productive.

“Killing the queen never seemed like a better idea,” Vivian whispered to Sherwood when Georgie had stepped out for a moment.

“You can’t kill the queen,” Wallace said. “It just isn’t done.”

“Wouldn’t you kill her if you had the chance?”

“You have to be realistic. Even if we could get rid of her, we might get stuck with a queen ten times worse. I know it’s hard to imagine anybody being worse than her, but, believe me, it’s a real possibility.”

“I don’t think we should even be talking about it,” Carpathia said. “The walls have ears, you know, even with Georgie out of the room.”

“Maybe there’s another way,” Sherwood said.

“What do you mean?” Wallace asked.

“I’m going to keep wishing for her to die, praying for her to die. She deserves to die. If there’s any justice in the world, she will die. I’ve willed bees dead before!”

“Just a coincidence,” Wallace said. “They would have died anyway.”

Die, queen! Die, queen! Die, queen! Die, queen! Die, queen!” he chanted.

“I don’t think it’ll work,” Carpathia said.

“I can certainly try,” Sherwood said. “Would anybody like to place a bet?”

Georgie took over the queen’s office, making it his own during her absence, but he kept the door open at all times so he could keep an eye on the worker bees. He was going to enjoy being boss and he hoped the queen might have some complications with laying her eggs so she’d take a much longer-than-expected maternity leave.

The afternoon progressed slowly. While the worker bees gave the impression of being immersed in their work, they all had their minds on other things. Wallace was trying to keep from watching the clock; it was only two minutes later than the last time he looked. Vivian was considering how familiar she was going to let her boyfriend, Alphonse, get on their date that night. Carpathia was thinking about her children at home by themselves; she longed to get home and make sure they were all right. Sherwood was thinking about the movies he had seen in the last few months and was arranging in his head a list of the ones he liked best.

Once, when Wallace raised his head from his work and looked at the ceiling to relieve his stiff neck, he saw two drones, looking very business-like, go into the queen’s office and close the door. In a little while, everybody in the hive heard Georgie wailing, as if in great pain.

“What the hell is going on?” Vivian asked.

“Maybe they’re arresting Georgie,” Sherwood said with a hopeful smile.

In a little while Georgie and the two drones came out of the queen’s office. The drones left and Georgie stood at the front of the room and solemnly raised his arms for quiet. When he had everybody’s attention, he began, with difficulty, to speak.

“It is my painful duty to inform all the worker bees: we have confirmed reports that the queen has died.”

There was an intake of breath as everybody absorbed the momentous news.

“It worked! It worked!” Sherwood said, but only loud enough so those closest to him could hear what he said.

“What happened to her?” Carpathia asked.

“Not long after she left the hive this afternoon,” Georgie said, “she stopped on a tree branch to rest and have a sup of water.” He stopped and lowered his head and dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief.

“Yes?” Wallace said. “Go on.”

“A crow came along from out of nowhere and, seeing her majesty sitting on the branch, swooped in and ate her in one gobble and then flew off. There were two worker bees there who saw the whole thing. They’re being questioned by the bee police this very minute.”

“Are you sure this is not a trick?” Vivian said.

“That crow must be dead or really sick by now,” Sherwood said.

“Out of respect for our beloved queen, “Georgie said, “I’m going to shut down the hive for the rest of the day. You are all free to go, but remember to be back here tomorrow morning bright and early. We’re all going to have to work extra hard now to honor her memory.”

After Georgie had left, bent over with his grief, all the worker bees who had heard Sherwood’s boast turned and looked at him.

“Do you have some kind of magical powers?” Carpathia asked him. She had started to cry in spite of herself.

“I don’t know what you would call it,” Sherwood said, “but I definitely have something.”

“We’d better all try to stay on Sherwood’s good side,” Vivian said.

“Hey, didn’t you bees hear what the man said?” Wallace said. “We are free to go home now! Tomorrow is another day.”

“I wonder what we’ll do now for a queen?” Carpathia said.

“They’ll probably bring one in from outside,” Sherwood said. “I think that’s what usually happens in these cases.”

“They don’t need to bring anybody in,” Vivian said. “I am fully positioned to assume the throne.”

“I think you have to be born to it,” Wallace said, trying to keep from laughing.

“I have a feeling Georgie is going to initiate a coup to make himself the new queen,” Carpathia said.

“Aren’t you forgetting one little detail?” Wallace asked. “Georgie is a male bee. A male bee can’t be queen.”

“Well, anything is possible.”

“Maybe Georgie really is a woman,” Sherwood said. “I’ve always had my suspicions about him.”

When they were all outside, ready to leave the hive together, Sherwood said, “Now that the queen is dead, I’m going to take a few days off from the hive. I want to find that crow and tell him what a hero he is to all of us, even if he doesn’t know it.”

“Make sure he doesn’t eat you, too,” Wallace said.

“Not a chance,” Sherwood said and buzzed off happily.

“The queen is dead!” Vivian said, waving her handkerchief in the air as she flew away. “Long live the queen!”

All the worker bees, as they left the hive that day, felt hopeful and happy. They were sure the good feeling was going to last forever.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

The Literary Hatchet Issue #25

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The Literary Hatchet
Issue #25

The Literary Hatchet is an independent international journal devoted to emerging and established voices crafting provocative short fiction and thoughtful poetry and prose. Published three times a year!

The latest issue of The Literary Hatchet, Issue #25, containing 17 short stories, 26 poems, and two works of original art, is now available for purchase for $14 per copy on Amazon:

The featured writer for this issue is Allen Kopp, with eleven short stories: “Brother,” “Buses Boarding,” “I Had a Bone,” “In the Shape of a Man,” “Lamented,” “November Night,” “She Can Bake a Cherry Pie,” “Spiritus,” “Thanksgiving with Mr. Doodles and the Others,” “Until I Die,” “Yellow Bird.”

Viking Age ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The Vikings of the ancient world came from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. The time in which they were active was 800 A.D. to 1100 A.D. They were a fearsome bunch (bearded men in horned helmets wielding battle axes) to their neighbors because they were raiders, plunderers and invaders. Their major contributions to the world were navigation and the building of “longboats.” In other words, they were seaworthy and could go about any place they wanted to go, including the North American continent about 500 years before Columbus. Not all people who came from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland were Vikings. They were called Scandinavians or Norsemen. The Vikings comprised but a small part of the Scandinavian population, but they are the people from this period we remember.

The Scandinavians of the Viking age were pagan, worshiping multiple gods, until they converted to Christianity. Life expectancy was only 30-40 years. They were not particularly clean or hygienic, which accounts in part for the low life expectancy. Old people were virtually nonexistent. Many women died in childbirth. Many children died in infancy Men ended up raising children on their own or abandoning them to strangers. Despite the reputation of the Vikings, the Scandinavians were not a particularly war-like people. They were farmers, hunters, fishermen, cattle producers.

Kirsten Wolf, professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Wisconsin, wrote Viking Age. The subtitle is Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen. It is an overview of everything you might want to know about this ancient age and its Scandinavian people, including what they ate, what they wore, how they lived, their politics, their religion, their belief (or nonbelief) in an afterlife, their art, their recreational life, etc. I’m not a scholar or an academic, but I found the book readable and fascinating; that is, if you have an inquiring mind and are open to historical subjects.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

The Spring He Built the Garage

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The Spring He Built the Garage ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Richard Eddington served in the navy in World War II. When the war ended and he received his discharge in 1945, he didn’t have much reason for wanting to go home. His mother and brother were both dead. His father moved to Texas to marry a woman he hardly knew. There was no other family.

He had been a radio man in the navy. Radios were the big thing after the war. There was at least one radio in every home and the damn things were always breaking. People would pay good money to a repairman who could keep them in working order.

While readjusting to civilian life, Richard rented a room in a boarding house and landed a job in a shoe-company warehouse. It wasn’t much of a job, but it would keep him afloat while he took night classes in radio repair.

After a year of classes, he received his diploma. It meant more to him than his high school diploma because he put a lot more effort into it. When he went for his first job interview in a radio-repair shop, the old man who owned the place gave him a broken radio and told him to do what he could with it. He fixed the radio in just a few minutes and the old man offered him a job as counter man, meaning he had to wait on customers in addition to the repairs he did.

Business picked up at the radio shop. The old man increased Richard’s pay two times in a year. When the old man broke his hip and could no longer work and had to give up the business, he offered to sell the shop to Richard for three thousand dollars. Richard went to the bank and, because of his steady employment record and his honorable service in the navy, got a loan for enough money to buy the shop and also to buy a small, five-room, frame house on a pleasant street in town. He bought a used car with money from the nickel-and-dime bank account he had had since he was twelve years old, and soon he was a regular tax-paying, going-to-work-every-day, small-business-owner living in his own home.

He modernized the business, buying new fixtures, painting the walls and adding a line of big and small radios for sale. Business doubled and then tripled. Richard hired a full-time salesman, another repairman, and a girl to do the books and handle invoices. For the first time in his life he was “somebody” instead of “nobody.”

The girl was one Delores O’Dare. She smoked a lot of cigarettes and was quietly efficient, keeping to her work until time to go home. When any of the fellows around the shop tried to flirt with her, she gave them the brush-off.

Richard was shy and had never been much of a ladies’ man. He had a girlfriend or two in high school but could never be serious about them. They only wanted to get married and have babies, and that kind of responsibility scared him off. When he asked Delores O’Dare out to have a hamburger with him after work, he was surprised when she not only accepted but seemed pleased to be asked.

He told her about his time in the war, his family and his plans for the radio shop. She listened politely to everything he said without seeming bored or impatient. He found himself opening up to her in a way he had never done before with another person. Before he knew it, three hours had gone by. When it was time to leave, he offered to take her home, but she said she was fine on her own.

Richard and Delores began seeing each other regularly. She told him her secrets just as he had told her his. She was married at seventeen and divorced at eighteen. Her two brothers were both killed in the war; the younger brother was still missing in action and presumed dead. She lived with her parents to keep from living alone, but it wasn’t a happy situation. Her mother wasn’t right in the head and never had been. Her father was disabled and never stopped complaining because that’s about all he felt like doing. When Delores saved a little money, she planned on getting herself a little apartment and getting off by herself where she could have some peace and quiet.

After three months, Richard asked Delores to marry him and she surprised him by accepting. They obtained their license and were married by a justice of the peace a hundred miles away from home and spent a three-day honeymoon in a cabin at a lake resort. Neither of them fished or swam, so after they admired the scenery they were ready to go back home.

Delores brought with her to the little five-room house a double-bed, a dresser, a couch and a kitchen table and chairs. She hung curtains in every room, including the bathroom, and in a little while it seemed like a real home. Richard expected they would wait a few months and have a baby, but Delores told him she had had an infection when she was younger and was unable to bear children. He was a little disappointed that he would never be a father, but he thought they might consider adoption a little later on when they were more settled.

Richard and Delores went to work together every day and were together all day long in the shop. They went home together, ate dinner and slept together in the same bed. They were together every minute of every day and night. Richard accepted this as the natural order of things, but after a year Delores began to show signs of restlessness and moodiness. She began drinking to excess; she told Richard she didn’t like working in the shop anymore and wanted to quit. He’d need to hire himself another girl to keep the books.

He thought it best to indulge her, at least for the short term. Every morning when he left for work, she was still sleeping, having stayed up half the night sitting at the kitchen table, reading magazines, smoking cigarettes and listening to the radio. He would give her a month or so of doing what she wanted at home and then he was sure she would want to return to the shop.

The drinking became worse. On Saturday when they went to the store to buy food for the week, she loaded up the cart with beer, wine and whiskey. When he asked her why she drank so much, she said drinking was the only thing that calmed her nerves and made her feel like getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other.

“A person who drinks every day is an alcoholic,” he said.

“What of it?” she said. “I come from a long line of them.”

“I want you to see the doctor and tell him what’s going on with you.”

“I don’t need a doctor. I’m not sick. Maybe you’re the one that needs the doctor.”

“I didn’t know I was marrying a drunk.”

“There’s nothing wrong with drinking. If you weren’t such an old stick, you’d drink too. To keep me company.”

She began going out at night. After a hurried supper, she’d go into the bedroom and put on one of her best dresses, spend an hour or so in front of the mirror doing up her face and hair, and leave without a word. He never knew if she’d be back by morning. Some nights he had the feeling he’d never seen her again.

During one of her sober periods, he talked to her about adopting a baby, or maybe two, but she laughed and said it was the worst idea she ever heard. The last thing in the world she wanted was to raise somebody else’s brats.

He stopped sharing the bed with her and started sleeping in the back bedroom. He moved his clothes out of the closet and the drawers and lived as separate from her as he could in such a small house. He tried not to notice her comings and goings. When he heard her come in in the middle of the night or toward morning, he would refuse to look at the clock. He didn’t want to know what time it was. He told himself he didn’t care.

He thought about seeing a lawyer to file for divorce, but he could see she was on a downward spiral to her own destruction and he knew that he was the only person in the world who might help her, if only he knew how.

One Sunday morning after a late Saturday night, she cooked breakfast for him and sat down opposite him at the table while he ate it. The kitchen was full of her cigarette smoke and he could smell what she had been drinking the night before.

“I’m in love with someone else,” she said. “I want a divorce.”

“I don’t even know you,” he said.

“We need money so we can go away together.”

“If you leave, I want you to promise me you’ll never come back,” he said.

He gave her seventeen hundred dollars, which was all the money he had on hand. “That’s the last you’ll ever get from me,” he said.

He expected every day that she would leave, and would have been glad to see her go, but she didn’t go. Two weeks later she was still sleeping all day and staying away all night. One day when he came home from work in the middle of the afternoon, he heard her crying behind the closed bedroom door. He pushed open the door without knocking.

She was lying on the bed on her back in her slip. There was blood all over the bed and the floor.

“What’s this?” he said. “What’s happened?”

“Sit down,” she said.

“I don’t want to sit down! I want to know why you’re covered in blood!”

“I had an abortion.”

“You had a…”

“Something went wrong.”

“You’re bleeding to death! I’m calling an ambulance!”

“No! I don’t want anybody to know what I did!”

“I can’t just let you lie there and bleed to death!”

“No, it’s what I want. It’s what I’ve wanted for a long time.”

“To bleed to death?”

“Just sit and hold my hand.”

He sat down on the bed; she took his hand in hers and wouldn’t let go.

“I know I’ve been a terrible wife to you,” she said. “I’ve been so awful. So mean and unfair. I hope someday you’ll forgive me.”

“I don’t care about that,” he said. “I’m going to get some help.”

“No! I don’t want you to leave me!”

She drifted in and out of consciousness. Her breathing slowed and then stopped altogether. She died at ten o’clock that night in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Richard called the radio shop the next morning and told Vic, the salesman, that he was going to take the rest of the week off and they would have to manage the best they could without him.

“Everything here under control,” Vic said.

Richard wrapped Delores’s body in sheets and canvas and put it, temporarily, underneath the stairs in the cellar. The official story, if anybody asked, was that she went away to pursue a different kind of life. He didn’t know where she went or how to reach her. She didn’t want to be reached but wanted only to be left alone.

He called the police and filed a missing person’s report. A couple of officers came to the house and asked some questions. Was it a happy marriage? Did the wife show signs of discontent? Had she ever talked about leaving? Was there any reason to suspect foul play? The officers seemed satisfied with the answers they received and went on their way.

Richard had always wanted to build a garage in back of his house and now was the time. He went to city hall and got the building permit and then ordered the materials, which were promptly delivered. Doing all the work himself, he built a handsome brick garage with a thick concrete floor in about six weeks.

More than sixty years later, the little five-room house where Richard lived was torn down, as were all the surrounding houses, to make way for a new highway extension. While Richard’s garage was being dismantled, the skeletal remains of a female were found interred in the concrete floor. The police, naturally, wanted to know who the female was and how she came to be there. As the property owner, Richard would, of course, have been the person to answer these questions, but he had moved on to a happier existence and was no longer available for comment.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp