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A Bird There Was

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A Bird There Was ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

She sat on a bench at the edge of the park to rest before going on home. She was old and hot and out of breath and the bag of groceries she carried made her arm ache.

A small boy went running past, first one way and then the other. On the third circuit around the bench, she motioned him to stop.

“What’s your hurry?” she asked.

“I’ve got to find my friends.”

“Where did they go to?”  

“I don’t know. They were here and now they’re gone.”  

“You’re sweating and all out of breath. Why don’t you sit down and rest for a while?”

He sat beside her on the bench and when he had his back aligned with the back of the bench, his feet were a long way from the ground.

“You’re awful young to be out here in the park by yourself,” she said.

“I wasn’t by myself until my friends ran off and left me,” he said. “I don’t know what happened to them. I think they might be playing a trick on me.”

“If they treat you that way, you’re probably better off without them.”

“I guess I should go on home now.”

“Where do you live?”

“Over there.” He pointed over his shoulder in a vague direction.

“Where’s your mother?”

“She’s at work, I guess. She’s a waitress.”

“She’s leaves you by yourself?”

“With my sister. She’s fourteen.”

“How old are you?”

“Nine. But I’ll be ten pretty soon.”

“You’re a very pretty boy, you know that?”

“Boys can’t be pretty.”

“Well, you’re handsome then. Is that better?”


“What’s your name?”


“I’ve known a lot of Bobs in my life. Tell me your last name so I’ll able to tell you from all the others.”

“My last name is White.”

“Your name is Bob White?”


“There’s a bird called Bob White.”

“There is?”

“You don’t see them in the city, but where I grew up in the country we saw them all the time.”


“They say their name.”


“Their bird call. It sounds like they’re saying bobwhite, bobwhite, bobwhite. That’s how they get their name.”

“I never heard of a bird say its own name.”

“If you’re lucky, you’ll have a chance to see one and hear its beautiful call before you die. Until that happens, you will not have lived.”

“Do you have any kids?”

“I had a daughter and a son. My daughter died. My son lives out west.”

“What does he do out there?”

“Oh, he goes to work every day. He has three kids of his own. I’ve only seen pictures of them.”

“Why don’t you go live with them?”

She laughed. “I haven’t been asked.”

They sat silently for a while and watched the cars zooming by.

“Everybody certainly is in a big hurry today,” she said.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

“Three more blocks and I’m home.”

“Do you live in a house?”

“No, it’s an apartment.”

“Do you like it?”

“I like it all right. It gets lonely at times. I used to be friendly with the neighbors but they moved away. I don’t hardly ever see the new people.”

“We live in an apartment, too. On the third floor.”

“Would you like to come home with me?” she asked. “Are you hungry?”

“I’d better not,” he said. “I’d get in trouble.”

“Well, who’s to know?”

He shrugged. “Nobody, I guess.”

“I have some nice cottage cheese and some canned pears. There’s nothing better on a hot day.”

“I haven’t ever had cottage cheese but I know what it is and I don’t think I’d like it.”

“Well, I have some baloney and cheese and I just brought some fresh bread. I could fix you a sandwich and I have some root beer.”

“Do you have mayonnaise to put on the sandwich?”

They stood up and began walking. He offered to carry her bag of groceries, but she felt restored now and wanted him to see that she could carry it on her own.

Her half-basement apartment was in an old thirteen-story apartment building that, in recent years, had fallen into disrepair. All the respectable people had left and been replaced by a different kind. She dug her key out of her purse, opened the door and stood aside to let Bob White go in before her.

“Wow, this is nice!” he said.

The front room was cool and dark. She opened the blinds and let in some cheerful slanting sunlight.

“You’ve got a piano!” he said. “Do you play songs on it?”

“I used to, but I’m out of practice now.”

He sat on the couch and bounced a few times. “Who are those people in the pictures?”

“It’s my husband and me when we were young and the other one is my mother and father and my two sisters and me.”

“Where do they live?”

“They’re all in heaven. Except for me.”

“What happened to them?”

“Oh, you know. Old age. People die. You’re too young to know about it yet.”

“Do you have a bird?” he asked, spying a bird cage sitting in the corner.

“I had a bird but he got old and died. I kept the cage because I thought I’d get another one someday.”

She went into the kitchen to put the groceries away and when she came back, Bob White was resting his head on the arm of the couch.

“It’s so quiet here,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind living here.”

“Is it noisy where you live?”

“The neighbors get into fights. One time the police came.”

“I bet the police made them quiet down, didn’t they?”

“Only for a day or two.”

“Not much you can do about it, I guess,” she said.   

“Do you ever go to the circus?”

“Once, a long time ago. I remember the elephants because I saw them up close and afterwards they gave me nightmares.”

“What kind of nightmares?”

“They were chasing me and if I stopped running they’d trample me to death.”  

“In the jungle?”

“I guess so. I don’t know where it was.”

“Did you ever go to the opera?”

“A long time ago. When I was younger.”

“What was it like?”

“I don’t seem to remember too much about it.”

“What time is it?”

“It’s two-thirty and then some.”

“I should probably go home now.”

“What about that baloney and cheese sandwich?”

“Oh, yeah. I forgot.”

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“Yeah, kind of hungry.”

She took Bob White into the kitchen and sat him down at her little white table with its red vinyl chairs.

“You have nice things,” he said.

“You like baloney?”


She made the sandwich, put it on a plate, gave him a knife and the jar of mayonnaise. While he was eating and, with her back to him, she took a bottle of root beer out of the refrigerator, poured it into a glass and set the glass in front of him.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Your mother taught you manners, I see. I like to see that in a young person.”

When he was finished with the sandwich and the root beer glass was empty, they went back into the living room.

“My friends are probably wondering what happened to me,” he said.

“They must not have been thinking of you at all if they ran off and left you.”

“Yeah. Serves them right, I guess.”

“I’m so glad I ran into you in the park today and we had a chance to get acquainted,” she said. “I don’t have many friends anymore.”

“What happened to them?”

“Oh, you know. They died or moved away. Nobody stays put for long in this world.”

“Is it all right if I lay down here?”

“Sure, if you want.”

“I feel sleepy.”

“Sure, go ahead and take yourself a little nap if you want.”

He slipped off his shoes and lay back on the couch with his head on the embroidered sofa cushion. She sat across from him in the rocking chair and rocked in time to his breathing.

When she was sure he was all the way asleep, she picked up the phone and dialed.

“Mr. Biesenbach?” she said quietly into the phone, holding the receiver in both hands. “Got one for you in the park today.”

She looked closely at Bob White to make sure he was still asleep and wasn’t hearing what she said. “No, it’s a boy this time and he’s just the prettiest little thing you ever saw. He has light-brown hair and hazel eyes and…what’s that? No, I don’t think he’s an orphan. He has a mother somewhere, but from what he said I don’t think she’s paying much attention. He didn’t say anything about a father. Father must be out of the picture. He has a sister who’s supposed to be watching him, but she’s only fourteen.”

She listened patiently to Mr. Biesenbach speak, keeping her eyes all the time on Bob White.

“No, no, no!” she said. “I don’t think anybody saw me, but you can never be too sure. People around here are nosy because they don’t have anything better to do. What’s that? No, I gave him a mild soporific in soda. It won’t last long, though, and when he wakes up he’ll want to go home. What’s that? No, he’s asleep, I said, on the couch in my apartment. What was that you said? No, you’re certainly going to want this one. He’s a real prize and you’ll see what I’m talking about the minute you lay eyes on him. He’s so cute and very, very sweet. As long as he’s treated right, he won’t give you or anybody else a bit of trouble. His kind comes along only rarely. Yes, Mr. Biesenbach. Yes, sir. And one other thing, sir, if I may take up one more minute of your time. I’m not going to let you stiff me on the price with this one. I’m taking a terrible chance every time I do this. If I’m ever caught, it’s the end for me. You only paid me two hundred for the last one. I’m going to have to have five hundred this time and when you see him you’ll know I deserve at least that much for finding him for you. Good. Good. I hope so. What’s that?  No, no, I’ll wait right here for you. All you have to do is slip in the front door and carry him out to your truck. No, I think it’ll go smoothly as long as you get here as soon as you can, before he wakes up. No, sir, I don’t think it would do to wait until after dark. I don’t want to be responsible for keeping him here that long. Less than one hour, you think? Oh, that’s fine. I’ll be waiting right here for you by the door. To anybody who might be watching, you’re picking up some clothes I’m giving away to charity. It never hurts to have a story ready. Hah-hah-hah!

She hung up the phone and sighed. Bob White stirred in his sleep but didn’t wake up. She sat watching him, barely moving, until, in no time at all, she heard the truck outside her door.

“Blessed are the pure of heart,” she said, “for they shall see God.”

She stood up and went to the door. She watched as Mr. Biesenbach backed the truck in as close to the door as he could get, cringing as his tires came near the flower bed. As he was stepping out of his truck, she turned and looked again at Bob White, still asleep on the couch, and she felt a twinge of sadness that she would never see him again in this life.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp


The Shape of Water ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Shape of Water ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

A middle-aged woman named Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins) works in a government research facility where she cleans toilets and floors. She is lonely and alone, partly because she doesn’t speak; she is mute and communicates using sign language. She is not without friends, though. Her co-worker and friend of ten years is a funny and straight-talking woman named Zelda (Octavia Spencer). Another friend, and apparently her best friend, is a man named Giles (Richard Jenkins), an obviously gay, past-middle age, depressed, alcoholic commercial artist who was recently fired from his job for drinking too much. Elisa and Giles are next-door neighbors in a seedy apartment building over an old movie theatre, from which they hear perpetual movie dialogue. The place is Baltimore and the time is the early 1960s, when there existed an intense competition between the United States and Russia for domination of space.

The research facility where Elisa works has recently acquired from South America an amphibian man-beast that looks something like the creature from the 1954 movie Creature from the Black Lagoon, only more human-like and not as scary. The man-beast, of course, is lonely and sad because he has been taken away from his natural habitat to a faraway country and placed in a confining tank, awaiting…what? Elisa makes surreptitious visits to the tank where the man-beast is held, and she recognizes in him a fellow being in pain in a cruel, callous world. She gives him hard-boiled eggs and plays sentimental retro music for him, and the two of them develop a friendly rapport.

Most of the management of the research facility, with one notable exception, view the man-beast as a “thing” instead of a thinking, feeling being. The idea is to experiment with him to get a better understanding of how men might fare in space and thereby gain an advantage over the Russians in the space race. (I don’t see how this is possible, but never mind.) The one member of management who views the man-beast as a miracle, “a beautiful creature who can reason and who understands language,” is Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg, who played a dapper gangster in Boardwalk Empire and the understanding father in Call Me by Your Name). Dr. Hoffstetler is, in reality, a secret Soviet agent. He is working behind the scenes to get the man-beast to the Russians. Or is he? Wouldn’t the Russians be just as cruel as the Americans, and maybe more so?

When Elisa hears that the cruel, uncaring men plan to vivisect the man-beast (i.e., cut him into pieces to study him), she knows she must save him, any way she can. Dr. Hoffstetler, Zelda and Giles assist Elisa in stealing the man-beast from the research facility and hiding him in her apartment. The idea is to keep him hidden there until a rainy period in October when the water in the canal that connects to the sea (remember, this is Baltimore) is high enough to release him so he’ll be safe. It’s while the man-beast is in Elisa’s apartment that the two of them “fall in love.”

The Shape of Water is about two opposing forces in the world: the force for good (compassion, empathy, sensitivity, understanding) against the force for—if not exactly evil—then hard-assed reality, practicality, and insensitivity (the failure to recognize beauty and uniqueness). It’s a whimsical fantasy that requires a suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer. An isolated, unattractive, human woman with a physical defect falls in love with a man-beast from South America who may be a kind of god and tries to save him from the world. If reality is what you crave, then The Shape of Water is probably not for you.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

You Can See Them but They Can’t See You

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You Can See Them but They Can’t See You ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Erdra Jasmine Belknap awoke from what seemed a long sleep. It wasn’t morning, though, and she wasn’t in her canopied bed in her room. She stood up and looked around her. Nothing looking familiar. Nothing looked as it should. She wanted to run, out or away, to find her mother, her father or her brother, but there was no place to run to; on all sides were walls of darkness and she was afraid of them, afraid of what they might be concealing.

She heard a sound and looked sharply to her right. She was a little comforted by the sight of an old woman, and not just any old woman, either, but an old woman who contained her own glow, as if she was a lantern with a candle in her chest.

“Where am I?” she asked the old woman, on the point of crying.

The old woman held her hands out as if to comfort with them. “Remain calm, child,” she said. “What has happened to you is what must happen to all of us.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you’ve crossed over.”

“Crossed over where?”

“From the living to the dead.”

When Erdra realized what the old woman was saying, she began to panic. “No, no, no!” she said. “That can’t be true!”

The old woman laughed at the foolishness. “Oh, my goodness! Don’t get beside yourself, child!”

“Who are you, anyway?” Erdra asked.

“I’m your great-grandmother.”

“Why haven’t I ever seen you before?”

“I crossed over long before you were born.”

“Is this heaven?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why aren’t we in heaven?”

“We’re where we’re supposed to be for now. That’s all I know.”

“All right, if we’re not in heaven, where are we?”

“We’re in the family crypt. In the cemetery.”

“Oh, that can’t be!”

“Why not?

“I’ve seen the family crypt. From the outside. Father drove by it once when we were taking a Sunday drive and pointed it out to us. It looked scary to me, like a little church without a door. Once inside, you can never get out again.”

“It’s in the neo-gothic style, if that means anything to you,” great-grandmother said. “Your great-grandfather had it built and was the first to take up residence.”

“I don’t think I belong here. There’s been some mistake.”

“Everybody feels that way at first, especially the young. Give it time. You’ll get used to it, as all the rest of us have had to do.”

“But I don’t want to be here!”

“You’re going to have to disabuse yourself of that notion, child. When you are born, nobody asks you if you want to be in the world and when you die nobody asks you if you want to leave the world.”

“What year is it?”

“Oh, my goodness! What does it matter? Here there is no time. Only the living need to worry about what year it is.”

“I was born in the year nineteen hundred. The beginning of a new century. I’m twelve years old now. That means it’s the year nineteen-twelve.”

“For you it will always be nineteen-twelve, and you will always be twelve years old and not one day older.”

Erdra’s mind was running around in circles. “I was just thinking,” she said, “that when poor people die, they go into the ground, don’t they?”

“I suppose so,” great-grandmother said.

“They rot in the ground and their bodies are absorbed into the earth.”

“Not a pretty picture. The rotting part, anyway.”

“Then they go to heaven. The reason we don’t go to heaven is because our bodies are not absorbed into the ground. We’re stuck forever in this crypt.”

“You should be glad you’re in a crypt, surrounded by family, and not in the cold damp earth.”

“Maybe I’d rather be in the ground so I could go to heaven,” Erdra said.

“Your body will conceivably be preserved here for centuries,” great-grandmother said, pridefully.

“I think I’d rather be in heaven.”

“You’re not, though. You are here, and here you will remain. There’s nothing for you to do but make the best of it.”

“Where are my mother and my father?”

“Where do you think they are? They’re still alive. They’re where they’ve always been.”

“Will I ever see them again?”

“Who can say?”

“But I have cats. What will happen to my cats now that I’m no longer there to take care of them?”

“You don’t think your brother will take care of them? They’re his cats now.”

Erdra thought about it for a few seconds. “I suppose he will. I know he would hate to see them die of neglect.”

“I feel certain they’ll be in good hands.”

“When they cross over, will they come here to me?”

“I don’t think so. I think animals go someplace else.”

Erdra had herself a little cry and afterwards she slept. The next time she woke up, great-grandmother was standing over her, but there was somebody else there too.

“Time to meet the others!” she said cheerily.

There were others and they all had the same beautiful glow radiating outward from their chests that great-grandmother had. There were the twins, Parry and Lomax, who drowned when they were ten years old. They looked at Erdra with curiosity. She knew from their manner that they were shy of her and didn’t know what to say.

Then there was great-grandfather, the millionaire who paid an enormous sum of money to have the family crypt built. He was tall and broad, in a dress suit, with the elaborate mustache and side whiskers fashionable at the time he crossed over. He smiled at Erdra and patted her on the head. Then he was gone.

Uncle Evan, great-grandfather’s son, was handsome in his military uniform. He crossed over in Cuba when a bullet struck him in the neck during the Spanish-American War. He smiled at Erdra and winked and touched her on the shoulder.

Aunt Ursula was a tall, thin woman with a sad face. She carried her three-month old son, George, in her arms. George crossed over thirty years before aunt Ursula, but ever since she arrived she held him in her arms and would let none other touch him. They would be as one throughout eternity.

And then there was aunt Zel, great-grandfather’s sister. She was a large woman with elaborate coiffure and much jewelry, necklaces and rings. By her side was her husband, Little Otis. People always called him Little Otis to distinguish him from his father, Big Otis. He was a half-foot shorter than aunt Zel, with one arm missing. At age ten, he developed gangrene in the arm from the bite of a skunk and had to have it amputated.

Uncle Jordan was dressed in an expensive dress suit, with diamond stickpin and silk cravat. He kissed Erdra on each cheek clumsily, or tried to, and then he was gone. He avoided being around the other family members for too long because they didn’t like him, or he them. In life, he had enjoyed himself a little too much, spent more of the family fortune than he had a right to, and died, deeply in debt, in young middle age of alcoholism.

Cousin Phillip crossed over at age thirty-two as the result of a burst appendix. His young wife, Odette, immediately married a man she hardly knew named Milt Clausen. Odette was not in the family crypt and never would be. Cousin Phillip had renounced all women in the spirit world, bitter than his lovely young Odette had not honored his memory by staying a widow.

By this point in the introductions, Erdra was growing tired of the whole thing. There was cousin this and cousin that, aunt this and uncle that. She wasn’t paying a lot of attention until she met cousin Gilbert.

Cousin Gilbert was only fifteen when he crossed over as the result of a crushed larynx that he sustained in a game of roughhouse with some of his friends. As with Erdra, he was unbelieving when he found himself in the spirit world. He had learned to make the best of it, though, as great-grandmother told him he must.

Erdra immediately saw cousin Gilbert as a kindred spirit. He had a look in his eyes and about his mouth that told of mischief and separateness. His glow was a little brighter than anybody else’s.

“How do you like being a ghost?” he asked.

He pointed to the middle of the Erdra’s chest and when she looked down she saw she had her very own glow.

The others were gone without leaving (that’s the way things worked here), and Erdra found herself alone with cousin Gilbert.

“I can show you around, if you’d like,” he said.

She was delighted to learn she could leave the family crypt at will. Cousin Gilbert showed her how to press herself against the outer wall. Since the wall was solid and she was not, she could pass through it with the right amount of concentration, a trick of the will.

The cemetery was vast, much larger than Erdra imagined. Gilbert took her to visit some of his spirit friends, including a twenty-seven-year-old policeman in uniform, a Civil War soldier who had exchanged words with Abraham Lincoln, a victim of the Johnstown Flood (“the water came roaring down the mountain and swept all of us away”), a former governor of the state who one day hoped to be president but never was, a group of twenty girls who died in an orphanage fire (all buried in the same grave) and a twelve-year-old boy who stood just outside his vault until another spirit came along and engaged him in conversation.

“He’s lonely, you see,” Gilbert explained.

Another time when Gilbert took Erdra outside the crypt, they came upon a funeral in progress, with many people in attendance, all of them dressed up as if for their own funerals.

“This is the fun part,” Gilbert said.

He walked among the funeral attendees, pretending to kiss or touch or put his arm around certain of them. He also demonstrated the technique of coming up quickly behind them and making the more sensitive of them turn around to see who, or what, was there.

“They don’t even know I’m here,” he said, “but I am here.”

“On a different plane,” Erdra volunteered.

Gilbert made Erdra laugh when he floated over a couple of old ladies in large hats and, assuming a reclining position, pretended to pat them on the sides of their heads.

They might die if they knew there was a ghost hovering over them,” he said.

“Can I fly, too?” Erdra asked.

“We don’t really fly,” he said, “like a duck going south for the winter. What we do is float. We float because we’re lighter than air.”

“Can I try it?” Erdra asked.

“If you want to do it, you can. If you don’t want to, you can’t.”

He demonstrated his floating technique and they spent the afternoon floating all over the cemetery.

“Maybe there are some good things about being dead,” Erdra said.

“Of course, there are,” Gilbert said, “which everybody must learn on their own.”

“No more head colds,” Erdra said. “No more stomach aches. No more trips to the doctor. No more nightmares, math quizzes, boring church sermons, liver and onions or squash.”

Gilbert laughed, but then Erdra started thinking about all the things she had left behind, like her cats and her beautiful room at home, and she started to cry.

“I think it’s time to go back,” Gilbert said.

Erdra began venturing outside the family crypt often, either with Gilbert or on her own. And then, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in October, she saw them.

She recognized father’s motorcar that he was so proud of, and then she saw who was riding inside: father, mother and her brother, Reginald. She floated after the car—it wasn’t going very fast—and attached herself to the back of it.

Father pulled the motorcar into the driveway of the old house. The first thing Erdra did after she dismounted was to go around back and check on her kittens. They were all there, seemed healthy and happy, and had grown since she left them. She cried when she saw they knew she was there and looked back at her. She longed to pick them up and nuzzle them and hear their sweet purring, but she knew such a thing wasn’t possible.

Her room upstairs was the same. Everything was just as she left it, the books on her desk, the dolls and stuffed animals on the bed and the chair, the pictures on the wall, the lamp, the rocking chair, the clothes hanging neatly in the closet. Mother hadn’t changed a thing.

While mother, father and Reginald were having their Sunday dinner in the dining room, Erdra walked around the table, stopped and put her hands on the back of mother’s chair. She wished she might do something to let them know she was there, but she knew it was better if she didn’t.

It felt good to be home, but now that she was a spirit nothing could ever be the same. She could only observe life in her house from a distance without being part of it. But still, wasn’t it better than nothing?

Since she dwelt in the spirit world, time, of course, didn’t exist. All time was the same. A minute was the same as an hour, a day the same as a year. In the time that was no time, her brother grew up, got a job in another state and left home. Mother and father grew old and frail. At ninety-one years, father died in his own bed and mother was left alone.

On winter evenings, while mother sat and read or knitted, or sometimes played the piano, Erdra was nearby.

“I’m here, mother!” she said. “Don’t you see me? I want you to know you’re not alone!”

At times she was certain mother knew she was there but at other times she wasn’t so sure.

In the time that was no time, mother also died. The house was sold and all the furniture moved out. Another family took up residence, four children and two dogs. Erdra preferred cats.

She couldn’t stay in a house that was no longer hers, even if she was a spirit, so she went back to the family crypt. She wasn’t sure if she remembered how to get back, but all she had to do was “think it” and she was there.

Since time didn’t exist in the spirit world, Gilbert and great-grandmother and the others didn’t realize she had been gone, although, in the world of the living it would have been decades.

There were additions to the family crypt, of course, in all that time that was no time. Mother and father were there with their own glows and they had a surprise for her: her cats were there, too—all the cats she had ever owned. Nothing else could have made her happier. She experienced a feeling of completeness, then, of going full circle and ending up where she was supposed to be. Happy in life and now happy in death. Death, where is thy sting?

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

The Handmaid’s Tale ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Handmaid’s Tale ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, is set in a nightmarish dystopian America where the government has been usurped, its leaders murdered and the Constitution discarded. People no longer have individual rights, except for the right to serve. If people are not exactly slaves, they are chattel. Everybody must live in fear because any perceived infraction can result in exile to the Colonies (cleaning up dangerous hazard waste, resulting in death) or hanging in a ritual execution called a “Salvaging.” Dead bodies appear overnight hanging from hooks on a wall for everybody to see, and it’s not always certain what the people hanging there did to deserve such a fate.

The Handmaid’s Tale is not, however, about revolution or the overthrow of a government. It’s a personal story about one “Handmaid” whom we know as “Offred.” (We never learn her real name.) She’s thirty-three years old and had a husband and young daughter in times before. Offred is narrating the story in her own voice. We are privy to her private thoughts and inner feelings, which she must keep secret to go on living.

Childbirth is in decline. The country needs babies to replenish its dwindling population. Since Offred is known to have reproduced before, she is chosen as a “Handmaid.” She lives with an older couple and her job is to provide them with a baby. (She must wear a red habit-like dress and a stiff white headdress with wings, rather like an old-time movie nun.) The man is known as the Commander and his old lady is the Wife. Offred and the Commander copulate mechanically, fully clothed, and with the Wife present, of course. Offred is supposed to bring forth a baby from these couplings. She has three chances and if she fails she will end up in a much worse place, being forced to do very unpleasant work that could easily end in her death. It’s better to be a Handmaid than not.

The Commander has a young chauffeur named Nick. He flirts with Offred surreptitiously when he has the chance. Offred knows that any association she has with Nick could be dangerous. When she fails to conceive a child by the Commander, the Wife arranges a clandestine session for Offred with Nick in his room over the garage after everybody has gone to bed. Nick is happy to oblige—it’s part of his job—but he makes sure Offred knows there is to be no romance involved. Offred develops “feelings” for Nick anyway. He represents for her what her life was like before her world was turned upside down. Where exactly do his loyalties lay? Will he help Offred to escape to another country, or will he betray her in the worst way by turning her over to the authorities?

The obvious comparison of The Handmaid’s Tale is with George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Both novels are about the individual in a world where individuals don’t matter and survival is never certain. It’s a harrowing world and one that most of us, thank goodness, will never have to experience firsthand. You experience it, without any danger to yourself, by reading the book.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Hazel McCreary

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Hazel McCreary ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in Dew on the Kudzu.)

We were lost again. We had a roadmap but didn’t seem to know how to use it. I had been driving earlier but now Drusus was driving. His wife, Pearline, sat between us, and I sat next to the window. Mama and Adele were in the back.

The seat wasn’t long enough for mama to stretch out all the way so when she needed to lie down she used Adele’s lap as a pillow. We were all a little worried about mama. We had to stop every now and then for her to get out and walk around. She was car sick and sometimes she vomited. I couldn’t help but notice one time that there was some blood coming up.

“Sing to me, honey,” mama said.

“Oh, mama, I’m too hot to sing,” Adele said. “And I need to rest my voice anyhow.”

“I know you’re going to win that radio contest,” Pearline said. “With your lovely voice, you just have to win.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of it,” Drusus said. “There’s hundreds of other people that think they’re going to win it too.”

“I’ll do the best I can do,” Adele said. “That’s all a person can do.”

The old woman giving Adele singing lessons had taught her some opera, a tune called “One Fine Day,” but she was best at singing popular tunes like “Makin’ Faces at the Man in the Moon” and “Love, You Funny Thing.” She could sing anything, though, even church music; that’s the kind of voice she had.

“We need to be realistic about our chances but also hopeful,” mama said. “We do our best and leave it in the hands of the Lord.”

“And I know that new specialist in the city is going to get you well again, Mrs. McCreary,” Pearline said. She and Drusus were so newly married that she still couldn’t bring herself to call her mother-in-law by her first name, which was Hazel.

“Well, we’ll see,” mama said. “There’s no guarantee that I’ll even be able to get in to see him. City doctors are not like the doctors we’re used to. They see hundreds of patients in a day.” She had a coughing fit and when she stopped coughing she said to Adele, “You still got the name and telephone number of that doctor at that clinic in the city, don’t you, honey?”

“It’s in my bag,” Adele said. “You saw me put it there.”

“Dr. Toole says he’s probably my best and only hope.”

“Don’t worry, mama,” Drusus said. “We’ll get that doctor to see you even if we have to force him at knifepoint.”

We all laughed but mama groaned.

We came to a tiny town with a cutoff to a different highway. Drusus took the cutoff going a little too fast. Mama almost fell onto the floor and let out a little yelp. Pearline fell over against me and righted herself as if I was poison to the touch.

“Be careful, honey!” Pearline said.

“Well, this is it!” Drusus said. “This is the right way now. I just know it. We are officially not lost anymore.”

Happy days are here again,” sang Adele. “The skies above are clear again. So, let us sing a song of cheer again. Happy days are here again!”

As if to confirm that we were finally going in the right direction, we passed a sign that you couldn’t miss as long as you were alive. “Only two hundred and thirty-seven more miles,” I said.

“Seems like we already came about a thousand miles,” Adele said.

“How about you, Wynn?” Drusus asked me. “Do you want to drive for a while?”

“No thanks,” I said. “You’re doing fine.”

I went to sleep with my head against the door and woke up when we had a blowout and Drusus pulled off the highway to change the tire.

We all got out of the car, including mama. She took a few steps and smoked a cigarette and said she was feeling a little better. She wanted to know what state we were in. When we told her, she laughed for some reason.

We took advantage of the unscheduled stop to have a drink of water and a bite to eat. We still had some bread left over, Vienna sausages, fruit, and other stuff. Mama didn’t want anything to eat but she drank a little bit of water and some coffee. Pearline spread a blanket on the ground for her and Adele to sit on. Mama sat for a while and then lay down and looked up into the trees.

“This is nice,” she said, “lying still on the ground and not having tires turning underneath me.”

“I think mama’s sicker than she lets on,” I said to Drusus when we were changing the tire.

“That doctor in the city will fix her up,” he said.

“She’s trying to put a good face on it for Adele’s sake. She doesn’t want to spoil her chance of singing on the radio.”

“Everything will be all right,” he said. “Don’t worry so much.”

Mama went to sleep on the blanket and we had to wake her up to get her back in the car. I took over driving from there, even though I liked it better when Drusus drove and I could just sit and think.

We were all tired and we knew we were going to have to stop someplace for the night. We hadn’t made very good time, what with our getting lost and mama being sick and all.

At dusk we stopped at an auto court where, according to their sign, they had clean cabins and cheap. I went inside and engaged the room and then we drove around to our cabin, which was cabin number twelve in the back. With the shade trees, the two rows of trim white cabins, and the azalea bushes everywhere, it was a pretty place and plenty inviting.

We tried to get mama to eat something, but she just wanted to go to bed. Pearline and Adele helped to get her out of her clothes and into bed while Drusus and I sat on the front step and smoked.

“If Adele wins that prize money,” he said, “we can pay back Uncle Beezer the money he advanced us for this trip.”

“We can’t expect her to give up the prize money for that,” I said. “If she wins, the money is hers to do with as she pleases.”

“And what would she do with it, anyhow?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe it would be her one chance to get away from home, out into the real world. She might get a real singing career going for herself.”

“Do you really think she has a chance?”

“You’ve heard her sing,” I said. “Isn’t she as good as anybody you’ve ever heard?”

“Yeah, she’s good,” he said.

“If she wins the money, it’s hers. We can’t touch it.”

“Maybe she’ll offer it. At least part of it.”

“We can’t ask her for it, though.”

After a couple of minutes in which neither of us spoke, Drusus said, “Pearline thinks she’s going to have a baby.”

“A baby!” I said. “That was fast work. You’ve only been married a month.”

“The curse of the married man,” he said.

“What do you mean? Don’t you want it?”

“We’re poor,” he said. “We don’t have anything. Even the car I’m driving belongs to somebody else.”

I laughed. “How do you think other people manage?” I asked. “How do you think mama and daddy managed? They were dirt poor and they had eight kids.”

“The poorer they are the more kids they have, and the more kids they have the poorer they are.”

“You’re not sorry you married Pearline, are you?” I asked.

“Well, no. Not exactly. I probably wouldn’t do it again, though, if I had it to do over.”

“I’ll be sure and tell Pearline you said that.”

“Don’t tell anybody any of this,” he said. “She doesn’t want anybody to know about the baby just yet, because it makes it look like we had a shotgun wedding. I swear the baby wasn’t on the way yet when we got married.”

“You don’t have to convince me of anything,” I said.

“Not a word to mama or Adele yet. Pearline wants to make sure about the baby before she tells anybody.”

“Mum’s the word,” I said.

Drusus and I had to sleep on the floor in the cabin but I didn’t mind. I was just glad to be able to stretch out and rest my weary bones. I laid down near the screen door where I could feel a cool breeze and hear the trees rustling. After being on the dusty road all day, it felt like heaven.

As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear Adele softly singing mama’s favorite song: “Deep night, stars in the sky above. Moonlight, lighting our place of love. Night winds seem to have gone to rest. Two eyes, brightly with love are gleaming. Come to my arms, my darling, my sweetheart, my own. Vow that you’ll love me always, be mine alone. Deep night, whispering trees above. Kind night, bringing you nearer, dearer and dearer. Deep night, deep in the arms of love...”

I woke up in the morning to the sound of the birds singing. I stood up to slip into my shirt and pants and that’s when I saw Adele and Pearline sitting quietly in chairs at the foot of the bed. Pearline was smoking a cigarette.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“We can’t wake mama,” Adele said.

“Is she breathing?”

“I don’t think so.”

“We’d better get a doctor,” I said.

Pearline looked at me and shook her head and that’s when I knew that mama was dead.

I shook Drusus gently by the shoulder to wake him up. When I told him what had happened, he, of course, had to see for himself. He went over to the bed and put his ear to mama’s chest. Hearing nothing but silence, he then held a mirror to her nose. He looked at the mirror and threw it down on the bed like a child with a toy that no longer works.

“What should we do?” I asked.

“I don’t want to go another mile farther from home,” Adele said.

“We’d better call somebody and tell them what happened,” Pearline said.

“No,” Drusus said. “We’re not calling anybody. They’ll ask us a lot of questions. They’ll hold us here until they know what happened. They’ll make Adele miss her chance to sing on the radio.”

“We can’t go off and leave mama here,” I said.

“Of course not,” he said. “We’re taking her with us.”

After Adele and Pearline got mama into her clothes, Drusus carried her out to the car in his arms. I opened the door for him and he slid mama into the corner of the back seat where she was propped up and her head was not lolling to the side. He then took a length of rope and tied it around mama’s chest so she would stay upright and not fall over from the movement of the car. Adele gave mama’s dark glasses to Drusus to put on her and we found a straw hat that belonged to Uncle Beezer in the trunk and put it on her head. With the hat and the glasses and in her regular clothes, she didn’t look like a dead person.

“I’m glad she died in a pretty place like this instead of on the road,” I said.

“We’ve come this far,” Drusus said. “She would want us to keep going as far as we can. She wouldn’t want Adele to miss her chance to sing on the radio because of her.”

We all got into the car and Drusus started her up. As we were pulling out of the place, the manager stopped us and leaned into the window and looked at all of us, including mama. He smiled in a friendly way and said he hoped we enjoyed our stay and God grant that we should come back that way again.

When we were on the highway again and going at full speed, Adele began singing mama’s favorite hymn: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long. Perfect submission, perfect delight, visions of rapture now burst on my sight; angels descending bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love…”

Nobody said anything for a long time after she finished singing. We all had the feeling, though, that nothing was going to stop us now. That old car of ours was sure burning up the miles.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp          

A Cross-Eyed Woman

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A Cross-Eyed Woman ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This little all-dialogue story that I wrote in 2015 is a re-post.)

“Did I tell you I’ve got a new girlfriend, grandpa?”

“Is that so? What’s her name?”

“Lucille Meisenbach.”

“How much does she weigh?”

“A hundred and thirty.”

“How old is she?”

“She’s a year younger than me, grandpa.”

“Don’t be in no hurry to marry a person with a name like Lucille Meisenbach.”

“I’m not. I only just met her.”

“Make sure you know everything about her before you marry her. Her people, too.”

“I’m not going to marry her.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Nothing, except that she’s cross-eyed.”

“You don’t want to marry no cross-eyed woman.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“Cross-eyed woman is a sign of trouble.”

“How do you know, grandpa?”

“I’m seventy-three years old. I’ve seen everything and what I haven’t seen I’ve heard about.”

“I wouldn’t want to marry her, anyway.”

“Why not?”

“She’s got six toes on one foot.”

“How many on the other?”

“Just five.”

“Eleven toes is bad luck. It’s a mark of the devil.”

“If you say so, grandpa.”

“You don’t think you’d want to marry her after you’ve known her for a while?”

“No, sir.”

“You say that now, but if she gets it into her head to marry you, she’ll find a way to ensnare you against your will.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, grandpa.”

“Why not?”

“She’s not very smart.”

“You don’t have to be smart to be evil.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say she’s evil, grandpa.”

“You probably just don’t know her well enough to see her evil side.”

“If I start to see it, I’ll dump her.”

“Maybe she won’t let you dump her.”

“If I want to dump her, she can’t stop me.”

“I see you know very little about women.”

“I know enough.”

“Just make sure you find out everything there is to know before you marry her. If she’s got them two flaws, she’s bound to have others.”

“I haven’t seen any others.”

“Well, she’ll be setting her trap to catch you.”

“I don’t think so, grandpa.”

“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“I went to dinner at her house on Sunday after church. We had fried chicken. Her mother’s name is Vera Meisenbach.”

“How old is she?”


“How much does she weigh?”

“Two hundred.”

“A big woman.”

“Yes, sir. Big and tall. Broad shoulders. A wild look in her eye. Kind of scary.”

“And that’s not all, is it?”

“No, sir. She’s got a hump on her back.”

“Uh-oh! A big woman with a hump on her back has a cross-eyed daughter with eleven toes. Freakishness runs in the family. That’s not good.”

“I can’t claim to be perfect myself.”

“You’ve got the right number of toes, you’re not cross-eyed and there’s no hump on your back.”

“That’s true.”

“Count your blessings.”

“Yes, sir. I also met Lucille’s daddy. He’s a little bitty man like a midget.”

“A pattern has been established.”

“Lucille told me he’s got a metal plate in his head that lets him pick up radio transmissions. I tried to keep from laughing.”

“How much does he weigh?”

“Ninety-four pounds.”

“His wife weighs more than twice what he weighs?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not pleasant to contemplate. How old is he?”

“He’s forty-nine years old.”

“And his name?”

“Luther Meisenbach.”

“Any other progeny besides Lucille?”

“A brother named Norland Meisenbach. He’s sixteen.”

“Is he cross-eyed?”

“Not that I noticed, but I didn’t pay that much attention.”

“How much does he weigh?”

“A hundred and ten.”

“That’s small for sixteen, isn’t it?”

“I guess so.”

“Anything freakish about him?”

“He’s got a turned-in foot and he doesn’t talk much because he’s got a stutter.”

“So there’s something wrong with every one of the Meisenbachs.”

“Yes, sir. I guess you could say that.”

“If you take my advice, sonny, you’ll get as far away from that bunch as you can. They’re not wholesome to be around.”

“Yes, sir. I don’t really care that much for Lucille, anyway. When she looks at me, it looks like she’s looking over my shoulder.”

“She’s probably looking to her master for direction.”

“You sure have opened my eyes, grandpa. I’m glad we had this little talk.”

“Not at all, sonny. I’m always glad to give you the benefit of my superior knowledge. That’s what grandpas are for.”

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Annihilation ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Annihilation ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Annihilation is a science fiction/horror story based on a novel by Jeff Vandermeer. Lena (Natalie Portman) is former military, a biologist specializing in cellular development who teaches medical students in a university. Her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), also in the military, went on a secret mission a year ago and never came back. Lena wants some answers.

Three years before the action of the story takes place, a streak came out of the sky and settled on a lighthouse on an unspecified beach and, after that, mysterious things began happening. There’s some kind of force field emanating from the lighthouse and it’s getting bigger all the time. Nobody knows what’s going on. When teams of scientists go to the lighthouse to investigate, they never come back. It turns out that Lena’s husband, Kane, was one of those who went to investigate. After being gone for a year, missing and presumed dead, he casually turns up again one day. He’s not himself, though. He doesn’t know where he’s been or what has happened to him. He becomes violently ill, Lena summons an ambulance, and while he and Lena are enroute to the hospital in the ambulance, it is stopped in a not-very-subtle way by what appears to be a convoy; Kane and Lena are taken into custody.

Lena awakens, after being sedated, in what is apparently a military facility. She is told that Kane is very critically ill and is probably dying, but nobody knows exactly what’s wrong with him. Lena isn’t allowed to leave the facility. She becomes acquainted with some of the other people there, who just all happen to be women. Some of them decide they will go on an expedition, led by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to Area X, the strange area surrounding the lighthouse that is getting bigger all the time (the fear is that it will soon encompass the entire world). This area is also known as the “Shimmer.” It’s probably a suicide mission, because, as we know, none of the people who have gone to investigate the Shimmer have ever returned.

So, we have five women going into the Shimmer on this very dangerous mission, including Lena and Dr. Ventress. The first thing that happens to them is they can’t remember anything and seem to have lost time (days? weeks?) for which they have no explanation.

The Shimmer is a frightening but also a beautiful place where the laws of nature seem to be turned upside down. Unusual and colorful flowers, unlike any seen in the real world, grow in profusion. And, if that isn’t enough, species have apparently been mutated with other species, which the members of the expedition discover when they are attacked by a vicious, enormous alligator that behaves in a very aggressive way and runs as fast as a dog. Later, there is a kind of a faceless bear that is intent on killing them. This is the stuff of nightmares.

Some of the women in the expedition meet horrible deaths, as you might expect, but Lena, our main character, makes it to the lighthouse. What she discovers there will confuse you and leave you wondering but will not bore you. Since Annihilation is the first installment of a trilogy, I’m figuring there will be a sequel, as long as this movie makes enough of a jingle at the box office.

A full explanation is never given of what the Shimmer is, but my takeaway is that it’s an alien life force that will slowly but gradually consume the earth without the aliens (whoever they are) ever lifting a finger (do they have fingers?) or engaging in any kind of warfare with earthlings. Maybe I’m wrong, but this is the only explanation that comes to hand at the moment.

Annihilation is challenging science fiction, unlike silly space adventures geared to the youth market. It’s the same kind of cerebral science fiction as Arrival, a movie from 2016. In both movies, the principal character (a woman in both cases) confronts the profound and unimaginable. We live vicariously through these characters because none of us will ever confront the profound and unimaginable, except maybe when we die.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp