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Visitors’ Day

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Visitors’ Day ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

It was a Sunday morning in December. Freda and Julian were in the back seat of Daddy Earl’s car. Daddy Earl careened through traffic with ease, no obstacle too much for him to overcome. He had the radio tuned to some cheerful Christmas music because he knew Freda liked it. Julian held onto his teddy bear, although he insisted he didn’t need it, watching the passing scenery with absorption.

“Are you going to take that stupid bear inside with you?” Freda asked.

“Shut up!” Julian said. “I’ll do whatever I want.”

“Will they have her in handcuffs?” Freda asked the back of Daddy Earl’s head.

“I don’t think so,” Daddy Earl said. “Not on visitors’ day.”

The parking lot was full and Daddy Earl had to drive around for a long time before he found a place to park and, once he did, they had to walk a long way to the visitors’ entrance.

“This place gives me the creeps,” Freda said, as they waited to be searched and admitted.

Daddy Earl put his finger to his lips to tell her she should stop talking.

A man in a uniform took Daddy Earl, Julian and Freda into a large visiting room filled with people and showed them where to sit. He left and came back in a couple of minutes with mother.

Mother gave Daddy Earl a peck on the cheek and hugged first Julian and then Freda before sitting down.

“How’s my big boy?” she smiled at Julian.

“Mother, I don’t like for you to be in jail,” Freda said, on the point of tears.

“I know you don’t like it, dear. I don’t like it, either.”

“Why don’t you tell them to let you come home?” Julian asked.

“It doesn’t quite work that way, honey,” mother said. “I wish it did.”

“How are you doing, old girl?” Daddy Earl asked. It was one of the many names he had for her.

“I’m just peachy, darling!” she said.

“How are they treating you?”

“Like a queen.”

“How’s the cuisine?”

“Every meal like dining at the Ritz.”

“Do you need some money?”

“It would only be stolen.”

“Do you need anything?”

“Just one thing. To get out of this place and go home.”

“It feels funny having a criminal for a mother,” Freda said.

“I know, baby,” mother said. “And I apologize for it in every possible way.”

“Why don’t you just promise to stop shoplifting so they’ll let you out.”

“I’ll do that and see if it works.”

“Do you have a court date set?” Daddy Earl asked.

“No. You know what the courts are like.”

“Any chance you’ll be out by Christmas?”

“I don’t think so. No bail for me since it’s my third conviction. I’m a flight risk.”

“What does that mean?” Julian asked.

“Nothing for you to worry about, dear,” mother said.

“Is this place a hospital? Are you going to die here?”

“You don’t have a worry in the world, sweetheart. Mother will be home with you soon. If not before Christmas, then pretty soon after.”

“Are you sick?”

“No, I’m not sick. Everything is going to be fine.”

“I don’t know why you have to stay here if you’re not sick.”

“Shut up, Julian!” Freda said. “You’re only making things worse.”

“How am I making things worse?”

Mother took Julian on her lap, even though he was almost too big for it. “I don’t want you to be unhappy,” she whispered in his ear.

“I’m not,” he said.

“I’m so glad you came to see me today. This is the only good thing that’s happened me to since I’ve been here.” She hugged Julian and he hugged back. “The two of you are going to have a wonderful Christmas, with Santa and a tree and everything.”

“Maybe we don’t want those things while you’re in jail,” Freda said.

“Of course you want those things! And you’ll have them, too. Won’t they, Daddy Earl?”

“Santa already knows they’ll be at my house,” Daddy Earl said. “He’s not going to let us down.”

“I knew we could count on old Santa,” mother said.

“I’ve been thinking,” Daddy Earl said.

“About what?”

“Maybe they’d go easier on you if you were married.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying I think we should get married.”

“Last I heard, you had a wife somewhere.”

“A minor technicality,” Daddy Earl said.

Mother laughed. “I hear they have a special place for bigamists over in the men’s prison.”

“What does that mean?” Julian asked.

“I know what it means,” Freda said.

“Never mind what it means,” mother said. “I was just making a joke with Daddy Earl.”

“I have the feeling they’re going to let you out in time for Christmas,” Daddy Earl said.

“Oh, baby, I wouldn’t count on that if I were you!” mother said.

“You’ll be calling me to come and get you, and I’ll get here so fast you won’t believe it!”

Mother began crying, no matter how hard she wanted to avoid it. “We have to be realistic,” she said. “I might be here for a long time. I might never go home again. I did such stupid things. I didn’t know what I was doing and I swear I’m done with all that!”

“Of course you are!” Daddy Earl said. He put his beefy arm across her shoulders. “You have to look on the bright side and keep your spirits up.”

“Yes, I’ll try,” mother said. She wiped her eyes with his monogrammed handkerchief.

A guard was watching them carefully and then he came over and told them it was time for them to leave; the visit was over.

Mother gave Daddy Earl a passionless kiss. When she hugged Julian and Freda, she started crying again, which made all of them cry.

“We’ll come again just as soon as we can,” Daddy Earl said.

“I want all of you to have a good Christmas,” mother said, “and don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’ll be thinking of all of you.”

“We’ll be thinking of you, too, mother,” Freda said.

On the way to the car, Freda said, “I don’t think we’ll ever see her alive again.”

Julian began wailing, so Daddy Earl picked him up and carried him the rest of the way.

Freda turned to look at the windows of the prison, expecting mother to be there waving at them, but she saw only a gray blankness that told her that nothing good ever came out of there.

On the way home, they stopped and ate a chicken dinner with cherry pie for dessert and then Daddy Earl went to a place where he knew they could get a good, real-live Christmas tree. When they got home, he set the tree up in the living home, strung the lights expertly, and then let Freda and Julian do the rest of the decorating.

In their twin beds in Daddy Earl’s guest room at ten o’clock, they could hear sleet and rain hitting the windows.

“Maybe they’ll call school off tomorrow,” Julian said.

“Did you hear mother say that Daddy Earl already has a wife?” Freda asked.

“What of it?” Julian asked.

“His wife might come back from wherever she is and tell us we have to get out.”

“Why would she do that?” Julian asked.

“She’d be jealous, that’s why.”

“Daddy Earl could always punch her in the nose.”

“Maybe we could sneak mother out of prison and sneak Daddy Earl’s wife in there in her place.”

“How you gonna do that?” Julian asked.

“Didn’t you ever hear of chloroform?”

“No!”

He groaned and rolled over so that his face was inches from the wall. He didn’t want to think about school tomorrow, about mother being in jail, or about anything else. He pictured snow piling up outside, so much snow that school would be called off for the whole week. With that comforting thought, he was able to make himself go to sleep.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Manchester by the Sea ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Manchester by the Sea ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Manchester by the Sea is a somber study in loss and tragedy, set in bleak New England winter with gray skies and a gray heart. Lee Chandler (played by Casey Affleck) is a working-class man with a foul-mouthed wife and three small children. He drinks more than is good for him and it’s while he’s under the influence of alcohol that he makes the terrible error in judgment from which he will never recover.

As the story moves back and forth in time, it takes us a while to know who is who and what is what. Lee Chandler’s brother, Joe (played, coincidentally, by an actor named Kyle Chandler, who was the unhappy husband of a lesbian in the movie Carol last year), develops a heart condition in early middle age and dies. He has one child, a sixteen-year-old son named Patrick. Joe’s wife, Patrick’s mother, is an unreliable, drunken shrew, so Joe leaves guardianship of Patrick to his brother Lee. Lee, now divorced, works as a janitor/handyman, living in one room, and he has plenty of problems of his own (including alcoholism), so he probably isn’t the best choice in the world to take care of a confused, sexually precocious sixteen-year-old boy. Patrick probably isn’t going to be happy in any circumstances, with his father dead and his mother “away.”

The Manchester of Manchester by the Sea is Manchester, Massachusetts, and not Manchester, England, as the title would seem to suggest. It’s a contemporary story, so that means there’s lots of foul language and naturalistic acting, with parts of the dialogue mumbled and unintelligible. The outdoor scenes are wintry scenes, with piles of dirty snow everywhere and cloud-covered vistas, so there’s nothing pretty to look at, even the sea. There’s nothing happy about this movie, including the way it looks, but it’s an engrossing, immersive movie; its two hours and sixteen minutes race by with barely a thought of how much longer it’s going to take, and when the end comes we were probably wishing for a little more.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp   

If Mother Goes to the Penitentiary

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If Mother Goes to the Penitentiary ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Daddy Earl drove slowly on the night-time street, looking for an address. When he found the one he wanted, he parked the car under a street lamp and killed the engine.

“This looks like the place,” he said. “You two wait here. This shouldn’t take long.”

“What do you think Daddy Earl does on these calls he makes?” Freda said to Julian after Daddy Earl was gone.

“How should I know?” Julian said. He was lying on his back looking upside down out the window.

“Well, I hope this doesn’t take long. It’s boring just sitting here in the dark and it’s kind of scary.”

“I’m not scared,” Julian said.

“If anybody walking along the street tries to bother us, I’ll honk the horn to attract somebody’s attention.”

“What do you think mother’s doing right now?” Julian asked.

“She’s probably sitting on the bunk in her little jail cell in her plain gray prison dress, thinking about where she stashed those jewels.”

“What jewels?”

“The jewels she stole, silly. I just know she has them hidden away in a safe place and when she gets out of jail she’ll know right where they are and go and get them. Then we’ll have to go away to Mexico or Nicaragua or someplace like that to keep the police from locking her away in jail again.”

“Daddy Earl too?” Julian asked.

“No, I think Daddy Earl will stay here,” Freda said.

“Maybe mother and Daddy Earl will get married.”

“I don’t think so. I don’t think Daddy Earl gives mother much of a thrill. He’s nice and everything, but he’s not very good looking and he’s kind of dumb. He sleeps in his socks.”

“How do you know he sleeps in his socks?”

“Mother told me, silly. It’s to keep his feet warm. He doesn’t have good circulation, so his feet are cold all the time.”

“I sleep in my socks, too,” Julian said. “Sometimes.”

“That’s just because you’re ignorant and you don’t know any better.”

“You’re just as ignorant as I am.”

“Yes, but I’m trying to overcome my ignorance, but you’ll go through your whole life getting more ignorant all the time.”

Julian yawned and then coughed. “Do you see Daddy Earl coming?”

“It’s only been about two minutes,” Freda said. “He wouldn’t be back this soon.”

“Why did they put mother in jail?” Julian asked.

“It was her third conviction, that’s why.”

“What’s ‘conviction’?”

“It means she was caught three times stealing jewelry and stuff. On the third time, they lock you up to try to teach you a lesson.”

“What’s the lesson?”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s not to steal anymore.”

“I heard Daddy Earl telling somebody on the phone that mother’s shoplifting is a psychological addiction,” Julian said. “She can’t keep from doing it, even if it means she’ll have to go to jail.”

“Who was Daddy Earl talking to?”

“How should I know?”

“Maybe it was a lawyer.”

“He said she’s going to end up in the penitentiary if she’s not careful.”

“It’s kind of funny to have a criminal for a mother,” Freda said. “I mean funny in an odd way, not in a laughing way.”

“Hah-hah-hah,” Julian said.

“If mother goes to the penitentiary, I think I have a pretty good idea what will happen to us,” Freda said.

“Us?”

“Yeah, you and me, dumbbell! We’re minors. Do you think they’re going to leave us with Daddy Earl?”

“I don’t know.”

“Daddy Earl doesn’t want us for all the time. He’ll only let us stay with him until mother gets out of jail and then all bets are off.”

“All bets are off,” Julian said. “Maybe we can go live in the penitentiary with mother.”

“Do you think they let kids stay there?”

“I don’t know why not.”

“Well, that shows how much you know! You wouldn’t want to live in the penitentiary even if you could.

“Why not?”

“They eat gruel and stale bread every meal. There are rats and cockroaches everywhere and the people roaming around there would slit your throat just for looking at them. If the guards catch you doing something you’re not supposed to do, they lock you up in solitary confinement.”

“What’s solitary confinement?”

“It’s a dark place where they lock you away from everybody else and they only give you a little sip of water and a crust of moldy bread, and that’s all you get for the whole day.”

“Do they have TV in solitary confinement?”

“Of course not, silly! What would be the point in that? You don’t have books or newspapers or music or anything. That makes the punishment worse. Then when they finally let you out, you’re so grateful to be out that you promise you won’t ever act up again.”

“I don’t think I’d like it very much,” Julian said.

“No, if mother goes to the penitentiary, it’s off to foster care for you and me.”

“What’s foster care?”

“It means they put you in a place with strangers where they watch you all the time to make sure you’re not going to turn out to be a criminal, too. They make you scrub floors and wash dishes and go to church.”

“Why do they make you go to church?”

“Why do you think? They want to scare you into thinking you’re going to go to hell if you don’t try to be a good person.”

“I try to be a good person.”

“That’s because you’re only a small child. When you get older, you’ll get into things like gambling and drinking and chasing after women.”

“How do you know so much about it?”

“I’ve read a lot of books beyond my grade level and have watched a lot of TV. You find out about life from reading books and watching TV.”

“Like the Three Stooges?”

“No, I don’t mean like the Three Stooges. I mean real-life drama shows like detective shows and doctor shows and old movies that they show late at night.”

“Oh, I don’t like those.”

“You’ll never get past the Three Stooges phase, I’m afraid.”

The windows were starting to steam up. Freda swiped the sleeve of her coat across the glass.

“I wish he’d come on.” she said. “I want to get home.”

“Why?”

“It’s Saturday night and I’ve got a date.”

“Who with?”

“None of your business, that’s who with.”

“I’m going to tell mother!”

“Yeah, she’s in prison. Do you think she cares if I have a date?”

“She’d tell you you can’t go.”

“I’ll bet you didn’t know I had a boyfriend, did you?”

“Who cares?” Julian said. “What’s his name?”

“His name is Mickey Littlejohn, if it’s any of your business. He’s in the tenth grade, two years older than I am.”

“Is he the one with rotten teeth?”

“No, that’s Harvey Greaves. They’re nothing alike.”

“I don’t know him.”

“Mickey Littlejohn and I are going to run off and get married. We’re that much in love.”

“Mother won’t let you.”

“I don’t know how she can stop me, since she’s in prison.”

“She’ll tell Daddy Earl to stop you.”

“Did you ever notice how Daddy Earl doesn’t ever look right at us? He looks through us like we’re not even there. It’s like he’s thinking about something else all the time.”

“What’s he thinking about?”

“I don’t know. He’s a sphinx.”

“What’s a sphinx?”

“You’re too young to know.”

“I don’t care, anyway.”

Freda took a comb out of her purse and began combing her hair in the dark, imagining she was seeing herself in a mirror. “Mickey’s not going to like it when he comes by to pick me up tonight and I’m not at home because I’m waiting in some old car on some old street with my little brother.”

“Daddy Earl would chase him away.”

“Daddy Earl doesn’t know anything about Mickey and that’s the way I want to keep it.”

“Why?”

“Mickey Littlejohn is the one person in the world who will keep me from having to go to foster care when mother goes to live at the penitentiary.”

“How is he going to do that?”

“If they see I’m married and am living with Mickey in his own home with his parents, they’ll have to leave me alone. They won’t make me go to foster care because I’ll be a married woman living with my husband. It’s the law.”

“Can I come and live with you and Mickey Littlejohn?”

“Of course not, silly! You’ll have to go to foster care. A newly married woman doesn’t take her little brother along to live with her husband.”

“I don’t know why not!”

“It just isn’t done.”

“I’m not going to foster care,” Julian said.

“Oh, yes, you will! You’ll have to do what you’re told to do because you’re a minor. When you’re a minor, you don’t get to make any decisions for yourself.”

“Oh. I’ll go and live with my father, then.”

“You don’t have a father, dope!”

“Does he live in the penitentiary too?”

“Nobody knows where he is. Mother doesn’t know. He was just a brief infatuation for her.”

“I’ll put an ad in the paper and I’ll find him that way,” Julian said.

“He doesn’t want to be found, silly. That’s the way it is when you’re a man and a woman you’re not married to has a baby by you.”

“Don’t we have a grandma or an aunt or somebody that I could go live with?”

“All dead,” Freda said. “It’s foster care for you.”

“I’m not going!”

“When the time comes, they won’t ask you. They’ll pack you off no matter how much you cry and scream.”

“No, they won’t. I’ll buy a gun and kill them.”

Freda sighed deeply and knowingly. “Oh, well,” she said. “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you. Mother’s not in the penitentiary yet and maybe she won’t even have to go.”

“She needs to promise she won’t ever steal any more jewels,” Julian said.

“She should never have become a mother in the first place,” Freda said, “but these things will happen.”

“I think I see Daddy Earl coming now,” Julian said.

“No,” Freda said. “It’s only a tree moving in the wind.”

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

The Medici Boy ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Medici Boy ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (better known as Donatello) was one of the most gifted sculptors and artisans of Renaissance Italy. He lived from 1386 to 1466 in the politically volatile city state of Florence. His bronze statue of David is among his greatest works and one of the most famous works of the Italian Renaissance. He shows David as a beautiful, delicately nude youth, a shepherd boy who has just slain the giant Goliath. We see David’s foot resting on Goliath’s head, a sword in his right hand, his left hand on his left hip and his left knee canted out. He is an almost androgynous figure with long, curling hair and a slight frame. He looks like anything other than a slayer of giants.

In The Medici Boy, John L’Heureux has written a purely fictional account of Donatello’s creation of his bronze statue of David and his obsessive and destructive love for the model, one Agnolo Mattei. Agnolo is a male whore, a bardassa. He prowls the streets at night, looking for men who will pay him to perform sex acts. (Donatello is, of course, a real person, while Agnolo is a fictional construct.) For all his physical appeal (some people don’t see it at all), Agnolo is a trouble-maker. He exerts a kind of spell over Donatello, a physical attraction that develops (for Donatello) into an all-consuming passion. Sodomy is, of course, a terrible sin and a crime in Florence, referred to as the “Florentine vice.” Men who engage in the forbidden practice are subject to severe punishment, including imprisonment, fines, or even death. (The penalty for each conviction is more severe than the one before.)

The Medici Boy is told in the first-person voice of one Luka Matteo, a worker in Donatello’s workshop (bottega). He is himself an artisan, but he also keeps the account books for the enterprise and handles other details that Donatello is too busy to handle himself. He has a wife, a former prostitute, and four children, two of whom are “carried off” by the Black Pest, a terrible disease that seems always to be lurking in the background in fifteenth century Italy.

Luka is a sort of step-brother to Agnolo, the male whore who has stolen Donatello’s heart, but he hates Agnolo for all the trouble he causes. (He is also a little bit jealous of Agnolo because he ingratiates himself with both men and woman.) When a political conflict erupts between the different factions in Florence, the opposing side hopes to use Agnolo to inform on Donatello, in an attempt to bring down the powerful Cosimo di Medici, a long-time associate and patron of Donatello.

For a speculative story about a real person (Donatello) in a real place (Florence, Italy), The Medici Boy is convincing and believable. We can easily believe that this is what “might have happened.” It’s obvious that the author has done a lot of research to render the time and place just right, although he has filled in the details of the lives of the characters with fictional details. It’s an easy and fascinating book to read, especially if you like historical fiction that removes you from your distasteful surroundings and transports you to another time and place. The sexual content is never graphic or offensive (after all, it was not written by Jacqueline Susann) and is handled in good taste and never sensationalized. Now that we have that out of the way, go and get the book and read it.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Today I Quit My Job at the Factory

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Today I Quit My Job at the Factory ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Devin was a few minutes late. Mrs. Millett, his mother, stood at the door, watching and waiting, worried that he might have been in a wreck. When his old familiar green Ford rolled into the driveway, she smiled with relief, picked up a wooden spoon to stir the spaghetti on the stove, and waited for him to come in.

She felt the little blast of cold air as the door opened and closed. She turned to greet her son, but when she did her smile faded. He wasn’t alone.

Devin smiled as he took off his hat and coat. “Mother,” he said. “This is my friend Marcus. He’s going to be staying with us for a few days.”

Marcus smiled shyly and stepped forward and shook her hand. “I hope it’s no bother,” he said.

“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” Mrs. Millett said.

With the three of them seated at the table, she avoided looking directly at Marcus. She had developed an instant dislike for him based somehow on the set of his mouth and the unfamiliarly of his eyes but more on the fact of his being an intruder in her home. She smiled, though, because that’s what a mother is supposed to do. Smile and it will soon be over.

“Did you have an interesting day today, dear?” she asked Devin.

“More interesting than most.”

When she looked at him, the most familiar person in the world to her, he looked different somehow, animated in a strange way with a spark in his brown eyes that she hadn’t noticed before. Instead of asking what was the matter, she said, “Is there anything you want to tell me?”

Devin took a deep breath and almost dropped his fork. “I quit the factory today,” he said.

“All right,” she said, “what’s the joke?”

“It’s not a joke.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying I quit my job today. Do you need it in some other language?”

“Why on earth would you do that?”

“Don’t you think sixteen years in one hell hole is long enough?”

“I thought you liked your job.”

“I’ve always loathed it!”

“You never told me that!”

“Well, I suppose it was all right in the beginning, but I came to hate it after a while. I want to do something else with the rest of my life.”

“And what would that be?”

“I don’t know yet, but it’ll come to me.”

“You surprise me,” she said.

“I never did that before, did I?”

She looked at Marcus, believing he had to have something to do with it. “Did you quit the factory today, too?” she asked.

“Marcus doesn’t work at the factory, mother,” Devin said.

“Nope,” Marcus said. “I never worked in the factory.”

“What do you do, then? If you don’t mind my asking.”

“Marcus doesn’t work,” Devin said.

“Can’t Marcus answer for himself?”

“No, I, uh, never found it necessary to work for a living,” Marcus said.

“Marcus is an artist,” Devin said. “Like I’ve always wanted to be.”

“He paints pictures?” she asked.

“Well, that and other things.”

She wiped her mouth and pushed her plate aside. There would be no more dinner for her.

“Did the two of you just meet?” she asked.

Devin and Marcus looked at each other and laughed. “We’ve known each other for quite a while now,” Devin said. “Why does that make any difference?”

“Well, I was only asking,” she said. “What’s got into you? Why are you laughing?”

“Maybe I’m laughing because I’m happy for a change.”

“I never knew you weren’t happy,” she said, trying to keep the hurt out of her voice.

“I’ve always kept everything to myself, mother. It’s just the way I am.”

“If there was something bothering you, you could have told me.”

“It isn’t like that.”

“Like what?”

“Maybe we’d better not talk about this right now. What’s for dessert?”

“You never mentioned Marcus before and I just wondered where the two of you met and how long you’ve known each other.”

“Don’t worry about it, mother. It’ll all be sorted out in the end.”

“What will be sorted out?”

“Finish your dinner, Marcus,” Devin said, “and I’ll show you my room.”

Devin stacked the dishes beside the sink and he and Marcus went upstairs, closing themselves up in Devin’s room for the rest of the evening.

The next morning she was in the kitchen when Devin came down alone.

“Where’s your friend?” she asked.

“He was a little late waking up,” Devin said. “He’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“Now, I want you to tell me who he really is.”

“His name is Marcus. He’s my friend. What more do you need to know?”

“Yes, but why is he here?”

“He’s my guest.”

“You never had a guest before.”

“Does that mean I can’t have one now?”

“Of course not!”

“This is my house, too, isn’t it? Just as much as yours?”

“If you put it that way, yes, it is.”

“Well, then. What more is there to say?”

She was prevented from asking further questions by the arrival of Marcus from upstairs.

“I’ve starving,” he said, sitting down at the table.

She cooked the breakfast and set it on the table and busied herself while they ate. Devin and Marcus sat at the table and spoke quietly. They seemed to have forgotten she was in the room. It bothered her a little that she didn’t know what they were saying and it gave her the feeling they were plotting against her somehow. Her own son and his newly found friend. In her own home. Things had certainly taken an ugly turn.

“It’s almost eight-thirty,” she said in a loud voice. “You’re going to be late for work, Devin!”

“Did you forget what I told you last night at the dinner table?” Devin asked. “I quit the factory and I won’t be going there in the morning ever again.”

“Yes,” she said. “I heard you say that, but I thought you were making some kind of a joke.”

“Why would I joke about a thing like that?”

“Well, I can hardly believe you would give up your job so easily. I mean, after all the years you were there. You had seniority and security.”

“I know I would never be able to make you understand, mother, but I just couldn’t stay there any longer. It was time for a change.”

“But what will you do now?”

“I told you I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out as I go along.

“Figure what out?”

“I’m going to write a book or something, but I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know as soon as I know.”

“A book about what?”

Devin and Marcus laughed again and she left the room, her eyes filling with tears.

When they were finished eating, they put on their coats and left. “We won’t be here for lunch,” Devin called to her. “Expect us for dinner, though.”

All day her nerves were on edge, wondering what, exactly, was wrong with Devin. He was always such a good boy, so steady and reliable; never did anything erratic or impulsive. After high school graduation, he went to work in the factory and never uttered a word of complaint. She thought she knew him all those years, but now it was painfully clear she didn’t know all there was to know.

She went upstairs to Devin’s room with the intention of tidying up, but everything was perfect. The bed was neatly made, the clothes all hanging in the closet, the shoes aligned side by side. The dresser and chest of drawers were straight and neat, not a sign of dust or clutter anywhere.

Feeling old and unneeded, she sat down on the bed and ran her hands over the beautiful light-green chenille bedspread that Devin had picked out on his own. She thought of the two of them, Devin and Marcus, sleeping in the bed together. What does it mean when two grown men sleep in the same bed? She was aware of what a sheltered life she had led; there were lots of things, so many things, she didn’t know.

She fixed fried chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner, Devin’s favorite. She hoped that when he came home he’d be alone. At a few minutes before six, the time Devin would have arrived home from work if he had gone to work, the two of them came into the house, talking and laughing.

“Hello, mother,” Devin said.

“Good evening, Mrs. Millett,” Marcus said.

“Did you go to the factory after all, Devin?” she asked.

He gave her a sad look and shook his head. “You still don’t believe I quit, do you?”

“Where did you go all day if you didn’t go to the factory?”

“This morning we went to a museum. Then we had lunch in a restaurant and after that we went to a movie. Then we did some shopping.”

“I’m exhausted,” Marcus said, collapsing onto the chair. “This son of yours has a lot more energy than I do!”

“Is that what you plan on doing every day for the rest of your life?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Devin said. “I haven’t thought about it.”

That evening they left again without telling her where they were going or when they’d be back. To keep from having disturbing thoughts, she took a sleeping pill and went to bed early.

She slept until nine o’clock the next morning and when she awoke and went downstairs, Devin and Marcus were in the kitchen, putting away the groceries they had just bought.

“What’s all this?” she asked, pointing to the bags on the table.

“It was Marcus’s idea,” Devin said. “He has some notion that he needs to contribute.”

“I can’t take without giving,” Marcus said.

“Isn’t that just too sweet?” Devin said, laughing.

She wanted to object but could find nothing to object to. Without speaking, she set the water on the stove for tea and set about cooking breakfast.

After two weeks of Marcus in the house, she decided it was time to confront Devin. Marcus was taking a bath and would be out of earshot at least for a few minutes.

 “How much longer is he going to be here?” she asked.

“Who, mother? Who are you talking about?”

“How much longer is Marcus going to be here?”

“I don’t know. We haven’t discussed it.”

“Doesn’t he have home of his own to go to?”

“He does, but now he’s here.”

“I want this to end.”

“You want what to end, mother?”

“I want us back the way we were before he came here.”

“What are you saying, mother? Are you saying you want Marcus to leave?”

“I don’t want to have to force him to leave. There must be a tactful way to handle it.”

“You can’t stand to see me happy, can you?” Devin asked.

He makes you happy? How does he make you happy in a way you weren’t happy before?”

“Taking control of my own life is what has made me happy.”

“I thought we were happy before,” she said.

“Maybe you were.”

“If something was bothering you, you could have talked to me about it. I’m your mother. What exactly is he to you?”

“I know I would never be able to make you understand, mother. People grow up and change. It wasn’t possible for me to always remain an adolescent.”

“I always gave you the space I thought you needed. I kept house for you and cooked your food and kept your clothes clean. I thought you had all you needed and wanted in life. I hoped, of course, you’d find a nice young woman one day and get married and have children, but I accepted a long time ago that you weren’t inclined in that direction.”

“Oh, please, mother! You’re giving me a headache!”

The next morning Devin and Marcus loaded suitcases into the car. Marcus shook Mrs. Millett’s hand, thanked her for her hospitality and went out the door, leaving a hundred-dollar bill on the kitchen counter under the sugar canister.

“Where will you go?” Mrs. Millett asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Devin said. “I’ll let you know when I get there.”

She watched the car until it was out of sight and then she sat down at the table and had breakfast. He’ll be back, she thought, and when he comes back he will be alone. It’s not that easy to leave your life behind and the only home you’ve ever known. He will choose his mother over his friend every time. I’m certain of it. And when he comes back, we’ll make some plans. We’ll fix up his room, buy some new furniture and get a new rug for the floor. And there’ll be some good times. Just you wait and see. I know of at least two lovely young women who would love to meet him. And when it comes to his job at the factory, he can get it back simply by asking for it. As Devin himself said, everything will sort itself out.

Weeks went by and she heard nothing. She thought about Devin all the time and wondered where he was and how he was faring. She blamed herself for his sudden change and for his leaving. She sat and pondered over his picture for hours and wondered where she had gone wrong. Had she been too smothering, too possessive, or had she been too lax in letting him have his own way? She didn’t know what she was. People rarely see themselves as they are.

She thought how alike Devin and Marcus were. How had she failed to see it before? They were the same age, height, coloring and build. They even walked alike and spoke in the same way. After a while they became indistinguishable in her mind. When she thought of her beloved Devin, she thought of Marcus and the thought of Marcus no longer aroused the hatred in her that it once did, because hating Marcus was hating Devin. When she closed her eyes and sometimes when her eyes were open she saw them together, side my side, two parts of the same person. They’re not two. They’re one. Two become one.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

It’s You I Adore

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It’s You I Adore ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Note: I posted this story earlier with a different title and a slightly different ending.)

Geneva watches Booth Holden in his back yard out her upstairs bedroom window. He holds a newspaper in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. After adjusting the crotch of his pants, he sits down in a lawn chair and unfolds the newspaper and takes a drink of the beer; turns the pages of the newspaper impatiently and ends by throwing it on the ground. He puts his head back with his face toward the sky and closes his eyes. He doesn’t know he’s being watched, she thinks. But then he opens his eyes and looks toward her and she jumps away from the window as if from an electric shock.

Booth and his mother have lived next door for three years and Geneva has never even spoken to them in passing. They are people who keep to themselves. Booth goes to work early every morning but Geneva doesn’t know what he does. Some blue-collar job. Maybe a factory worker or an automobile mechanic. When he comes home, he rarely goes out again. Never any visitors that Geneva has seen. On weekends she hardly sees him at all. Not that she’s watching for him. He’s nothing to me, she tells herself, after each of her secret spying sessions.

She goes downstairs where her sour-faced mother, Mrs. Dingle, is sitting at the kitchen table slurping her coffee. Ignoring her, Geneva turns to the want ads in the newspaper and sits down across from her.

“You’ve been watching him again, haven’t you?” Mrs. Dingle says.

Geneva circles an ad in red ink and looks up. “Did you say something?” she asks.

“I said you’ve been watching him again.”

“Watching who?”

“That man next door. What’s-his-name. Mrs. Holden’s son.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I would like some scrambled eggs. I’ve been waiting for you to come down and fix them.”

Geneva stands up, takes two eggs from the refrigerator and carries them to the stove.

“You really don’t need to be looking at those silly want ads,” Mrs. Dingle says.

“I’ll look at them if I want to.”

“How many jobs have you applied for that you didn’t get?”

“I don’t know. Dozens.”

“That’s right. Dozens. Doesn’t that tell you something?”

“It tells me I haven’t found the right one yet.”

“You really don’t need to find another job. Your father left us well-provided for. That’s one thing I can say about him.”

“People don’t work only because they have to. Some people work because they want to.”

Mrs. Dingle laughs and says c’est la vie, but Geneva is sure she doesn’t know what it means.

At other times their conversation is less cordial, as two days later when Geneva is preparing to go for a job interview.

“I don’t think you’re going to get this job, either,” Mrs. Dingle says.

“Why not?” Geneva asks.

“They’re going to take one look at your qualifications and see you don’t know how to do a thing.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, as usual.”

“You look ridiculous. You have too much curl in your hair. It makes you look like a clown.”

“Thank you.”

“Too much makeup for your age. You look like a floozy.”

“Nobody uses words like ‘floozy’ anymore. It reminds us of just how old you are.”

“The old words are the best words for getting things said.”

“Why don’t you just shut up and let me alone for a change?”

“How can you tell your mother to shut up?”

“Easy. Shut up!

“I have this terrible pain in my chest and you’re abandoning me. I might not still be alive when you get back.”

“Then I’ll call your favorite funeral home and let them know where to pick up the body. They’ll be glad for the business.”

“That isn’t funny. You break your mother’s heart.”

“Why don’t you go watch TV? Isn’t there one of your game shows on?”

“You know I don’t care for game shows.”

“Then why do you watch them all the time?”

“Because I have a daughter who can’t stand to be in the same room with me, that’s why.”

“Why don’t you take a nap or something? I’ll bring you a cheeseburger when I come home.”

“Don’t bother. I couldn’t eat a thing.”

The interview doesn’t go well. The interviewer is a man, no more than twenty-four years old. He talks about how youthful and vibrant the company is. Geneva can tell right away he doesn’t consider her a serious contender for the job.

“Why do you want to work here?” he asks, looking bored.

“I don’t,” she says.

“You don’t want to work here?”

“No.”

“Then why are we both wasting our time?”

“I just now decided.”

“I guess we can consider the interview concluded then, can’t we?”

“Yes, and thanks for nothing.”

“Thank you for nothing,” he says.

The next day Mrs. Dingle is sulking in her room and doesn’t ask Geneva how the job interview went. To give herself something to do, Geneva goes into the kitchen and makes two batches of cookies, one chocolate chip and the other oatmeal raisin. While the cookies are cooling on the counter, she has an idea. What man doesn’t like cookies?

She puts on her new yellow-flowered blouse, brushes her teeth and fluffs up her hair, which, thank goodness, still looks decent from the interview the day before. She takes a tin container with a Christmas motif, lines it with wax paper, and puts about three dozen of the cookies in it, half of each kind.

She tries to smile as she rings the doorbell at the house of Holden, but her heart is pounding and she has a terrible taste in her mouth like an exhaust pipe. She is sure that Booth will answer the door because it’s Saturday, but Mrs. Holden comes to the door instead. She’s a short, squat woman with bulging eyes like a frog and hardly any neck to speak of.

“Yes?” she says when she sees Geneva. She takes her cigarette out of her mouth and picks a piece of tobacco off her tongue.

“Mrs. Holden?”

“Yes. Who are you?”

“I’m your next-door neighbor. You must have seen me around.”

“Yeah, I guess so. What do you want?”

“I just wanted to pay a neighborly call and bring you this.” She holds out the tin of cookies.

Mrs. Holden eyes it suspiciously. “What is it?” she asks.

“It’s cookies I made.”

“How much?”

“I’m not selling them. I’ve giving them to you.”

“I don’t eat sweets much, but thank you.” She takes the tin and holds it against her body under her elbow.

Geneva tries to see over Mrs. Holden’ shoulder into the house, but it’s too dark to see a thing.

“Is your son home?” she asks.

“You know him?” Mrs. Holden says.

“No. I can’t say that we’ve been properly introduced.”

“He’s busy right now.”

“Oh, that’s all right.”

“I can get him if you want.”

“Oh, no! Don’t bother. I just thought I’d say hello and introduce myself.”

“I’ll tell him you dropped by.”

“Oh, would you? Thank you!”

Her cheeks burn with embarrassment.

Relations between mother and daughter remain strained. Mrs. Dingle stays in her room watching her small portable TV at the toot of her bed and speaks to Geneva only when necessary. She eats her meals and then returns to her lair and locks the door.

“How long is the silent treatment going to last, mother?” Geneva asks at lunch.

“Why should I speak if I’m only going to be told to shut up in my own home?” Mrs. Dingle says.

On her birthday Geneva fixes herself up in a special way. She takes a bubble bath, washes and sets her hair and, sitting at her dressing table in her underwear, puts on the “full face,” including fake eyelashes. When everything else is done, she puts on the black dress that she wears to weddings and funerals.

She buys a bottle of wine and an expensive cut of steak. She gets out the good china and places candles in the middle of the table.

When Mrs. Dingle comes into the kitchen, her pink-tinged hair askew from her nap, she says, “What’s all this for?”

“Sit down and eat, mother, before the food gets cold,” Geneva says as she pours wine into the glasses.

After a couple of bites, Mrs. Dingle says, “The meat is tough. I can’t eat it.”

“Do you want me to cut it up for you?” Geneva asks.

“Of course not! I’m not a child!”

“Don’t eat it, then, if you don’t want it.”

“Well, I won’t eat it! And I want to know what you’re all gussied up for? You look like the cat that swallowed the canary. Are you wearing false eyelashes?”

“I have a date this evening,” Geneva says.

“Who with? I hope you’re not cavorting with some married man!”

“Why would I be?”

“Because that’s the only kind of man you could ever hope to get. Somebody who has completely given up on life.”

After she washes up the supper dishes, her mother notwithstanding, she is planning on driving downtown to a little getaway called the Melody Lounge, sitting at the bar, having a drink or two and listening to the music. Being asked to dance is not outside the realm of possibility.

“Don’t you know what day this is?” she asks.

“It’s Thursday, isn’t it?” Mrs. Dingle says. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“You don’t remember what happened thirty-eight years ago today?”

“If it’s your sly way of telling me it’s your birthday, I already know it.”

“Aren’t you going to wish me many happy returns?”

“No. I don’t think your thirty-eighth birthday is anything to celebrate.”

“Why not?”

“What have you ever done with your life? You still live with your mother in her house. You don’t have a career. You were never able to land a husband.”

Geneva has been drinking wine steadily for two hours. She finishes off one bottle and has opened another. She holds up her glass and says, “Here’s to many more happy years in your c-c-company, mother!”

Mrs. Dingle gives a snort of disgust. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she says.

“Why? I haven’t done anything.”

“You’re a terrible disappointment to your mother!”

“Do you want me to leave?”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? To be absolved of all responsibility!”

“I don’t feel responsible for you, mother. I’ve stayed with you and helped you all these years because I didn’t want you to be alone. I can go anytime I please.”

“You ungrateful thing! After all I’ve done for you!”

“What have you done for me?”

“I’ve supported you for thirty-eight years!”

“You don’t think I could support myself?”

“No! You live on my money and that’s the way it will always be! Just how do you think you’d manage if I were to say you don’t get another penny of my money?”

“I have money of my own.”

“Bah! And don’t think you’ll get a cent when I die, either. I’ve already spoken to my attorney about changing my will.”

Geneva downs another glass of wine and says, “How about if I murder you before you change your will? I could always poison your food and you’d never know it. Or, how about this: I come into your room in the wee hours of the night and hold a pillow over your face until you’re no longer breathing. An old woman dying in her sleep. Nobody would ever question it.”

Oh!” Mrs. Dingle says, sputtering with indignation.

“You are a horrible, spiteful, vindictive old woman and I wish I never had to lay eyes on you again!”

“God will strike you dead for saying such things!”

“I wish he would! Then I’d never have to look at your ugly old face again!”

Oh!

Mrs. Dingle tries to get up, catches her foot on the leg of the chair and sits back down with a jolt, spilling the wine. “I want you out of my house by nightfall,” she says. “Take everything that belongs to you and get out!”

“It will give me the greatest of pleasure!” Geneva says. Not knowing what else to do, she picks a baked potato off her plate and throws it at Mrs. Dingle. It strikes her in the forehead; she falls off her chair onto the floor and begins wailing.

“She’s trying to kill me!” she screams. “Help me, somebody! My own daughter is going to kill me!”

“Get up, mother,” Geneva says. “You’re not hurt. It was just a squishy old cooked potato and I didn’t throw it that hard.”

Oh! Oh! Oh! I think my leg is broken! I’m having a heart attack!”

Geneva knows she has had too much wine and believes she is about to do something she will regret. Wanting only to get away from Mrs. Dingle, she runs through the house and out the front door. She feels the blood rushing in her ears and has a couple of seconds where she loses consciousness, which happens in moments of extreme anxiety or anger. She runs to the house next door, the Holden house, and pounds on the door.

When Mrs. Holden comes to the door, Geneva rushes past her into the house as though escaping a fire.

“What the…?” Mrs. Holden says.

Geneva runs through the dark house into the kitchen. There, standing beside the sink, is Booth Holden in a bathrobe. He looks at Geneva as if she is a lion about to spring on him. Geneva runs to him, reaches up and encircles his neck with her arms.

“Please marry me!” she says. “Because I do love you! I know I’m drunk and I apologize for that. Today is my birthday. I’m older than I care to admit. My life is terrible. My mother and I hate each other. I just threatened to kill her. She’s lying on the floor in the kitchen screaming in pain. I don’t want to go to jail. Please help me!”

Booth pulls her arms from his neck, takes a step back and says the first words she has ever heard him speak: “Do I know you?”

Mrs. Holden is standing in the doorway to the kitchen. “I’ll call the police,” she says in the same calm voice she would use to say there’s a fly in the kitchen.

“No need,” Booth says. “I can handle this.”

“I always knew you’d be sweet,” Geneva coos.

She takes a lurching step toward him and grabs to hold onto his arm. He steps aside, not letting her touch him. She takes three more steps, loses her balance, and falls to the floor, vomiting effusively near his feet.

“You must think I’m terrible,” she wants to say, but the words are slurred and unintelligible.

Booth goes out of the room and leaves his mother alone with Geneva in the kitchen.

“Where did he go?” Geneva asks. “Do you think I offended him? I so wanted to make a good impression!”

“You need to get on home now and get yourself cleaned up,” Booth’s mother says. “I can’t be responsible for you.”

“Well, it was lovely meeting you anyway,” Geneva says as she lets loose with a torrent of urine that soaks her dress and runs down her legs into her shoes.

Copyright 2016 Allen Kopp

Arrival ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Arrival ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

A huge pod-like object, obviously an alien spacecraft, has landed in the farm fields of Montana. We soon learn that there are eleven other pods in different locations around the world. Have aliens come to destroy human life on earth? If not, what are they (the aliens) here for? They seem to be trying to communicate in a non-human language but, of course, humans don’t know what they’re saying. The military engages the services of a renowned teacher and language expert named Louise Banks (Amy Adams, superb in any movie she’s in). She is taken to the alien pod in Montana where, it is hoped, she will be able to figure out what they are saying.

Louise Banks is a recent divorcee with plenty of heartbreak in her life, having lost her young daughter to disease. This, of course, means that she is provided with fellow language researcher and love interest in the person of Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Louise and Ian ascend into the alien spacecraft to confront the aliens and try to discover what they hope to accomplish by coming to earth.

Right away we see the aliens as Louise and Ian see them. They aren’t acid-slobbering killing machines as in the classic sci-fi movie Alien, but they are not pleasing to the eye. They resemble octopuses at the bottom of the sea, except that they have no eyes or mouths that we can see. The researchers right away dub them “heptapods” because they are about seven feet tall and seem to have seven legs or tentacle-like appendages. Louise discovers that they have names and they communicate in a strange language that, unlike human languages, is not based on sound or symbols but on thought. Inside the alien spaceship, she removes her bulky hood and breathing apparatus so the aliens can get a clearer picture of what humans are like. Ian does the same. This helps to establish a connection with the aliens.

The aliens communicate by extending their tentacles and writing before them, in an ink-like substance, in large, semi-circles with feathery extensions. After studying these “writings,” Louise begins to get a clearer picture of what the aliens are trying to communicate. She learns, for one thing, that time for the aliens is not “linear,” as it is for us. (This is a difficult concept for humans to grasp.)  The aliens want to help humans because they will need help in the far-distant future (this is very vague.) Louise also learns that her own life has taken, or will take, a non-linear course and that this will allow her to know what will happen in the future. Her past, her life, and her future are somehow bound up with these strange creatures from an alien place.

Arrival is dark, in the way it looks and in its tone. There’s a sense of foreboding throughout much of the movie, a feeling that we don’t know what the aliens are going to do—or what might be done to them while they’re on earth (some countries are calling for aggressive military action). If the ending is unsatisfying because we don’t learn as much as we’d like to know about the aliens, we forgive it because the rest of the movie is so much more interesting than the rest of the stuff that’s playing at the multiplex.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp