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He Sang Songs

He Sang Songs ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Lesley Crippen, age three, stood beside the bed and looked down at her three-week-old brother. He waved his arms and legs like a spider upside down on its back. He was all pink and already beautiful, with abundant blond hair and full, rosy cheeks. He made little gurgling sounds with his mouth; his eyes were roving but expressionless.

His name was Benjamin; they would call him Ben for short. Mother chose the name out of a book. Lesley hoped to be able to persuade mother to give him back to the hospital where he came from. What did they need him for? They had her, after all, and wasn’t that enough? She absolutely did not want or need a brother, or a sister for that matter, but it’s funny how nobody asked her.

She had seen people killing other people on TV. She didn’t exactly want to kill Ben or even hurt him, but she did want him to go away, to disappear, to no longer exist. Maybe they could find a family that would take him and pretend he belonged to them from the start. Nobody would ever know. It would be as if he had never happened. Everybody would be happy, including him.

But Ben didn’t go anywhere. He stayed and stayed. By his first birthday, he was walking and even running. He spoke in complete sentences. He sang songs and recited poems. He could change channels on the TV and bathe himself. He could get the cookies out of the upper kitchen cabinet without help from anybody. He put himself to bed at night and got himself up in the morning.

And he was blond-haired, blue-eyed perfection. His body and head were perfectly proportioned. People would stop mother in the grocery store and tell her, “That is the most beautiful boy I have ever seen.” “You can have him if you want him,” mother would say, and everybody would have a good laugh.

When he started to school, he was teacher’s favorite. He was smart and bright and no trouble at all. He took to reading and writing almost faster than anybody else and when he was in second grade he was reading at fifth-grade level. At the end of third grade, the school recommended that he skip the fourth grade and go on to fifth. He was the school’s champion speller and got his picture in the paper. He started learning the trumpet and could sight-read almost any piece of music that was put in front of him. When it came to athletics, he could score more baskets, run faster and jump higher than anybody else. And, on top of everything else, people liked him. He was polite, considerate, humble, helpful, kind, the righter of wrongs. Even the most vicious bully in school was diminished in his presence.

You might say that everybody loved Ben except his sister Lesley. She didn’t hate him but she didn’t love him, either. More than anything else she was jealous of him. He was always the favored one, always the one people noticed and admired, while she was the little brown mouse over in the corner that nobody cared about or looked at, except maybe to throw a shoe at when it suited them.

And when the gifts of beauty and intelligence were being distributed, she clearly had been left far behind Ben. Her hair, no matter what beauty treatment was applied, always managed to look lusterless and chewed-off. Pimples took up residence on her long nose and sad face when she was eleven years old and seemed reluctant to leave, despite all the most up-to-date pimple treatments.

In first and second grade, she had trouble learning to read and had to spend a whole hour several evenings a week with a tutor, a retired schoolteacher with bad breath and a wooden leg named Miss Eye. Lesley was sure that Miss Eye was a bonafide witch but was never able to prove it. Miss Eye would pinch Lesley on the arm for being lazy and not trying hard enough.

Instead of being able to skip fourth grade and move on to fifth as Ben did, Lesley failed fourth grade and had to do it all over again. So, when people always asked the inevitable question, “What grade are you in?”, she was forced to admit, two years running, that she was in the fourth grade. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” they’d asked. “I’m going to be a garbage collector,” she’d answer.

At Christmastime, half the presents under the tree were for Ben. Lesley was sure the most elaborate packages, the ones with the prettiest bows, were for Ben. His presents were taking up the space where her presents should be. If he had never been born at all, all the presents under the tree would be hers. Why did life have to be so unfair?

Lesley took Ben’s little white underpants out of the dryer and folded them with the rest of the laundry, the way mother showed her, and when she was finished and had a neat little stack of ten or twelve pairs, she took them up to Ben’s perfectly ordered bedroom and put them in his neat-as-a-pin underwear drawer. Before she left the room, she always had the impulse to mess up the books on his desk or take a few shirts out of the closet and scatter them on the floor. The only trouble with that was there was no one else she would be able to blame it on.

When Lesley’s girlfriends gushed about how gorgeous Ben was and what an interesting older boy he was sure to be, Lesley always wanted to slap them in the face and twist their arms out of their sockets. It was a sign of incivility and disloyalty for anybody to praise Ben in front of her. After all, hadn’t she been hearing it all her life and wasn’t she awfully tired of it?

So, in the fall, Ben was ten and in the sixth grade, the youngest and most precocious person of either gender in his class. Leslie was thirteen and in the seventh grade, only one grade ahead of Ben. If she wasn’t careful, she might fail another grade, and if that happened she and Ben would be in the same grade, even though she was three years older. She was sure she would never survive the humiliation if that came to pass.

On a crisp Saturday morning in October, Lesley wanted to go downtown on the bus to do some shopping. She still had some birthday money and wanted to spend it. Mother would only allow Lesley to go if Ben went along, too; it was no longer safe for children to ride the bus alone, she said. Ben was looking for new shoes and readily agreed to go along with Lesley. After breakfast the two of them set out to catch the fifteen-minute downtown bus.

Ben and Lesley had different ideas about how to have fun downtown. After Ben bought his new shoes, they couldn’t agree on where to go next, so Lesley said they should split up and meet later in a designated spot. Then they’d have a hamburger and a milkshake and go back home on the bus.

They parted on a busy street corner and agreed to meet at the same spot in an hour and a half or so. Whoever got there first would wait for the other. Ben went off to do his boy things and Lesley to do her girl things.

Fur collars were all the rage that fall. Lesley went to three different stores but wasn’t able to find one she liked. She bought herself a romance magazine (which she’d have to keep hidden), a pair of shoelaces, a half-pound of English toffee, a pair of toenail scissors, some stretchy gloves and paperback novel that she had to read for English class.

When she went back to the corner an hour-and-a half later to meet Ben, there were people everywhere. It was the busiest time of the day. She saw Ben standing near the stoplight, surrounded by other people, and then she saw he was with someone, or, rather, someone was with him. It was a grown man who had his hand on Ben’s shoulder. Lesley didn’t know who the man was but thought he might be one of one of Ben’s teachers or maybe the swimming coach from school.

She was about thirty feet away, walking toward Ben, when she saw another man. He had hold of Ben’s other arm, lightly, not forcefully, by the elbow as if he were leading him. A green car stopped at the corner and the back door opened. The first man got into the back seat of the car, followed by Ben and then by the second man. The door closed and the car sped away. It all happened in just a few seconds.

Lesley stood on the corner for a few minutes, wondering what to do. Maybe the green car just went around the block for a spin and would be back in a minute or two. Should she wait?

Wait a minute, she thought. Why should I worry about Ben? Isn’t he the smart one? Isn’t he the resourceful one? Isn’t he the problem solver? He’s gone, isn’t he? Isn’t that what I’ve wanted every day and night of my life from the moment he was born?

She waited on the corner for about fifteen more minutes but still saw no sign of Ben or the green car. She was getting cold. All she could think to do was take the bus back home, tell mother what happened, and be absolved of all responsibility. Mother would yell at her, of course, but really, how was she to be blamed if Ben wanted to leave with somebody else? She wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it.

While she was waiting for the bus, she happened to run into two friends from school, Janey Jones and Helen Whitney. They asked Lesley if she was in any hurry to get home and when she said she wasn’t, they suggested they do a little shopping and find some high school boys to stare at and giggle over.

They walked around in the stores for a while, pretending to be grownup women out on the town. They tried on some lipsticks at the cosmetics counter in Pascale’s Department Store until the woman behind the counter came and stared at them and made them feel uncomfortable, so they left. They went to the dress department, where Helen Whitney tried on clothes while Janey Jones and Lesley waited impatiently for her.

After they split a pizza three ways and after many rounds of Coca-Colas, Lesley told her friends she’d better get home, as it was getting late and mother would begin to wonder what had happened to her. The whole time she was with Janey Jones and Helen Whitney, she never once mentioned Ben’s name.

When she got home, it was nearly five o’clock. Mother was waiting at the door.

“Where’s Ben?” mother said.

“Isn’t he here?” Lesley asked.

“No, he isn’t here. Why isn’t he with you?”

“We got separated. He wanted to do some shopping on his own. I figured he came back by himself.”

“Well, he didn’t.”

“Well, isn’t that funny?”

“Yes, it’s hilarious. When did you last see him?”

“I told you we were together and decided to split up. He went his way and I went mine. I met some friends and then I guess I just forgot about him.”

“What friends?”

“You don’t know them.”

“I think we’d better get in the car and go downtown and try to find him,” father said.

“I’m not going to bother with that,” mother said. “I’m calling the police. Do you think he could have got lost somehow?”

It was so typical of them, Lesley thought. They only thought of Ben. It was just further proof, as if she needed it, that they preferred Ben over her. After they found out all they wanted to know from her, they left her standing there and pretended she didn’t exist.

She had been going to tell them about the two men and the green car, but after they were so cold to her, she would just keep it to herself. Let them find it out on their own. Maybe when they realized she knew some things they didn’t know, they would treat her more in the way she deserved to be treated. Like a princess or, better yet, like the junior bitch queen she was.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Until I Die

Until I Die ~ A Noir Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a repost, under a different title.) 

Henry Hudson was waiting at a stoplight in town the first time he saw her. She passed within two feet of his car. She was with three other young people, obviously high school students. She had hair the color of burnished copper; she was wearing green. He was sure her eyes would be green, too.

The next time he saw her was at the public library. He was sitting on a bench reading a newspaper when she came in alone and sat down at a table and opened a book. She was dressed casually but in excellent taste. No blue jeans with tears in the knees or sneakers. Everything about her was perfect. From her hair to her skin to her fingernails, from her shoes to her purse, she generated good taste. She exuded perfection.

He saw her three more times in the next two weeks. The first time she was coming out of the drugstore with a woman obviously her mother. The next time he was driving by on Main Street when he saw her walking on the sidewalk, alone, in front of city hall. The third time she was with somebody else in a red car.

Then he saw her picture in the newspaper. Her name was Colleen Cork and she was eighteen. She was the daughter of Dr. Sidney Cork, neurosurgeon. She was named Outstanding Young Citizen of the Month by the mayor’s office for her charitable work, for her high scholastic standing and for her talent as a singer and musician. When she graduated from high school next year, she planned to go to New York and become a professional musician. The world would open up at her feet.

So now she had a name. He looked up her address in the phone book and found it easily enough. With the help of a map, he found the street where she lived and then the house. It was a large, scenic, three-story brick house on a verdant lot with towering trees in the front yard. The house, the whole setting, was perfect, as he knew it would be.

He parked across the street and watched the house, imagining the perfect life she must live with her perfect family. She would have a brother or two, manly and, like her, good-looking; a handsome, heroic, distinguished father with graying temples who saved lives; an attractive, slim-hipped mother who hosted charity luncheons and boasted an ancestral lineage dating all the way back to the Pilgrims. An all-American family devoid of strife ugliness, and dysfunction.

As for his own family, they lived above the funeral home that his grandfather and then his father owned and operated. His mother had nervous breakdowns the way other people have colds. She committed suicide when he was sixteen by drinking a corrosive poison. Her death two days later in the hospital was a psychological blow from which he would never fully recover. He would carry her sadness around with him always, like a weight around the neck.

After high school, he studied embalming for a few semesters. He was all ready to take up the family business when he came to the astounding conclusion that he didn’t have the stomach for that kind of life, dealing with grieving family members and handling cadavers all the time. It wasn’t the kind of life he wanted. He told himself he was choosing life over death, but the truth was he was choosing to do nothing.

After he left school, he began drinking heavily and at twenty-five he was a full-fledged alcoholic. Doctors told him his liver was aging five times faster than normal. When he came to the realization he would die if he didn’t stop drinking, he spent several years in and out of different hospitals taking different “cures.” In time, only his willpower and determination made him stop drinking.

His father died and left him the family fortune, which was not millions but a little in excess of two hundred thousand. It wasn’t enough to live the life of an international playboy and jetsetter, but it gave him a reasonable income that he could draw on for years to come (if he didn’t live to be too old) without having to scratch for a living in the workaday world.

He lived, by himself, in the funeral home establishment outside of town. It was no longer a funeral home but his home, the only home he had ever known. It had fifteen rooms but he only ever used five. He never went down to the basement where the embalming rooms were and all the tools and equipment, including some caskets that had never been used.

He had always been a solitary person. He had never known romantic love or even real friendship. He always believed that one day he would meet his ideal. She, like his mother, would have hair the color of burnished copper and green eyes. She would be a little taller than average and have natural grace and dignity. She would speak quietly but forcefully and she would always be on the side of right. Just being in her presence would make him a better person, would rectify all his errors and false steps and make everything right in the world.

The more he saw Colleen Cork, the more he was convinced she was the one he had been fated to meet out of all the others. All he had to do now was to have her make the miraculous discovery on her own.

He began driving around the high school at times he believed he would be most likely to see her, when school was taking up in the morning and letting out in the afternoon. More often than not, he would catch a glimpse of her, always surrounded by admirers and hangers-on. He would drive on then, satisfied, until the next time.

Once when he was driving by on Fourth Street near the school, he saw her go into the bookstore. He parked the car at a meter and got out and went into the store behind her. While she was looking around in the store, he followed along, hanging back just enough so that if she turned around she wouldn’t see him. When he saw that she was standing in the cashier’s line to pay, he picked up a book to buy without even looking at the title. He stood behind her in line, as close to her as he could get without jostling her. She never once turned and looked at him or knew he was there.

Any time he saw information about her in the newspapers, he cut it out and added it to a scrapbook. She was captain of the debating team, president of the music guild, on the board of the library and children’s hospital. She was chosen to participate in a statewide music competition in the state capitol. She appeared in the high school production of a play called Street Scene and might be interested in pursuing an acting career when she finished her education, in addition to her music. Everybody who saw her performance in the play said she was a “natural.”

He had taken to driving by her house almost every night at ten o’clock. Sometimes the house would be dark and at other times there would be lights in all the windows. He imagined which upstairs room would be hers. He could picture her sitting up in bed reading a book or washing her face in the bathroom before going to bed.

One night, when driving past didn’t seem satisfying enough, he stopped on the other side of the street and parked. He had been sitting in his car for about ten minutes when a police car pulled up alongside and stopped. He smiled because he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong.

He rolled down his window and looked up into the face of a middle-aged police officer. “Good evening,” he said pleasantly.

“Would you step out of your vehicle please?” the officer said.

“Why?”

“Just do as I say and there won’t be any trouble.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“I need to see your operator’s license.”

“My what?”

“Your driver’s license.”

He took it out of his wallet and handed it to the officer, who looked at it for a long time underneath the flashlight.

“You don’t live here,” the officer said. “This is not your address.”

“That’s right.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“I wasn’t doing anything, really. Just waiting for a friend.”

“What friend?”

“I don’t know where he went. That’s why I’m waiting for him.”

“You need to go on home, now. It’s late. When people see you waiting around out here in the dark for no reason, they think you’re a prowler and they become alarmed.”

“I’m not a prowler.”

“Well, go on home, then. This is not your neighborhood.”

“Yes, sir.”

He was going to have to be more discreet. He didn’t care what people thought of him, but he didn’t want Colleen Cork to hear about him and get the idea that he meant to do her harm or that she needed to be afraid of him. He had only the kindest and most generous intentions toward her.

He was trying to think of a way that he might approach her without alarming her or making her suspicious. If he only had some pretext to talk to her, it might break down the barrier between them, but what could the pretext be? He was mulling these questions over in his mind when he heard the news.

He saw it in the morning newspaper: Country Club Trio Killed in Saturday Night Car Crash.

Colleen Cork was a member of a string trio performing at a function at the country club on Saturday night. About eleven o’clock, after the function ended, the car in which the trio were riding was struck head-on by a drunk driver going eighty-five miles an hour about five miles outside of town. Two of the young musicians were pronounced dead at the scene. The third died at the hospital before morning. The drunk driver was not injured. Charges were expected to be filed.

The world turns on such events. Everything changes in the blink of an eye.

On seeing the news, he lost consciousness. When he awoke again, he began drinking whiskey and taking pills. He intended to kill himself, but twenty-four hours later he was still alive. God had kept him alive, when a lesser man would have succumbed.

After he sobered up and thought clearly again, he knew what he was going to do.

Colleen Cork lay in state at the Vernon Vale and Sons Mortuary Chapel on Mission Street. On Tuesday morning the body would be removed to the Central Avenue Methodist Church for an eleven o’clock service. Private interment would follow at the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost.

On Tuesday morning at two o’clock, he got out of bed after several hours of sleep and dressed entirely in black. He drove his car to the Vernon Vale and Sons Mortuary Chapel on Mission Street. Using a crowbar, he easily broke the lock on a side door and made his way in the dark, with the aid of a small flashlight, to the viewing chapel where Colleen Cork’s body lay.

She lay in a white casket, dressed in a white gown, with a wreath of rosebuds in her hair. He wept with gratitude when he saw her beauty was in no way diminished from what had happened to her. Quickly, before anybody knew what he was doing, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her out of the building, barely stumbling with her in the dark as he ran back to his car. He opened the door and slid her easily enough onto the back seat and covered her with a blanket. The whole thing had taken less than ten minutes.

In the lower basement of the funeral home was a vault-like room where his grandfather and his father prepared bodies for burial. He unlocked the door with the only key in existence, turned on the lights, carried the body of Colleen Cork inside and placed it in an old steel-and-ebony casket from his grandfather’s day.

He learned from the newspaper that the purloined body of the beautiful Colleen Cork caused quite a stir in the town. Nothing like it had ever happened before. What kind of a depraved person would steal a body from a funeral home hours before the funeral? Police were investigating but so far had no leads. Everyone was wondering how the family would proceed with the funeral with the body missing.

They would be coming for him, he knew. The policeman he encountered on Colleen Cork’s street would remember him, would remember what he looked like and remember his car. It wouldn’t take long for them to figure out what he had done.

Every time he heard a car outside the house, he imagined it would be the police; they had come for him with a warrant to search the house. They would find the body of Colleen Cork, take her away, and send him to jail for the rest of his life. It wasn’t the ending he imagined for himself.

After two days of waiting, he locked himself in the vault-like room in the lower basement with the still-beautiful Colleen Cork. After what he had gone through to have her with him, he wasn’t going to give her up now. In the dim light, he looked with relief and gratitude upon the bottles of chemicals and poisons on the shelves that his father and grandfather had used in pursuit of their profession. Drink it down. Drink hearty, my man. Drink so much of the stuff that it overwhelms your body and death comes for you as quickly as it came for Colleen Cork. She’s waiting for you just on the other side. Just a little bit farther. Not very far at all.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Spiritus

Spiritus ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

My name is Igor Dillingham. In 1893 I was twenty-one years of age. I was twenty-one then and I’m twenty-one now. Twenty-one I shall always be. Every time I look at myself in a mirror, I see my twenty-one-year-old self looking back at me. I will never be forty or sixty or eighty, but always the same as I am now, for I am dead and I dwell in the spirit world.

A lot of years have gone by, I know, although time, the passage of years, means nothing to me. I still dwell in our old house. The house, old as it is, is also big. I forget exactly how many rooms there are in it but, since I am the only one left, all the rooms belong to me. The house, I was told, was built a long time ago by a rich man with many children. All of the original family are gone—I’ve never met any of them—and I have never encountered any of them in the spirit world. They have all moved on, as the saying goes.

Now the house is falling down in places. The paint is all gone, the wood is old, ugly and gray, the roof has holes in it; mice, bats and spiders are my eternal companions. I hear, always, the flutter of wings above my head as birds nest in the attic. Some of the windows are broken out, but it makes no difference to me because I am a spirit and spirits don’t mind the cold wind and rain.

Sometimes I go out of the house, but the truth is I have no place to go. On occasion, just to prove to myself that I still can, I go outside and travel a mile or two in any direction. In these little forays out into the world, I never see a living person but only wild animals and birds, which is altogether fine with me. Animals, even if they can’t see me, sense that I’m there and are not afraid.

The road that leads down to our house was washed out in a flood forty years ago. Nobody bothered to build the road back. Even if people could get down here, they have no reason to do so. It is a place completely shut off from the world and forgotten. I think isolated is the word. If I saw living person who wasn’t a spirit, like me, I wouldn’t know what to do. I suppose I’d run and hide and make sure I gave him good enough reason to want to leave.

In my aloneness, I am sometimes reminded of the people I once knew when I was alive. I had a sister, Sobriety, and a brother, Claxon. Sobriety had an enormous head; she was what’s known as hydrocephalic. She stayed in a crib in an upstairs room most of the time, tended only by a mute servant that mother employed. I used to go into her room to visit her and try her to keep from feeling lonely, but I’m not sure if she ever knew I was even there. Mother sold her to a traveling freak show when she was about twelve years old for fifty dollars. After the freak show people took her away, I never saw her again. I don’t know what ever became of her but I hope one day I will meet her in the spirit world and rejoice to see that she is cured of her affliction.

My brother Claxon was covered with a scaly growth all over his body that made him look like a human frog. He never spoke in words but he made croaking sounds and he knew how to laugh. He was my closest friend; he and I communicated without words in the way of brothers. One day he made the mistake of defying mother in a very bad place—at the top of the stairs. She rushed him and pushed him. He fell all the way to the bottom of the stairs and broke his neck. He died later the same day. She didn’t want anybody to know what she had done, so she buried him in the hog yard out back before anybody had a chance to ask any questions. I nailed together a small cross and put it over the place where I thought he was buried, but the hogs trampled it into the mud.

Claxon wasn’t the first person mother killed, nor would he be the last. When I was six years old, she poisoned the man who was my father, or the man I believed was my father. She claimed he became sick in the night of unknown causes and was dead by the rising of the sun. She collected on his life insurance and become a modestly wealthy woman. That’s when she realized how profitable death could be for her.

She soon married another man with whom she had been communicating through a lonely hearts club. After six months of marriage, she murdered him by dropping a meat grinder on his head and claiming it was an accident. He didn’t have life insurance, but he had over a thousand dollars in a bank account and a small horde of silver coins, all of which became hers as his grieving widow.

About the time mother killed her second husband, she hired an itinerant worker to do small jobs for her. She had him tend the garden, paint the barn and mend the fence before she took him into her bed. He was her plaything for a few weeks, until he became tiresome to her and then she poisoned him—making certain first, however, that he had no relations who might come looking for him later.

There were others after that. She placed an ad in a newspaper in the city for single gentlemen who might be interested in the pastoral life on a lush farm away from the hustle-bustle of the city. With a small investment of a thousand dollars, they might “buy into” a growing enterprise that had unlimited potential for growth and profit.

I don’t know how many “gentlemen” mother lured away from the city and killed, but I do know our hog yard out behind the barn became quite crowded with rotting corpses, while the wad of cash she kept hidden underneath the floorboards in her bedroom grew ever larger.

I was the only living witness to mother’s depredations, but she thought I was too stupid to see anything, to know anything. From the time I was eight years old, I began writing everything down: names and ages of the people who ended up in the hog yard, where they came from, physical characteristics (bald, wears glasses, speaks with a stutter, speaks with an accent, missing fingers on right hand), how much money they brought to the “enterprise” and anything else I could see that set each one apart from the others. I also added to the record the details of how she sold Sobriety to a traveling freak show for fifty dollars and how she pushed Claxon down the stairs and broke his neck. I spared none of the distasteful details.

By the time I was a grown man, I had filled an entire notebook with these observations. If mother killed me, as I was certain she would one day, I hoped that my notebook would end up in the proper hands and justice would be served.

She was gone for three days and didn’t tell me where she was going. When she came back, she had a new husband, a man named Jules DuFray. He was slick, well-dressed, the opposite of a farming man; he wore suits instead of overalls, even all the way out here where nobody ever saw him. I don’t know whatever possessed him to want to marry a pizzle-faced old harridan like my mother, but there you have it. She had always had a way with men. There’s no accounting for tastes, I suppose.

For several days I stayed out of mother’s way, keeping to myself in my room or in the woods. She and her new husband spent most of their time in mother’s bedroom with the door closed. When I passed by in the hallway, I could hear them grunting, breathing, groaning. When we all sat down to dinner (cooked by a moronic “serving girl” that mother hired with one of her newspaper ads), mother was polite and subdued, almost as if she had been drugged. I knew she was putting on an act for her new husband, while all the time hatching some scheme in her head that would bring her enough money to live like the queen she imagined herself to be.

When I saw the cans of kerosene she had stored under the stairs, I knew that her plans involved burning the house—with me in it, of course—and then collecting on the insurance. She would make it look so convincingly like an accident that she would fool anybody who needed fooling.

I was afraid to go to bed and go to sleep, afraid that I would wake up and the house would be burning and it would be too late for me to get out. I sat in a chair in my room, fully clothed, dozing lightly, clutching my notebook, ready to escape the house at the first sign of smoke or fire.

Finally I could stand it no longer, this waiting for mother to kill me, waiting for the house to go up in flames. One morning I set out on the road for the nearest town, over ten miles away, to deliver my notebook to a man of the law, a person of authority who could set about bringing mother’s killing to an end.

I hitched rides part of the way, so I came to the town of Wadsworth by noontime. I asked an old man sweeping the sidewalk in front of a store where I might find the sheriff. He told me what I needed to know and in a half-hour I was sitting across a desk from an old man wearing a badge. I gave him my notebook and told him my fantastic story, or as much of it as I could get out without crying. He listened to me with unremitting seriousness and told me he would read every word of what I had written and look into my allegations as soon as time permitted. He gave me some water and some jailhouse food and, after I had rested for a while, I began the long walk back home.

Mother was waiting for me. She somehow knew where I had been and who I had been talking to. Without a word, she split my head with an ax and then hit me with a cane until I was dead as I lay on the floor. I felt my spirit leave my body and go up through the ceilings and floors of the house to the attic. It is here I have been ever since.

Mother and her new husband Jules DuFray got away before the sheriff and his men arrived. I don’t know where they went, but my mother, true to her fashion, disappeared as completely as if she had never existed. I’d like to think that she somehow, somewhere, met justice, but I’m more inclined to believe she just transferred her activities to another location.

I stood at the attic window and watched the men exhume the thirty or so bodies from the hog yard. When they were all finished collecting bodies and collecting evidence from the house, they put a heavy padlock on the front door and left. They didn’t know I was still here, and if they had known they wouldn’t have cared. I was as nothing, a tiny puff of air that disappears as soon as you see it.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Death and Dismemberment

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Death and Dismemberment ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Coralie Killabee, always a lady, killed her husband, Desmond Killabee, at the breakfast table on a Wednesday morning in June. She hit him in the head, hit him with a cast-iron skillet, hit him hard enough to crack his skull. He pitched forward face-down in his oatmeal and then sideways to the floor.

Seeing he wasn’t dead yet, but just making little wah-wah-wah sounds with his mouth, she held a pillow over his face, leaning on it with all her might, until she knew he was no longer breathing and his heart no longer pumping blood.

Here’s how it happened: Coralie put a plate of bacon on the breakfast table. Fabian jumped up on the table from out of nowhere the way cats do and tried to pick up a piece of the bacon in his mouth. Before Fabian had a good purchase on the bacon, Desmond smacked him with his knuckles, hard, on the side of the head. Indignant, his feelings hurt, Fabian bounded off the table and ran for cover. He had never been smacked before, by Desmond or anybody else, and didn’t know what to make of it.

If there was one thing Coralie would not tolerate in her house, it was mistreatment of any animal but especially of her beloved cats. Without even thinking about what she was doing, she picked up the cast-iron skillet and brought it and Desmond’s head together in a harmonious union.

With Desmond lying dead on the floor, the cats, sensing excitement, came from other parts of the house. First there was Button and then Chick and finally, Fabian, looking none the worse for having been smacked. They sniffed Desmond’s face and hair, danced around him and waved their tails. They had never liked Desmond anyway and were glad he was dead. Fabian seemed especially gleeful; he meowed loudly several times and scraped his paws on the floor in front of Desmond’s face as though cleaning up a malodorous accident. Coralie picked Fabian up, kissed him where Desmond had smacked him and examined him with her fingertips to make sure he wasn’t hurt.

Coralie didn’t want to leave Desmond’s body there on the kitchen floor—it seemed so untidy—so she quickly thought of a plan. She dragged him by the legs to the top of the cellar stairs, opened the door and let his body tumble down— what a wonderful thing is gravity!—the long, narrow flight of cellar stairs. Thump, thump, thump he went until he could go no farther.

In the cellar was an old chest-type freezer that had belonged to Desmond’s mother. It was only about half-full at the moment, with a two-inch coating of permafrost on its insides that made it like a tiny piece of the North Pole. Coralie hoisted Desmond to an upright position, almost standing, and let him topple headfirst into the freezer on top of the layers of frozen corn, lima beans, strawberries and cuts of meat. She arranged his arms and legs to her satisfaction and then let the lid fall with a satisfying whack.

She knew she wouldn’t be able to leave Desmond in the freezer forever, but for the time being she didn’t want to think about it. She wanted to enjoy the rare experience of having the house to herself and her cats for a while. It was like a vacation not to have to cook Desmond’s meals, remind him to take his medicine, listen to him snore, clean up after him, and listen to his complaints.

To celebrate her freedom, she went to the animal shelter and adopted three more kittens in need of a home to add to her little family. She named the new additions Felix, Tiny Tim, and Ann Darrow after the screaming girl in King Kong. With the three she already had, she now had six little ones to brighten her home, take liberties in the kitchen, wake her up before daylight, and help with the housework.

She went to the grocery store and bought luxuries that penny-pinching Desmond would never have allowed: desserts, exotic fruits and vegetables from foreign lands, fillet mignons, lobster, caviar, champagne, wine, chocolate-covered nuts, and the best and most expensive cat foods from the pet aisle.

No matter what she was doing, though, the thought of Desmond lingered in her head. The longer she left him in the freezer, the more she ran the risk of being found out. A dead man in her freezer was something for which she would not be able to offer a reasonable explanation.

After Desmond had been in the freezer for a few days, Coralie remembered an old meat saw that hung in the recesses of the cellar behind the furnace. It had been there so long she didn’t remember how it came to be there or who it belonged to. She never had any reason before to give it any thought.

Armed with a flashlight and a broom to brush away cobwebs, she retrieved the meat saw from its decades-long resting place and took it upstairs to get a better look. It was slightly rusted but not as bad as it could have been. She cleaned it, sanded the rust spots, and wiped it down with an oily rag. When she was finished, it looked serviceable and more than adequate for the job.

So, if she applied the meat saw to Desmond’s body, what would she then do with the pieces? She couldn’t exactly flush them down the toilet or put them down the garbage disposal like leftovers from dinner. She couldn’t burn them or hide them or bury them. She had to be careful—she didn’t relish the thought of spending the rest of her days in women’s prison.

An idea came to her in the night. Why couldn’t she cut off a little piece of Desmond’s body every week and conceal it inside her weekly bag of trash? In no time at all, all the pieces would have been loaded onto the trash truck and taken away to the land where the bong tree grows and nobody would ever suspect a thing.

Before she began dismantling Desmond’s body with the meat saw, she thought about what she would say when people began asking nosy questions about where he might be and what he might be doing.

She typed up a letter on Desmond’s typewriter, explaining, in Desmond’s own voice (if he still had a voice), how he had been engaged in an illicit love affair with a foreign woman for two years and was going to go live with her in her own country. He would learn to speak her language and sever all ties with his past life and the country of his birth. “Don’t try to find me,” (s)he wrote, “because it will be useless.”

She signed Desmond’s name to the typed letter with a ballpoint pen in a close approximation of his handwriting, folded it and put it in an envelope. She would have it ready when she needed it.

With all six cats at her feet, she began the distasteful job of removing Desmond from her life forever by first cutting off his left hand. She was surprised at how easy it was to cut through the frozen arm with the hefty meat saw. All the blood in his body was frozen, so there was virtually no mess.

She wrapped the hand in newspaper, before it had a chance to thaw, and then wrapped the newspaper-wrapped hand in several layers of plastic and carefully concealed it inside her weekly trash. She put the large black trash bag (containing Desmond’s hand and a week’s worth of trash) in the metal trash container outside at the curb in front of the house for the trash truck to collect.

In weeks to follow, she disposed of the right hand, the left foot and the right foot. This was followed by the legs (each one in three sections), until both legs were sheared off at the groin. Then came the arms, which were less meaty and easier to cut through than the legs. When Desmond was headless and armless, she cut off the head.

The head was heavier than she ever would have thought. She let it fall to the floor; it was ice-encrusted and solid as a cannonball. Crouching on her knees, she cut the head into four neat sections the same way she would have quartered a watermelon. It took four weeks to dispose of the head, a quarter of a head at a time.

The thick part of the body, where the stomach, intestines and other organs were, was more problematic. She wasn’t able to cut all the way through this part of the body with the saw, so she cut off small chunks of three or four pounds each. If anybody happened to see these chunks in her trash, they wouldn’t know what they were seeing

So, in this way, she disposed of Desmond in his entirety in about three months. The task was completed on the first day of autumn. She celebrated the event by burning all of Desmond’s old books and papers, donating his clothes to charity, and buying new furniture for the living room.

A few weeks later, toward the end of October, a man came to the house looking for Desmond. Coralie opened the door a few inches and as soon as she saw the man’s face she knew she was in for some trouble.

“I’m looking for Desmond Killabee,” he said, smiling.

“He’s not here.”

“Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“Never.”

“Why not?”

“Look,” she said. “I don’t have time for this. I have an appointment with my hairdresser in less than an hour. Desmond is gone. I don’t know where he is or how you can reach him. Sorry.”

“Do you think I could come in and we could have a little talk?”

“No. I’m very busy.”

She started to close the door; the man blocked it with his arm.

“I won’t take up more than a few minutes of your time, I promise.”

She reluctantly allowed him into the living room, where he took a seat on the couch.

“What is this about?” she asked.

“I’m Desmond’s brother, Moe Killabee. ”

“Your name is Moe?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Desmond never told me he had a brother.”

“No, he wouldn’t. Say, do you think I could have a drink of water? I just walked six blocks from the bus depot and I’m awful thirsty.”

She went into the kitchen and filled a glass with water and took in back into the living room and handed it to him.

“That’s awfully kind of you,” he said.

He drank the water down, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and handed her the empty glass.

“I’m sorry I can’t help you,” she said, “but if you’ll excuse me now…”

“I road all night on the bus from Memphis to get here,” he said. “The bus kind of wears my ass out. Do you think it’d be all right if I took a little nap?”

“What? No! I need for you to leave now. As I said, I’m very busy. If you’re looking for Desmond, he isn’t here and I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

He put both arms on the back of the couch and looked her up and down. “So you’re the little wife?” he said.

“I’m Desmond’s wife, yes.”

“When was the last time you saw Desmond?”

“He left in June. I haven’t seen him since.”

“Why do I have the feeling you’re not telling the truth?”

“Now, look!” she said. “I don’t have to convince you of anything! I think you’d better get out of my house before I call the police!”

“The police might be a lot more interested to hear what I have to tell them.”

“Who are you anyway?”

“I think you know perfectly well where Desmond is.”

“I can show you a letter that he wrote before he left. It should explain everything.”

“All right, then. Let me see it.”

She went to the desk and took the letter out of the drawer. When she handed it to him, she tried to conceal that her hands were shaking.

He read the letter with a smile. When he finished, he refolded it and returned it to the envelope.

“That letter doesn’t sound like Desmond at all. Where would he meet a foreign woman to fall in love with?”

“You’ll have to ask him that question.”

“I think you wrote that letter.”

“Desmond signed his name.”

“I think you signed Desmond’s name.”

“Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

“I’ll give you about ten seconds to get out of my house or I’m calling the police.”

“You won’t call the police.”

“And why not?”

“Because I won’t let you.”

“Who are you anyway and what is it you want from me?”

“We might start with some money. Let’s say ten thousand dollars?”

“Why would I give you money?”

“I don’t think you have any other choice.”

“That’s blackmail.”

“Oh, my! That’s such an ugly word, isn’t it? We’re family. I would never blackmail you. You’re my sister-in-law.”

“I don’t believe for one second that you’re Desmond’s brother. In fifteen years of marriage he never mentioned your name.”

“Now, isn’t that odd?”

“He’s always told me he didn’t have any family.”

“He isn’t much of a family man, is he? Or should I say was? He’s really rather an odd duck, isn’t he? Or he was.”

She sat down in the chair across from the couch to give herself a chance to think.

“You said your home is in Memphis?”

“No, I said Memphis is where I came from. I don’t have a home. Now that I’m here, I’m thinking about making this my home.”

“Why would you do that?”

“To be near my dear brother, my only living relative, and his lovely wife.”

“If you think you’re going to stay here, in this house, you are very sadly mistaken.”

He laughed and gave her another searching look. “You’re a fine-looking woman,” he said. “You must get pretty lonely at night with nobody around. I think you could get to like me a little if you’d only give yourself a chance.”

“I already loathe you and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

Haw-haw-haw! I remind you a little too much of Desmond, is that it?”

“I have some people coming over for dinner. I think you should leave now. I can give you money for cab fare or for a bus ticket back to Memphis or wherever you want to go.”

“This is where I want to be, sweetie,” he said. “Right here. I’ve traveled a long way. A long , weary road. Now that I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you leave right now.”

“Oh, come on, now! Don’t you think we can do better than that?”

“You’re an extortionist! I don’t believe for one second you’re Desmond’s brother.”

“Oh, gee! Don’t you think we’ve had enough of that kind of talk? I can be quite nice if you just give me a chance.”

“All right. You win. You can stay tonight in the guest room, but tomorrow you’re going to have to make other arrangements.”

“Maybe after you’ve had time to think about it you’ll change your mind about having me stay in the guest room. I can be awful good company, you know. Haw-haw-haw!”

“You must be hungry.”

“I’m so hungry I could eat the wolf at the door.”

“I can fix you something while you get yourself cleaned up. I don’t have much in the house, but I have bread and some ham and eggs in the refrigerator.”

“That sounds delightful.”

“The bathroom is right upstairs. There are towels and anything else you might need. If you need anything you don’t see, call down to me and I’ll get it for you.”

“You’re awfully kind.”

“Desmond will be glad to hear I was kind to his brother.”

“And you won’t call the police while I’m having a bath?”

“Oh, no! I don’t think there’s any reason for that now. We’ll talk more about it later.”

“See? I knew we could be friends if you’d just gave me a chance.”

She watched him go up the stairs, heard the bathroom door close and, a little while later, water running. She went into the kitchen and took some eggs out of the refrigerator and began making an omelet.

In fifteen minutes he came back down, decidedly cleaner than when he went up. He had wet his hair and slicked it back.

“Sorry I don’t have any of Desmond’s clothes you could put on,” she said. “He took everything with him when he left.”

“That’s quite all right,” he said. “All I need now is a toothbrush.”

“Sure, I have a spare one in the drawer upstairs.”

He sat down in Desmond’s chair at the table, lord of the manor. She poured him a cup of coffee and spooned hot food from the skillet onto the plate. He picked up the fork and began eating like a hungry wolf.

“This is so good!” he said.

“Eat up! There’s plenty more.”

She went to the sink and began filling it with hot water for washing the dishes. It was while he was holding the coffee cup to his mouth that she crept up behind him and cracked him in the back of the head, with all her might, with the same cast-iron skillet she had used on Desmond. He never knew what hit him. The cup flew out of his hand and broke against the wall. He pitched forward onto the table and then to the floor.

It was while he was lying on the floor, looking up at her, trying to focus his eyes, that she began kicking him.

“You lying scum!” she screamed. “What kind of a fool do you take me for? Who do you think you’re dealing with?”

She kicked him repeatedly in the head and upper body until she knew he was dead.

With the cautious delicacy that cats possess, Fabian, Button, Chick, Felix, Tiny Tim, and Ann Darrow came out of hiding and sniffed at the body of the stranger on the kitchen floor. After they had made a thorough inspection and satisfied their curiosity, they were ready for their dinner.

Coralie dragged the body to the top of the cellar stairs and let it tumble down on its own: thumpity-thumpity-thump-thump-thump. The cats stopped eating for a moment, looked over their shoulders toward the unexpected disturbance, and went right back to their food. They weren’t alarmed or even interested. They had seen dead bodies tumble down the stairs before.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

If Anybody Asks Where I’ve Gone

If Anybody Asks Where I’ve Gone ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

This morning I gave my seat on the bus to a midget without one. A seat, I mean. She was only about half as tall as anybody else and she was being jostled around by hips and knees. When I caught her attention, I pointed to my seat to let her know that since I was sitting on it I owned it for the moment and I would gladly relinquish it to her to her if she wanted it.

She squeezed past the assholes over to where I was sitting and smiled at me. She had a big oval face and a shellacked hairdo. She wore a little yellow-and-white waitress’s uniform with a nametag on her chest; her name was Lucille. After making sure she was ready to occupy the seat I was about to un-occupy, I stood up and grabbed for a pole to hang on to. I glanced over my shoulder one time from my pole to make sure she was comfortable in the seat I had given her. Her eyes were closed and she was clutching her handbag on her lap. She got off in two stops and somebody else took the seat.

As soon as I walked through the door at work, the good feeling I had from giving my seat to Lucille the midget vanished. I made my way to my desk, head down, trying not to attract anybody’s attention. I didn’t want to give anybody the bright idea that I needed some work to do. I took off my coat and hung it on the rack behind my desk, thinking about how many hours I had to get through before I could put it on again and leave.

I sat down at my desk and took out my yellow legal pad and a handful of pens and red pencils. I took out some papers and covered the desk with them to give the impression that I was working, when, in fact, I planned on doing nothing at all. I could usually go the entire day without doing anything, while giving the impression that I was deeply immersed in an important project for Mr. Junius “Groucho” Wexler, the business genius who started the company from nothing and turned it into the colossus it is today. The best thing I could say about Mr. Wexler was that I hardly ever saw him.

I picked up my pen and made a few notes on the yellow legal pad. Sometimes when I was pretending to be busy, I wrote a snatch or two of not-very-good poetry or a few lines of what would be the great novel that would bring me literary immortality along the lines of Moby Dick.

After a few minutes of this pretending to be busy, I became terrifically sleepy. I might toss and turn in my bed half the night, but as soon as I’m at work I feel like I’ve taken a powerful, sleep-inducing drug. I might try to lean my head on my hand and close my eyes and snatch a few seconds of sleep in the upright position, ever wary of approaching footsteps, but I’ve tried this and it doesn’t help. It somehow makes my craving for sleep almost impossible to bear.

Besides being sleepy, I was also hungry, having skipped breakfast altogether. I went to the break room to see if anybody had brought in any donuts. There were no donuts but there was a pack of chocolate chip cookies on the table. I ate one and when I saw it wasn’t too stale I took two others and put them in my pants pocket before anybody saw me. (I had to remember to take them out of my pocket before I sat down again.) I wasn’t a coffee drinker so I fixed myself a cup of tea and stood looking out the window while the water heated.

With my tea and cookies, I returned to my desk, prepared to stay put until lunchtime, pretending to work, while my mind, every second, was on anything other than work.

Once when I was about five years old somebody gave me a helium balloon on a string. It was a novelty for me. I had never even seen a helium balloon before, let along being lucky enough to own one. While I was outside in the yard, admiring my balloon on the string, it somehow got away from me in a gust of wind. I stood there, watching it, feeling helpless that it was gone and I couldn’t get it back, no matter what I did. I watched the balloon rise in the air until it was just a tiny speck and then could no longer be seen at all. I had a hard time holding back the tears. I still think that balloon is somewhere up there in the sky waiting for me and I might get it back one day.

My mind was aswirl with these and other memories when I heard footsteps approaching my desk. I began to write furiously on my pad, copying meaningless phrases from an open book in front of me.

It was Judith Peebles, the office manager, come to pay a call.

“What are you working on, Elliott?” she asked.

This. I’m working on this.” I leaned back so she could see the papers on my desk.

“You shouldn’t be working on that,” she said. “That was finished two weeks ago. You need to be working on something more relevant.”

She wasn’t the boss, but she thought she was. She swooped by on her broomstick several times a day to check up on all of us and report back to Mr. Wexler. She was a hatchet-faced, bitter, older woman. Nobody knew how exactly old she was but I’m sure she was over a hundred.

She gave me a sour look, the only kind of look she was capable of, and sashayed away to, I’m sure, confer with her best friend Satan.

Judith Peebles had interrupted the flow of my work, so I figured I needed a break. I stopped by the men’s room and when I left there I went on to the break room. My friend Lonnie Dove, kindred spirit, was standing at the sink washing his coffee cup.

“What day is it?” he asked. “Is it Friday yet?”

“Three days to go,” I said.

“It’s all Eve’s fault,” he said.

“Don’t I know it?”

“Do you absolutely hate this place, or what?” he asked.

“I think I probably hate it every bit as much as you do,” I said.

“Doesn’t it make you want to go up to the roof and jump off?”

“When I’m ready for that, I’ll let you know. Maybe we can go together.”

Abhorring the thought of going back to my desk and risking another encounter with Judith Peebles, I got into the elevator and rode the six floors down to the lobby. I went outside and walked down to the corner and when I got to the corner I turned around and walked all the way back to the other corner. I had the feeling that Judith Peebles was watching me out the window the whole time.

After another torturous hour-and-a-half spent at my desk pretending to be busy, it was time for lunch. I left as fast as I could before anybody spotted me. The trick was to not let anybody know what time you left, and then when you got back they wouldn’t know how long you had been gone.

I wanted something good for lunch so I walked a couple of blocks away to a little restaurant called Manny’s Fine Eats. I had been there before and I knew the food was good and the service excellent. I was gratified to see the place wasn’t crowded; I sat at a small table next to the window beside an enormous potted plant.

My waitress, I was very surprised to see, was Lucille the midget from the bus, in her little yellow uniform with the name tag. I smiled but she didn’t seem to recognize or remember me. She was businesslike and efficient. I ordered the meatloaf plate with mashed potatoes. I didn’t have long to wait and when Lucille set it down in front of me the steam off the plate rose up in my face.

The meatloaf had a slight garlicky taste and was delicious. When I finished, I was sorry there wasn’t more. I finished my iced tea and gestured for Lucille to bring me my check.

“Will there be anything else?” she asked.

When she handed me my change, she also handed me a single white carnation.

“This is for the bus this morning,” she said.

I thanked her and before I had a chance to say anything else she was gone again. It was lunchtime and she was busy.

I walked all the way back to the office carrying the carnation in front of me like a charm to ward off evil. As I went up in the elevator, I was aware that I had a bad headache coming on and a sharp pain in my abdomen.

When I got back to my desk, I put away all the papers, pencils and books on my desk and then I went and told the secretary, a Thelma Ritter lookalike, that I was sick and was going home to lie down. I didn’t know when I’d be back, I said. I might be out all the rest of the week.

She gave me a suspicious look and said she would pass the information along to Miss Peebles. Then, before the worthy Miss Peebles had a chance to come running out of her witch’s lair and cross-examine me, I was out the door as if escaping a burning building.

I got a choice seat on the bus, right behind the driver. I closed my eyes and held Lucille the midget’s carnation to my nose. The smell made me think of a garden with profusely colored flowers, buzzing bumblebees and sunshine, but mostly it reminded me that there are still a few kind people in the world and occasionally, if you are lucky, you just might meet one of them.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

You Can Leave Any Time

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You Can Leave Any Time ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Mrs. Jenks arrived for her appointment with Dr. Capers on time. She gave her name to the inscrutable Asian nurse and took a seat in the dreary waiting room where everything was gray—gray walls, gray floor, gray chairs. She hated her visits to the doctor, always made worse by having to wait. She would rather dig in the dirt with her fingernails than sit and wait her turn.

Underneath the No Smoking sign on the wall opposite, somebody had written, in large block letters, the word PUSSY. Mrs. Jenks’s eyes traveled from the obscene word to the faces of the only other two people in the room, a man and a woman, obviously a married couple. With her wide painted mouth and curly red hairdo, the woman resembled a circus clown. The man, with his bow tie, protruding ears, long neck, and wooden-like bald head with a tuft of hair on top, resembled nothing so much as a ventriloquist’s dummy.

The circus clown looked at Mrs. Jenks and smiled, showing horse-like teeth. “How you today?” she asked.

Mrs. Jenks managed a tight smile but, in an attempt to forestall any conversation, picked up a battered copy of Popular Mechanics and pretended to be engrossed in its contents.

“Who you talking to?” the ventriloquist’s dummy asked.

“We’re not alone,” the circus clown said, nudging the ventriloquist’s dummy with her elbow.

The ventriloquist’s dummy looked at Mrs. Jenks over the top of his glasses; his lips drew back in a grimace.

“Oh, hello!” he said. “I thought we were alone.”

“We’ve been here over an hour,” the circus clown said, “and in all that time there hasn’t been a single person go in or come out. You have to wonder what in the holy hell those people are doing back there.”

“Doctors are busy,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“That’s no excuse! They need to have a little more consideration for the patient.”

You’re not the patient,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “I am.”

“Oh, excuse the hell out of me! If you’re the patient, then why am I here?”

“You can leave any time.”

The circus clown looked at Mrs. Jenks and rolled her eyes. “Isn’t that just like a man?” she said. “He’s too much of a baby to go see the doctor on his own. I have to take him as if he’s a tiny child.”

“I’m a sick man,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “I need you to help me in case I falter.”

The circus clown pursed her lips and blew out a stream of air in derision. “You are so full of it!” she said. “If anybody falters, it going to be me!”

“Let’s not fight in front of this lady,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“Nobody’s fighting,” the circus clown said.

“Don’t get your panties in a bunch.”

“My panties are perfectly fine. You don’t need to worry yourself about my panties.”

The ventriloquist’s dummy made a sound with his lips like fshaw-fshaw-fshaw that Mrs. Jenks realized was laughing.

“No, honestly,” the circus clown said, “my husband isn’t right in the head at all. I guess you can tell that just by looking at him.”

“This lady doesn’t want to hear about my troubles,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“He has fits and fainting spells. Have you ever been sitting across from a person at the dinner table and have them faint on you and end up with their face in the mashed potatoes and gravy? The first time it happened I thought he was dead. Every time it happened after that I thought he was just being an ass, so I ignored him. When he came to—or pretended to come to—I told him to get up and quit acting like an infant and clean up the mess he made.”

“Nobody wants to hear all that!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“When they had him in the hospital, they did every test known to man and—do you know what?—they couldn’t find a thing wrong with him. It should be obvious to any five-year-old child that there’s something terribly wrong with this man! What is the matter with these people?”

“Doctors! the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “They only do all that shit so they can charge you a lot of money.”

“Well, anyway, getting back to my story,” the circus clown said. “When he was three years old he was kicked down an elevator shaft and landed on his head. I think that is the root of all his troubles! Those doctors don’t need to look any farther than that! He’s never been right in the head since he was three years old.”

“You didn’t even know me then,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“He can’t drive a car anymore so I have to take him to the doctor or the grocery store or anyplace else he wants to go. It’s as if I have no life of my own because I have to take care of this adult-sized baby!”

“You’re welcome to go any time,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

Mrs. Jenks sighed and stood up and went over to the little sliding window to the receptionist’s area and rattled it to get the attention of whoever might be on the other side.

“Yes?” the Asian nurse said, sliding back the glass, obviously annoyed at being bothered.

“Is Dr. Capers even in?” Mrs. Jenks asked.

“Well, of course he in,” the Asian nurse said. “What you think?”

“It’s taking him an awfully long time.”

“He in. Just take seat and wait turn. He see you shortly.”

“These people are driving me crazy,” Mrs. Jenks said in what she hoped was a soft voice so that only the Asian nurse could hear.

The Asian nurse looked over Mrs. Jenks’s shoulder disinterestedly to see who she was talking about. “Just be oh-so patient,” she said. “Take seat and wait turn.”

“What did that slanty-eyed son-of-a-bitch say?” the ventriloquist’s dummy asked Mrs. Jenks as she sat back down.

“Nothing that helps.”

“I’d like to slap her silly!”

And suddenly Mrs. Jenks had a warm feeling for the ventriloquist’s dummy because she was thinking the very same thing.

“Honestly!” the circus clown said. “I feel like sending them a bill for all my time they’ve wasted. They need to realize my time is as valuable as theirs.”

“I’m just on the verge of walking out the door and telling them to kiss my ass!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“We’ve waited this long,” the circus clown said. “We’ll give it a few more minutes.”

“Let’s set this place on fire!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“You can’t do that!” the circus clown said. “There’s nothing here that would burn.”

“Magazines!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“And how long do you think it’d be before they call the police and have you arrested for arson?”

“I’ll be gone by then.”

“See how crazy he is?” the circus clown said to Mrs. Jenks. “He thinks he can go around setting fires and everybody will think it’s all right.”

“They need to be taught a lesson,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“You can’t do it that way!” the circus clown said. “If they take you to jail, it’ll be up to me to figure out a way to get you out! And I might just decide to leave you there!”

Ignoring the circus clown, the ventriloquist’s dummy began gathering up the old magazines and piling them on the floor in the middle of the room. Some he ripped apart and others he opened up and tossed upside down so they would burn better. When he had a knee-high pile of magazines, he took out his cigarette lighter and set fire to them.

The fire was just beginning to burn efficiently when the Asian nurse opened a door from within and stepped into the waiting room.

“No fire allow in doctor waiting room,” she said, without a change in her mask-like face.

“Oh, my!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “It’s getting out of control, isn’t it?”

He stomped out the flames with both feet and looked at the Asian nurse with a guilty smile. “Just having a little fun!” he said.

“Doctor leave, big hurry,” the Asian nurse said, ignoring the smoke from the magazines. “He go out on biiiiig emergency.”

“Is he invisible?” the circus clown asked. “We didn’t see him leave.”

“Private entrance back of building,” the Asian nurse said.

“I don’t think he was ever even here,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “I think they’re just screwing with us.”

“You’ll be getting a bill from me for my time that you’ve wasted today,” the circus clown said.

“Doctor say you call again next week. Have a nice day! Bye-bye!

“Well, how do you like that?” the circus clown said. “He’s wasted all our time today and we never even laid eyes on him!”

“Terrible way to treat people!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

Mrs. Jenks wasted no time in getting out of the building, away from the circus clown and the ventriloquist’s dummy. She was fuming because she didn’t like Dr. Capers anyway, and this was absolutely the last time she would ever go to him. Who does he think he is, anyway? He’s not the only doctor in the world!

She was just getting into her car when the circus clown ran up behind her.

“I wonder,” the circus clown said, “if you could give us a ride. You see, our car broke down and we’re just stuck here.”

“Where are you going?” Mrs. Jenks asked.

“Burkhardt.”

“I’m not going to Burkhardt,” Mrs. Jenks said. “That’s fifty miles away.”

“So much for the milk of human kindness.”

“Can’t you call a taxi?”

“Do you know how much that would cost?”

“No, and I don’t care. I’m sorry for your troubles but we all have them.”

“I’m sorry to do this to you, honey,” the circus clown said. “You seem like a nice enough woman, but we’re going to take your car.”

What?”

The ventriloquist’s dummy handed a gun to the circus clown and the circus clown pointed the gun at Mrs. Jenks.

“What is this?” Mrs. Jenks said. “Are you going to kill me?”

“Either we take your car, or I shoot you and we throw your body in the river. Nobody would ever know how it got there.”

“You must be out of your mind,” Mrs. Jenks said. “I’m not letting you take my car. You’ll have to kill me first.”

The circus clown pointed the gun at Mrs. Jenks. “You think I won’t shoot you?” she asked.

“No, I don’t think you will.”

But, instead of shooting her, the circus clown hit Mrs. Jenks with the gun, on the side of the head, just above the ear, with enough force to crack a coconut.

Mrs. Jenks was just aware of the circus clown and the ventriloquist’s dummy getting into her car and driving away with a squeal of tires. Time seemed to slow down as she fell backwards. The blow to the back of the head, coupled with the blow to the side of the head, rendered her unconscious there on the abandoned parking lot of Dr. Capers’ clinic.

When she regained consciousness, it was almost dark. She was aware of pains all through her body but especially her head. She pulled herself to a sitting position and looked around for someone who might tell her what had happened, but saw no one. She stood up then, took a few halting steps, and began walking in the direction of the most beautiful faraway lights she had ever seen.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

She Can Bake a Cherry Pie

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She Can Bake a Cherry Pie ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Judith Call was thirty-four and still unmarried. She lived outside town with her widowed mother and her younger brother, Curt. She had believed, since about age thirty, that she would never have a husband and would end up sole custodian of her mother’s dotage, while will-o-the-wisp Curt went about pursuing his own selfish interests, never giving a thought to anybody but himself. And one day Curt would bring home a wife (a pretty one but with the kind of prettiness that doesn’t last) and he’d become a father, and Judith would be the slightly odd maiden aunt who bakes cookies and saves Christmas wrap and quietly passes gas in church.

She had one physical deficiency that might have made her less marriageable than she might otherwise have been. Her eyes didn’t work in concert. She seemed to be looking in two directions at once; that is, here and there. People who knew her best were used to this abnormality and barely noticed it, but people meeting her for the first time pitied her and wondered if she was quite “all there” and if she needed help in getting to where to she was going. Wearing dark glasses covered up her abnormality and made her seem the same as anybody else, but there always came a time when the dark glasses had to come off.

Her mother always spurred her on, telling her eyes don’t make any difference.

“Any man would be lucky to have you,” she was fond of saying. “Any man worth having won’t care about at all about your funny eyes. He’ll see you for the lovely person you are.”

Judith, however, knew how important appearances are to the world in general. For a man to see her inner beauty, he would first have to look into her eyes, and if there was anything wrong there he wouldn’t look any farther.

Doctors told her the situation might one day work itself out on its own, but until then there was nothing medically to be done.

Curt had a friend named Gerald Pierson, handsome, slender and dark-haired. He was steady, decent, polite and always well-groomed. If Judith or her mother could have put all the qualities of a good husband and father (a regular Prince Charming) into a cup and shaken it and poured it out on the table, Gerald Pierson would have come tumbling out.

Finally, after a certain amount of coaxing by his mother, Curt agreed to invite Gerald Pierson to dinner on a Sunday afternoon in early summer. The mother didn’t think it was necessary to inform the son of the real reason for the invitation.

Judith would cook the dinner all on her own and it would be something wonderful. Gerald Pierson, who barely knew anything about Judith except that she was Curt’s sister, would see her in her own home. He would eat the food she had cooked with her own hands and see a side of her he hadn’t known existed. In one afternoon, he would witness all her best qualities and would come to think of her in a way he hadn’t thought of her before: a good wife for him and a loving mother for his children. She could give him the serene and comfortable home that every man wants. She could be the rock upon which he anchors his life.

Outwardly Judith seemed indifferent to the news that Gerald Pierson was coming for dinner, but privately her heart beat a little faster and her blood quickened in her veins. It might just be the thing she had been waiting for. When she logically analyzed the situation, she realized there was a very good chance that she and Gerald might discover they had a lot in common. A spark might be ignited at the dinner table on Sunday, a spark that could turn into a white hot flame. She couldn’t keep from smiling to herself when she saw the possibilities that lay before her.

She didn’t want to seem to be making too much of a fuss, but she planned the menu carefully. She loaded her cart with the largest and most expensive ham in the store, fresh cherries to make a pie, fresh spinach, freshy picked green beans, and anything else she could think of, sparing no expense. It seemed almost like Christmas. As an afterthought, she bought a bottle of before-dinner wine and a different kind of wine to serve during the meal.

Mother went to church Sunday morning and when she came home she was chirrupy and cheerful. She set the dining room table with the best dishes and didn’t have much to say.

Curt slept the morning away from his late Saturday night. He got up at eleven o’clock, took a shower and dressed in a white shirt and gray dress pants instead of the usual jeans.

“Why so fancy?” he asked when he walked into the dining room and saw the table. “Gerald is not royalty. He’s just a regular guy.”

“We don’t very often have a chance to entertain guests,” mother said.

When Gerald arrived in early afternoon, Curt met him at the door. They shook hands and Curt pulled him inside, as if he needed some persuasion.

“What’s with the jacket and tie, cowboy?” Curt said. “You didn’t need to dress up, you know. We’re strictly informal here.”

“I like to put on the dog every now and then,” Gerald said.

He greeted Judith and mother shyly and shook their hands.

“I’m so glad you and Curt are friends,” mother gushed. “I haven’t always approved of some of his chums.”

“Gerald doesn’t want to hear that,” Curt said.

“Thank you for inviting me,” Gerald said politely.

Curt and Gerald sat on the couch and talked about things they knew, while mother and Judith went into the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the meal. Before the dinner was ready, Judith came out of the kitchen bearing a tray with the little glasses of wine. She held the tray out to Gerald and then to Curt.

Fancy-Schmancy,” Curt said. “Where did these glasses come from?”

“They’ve been in the china closet for seventy-five years,” Judith said.

Gerald laughed and looked up her into her funny eyes. She looked back at him with crooked confidence and went back into the kitchen feeling that things were going well.

“Are you going to wear your dark glasses while we’re eating?” mother asked conspiratorially.

“No, I don’t think I will. It’s good for him to know the truth about me, don’t you think?”

Curt and Gerald took their places at the table, and mother and Judith brought the food in from the kitchen.

“This certainly looks wonderful!” Gerald said.

“I hope you like ham,” Judith said.

“Of course I like ham.”

“I’m starved,” Curt said. “I haven’t eaten all day.”

“Well, whose fault is that but your own?” mother said.

Before they ate, mother insisted on saying grace: “Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

“A-men!” Curt said.

“I hope you don’t mind the prayer,” mother said.

“Of course not,” Gerald said.

“Some people are funny about those things.”

“Not me.”

“He’s a regular all-American guy!” Curt said.

“How do you like living way out here?” Gerald asked. “This far out of town, I mean.”

“It’s great,” Curt said. “The nearest house is so far away you can’t even see it. You can go outside naked and nobody will see you.”

“You don’t go outside naked, do you?” mother said.

“Well, maybe I will sometime. Hah-hah-hah!

During a lull in the conversation, Judith cleared her throat and, determined to look Gerald clearly in the eye, said, “You and I were in high school together.”

“Were we? I don’t remember.”

“We didn’t have any classes together. I was two grades ahead of you, but I remember you. You were very popular.”

“Was I?”

“Always getting your picture in the yearbook.”

“That’s our Gerald!” Curt said. “Big man on campus.”

“That’s not quite the way I remember it,” Gerald said.

“Well, anyway, it was a long time ago,” Judith said, “and it doesn’t matter much now.”

“The big man on campus doesn’t stay that way forever,” Curt said and punched Gerald on the arm.

“This is the best meal I’ve had in a long time!” Gerald said. “I’m so happy you asked me!”

“You’ll have to come again soon,” mother said. “We’d love to have you.”

When they were finished eating, Curt said, “What’s for dessert?”

“It’s a surprise,” mother said.

Judith went into the kitchen and when she came back she was carrying a tray with four servings of cherry pie, each with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

After a couple of bites, Gerald said, “Cherry pie is my favorite and this is the best cherry pie I’ve ever tasted.”

“Judith baked the pie,” mother said. “And in fact she cooked the whole meal on her own. All I did was set the table.”

“It could not have been better,” Gerald said.

After a while Curt and Gerald rose from the table and went out through the kitchen. Curt wanted to take Gerald down to the barn to show him the horse that he was trying to sell at a profit.

“He likes you,” mother said as she and Judith cleared the table.

“Who does?” Judith said.

“Gerald.”

“I think he likes everybody.”

“No, he looks at you in a special way. I’ve seen that look before.”

“You’re imagining things.”

“I don’t think he even noticed that your eyes are funny.”

“How could he not notice?”

“If he noticed, it didn’t seem to make any difference. Now that you have his interest, I think you should pursue it.”

“Pursue what?”

“Invite him on a picnic. Just the two of you. Picnics are always a good way for two people to get to know each other better. Make some chicken sandwiches and potato salad. Men like potato salad.”

“I wouldn’t want him to think I’m setting a trap for him.”

“Some men want to be trapped. They just don’t always realize it.”

“You’re being ridiculous, mother.”

The phone rang and mother answered.

“Run down to the barn and get Curt,” she said to Judith. “This is the call he’s been waiting for about the horse.”

“Can’t you just take a message?”

“He particularly wanted to speak to this person.”

“Oh, all right. I don’t want to, but I will.”

She crossed the back yard, trying to keep from stepping in the mud. At the point where the back yard ended, the barn was about three hundred yards down to the right.

She didn’t see Curt and Gerald anywhere so she figured they must still be in the barn. The door was partly opened. She swung it back, took a few steps inside and paused for a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom.

She heard a voice, maybe a laugh, but she wasn’t sure if it was Curt or Gerald. She was reminded of the time when they were children and Curt would call her to come into the barn and when she did he’d hide from her and jump out and make her scream.

She was going to call out to Curt but then she saw the white of his shirt over to the left against the wall, behind the stall where the horse was. She squinted her eyes then, not sure of what she was seeing. It was not only Curt but also Gerald, standing together.

Taking a few steps closer but still not close enough that they knew she was there, she knew in one fleeting moment what she was seeing. Curt and Gerald were locked in a tight embrace, kissing passionately. Gerald had his back to the wall and Curt was leaning into him. Gerald’s hands were around Curt’s shoulders. Curt’s trousers were on the ground around his shoes. When she saw Curt’s hands, she knew they were fumbling with—trying to undo—Gerald’s belt.

Judith’s one thought was that she didn’t want to be seen, that she didn’t want Curt and Gerald to know she knew what they were doing. She ran out of the barn, back up the muddy road, to get back into the house before she was discovered.

She came to the back yard and saw the house. A hundred feet more and she would be safe inside. She ran across the yard, not caring that she was treading mud. Almost safe, she forgot the low-hanging limb on the sycamore tree. Almost safe, she hit the limb—whack!—in the middle of the forehead and was knocked on her back.

She lost consciousness for a few seconds, maybe a minute or two, and when she regained herself her mother was kneeling beside her asking if she was all right.

With her mother holding onto her arm, she made her way into the kitchen and sat in a chair at the kitchen table. She sobbed, once and then twice, and mother thought it was from pain, but it was more from what she had seen.

“I’m going to call the doctor,” mother said.

“No, I’m fine,” Judith said. “It was just a stupid accident. I should have known better.”

“I’m going to have that limb cut off.”

“No! Don’t do that! That limb has been there my whole life.”

“Where’s Curt? He can drive you to the hospital.”

“I don’t need to go to the hospital. Curt is down at the barn entertaining his friend. Leave them to it.”

Mother hovered over Judith, daubing at her head with a wet rag. “You’re going to have a goose egg right in the middle of your forehead.”

“Good. That completes the freak look.”

“You might have a concussion.”

“I’m fine. Stop fussing.”

Mother placed her hands on both sides of Judith’s face and tilted her head back.

“Look at me!” mother said. “Can you see me all right?”

“Of course I can see you all right!”

“Oh, my Lord!”

“What is it? What’s the matter?”

“Your eyes!”

She looked closer at Judith’s eyes to make sure of what she was seeing and then she went out of the room and came back with a hand mirror.

“Look at yourself!” she said.

Judith held the mirror up, looking at her eyes from the right and then from the left. “For the first time in more than twenty years,” she said, “my eyes are as straight as anybody else’s.”

“This morning when I was in church I asked the Lord to fix your eyes, and He did! It’s miraculous! God is good!”

“It’s not every day I get knocked unconscious by a blow to the head,” Judith said. “Maybe I ought to try it more often.”

She put the mirror down and went out of the room.

“Where are you going?” mother asked.

“I’m going to bed.”

“But it’s still daylight outside. It’s not even seven o’clock.”

“The day is over for me.”

“What about your dinner guest? He’ll want to say goodbye before he leaves. He’ll want to thank you for the lovely meal.”

“Just give him a message for me.”

“What message?”

“Tell him I won’t be bothering him again.”

“What? What does that mean?”

“Good night, mother.”

She went upstairs and locked herself in her bedroom, pulled the curtains closed and got into bed. Her head throbbed but she wasn’t going to let it keep her from sleeping.

In a few minutes she heard voices and laughter outside in the driveway and she knew it was Curt and Gerald. They would be leaving together in Gerald’s car. Curt probably wouldn’t be returning home until morning. Yes, God is good, as mother said, to let all the pieces fall into place exactly as they should.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp