Eternity

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Eternity
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~  

I’m in a dark place now and always searching. What I’m searching for I am not able to know. Sometimes I’m searching for a way out (or in) and other times I’m searching for something else, but I can’t always say what it is. There are other people here, just like me, but they are also searching and seem just as confused as I am. I bump into them sometimes in the dark—that’s how I know they’re there. Sometimes I try to speak to them, if only to apologize for bumping into them, but I can’t seem to form the words, as if I’ve forgotten language.

The darkness here is not like darkness anywhere on earth. Sometimes there is flashing green light from above that is like lightning, but isn’t lightning because there’s no thunder and never any rain. I stumble along; sometimes I can see where I’m going and sometimes I can’t, so I’m always running into things that I can’t see—or can’t see very well. Occasionally—very rarely, though—I see a few seconds of light that is like daylight. I call it daylight, even though I’m not sure it’s light from the sun, and it always lifts my spirits and makes me think I’ve found what I’m looking for, or that finally I’m going to be able to leave this place and go to a better place.

Sometimes I hear sounds but I don’t know where they’re coming from. I hear voices, nearby and far away, but I can never make out the words. I hear music, but when I try to find out where it’s coming from it turns into something else, like a wolf howling or an elephant trumpeting. A lot of confused sounds. When I hear gunfire, it scares me and I think I need to take cover, but then the gunfire stops and I hear screaming and crying, worse than the gunfire.

I know why I’m here. I did a bad thing. I went up to the attic and committed suicide by hanging. As soon as I stepped off the table with the rope around my neck, I knew I had done a foolish thing, but it was too late to take it back. In those few seconds while I dangled at the end of the rope, I struggled mightily to undo what I had done, but the more I struggled and tried to make the rope release me, the tighter it became around my neck. They say when you are hanged you die of a broken neck. My neck wasn’t broken, though. I died of strangulation, pure and simple, which means I was deprived of air enough to go on living. In two minutes I was unconscious and in four minutes my heart stopped beating and I was dead.

What I was seeking was Oblivion. The Great Void. The Divine Nothing. What I got instead was an absolute awareness of what I had done and that I was in a place of torment and confusion. I’m not sure how long I’ve been here because here there is no time; words like “hour,” “minute” and “day” have no meaning here.

One day (or night) when I was crossing a field to God-knows-where, I crashed into a tree trunk. Crashing into a tree trunk was nothing unusual for me, but this tree was different because it was lit by a faint light from above—just enough light for me to see a sign hanging from the tree at eye level. Printed on the sign were these words: Keep going to Wind Mountain and you will find a way out.    

I can’t know who else saw the sign, but I was sure it was intended only for me. It might have been an ugly trick, but I didn’t think it was. I didn’t know where Wind Mountain was and had never heard of it, but I would keep going until I found it. Maybe there would be other signs along the way to guide me. Maybe I would meet another person and could ask for directions. Anything seemed possible. For the first time since coming to this place, I had hope.

I traveled for what seemed like years looking for Wind Mountain but might have been only hours or days. Whenever I tried to ask the people I crashed into if they could direct me to Wind Mountain, they only looked at me in terror and tried to get away from me. They were no help at all. I was beginning to think that Wind Mountain didn’t exist and that the sign I saw on the tree was a hoax or just another cruel trick.

At the end of a long, weary road, I came to a man in a dark cloak with a hood covering his head. I couldn’t see his face or any part to of him but, since he didn’t recoil from me, I got the distinct impression he was waiting for me.

“I’m looking for Wind Mountain,” I managed to say, and I knew they were the first words I had spoken in this place that made any sense.

The road I had been walking on for such a long way ended here. The man in the cloak pointed upward and I knew there was a mountain right here in front of me and I was meant to climb it, even though I had never climbed a mountain before and wasn’t sure I had the strength.

I turned my back on the man in the cloak and looked up at the mountain. “That’s a big mountain!” I said. “What happens when I get to the top?”

But when I turned around again the man was no longer there. He had disappeared as completely as if he never existed or as if I had just imagined him.

I began climbing. It wasn’t easy because I was weak and tired. I put one foot above the other, and then one hand, and pulled myself up. I tried to concentrate on the step I was taking, or about to take, rather than the distance I had yet to travel.

After much straining and striving upward, I saw the faint light above my head, faraway but somehow attainable. Then I felt a cool breath of air on my face that didn’t have the smell of damp earth or decay. It was the first fresh air I had breathed for as long as I could remember. I began climbing faster, believing I was getting closer, at last, to the thing I had desired.

It took me an eternity to climb Wind Mountain. When I finally got to the top, there was an opening through which I could see blue sky and white clouds. When I emerged from the opening—like being born—the sunlight dazzled me. It might have been the first sunlight I had ever seen. I covered both eyes with my hands. That’s when I knew I had changed and was no longer the same. My hands had become paw-like appendages covered with fur and bearing long claws.

Trying to figure out exactly where I was and what I was, I half-stumbled, half-fell away from the opening through which I had emerged. That’s when I saw a group of five or six figures huddled in a circle about fifty yards away. I drew in my breath and crouched down, hoping they wouldn’t see me. I had the idea I could get away before they knew I was there.

I didn’t know what they were doing at first, but I saw after two or three minutes of close observation that they were ripping shreds of meat off a carcass on the ground and eating them. They had the shape of men but weren’t men. They walked on their hind legs like men but sometimes they dropped down on their hands and feet like dogs. I didn’t know what kind of beings they were, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that they were the same kind I was. My heart was beating so loud I was sure they would be able to hear it and know I was there. They would surely kill me if they saw me.

I was on the verge of veering around behind them and making my escape when one of the figures stopped eating and raised his nose high in the air. The others noticed what the first one was doing and also stopped eating and sniffed the air. They smelled something they weren’t used to smelling, a danger or a threat. They all turned then and looked at me.

I was going to run, but I knew it was futile. They would outrun me. They would knock me down and kill me, but before I died I would experience the pain of being ripped apart. This violent ending I was about to experience would be my punishment for hanging myself.

I watched them as they came toward me. Some of them were walking like men, while others were on all fours like dogs. I stood up and closed my eyes. I would take it standing up. There was no reason I had to see it, though.

Instead of devouring me or knocking me down where I stood, though, they surrounded me, making a wall around me with their bodies. I opened my eyes but wasn’t able to see their faces because the sun was in my eyes. One of the figures surprised me by holding out a piece of meat to me in his paw. I took hold of it in my paw—it was the size and shape of a heart—and began eating. It was the nourishment I had gone without for so long. After taking a few bites, I licked my lips and asked where I could get a drink of water. My voice sounded strange to my own ears, though. It was a voice I had never heard before.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp  

Smoker’s Lament

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Smoker’s Lament
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~ 

(I posted this story before, with a different title.)

Grandpa’s name was Estes Liam Whiteside. He never said much but just sat quietly and smoked his Winston cigarettes. He almost always had a cigarette going; he would light a new one as soon as he finished the old one. Grandma would nag him about some things, but not about his smoking. He had always smoked and she knew he’d never be able to quit.

Grandpa was a machinist. He worked in a machine shop. I’m not sure what he did, exactly, but he got up early in the morning and went to work and was gone all day until around five-thirty in the afternoon. When he came home, he’d be tired and his shirt would be dirty so he’d take it off and sit at the kitchen table and smoke cigarettes in his sleeveless undershirt. His arms were thin; he hardly had any muscle at all.

One day grandpa had a heart attack at work. They rushed him to the hospital and put him in a bed and wouldn’t let him get up. They gave him medicine and watched his heart beating on machines. The doctor came in and saw him pretty often but usually didn’t stay long. The doctor told him he was going to have to stop smoking if he wanted to go on living. Anybody who knew grandpa knew that wasn’t going to happen. As soon as the doctor left, he told grandma to bring another carton of Winstons the next time she came to see him.

We went to the hospital every evening after dinner to visit grandpa. I was too young to visit him in his room, so I had to sit in the crowded waiting room with Gloria, my sister, and read a magazine. Sometimes mother gave me a dime to buy a candy bar or a soda, so that would help to pass the time. Of course, when I got a dime, Gloria got one, too.

After a few days grandpa left the hospital. Everybody pretended he was well again, but he wasn’t. Not really. He stayed home from work for a couple of weeks, taking long naps, reading the newspaper and watching TV. He was eager to get back to work because he and grandma needed the money and he couldn’t afford to live a life of leisure, he said.

The doctor let him go back to work with the stipulation that he be on a “reduced workload,” meaning no more than four or five hours a day. That didn’t bring in enough money, though, so grandpa ignored it. He worked his full day, as before, and went back to smoking as many Winstons as he always had, as many as three packs a day.

In about two months he had another heart attack, this time while he was mowing the lawn. They put him in the hospital again, gave him oxygen and stuck needles in his arms. The doctor said this attack was worse than the first one and caused some damage to his heart. He had “yellow jaundice,” a result of his heart not pumping enough blood through his body. If he didn’t start following doctor’s orders, he could kiss the world goodbye.

They kept him in the hospital for ten days and then let him go home. He was supposed to be on a strict diet, with no salt, butter or fried foods, but he went ahead and ate what he wanted anyway. His first meal at home, just out of the hospital, was a big plate of fried eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes. He then spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the front porch eating pork rinds, drinking beer, and smoking Winstons.

He paced the floor a lot in his bathrobe, cranky and worrying. He had to get back to work, he said. He wasn’t a rich man’s plaything and had to have enough money to pay all the bills that were coming in every day in the mail. If you can’t go to work, he said, you might as well be dead.

The doctor told him he needed to consider retiring and applying for medical disability. That wasn’t his way, he said. He had worked since he was fifteen and he couldn’t see himself sitting around collecting a government check. That just wasn’t his scene.

He went back to work, even though the doctor advised against it. His next heart attack, his third and last, happened on a Friday afternoon in November. When he became stricken and collapsed on the floor at work, his co-workers called an ambulance. They rushed him to the hospital but it was too late. He was already dead. He was fifty-seven years old.

We were at school when it happened. Mother came and got us, first my sister and then me, and took us to grandma’s house. (As soon as I looked up and saw my mother in the hallway at school, I knew what had happened.) She was driving somebody else’s car with a stick shift and didn’t know how to shift the gears; we jerked and bumped our way over to grandma’s. It was a good thing it was only a few blocks.

The minister was at grandma’s house, along with her niece and a couple of the neighbor ladies. Grandma seemed calm but she looked pale and her hair was sticking up as if a cat had been licking it. The minister held grandma’s hand and quoted scripture. He told her that grandpa was fine now, that he was looking down on her from heaven and preparing a special place for her. Grandma smiled and invited him to stay and have something to eat. I knew she wanted to get him to stop patting her and holding her hand.

People began bringing in food. There was a platter of fried chicken, a chocolate cake, potato salad, spaghetti and meatballs and a shrimp casserole (none of us liked shrimp). You had to wonder how these people came up with all that food on such short notice. (It was all part of the elaborate American death ritual.)

In the evening more people came, including my father and my mother’s sister, Aunt Aldine. Their one brother, Paul, was a teacher in the city and wouldn’t be there until the following day. There were also more relatives, more neighbors, and the minister’s wife and their two odd daughters. (One of the daughters had a harelip and the other had an artificial foot. I wanted to a closer look at both of them, but I didn’t want them to know I was interested in them in any way.)

Everybody sat around, talking in hushed voices and eating the food. They left, one or two at a time, and others came in. They all wanted to give grandma a hug and tell her how sorry they were and to ask her if there was anything they could do for her. They all wanted to hear the intimate details of how grandpa died, who was present at the time, and how the news was delivered to the bereaved. Grandma answered their questions politely, secretly wishing they would all leave so she would not have to talk anymore.

Early the next day mother took grandma and her sister Aldine to the funeral home to make the funeral arrangements. I wanted to go along, but mother said it was no place for a child. When they came back about lunchtime, we learned that there would be two nights of visitation at the funeral home and the funeral would be on the third day, just like it says in the Bible. I imagined that would be the day that grandpa would take his place in heaven, even though the minister had been telling us he was already there. The minister also told my sister and me that we would see grandpa again one day in heaven.

I had my one dark suit but had outgrown my shoes, so mother took me on an emergency shopping trip that afternoon. Of course, Gloria had to go along. She was afraid I’d get a new pair of shoes and she wouldn’t.

When we returned home with the new shoes, mother gave Gloria a home permanent to try to put some pep into her lifeless, stringy hair. She wanted her daughter, she said, to look halfway decent and not like a refugee. Gloria gagged and made faces from the chemical smell of the permanent, but mother told her to hold still and stop complaining or she was going to slap her silly.

When Gloria saw the results of her home permanent in the mirror, she cried and screamed. The permanent had not been successful—or maybe it had been too successful. Instead of the right amount of curl, there was far too much curl. Her hair looked like the horsehair stuffing from an old sofa that had been in the attic for years that father set fire to in the back yard. Gloria was going to get the scissors and cut off all her hair herself, and while she was at it she might just open a vein or two. Mother told her to stop being so dramatic and promised to get her an appointment at a beauty parlor to get her hair fixed right, but it wouldn’t be until after grandpa’s funeral.

The next day at four o’clock, grandpa’s body was “ready” for viewing. We all dressed up in our best clothes and went to the funeral home early and stood out in front until it was time to go in. (Gloria wore an old wine-colored felt hat she found in the bottom of somebody’s closet.) There were family members there I had never seen before from out of state. Grandma or mother introduced me to them, but I didn’t know who any of them were. I figured they were all as uncomfortable as I was.

Seeing grandpa in his casket was a shock for me. He didn’t look like himself. For one thing, he was wearing a gray suit with a red tie and a white carnation in his buttonhole. I had never seen him dressed that way before. He looked fine, but he didn’t look like anybody I knew or had ever seen before. His hair was smoothed down and he seemed to have a little smile on his face. As I stood looking at him, I realized he was my first dead person.

Grandpa’s casket was at the end of a long room. It was cool in the room, with only about half as much light as you would expect. Around the casket were flowers of every color, shape and size: roses, chrysanthemums, daisies, lilies, carnations, and a lot of other flowers I didn’t know the names of. From then on, the smell of flowers would always make me think of death and the funeral home.

We spent two interminable evenings at the funeral home from four o’clock until they closed at ten. When nobody was paying any attention to me, I tried to find a quiet place to sit where I could be alone and not have to talk to anybody. I wondered what grandpa would have made of all the flowers, all the people, all the talk. I’m sure, wherever he was, he was either smoking a Winston, or wanting one.

On the day of the funeral, we were ready to go by noon, even though the funeral didn’t start until two o’clock. The funeral home people took the casket to the Methodist church in the hearse. At the church, we were given a little private (family) time before the service, where we could all have one last glimpse of grandpa before they closed him up for good.

The church was filled to capacity. Grandma and grandpa knew a lot of people. The service lasted over an hour. The minister spoke and, as usual, I didn’t pay any attention to anything he said. A woman I had never seen before wearing a green dress sang I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses. We prayed again, led by the minister, and then the service was over.

All the cars lined up outside the church then and we went in a slow procession to the cemetery a few miles outside of town. Grandpa’s body was committed to the earth, as the saying goes, and that was the end of him. Next to him was the empty grave where grandma would go when her time came. Her name was already on the double stone.

Grandma surprised us all by getting married again, less than a year after grandpa died, to a man named Erville Lawson. They met at a card party and began spending a lot of time together. They both liked shopping trips and catching small fish and throwing them back again. Erville, who was not a smoker, lost his wife about the same time that grandma lost grandpa.

Grandma sold her house and moved to a different town, to live with Erville Lawson in his house. She changed all the furniture to suit her own taste. Whatever she wanted to do was fine with Erville. They got along well together for many years, until Erville was called upon to make his own final journey.

When grandma was on her deathbed, grandpa was the one she talked about, the one she saw standing over in the corner, waiting for her. He was the one she most wanted to see when she got to heaven. It was as if all the years with Erville Lawson had never happened.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Pneumonia

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Pneumonia
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This is a re-post.)

In fifth grade I wore a navy pea coat. Some of the kids in school made fun of me for wearing a kind of coat that nobody else had, but I didn’t care. It set me apart from everybody else and made me look interesting, I thought. Like a miniature Robert Taylor.

Any time I think about that pea coat I think about my mother lying sick in a hospital bed. In November of that year, she slipped on gravel down the street from where she worked and hit her head on the sidewalk. She had a brain concussion and it knocked her flat. The doctor thought three or four days (a week at the most) in the hospital would fix her up, but she just kept getting worse and worse, and the three or four days stretched to weeks. (The doctor eventually admitted she wasn’t getting any better and sent her to a hospital in the city, but that’s another story.)

I was only ten, so I missed my mother while she was away. I wasn’t a baby and I could manage without her for a few days, but I was afraid she wouldn’t be out of the hospital in time for Christmas. My biggest fear, though, was that she would die while I was at school and I’d be left alone with my father. He and I, though we lived in the same house and shared the same blood, were like unrelated strangers. I always had the feeling he didn’t like me and so, consequently, I didn’t like him. Don’t tell me it doesn’t happen. It happens all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“You don’t look sick to me.”

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

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

I sat down and poured some corn flakes into a bowl and got the milk out of the refrigerator, but I didn’t feel like eating.

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

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

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

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

The wind and the cold air didn’t help my cough. By the time I got to school, I had a terrific pain in my chest and was having trouble breathing. I took my seat in the third row, as usual, and hoped I’d drop dead before too long.

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

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

“You have a fever, don’t you?” she said.

“I’m all right.”

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

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

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

“Let’s take a look at your throat, honey,” she said.

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

“How long have you felt bad?” she asked.

“I don’t know. About three days, I guess.”

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

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

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

“Oh. What about daddy?”

“He’s at work.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure.”

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

“I can make it okay.”

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

“What?”

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

“Yes, ma’am.”

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

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

“What’s this?” he said.

“A letter,” I said.

“From one of my many admirers?”

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

He read the letter and crushed out his cigarette angrily.

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

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

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

“Yeah, I know.”

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

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

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

“I didn’t think he was that sick,” my father said. “He’s always been good at pretending.”

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

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

“I know you don’t,” Dr. Froberger said, “but it’ll be all right. We’ll take good care of you and you’ll be back to normal in a few days.”

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

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

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

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

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

So, she wasn’t going to die after all.

When the doctor finally released me from the hospital after a week (that’s how long it took for my lungs to clear up), he said I couldn’t go back to school for a while (two weeks or so), which was altogether fine with me. I had to have somebody stay with me since I was still too young and too sick (the doctor said) to stay by myself. That’s when Barbara Legaspi entered my life.

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

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

When we got to talking about my father, she told me she had an “instinctive” feeling about him. He was surrounded by a “negative aura.” Such individuals were destined to cause “much strife” in the world.

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

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

“I can communicate with the other side,” she said.

“The other side of what?”

“You know. The spirit world.”

“You mean ghosts?”

“No, not ghosts. If they were stuck on earth—and a lot of them are—they’d be ghosts. I’m talking about spirits.”

I told her how when I became sick with pneumonia and my mother was in the hospital, my father didn’t want to be bothered with me. He made me to go to school sick because he thought I was pretending so I could stay home.

“People like that make me sick,” she said. “They only think about their own convenience. They never think of anybody else.”

“That’s him!” I said, happy that somebody else could see in him what I saw.

“He only became a parent because he thought it was what was expected of him. He didn’t really want children.”

“I could always feel that!” I said.

“He’s not very nice to your mother, is he?”

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

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

“Take care of him how?”

“I can put a spell on him.”

“You mean, like, kill him?”

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

“You can put spells on people?”

“I don’t do it myself, but I know somebody who can.”

“Somebody in the spirit world?”

“Something like that.”

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

“Just a little spell, where he gets what he deserves.”

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

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

“Yeah, moderation is the key. Fix it so he has to stay in the hospital for about a week. No, make it two weeks!”

“I think it might be arranged.”

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

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

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

In the middle of January, my father had a heart attack at work. They came and got him in an ambulance and took him to the hospital. After they did medical tests on him, the doctor said he had “smoker’s heart.” He was overweight, had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He was going to have to give up the Marlboros and go on a salt-free diet if he wanted to get well.

When my mother and I visited him in the hospital, all the starch had gone out of him. He had dark circles around his eyes and he hardly spoke at all. When my mother asked him how he felt, he rolled his eyes at the ceiling and answered angrily. He hardly looked at me or acknowledged that I was there.

Once when he saw I was smiling, he asked me if I found it amusing to see him lying sick in a hospital bed. I shrugged my shoulders and looked away. If he knew what I was thinking, he would have had to light up another Marlboro and blow smoke out his nose like the angry bull I knew so well.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

It Was Christmas

It Was Christmas (2)
It Was Christmas
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~ 

I had an end room on the fifth floor of Richardson Hall. Having an end room meant I didn’t have to have a roommate because it was a small, odd-shaped room and there was only room for one person. I considered myself lucky to get one of the few single-occupancy rooms, especially considering who might have been my roommate.

I was in my third year at State University, so I was used to dormitory life. Richardson Hall was the oldest building on campus, built around 1895. I liked its creaking elevator, drafty windows, and high ceilings. There were people who wanted to tear it down and put a parking lot in its place, but I think it’s a shame to destroy a historic old building to make way for something new and ugly. It’s like destroying a work of art.

Well, Christmas was here again and I was one of the few staying on campus. I could have gone home, but I wanted to stay at school, even though it meant I would be alone. I didn’t mind being alone. I lived six hundred miles away and the trip by bus usually made me vomit. I could have flown, but I hated airplanes more than I hated buses.

When I told my mother I wasn’t coming home for Christmas, her feelings were hurt and she almost cried. She said she couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be with my family during the most joyous season of the year, but I told her I was run down and if I stayed at school I could catch up on my rest and read a book I was supposed to read without distractions. She accepted my explanation but wasn’t happy about it. She implied I wanted to stay at school because I was enamored of some girl there. I laughed and let her think whatever she wanted.

The cafeteria was closed for Christmas vacation, so it meant that during the twelve days of vacation I would have to eat at one of the restaurants in town or eat from my stock of non-perishable foods that I kept in the desk drawer in my room. My mother sent me five one-hundred dollar bills in a Christmas card. She wrote that she hoped I had a lovely Christmas. Go someplace nice and have a good dinner on Christmas Day, she wrote. I failed to tell her everybody else went home and I practically had the whole dormitory to myself, not to mention the entire campus.

Besides me all the way up on the fifth floor, there were only four other people in the whole building who didn’t go home for Christmas. In five floors, there were five people. I liked those odds. I liked the feeling of being by myself in this old relic of a building. If there were any ghosts—and I’m sure there were—I was sure to see them.

The toilets and showers were down the hall from my room. I always undressed in my room and wore my bathrobe down the hall to the shower. Now that I was alone, I could walk down the hall naked the way everybody else did. The first time I did it, I walked all over the floor naked, even sitting for a while on the ratty, vinyl-covered couch in the TV room. I loved the feeling of freedom, the feeling of being the last person left alive. I felt like Robinson Crusoe and, like him, I had everything I needed.

On my first night alone on the fifth floor, I covered up in bed and read by my little bedside lamp. It had turned much colder outside and the wind was kicking up. The wind rattled the old windows in their frames and soon it started to rain. I lay for a while, listening to the wind and the rain and the quiet of the old building and soon I turned off the light and burrowed under the covers, experiencing a sense of well-being.

Sometime in the night the rain turned to snow and when I got up in the morning, there were at least a couple of inches on the ground. It was perfect. Nothing felt more like Christmas than snow. I didn’t have anything for breakfast, so I dressed and walked across campus to the student union to get a cinnamon roll and a cup of tea.

While I was sitting at a table my myself looking out the window, Dorian Dye came in and helped himself to the seat beside me. I knew him slightly and didn’t like him very much. He had a thin, rat-like face and discolored teeth. He was nosy and always asked questions that were none of his business. One time he asked me how much a jacket cost that I was wearing and another time he asked me my grade-point average.

“Hello, there, stranger!” he said.

“Hi, Dorian,” I said, wishing he might disappear.

“I heard you were one of the few staying behind in Richardson Hall.”

“Who told you that?”

“Oh, a little birdie told me!”

“There’s no reason to be coy, Dorian,” I said. “Just come right out and say it.”

“So, why did you stay behind?” he asked.

“My family doesn’t like me. They paid me to stay away.”

“Oh, hah-hah-hah! I don’t think I believe that!”

“You don’t think I’d tell you the real reason, do you?”

“Okay, so don’t tell me. I don’t care. Do you want to know why I stayed behind and didn’t go home?”

“Not especially,” I said.

“My mother is bipolar and an alcoholic and I can’t stand to be in the house with her.”

“I didn’t ask.”

“Listen. I’m on the third floor of Richardson Hall and I’m the only one there, so if you get lonesome give me a holler.”

“I won’t get lonesome,” I said. “I like the solitude.”

“Yes, you’re the solitary type, aren’t you?”

“I guess you could say that.”

“When I’m in my room alone, I try not to think about the all the ghosts in the building.”

“There’s only one, isn’t there?”

“Yes, there’s the boy who hanged himself in his room, but in a building that old there’s bound to be others.”

“I don’t mind a ghost or two,” I said.

“Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve. What are you going to do?”

“Nothing special, I guess.”

“Give me a call and we’ll get together.”

“I don’t think so, Dorian. I’ll probably just do some reading and then go to bed.”

“Well, if you change your mind, let me know. My number is in the student directory.”

I knew Dorian was another loser like me; what he said about not going home confirmed it. I really did have plans for Christmas Eve, but I didn’t especially want to discuss them with Dorian.

In the afternoon it was snowing again in a Christmassy way, so I put on my boots and my coat and walked downtown. The stores were crowded, as one might expect two days before Christmas, but I braved the crowds and tried to ignore them. I spent an hour or so looking around in the bookstore and bought two books, one that I wanted to read and one that I had to read if I knew what was good for me. Then I braved the department store and walked all over the three floors, absorbing the Christmas atmosphere, listening to the Christmas music, and observing the strange cavalcade of human life. I bought myself a wool cap and a pair of gloves. Merry Christmas to me.

After I left the department store, I stopped at a diner that had festive lights in the window and sat at the counter and ate a large cod sandwich with fried potatoes they called chips and drank a chocolate milkshake. While I was in the diner, nobody spoke to me except the waitress who took my order. I might have been invisible. I might have been the ghost of the boy who hanged himself in his room.

On my way back to the dormitory I stopped at the corner grocery and bought a few oranges, some donuts, a large candy cane, a loaf of French bread, a bag of pretzels, and a small jar of peanut butter. I also bought a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of fizzy white wine. I wasn’t much of a drinker or a smoker, but I figured I needed to do something out of the ordinary to celebrate the holiday. While I was paying for my purchases, an old woman wearing rhinestone glasses who worked in the store put a sprig of mistletoe in my bag. Nobody could say I didn’t have what I needed to celebrate my first Christmas away from home.

That evening I was sleepy, so I got into bed and read for a while and then I turned off the light and lay there listening to Christmas music on the radio. It was still snowing outside and the wind was gusting against the windows. Most people don’t like the snow, but no matter how much it snowed it didn’t bother me. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was happy and comfortable—snug as a bug in a rug, as my grandma used to say when I was little.

After I was asleep, somebody knocked on my door, but I didn’t get out of bed to answer it. I preferred to let them think I wasn’t there. Maybe it was the ghost of the boy who hanged himself in his room, but I don’t think ghosts knock on doors. It was probably Dorian Dye, since he was one of the few people who knew I was there.

The next day was the day before Christmas. I got up and had an orange and a chunk of French bread and a donut for breakfast, and then I took a shower and shaved. The weather forecast on the radio said the snow would continue through the day and into the night, with the temperature in the teens. It was ideal Christmas weather.

In the afternoon I put on my new wool cap and gloves and walked downtown, welcoming the frigid wind in my face. I had an early dinner at an Italian restaurant and then I went to a movie.

There were three movie theatres in town to choose from. I went to the one that showed only old movies and saw a double feature of movies from the 1930s. It was a very old theatre, with appropriate décor and all the pungent odors, and I sat down close to the front, as I always do, and enjoyed the feeling of stepping into another time. There weren’t more than fifteen or twenty other people in the theatre—it was, after all, Christmas Eve—and nobody made a sound when the movies were playing, not even laughing when something funny happened.

When the show was over and I left the theatre, the snow had stopped but the wind was just as cold as before, if not colder. There were still lots of people everywhere, but not nearly as many as before. Most people had gone home, I supposed, to rest up for Santa.

When I got back to the dormitory, it was after eleven o’clock. I put on my pajamas and bathrobe and, since it was Christmas Eve, opened my bottle of wine. I drank about half the bottle sitting up in bed, listening to the radio, until I was partly drunk. I saw out the window that it was snowing again. When I was seven years old, I would have been watching in the sky for signs of Santa.

Thinking of Santa made me think of home and my parents. I wondered what they were doing on Christmas Eve. It was the first Christmas Eve of my life that I hadn’t been with them. They had probably eaten a silent dinner and when they were finished, my mother would start clearing the dishes off the table and my father would go into the living room and expire in front of the TV. I wondered if they were lonely and thinking of me, their only child.

That night I dreamed of the boy who hanged himself in his room in Richardson Hall. He came into my room and sat on the edge of my bed. I sat up and introduced myself. He had dark circles around his eyes and his eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets, but he tried to smile. He still had the noose around his neck that he hanged himself with. I asked him why he was so unhappy, but he didn’t answer. I also asked him if he would do it over again if he had the chance but he didn’t answer that, either.

A little while later I dreamed that I got out of the bed and looked at myself in the mirror over the sink without turning on the light, and I had become the boy who hanged himself in his room. The boy was me. I was the boy. We were the same person. I tried to remove the noose, but the knot was so tight I couldn’t get it loose.

Christmas morning I slept until ten o’clock. I got dressed and was just about to go over to the student union for a light breakfast, when there was a knock at my door. I thought it might be the ghost of the boy who hanged himself in his room, so I opened the door and when I did I was disappointed to see Dorian Dye. He was singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” I wanted to smack him in the mouth to get him to shut up.

“Have you seen any ghosts?” he asked as he came into my room and draped himself on my bed.

“A few,” I said.

“Are you lonely yet and wishing you had gone home instead of staying in this dreary old place?”

“Not a bit, Dorian,” I said. “Would you please get your shoes off my bedspread?”

“Yes, sir!” he laughed. “Do you know Vernon Vogel?”

“No, I don’t know Vernon Vogel,” I said with a hint of impatience. “Is that a person?”

Hah-hah-hah! Well, of course he’s a person! What else would he be?”

“I don’t know, Dorian. You tell me.”

“Well, Vernon has a car.”

“I’m so happy for him.”

“Well, since Vernon’s alone for Christmas, and since I’m alone for Christmas, and since Vernon has a car, we’re going to Pirandello’s for Christmas dinner. They have a special Christmas buffet. Have you ever been to Pirandello’s?”

“Once, I think.”

“I told Vernon about you, all alone here on the fifth floor, and he and I both decided it would be the neighborly thing to do to ask you to come along. We’ll make it a threesome.”

“I don’t think so, Dorian. Thanks for thinking of me, though.”

“Do you think you’re too good for Vernon and me?”

“Of course not, Dorian! I just don’t feel much like going. I have a sore throat and I’m kind of achy. I might be coming down with something.”

“What will you do for dinner?”

“I don’t know. Probably not much of anything.”

“We’ll have fun and the food will be great.”

“I don’t think…”

“What will you do if you don’t go? Just sit here all alone in your room?”

“I don’t know. I was thinking I might…”

“If you don’t have the money for Pirandello’s, I can pay for both of us.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Dorian! Of course, I have the money for Pirandello’s!”

“So you’ll go, then?”

“All right, I’ll go.”

“Excellent! Meet me downstairs at four o’clock and we’ll go to Vernon’s room.”

I wanted to go out for Christmas dinner with Dorian and Vernon Vogel about as much as I wanted to eat ground glass, but it was more fun than I thought it would be. Vernon, a pleasant enough fellow, was the proud owner of a sleek red sports car.

Pirandello’s was about fifteen miles outside of town. It was a swanky place and packed with people, as if nobody stayed at home for Christmas dinner anymore. As Dorian said, the food was terrific. I ate more than was healthy, including turkey, duck and beef, not to mention three desserts.

When we left Pirandello’s, Vernon had had a little too much champagne—I had only had two glasses—so I drove back to school. I was glad for the chance to drive a European sports car for once in my life.

Back at Richardson Hall, Dorian wanted me to walk downtown with him to take in the Christmas lights, but I told him I had a headache and just wanted to go to my room.

I got into bed and drank the second half of the bottle of wine from the day before, listening to Christmas carols on the radio. Christmas really was a special time of the year. There was nothing else like it. My mother would be happy to know I had Christmas dinner with friends (even if they weren’t exactly good friends) and wasn’t alone.

I slept all night without waking up. In the morning I woke up to the phone ringing down the hall. I looked at the clock and saw it wasn’t even eight o’clock yet. Who gets up that early the day after Christmas? I groaned and rolled over and went back to sleep.

In a little while the phone rang again. Everything was so quiet and the phone so loud that it seemed it was in the room with me. It was probably a wrong number or somebody calling somebody who wasn’t there. Without bothering to put on my bathrobe, I opened my door and went down the chilly hallway and lifted up the receiver, ready to slam it down again.

It was my mother. As soon as I heard her say my name, I knew something was wrong.

My father had a heart attack in the early-morning hours of Christmas Day. An ambulance came and took him to the hospital and he died around noon. He was fifty-one years old.

When I hung up the phone from talking to my mother, I wasn’t sure if anything was real. It was Christmas, my father was dead without warning, and I was standing in the silent hallway on the fifth floor of Richardson Hall in my flannel pajamas. I was stunned. I had to wait an hour or so before I could think, or get dressed, or do anything.

I called the airport and reserved a seat on a flight for later that day. I packed my bag and when it was time to go, I called a taxi.

During the short flight, I sat staring out the window and didn’t exchange a word with a single person. My tearful mother picked me up in her Cadillac when my flight landed. From there it was on to the funeral home to pick out a casket and plan a dignified burial. I kept thinking that if I had gone home for Christmas in the first place, my father wouldn’t have had a heart attack and wouldn’t have died. I knew my mother was thinking the same thing. I was the villain of the day.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp  

Husband and Father, Deceased

Husband and Father, Deceased
Husband and Father, Deceased
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Finis Satterfield and Cora Tutwiler were married by the Methodist minister on the first day of June in the year of our Lord 1900. He was twenty-nine and she was twenty-three. Ten months later, in April of 1901, their first child was born, a girl named Grace. When Grace was three years old, a boy named Christian was born. Christian, however, was not long for this world. He died of a hemorrhage when he was five days old and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Methodist cemetery. (His grave was unmarked because his father didn’t have the money to pay for a gravestone.) In 1907, three years after Christian, Frank was born, named after an uncle of Cora’s who died of malarial fever contracted in the Spanish-American War. There would be no more children after Frank.

Finis wasn’t stupid, but he hadn’t prepared in his early years for taking care of a family. He discovered right away how much more difficult his life was than it would have been if he hadn’t married. He worked as a sales clerk and suit-fitter in the only clothing store in town but, with the country awash in hard times, the store closed down and its five employees were let go. He then worked in a shoe factory, a hardware store and a grocery, but none of these jobs lasted. They just didn’t seem suited, somehow, to his talents. Cora’s family, seeing his difficulty in keeping a job, were confirmed in their suspicions that he had never quite grown up and wasn’t a suitable husband.

From the beginning, Finis found married life dull and predictable. He liked Cora well enough, but she was uninspiring and didn’t compare well with other women he had known. She had been brought up in a strict Methodist home and she was always moralizing about what was “right” and what was “wrong.” She believed it was wrong for a married man to socialize with his friends during the evening hours while his family waited for him at home. She believed a man should not enjoy himself when he had children depending on him for their welfare. She read her Bible every evening after the children were in bed because she had no other interests and nothing else to do. The church never opened its door that she wasn’t there to take part. Her objective in life was to enter into Heaven when her time on earth was over. Whether Finis joined her there was entirely up to him.

Through an acquaintance Finis learned that the lead mines were hiring miners with no experience required. With little enthusiasm, he went to the lead company offices and applied for a position. He filled out a paper, spoke to the hiring agent, and in less than a week was notified that he might start to work right away.

He didn’t want to be a miner, but the pay was more than for a factory worker or  a store clerk. It was the only job offered and he believed he had no other choice. The thought of working in a pit in the ground, cut off from sunlight and fresh air, made him physically ill, but he couldn’t let his wife ask her parents for a loan to buy food for his children.

The work in the mine was even more difficult than Finis imagined it would be. He wasn’t used to hard physical labor, his muscles cried out, his stomach churned and his head pounded. He began to lose weight and was plagued with nightmares of being suffocated in the dark or crushed by falling rock. Every day before starting his shift in the mine, he vomited with fear and dread.

After four months, he collapsed while walking home in the early evening. Some people who knew him picked him up and took him home. He was barely conscious and Cora thought he was dying. She called the doctor, even though they didn’t have the money to pay him. After the doctor examined him, he said he had pneumonia and an erratic heart rate. The working conditions in the mine were killing him. He would have to give up the job, or he would be dead by the end of the year.

Secretly he was relieved he couldn’t go back to the mine. He lay in bed and let the life of his wife and children go on around him. As he read novels, dozed, and looked out the window into the back yard, he was happy and contented for the moment. He knew his wife got money from her parents so they could all eat, but what did he care? Everybody needs help at some time or other in their lives. The best thing about it was that everybody left him alone. His wife didn’t nag him as long as she thought he was sick.

After a few weeks he was feeling stronger. He slept sometimes for ten or twelve hours at a time and took all the medicine the doctor gave him. He knew he couldn’t go too much longer without work and so began scanning the helped-wanted ads in the newspapers.

Most of the jobs advertised didn’t interest him, but finally he saw something that caught his eye. The George Hotel in the town of Gerome (fifty miles by rail) was looking for a young man to work as a house detective. No experience was required because the successful candidate would be working with an experienced, licensed detective to learn all he needed to know.

With Cora and the children off to visit relatives, Finis sat down and wrote a detailed letter about himself to the George Hotel in Gerome. He made sure the letter was without mistakes, in his best penmanship, and when he was finished he walked downtown to the post office to mail it. He didn’t want Cora to know about it yet, afraid that talking about it would somehow jinx it. He fervently hoped to get a favorable response.

He heard nothing back for a whole month and had almost stopped thinking about it, when one day, unexpectedly, he received a letter with a Gerome postmark. The letter was from the manager of the George Hotel. He asked Finis to come to Gerome for a tour of the hotel and to see if the two of them might come to a mutually satisfactory agreement regarding employment. The date of his appointment at the hotel was the fourth day of March. He took it as a very good sign because it was his birthday.

On the third of March Finis told Cora he would be traveling to Gerome the next day to see about employment there. He packed a small bag because he planned on staying overnight. He expected her to grumble about the cost of the train ticket, but she said very little. She was probably glad for a chance to get him out of the house for a change.

The next morning he was up before daylight. He shaved himself, put on his best suit and had a light breakfast. He walked downtown to the train depot before anybody was stirring. He felt cheerful and hopeful that at last he was going to make a success of a business enterprise that would change his life.

The train trip down was pleasant enough. He enjoyed the solitude of the car and the wintry scenery through the mountainous foothills. Once in Gerome, he found the George Hotel easily enough, near the train station. He wasn’t nervous at all, but confident. If he didn’t get this job, there would be others. He felt luck turning in his favor. Illness and hard times were behind him.

The men he spoke with were cordial and welcoming. First there was the owner of the hotel, then the manager, and finally the current hotel detective, who wanted to retire before another year was out. They asked him simple questions; his answers were direct and confident. He didn’t tell them he had a wife and two living children at home. They didn’t ask.

The four of them enjoyed a congenial lunch in the hotel restaurant. When lunch was finished, the men asked Finis to take a walk around town while they talked things over. He felt certain they were not going to turn him down.

He explored the town square, looking in store windows, thinking about things he’d buy for his family when the money started coming in, familiarizing himself with the town that he believed would be his new home. He was already making plans in his mind. He’d stay in a room in the hotel for a few weeks or so, and when he had some money saved, he’d move them, Cora and the two little ones, down with him. They would buy a little house a block or two over from the square.

When the courthouse clock struck three, he went back to the hotel and received the good news. The three men wanted him to become their new apprentice hotel detective, to begin as soon as he saw fit. The salary was generous and the outlook very bright. Gerome was growing, already with twenty thousand people. The potential for growth was unlimited.

He spent a restful night in a room on the fifth floor of the hotel, overlooking the town square. Early the next morning he boarded the train that would take him home.

He was sure Cora would be pleased with his news, but the truth was she had little to say.

“What about us?” she said after a while. “Did you forget you have a wife and two children? Did you think to just go off and leave us here and forget about us?”

“Of course not!” he said. “After a while we can all move down there.”

“I don’t want to live in Gerome!”

“Why not?”

“My parents are old. I don’t want to leave them. I want to stay here.”

“Suit yourself. I’m going to take this job. I can’t pass it up!”

“You’ll have to send money home to me!” she whined. “I can’t raise two children with no money!”

With little further discourse with Cora, Finis quietly packed his bags. He left three dollars on the kitchen table and kissed Grace and Frank goodbye and told them he’d see them again soon.

He had two free days before beginning his new job. He took the same room on the fifth floor of the hotel that he had before. With money he had held back from Cora, he bought some suits, shirts, neckties, shoes and an overcoat. With a job in a fine hotel, he couldn’t go around looking like a small-town jakey.

The job was all he hoped it would be. The atmosphere of the hotel was stimulating. The people who frequented the place were a different kind from what he was used to. He began getting frequent shaves and haircuts from a barber down the street. He believed it was important in the world of business to look his best.

Any time he received his pay, he sent money to Cora. He wrote that he missed her and the children and was looking forward to the time when they could all be together again. She didn’t write back, but he was sure she was receiving the money because he heard no complaints.

The job was much more dignified than other jobs he had had and much less of a strain on his back. He mostly followed the detective around and did what the detective told him to do. In this way he would learn to handle the job on his own eventually.

He found that the job of detective involved a lot of watching and observing. There were dozens of people coming and going at the hotel all the time. Most of them were harmless, but a few were engaged in some kind of criminal behavior that had to be investigated for the good of the hotel and the paying public.

After he had worked at the hotel for three months, he received a terse letter from Cora. They were all fine, she said, but her father was in his dotage and his health was failing. She decided it was best for all concerned to take the children and go back home and live with her parents so she could help take care of her father and relieve some of the burden on her mother. This meant that Finis no longer had a home to go to that was his own. The hotel was his only home now.

He wrote to Cora less frequently now, but he continued to send money. In his free time at the hotel, rather than staying alone in his room, he began going out in the evening. He had never been much of a drinking man, but he developed a modest drinking habit. He was a social drinker only, he told himself, and didn’t really like the taste of the stuff. He made some congenial friends and spent hours with them swapping stories and playing poker. He didn’t ever mention to any of them that he had a wife and two children at home.

Cora’s next letter surprised him. She heard somehow that he was living the raucous life of a single gentleman and she wanted him to quit the job at the hotel and return home and live the life the Lord intended him to live, as a decent Christian husband and father. At first he laughed at the letter, but after he thought about it for a while he wondered who could be spreading tales about him—somebody who obviously didn’t have enough to do to occupy their time. If it wasn’t for Grace and little Frank, he would see a lawyer and put an end to his marriage with Cora. He always thought it was a mistake to marry, anyway. The worst mistake of his life.

Summer came and he heard nothing else from Cora, but kept sending her money. The hotel was busier than at any other time; there was always some important matter to keep him occupied. When he could arrange a few days, he wanted to go back on the train and see his children and see just how angry Cora was.

Toward the end of summer he became ill again with his lungs. The chambermaid at the hotel found him unconscious in his room and called for help. The hotel doctor examined him and sent him to the hospital. The doctors at the hospital gave him the name of a lung specialist in the city.

He wouldn’t be able to take up his job again for a while. He needed rest and recuperation. The manager at the hotel promised to keep his job open until he was fully recovered.

He began writing to Cora every day, emotional letters, telling her he was sick again and he needed her help. He needed to come home to convalesce and get his strength back, even if “home” meant the home of Cora’s parents. His home, he said, was wherever Cora and his children were. She didn’t respond, except to complain when he stopped sending money.

When Finis was released from the hospital to go home to recuperate, he had no home to go to. He contacted his brother, Charles, his only living relative. Charles wasn’t married and had only a small house on the edge of town behind the railroad tracks, but he was more than willing to take his brother in. Charles had had some medical training in the army and believed he might be of help in his brother’s recovery.

In the home of his brother, with a young doctor to tend to him every day, his health continued to deteriorate. He died on a sweltering day in September. He was thirty-eight years old. The year was 1909.

Grace and Frank saw their father for the last time on earth, lying in his casket at Berryman and Sons Funeral Parlor on Vincennes Street. Grace was eight, old enough to know what death meant. Frank was only two and wondered why his father was lying so quietly in a long black box. He would have cried, if Grace hadn’t been squeezing his hand and pressing down on his shoulder.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

The Last of Our Money

The Last of Our Money image 4
The Last of Our Money
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Vance Rutherford was a reckless driver, especially when he was mad or upset. He ran through a red light and barely missed hitting a car going in the other direction. A little farther along, he made a right turn so fast that Rachelle hit her head on the side window.

“Slow down, Vance!” she said. “You’re gonna get a ticket!”

“I don’t care! If they try to stop me, I’ll outrun them!”

Rachelle groaned and rubbed her head. “You don’t want them to start shooting at you, do you?”

“I can always shoot back.”

“How are you going to do that if you don’t have a gun?”

“Who says I don’t have a gun? I have a gun in the inside pocket of my coat.”

“You do not! You are such a liar!”

“I know. I’m a fool, too, and lots of other things.”

“Don’t I know it!”

“Are you sorry you married me?” Vance asked.

“Every day of my life.”

“You can always divorce me, you know.”

“You’re forgetting that little bundle of pink flesh we have waiting for us at home.”

“Oh, yeah. Arlene. I almost forgot about her.”

“She’s the only reason I stay married to you.”

“One day you might decide she’s better off without her daddy.”

“And when that day comes I’ll let you know.”

“I’m a loser, Rachelle. I need money. Bad.

“How much this time?”

“Four hundred.”

“I don’t have four hundred dollars, Vance.”

“I know you don’t. If you did, all my problems would be solved.”

“For the moment. Tomorrow you’d be in trouble again.”

“Are you sorry you married me?”

“Never more than at this moment.”

“Have you talked to your grandma this week?”

“No, I haven’t. And I’m not going to ask her for any more money.”

“You know she’s got it, Rachelle. She’s got whole boxfuls of cash stashed away in that house.”

“That’s just what you believe!”

“You’re her favorite grandchild, Rachelle. You know she would never say no to you.”

“I’m not going to ask her for four hundred dollars, so you can just forget about it.”

“Not even if it would save my skin?”

“It might save your skin today, but tomorrow it’ll be something else. Some other trouble. Some other desperate need for money.”

“No, you’re wrong. I’ve grown up a lot in the last year or so. I’m changing, Rachelle. Really I am.”

“Somehow I just don’t see it.”

“No, I promise. If I can just get my hands on four hundred dollars right now, I’ll be all squared away.”

“For how long, Vance?”

“How long what?”

“How long will you be squared away?”

“You’re not very encouraging, you know that?”

“Let’s go home. I can fix us something to eat.”

“How about if I swing by your grandma’s house and you go inside and ask her for a little loan?”

“You know it’s not a loan, Vance. You don’t ever have any intention of paying it back. A loan is something you pay back.”

“She’ll be sitting in her chair watching TV. She’ll be glad to see you.”

“No!”

“It’s the only way, Rachelle.”

“You’ll have to think of some other way. I’m not going to ask my grandma for more money. She needs her money.”

“For what?”

“She’s old, Vance! Old people like to hang onto their money.”

“So the answer is no?”

“Yes, the answer is definitely no!”

“Just tell her we don’t have any food in the house. The rent is past due and you need your asthma medication. She won’t be able to turn you down if you put it in those terms.”

“I’m not going to lie to her on top of everything else, Vance!”

“It’s not a lie!

“I thought you paid the rent!”

“I was going to but I had to use the money for something else.”

“What did you use it for?”

“I don’t remember now. It was something important.”

“Oh, Vance! You’ll never grow up, will you?”

“I’m as grown up as you.”

“Let’s go home and I’ll cook some spaghetti.”

“No. Grandma’s first.”

Rachelle knew it was useless to object further. In ten minutes, Vance pulled up in front of Rachelle’s grandma’s house.

“I don’t think she’s home,” Rachelle said. “It’s her night for church.”

“All the lights are on, as you can plainly see.”

“Oh, Vance! I don’t want to do this!”

“She’ll be glad to see you. Try to get five hundred.”

“You said four hundred!”

“Well, five hundred would be even better!”

“Oh, Vance, you’re hopeless!”

“I’ll wait right here. Take your time.”

He cracked the window and lit a cigarette and turned on the car radio. He had smoked two cigarettes and was on his third one when Rachelle came back.

“Well, how much did she give you?” he asked impatiently before she was all the way in the car.

“She only had fifty dollars on hand. I think it was her grocery money.”

“Fifty dollars! That’s all she gave you?”

“It’s all she had.”

 “She would let you starve to death? Her favorite grandchild?”

“I’m not going to starve to death, Vance. We can use the fifty dollars to get some groceries.”

“Yeah, but it’s not enough! I feel like going in there and talking to her myself! Fifty dollars! The very idea!”

“Leave her alone, Vance. She has a cold and she’s not feeling well.”

“Well, isn’t that just too bad? I’m not feeling very well, either.”

“Let it go, Vance! We’ll use the fifty dollars to buy some groceries. We can get quite a lot with that.”

“I don’t want any of that stuff. I’m hungry. I want a steak. Let’s go to Roland’s and get a steak. I think that’s the best idea I’ve had all day.”

“That’ll take all the fifty dollars!”

“So what?”

“You would use the last of our money for a steak dinner?”

“Sure. Wouldn’t you? That’s how hungry I am.”

“I told grandma we were going to use it to buy food.”

“We are going to use it to buy food.”

“You’re a pig, Vance.”

“No more of a pig than you are.”

They had to wait for a table at Roland’s. Eating there always made Vance feel like an important person. He always hoped he’d see somebody he knew.

Finally they were seated at a small booth in the back of the room. Vance ordered an expensive bottle of wine. While waiting for their food to arrive, Vance sipped the wine and gave Rachelle a sly grin across the table.

“I have a secret concealed somewhere on my person,” he said.

“How nice for you,” she said.

“Don’t you want to know what it is?”

“Not especially.”

He seemed pleased with himself as he opened his jacket and showed her the gun he had hidden there.

“You’re a lunatic!” she said. “What do you think you’re going to do with that?”

“Well, grandma didn’t come through for us. Now things are getting pretty desperate.”

“What are you going to do? Hold up a liquor store?”

“Not a liquor store, but I do have a plan.”

“What plan?”

“Well, since you are my wife, I’ll tell you. I’m going to drive twenty or thirty miles outside of town where nobody knows me and hold up an all-night gas station.”

“That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard!”

“I won’t really shoot anybody. I’ll just use the gun to scare them.”

“Don’t think I’ll come and visit you behind bars.”

“You don’t like my idea? Do you have a better one?”

“Why not just rob the bank downtown? I’m sure they’d have a lot more money than an all-night gas station.”

“That’s my alternate plan in case the all-night liquor store doesn’t work out.”

They finished eating and the waiter brought the check. Vance stood up to go to the men’s room, taking off his jacket and laying it carefully across the chair.

Rachelle was sure he wouldn’t be back for at least ten minutes. He’d take his time going to the toilet and when he was finished he’d wash his hands thoroughly and comb his hair in the mirror. She reached around the table where he had been sitting and with one deft movement took the gun out of the pocket of his jacket and hid it in her purse. He had drunk too much wine; he wouldn’t notice for a long time that the gun wasn’t where he thought it was.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

The Boy Contemplating Suicide

The Boy Contemplating Suicide

The Boy Contemplating Suicide
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

The shoes were on sale. He saved eight dollars. Instead of giving the eight dollars back to his father the way he should if he was completely honest, he would keep it. He would add the eight dollars to his growing savings. He was sure he would need it later on when he made his escape.

He carried the bag containing the shoes under his arm. He was on his way to the book store when he saw, half a block in front of him, someone who looked familiar. She had her back to him, but he had seen her so many times, for so long, that he knew who she was. He half-ran to catch up with her before he lost her in the throng of pedestrians.

“Mother!” he said.

She turned and looked at him. He had startled her, he could tell.

“Anson!” she said. “I didn’t expect to see you here. What are you doing downtown?”

“Shoes,” he said, holding up the bag. “For school.”

“We’re just in town for a couple of days,” she said. “I was going to call you and ask you to come to our hotel and have dinner with us.”

“How’s Tony?”

“Who?”

“Your husband.”

“His name is Richard. He’s fine. He flew in for a conference at the university and I came along with him this time. It was a chance for me to see Dr. Spaulding.”

Dr. Spaulding? Are you sick?”

“No, just routine. Just a checkup.”

“Don’t they have doctors in New Mexico?”

“Of course they do. It’s just that I’ve been going to Dr. Spaulding for twenty years and I think he’s the only doctor in the world.”

“Are you going to have a baby?”

She laughed. “No. Why would you think that?”

“Isn’t that the way it is with newlyweds?”

“Not this newlywed.”

“I figured I’d have a half-brother or -sister by now.”

“Richard’s nearly fifty. I think he’s had enough of fatherhood.”

“I can’t say I blame him.”

“There’ll be no new offspring.”

“No! Really! Why did you see Dr. Spaulding? You can tell me the truth. I’m not eight years old.”

“I told you. Just a little run down. I’m anemic. Nothing too serious.”

“Is that all?”

“Nothing startling or dramatic, I assure you.”

“You look pale.”

“I stay out of the sun as much as I can.”

“You live in a state where there’s nothing but sun, and you stay out of the sun?”

“Well, tell me. How’s school?”

“Boring. It starts again in two weeks.”

“Are you excited?”

“I think mortified is more the word.”

“You still don’t like school?”

“I can’t wait to be finished with it.”

“And then what?”

“I don’t know. I’d like to go live on Mars or, if that turns out to be a bad idea, I think I’ll probably join the circus and be a clown.”

“Whatever you do, it’d help to get a good education first.”

“That’s what everybody says.”

“Maybe you should listen to them.”

“I think I’ve had enough of school. I learned how to read and write. What else is there?”

“I don’t know where you get your cynicism. You don’t get it from me.”

“It skips generations.”

“Have you had lunch yet?” she asked.

“No.”

“There’s a good place to eat down in the next block. Let’s go have some lunch.”

They sat at a booth beside a window. She lit a cigarette and smiled. “How have you and your father been getting along?” she asked.

“He’s been in a bad mood with me all summer.”

“Why?”

“He signed me up for swimming lessons and I refused to go.”

“You refused? Don’t you want to learn to swim?”

“No!”

“Why not?”

“I hate the thought of undressing in front of all those strangers.”

She laughed and blew smoke out her nose, a trick Anson had always wanted to master. “You’d better not ever go into the army.”

“I won’t. They wouldn’t want me.”

“I think swimming lessons would be good for you. You’d get plenty of exercise and you’d get out of the house and mix with people your own age.”

“When you were fifteen, would you have wanted to take swimming lessons?”

“Probably not. I would have avoided it like the plague.”

“Exactly! Don’t you think I ought to be able to decide for myself on a matter so important?”

“Fifteen-year-olds usually do what their parents tell them to do.”

“Not when it comes to swimming lessons.”

“I don’t think I should weigh in on that argument. That’s between you and your father.”

“I very subtly threatened suicide if he made me do it. Take the swimming lessons, I mean. He’s been steering clear me of since then.”

Anson! You didn’t!”

“Yes, I did!”

“You shouldn’t threaten suicide. It makes people think you’re crazy. There’s insanity in the family, you know.”

“Yes, I know. So, if I did it, it shouldn’t surprise anybody too much.”

“You wouldn’t really kill yourself, would you?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a thought. There’s a new thirty-story building down by the park, with an observation deck on the top floor. It would be so easy to take the elevator to the top floor and take a swan dive. That’s three hundred feet. Nobody would even pay any attention to me until I was a pile of goo on the sidewalk.”

“Anson, that’s horrible!”

“So, how is that new husband of yours?”

“You already asked me that.”

“I’m asking again.”

“He has high blood pressure and eczema but except for that…”

“Does he still wear a suit all the time?”

“It’s his job.”

“Is he a male model?”

“No, he’s not a male model. He’s a businessman.”

“Oh, a businessman! I get it!”

“We’d love to have you fly out to visit us sometime. Maybe spend Christmas with us. You must see the desert.”

“I’ve seen the desert in Lawrence of Arabia.”

“The American desert isn’t quite like that.”

“Aren’t all deserts alike?”

“That I couldn’t say.”

“How are Richard’s daughters? Are they both still alive?”

“Yes, they’re still alive.”

“How old are they now?”

“Rachel is seven and Veronica is nine.”

“Oh, yes! Rachel and Veronica! They’re the reason I can’t come and live with you because the house you live in is too small.”

“Anson! We’ve been all through that! Your father and I decided it was best for you to go on living with him. You wouldn’t want him to live all alone, would you?”

“I think he’d like to be rid of me.”

“When we move to a bigger place, we’ll talk about having you come and live with us. In the meantime…”

“It’s easy to keep putting things off, isn’t it? That way you’ll make sure it never happens.”

“Anson, that’s not true!”

“If Rachel or Veronica dies, you’ll be sure and let me know, won’t you? Then you’ll have room for me. I can come and take the place of the one who’s dead. Sleep in her room.”

“Anson, that’s not funny!”

“You could always poison one of them, you know. Your least favorite of the two. I can do some research on some poisons, if you’d like. You’d need to get a good non-traceable poison.”

“Anson, that’s enough of that kind of talk! Nobody is going to poison anybody!”

“Well, it’s a thought, anyway. You can mull it over and get back to me.”

“You seem preoccupied with death. Death should be the farthest thing from your mind. You’re still a child.”

In the midst of life we are in death.”

“Anson, could we talk about something else, please?”

“What else is there?”

“I’d like to buy you something while I’m here. Do you have everything you need for school?”

“Yes, mother, I do.”

“How about a winter coat?”

“It’s August, mother! Nobody thinks about a winter coat in August.”

“Winter will be here before you know it.”

“I might be dead by then.”

“How about a suit? Do you need a new suit?”

“I have two new suits that I’ve never worn.”

“Socks? Underwear?”

“I have plenty as long as I remember to do the laundry.”

“You can’t think of anything?”

“I would like to have a cell phone, but your former husband, the man who calls himself my father, says I can’t have one.”

“Why not?”

“Too much of a distraction, he says.”

“I think he has a point.”

“I wouldn’t let it distract me! Honest! Everybody I know has a cell phone. I’m the only one without one.”

“Do all the poor kids in school have one?”

“Of course they do! They might not have any money for lunch, but they all have their cell phones.”

“Things have certainly changed since I was in junior high school.”

“I don’t need any clothes, but I do need a cell phone. That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

“Anson, I don’t think you can honestly say you need a cell phone! I think you can go on living without it.”

“There’s an electronics store just a couple blocks from here. They have lots of cell phones to choose from and I’ll bet they’re not as expensive as you think!”

“Do you want me to give you the money to buy it?”

“No, I want you to go with me. We’ll pick it out together.”

“Would it make you happy?”

“It would make me very happy!”

When his father came in from work at six o’clock, Anson was sitting at the kitchen table, learning how to use his cell phone.

“What have you got there?” his father asked.

“A cell phone.”

“Whose is it?”

“Mine.”

“Where did it come from?”

“The electronics store downtown.”

“I told you you’re too young for a cell phone. It’s too much of a distraction from your studies.”

“I know, but I met mother downtown…”

“You met who downtown?”

“My mother. Don’t you remember? The woman you used to be married to?”

“You just happened to meet your mother downtown?”

“That’s right.”

“And she bought you a cell phone.”

“Yeah. She asked me if I needed anything for school and when I said I needed a cell phone, she bought me one.”

“I told you I didn’t want you to have a cell phone.”

“I know, but mother was going to buy me one, so I couldn’t exactly turn it down, could I?”

“I want you to take it back to the store, get the money back for it, and send the money to your mother.”

“I won’t do it!”

“And tell her not to interfere again!”

“I’m keeping the phone!”

“No, you’re not!”

His father reached across the table, grabbed the phone out of Anson’s hand, and smashed it against the wall.

Anson looked at the pieces of broken plastic on the floor in amazement, as though it were a small animal his father had just killed. “What did you do that for?”

“This is not going to be like the swimming lessons! If you want to go on living in my house and expect me to support you, you cannot openly defy me. I won’t allow it!”

“I know why mother left you! You’re an ogre! She couldn’t stand being married to you! She told me so! I don’t know why people like you become parents in the first place! You’re a terrible father!”

“That’s enough, Anson! Go to your room!”

“I want to go live with my mother. I can’t stand living here with you any longer!”

“Suit yourself, you ungrateful little…”

Anson didn’t hear what his father was going to call him because he ran into his room and slammed the door. He wouldn’t leave his room again. He would go to bed and stay there. He wouldn’t eat any dinner. If he never ate again, he wouldn’t care.

He had some sleeping pills he had been saving that he filched from his mother before the divorce. He poured them out onto his palm and counted them. There were eighteen. He took two and after he got into bed, he took two more and then two more. He turned off the light, got into bed and kept taking the pills until there were none left. He didn’t know if it was enough to kill him, but he could only hope.

He pulled the covers up to his chin. It wasn’t all the way dark outside. Soon he began to have a funny feeling in his head and a sick feeling in his stomach. He hoped it was the beginning of death and that it would be quick.

Before he drifted off—maybe for the last time—he saw his mother’s face with the little wrinkles around the eyes, the orange-colored lipstick, and the hair tinted the color of a red fox. At first he didn’t know where he and his mother were, and then he saw they were in a high place. Yes, they were together on top of the new thirty-story building over by the park. They smiled at each other and joined hands and jumped. The best part was they never fell to the ground but floated off together into the infinite sky. And they were so happy! Finally everything was going to be the way it was always meant to be.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

I Don’t Know You

I Don't Know You image 5
I Don’t Know You
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Tula and her mother were visiting at the home of Mrs. Flannery, an old college friend of Tula’s mother. They had been there for hours and Tula was getting tired and wanted to go home.

“My mother never liked you,” Tula said.

“Is that so?” Mrs. Flannery asked.

“Yes, I heard her say so with my own ears.”

“Now, Tula, you know that isn’t true!” her mother said. “I never said anything of the kind!”

“It’s all right,” Mrs. Flannery said with a laugh. “We don’t take eight-year-olds at their word, do we?”

“Did you know my daddy is having a love affair with a lady who works in his office?” Tula said. “My mother told him he’d better dump the bitch, or she’s going to divorce him and it’ll cost him plenty. Did you know there’s insanity in our family? I think I’ll probably be crazy when I grow up and have to go live in a mental institution.”

“I think that’s just about enough out of you, missy!” Tula’s mother said. “You just sit there quietly and don’t say another word!”

“I can talk if I want to! Everybody else is talking!”

Tula’s mother looked at Mrs. Flannery apologetically and shook her head and took a drink of her iced tea and reached for her cigarettes.

“How about another lemon cookie?” Mrs. Flannery asked.

“I don’t think so,” Tula said.

“That’s not what you’re supposed to say when somebody offers you a cookie,” Tula’s mother said.

“No, thank you,” Tula said. “I don’t care for  another lemon cookie right now, if it’s all the same to you. I’m full.”

“That’s a little better,” Tula’s mother said. “A lady never says she’s too full, though.”

“Why not?”

“Well, it isn’t ladylike to admit you’ve eaten too much.”

“Not everybody can be a lady!”

Mrs. Flannery laughed and Tula’s mother looked at her reprovingly. “We don’t laugh at her when she’s being naughty!” she said. “Laughter only encourages her and makes her think she’s cute.”

“Well, I’m afraid she is cute!” Mrs. Flannery said.

“Maybe a little too cute!”

“Mother, can I go outside for a while? It’s boring just sitting here if I’m not allowed to talk.”

“Well, all right, but stay in the front yard and don’t go any place else.”

“I won’t, mother.”

Tula liked the front yard. It was higher than the street. It was fun to look down on the world. She pretended she was a sentry guarding a palace and walked from one end of the yard to the other, carrying an imaginary rifle over her shoulder. When she got tired of that game, she practiced her ballet spins and pirouettes.

Some older boys across the street were watching her. She was performing for them. She really did like boys and found them fascinating, even though she knew she was at that age when she was supposed to hate them.

The boys watched her with great interest for a while and then they started whistling at her and insulting her, calling her a screwjob and a flip. She didn’t know what those words meant, but she was sure she didn’t like them. She was going to say something back to him and call them some mean names of her own, but she decided it was best to just ignore them.

After a while, she went back in the house. Her mother and Mrs. Flannery were still talking and didn’t even look at her.

“Mother, some boys across the street were staring at me and calling me names,” she said, interrupting her mother in mid-sentence. “They wanted me to show them my underpants, but I wouldn’t do it.”

“You stay away from them. They’re not nice boys.”

“I’m sure they’re harmless,” Mrs. Flannery said. “They’re just neighborhood boys.”

“Mother, can I have some money?”

“No, you can’t have any money! What do you want money for?”

“Remember that little store down on the corner that we passed on the way here? If you’ll give me some money, I’d like to walk down there and buy myself an ice cream.”

“I don’t think so, Tula. After all the lemon cookies you ate, how can you even think about ice cream?”

Please, mother!”

“Well, all right, but you come right back and don’t go any place else and don’t talk to anyone.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re in an unfamiliar neighborhood and you don’t know any of these people.”

“I’m sure she’ll be all right,” Mrs. Flannery said. “It’s a safe neighborhood.”

Still talking, Tula’s mother opened up her purse and took out some change and handed it to Tula without even counting it.

“You come back right!”

“I will, mother.”

She was a little disappointed the boys were gone and were no longer paying attention to her. If they had been really interested in her, they wouldn’t have gone away so soon.

On her way to the store, she did a few dance steps. She wanted to be a dancer on TV when she grew up and she needed to get in all the practice she could. The better she was, the better chance she would have for success.

In the middle of the second block, she saw a little black-and-white spotted dog coming toward her on the sidewalk. He looked like a good dog and not a stray. She was going to pet him, but he crossed the street to the other side before she had a chance to touch him.

The store was small and there weren’t any customers. An old woman crouched behind the counter at the cash register reading a newspaper. She didn’t look up when Tula walked in.

Tula didn’t know where the Eskimo Pies were, not being familiar with the store, so she went right up to the old woman and said, “I need one Eskimo Pie, please!”

The old woman looked at Tula around the edge of the newspaper; the corners of her mouth turned down. “In the freezer case,” she said. “At the back of the store.”

The store was so small that Tula didn’t have to go very far to get all the way to the back. She found the freezer case easily enough and when she opened the door, there was one loose Eskimo Pie right on top as if it had been waiting for her. She scooped it up and went back to the old woman to pay.

“I like Eskimo Pies,” she said.

“Yeah,” the old woman said. “Here’s your change. Come again.”

“I certainly will!” Tula said, unwrapping the Eskimo Pie before she was even out the door.

On the way back to Mrs. Flannery’s house, a strange thing happened to Tula. She was walking on the sidewalk, having just finished the Eskimo Pie, when a green car pulled up to the curb. The passenger-side door opened and a fat woman got out.

“Well, look at you!” the fat woman said to Tula, gesturing with her arms. “You certainly have grown!”

Tula didn’t know who the woman was talking to, but she was looking right at Tula and seemed to be talking to her.

“I-I don’t know you,” Tula said.

“Well, it’s all right, honey, because I know you!”

“I don’t think so,” Tula said. “I think you have me confused with somebody else.”

“What beautiful red hair you have and what a pretty dress you’re wearing!”

“Did my mother send you?”

“Yes, she did! I just spoke to her. She asked me to pick you up and bring you home.”

“I don’t believe you. My mother wouldn’t do that.”

“Well, she surely did, honey!”

“What does my mother look like? What color is her hair?”

“Now, don’t be difficult! Don’t you want to go for ride with us? Here’s Buzz driving the car. He’s a very nice man and I’m sure you’ll like him.”

The man driving the car leaned over the steering wheel to peer around the fat woman at Tula.

Hello, there!” he said.

“Now, wouldn’t you like to go for a ride with us?” the fat woman asked.

“No!” Tula said. “I don’t know you!”

“Now, don’t be that-a way, honey! Wouldn’t you like to go for ride with Buzz and me? We’re sure to have lots of fun. All you have to do is slide over on the seat next to Buzz and we’re all set. We’ll take you home later, after we’ve had all the fun.”

“What kind of a fool do you take me for? I said I’m not going!”

“Wouldn’t you like to go for an ice cream soda?”

“No! I just had an Eskimo Pie!”

“Wouldn’t you like to see a show? How about Pinocchio?”

“I’ve seen Pinocchio.”

“Well, you’re just go an answer for everything, haven’t you?”

“I have to go now.”

“Would you rather sit in the back? You can sit in the back if you want to and I’ll sit back there with you.”

The fat woman opened the back door and smiled and beckoned with her arm. “I think there’s some candy back there if you want some. Do you like Hershey’s kisses?”

She reached out and was just on the point of grabbing Tula by the wrist and pushing her into the back seat, when Tula, with a deft sideways movement, stepped away from her and, without another word, ran as fast as she could.

When she got to Mrs. Flannery’s house, she was out of breath. She stopped on the front porch and looked behind her to make sure the fat woman wasn’t coming after her, and then she burst through the door, as if it was her own house and not somebody else’s.

Her mother looked at her in surprise. “What’s the matter with you?” she said. “Why are you in such a hurry?”

“There was a fat woman and a man! They wanted me to get in the car with them, but I wouldn’t do it!”

“What are you talking about? What fat woman? What man?”

“Right after I left the store, a car stopped and a fat woman got out and tried to get me to get inside with her. There was a man driving. They were creepy.”

“Oh, Tula! I think your imagination is running away with you! Where do you get those crazy ideas?”

“No, mother. Really! I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.”

“I think you’re listening to too much television.”

“No, mother, it’s not that! I got the license number of their car. You know how good I am at remembering things.”

“Oh, Tula, that’s carrying things a little too far!”

“Should I call the police?” Mrs. Flannery asked. “She might be telling the truth.”

“Oh, no!” Tula’s mother said. “I know her so well! Whenever she thinks she’s not getting enough attention, she always makes up a story that will focus everybody’s attention on her.”

“It’s not a story, mother, I swear!”

“When your daddy gets home from work, I’m going to tell him how you misbehaved today and how you told lies. He’ll be very disappointed in you.”

“Have it your own way,” Tula said. “I don’t care. In the meantime, that fat woman and that creepy man are probably luring some other girl into the car with them right now.”

When Mrs. Flannery and her mother started talking again about grown-up things, Tula went into the kitchen and wrote down the license number on Mrs. Flannery’s grocery list before she forgot it. Then she sat down at the kitchen table and had another lemon cookie, and when she finished that one, she ate another one. She would eat enough of them to make herself sick if she felt like it, and there was nothing her mother could do about it.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween 2021 3

All Hallow’s Eve
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~ 

(This is a repost.)

Mother stood over him while he ate his dinner of liver and onions. When she decided he had eaten enough, she told him he could go. He ran up the stairs to his room and put on his Halloween costume. A ghost this year, same as last year. Next year he was going to have to be something different. Wearing the same costume more than two years in a row was terrible.

His false face still had dried spit around the mouth, but it was his own spit so he didn’t care. He put it on and checked the entire effect in the mirror, costume, mask and all. Something was missing. Oh, yes, the old derby hat. It was the one thing that made his costume look just a little bit creepy and scary. Without the hat, the costume was just a cheap little-kid’s getup.

Mother was in the living room when he came down the stairs. “Come here, Buster, and let me take a look at your outfit,” she said.

“It’s a costume,” Buster said.

“Oh, don’t you look cute!”

“I’m supposed to look scary!”

“So, where are you going tonight? What are you plans?”

“I’m going tricking-or-treating, mother, the same as every Halloween.”

“Who are you going with?”

“I don’t know. Some of the kids from my class, I guess.”

“What are their names?”

“You want the names of all the kids in my class?”

“Of course I don’t. You’ll be careful, now, won’t you?”

“Yeah, I’ll be careful.”

“Make sure you’re not alone. Wherever you go, go in a group.”

“I don’t care.”

“What?”

“I said okay, I’ll go in a group.”

“Be home by ten o’clock.”

“Mother! It’s Halloween and tomorrow is Saturday!”

“All right, then. Eleven.”

When he finally got out the door, he broke into a run. The evening air felt good after the stuffy house and smelled good, like leaves and burning candle wax. It wasn’t all the way dark yet, but trick-or-treaters were everywhere, mostly little kids accompanied by their mothers.

He met his friends at the corner by the park. Eric was a skeleton, Stan a hobo, and Squeamy the Lone Ranger. Squeamy’s sister, Oda May, stood apart from the others, smoking a cigarette and looked bored. She carried a rubber-and-fur gorilla mask loosely in her hand like a rag.

“What’s Oda May doing here?” Buster asked.

“My mother wouldn’t let me go out without an adult,” Squeamy said.

“She’s fifteen!”

“I guess that’s enough of an adult.”

“Let’s get going, you losers,” Stan said, “before all the good candy is gone!”

Oda May flipped away her cigarette and put on the gorilla mask and they headed for the neighborhood on the other side of the park where all the best houses were.

It was a lucrative neighborhood. Three-quarters of the houses had their porch lights on. When people took one look at adult-sized Oda May in her gorilla mask, their smiles usually faded.

The treats were good, Hershey bars and popcorn balls instead of stale jelly beans. After three blocks, their bags were starting to get heavy. They sat down on the curb to rest for a while.

“That’s how it’s done,” Oda May said, hefting the bag of candy appreciatively between her legs. “If they’re just a little bit scared of you, they’ll fork over the candy quick enough so they can get rid of you.” She lit a cigarette without taking off the gorilla mask.

“Where to now?” Buster asked.

“I don’t know about you little turds,” Oda May said, “but I’m going to go meet my boyfriend.”

“What about us?” Stan asked.

“You’re on your own. I’ve played nursemaid long enough.”

“It’s all right,” Squeamy said. “We don’t need her.”

“And don’t follow me,” she said, “or somebody’s gonna lose some teeth!”

“Leave the mask on!” Squeamy called after her. “Your boyfriend might like you better that way!”

“What will she do with all that candy?” Buster asked.

“Probably give it to her boyfriend.”

“Who is this boyfriend, anyway?” Eric asked. “Why don’t we get to meet him?”

“He’s a criminal, I think,” Squeamy said. “She doesn’t want me to see him because she’s afraid I’ll tell on her. He’s twenty-three years old. I’ll bet he’s really terrible looking, like a convict.”

“I’d like to see him,” Stan said.

“Hey, I stole some of her cigarettes when she wasn’t looking,” Squeamy said, passing them around and lighting them.

“Boy, I like smoking!” Eric said. “I inhale the smoke deep down into my lungs and let it stay there.”

“Me too,” Stan said. “I’m always going to smoke for as long as I live.”

“My mother told me if she ever caught me smoking a cigarette she’d knock it down my throat,” Squeamy said.

“Doesn’t she smoke?” Eric asked.

“Of course she does. They all smoke.”

“Then why does she care?”

“Because I’m in fifth grade.”

“She’s a hypocrite,” Stan said.

Buster had never smoked before except for a quick puff off his mother’s cigarette when she wasn’t looking. He didn’t like the taste of it, but he wasn’t going to be the only one not to smoke.

Several times, he took the smoke into his mouth and quickly blew it out again. He wanted to have the others see him with smoke coming out his nose like a dragon, but he wasn’t sure how to do it without inhaling.

“Don’t you like smoking, Buster?” Squeamy asked.

“Yeah, I like it all right. I smoke all the time when my mother isn’t looking.”

“Well, finish your cigarettes, ladies,” Eric said. “We’ve still got a lot of territory to cover.”

They went over a couple of blocks to another neighborhood where the treats were bound to be good. They covered several blocks, both sides of the street, in just under an hour.

“My bag is getting really heavy,” Squeamy said. “I think I’d probably better go on home now.”

“Somebody gave me a guitar pick as a treat. Isn’t that weird?”

“Hey, it looks like it’s going to rain! If our bags get wet, they’ll bust through on the bottom and all our candy will spill out!”

“What time is it?”

“I think it’s about a quarter to ten.”

“I think we should call it a night.”

Some older kids, sixteen and seventeen, came up behind them with the intention of stealing their candy, so they began running furiously into the dark to get away from them. Stan knew the neighborhood better than the others, so they all followed him.

He led them around in a circuitous loop over to Main Street, where there were lots of lots of lights, people and cars.

“I think we outran them!” he said.

“Can you imagine the nerve?” Eric said. “We’ve been out all night trick-or-treating for our candy, and somebody thinks they can just come along and take it from us? What is the world coming to?”

Some of the businesses on Main Street were giving out treats. A lady at a bakery gave them day-old pumpkin cookies, which they devoured like hungry wolves.

A man standing in front of a tavern was giving out treats from a large plastic pumpkin. “You kids need to be home in bed,” he said.

“If we come inside, will you give us a beer?” Stan asked.

“Come back in ten years,” the man said.

There was a big crowd at the Regal Theatre, a long line of people waiting to buy tickets to the Halloween double feature: Bride of the Gorilla and The Terror of Tiny Town. Anybody in costume could get in for half-price.

“If we had enough money, we could go,” Stan said.

“Aw, I can’t stay out that late,” Buster said. “My mother would come looking for me.”

They were about to walk past the theatre, but Squeamy spotted Oda May in the ticket line in the gorilla mask and stopped. She wasn’t alone, either.

“She’s with a little kid and he’s a cowboy!” Squeamy said. “Her boyfriend is a child and a cowboy! That’s why she didn’t want us to meet him!”

From where they were standing, they all had a good look at the little cowboy. When he turned around to look at the line behind him, Buster saw his face. “That’s no little kid,” he said. “That’s a midget!”

“A what?”

“Oda May’s boyfriend is a midget and his face is all wrinkled! He must be thirty years old!”

“Oh, boy!” Squeamy said. “I’m really going to tell on her now!”

“I think we should go over and say ‘hi’ to her,” Eric said.

“No!” Squeamy said. “She’ll think we’ve been following her!”

They stood and watched Oda May and the midget cowboy move up in the line. When it was their turn, Oda May moved around behind the midget, put her hands on his waist and lifted him up so he could buy the tickets and then set him down again. Several people in line behind them laughed, but they seemed not to notice.

“Now I’m seen everything!” Squeamy said. “Can you imagine what their children will be like? I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Let’s go,” Stan said. “It’s ten o’clock and it’s starting to rain again.”

They decided to walk home with Stan, since he lived the closest. The interesting thing about Stan was that his father was an undertaker and the family lived above the funeral parlor. It was a subject of endless fascination to Stan’s friends.

“I think I’m going to call it a night,” Stan said when they were at the corner near his house. “Thanks for walking me home.”

“Do you mean you’re not going to ask us in after we’ve come all this way?” Squeamy said.

“Do you have a body in a casket we can look at?” Eric asked.

“Stan’s right,” Buster said. “I should be getting home, too.”

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Squeamy said. “I don’t think I can wait until I get home.”

“Oh, all right!” Stan said. “You can come in but you have to wipe your feet first.”

Stan’s parents were out for the evening, so they had the place to themselves. Stan took them down to the basement to show them around but made them promise not to touch anything. First he showed them the room where the embalming was done with its white cabinets full of jars and bottles and then a separate room where bodies were dressed and prepared for burial. The most impressive part of the tour was the casket room, where more than fifty caskets were opened up so people could see inside them. Eric, Buster and Squeamy took turns taking off their shoes and getting into a casket to see what it felt like, while Stan closed the lid on each of them for a few seconds and then made them get out.

“My dad wouldn’t like it if he knew we were down here,” he said.

“Let us know when there’s a body so we can come back and see it,” Eric said.

“I’ve seen plenty of dead bodies. It’s people you don’t know. You don’t feel anything looking at them.”

“You are so lucky! I’ve never seen a dead body!”

“I need to get home,” Buster said. “It’s getting late.”

Buster walked part of the way home with Squeamy and Eric, but they left him at the corner by the church and he had to walk the last four blocks alone. He held his bag of candy in his arms because it was heavy and soggy and he didn’t want the bottom breaking through. He didn’t see a single other person on his way home. Everybody was finished for the night. Halloween was over for another year.

Mother was sitting on the couch in her bathrobe and slippers watching a Charlie Chan movie on TV. “Did you have a nice time?” she asked.

“Yeah, it was okay.”

“I’m glad you’re home.”

“Why?

“I always worry about you when you’re out by yourself.”

“I wasn’t by myself.”

“There’s an escapee on the loose killing people. I just heard it on TV.”

“We just missed him.”

“Now don’t eat all that candy at once. You’ll make yourself sick. You still have to eat your fruits and vegetables.”

“I know. I want to go to bed now. I’m tired.”

She was saying something else as he went up the stairs, but he didn’t hear what it was.

He weighed himself on the bathroom scale, first without the bag and then with it. He weighed eighty-four pounds without the bag and ninety-five pounds with it. Eleven pounds of candy. One pound for every year of his life.

He undressed and put on his pajamas and set the bag of candy on top of the chest of drawers where he could see it from the bed. He got into bed, took one last look at it, turned off the light. Before he could have counted to ten, he was asleep.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

It’s Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me

It's Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me image 2
It’s Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This is a repost. It has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)

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

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

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

“I still might.”

“At your age?”

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

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

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

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

“Is he a Chinaman?”

“No, why would he be a Chinaman?”

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

“No, he ain’t a Chinaman.”

“Well, what then?”

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

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

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

“You mean like a snake?”

“Exactly like a snake.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will you really?”

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

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

“Not yet.”

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

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

“What, then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t He, though?”

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

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

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

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

“That’s not what people says.”

“Do you think I care what people says?”

“No, I know you don’t care.”

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

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

“If that’s the way the chips fall.”

“What do you mean? What chips?”

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

“You mean as a lady preacher?”

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

“Darkest Africa? What would she do there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You catch on quick.”

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

“That’s right.”

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

“I guess so,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.

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

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

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

“Hello,” Laura Louise said.

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

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

“Whatever could it be?” Miss Clemson asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“What work?” Laura Louise asked.

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

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

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

“The Lord will provide.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whatever do you mean?”

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

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

“You mean you gonna try to stop her?”

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

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

“Well, we’ll see about that.”

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

“I said I am, didn’t I?”

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“No, I’d rather go alone.”

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

“Do you have a granddaughter?”

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp