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There Was a Bird

There Was a Bird ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

She sat on a bench at the edge of the park to rest before going on home. The bag of groceries she carried was heavy and her arm ached. She wasn’t as young as she used to be and she didn’t have the stamina she once had. Her heart seemed to be turning over in her chest.

A small boy went running past on the sidewalk, first one way and then the other. He couldn’t have been more than nine years old. On his third circuit around the bench, she smiled at him and he slowed down.

“In a hurry?” she asked.

“I’ve got to find my friends,” he said.

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know.”

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

He sat beside her on the bench and when he leaned back his feet were a long way from the ground.

“They were here and they ran away,” he said.

“Friends do that sometimes.”

“I guess I should go on home, then.”

“Where do you live?”

“Over there.” He pointed over his shoulder up the street.

“Where’s your mother? Does she know you’re in the park by yourself?”

“She’s at work. She’s a waitress.”

“She’s goes off and leaves you by yourself?”

“I have a sister. She’s fourteen.”

“How old are you?”

“Nine.”

“Nine is kind of young.”

“Yeah,” he said, looking down and fiddling with his shoelace.

“People snatch kids sometimes in the park,” she said. “And they’re never seen again.”

“What do you mean? Like kidnapping?”

“That’s right. You have to be careful.”

“I know all about it,” he said.

“What’s your name?”

“Bob.”

“Don’t you have a last name?”

“Bob White.”

“Your name is Bob White?”

“Yeah.”

“There used to be a bird by that name,” she said.

“A bird?”

“Yeah. Of course, you don’t see them in the city, but I used to see and hear them all the time when I was growing up in the country.”

“Oh.”

“They say their name.”

“What?”

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

“I haven’t ever heard of a bird that says its own name.”

“Well, you’re young yet. There’s still time. I’m Almeda Hawkins. Missus, but my husband is dead.”

“You have any kids?”

“I have a boy and a girl. My daughter died. My son lives in California.”

“What does he do out there?”

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

“Why don’t you go live with them?”

She laughed. “Well, I haven’t been asked.”

They sat silently for a while and watched the cars go by. A bus roared by in a cloud of exhaust.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

“Three more blocks and I’m home,” she said.

“Do you live in a house?”

“No, I live in an apartment.”

“Do you like it?”

“It’s all right. Gets kind of lonely sometimes. I used to be friendly with the neighbors but they moved away. I don’t hardly ever see the new people.”

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

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

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

“Well, who’s to know?”

He shrugged. “Well, nobody, I guess.”

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

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

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

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

They stood up and began walking. He offered to carry her bag of groceries for her but she thought he was too little to be carrying heavy packages, so she carried it herself.

Her half-basement apartment was in an old, thirteen-story apartment building that had seen better days. She opened the door with her key and stood aside while he entered first.

The front room was dark and cool. She opened the blinds and the room became cheerful and inviting.

“This is nice!” the boy said, bouncing on the couch. “Who are those people in the pictures?”

“It’s my husband and me when we were young and the other one is my mother and father and my two sisters and me. They’ll all dead now except me.”

“What happened to them?”

“Oh, people die, you know.”

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

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

“Do you have a dog or a cat?”

“No, not in an apartment,” she said.

She turned on the TV and went into the kitchen to put the groceries away. “Turn the TV to whatever channel you like to watch,” she said. “I won’t be a minute.”

When she came back into the room, he said, “I wouldn’t mind living here. It’s so peaceful.”

She laughed. “Is it noisy at your place?”

“Yeah, sometimes,” he said. “The walls are thin and you can hear people.”

“Yes, I like the quiet, too,” she said. “The people here are very quiet. I hardly know they’re there.”

“Do you ever go to the circus?” he asked.

“A long time ago when I was about eight years old. I remember the elephants because as we were going to our seats we passed really close to them and I had never seen one up close before.”

“Have you ever been to the opera?” he asked.

“A long time ago.”

“What was it like?”

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

“I saw on TV about people going to the opera. It’s a lot of singing.”

“Yes, you have to be in the mood for it,” she said.

“I should probably go now,” he said, looking at the door.

“Why? You just got here.”

“I know, but I’d get in trouble if my mother knew I was here.”

“Your mother doesn’t have to know you were here, does she?”

“I guess not.”

“You don’t have to tell her if you don’t want to.”

“I know.”

“I would never hurt you,” she said, “but you know you have to be careful with strangers. Not ever get into the car with them.”

“I know,” he said. “I hear that all the time.”

“You can’t trust just anybody these days.”

“I know.”

“You never know what people have it in their minds to do.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re not afraid with me, though, are you?”

He thought for a minute, leaning his head to the side. “No, I’m not,” he said.

“Well, how about that sandwich, then?”

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

“The chair feels good,” he said. “Cool.”

“You like baloney?”

“Yeah.”

She made the sandwich, putting it on a plate, and gave him a knife and the jar of mayonnaise so he might put as much on as he wanted. After he had taken a couple of bites, she got a root beer out of the refrigerator, opened it, and put a straw in.

He ate hungrily and in just a minute the sandwich was gone.

“Would you like another one?” she asked.

“No. I should be going home now, I guess.”

“Don’t be in such a fizz.”

“My sister will wonder where I am.”

“Let her wonder.”

He drank the root beer in its entirety and handed her the empty bottle. “Thank you,” he said. “It was very good.”

“Would you like some cookies?”

“No. I’m full.”

“Well, let’s go back into the front room and we’ll sit and visit for a while.”

He sat by himself on the couch and she sat in a chair by the window.

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

“It seems they weren’t thinking of you at all if they ran off and left you.”

“Yeah. Maybe somebody kidnapped them.”

“You know, I don’t get many visitors,” she said. “I’m so glad I ran into you today in the park and you spoke to me. Most people just ignore me.”

“They do?”

“Yes. They just go on their busy way.”

“Is it all right if I lay down here?”

“Sure. Make yourself at home.”

“It’s so cool and quiet here, I’m getting sleepy,” he said.

He lay full length on the couch, his arms behind his head, careful not to put his shoes on the coverlet.

She turned on the little oscillating fan on the table beside the chair. It made a gentle whirring sound, lifting the still air and giving it wings.

When she knew he was all the way asleep, she propped up her feet and smiled. In repose, he was such a beautiful boy. The fine, light-brown hair that she wanted to touch but didn’t because she knew it would wake him. The long eyelashes that tilted upward in a way that any girl might envy. The sweet, uncorrupted breaths that made his chest rise and fall. She wondered if his mother knew what a treasure she had and was sure that she did not. She was probably a foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking slattern who never wanted children in the first place.

She imagined what it would be like to have a boy like him with her all the time. They would be happy and she would watch him grow into a man and she would help him and guide him every step of the way. He would come to call her his mother because that’s really what she would be to him and he would be her long-lost son, the son she never had but always wanted. The son in California with three children of his own was just a tale she told.

The sleeping powder she put in the root beer when he wasn’t looking was a mild one. He would sleep maybe four or five hours and while he slept she could sit and look at him without interference and pretend he belonged to her and would never go away.

The phone rang in the kitchen but she ignored it. Now, who could be calling her? She didn’t care. She had better things to do. She had a visitor to entertain. She expected the ringing phone to cause the boy to open his eyes, but he kept right on sleeping the sleep of the innocent, breathing the breath of purity.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

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If Mother Goes to the Penitentiary

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

(Published in The Bone Parade. This is a repost.)

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not scared,” Julian said.

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

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

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

“What jewels?”

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

“Daddy Earl too?” Julian asked.

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

“Maybe mother and Daddy Earl will get married.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re just as ignorant as I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s ‘conviction’?”

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

“What’s the lesson?”

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

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

“Who was Daddy Earl talking to?”

“How should I know?”

“Maybe it was a lawyer.”

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

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

“Hah-hah-hah,” Julian said.

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

“Us?”

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

“I don’t know.”

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

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

“Do you think they let kids stay there?”

“I don’t know why not.”

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

“Why not?”

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

“What’s solitary confinement?”

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

“Do they have TV in solitary confinement?”

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

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

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

“What’s foster care?”

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

“Why do they make you go to church?”

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

“I try to be a good person.”

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

“How do you know so much about it?”

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

“Like the Three Stooges?”

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

“Oh, I don’t like those.”

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

“Who with?”

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

“I’m going to tell mother!”

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

“She’d tell you you can’t go.”

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

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

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

“Is he the one with rotten teeth?”

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

“I don’t know him.”

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

“Mother won’t let you.”

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

“She’ll tell Daddy Earl to stop you.”

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

“What’s he thinking about?”

“I don’t know. He’s a sphinx.”

“What’s a sphinx?”

“You’re too young to know.”

“I don’t care, anyway.”

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

“Daddy Earl would chase him away.”

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

“Why?”

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

“How is he going to do that?”

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

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

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

“I don’t know why not!”

“It just isn’t done.”

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

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

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

“You don’t have a father, dope!”

“Does he live in the penitentiary too?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not going!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Suffused with Light

Suffused with Light ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Phillip Call awoke at the usual time, washed the sleep from his eyes, brushed his teeth and dressed himself. He went into the kitchen, expecting to see his mother sitting at the table drinking coffee, but she wasn’t there. Neither was she on the couch in the living room, in her bedroom, or anyplace else in the house. She hadn’t told him she was going to be gone. He wondered where she was but he wasn’t worried.

He was twelve years old and in the seventh grade. He didn’t like school very much but he tried to make the best of it. He was a fair student, better in English and reading than in math and science. In a few years when he was finished with school, he wanted to go into the navy and have a different kind of life where he would see places like Italy and South America.

He never knew his father. His mother had been married, but not to Phillip’s father, and then the man she was married to left and was seen no more. He knew she wasn’t a very good mother. She took pills, chain-smoked cigarettes, and drank whiskey and wine. Some days she didn’t even get out of bed or she laid on the couch all day in front of the TV. She had moods where she cried and yelled at him for no reason, only because he was there, and at those times he tried to stay away from her.

He had a piece of toast with jelly and set out to school. He was going to write his mother a note for her to see when she came home, but she would know that he got himself up and off to school and would be home at the usual time.

The day at school was uneventful. In his usual quiet way, he didn’t speak to anybody and nobody spoke to him. He had a spelling test, on which he scored a hundred percent, and a math quiz. Two eighth grade boys got into a fistfight in the cafeteria and had to be pulled apart. He spent the hour in study hall reading out-of-town newspapers on sticks. All in all, a very routine day. Nothing to write home about.

When he got home, his mother still wasn’t there. He looked for a note that she might have written, but there wasn’t any. He dug up something to eat for supper, did his homework and watched TV until bedtime. He expected her to come home all evening but she didn’t.

The next morning when he got up, she was sitting on the couch in her bathrobe. She was crying, smoking her Camels and drinking shots of whiskey. When he walked into the room, she didn’t look at him.

“Where were you, mother?” he asked. “I was worried.”

“I couldn’t take care of a kid,” she said, sobbing. “I hated to do it but I couldn’t go on any longer.”

“What?”

He stood right in front of her and still she didn’t look at him.

“I’ll have to tell them it was an accident. That I found him that way.”

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

“I didn’t really poison him. He took those pills by mistake. He had a toothache and he thought it was something for the toothache.”

“Who are you talking about?” he asked.

He spoke in a very loud voice and she didn’t hear him. He waved his arms and she didn’t see him.

“Then he turned over and his face was smashed into the pillow,” she sobbed. “He couldn’t breathe. Poor little thing!”

“Mother!” he said. “Why won’t you answer me?”

“Now I can get away somewhere and start over. I’ll just have myself to take care of and I’ll get along fine. I’ll get myself cleaned up and forget all this happened.”

Somebody came quietly up behind him and touched him on the shoulder. When he turned to look, he saw a man whose face was a bright spot of light. He could only see the outline of the head, ears and a neat brown haircut.

“Who are you?” Phillip asked. “How did you get in?”

“It doesn’t matter,” the man said.

“Are you my grandpa?”

“No.”

“Why can’t I see your face?”

“You’re to come with me now.”

“Where?”

“Away from here.”

As the man began to lead him away with a gentle pressure on the shoulder, Phillip turned for a last look at his mother, who saw and heard nothing.

“What about her?” Phillip asked.

“She’s already said her goodbyes,” the man said.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

The Lights Flickered and Went Out

The Lights Flickered and Went Out ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in Backhair Advocate.)

The room was very quiet. Miss Adele’s teeth made little clicking sounds as she chewed. Miss Florence grunted as she tried to cut her meat and couldn’t. The knife slipped out of her hand and clattered to the floor. Mr. Benny looked around to see what the sound was but lost interest before he figured it out. Mr. Wilhelm was hearing nothing; he was asleep, his head hanging over his plate. Like the points on a compass, the four of them sat at a circular table.

“Don’t you think you should wake him up so he can finish his dinner?” Miss Florence said.

“Huh?” Mr. Benny said.

“Why don’t you wake him up before he falls out of his chair?”

“Let him fall,” Mr. Benny said. He was trying to soak up the gravy on his plate with a piece of bread but his hands were shaking so much he couldn’t manage it.

“My, but this is delicious,” Miss Adele said.

“What is?” Miss Florence asked.

“I don’t know what it is. There’s a little bit of tomato in it, I think, but I don’t recognize anything else.”

“You’re better off not knowing,” Mr. Benny said.

“What time is it?” Mr. Wilhelm asked, suddenly coming awake.            

“Why should you care?” Mr. Benny said. “You’re not going anywhere.”

“It was six o’clock about an hour ago,” Miss Florence said.

“It’s anybody’s guess,” Miss Adele said.

“A funny thing about time,” Mr. Benny said but he began coughing and didn’t finish the thought.

“What month is it?” Miss Adele asked.

“It’s April,” Mr. Benny said.

“Is it still the same year?”

“Yes, it’s still the same year.”

“This year is going along rather slowly, isn’t it?”

“Like a great big turtle in a race with death. See who comes out ahead.”

“Just ask your body what month it is,” Miss Florence said.

“What do you mean?” Miss Adele asked.

“When your toes are freezing off, it’s probably December or January.”

“When you see Christmas decorations everywhere, you know it’s probably December.”

“Good thinking,” Mr. Benny said. “You ought to go to work for the FBI.”

“Oh, they wouldn’t want me!”

“I don’t seem to be able to stay awake long enough to eat dinner,” Mr. Wilhelm said, picking up his knife and fork and going at his food again.

“Don’t you sleep well at night?” Miss Florence asked.

“I sleep all right, I guess.”

“Sleep comes in large doses or really small ones,” Miss Adele said, but nobody knew what she meant.

“After dinner let’s play some cards the way we used to,” Miss Florence said. “That ought to be fun.”

“What do you mean ‘the way we used to’?” Mr. Benny said. “I’ve never played cards with you in my life!”

“When we were children, we used to play ‘old maid’,” Miss Adele said.

“I’m happy to say I’m not one of those,” Miss Florence said. “I’m a widow.”

“And how many times were you married, dear?” Miss Adele asked.

“It really isn’t any of your business, but if you must know I was married three times.”

“I’ll bet all three of your husbands tried to kill you, didn’t they?” Mr. Benny said.

“Why would they do that?” Miss Adele asked.

“Well, just look at her.”

“They did not try to kill me,” Miss Florence said. “They worshipped me.”

“Well, what happened to them, then?”

“Two died, and the other one, well, it’s best if we don’t speak of him.”

“I never got married,” Mr. Wilhelm said. “I didn’t have time. I ran a company that employed five thousand people. I worked night and day. I was married to the business.”

“Oh, brother!” Mr. Benny said.

“Didn’t you get lonely?” Miss Adele asked.

“I did not!”

“I bet you had plenty of lady friends, though, didn’t you?” Miss Florence said. “A handsome fellow like you.”

“I did not. There was someone once, though. We lived together for about ten years.”

“What was her name?”

“It wasn’t a ‘her’. It was a ‘him’.”

“Oh, dear!” Miss Adele said.

“His name was Zachary. What he and I had together was very rare.”

“I never took you for one of those,” Miss Florence said.

“I knew there was something about him!” Mr. Benny said.

“Have you ever had the good fortune to meet another person in your life with whom you have a spiritual connection? It doesn’t happen more than once. It was that way with Zachary and me.”

“Now I’ve heard everything!” Mr. Benny said. “It’s like finding out that General Eisenhower liked boys.”

“I’m ashamed of nothing,” Mr. Wilhelm said.

“What happened to Zachary?” Miss Florence asked.

“He died.”

“Oh, that’s a crying shame!”

“He’s buried in his home town in Tennessee. When it’s my time to go, I’m going to be placed in the grave next to him.”

Mr. Benny rolled his eyes. “On that note,” he said, “I think I’ll leave you good people and go back to my room, if I can remember how to get there.”

A sudden flash of lightning and rumble of thunder made them all turn toward the window. Miss Adele screamed and turned over her water glass.

“It’s been too warm all day,” Miss Florence said. “I knew a storm was coming.”

“Storms scare me,” Miss Adele said. “I can feel the electricity in the air. It makes my skin prickle.”

“Your skin was already pickled,” Mr. Benny said.

“I’d rather die in a storm than some other ways I can think of,” Miss Florence said.

“Do you notice how we always get around to the subject of death?” Mr. Benny asked.

“Well, what’s wrong with that?” Miss Florence asked. “There’s nothing wrong with death. It’s part of life. I, for one, believe that death is not the end.”

“What is the end?” Mr. Benny asked.

“How should I know?”

“Heaven? Angels and fluffy white clouds?”

“I think that heaven is what you want it to be.”

“So, you’re saying that heaven exists only in the mind.”

“I’m not saying that at all.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“You don’t need to be rude,” Miss Florence said. “I can still get up from this chair and slap you silly if I want to. I’ve smacked old men around before and I don’t mind doing it again.”

With the next flash of lightning, the lights flickered and went out. Miss Adele squealed and put her hands to her throat. “What do we do now?” she said desperately.

“They’ll be back on in just a minute,” Miss Florence said. “No need to panic.”

“Hey, I like it better like this!” Mr. Benny said. “You all look much better in the dark.”

“The only way you would look good to me,” Miss Florence said, “would be if you disappeared.”

“Now who’s being rude?”

Somebody brought in a kerosene lamp, set it in the middle of the table and went away again without a word.

“Oh, how nice!” Miss Adele said. “Just like olden times before there was such a thing as electricity.”

Mr. Benny raised his wine glass. “Here’s to storms,” he said. “May they always be on the outside.”

“I hear music,” Miss Florence said.

“How lovely!” Miss Adele said. “Somebody’s playing the piano.”

Miss Florence in her spectator pumps and Miss Adele in her mules stood up and began shuffling their feet together in an approximation of dancing. Mr. Benny lit his one cigar of the day and blew out a cloud of smoke that looked, in the distorting lamplight, like ectoplasm at a séance. Mr. Wilhelm fanned his hand in front of his face and sighed as Miss Florence and Miss Adele danced away into the darkness on the far side of the room. And outside, the thunder and lightning raged as rain pounded against the glass and the storm gathered nearer.

Copyright 2017 by Allen Kopp    

The Military Man

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The Military Man ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Gunner was nine. His father died when he was five and his mother married a man named Lindell Blevins and Lindell became Gunner’s stepfather. Lindell worked in a store downtown selling appliances. He didn’t know anything about children and, being a former military man himself, believed in military-style discipline for them. He would be the first person in Gunner’s life that Gunner didn’t like.

Lindell made Gunner mow the lawn and stood over him to make sure he mowed in straight rows, lining up the wheels of the machine with the edge of the row he just mowed. After the mowing was finished, Gunner raked up the cut grass and put in in bags. Then he had to sweep the grass off the walks and the driveway with an old push broom, and when that was finished there were the weeds in the flower beds that had to be pulled out by the roots.

Gunner had to go to bed every night at nine o’clock, Lindell’s edict, even on nights when there was no school the next day. Mother used to let Gunner stay up until ten-thirty or eleven whenever there was something good on TV he wanted to watch, but those days were over. Gunner stopped watching TV in the evenings all together, especially when Lindell was watching. He didn’t want to watch anything that Lindell watched. He didn’t want to be in the same room where Lindell was.

Lindell barged into Gunner’s room whenever he felt like it, no matter if Gunner was sleeping or getting dressed. He wanted to make sure Gunner hung his clothes in the closet and put away any articles that had no business being left out. A place for everything and everything in its place.

On Saturday mornings Lindell presented Gunner with the vacuum cleaner and a dust cloth and made him give his room a “good going over.” When it came to food, Lindell made Gunner limit his sugar intake and made him stop drinking soda, “except on very rare occasions.” Gunner could only have dessert on alternating days and ice cream no more than once a week. He was forced to eat squash and lima beans, no matter how much he hated them. And then there was milk: he hated the taste of it but had to have it with every meal. Sometimes he would take a couple sips out of the glass and then pour the rest down the sink when Lindell went into the other room.

“Lindell doesn’t like me,” Gunner said to mother when Lindell was gone on a weekend fishing trip and it was just the two of them.

“Of course he likes you,” mother said. “He isn’t used to children. We have to give him time.”

“How much time?” Gunner asked.

“He’s trying to be patient with us. You have to give him credit for that.”

“He doesn’t like me.”

“He does like you.”

“Has he said he likes me?”

“He doesn’t have to say it. I know he does. He’s trying to be a father to you.”

“I don’t like him. I hate him.”

“Do you know how much it would hurt him if he heard you say that?”

“I don’t care! I don’t want him to ever come back. I hope he dies.”

To punish Gunner for saying such things, mother made him stay in his room and read a book and wouldn’t let him watch TV. Gunner didn’t mind. He was glad he said it; it was finally out in the open. He hoped there would be a phone call saying that Lindell had fallen out of the boat and drowned while trying to catch his stupid fish and wasn’t coming home.

Gunner had a G.I. Joe doll in his toy box that he never played with anymore. He sat on the bed, holding the doll in his hands, thinking about how much it looked like Lindell. He stripped the army uniform off the doll and stuck pins in its head and where its genitals would be if it had any.

Gunner had seen a story on TV about voodoo. He had never heard of voodoo before and thought it was a good idea. In the story, a woman made an “effigy” of her enemy, a woman whose husband she wanted for her own, and stuck pins in the effigy’s back, neck and eyes. The enemy of the woman became afflicted with terrible pains all over her body and it took a long time for people to figure out what was wrong with her.

Every night before bed, Gunner took the G.I. Joe doll that looked like Lindell out of its hiding place and stuck new pins in it: in the heels, the top of the head, up the nose, the stomach—in all the places where he hadn’t stuck a pin before. He began watching Lindell during mealtimes to see if he showed any signs of unendurable physical pain, but Lindell was just his same old terrible self. The voodoo didn’t seem to be working, but maybe he hadn’t given it enough time.

It was autumn. There was a walnut tree in the back yard and the yard was littered with walnuts. Mother had husked some while others still remained in the tight green outer husk, drying in the sun. There’s nasty brown stuff inside the husk. If you get it on your hands, it’s the very devil to get off. If you go to school with brown stuff on your hands, people will think you don’t take a bath.

Gunner had to rake the leaves in the back yard every day, except on days when it rained. If you catch them as they fall, Lindell said, it will be a lot easier than raking them all up at once. After he raked the leaves into a pile, he had to keep bending over to pick them up and put them in trash cans. When he ran out of trash cans, he had to put them in stiff paper bags bigger than he was.

Lindell was in the side yard working on an old Cadillac he had bought. He had removed the tires and the only thing holding the car up in the air was a jack, a thin arm of metal at a slight slant. Lindell was underneath the car on his back, his ankles and feet—big, comical feet like a clown—sticking out.

Gunner had been raking for a half-hour. A yellow jacket flew around his head and he threw the rake down and ran to get out of its way. He knew that Lindell couldn’t see him from underneath the Cadillac, so he was in no hurry to get back to raking. He found a slingshot that the older boy who lived next door had left in the yard. He picked it up and liked the way the grip felt in his hand.

It was a big slingshot, and a walnut in its hard, green husk was the perfect projectile. He shot several walnuts up into the tree and watched them as they came down and hit the ground. He liked the disturbance they made in the leaves and the whump sound as they hit the ground. As long as Lindell couldn’t see him, he could fool around until dark, and then it would be time to go in and eat supper.

He shot several more walnuts at the trunk of a tree, the foundation of the house, the back fence, a broken flower pot and an old upturned bucket. It was a lot more fun than raking leaves.

The yellow jacket flew at his head again and he loaded a walnut into the slingshot and took a wild shot at it. The walnut took out the yellow jacket and continued with ferocious speed toward the Cadillac. It hit the jack holding up the Cadillac with a ping! sound and brought the car down on top of Lindell. Gunner saw the legs twitching. He turned away and screamed.

Mother was in the kitchen close to the back door. When she heard Gunner scream, she came running out the door. A couple of the neighbors came running, too. Mother tried to lift the car off Lindell, but of course she couldn’t move it at all.

Somebody called an ambulance and in less than five minutes it screeched to a halt in front of the house. The ambulance people had to get a special lift to lift the Cadillac off Lindell and when they did he was dead.

Two days later Gunner stood with mother in front of Lindell’s silvery casket at the funeral home. Lindell was dressed in a pinstripe suit with a red rose in his lapel and he looked to be asleep. It seemed to Gunner that he had only to open his eyes and look at him and start giving orders.

“I’m thirty-four years old,” mother said in a soft voice so that only Gunner could hear, “and twice a widow.”

“Who are all these people?” Gunner asked.

“Lindell’s family, friends, people he worked with.”

He looked at Lindell’s ear, at the side of his face where the razor had made a small cut. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“I know you are,” mother said.

“No! I’m sorry! I didn’t know this would happen.”

She looked down at him and he began to cry. She put her arm around his shoulder and pulled her toward him.

“I don’t think I’ll get married again,” she said with a little laugh.

He continued to cry. He didn’t have a Kleenex so he wiped his eyes with the tips of his fingers. People who saw him thought he was crying because Lindell was dead. They would never know the real reason. 

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

We Always Called Him Snap

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We Always Called Him Snap ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Mrs. Crosswhite was a young-looking widow, fifty-seven years old. She lived comfortably in a commodious house on a corner lot of a pleasant street. She had a wide expanse of lawn, beautiful shade trees, and a variety of flowers and shrubs that she paid a professional gardener to tend. If not exactly rich, she was at least comfortably well off to the extent that she might buy anything she pleased and not have to worry about how much it cost. Her closest living relative was her son Snap. He was thirty and had always lived with her.

At times Mrs. Crosswhite was alarmed by Snap’s lack of ambition. In all the years he had been out of high school, he never showed much interest in bettering himself. He tried college but had not developed good study habits in high school and wasn’t able to keep up. He worked for a while in a restaurant but didn’t move fast enough. A warehouse job ended when he fell off a ladder and broke his foot. He drove a pickup-and-delivery truck for a dry cleaner but, through his carelessness, the truck was stolen and he was fired. Since his last disastrous job, that of counter person in a delicatessen, he had stopped looking for work and resigned himself to eating, sleeping, watching TV and slouching around in his underwear.

As a boy and young man, Snap Crosswhite was always slender, dark and good-looking. As he advanced through his twenties and on to thirty, though, he put on an alarming amount of weight and stopped taking care of himself. He didn’t care if he combed his hair or took a bath. He rarely went out and when he did, he drank to excess and spent the next couple of days in bed with a hangover.

Mrs. Crosswhite believed her son just hadn’t found his way yet. He was slow in getting started. If he wanted to be an auto mechanic, a dancer, or an interior decorator, she would gladly pay for his schooling. She tried to lead him, gently, in the direction she wanted to see him go, but she didn’t want to alienate or antagonize him. She didn’t want to be like her own mother, a woman whose ceaseless complaining and nagging drove her children away.

The days slipped away, one after the other, unchanging. Then one day someone came and took Snap away.

He came down in the middle of the morning in his bathrobe and ate his breakfast of three eggs, half a pound of bacon, toast with lots of butter and jelly, and Dr. Pepper. He ate without looking up and without speaking and when he was finished he went back upstairs to his room. Mrs. Crosswhite knew she wouldn’t see him again until lunchtime.

She was in the kitchen washing the dishes when she heard a knock on the door. When she went to the door and opened it, she saw two stylish young men in dark suits and dark glasses looking in at her. They were officially grim as if they were acting in a television drama.

“Yes?” she said, shading her eyes with her hand.

“Is this the home of Mr. Stanislaus Crosswhite?” one of the two men said.

“We always called him Snap,” she said. “Ever since he was a baby.”

“Is Mr. Crosswhite at home?”

“What is this about? I’m his mother.”

“We need to see him, ma’am.”

“All right. I’ll go and get him.”

She went upstairs and leaned her ear against the door of Snap’s room and tapped lightly. “Are you there?” she said.

“Yes?” came his muffled voice.

“There are two men at the door who say they want to see you.”

“Who is it?” Snap asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Take a message and tell them I’ll call them back.”

“No, it’s not on the phone,” she said. “They’re here. At the door.”

She heard him walking toward the door and undoing the lock. When he opened the door, he was pulling his bathrobe around his front and tying it. She was going to try to explain the men at the door, give him a word of warning, but he brushed past her without giving her a chance to speak.

He went down the stairs in his bare feet and when he turned the corner and saw the two men standing at the door, he turned around and ran back up the stairs to his room and slammed the door.

The men came running into the house and up the stairs without so much as a nod to Mrs. Crosswhite. Two uniformed men came rushing in from outside and followed the suited men up the stairs. Four men charging up her stairs was something of an affront to a middle-aged mother. She watched them with something akin to astonishment.

One of the suited men tried to open the door to Snap’s room, but of course it was locked.

“Open up, Mr. Crosswhite!” the man said. “We know you’re in there!”

“What is this all about?” Mrs. Crosswhite asked, having followed them up the stairs.

“Is there a window to that room?”

“Why, yes,” she said. “There are two.”

“Would he try to escape out the window?”

“Escape? Why should he?”

The suited man gestured to the larger of the two uniformed men and he put his shoulder to the door. With his third shoulder lunge, the door facing cracked and gave way and the door opened.

When the four men ran into the room, Snap was trying to hide himself in the closet. He whimpered and attempted to conceal himself behind some hanging clothes. The two uniformed men seized him by the arms and began trying to extricate him.

“Leave me alone!” Snap screamed. “I haven’t done anything! There’s been some mistake!”

“For heaven’s sake, what do you think he did?” Mrs. Crosswhite asked from the doorway to Snap’s room.

They freed him from the closet and when they let go of his arms he threw himself on the bed, bellowing like a bull.

“Make it easy on yourself, son,” one of the suited men said.

“Don’t let them do this to me, mother!” Snap screamed.

When they tried to pull him up from the bed, the sheets came off in his fists. He wrapped his arms around the edge of the mattress like a drowning man holding onto a log. His clothing became terribly disarranged. His bathrobe rode up onto his shoulders. His boxer shorts were pulled down, exposing his enormous white buttocks.

The suited man turned to Mrs. Crosswhite and said, “I think you’d better wait downstairs, ma’am. We’ll stay with him and get some clothes on him.”

“Is there something I should do? Somebody I should call?”

“No, ma’am. Just go back downstairs for now.”

Snap stopped screaming and, in a few minutes, the uniformed men escorted him down the stairs. They had dressed him in jeans, sweatshirt and sneakers. Hands cuffed in front of him, he was like a subdued animal. He didn’t look at Mrs. Crosswhite as they took him out the door.

The two suited men stayed behind to have a word with her.

“Where are you taking him?” she asked. “When will I see him again?”

“It won’t do for you to worry,” the man said. “We’ll take the very best of care.”

“Yes, but what do you think he did?”

“All will be revealed,” he said. “For now, just maintain a positive attitude and don’t speak to reporters.”

“Speak to them about what?”

“You’ll receive a call, apprising you of all the details.”

“Well, all right,” she said, “but I wish you could tell me more than that.”

“You have a really fine day, now,” he said, and then they were gone.

She waited anxiously by the phone for the rest of the day but it didn’t ring. That night her sleep was tormented by disturbing dreams in which Snap as a child was calling to her.

“Help me, mother!” he screamed in the dream. “I’m here! Can’t you see me?”

But the harder she tried to see him the more indistinct he became, until finally he faded into the air like a wisp of smoke and in his place was the jack-in-the-box toy that used to make him cry when he was three years old.

The next day she felt numb, sick with worry. She stayed within easy reach of the phone but still it didn’t ring. She kept the TV on to keep from feeling so alone but paid no attention to its silly game shows, commercials and soap operas. When it came time to eat, she went into the kitchen and prepared food that just sat there.

On the second day, she felt a little better. No news is good news, as they used to say. She felt sure they would clear up the whole matter, whatever it was, and bring Snap home and deliver him on the doorstep.

To keep herself occupied, she’d give Snap’s room a thorough cleaning. I can clean the room better with him gone and when he comes home it’ll be to a clean room, she thought.

She opened the windows to let in some fresh air. Then she cleared out all the trash and debris: old newspapers and magazines, food cartons, candy wrappers, soda and beer bottles, dirty clothes, socks and underwear. She loaded everything into trash cans, including the clothes, and put the cans in the alley to be emptied on trash day.

With the room free of clutter, she cleaned the walls and floors, clearing away the cobwebs that had accumulated close to the ceiling; pulled the furniture away from the walls and sucked up all the dust mice into the vacuum cleaner; scrubbed the mysterious stains out of the rug that had formed over the years; cleaned and polished the bedstead, dresser and chest of drawers; emptied all the drawers into trash bags; replaced the old pillows and sheets on the bed with new ones that had never been used; scoured and disinfected the bathroom, cleaning all the mirrors and polishing the chrome fixtures. From the closet she took all of Snap’s old clothes and threw them away. When he came home, the two of them would go shopping and buy all new things, wipe the slate clean and begin afresh.

When the worked was finished, she was tired but pleased with the results. The room was cleaner than it had been for years. Snap would just naturally want to develop more responsible personal habits.

Two weeks went by and then three, and still no word from Snap.  No matter how much she wanted the phone to ring and willed it to ring, it was still silent. She called the police department a couple of times and gave them her name; they always transferred her call and she had to speak to someone, after a prolonged wait, who would give her no information at all. She wanted to complain to the mayor or the police commissioner, but she didn’t know their names.

She would be so happy to see Snap again and have him clear everything up for her. She imagined herself saying, “So, that’s all it was!” If only that day would come! She would even be happy to see him in his bathrobe and boxer shorts, eating and sleeping and hardly ever speaking.

She took to napping on the couch during the afternoons, next to the phone. It was during one of these afternoon naps that a knock on the front door roused her. She woke instantly, jumped to her feet.

When she opened the door, she saw a young man standing there, smiling at her. He was slender with short hair gleaming in the sun and a toothy smile.

“Aren’t you going to let me in?” he asked.

“Snap?”

“It took a long time for you to come to the door,” he said.

“I was taking a nap on the couch. I can’t sleep at night.”

“Well, anyway,” he said. “I’m here.”

She held the door for him and he came inside. She couldn’t take her eyes off him.

“You look so different,” she said.

“Better, I hope.”

“You got your hair cut. It looks good. And new clothes, too, I see.”

“Like them?”

“Red looks good on you.”

He set his small bag on the floor and sat in the green chair. “Place still looks the same,” he said.

“Where in the world have you been?” she said. “I was so worried.”

“I have a lot to tell you,” he said, “but first I want to rest up a little and take a shower.”

“You already look so clean and well-groomed! I can’t get over it!”

He laughed. “What have you been doing with yourself?” he asked.

“I’ve been so worried!”

“About what?”

“You, of course, Snap!”

“About that name. I want you to call me Stan now. That’s a better soubriquet for Stanislaus, don’t you think?”

“Soubriquet?”

“Nickname,” he said. “Snap belongs to my adolescence. I’m not an adolescent anymore.”

“Well, all right, but Stan is going to take some getting used to. We’ve called you Snap since you were a tiny baby.”

“I like the way Stan sounds, don’t you? So manly!”

“It just occurred to me who you remind me of,” she said.

“Who?”

“My father. He was so handsome when he was young. You look just the way he looked before he ran off and left us.”

“Well, my goodness, isn’t that a coincidence!”

“His name was Stan, you know.”

“No, I don’t think you ever told me your father’s name.”

“I’m just so glad to have you home again! I can hardly believe you’re really here!”

“I’m here, all right!”

“What would you like for dinner?” she asked. “I want to cook something special for your first night back.”

“You don’t have to cook anything,” he said. “I want us to go out to a good restaurant and really celebrate my rebirth. Champagne and everything.”

“Oh, Snap! Do you really think we should?”

“Well, don’t you feel like celebrating?”

“Of course, I do!” she said. “I’m so glad to have you back!”

She touched him on the arm to make sure he was really there.

“I’m going to start my own business,” he said. “We’ll talk about it over dinner.”

“What kind of business?” she asked.

“I’ll save it for later. I think you’ll be as excited as I am.”

“Oh, that is wonderful news!” she said. “Whatever you want to do, I’m sure I’ll approve, and, of course, I’ll do anything I can to help you!”

“But first I want to get cleaned up,” he said.

He stood up and picked his bag up from the floor.

“I gave your room a thorough cleaning,” she said. “It’s cleaner than it’s been in years. I thought we’d go shopping and buy some new furniture and get new carpet on the floor and maybe some new drapes.

“Sounds wonderful!” he said.

She watched him as he walked up the stairs: the neat khaki pants, the red shirt and brown tasseled loafers. She hadn’t seen him looking so good since he was a senior in high school.

***

A loud knock and she awoke with a start. The sofa cushion had left an imprint on her face. She stumbled into her shoes and banged her knee painfully against the coffee table.

Two men stood at the door. They were older men, gray-heads. They wore suits and looked grim, as if they were acting in a television drama.

“Yes?” she said.

“Mrs. Crosswhite?” one of the men asked.

“Yes,” she said. “What is it?”

“Are you the mother of Mr. Stanislaus Crosswhite?”

“We always called him Snap,” she said. “Ever since he was a baby.”

“I’m afraid we have some bad news, Mrs. Crosswhite.”

“About what?”

“About your son Stanislaus.”

“But he’s upstairs. I can go get him if you want.”

“No, Mrs. Crosswhite. I regret to inform you that your son died last night of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.”

“What?”

“I said…”

“Never mind,” she said. “I don’t need to hear anything like that.”

She slammed the door in the faces of the two gray-heads, turned away and walked through the house, into the dining room and then the kitchen. She took an onion out of the refrigerator and a knife from the drawer and began cutting the onion up into small pieces. Over her head she could hear the comforting sound of the water running in Snap’s bathroom. He was taking a shower and after he was dressed the two of them were going out to a good restaurant to celebrate his coming home.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

The Door That’s Always Closed

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The Door That’s Always Closed ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

My name is Charles Anson. I moved in with my mother after my father died. At first I hated the idea of living with my mother at the age of thirty-seven, but soon I got used to it and thought of her home as my own. And I have to admit, my life was easier there. She had a cook and a housekeeper, so I no longer had to buy or cook my own food or do any housecleaning, which I was never very good at, anyway.

My mother was in her mid-forties when I was born. She was always older than the mothers of my friends, more like a grandmother. She had developed a bad heart in the years after my father’s death and told me she was happy to have me there with her—I was her only family that counted, she said—even though we argued at times about things I did that she didn’t like: I drank too much and I sometimes didn’t bother to call her when I wasn’t coming home. At those times, I had to remind her that I was no longer fifteen years old. She had to relinquish what she considered her “rights” as a mother and treat me with the respect I deserved as an adult.

She was known for her temper, which my father could tell you about if he was here. I remember when I was little and heard them fighting in the night. It wasn’t unusual to hear yelling, breaking glass or splintering of wood. When my father got enough of my mother goading him, he would end up throwing a vase or something at her head. In the morning when I asked what had happened, my mother would laugh and say my father had a little accident while sleepwalking. I knew it wasn’t the truth but it was a good way to gloss over an ugly situation.

I went to work every day and when I came home my mother was there and dinner was on the table and all was well. After dinner, I would usually step out if I felt like it, even though I knew my mother was jealous if I didn’t spend all my free time with her. In the evenings she watched old movies on TV and was happy to have me sit and watch with her, but it wasn’t my idea of a good time. I can only take so many Depression-era comedies with wisecracking dames and maids masquerading as madcap heiresses.

Most of the time when I came home from a night on the town, sometimes at one or two in the morning, my mother would have the TV and all the lights on, but would have retired to her room. This made her feel safer when she was alone, she said. I would turn everything off, starting with the TV, and make my way to bed, sleep for about four hours, get up and begin my day all over again, as so many of us working stiffs do. My mother had told me I didn’t even need to work, that she had plenty of money for us both to live on, but I couldn’t see myself hanging around all day with just her to talk to and having to ask her for money anytime I wanted to go out and have a few drinks.

On weekends I always tried to spend either Saturday or Sunday with my mother, just the two of us. She liked to go for a drive and I would very often take her to the cemetery where my father was buried and then take her to a good restaurant for lunch. If it was a Sunday, we would try to take in a museum or a concert. If I ever had the idea of going to a movie theatre and seeing a movie, she said she preferred seeing them on TV. When I told her that most people who liked movies wanted to see them at the theatre and not on TV, she only shook her head. The movie screen gave her a headache, she said, and she didn’t like the smell of popcorn.

All in all, my life was agreeable. I didn’t spend most of the money I made, so I was able to invest. The market was doing well, so I did well. I didn’t miss the things I didn’t have that other people had, like a marriage and children. I had learned early in life that not everybody in the world is the same and I found it out more and more as I got older. What’s right for most people is not right for everybody.

My mother went on for years with her bad heart, but she came to a point where she couldn’t go on any longer. She looked pale and drawn all the time and spent most of her time lying down. She stopped fixing herself up and having her hair done up. Some days she didn’t even bother to get dressed.

She went to the hospital for a few days and when she came home she said she was never going back, no matter what. She wanted to be in the privacy of her own home and not have a bunch of strangers around her at the end. I hired a nurse to be with her during the day when I was at work and a different nurse at night. They just did their work quietly and effectively and didn’t bother me. I paid them when the time came and left them to do whatever needed to be done.

I decided to quit my job in early summer. I didn’t need to work, as I said before, and all the time I was away I was worried that the end would come for my mother and I wouldn’t be there when she needed me. I dismissed both nurses and told them I would take over from there.

My mother moved into one of the guest bedrooms—she didn’t want to mess up her own room where all her treasures were—and became entirely bedridden. Her doctor sympathized with her desire to be at home and gave me lots of pills to give to her. He told me I didn’t have to hold back in administering her medicine and nobody would ever know the difference. I knew what he was saying without further explanation.

We kept her heavily sedated and I knew she wasn’t in any pain. Every so often she would open her eyes and look at me and I knew she was happy with the way things had turned out. She died peacefully on a hot afternoon in August. She was breathing and then she wasn’t. I hoped that when my time came, I would die so simply and easily.

When a loved one dies, there are certain things that need to be done. I was supposed to call the doctor and get a death certificate and then call the funeral home and have them come and take her body away. I found I wasn’t able to do those things, though. I could not speak the words to anybody that she was dead. All I did was close the heavy drapes in the room where she lay and close the door to the room and lock it. I placed a beautiful Chinese screen she was fond of in front of the door to make it seem there was no door there at all.

I knew I would eventually have to have her taken away, but for now I just wasn’t able to disturb her at her rest. The bed in which she lay seemed more the place for her than a casket on display in a funeral home and then a grave. Some people would say I was crazy to do what I did, and maybe I was. It was my way of keeping her with me.

I suppose I was lonely and always had been. I realized after my mother was dead that she was the only person in the world who ever kept me from feeling lonely. I had friends, of course, but not close friends, and when I was away from them I didn’t care if I ever saw them again. I was indifferent toward them, as I had been indifferent toward many things and people in my life.

I kept the apartment dark and I started drinking heavily and taking my mother’s medications. If I didn’t know what they were for, it didn’t make any difference. If I took too many and didn’t wake up, it was all the same to me. I was in a state between living and dying.

Then, after a few weeks, I suppose I snapped out of it, at least partway. I looked at myself in the mirror and vomited. After that, I cleaned myself up and went out and had a good meal in a restaurant. The next day I hired some cleaning people to come in and clean the apartment and air everything out from top to bottom. I kept the door to my mother’s room locked, of course.

I began eating regular meals again and gained some weight. I bought some cook books and learned to fix dishes I had never fixed before, like standing rib roast and lemon trout almondine. I bought myself some new clothes and began going out more, but almost always alone. I walked farther than I ever walked before. I went to movies and different restaurants that were new to me and sometimes I went to church and sat in the back and listened and watched the people.

In the evenings I would pass the time reading novels, listening to classical music or watching old movies on TV as my mother had loved to do. I became as knowledgeable in movie lore as she had ever been. I saw the films of Ramon Novarro, Ruth Chatterton, and Kay Francis.

To keep from feeling so alone, I bought a life-sized human female doll. It was supposed to be a substitute companion for lonely men, but that’s not what I wanted it for. I wanted it to resemble my mother. I put makeup on it to make it look older, put one of my mother’s wigs on it and dressed it in my mother’s clothes. I created an illusion. At night in the dark, with just the light from the TV screen, it seemed as if my mother was sitting there. I knew she would have been pleased.

From there I took the next logical step and began dressing in her clothes myself. It made me feel close to her as though I were absorbing her essence into my body. She wasn’t a rotting corpse behind a closed door. She was right there with me and had been all the time.

After I dressed in her clothing a few times, I started experimenting with makeup. I applied it to my own face exactly as she would have applied it to her own. She had a couple of wigs on the top shelf of her closet and I got them down and tried them with different outfits. I would spend the entire day dressed as her. If it made me feel better and less alone, what did it hurt?

As I stood and looked at myself in her full-length mirror, I realized for the first time how much like her I was. My face was the same shape as hers, down to the dimple in my chin, and I had the same coloring. My beard stubble was light and nonexistent for at least a day after I shaved. I was the embodiment of my mother. I saw nothing of my father in me. He had been large with fleshy ears and a nose like a lump of cauliflower. When I was a child, I used to wonder how the two of them ever came to be together.

I spent hours practicing her walk, her laugh, the way she spoke, lit a cigarette or downed her vodka and tonic. I could match her signature so well that nobody would have been able to tell it wasn’t hers. But why was I doing all this? Was it just passing the time and keeping myself from feeling lonely, or was it something else?

One day when I was feeling brave and more than a little bold I decided to try a little experiment. Dressed as my mother—in her clothes, shoes, wig, hat and coat—I went down in the elevator and down the street to the market on the corner and bought a bag of groceries. I expected people to take one look at me and know I was a charlatan. If anybody noticed me at all, though, they didn’t give me a thought. It was exactly the effect I hoped for.

On my way home, a neighbor woman put her hand on my arm and stopped me on the sidewalk.

“I heard you were sick, Mrs. Anson,” she said. “I’m glad to see you looking so well.”

“I’m much better now,” I said. “My son has been taking care of me.”

I began going out more as my mother. People who had known her for years weren’t able to tell the difference. I kept them from looking at me too closely but, even if they had, I don’t think they would have suspected anything. People see what they want to see and are not all that observant.

Take my mother’s lawyer, for example. He had some documents he wanted her to sign. Now, my mother and her lawyer had known each since high school. Making him believe I was her would be the ultimate test. I was sure I could do it, but I was little anxious he would take one look at me and think I was attempting to perpetrate some kind of swindle. I knew I was taking a chance, but I was willing to risk it.

I didn’t need to worry. The lawyer held onto my gloved hand longer than was needed and led me to a chair in front of his desk.

“I’ve never seen you looking so radiant,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, looking away.

“I don’t know how you do it.”

“Broccoli and blueberries.”

“It has to be more than that.”

“Well, we all have our little secrets.”

“You can’t fool me about your age. I know exactly how old you are because I’m the same age.”

“It’s only a number,” I said. “I stopped counting a long time ago.”

After I signed the papers, he invited me to lunch but I lied and told him I had an appointment to see my doctor. I wasn’t sure I could keep up the illusion through a long, liquor-infused lunch.

When I went out of the apartment now, about half the time it was as my mother. People were attentive and polite to a well-dressed woman alone. I got the best tables in restaurants and some man or other was always more than willing to give me a seat on a crowded subway or bus. People lit my cigarettes, opened doors for me and held elevators. I could always get a smile out of even the most sour-faced old buzzard.

Sometimes, but not often, I thought about my mother lying on the bed in that room behind the screen. I couldn’t visualize her as a rotting corpse. You hear stories about a dead body being closed up in a house and people realizing it’s there only because they can smell it. There had been no odors in my apartment and no complaints from any of the neighbors. I had heard stories about the bodies of saints that aren’t subject to the laws of decay. I could almost believe that my mother was one of those. Wondrous are the workings of heaven and not of nature.

I dreamed often about my mother, a happy dream in which I could hear her voice and see her laughing face. She was always excited about something she had seen or read, a trip she was taking, a play she was going to see or an old friend she had met again by chance. She was the only truly good person I had ever known. Everybody loved her.

When I was myself, Charles, I felt dull and uninteresting. My clothes were ill-fitting, no matter how much I paid for them or with what care I chose them. In dealings with other people, I was a nonentity. I had no desire to see them or be with them.

I went to a lecture on Nebuchadnezzar at the museum, not as my mother but as myself. There I ran into an old acquaintance named Freda Hobart. We had gone around together for a while right after college. It was never what I would have called a romance but more just something I did back then because it’s what everybody else was doing. After the lecture we had a drink and talked over old times. Freda told me she had been married and divorced two times. When I asked her if she thought she was ever going to get it right, she just laughed.

She gave me her phone number and a few days later, when I was feeling low, I called her and we spent the next couple of hours filling each other in on our lives. We went out to dinner the next day and a couple of days after that we went to a piano recital. She told me on our second outing that she had never stopped thinking about me and hoped we would somehow meet again. When I said I was surprised that she had ever given me another thought, she laughed and said my modesty was one of the things she had always loved about me.

We started spending a lot of time together. Since we were both alone, getting married seemed the next logical step. I was no way in love with her, but we were compatible and I didn’t relish the idea of spending the rest of my life with nobody to talk to or eat dinner with. When I asked her if she’d like to get married, she didn’t hesitate before saying yes.

She started making demands on me, though, telling me how “things” were going to be after we were married. When she told me I’d have to give up the apartment, I refused.

“We don’t need ten rooms for just the two of us,” she said.

“I’m not moving,” I said. “This is my mother’s apartment. She expects me to keep it up for her while she’s away.”

“Isn’t your name on the lease?”

“It doesn’t matter if it is or not. I’m not moving.”

“You’re being childish.”

“Women always say that men are being childish when they refuse to do as they’re told.”

We had a terrible argument, during which she demanded that I open the door to the room behind the Chinese screen.

“It hasn’t been opened in years,” I said.

“I want to see what’s in it.”

“Maybe it’s none of your business. Did you ever think of that?”

“It seems that since we’re to be married,” she said, “your business is my business.”

“Not always,” I said.

She cried, said I was “unnatural,” said she was glad she found it out before she made the mistake of marrying me. She threw a Chinese figurine at my head and stormed out the door. The next day when she called—or any day after that—I wouldn’t accept her calls.

It was for the best, I knew. A bad marriage was worse than no marriage at all. I didn’t feel like giving up half of everything I had to her in a divorce settlement. It was never going to happen.

After that, I came to an important decision. I drowned Charles in the bathtub, burned his tuxedo as a symbolic gesture, and vowed to live the rest of my life, however long that might be, as Margaret, mother of Charles. She would be so happy to know she was living again through me. If anybody asked me about Charles, I would say he had gone abroad to pursue his own interests and I didn’t know when he would be coming back.

I knew that one day I would die and there would be nobody to close the door and lock it for me the way I had done for her. That day might come sooner than I expected because of the way I had abused my body. I didn’t like to think about strangers coming into my house and finding me and then finding her and learning our secret.

After eight years, I unlocked the door and opened it. I stood there in the doorway of the darkened room, dust particles swirling around my head, and looked at her lying in the bed. She looked lovely, exactly as she had looked on that day in August when she stopped breathing.

I picked her up in my arms and carried her into the living room and set her on the couch, propping her up with the big pillows she had bought herself. Her head tilted forward a little and I knew she was comfortable. I sat down beside her and put my arm around her.

“I have so much to tell you,” I said.

With a gesture of impatience, she let me know she wanted to save the talk for later. Now she wanted to watch TV. It had been such a long time.

An old black-and-white movie from the 1930s was just beginning. We had seen it before, but it didn’t matter. I was the kind of thing we liked. I took off my shoes, brought my feet up, and nestled my head on her shoulder. The bad times were gone. The good times were back again.

Copyright 2017 by Allen Kopp