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The Euthanasia Clinic

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The Euthanasia Clinic ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The bus let me out at the bottom of a hill. I stood in the silence after the bus roared away and looked at the sign by the side of the road. An arrow on the sign pointed upward.

I began the ascent slowly, taking in the country view around me. It was spring and I couldn’t help noticing how blue the sky was, how vibrant the blues and yellows of the wildflowers. The tree-covered hills extended as far as the eye could see; there were birds everywhere, singing and zigzagging in the sky.

When I got to the place where I was going, I was out of breath and sweating. The young girl at the reception desk asked me if I needed assistance and when I said I didn’t she asked my name. She checked it against a list and then smiled and told me I could move on to admissions, down the hall on the left.

Another woman greeted me in admissions. After I told her my name, she asked me if I had any valuables or money. I gave her my watch and wallet containing two worthless dollars. “You can do whatever you want with them,” I said.

In exchange for my worthless valuables, she gave me a pair of loose-fitting pajamas with a matching robe and told me to go into a little room and put them on, putting all the clothes I was wearing into a basket on the table. When I came out, she led me down the hall and up a couple of flights of stairs, apologizing for the elevator being out of order. She took me through a door marked RECEIVING, told me somebody would be with me shortly, and left.

The room was nearly empty except for a couple of chairs and a low cabinet with a TV on top, tuned to the news from the city. I went to the window and looked out to keep from having to look at the TV, when a thin, tired-looking woman came in wearing a white coat like a doctor and I turned around to face her. The name tag on the white coat said her name was Margaret.

“I want to hear this!” she said, going to the TV and turning up the volume.

The pictures were of rioters turning over cars, hurling bricks through windows, setting fire to anything that would burn. Absolute chaos.

“I just came from there,” I said.

“I’m worried about my son,” she said. “He’s still in the city. I’ve tried calling him but the phones are dead.”

“I’m sure he’s safe,” I said.

“He was going to come here so I could administer the end drugs for him.”

“The buses are still running. He’ll probably be here any minute.”

“Any time someone comes in, I look to see if it’s him.”

“Have faith.”

“If I couldn’t administer the end drugs for him, I wanted to at least give him Father Time.”

“What’s Father Time?”

“The do-it-yourself end pill.”

“Why haven’t I ever heard of it?”

“There are only a few left. People in the city were killing each other for them up until a few days ago.”

“Ironic, isn’t it?” I said. “People killing each other for a pill that will kill them. ‘What fools these mortals be’.”

“The world has been off the rails for a long time now,” she said.

“I think we’re getting what we deserve,” I said.

“We?”

“The human race.”

She began crying. She took a handkerchief out of her pocket and covered her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “That wasn’t a very appropriate thing to say.”

“It’s all right,” she said, trying to smile. “Most of the time I’m resigned until I think about him being all alone in the city and I’m here.”

“Maybe he’s not alone. Maybe he’s with friends.”

“He isn’t able to get around very well. He has an artificial leg.”

“Oh.”

“The last time we spoke he promised he’d come here to me for the end. He’s all I have left now.”

“How old is he?”

“Twenty-one, but I still think of him as a child.”

“What’s his name?”

“Christopher.”

“Bearer of Christ,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s right. His father wanted him to have that name.”

“All my family died in the Final War,” I said. “So you can see I have no reason to want to go on.”

“A lot of other people share that sentiment.”

“Yes, I’ll have lots of company when I get to the other side.”

“I think we’d better get on with it,” she said. “Are we ready to proceed?”

More than ready.”

“I’m going to give you a shot to calm you down.”

“I’m already calm.”

“It’s just procedure. We do it for everybody.”

“Okay.”

“Then, after the shot I’ll take you upstairs and you’ll get into bed and get comfortable. Then I’ll hook you up to the machines and after a few minutes all your troubles will go flying out the window.”

“Will it hurt?”

“Only a feeling of euphoria, I promise.”

“Will I see the face of God?”

“If that’s what you want.”

“What about afterwards?”

“Afterwards?”

“My dead body?”

“You don’t need to worry about that.”

“I’m not worried. Just curious.”

“You’d be surprised at how many people ask that question,” she said. “We’re not supposed to say anything that will make you anxious in your final moments. Professional ethics.”

“The body isn’t important anyway,” I said. “When we die, it’s an empty shell that we cast off. What matters is the soul.”

“Each to his own beliefs,” she said.

“You don’t believe in the soul?”

“It doesn’t matter what I believe,” she said. “I’m here to help you.”

“When I was young, I was afraid of death.”

“You’re still young.”

“Now that I’m faced with it, I feel almost happy.”

“That’s the start of the euphoria.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette on you, would you?” I asked. “Before we get on with it?”

“No smoking in here.”

At that we both had a good laugh. She went to the cabinet and opened one of the drawers and took out a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches and handed them to me.

“If there was ever a time to relax the rules,” I said, “it’s now.”

I lit up and took a big puff and drew the smoke down into my lungs. “I was always afraid of smoking,” I said. “Afraid of what it would do to my body. That seems kind of silly now, doesn’t it?”

“We’re afraid of dying only when we think we never will.”

“It’s been good to talk to you,” I said. “I haven’t had a chance to have a real conversation with anybody for a long time.”

“I’m not much of a conversationalist,” she said. She took my cigarette and took a couple of puffs on it and crushed it out in the trash can. “Are you ready for the shot now?”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “I was just thinking.”

“Time to stop thinking.”

“No, I don’t mean I was thinking about dying. The buses are still running, at least for today. I was thinking I could go back to the city and get your son and bring him back here.”

“Oh, no! I couldn’t ask you to do that.”

“You didn’t ask. I’m volunteering.”

“It’s too risky. I don’t think you’d make it back. I wouldn’t put you through that.”

“If I find him and if we aren’t able to get back out here to the clinic, I can take him a little gift from his mother.”

“Father Time?”

“Yes, and there’ll be one for me, too, I hope.”

“No, it’s too dangerous,” she said. “If people knew you were traveling with Father Time, they’d kill you to get it.”

“Nobody will know.”

“No, I don’t want you to…”

“Look, I’m going to die anyway. If not today, then tomorrow or the next day. I figure it doesn’t make any difference if I die here or in the city. This is my last chance to do a good thing. It might square me in heaven.”

“I wouldn’t want to be responsible for…”

“Then it’s settled?”

“Well…”

“I’ll bring Christopher back here if I can, if the buses are still running, but if I can’t he and I will die together. He won’t die alone.”

She started crying again, uncontrollably this time. Sobbing, she went out of the room and closed the door. She returned a few minutes later bearing a small envelope and my clothes I had put in the basket.

“Get dressed,” she said. “Put the envelope in your pocket. Father Time is in it, one for Christopher and one for you.”

“Got it,” I said.

“Here’s a small picture of him to give you an idea of what he looks like. It was taken when he was eighteen, but he hasn’t changed much since then. On the back I’ve written his address in the city.”

“Seems you’ve thought of everything.”

“Bring him back here if you can, but if you can’t you’ll know what to do. Tell him his mother is here, still alive, and thinking of him at the end.”

“Leave it to me.”

She turned away while I threw off the pajamas and got into my clothes. She gave me the pack of cigarettes and the matches, a bottle of water, and a couple of energy bars.

“Do what you can,” she said, patting me on the upper arm. “I’m not expecting any miracles.”

I went down the stairs and out the building without meeting anyone.

I jounced down the hill in half the time it took to go up. A few clouds had gathered in the sky and the air was cooler now, but the sun was still brightly shining.

I figured it was a waste of time to wait for the bus, which might be along but probably wouldn’t, so I began walking in the direction of the city. I wouldn’t think about how far it was but only about each step as I took it. If I laid down in a ditch along the road and died, I would have at least tried.

The world was beautiful, nature was thriving, and man was in his death throes. God’s million-year experiment with the human race was about to end. Soon the world would be given over entirely to other living creatures, as it had been for tens of millions of years before man came onto the scene. Maybe the human race would continue on other planets—there was all kinds of speculation on that subject—but for now, at least, humans on Earth were finished.

We had been told two days ago that everybody would be dead in a week, but when I got the city, I began to think it was happening sooner than expected. I saw few people and those I saw looked and acted like frightened animals. They were confused, looking for food or a place to hide out. It seemed I had nothing to fear from any of them; they didn’t approach me or even look at me.

The city was almost unrecognizable. Large sections of it had been burned and torn asunder in the rioting. Stores and businesses had been not only looted but ripped apart and burned. Bodies in various stages of decay lay everywhere. Cars had been smashed into each other and set on fire. A noxious stench mixed with thick smoked hung over everything and darkened the sun. It was a scene that I might have imagined out of hell.

I was tired from my long walk and found a place out of the way to sit down and rest. I was surprised I was still able to put one foot in front of the other and move forward. I took some small sips of the water I had and was glad I had it. Food was a distant memory; I hadn’t eaten in so long I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to eat again.

After I felt at least partially rested, I took the picture of Christopher out of my pocket and studied it so I would recognize him if I saw him and then I turned the picture over and memorized the address on the back. From what I remembered of that part of the city, the address was ten or twelve blocks from where I was. It was going to be another long walk and I had no way of knowing if I would ever make it.

I walked for an hour or more and saw no signs of anything I knew. Buildings I had known or at least seen had been burned or lay in ruins. In places the streets were impassable and I found myself climbing over mountains of bricks and debris. I saw an occasional foot or arm sticking out, but I just looked away and went on. The few people I met moved slowly and dream-like; they seemed to pose no threat but if they challenged me I was more than ready to defend myself to the death.

Finally—quite by accident, it seemed—I found the street I was looking for and once I found the street, I found the number easily enough. It was a four-story brick apartment building. Some of the windows had been broken out and the side of the building was caved in as if it had been rammed by a tank, but the building still stood while many others were only piles of rubble.

The door to the building was blown off its hinges so I went inside as if I belonged there, quickly before somebody saw me and tried to stop me. I found my way down a dark, filthy hallway to a flight of stairs and I began going up them to the fourth floor. I found the door with the number I was looking for, amazed that I had made it this far. I knocked loudly and put my ear to the door.

I heard a faint rustle coming from inside and I knew somebody had heard my knock.

“Is anybody there?” I said.

“Go away,” came the voice from inside. “I have a gun and I don’t mind blowing your fucking head off.”

“Christopher?” I said.

“Who is it?”

“My name doesn’t mean anything to you. I just spoke with your mother.”

“My mother’s dead.”

“No, she’s not. I just saw her.”

“You just want to rob and torture me.”

“No, I don’t. Can you open the door? I have something I want to show you.”

He opened the door as far as the chain would allow and I held up the picture of him his mother had given me with his address written on the back.

“Where did you get that?” he asked.

“I just told you. I saw your mother at the clinic where she works.”

“I don’t believe you. It’s a trick.”

“Why would I want to trick you?”

“Why does anybody do anything?” he said.

“Could you open the door all the way and let me come in?”

“Do you have a gun or a knife?”

“No. No weapons of any kind.”

“I don’t mind killing you if I have to,” he said.

“So you said.”

He unfastened the chain and opened the door and I went inside. He was indeed the same person as the one in the picture. He had a crowbar in his hand instead of a gun. As soon as he take one step, I saw how debilitated he was with his artificial leg.

“I walked from the clinic,” I said. “I’ve been walking for hours to try to find you.”

“Why would you want to find me?”

“Your mother was worried about you. She thought you were coming to the clinic so she could give you the end drugs, but you never showed up.”

“Somebody on the street told me the clinic had been raided and everybody killed.”

“That’s not true. I just came from there.”

He insisted I turn out my pockets so he could see what was in them. When he decided I posed no threat, he put down the crowbar and relaxed.

“Are you a friend of my mother’s?”

“I never met her until today.”

“Why would you want to help us?”

“Why does anybody do anything?”

I sat down heavily in the nearest chair without being asked. I wasn’t able to stand on my feet any longer or take another step. He got me a cup of water and I took the envelope out of my pocket and tore it open and held the two of Father Time in my palm and then laid them side by side on the table where he could see them.

“What is that?” he asked.

“The way out of hell,” I said.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

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Yellow Bird

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Yellow Bird ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Lonnie awoke to the smell of cooking food. When he got out of bed and went into the kitchen, mother turned from the stove and smiled at him. She was wearing her red silk dress with the white buttons instead of the usual old chenille bathrobe.

“Sit down and have some bacon and eggs,” she said.

“Why are you so dressed up?” he asked.

“Eat your breakfast while it’s hot.”

While he ate, she sat across from him and drank coffee and smoked her cigarettes.

“What are you going to do today?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Read comics and watch some TV, I guess.”

“Don’t you think you should get outside and get some exercise and fresh air?”

“I might ride my bike to the park.”

“Don’t you have anybody to go with?” she said. “Isn’t it more fun with friends?”

“Sure. Is anything wrong? You’re acting funny.”

“We need to have a little talk.”

“What about?”

“Do you remember my friend Tony? You met him once when we were having lunch downtown.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

She looked down at her hand holding the cigarette. “Well, he and I are going away together this morning. He’s coming by to pick me up.”

“Going away? What do you mean, going away? Where are you going?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Will you be back in time for supper?”

“No.”

“Does father know?”

“I wrote him a letter. He’ll read it when he gets home from work.”

He looked at her searchingly, as if her face might reveal something her voice wasn’t saying.

“So, when will you be back? Next week sometime?”

“I don’t think so, honey.”

“Why not?”

“I think it’s time for father and me to go our separate ways. I’m going to file for divorce so I can marry Tony.”

“Can’t I go with you?”

“Father and I discussed it and we decided it would be better for you to go on living here. Father wants you to stay with him.”

“I’d rather be with you, though.”

“Don’t you want to keep going to the same school you’ve gone to since kindergarten?”

“I don’t care if I go to school or not.”

She laughed and flattened her cigarette out in the ashtray. “You don’t mean that,” she said.

“Yes, I do.”

“Now, I need you to be a good boy and not a difficult boy. This is hard enough as it is.”

“But why can’t I go with you, wherever you’re going?”

“See, that’s the thing. Tony and I are going to be unsettled for a while. I don’t know where I’ll be while I’m waiting for my divorce.”

“Can’t you stay here while you’re waiting for your divorce?”

“It doesn’t work that way, honey. One of us has to leave and it has to be me.”

“Is it something I did?”

“Of course not! I don’t ever want you to think that.”

“Is it something father did?”

“No, it isn’t anything father did, either. It’s grownup stuff. I wouldn’t know how to explain it to you if I could. When you’re older, you’ll understand better.”

“But why Tony?”

“Because I love him and I believe he loves me. He’s the man I should have married in the first place.”

“Then why did you marry father?”

“I was young and I didn’t know him very well.”

“So, is that what grownup people normally do?”

In a little while there was a honk out front. Mother went into the bedroom and came out carrying her suitcase and the jacket that went with the red dress.

“I want you to come out on the porch and see me off,” she said, taking Lonnie by the hand.

Tony had parked his shiny blue car at the curb. When he saw mother and Lonnie come out of the house, he got out of his car and smiled and waved. He was wearing a coat and tie like church. He stood beside the car smiling, looking like a picture in a movie magazine.

Mother let go of Lonnie’s hand on the porch and bent over so that her face was close to his. She didn’t have to bend very far because he was almost as tall as she was.

“Everything will be all right,” she said with what she thought was a reassuring smile. “I just need to get away.”

“But for how long?” he asked. He was about to cry but didn’t want to with Tony looking on.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“When will I see you again?”

“I don’t know that, either. I’ll call you just as soon as we get to where we’re going and we can talk on the phone. I’ll know more then.”

He nodded his head and looked away.

She opened her purse and took out some money and put it in his fist. “Here’s a little mad money,” she said. “Buy yourself something special. Something impractical.”

She laughed for no special reason then and gave Lonnie a kiss on the cheek and held him for a few seconds in a squeeze and when she let go of him she ran to Tony like a schoolgirl.

On any other day, Lonnie would love having the house to himself, but with mother leaving unexpectedly it felt lonely and empty. He tried watching TV but wasn’t used to watching during the daytime and wasn’t interested in any of the shows that were on, so he took mother’s advice and rode his bike to the park.

He saw some people he knew but didn’t speak to them; he didn’t want to have to talk to anybody. He went to the most secluded part of the park near the war memorial and sat under a tree. It was so quiet and breezy that he almost went to sleep and ants started crawling on him, so he got up and went back home.

He hoped mother would somehow be there, having changed her mind and forcing Tony to bring her back, but everything was just as he left it. He ate some leftover fried chicken for lunch and wondered how to spend the rest of the day.

When father came home from work at the usual time, he found the letter from mother on the kitchen table. He unfolded the letter and pulled out a chair and sat down and read it.

“Did she tell you about this?” father asked Lonnie.

“A little,” Lonnie said. He shrugged and opened the refrigerator door to see what they would have for supper.

“Did you see what’s-his-name?”

“You mean Tony? Yeah, I saw him.”

“I have grounds for divorce now,” father said. “She ran off with her lover.”

“She said she’d call.”

“I don’t know what to think about a mother who abandons her only child.”

“It’s all right with me,” Lonnie said, “if it’s what she wants.”

“When she calls, tell her I’m going to see a lawyer to start divorce proceedings.”

“I think that’s what she wants, anyway.”

“I hope she rots in hell.”

In August for his fourteenth birthday, Lonnie received a large bird cage with a yellow parakeet inside, delivered by a white truck that pulled up out in front of the house with a screech of brakes. It was a most unusual and unexpected gift. Mother wrote on the card: Thought you could use a pet. Much love, as always.

He didn’t know how to take care of a parakeet so he walked downtown and bought a book on the subject and a couple of different kinds of birdseed that the woman in the store said any bird would like. If he won’t eat none of it, the woman said, bring it back and we’ll try something else.

In the attic was an old birdcage stand with a hook. Lonnie had seen it before but never knew what it was for. He was surprised somebody hadn’t thrown it out long ago, but he was glad now they didn’t. Everything eventually has its purpose if you wait long enough.

He named the bird Toppy. It didn’t mean anything; it just seemed like a good name for a bird. Toppy hopped around inside his cage, sang little musical trills, drank water, ate birdseed and pooped aplenty. He seemed happy enough.

Lonnie hoped every day that mother would come home, but he knew it was an unrealistic hope. In the real world, mothers didn’t return home after running off with another man. It didn’t even happen in the movies.

Everybody thought father would get married again after the divorce, but he liked being single, he said. When marriage-minded ladies called to invite him over for a home-cooked Sunday dinner, he told Lonnie to tell them he was in Moscow or in the hospital for a lung operation.

He got an old woman, a Mrs. Farinelli, to come in two or three days a week and clean the bathroom and the kitchen, wash the clothes, shop, and usually cook a little food. She had a son on death row in prison and another son who was a priest. He paid her money in cash so she wouldn’t have to pay income tax on it. She was neat and quiet and never complained.

Mother called Lonnie a couple of different times when she knew father was still at work. When Lonnie asked where she was, she said they were still moving around, still unsettled. She sounded distant, preoccupied, not the mother he remembered. He believed at last that she didn’t care for him and was trying to phase him out of her life because she had a whole new life now.

Summer ended and Lonnie started ninth grade. He mostly didn’t like school—he never had from the very beginning—but he knew he had to make decent grades and get through to the end; there was no other choice anymore. Only dopes and losers quit high school.

A couple of times, on his way to and from school, he thought he saw mother in passing cars, but he knew later it couldn’t have been her. She would have at least waved to him.

On Christmas and birthdays, he always received cards from her with money in them. He couldn’t send a card to her in return because he didn’t have her address, but he knew that’s the way she wanted it.

As the months and years went by, he stopped thinking so much about her. He stopped thinking long ago that she would return and father would forgive her and everything would be just as it was.

Lonnie and father never had much to say to each other. They had occasional arguments and disagreements but for the most part they stayed out of each other’s way and got along as well as any father and son living alone in a house had a right to.

Toppy lived inside his cage and thrived and seemed happy. Lonnie sometimes felt sorry for him because he lived in such a small space and didn’t have the company of other birds. He thought about opening the window and letting him fly away, but he knew the world would be too much for Toppy and he wouldn’t survive on his own for very long.

Lonnie came to the end of high school and was glad for that that phase of his life to be over. Father dressed up in his one blue suit and came to the graduation ceremony by himself and sat toward the back of the auditorium surrounded by strangers. Lonnie thought several times about mother and wished she could be there to see him get his diploma.

He didn’t care to go on to college, at least not right away; he had had enough of school for a while. He thought vaguely that one day he would get married and have children of his own, but he was in no hurry and didn’t much care one way or another. He didn’t like the idea of having a marriage that would one day end in divorce.

A few weeks after graduation, he got a job in a hardware and paint store. He didn’t like it very much, but he got used to it and after a year or so he got a promotion and a raise in pay. He moved into sales and found it more to his liking than working at a counter and answering questions from customers.

As for mother, Lonnie didn’t hear from her again after the card he received on his nineteenth birthday. He didn’t know where she lived or if she was alive or dead. The best thing he could do, he told himself, was to stop thinking and wondering about her.

The years went by and Lonnie found himself at age twenty-one. He still lived with father in the house he grew up in. He went to work every day, as did father, and the two of them went their separate ways and lived their separate lives.

On a Friday morning in October father collapsed soon after arriving at work. He was rushed to the hospital, where he died two hours later. He had an enlarged heart and had smoked cigarettes, a lot of them, since he was thirteen. He was forty-seven.

The funeral was well-attended, despite a steady downpour. Relations of father’s that Lonnie had never seen before came from out of town, with stories of father when he was a child. The company father worked for sent an impressive arrangement of flowers. Father’s boss and a couple of his coworkers came and introduced themselves to Lonnie, slapped him on the shoulder, expressed their condolences, and told him what a great guy father was.

At the gravesite the rain kept up. Lonnie wore a raincoat and an old man’s hat he found in the closet and used a borrowed umbrella to keep himself dry. The minister droned a few words and the casket began its slow descent into the earth, indicating that the service was concluded it was time for everybody to go home.

As the crowd was dispersing and Lonnie was about to make his getaway, a woman emerged from the crowd and approached him. She was wearing a long coat, dark glasses, and a scarf wound around her head like a refugee. It wasn’t until she came toward him, stopped and smiled that he knew it was mother.

“You’re all grown up now,” she said.

He looked at her, feeling almost nothing. He brought the umbrella down in front of his face to keep her from looking at him, sidestepped, and sprinted for his car as fast as he could before she had a chance to come after him.

At home, he felt a tremendous sense of relief now that the funeral was over and all those people had gone away. He was truly alone now, for the first time in his life, and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with himself. The house was his now and there would be some insurance money after the funeral expenses were paid. He was a family of one, a free agent. He might never return to his job at the paint and wallpaper store.

He went into his bedroom and closed the door and took Toppy out his cage and lay on his back on the bed, holding the bird on his chest. Toppy tried his wings a couple of times as if confused at being out of the cage and then settled down and nestled on Lonnie’s sternum contentedly. His little eyes blinked and he looked with what seemed like comprehension right into the eyes of the only human person he had ever known.

“Don’t ever leave me,” Lonnie said. “Please don’t ever leave me.”

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Sleep Now, Child

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Sleep Now, Child ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(I posted a different version of this short story earlier with a different title.)

Ottilie Oglesby, upon awaking and finding herself in an unfamiliar place, took a deep, choking breath as she sat up and looked around in alarm. She began to panic but then calmed herself with the knowledge that there had to be a perfectly logical explanation for where she was and what she was doing there, and in just a moment everything would become clear. A little shakily, she called out Hello! Hello! When nobody answered, she said it again, a little louder this time.

An old woman appeared, as if she had vaporized out of the wall. Ottilie had never seen the woman before, but it didn’t matter because she was happy to see that, at the very least, somebody else was there besides her. Astonishingly, the old woman had a glow emanating from inside her, in the area of her lower chest and upper abdomen. Ottilie stared at it, unable to take her eyes off it.

“What in the world?” she said. “You’re glowing! I’ve never seen a person glow before.”

“You’re glowing, too,” the old woman said.

Ottilie looked down and, indeed, she glowed from inside her own chest as if she had a small light inside her body and she was made of some transparent material.

“What is this?” she said. “Where am I?”

“Do you know what year it is?” the old woman asked.

“It’s 1912, I think.”

“For you it will always be 1912.”

“What do you mean?”

“Time has stopped for you. There is no more time.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You must at least have given some thought in your life to what happens to us after we die.”

“Die? Do you mean…” She was unable to finish the sentence.

“It’s always a shock, especially for the young who had no thought of dying.”

“But I can’t be dead,” Ottilie said. “I have things to do. I promised mother I’d clean out my closet. I have to go to school. I have to take care of my cats. I have a Sunday school picnic on Saturday.”

“The picnic will go on without you. That’s what happens when we die.”

“I don’t believe you. I think I’m just having a bad dream. In a little while I’ll wake up and everything will be fine.”

“No, my dear. This may be a dream, but it’s not the kind of dream you’re used to or one you wake up from.”

“Who are you, anyway?”

“I’m your father’s grandmama. That makes me your great-grandmama.”

“I thought you looked a little familiar. I’ve seen pictures of you.”

“I died long before you were born.”

“What happened to you? How did you die?”

“I have no recollection of my death and it doesn’t matter anyway. I believe I died peacefully in my own bed.”

“Did I die peacefully in my own bed?” Ottilie asked.

“No, you didn’t, but it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you’re here now.”

“I’ve got to go home now. My mother and father will be worried about me. They’ll think I was kidnapped and sold into slavery.”

“They know where you are. They know what happened.”

“How do they know?”

“They were there when it happened.”

“When what happened?”

“When you died.”

How did I die?”

“You were run over by a pie wagon in Philadelphia. How should I know? It doesn’t matter how you died. The only thing that matters is that you died and you’re here now.”

“Can you tell me how to get out of here and go home?”

“Even if I could tell you, you wouldn’t want to do it because you’re here now and here is where you belong.”

Ottilie looked around her at the confining walls that she could see only because of the glow inside her chest, and she began to cry. “Do you mean I can’t go home. Ever? I have to stay here now? Always?”

“You’ll get used to it as all the others have.”

“What others? Just what is this place, anyway? Is it heaven?”

“It might be. We don’t know for sure. It might be the only thing we’ll ever know of heaven.”

“I’m awfully confused,” Ottilie said.

“I’ll bet your father used to take you and your brother and your mother for Sunday drives, didn’t he?”

“He was the first one on our street to own an automobile and he always wanted to show it off for the neighbors.”

“Did he ever take you to the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost outside the city limits and show you the family vault?”

“The family vault? Yes, I remembering seeing it. I thought it was scary and forbidding. It had a big heavy door that wouldn’t open.”

“That’s where you are now.”

“What? Are you sure?”

“It’s where all the deceased members of our family go. First all the others and now you.”

Ottilie began crying again. “Can’t I go back home, just for a little while? I want to see my cats and make sure they’re all right.”

“Your brother is taking care of them now.”

“I didn’t get a chance to tell everybody goodbye.”

“Everybody you knew came to bid you a fond farewell. You weren’t aware of it at the time.”

Ottilie cried some more, even louder than before. “I find my own death very heartbreaking, indeed,” she sobbed.

“Sleep now, child. You’ll meet the others later.”

There was a lapse then, a cessation, as of a heavy velvet curtain being drawn. When this nothingness ended (and who knows how long it lasted because in this place there is no time?) great-grandmama was leading Ottilie by the hand to meet the rest of the family.

She felt shy when brought before a gallery of strangers. She was not at all surprised, however, to see that they all carried the mysterious and arresting glow inside them, the same glow that great-grandmama had and now she herself had.

Cousins Parry and Lomax, twins, were ten at the time they entered the spirit world, having gone over a roaring waterfall in a rowboat on a flawless June day. They looked at Ottilie with wide-eyed wonder; each of them gave her a quick, unsmiling bow from the waist and then they were gone.

Great-grandpapa was tall and broad, wearing a dress suit, sporting the elaborate mustache and side whiskers for which he was known. He was the millionaire of the family. He financed the family crypt and selected the spot in the capacious cemetery where it would be built. He was not the first member of the family to be interred in the crypt, however. That honor fell to grandmama.

When confronted with Ottilie, great-grandpapa put his pince-nez to his eye and looked at her as though seeing a bug or an interesting specimen.

“How are you, my dear?” he asked.

“I’m dead, thank you, sir,” she said. “How are you?”

Uncle Evan, great-grandpapa’s son, was handsome in military uniform. He was only twenty-five when he came to the spirit world during the Spanish-American War. He carried himself a little stiffly because he had been shot in the neck and his wound still bothered him. He shook Ottilie’s hand politely, gave her a grim smile, and receded into the background as his military training dictated.

Aunt Katherine was a sad-faced woman carrying her baby. The baby was Augustus, in the spirit world forty years before aunt Katherine. Since being reunited, aunt Katherine and Augustus were inseparable; she wouldn’t let him out of her sight and wouldn’t let anybody else tend to him. She carried him with her night and day, wherever she went, vowing they would never be separated again, since they were now both on the same side of the Great Divide.

A formidable woman was aunt Zel, great-grandpapa’s sister. She had an elaborate coiffure piled high on her head and a stunning array of jewelry on her neck, fingers, ears and wrists. By her side always was her diminutive husband, Little Louie. He weighed a hundred and twenty pounds when he was alive and was eight inches shorter than aunt Zel. He had only his right arm, having lost the left one at the age of eight from the bite of a skunk.

“So happy to make your acquaintance, my dear,” aunt Zel said to Ottilie. “I’d like to kiss ya, but I just washed my hair.”

Little Louie, in aunt Zel’s wake, shook Ottilie’s fingers and gave her an aggrieved smile.

Uncle Jordan wore a dress suit with a diamond stickpin and silk cravat. He kissed Ottilie on each cheek and then he was gone as if he had a pressing engagement elsewhere. The truth was that he avoided being around the other family members for long because none of them approved of him. In life, he had enjoyed himself a little too much, spent money freely that didn’t belong to him and died, deeply in debt, in young middle age of alcoholism.

Cousin Phillip’s appendix burst when he was thirty-two. Immediately after he entered the spirit world, his young wife, Odette, married a man she hardly knew by the name of Milt Clausen. Odette was not in the family crypt and never would be; she could rot on a garbage heap for all cousin Phillip cared. He had renounced all women for all eternity, bitter that his lovely young Odette had not honored his memory by staying a widow.

“If you were a boy instead of a girl, I’d advise you to never get married,” cousin Phillip said to Ottilie.

“I don’t think it would make much difference now, anyway,” Ottilie said.

Cousin Gilbert was sixteen when he entered the spirit world as a result of a crushed larynx sustained in an impromptu game of tackle football with some of his friends. Ottilie immediately saw cousin Gilbert as a kindred spirit. The glow in his chest was a little brighter than anybody else’s and, indeed, extended upwards to his neck, face and head. His smile was infectious and he seemed all the time to be about to burst into laughter. When he touched Ottilie’s hand, she felt a connection she hadn’t felt with any of the others.

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

She shook her head and looked down, not knowing what to say.

“It was the same for me when I first came here,” he said. “I didn’t know why God would have me die so young. We learn not to ask why but just to accept things as they are.”

“I don’t like it here and I want to go home,” she said with tears starting again, but she wasn’t sure if cousin Gilbert heard her.

Before moving on, he leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I can show you around if you like. There’s a lot more than just this.” He held out his arms to take in the whole family crypt.

“If you find you have the time,” she managed to say, “I think that would be lovely.”

There were others after cousin Gilbert, but the truth was they blended together into a blur and Odette wasn’t able to remember them all.

When next she saw cousin Gilbert, he showed her, much to her delight, that she could leave the family crypt at will (hers and not somebody else’s). All she had to do was press her body against the outer wall. Since the wall was solid and she was not, she could pass through it. He tried to explain the laws of physics involved, but she didn’t understand what he was talking about.

The cemetery was much larger than Ottilie imagined. Gilbert took her to visit some of his spirit friends: a tall, handsome policeman with a handlebar mustache who loved to tell stories about the bravery involved with apprehending desperate criminals; a Civil War soldier who shook hands with Abraham Lincoln and spent ten minutes engaged in conversation with him; a victim of the Johnstown Flood (“the water came roaring down the mountain and swept away everything in its path”); a governor of the state who once ran for president but fell short; a group of twenty girls who died in an orphanage fire (all buried in the same grave); a twelve-year-old boy named Jesse who stood just outside his massive vault until another spirit came along and engaged him in conversation.

“He loves to have somebody to talk to,” cousin Gilbert explained.

On one of their forays outside the crypt, they came upon a funeral on a hillside that resembled, with all the attendees dressed in black, an aggregation of crows.

“This is the fun part,” Gilbert said.

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

“They sense I’m there but when they turn around they’re not so sure.”

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

“I, for one, love being a ghost!” he said.

“Can I fly, too?” Ottilie asked.

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

“Can I try it?” Ottilie asked.

“You can do anything you want, now,” he said.

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

“Maybe there are some good things about being a spirit,” Ottilie said.

“Of course there are!”

“No more head colds, sore throats or stomach cramps. No more trips to the doctor or dentist. No more nightmares or math quizzes. No more being made to play badminton with my little cousins. No more boring church sermons that make everybody cranky, and no more liver and onions for dinner ever again!”

Cousin Gilbert laughed, but then Ottilie started thinking about all the good things she had left behind, such as her cats and her beautiful room at home and her mother and father and brother and all her friends, and she started to cry.

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

Ottilie began venturing outside the family crypt often, either with cousin Gilbert or on her own. And then, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in October, she was very lucky and saw them.

She recognized father’s automobile and then she saw who was riding inside: father, mother and her brother Boyd. She floated after the car—it wasn’t going very fast—and attached herself to the back of it as it turned out of the cemetery and headed toward home.

She held on easily enough until father pulled into the driveway of the old house. She was happy to see that everything looked exactly the same. The first thing she did was to go around back and check on her kittens. They were all there and seemed healthy and happy, but they were now adult cats. She cried when they meowed and purred and recognized her and begged to be picked up.

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

While mother, father and Boyd were having dinner in the dining room, Ottilie walked around the table, stopping and putting her hands on the back of each chair, experiencing the odd sensation of being in the same room with those closest to her in life and their not knowing it.

It felt good to be home, but she knew things could never be the same again. She could only observe life going on around her and not be a part of it. But still, wasn’t it better than nothing?

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

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

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

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

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

Ottilie couldn’t stay in a house that was no longer hers, even if she was just a spirit, so she went back to the family crypt and was glad for it. Great-grandmama was right, that the family crypt was where she belonged, but Ottilie had to find it out for herself.

Cousin Gilbert and great-grandmama and the others didn’t realize Ottilie had been gone, although in the world of the living it would have been decades.

There were additions to the family crypt, of course, in all the time that was no time. Great-grandmama had a surprise for Ottilie. Mother and father were there with their own glows, which meant they were now all on the same side of the Great Divide between Life and Death, and there would be no more leave-taking for any of them.

After the joyous reunion with mother and father, Ottilie learned another surprise awaited her. All the cats she ever had in her life were only as far away as the length of her arm. She might pet and play with them and snuggle them any time the spirit moved her. Now she really was in heaven, she believed, and she could settle down to a life of eternity. Maybe one day they would all move on to a place that looked more like heaven, with floating clouds, celestial music and occasional glimpses of the saints, but for now they would just have to do with what they had.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Every Word on Every Page

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Every Word on Every Page ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

His name was Mr. Crimm. He was a man in his fifties with the bulk of a gorilla. There was something about him not quite savory; he was missing a finger on his right hand and he had bristly hairs growing out of his nostrils. He looked more like an auto mechanic than a book dealer. He knocked savagely on the door. Mrs. Fairleigh went to let him in, disliking him at once.

“You got some books?” he said, baring his yellow monkey teeth.

“You’re the book expert?” she asked.

“That’s what they tell me,” he said. “You called for somebody to come and take a look at some books?”

She opened the door for him. She took two steps ahead of him and then stopped and turned to look at him. “My late husband was the book collector. He loved books, mostly novels and books on history. The Renaissance and Magellan and that sort of thing.”

“Uh-huh,” Mr. Crimm said, obviously not impressed.

“I don’t know much about them myself. The books, I mean.”

“Are you going to show me the books,” Mr. Crimm said, “or are we going to stand here all day and gab?”

She took him up the stairs, along the hallway to the last door on the left. She opened the door and stepped inside, Mr. Crimm following her.

“This is a bedroom, but all it has in it now is books,” Mrs. Fairleigh said.

Shelves from floor to ceiling were loaded with all manner of books, old books and newer books, every shape, size and color. Where the shelves were overflowing, books on their sides were laying on books standing upright. Books were stacked on the floor in front of the shelves, in corners and in every available space. Cardboard and wooden boxes full of books allowed only a narrow path through the room.

Mr. Crimm made a sound in his throat of disapproval, as if about to discharge a ball of phlegm.

“They’re not very well organized, I’m afraid,” Mrs. Fairleigh said. “Ever since my husband died, I thought I’d go through them and organize them in some way but I never seemed to find the time.”

Mr. Crimm selected a book at random from the shelf, opened it and turned a few pages. Putting the book back, he did the same thing with another one.

“Not worth much,” he said.

“What?”

“I said nobody wants books like these. They’re not worth anything.”

“You’ve hardly even looked at them.”

“I’ve been in business for a long time. I know what people want and what they don’t want.”

“It seems you’d look at each book individually and establish a price for each one.”

“I ain’t got time for that. That’s not the way I do business.”

“Well, I’m sorry to have wasted your time, but I don’t think…”

“I give you two hundred dollars for the lot.”

“What?”

“I said I give you two hundred dollars for every book in this room. That’s very generous. I might even buy the shelves if the price is right.”

“They’re worth a lot more than that, I’m sure!” Mrs. Fairleigh said.

“You just said you don’t know nothing about no books,” Mr. Crimm said. “Believe me, this is a lot of junk and it’s not worth anything. A thing is only worth as much as somebody is willing to pay for it. This is a lot of crap, I can tell, and I’m offering you two hundred dollars to take the whole mess off your hands this very day.”

“No, I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to call somebody else.”

Mr. Crimm gave an exasperated sigh and leaned his monkey-like paw against the door frame. “You can call any book seller in the city and they’ll all say the same thing. Do you want me to give you a little time to think about it? That’s what people always say.”

“No, I’ve already made up my mind. I’m not going to sell to you.”

“Do you mean to say you got me all the way out here for nothing?” Mr. Crimm asked.

“I’ll give you fifty dollars for your time and effort and that’s the best I can do.”

Mr. Crimm looked at her as if she was a very difficult case. “I give you two hundred fifty dollars,” he said. “That’s the best offer you’ll get anywhere.”

“No, that’s not enough for this many books. There are thousands of books in this room. I’m sure they’re worth more than that.”

“You won’t do no better, believe me.”

“I’m sorry your time had been wasted. I’ll write you a check for fifty dollars and we’ll call it even.”

“Three hundred! That is my last and final offer!”

“No! Don’t you understand English? I’m not going to sell to you!”

“That’s no way to treat a businessman, you know!” Mr. Crimm said. “You get me all the way out here in good faith and then you back out of the deal? I don’t think I’m going to let you treat me in this way! There’s such a thing as ethics in business, you know! Don’t you have no ethics?”

“I’m not going to stand here and argue with you!” Mrs. Fairleigh said. “I want you out of my house this very minute!”

“I think we can work something out.”

“There’s nothing to work out!”

“You have a very bad attitude, you know that?” Mr. Crimm said. “You can’t treat people like dirt and expect them to take it lying down!”

“Is there any way I can make it any clearer? I want you out of my house! Right now!”

“I’m not leaving until we’ve concluded the transaction.”

“The transaction is concluded!”

“I’ll make it four hundred dollars but only if you throw in the shelves. That is a very generous offer and I know I’ll never make a cent of it back.”

“That’s not enough for this many books. Some of these books might be worth four hundred dollars on their own!”

“My driver is outside in the truck. His name is Paolo. I’ll get him to come in and help me and we’ll have this room emptied out in no time at all.”

“I don’t believe you’re an expert on books, at all,” Mrs. Fairleigh said. “I think you’re a junk dealer.”

“You don’t have to insult me on top of everything else!” Mr. Crimm said.

“A person who knows books would take the time to look at each book separately and assess its value. I’m sure some of these books are rare. Some of them alone may be worth thousands of dollars!”

“I’ve already told you what they’re worth, and they ain’t worth diddly squat!”

“You think I’m only a stupid woman. You’re trying to cheat me, but I’m not going to let you do it! I knew the second I saw you that you didn’t know a thing about books.”

“I know as much as anybody else and I know these books ain’t worth shit!”

“Well, they’re my books and I’m going to keep them!”

Mr. Crimm was no longer listening. He had been writing out a check. He tore it from his book and handed it to her.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“It’s your check for four hundred dollars for the books! Did you think I wouldn’t pay you what I said?”

She looked at the check and tried to give it back. “I don’t want it!” she said.

When he wouldn’t take the check from her, she tore it up in little pieces and threw them in his face.

“I see you are a very unstable woman,” he said.

“Get out of my house now or I’ll call the police!”

Ignoring her, Mr. Crimm called his driver, Paolo, on his two-way radio and instructed him to come inside. Paolo was no more than a boy, but in less than two minutes he and Mr. Crimm were hefting boxes over their shoulders, carrying them down the stairs and out the door.

“I’d advise you to stop with that right now!” Mrs. Fairleigh said, but she knew they were ignoring her. She had no other choice but to stand by and watch them.

She was going to call the police but she believed she needed more immediate help than they could offer. She went to her bedroom and got her husband’s loaded gun out of the dresser drawer. Holding the gun to her side, she went outside.

Mr. Crimm was loading boxes into the dark interior of the nearly empty truck and didn’t see Mrs. Fairleigh standing at the curb looking in at him. Paolo was still inside the house.

“Unload those boxes from your truck and set them here on the sidewalk!” Mrs. Fairleigh commanded.

Mr. Crimm was pointedly ignoring her. His face was inscrutable. “I’ll mail you a check for four hundred dollars,” he said, “since you tore the other one up.”

She pointed the gun at him. He didn’t bother to look at her until he heard the gun cock.

He laughed. “You going to shoot me?” he said.

“You think I won’t?”

“You going to shoot me over a load of old books?”

“No, I’m going to shoot you because you’re robbing me.”

“Put the gun down and stop acting like a child,” he said.

She fired the gun one time above his head. The bullet hit the far wall of the truck and made a hole clean through to the outside.

Mr. Crimm threw his arms up in surprise. “You shoot me, you crazy bitch!” he said. “What’s the matter with you? Are you insane?”

“No, I wasn’t trying to shoot you that time, but next time I will.”

“Wait just a minute!” he said. “You don’t have to shoot again! We’ll talk about this thing!”

“There’s nothing to talk about. Unload those boxes and set them here on the sidewalk and then get into your truck and drive away and forget you were ever here.”

“You crazy woman!” he said.

“Unload the boxes! Now!”

“All right! All right! It just ain’t worth it!”

He set the boxes on the sidewalk as he was told and when he was finished he stood looking at Mrs. Fairleigh as he rubbed his hands together. “You going to shoot me now?” he asked.

“Get back up in the truck!” she said.

“What?”

“I said get back up into the truck!”

“Why?”

“You’ll see why.”

He did as he was told. About halfway to the back of the truck, he turned and looked down at her. He put his hands on his hips and smiled. If he had been afraid of her before, his fear had passed.

“I don’t like you,” she said. “I didn’t like you from the moment you first knocked on my door.”

“Let’s just say it’s mutual,” Mr. Crimm said.

She shot him in the thigh of his right leg. He grabbed the leg, looked at her in surprise, screamed and fell back, cursing her in a language she didn’t recognize. Still holding the gun in her right hand, she slammed the doors of the truck, effectively shutting Mr. Crimm off from the light and air and out of her life.

Paolo came out of the house carrying a carton of books under each arm. When she saw him, she smiled.

“I don’t know if you understand English,” she said, “because I haven’t heard you speak a syllable, but I want you to listen very carefully to what I’m about to say.”

He smiled, nodding to show he understood. He set the cartons down alongside the others on the sidewalk, took a cigarette from behind his ear and lit it.

“I don’t know what relation this man is to you,” Mrs. Fairleigh said, “but I hope for your sake he isn’t somebody important to you because I just shot him in the leg. You probably heard the gun fire. Take him to the nearest hospital. Tell them a stray bullet hit him in a violent neighborhood you were passing through. You didn’t see exactly where the bullet came from. If you don’t follow these instructions to the letter, I have another bullet for you, with your name on it, and I have to tell you I’m not a very good shot. If I aim for your leg, I might hit something more vital.”

Paolo shrugged and smiled again and tossed his cigarette into the street. He climbed into the driver’s seat and slammed the door. He started the truck, grinding the gears and, pulling away from the curb, rattled away down the block and disappeared from view.

While Mrs. Fairleigh was still standing on the sidewalk, her next-door neighbor Mrs. Bushmiller came out and stood beside her. She had a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth and her hair was pinned up in bobby pins, making her appear to be wearing a tight-fitting brown cap.

“What was that noise?” Mrs. Bushmiller asked.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Mrs. Fairleigh said.

“It sounded like a car backfiring.”

“That’s probably what it was, then, dear.”

“Why are these cartons sitting here on the curb?”

“They’re some books I had delivered. I need help carrying them in the house and up the stairs.”

“Don’t worry,” Mrs. Bushmiller said. “I’ll get my sixteen-year-old son, Trippy, to help you. All he does is lay around the house anyway.”

“I’d be glad to pay him.”

“You won’t pay him a cent. What are neighbors for?”

Mrs. Fairleigh stood and waited while Mrs. Bushmiller went to get Trippy. In no more than a minute, he came running out of the house, eager to help a neighbor lady with a lifting job. How kind people are, Mrs. Fairleigh thought, as Trippy leaned over to get a good grip on the first box and she stared intently at the elastic of his underwear.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Outer Dark ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Outer Dark ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The two main characters in Cormac McCarthy’s novel Outer Dark, brother and sister Culla and Rinthy Holme, are victims of poverty and ignorance. (She has no shoes, while he wears stolen boots.) Rinthy is nineteen. Culla is some older. Rinthy has a baby and Culla is the father. Apparently because he is ashamed of impregnating his own sister, Culla takes the nameless baby, a boy, and leaves him alone in the woods to die. The baby is picked up by a ragtag, itinerant tinker who travels around with his cart. Where the tinker takes the baby or for what reason is never made quite clear, but it can’t be for any good or because he is concerned for the baby’s welfare.

Rinthy and Culla undertake separate journeys, Rinthy to find the baby (her “chap”) and Culla to find Rinthy, or maybe he’s just looking for work. Wherever Rinthy goes in her quest to find her baby, she is mostly met with kindness, with people who feed and shelter her. With Culla it is just the opposite. Death and disaster follow in his wake. The people he encounters are menacing and more than once threaten him in some way. (Does the trio of despicable desperadoes who seem to be trailing him really exist, or have they been called forth by his sin?) Even nature is unforgiving for Culla. When he is crossing a ferry on a river, the cable holding the ferry in place inexplicably breaks and Culla nearly drowns. He survives, but would have possibly been better off to have drowned, considering what happens to him afterwards.

Can we say, then, that Rinthy is a child of light and Culla a child of darkness because of his sin of engaging in incestuous relations with his sister and then trying to destroy the evidence of the relationship? His biggest sin, however, is possibly his lack of awareness of his sin and his failure to seek redemption. (At the end of the book, Rinthy finds herself in a glade and Culla in a swamp.)

Cormac McCarthy, now 85 years old, is one of America’s greatest living writers, the only writer we have comparable to William Faulkner. Outer Dark is a fascinating exploration of sin and retribution (or the absence of retribution). I’ve read it twice, years apart, and found it compelling both times. It’s an example of how good contemporary American literature can be in the hands of an undisputed master.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

November Night

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November Night ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The Saturday after Thanksgiving was a cold night but people were out celebrating anyway. America was one year into the war. Soldiers were on furlough, showing off their uniforms, flirting and dancing with the girls. Cars lined the streets. People called to each other and waved. Everybody was happy and hopeful. Who would ever think the evening would turn out the way it did?

Inside the club, the tables were close together without much elbow room but nobody seemed to mind. A girl in a white evening gown with a big lipsticked smile and a camera passed among the tables and booths offering to take pictures. Only one dollar, please, payable in advance. Oh, well. What’s a dollar? You only live once.

At Lorraine’s behest, Gerald ordered a bottle of champagne. The waiter brought it to the table in a bucket of ice, just like in the movies. He opened the bottle and filled the glasses, but when he started to pour Linda’s glass she smiled and shook her head. “I’m underage,” she said.

“Are you sure?” the waiter asked.

“Last time I checked!” she said.

The picture girl stopped at the table and was going to take a picture of all three of them but Lorraine stopped her. “Just the two of us!” she said, moving closer to Gerald and gripping his arm and smiling her brightest smile.

Gerald paid the dollar and wrote down his address so the picture could be mailed to him.

“This is so much fun!” Lorraine gushed. “I’ve always wanted to come here!”

Gerald smiled at Linda. “I hope you don’t mind the Coke,” he said.

“Oh, no! It’s perfectly all right.”

“There’ll be plenty of time for champagne later, when you’re older.”

“Sure.”

Gerald and Lorraine stood up and went out to the dance floor. The orchestra finished Moonglow and melded deftly into Imagination. Linda knew that Lorraine, as always, was enjoying having people look at her. Her dress was expensive and lovely, a diaphanous, pale yellow, the perfect complement to her auburn hair and peaches-and-cream complexion. She might have been a movie star a long way from Hollywood.

Linda herself hated the black dress she was wearing. It was the best she owned, but it made her body look lumpy, like an old lady on her way to church. It was the kind of dress that Lorraine would never be seen dead in.

She tugged at her front and smoothed her lank brown hair on both sides of her head. She believed that people were looking at her as she sat there all alone, but the truth was that everybody around her was having a good time and nobody even noticed her. She let out her breath in a long exhalation and relaxed the clenched muscles in her abdomen and legs.

The number ended and Gerald and Lorraine came back to the table, but before she sat down again Lorraine made Gerald admire her ankle bracelet with her name engraved on it, for the third time already that night. Gerald had given it to her as a gift on Thanksgiving night and she couldn’t stop admiring it. “Oh, it’s just the sweetest little thing I’ve ever seen!” she gushed.

Gerald looked tired and pale. He was uncomfortable in crowds and didn’t like dancing, but he was a good sport usually willing to go along with whatever Lorraine wanted. He offered to dance with Linda, but she declined. “I’m afraid I’m a horror on the dance floor,” she said.

The waiter brought another Coke for Linda and it was time to order dinner. Lorraine wanted roast beef and Gerald a steak and Linda fried chicken. When the waiter went away with the order, Lorraine regarded Linda across the table.

“Thank goodness one of us inherited mother’s fashion sense,” she said. “That dress is unbelievably dowdy.”

“I know,” Linda said. “I hate it.”

“Then why did you wear it?”

“It’s the only thing I have that’s appropriate for a place like this.”

“I think she looks very nice,” Gerald said.

“You think everybody looks nice and, compared to you, they do.”

“I’m wearing a new suit.”

“Yes, and it looks just exactly like your old one. It looks like something your father would wear.”

“Most of the men not in uniform are wearing dark suits,” Linda said.

“People are probably looking at Gerald and wondering why he’s not in uniform.”

“You can’t say I didn’t try,” Gerald said.

“Oh, yes, it was a tiny heart murmur, wasn’t it, dear, that kept you out of the service?”

“You know it was.”

“Did you pay the doctor to say you had a heart murmur so you wouldn’t have to go off to the bad old army and leave your poor little Lorraine behind?”

“Yeah, that’s it. You guessed my little secret.”

“I would so have liked to have gone stepping out on the arm of dashing war hero.”

“Why don’t you see if Robert Taylor is available?”

“I would marry Robert Taylor in an instant. All he has to do is ask me.”

“I think he’s already married to Barbara Stanwyck,” Linda said.

“Well, we’ll just have to get rid of little Barbara then, won’t we?”

“You’re forgetting one thing,” Gerald said.

“What’s that?”

“You’re married to me.”

“Oh, yeah. I’m inclined to forget.”

Gerald lit a cigarette and blew smoke toward Lorraine, knowing how much she hated it.

“Put that cigarette out and let’s dance again,” she said.

“I don’t want to dance again just yet. My feet hurt.”

“Must you always be an old fuddy-duddy?”

Seeing that Gerald and Lorraine were about to engage in more bickering, Linda sought to change the subject by saying, “This is my first time ever in a night club. Isn’t it exciting?”

“The first of many for you, I hope,” Gerald said, lifting his glass and taking a big gulp of the champagne.

“Don’t drink too much of that stuff, dear,” Lorraine said. “You have to get us home safely, you know.”

“Aye, aye, captain, sir!”

The waiter brought the dinner and they began eating. The fried chicken was the best Linda had ever tasted. Lorraine picked around the corners of her plate and didn’t seem at all interested in food.

“I’d hoped we could have a little talk tonight,” Lorraine said to Linda. “Just the two of us.”

“What about?”

“It’s about money, I’m afraid, that most hated of topics. Now that mother’s dead and I’m paying all the bills, I’m trying to plan ahead for the future and I see there isn’t as much money as I thought there was. I’m afraid we’re going to have to economize.”

“Can’t you wait for a more appropriate time to talk about this?” Gerald asked.

“I wasn’t addressing you, Gerald!” Lorraine said.

“Economize in what way?” Linda asked.

“Well, you’re not going to like this, but we’re going to have to sell mother’s house.”

“But why? It’s my home. It’s where I’ve always lived.”

“I’ve already told you why. It’s too expensive to maintain with just you living in it. I mean, really, how many high school girls do you know who have a big nine-room house all to themselves.”

“Mother said right before she died that she wanted me to be able to go on living in the house through the end of high school and for as long as I wanted.”

“I know, dear, but, as you know, mother was never very practical.”

“We don’t have to talk about it now,” Gerald said. “We’ll work something out.”

“As I’ve already said, Gerald, none of this concerns you!” Lorraine said.

“But if we sell the house,” Linda said, “where am I going to live?”

“You’re can move in with Gerald and me.”

“But I don’t want to move in with Gerald and you. It’s too far away from school. How will I get back and forth?”

“I’ve already looked into all that. There are buses running every day. It would be a simple matter of a twenty-minute bus ride each way.”

“But I have my own home. I don’t want to live with you and Gerald.”

“Don’t you think that’s a selfish attitude? After all, I’m paying all the bills. I’m your guardian and I have to do what I think is best.”

I’ll get a job and pay all the expenses on the house,” Linda said.

“You’re just a baby!” Lorraine scoffed. “What could you possibly do? Who would hire a high school girl with bad skin and unmanageable hair?”

“I can read and write.”

“So can everybody else. I’m afraid that doesn’t make you employable.”

“I can operate a babysitting service.”

“Yes, for fifty cents an hour. I’m afraid it takes more than that to run a household.”

“I’ll get the money somewhere!”

“Oh, please! You don’t know what you’re talking about! Do you think you’re going to find a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?”

Linda began crying. Gerald gave her his handkerchief.

“Now see what you’ve done, Lorraine!” he said. “We came here to have a good time and now you’ve spoiled it for all of us.”

“I’m just trying to be practical. She’s not a child anymore. She needs to face reality and know where she stands in the scheme of things.”

“Maybe you and I need to face reality too,” Gerald said. “Where do we stand in the scheme of things?”

“Oh, you make me sick!” Lorraine said. “You always have to make everything about you, don’t you? I’m going to the ladies’ room.”

She threw down her napkin, stood up and faded into the crowd.

“I’m sorry about all this,” Gerald said.

You didn’t do anything,” Linda said.

“She could have chosen a better time to bring up the subject of money.”

“It just took me by surprise, that’s all. I’m going to have to get used to idea of living somewhere else, I guess.”

“You must have some champagne,” he said, “underage or not. You need to at least taste it.” He took an empty water glass and filled it halfway and pushed it toward her. “If nothing else, you can look back on this night and remember it as the first time you tasted champagne.”

She smiled at Gerald, dried her remaining tears and gratefully drank the champagne.

The orchestra ended one number and began another. Gerald and Linda watched the swirl of dancers, what they could see of them, while they waited for Lorraine to come back.

What sounded like a woman’s scream came from far away, or maybe it wasn’t a scream at all; it could have been the laugh of a hyena. Not everybody heard it, but those who did turned their heads to see where it was coming from. Then there was another questionable scream and then another, closer this time and unmistakable. The musicians stopped played and the dancers stopped dancing. Those sitting stood up to get a better view.

Fire! Fire! Fire!” someone screamed.

There was a lull then, a moment in which everybody stood perfectly still and silent. Then, all at once, people began moving, all at the same time, as if every living being in the place were controlled by some giant, unseen mechanism of pandemonium.

Gerald grabbed Linda’s wrist. “We’ve got to find Lorraine!” he screamed. “Which way to the ladies’ room?”

“I don’t know,” Linda screamed back, into his ear. “We’ve got to find the exit! Wherever Lorraine is, she’ll find her way out!”

With Gerald holding Linda’s hand, they began moving slowly through the crowd. Pushed violently from behind, they managed to stay on their feet. Others weren’t so lucky. Those who fell would never get up again.

“Everybody calm down!” a booming voice commanded. “Just make for the fire exits!”

The lights went out. The far wall, fifty feet away, was illuminated by an eerie orange glow. This was perhaps the most frightening sight of all. People panicked, lost whatever decorum they had, and began pushing blindly forward with no other thought than to save themselves.

Some of the fire exits were obscured behind curtains or fake palm trees while others were locked and wouldn’t open. People pushed helplessly against them to no avail. When they saw one door wouldn’t open, they moved on to the next one.

Gerald held tightly to Linda’s wrist. They could see nothing now except the glow of the flames. They had no other choice but to move forward upon the wave of humanity that bore them. Where was it taking them? Was it to safety or to a blind spot where they would be crushed or burned to death?

Soon a door opened in front of them, miraculously, like a gate into heaven, and they found themselves outside in the freezing air.

They stood there, dazed and gasping for air. A crowd of about twenty other people made their way out at the same time. Most of the women were crying and screaming. The men stood helplessly, rubbing their eyes, stunned into silence. Finally a man came along and told them to move as far away from the building as they could.

Other groups came out in other places, three or twelve or twenty or sometimes more at a time. They were all herded around to the other side of the building, away from the smoke and flames. Gerald ran frantically from group to group, searching for any sign of Lorraine.

The next few hours were like a tableau out of hell, with chaos, confusion and disbelief; sirens, screams, billowing smoke, walls of flame, ambulances coming and going, fire engines roaring, hoses like tentacles going every which way on the street, men trying to battle the flames but repeatedly driven back by the heat and smoke.

Firefighters began bringing bodies out and, having no other choice, laying them side by side on the street or on the sidewalk, until a temporary morgue could be set up. Police kept onlookers back until the proper time for identification.

Every time Gerald went away and came back again to the spot where he had left Linda standing on the street corner, she asked him if he had spotted Lorraine yet, but she already knew what the answer was going to be.

Six hours after the fire broke out, Gerald found Lorraine’s body in a row of bodies on the sidewalk. Her face was covered, but he knew it was her by the ankle bracelet with her name engraved on it and by the yellow dress. He started to pick her up but a policeman stopped him.

“She’s my wife,” he said. “I have to take her home.”

“You have to leave her here for now until positive identification can be made,” the policeman said.

He wrote down Gerald’s name and address, along with Lorraine’s name, and put a tag around her wrist with a number on it, indicating that she had been identified by a family member.

The night that seemed without end finally came to an end.

The next morning, newspaper headlines screamed the news: Worst Nightclub Fire in American History. 500 Dead. Many More Injured.

Gerald and Linda both were questioned by police and reporters to get their version of what happened. To Linda it all seemed too unreal, too unlikely, to be true. Her beautiful older sister, whom she had always idolized, was dead and never coming back.

An overflow crowd attended Lorraine’s funeral, many of them curiosity seekers. They wanted to see what a body would look like after it had been through such a hellish ordeal, but the casket was kept closed. Gerald knew it’s what Lorraine would have wanted.

Linda returned to school after two weeks, something of a celebrity. People who never noticed her before now wanted to be her friends.

Gerald remained a good friend to Linda. With Lorraine gone, he was the only family she had left. He became Linda’s guardian and allowed her to stay in her mother’s house, paying all the bills and providing whatever was needed.

Lorraine was lying about the money. More than eight hundred thousand dollars came to Gerald as Lorraine’s husband, more than he ever expected. He quit his job (which he despised anyway), made some wise investments, and planned never to have to work again. He could have married again but decided against it. Lorraine had been more than enough woman for him for one lifetime.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Shall We Have a Cigarette On It?

Posted on

Shall We Have a Cigarette on It? ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a re-post.)

“This is a lovely old house,” Jerry said, sipping his martini. “How many rooms does it have?”

“I never bothered to count them,” Charlotte said. “There are so many.”

“It isn’t any of your business how many rooms my house has,” Charlotte’s mother said. “That’s an impertinent question.”

“Mother, I thought we agreed that you were going to try to be civil this evening,” Charlotte said.

“I made no such agreement.”

“I apologize, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said with his humble smile. “I had no business asking such a question. It’s just that I admire these old houses so much.”

“Yes, and I’ll bet you’d like to see it knocked down and a parking garage or an office building put in its place!”

“That would be a great pity, ma’am.”

“Or maybe you can see yourself living in it. A life of ease and idleness.”

“Not at all, ma’am.”

Charlotte could see that her mother was determined to make Jerry feel uncomfortable. He would handle it with his customary grace, though, of that she was certain.

“Charlotte tells me she met you on a cruise to South America.”

“That’s right,” Jerry said.

“I don’t approve of cruises on which idle young women with too much money and too much time on their hands indulge themselves.”

“Not everybody on the cruise was rich, mother,” Charlotte said, “and they weren’t all young. I was talking to one middle-aged woman who told me that she and her husband saved for five years to be able to afford it.”

“What were you talking to her for?”

“Well, you know. Too much time on our hands.”

“I’ll bet there was lots of drinking and other activities on board that ship that decent people would rather not know about.”

“No doubt,” Jerry said.

“I suppose Charlotte told you all about herself.”

“As much as I needed to know.”

“Did she tell you that she had a nervous breakdown and, in so doing, was a patient in a sanatorium for almost a year?”

“Yes.”

“It was only at the urging or her psychiatrist that I allowed her to go on the cruise at all without a chaperone. He said it was vital for her mental well-being. I never heard such hogwash but I allowed her to go nonetheless.”

“It was very kind of you.”

“I don’t believe in psychiatrists. Most people with mental problems have nothing to do but gain control of themselves and their emotions. When I was young, we weren’t allowed the luxury of nervous breakdowns and special doctors to treat them. We all bucked up and did whatever had to be done!”

“I don’t think Jerry wants to hear all that, mother,” Charlotte said. “We’ve already said all that needs to be said on the subject.”

“I’ll say whatever I want to say and ask whatever questions I want to ask in my own home!”

“No less than you deserve, ma’am,” Jerry said.

“And, under the guidance of her ‘progressive’ psychiatrist, Charlotte changed completely. She became a daughter I no longer recognized.”

“Don’t you think it was change for the better, ma’am?” Jerry asked.

“I do not! When a mother no longer recognizes her daughter, how can that be change for the better?”

“You decide for yourself, Jerry,” Charlotte said. “You saw the picture of what I looked like before.”

“She was fat!” Mrs. Vale said. “Comfortably fat! After her so-called illness, she lost thirty pounds. She changed her hair and eyebrows and began buying expensive clothes which, of course, she expected me to pay for!”

“You seem to forget that I have money of my own,” Charlotte said.

“Everything you have still belongs to me! Don’t you ever forget that! With one stroke of my pen, I could strip you of everything!”

“Yes, but you won’t, though, will you?”

As if on cue, Theda, the maid, appeared in the doorway. “Dinner is ready to be served!” she said, loudly.

“You don’t have to shout, Theda!” Mrs. Vale said. “You’re not announcing train departures.”

“Since there are just the three of us tonight,” Charlotte said, “we’re having dinner in the small dining room.”

“You have more than one dining room?” Jerry asked.

When they were seated at the table that seated fifteen (the small dining room), Theda began serving the dinner, first the soup and then the fish.

“The finest food I ever ate!” Jerry said.

“Don’t think there’s any reason for you to get used to it!” Mrs. Vale said.

“Mother, stop picking on my guest,” Charlotte said. “You needn’t attack him every time he opens his mouth.”

“It’s all right, Charlotte,” Jerry said. “She’s just exercising a mother’s prerogative.”

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s prerogative to be rude.”

“I’m not rude!” Mrs. Vale said. “I’m only being forthright!”

“And an admirable quality it is, too!” Jerry said.

Mrs. Vale gave a tiny smile. Charlotte believed that she was beginning to warm toward him, if ever so slightly.

“And what about you?” Mrs. Vale asked. “Have you had any nervous breakdowns?”

“Not yet,” Jerry said.

“But you will have at some time in the future?”

“He was making a joke, mother,” Charlotte said.

“Well, I want to know something about the men my daughter invites into my home for dinner.”

“What do you want to know about me, Mrs. Vale? You may ask me anything.”

“Are you going to marry Charlotte?”

“I’m already married, you see.”

“So you’re not just after her for her money?”

He laughed and wiped his mouth. “No,” he said.

“Tell me about this wife of yours. If you’re running around with other women, why doesn’t she give you a divorce?”

“Her religious scruples prevent it. And, anyway, we’ve been separated for a long time.”

“So, you’re married to a woman you’re not living with? Not sharing the same bed?”

“Mother, really!” Charlotte said.

“I haven’t laid eyes on her in two years.”

“Have you and Charlotte been intimate?”

“Jerry, you don’t have to answer that question!” Charlotte said. “Mother, that’s not an appropriate line of questioning. I’m not fifteen years old!”

“You sometimes act as if you were!”

“I think what you want to know is if Jerry and I are serious about each other and how we plan to proceed if we are. Isn’t that it?”

“All right, then, you tell me!”

“Jerry and I are very much in love. We won’t be able to marry for some time, but that’s all right with me. We plan on going abroad and living together.”

“Not on my money you won’t!

“Really, mother, are you going to start in on money again?”

“I won’t have my daughter living in sin with a man she’s not married to!”

“I am of age and I may do whatever I wish.”

“I don’t think you have any real desire to be reduced to a pauper at any age.”

“No need to worry, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said. “I have plenty of money for the two of us to live comfortably.”

“I won’t allow my daughter to blacken her name and the memory of her father by cavorting with a married man.”

“If you don’t mind my saying so, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said, “that seems a hopelessly old-fashioned view to take.”

“Who are you to judge me? You don’t know Charlotte the way I do. You don’t know the family history that’s behind her.”

“Maybe it’s time to forget all that and begin anew.”

“Never! Not as long as I’m still living. I’ll call my lawyer tomorrow morning and have my will changed!”

“You go right ahead, mother,” Charlotte said. “I’ve had enough of your bullyragging and intimidation.”

“So, are you saying you don’t care about my twenty million dollars?”

“You can do whatever you want with it. We can meet with your lawyer and make a few suggestions.”

“So, it doesn’t frighten you anymore when I threaten to disinherit you?”

“Not in the least.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m in love.”

“Love! What could you possibly know about love?”

“Mother, if you don’t stop saying such mean things, I’m going to stick a knife through your heart.”

“You haven’t got the guts!”

“Try me!”

Theda brought in three cups of coffee, along with dessert, and withdrew again to the kitchen.

“No dessert for me,” Charlotte said. “I’m watching my figure.”

“What happened to the little girl who used to eat a whole pie at one sitting?” Mrs. Vale asked.

“She’s all grown up, mother. She’s somebody else now.”

“I’ll eat yours if you don’t want it,” Jerry said. “I love banana cream pie.”

“Watch out you don’t get fat,” Charlotte said.

“I’ve got a ways to go,” he said.

Mrs. Vale drank her coffee and called Theda in from the kitchen to give her another cup. When she was halfway through the second cup, her eyes closed, she gave a little shudder and fell forward. Her head banged loudly on the table and she felt onto the floor in a heap. Charlotte and Jerry sat quite still, Charlotte sipping her coffee and Jerry eating the pie.

After a couple of minutes, Theda opened the door to the kitchen a few inches and peeked around the edge of it. “Can I come in?” she asked.

“Yes, please do, Theda,” Charlotte said.

“Did it work?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. “I don’t see her breathing.”

“One of us should check to make sure,” Jerry said.

Theda put the tips of her fingers to Mrs. Vale’s neck. “I don’t feel no pulse,” she said.

After Jerry and Theda had pulled Mrs. Vale away from the table and laid her on her back on the floor, Theda put her ear to the old woman’s chest. “I don’t hear no heartbeat, neither,” she said. “You’d better listen for yourself, Miss Charlotte.”

Charlotte took off her earring and leaned over until her ear was touching the sunken chest. “She’s quite dead!” she said with a smile.

“Ah!” Jerry said. “Success!”

“Glory be!” Theda said. “It sure enough worked!”

“She really was a vile old woman,” Jerry said. “You didn’t exaggerate to the slightest degree, did you? But wherever did you find such an effective poison?”

“We Boston spinsters have our secrets too, you know,” Charlotte said.

“I won’t shed no tears over her!” Theda said. “She sure was mean to me! There’s never been a day since I worked here that I didn’t want to kill her myself!”

“And, Theda, you must never breathe a word of this to anybody!” Charlotte said. “You do understand that, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am! You don’t ever have to worry about me! I didn’t see nothin! I didn’t hear nothin’ and I don’t know nothin’! Forever and forever, a-men!”

“And I’ll give you enough money so you’ll never have to work hard again. You can go back home and do whatever you want for as long as you live.”

“I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate it, ma’am! I’m gonna buy me a dozen pairs of silk stockings and some gardenia perfume. It sure does smell high!”

“You’ll be able to buy anything you want now.”

“And who knows? I might even find me another man to marry.”

“The field will be wide open for you now,” Jerry said.

Charlotte and Jerry went into the library, Charlotte’s favorite room in the house. She went to the French doors that opened onto the terrace and opened them. The room was instantly filled with night smells from the garden.

“Just think!” Jerry said. “Free of that old buzzard at last!”

“Yes, finally, free of all encumbrances,” Charlotte said.

“I was thinking we might live here, at least for a while.”

“I don’t think so,” Charlotte said. “I want to get away, go abroad somewhere. There are too many unhappy memories for me in this house. Wherever I turn, I’ll always see mother there.”

“Of course, darling. Whatever you want.”

“Tomorrow I’ll call everybody and tell them mother’s dead. We’ll plan an elaborate funeral, of course, and I want you to be there by my side.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Jerry said. “I’ve been thinking, though.”

“Yes?”

“Shouldn’t you have your mother cremated? You wouldn’t want anybody suspecting poison at any time in the future. They could have her body disinterred and make a big fuss over trying to find traces of it in her system.”

“I’ve been told by an expert that the poison is absolutely untraceable and no traces of it remain in the body.”

“It seems you’ve covered all the bases,” Jerry said. “Brilliantly planned and executed, if I may say so!”

“And the twenty million dollars?” Charlotte said. “It’s all mine now.”

“I’m getting hard!”

“I won’t have to listen to her threats ever again about cutting me off without a penny.”

“Too wonderful to be believed!”

“It is rather wonderful, isn’t it?”

“Shall we have a cigarette on it?”

He put two cigarettes in his mouth, lit them together, and handed one to Charlotte. Her eyes glistened with tears as she took it from him.

Standing there, side by side, framed in the doors to the garden, they looked up at the sky. A half-moon was just visible over the treetops, surrounded by a million diamond-like stars.

“And will we be happy?” he asked.

“Oh, Jerry!” she said. “Let’s not ask for the moon! We have the stars!”

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp