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Thanksgiving for Poor People

Thanksgiving for Poor People ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

In the picture, a grandmother holds up a huge turkey on a platter before a table of smiling family members, including several children. On the table are bountiful bowls of all kinds of food: dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, pickles, green beans, cranberry relish, carrots, peas, corn, rolls, pumpkin pie, chocolate cake. What you don’t see is the grandmother setting the turkey down in the middle of the table and all of them beginning to eat, but we know this is what is going to happen.

“This picture makes me hungry,” Veradean said.

Vicki-Vicki snatched the picture out of her hand to get a closer look. “Well, you can’t eat a picture,” she said.

“Why can’t we be like that family?”

“Because we’re not, that’s why. We’re poor people and poor people don’t set a table like that.”

“Why are we poor when other people are not?”

“Because we live in Scraptown and we don’t have any money. We’re trash and our mother is trash and her mother before her, going all the way back to the beginning of time.”

“I’m not trash!” Baby Eddie screamed. “You’re trash!”

“You’re trash just as much as I am,” Veradean said, tears forming in her eyes, “and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Yes,” Vicki-Vicki said, “the sooner you realize what you are in life, the better off you are.”

“The pilgrims were trash, too,” Veradean said. “They didn’t have any money, either. Miss Edmonds read us a story about them. They wore black and prayed all the time. The king got mad at them and kicked them out of the country. They didn’t have anyplace to go so they came over here in a little wooden boat. They landed on a big rock. When they climbed down off the rock and looked around them, they saw that the land was nothing but woods and wild animals. There were no supermarkets or schools or cars or buses or anything like that. The Indians that already lived here were afraid. They hid from the pilgrims and threw rocks at them.”

“What’s a pilgrim?” Baby Eddie asked.

“You’ll find that out when you go to school,” Vicki-Vicki said.

Veradean continued: “The pilgrims didn’t know how to take care of themselves and a lot of them died right away in the snow. They couldn’t figure out how to make corn and stuff grow in the ground just right. Finally the Indians weren’t so afraid of the pilgrims anymore and came out from where they were hiding and started helping the pilgrims. They showed them how to grow stuff so they would always have something to eat.”

“That’s stupid!” Baby Eddie said.

“When the pilgrims finally started to get the hang of living here and learned what they needed to know to get by, they had a big feast after the harvest to show everybody how well they had done. Since the Indians had helped them get started and had kept them from starving, the pilgrims asked the Indians to join them in the feast. The Indians brought along some of their stuff, too, that the pilgrims hadn’t yet learned how to make on their own. This feast was the first Thanksgiving and it’s been held every year at the same time ever since.”

“We’ve all heard that story a million times,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“So, are we going to have a turkey for Thanksgiving?”

“I want a turkey!” Baby Eddie said.

“You’re old enough to know it takes money to get a turkey and we don’t have any money,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“Everything is always about money, isn’t it?” Veradean said.

“We’ll be lucky to have a can of Campbell’s vegetable soup and a grilled cheese sandwich and some Twinkies for dessert.”

“That’s what we have all the time. I want more than that.”

“Well, if you tell me where it’s to be had, I’ll go and get it,” Vicki-Vicki said.

And then, on the day before Thanksgiving, somebody stuck a flyer on the front door: Turkey dinner served at the Heavenly Light Mission from noon to six on Thanksgiving Thursday! Bring the whole family! You’ll be glad you did!

When Veradean came home from school Wednesday afternoon, Vicki-Vicki said, “We’re going to have turkey on Thanksgiving after all and it’s not going to cost us anything.”

“How we gonna do that?” Veradean asked.

“It’s a surprise.”

On Thursday morning Vicki-Vicki awoke early with a feeling of excitement, something she hadn’t felt in a long time. She made Veradean and Baby Eddie take baths and wash their hair, despite much grumbling. She dressed Veradean in a schoolgirl dress of plaid material with puff sleeves and a sash in the back and Baby Eddie in a sailor suit from grandma’s trunk that was nobody knows how old. The sailor suit was a little big for Baby Eddie, but Vicki-Vicki solved this problem by rolling up the sleeves and taking a few stitches in the hem of the pants.

For herself she chose a vintage, tailored suit of gray wool, exactly like the one Kim Novak wore in Vertigo. She always thought Kim Novak was pretty and she wished she might look like her, at least a little bit. She experimented with her hair until she got it arranged into an approximation of Kim Novak’s French roll in Vertigo. Her hair wasn’t blond like Kim Novak’s, but when she was finished she thought anybody would see the resemblance.

“How do I look?” she asked Veradean.

“Just like a movie star!”

It was a little over a mile into town and Baby Eddie would have to be carried part of the way, so the three of them set out for the Heavenly Light Mission at about eleven in the morning. It was a gray, wind-swept day.

“Hope it doesn’t rain before we get there,” Veradean said.

Vicki-Vicki tied a headscarf around her head and managed the best she could with her high heels. Baby Eddie whined and wanted to be carried, but Vicki-Vicki told him he was just lazy and he would have to walk some because she was too tired to carry him the whole way.

When they got to the Heavenly Light Mission, there was already a line, even though the place hadn’t started serving dinner yet.

“Lots of poor people like us,” Veradean said as they took their place at the back of the line.

After a few minutes, Vicki-Vicki was aware of a group of three or four boys—young men really—standing off to the side. They kept stealing glances at her and talking in low voices. She ignored them but couldn’t help being pleased they had noticed her. A couple of them were quite good-looking.

One of the young men detached himself from the others and approached her. He stood to her right; she was aware that he was waiting for her to acknowledge him, but her strategy was to ignore him as long as she could. Finally he reached out and touched her on the arm to get her attention.

“I think I know you,” he said.

“I don’t think so.”

“Rollo Ruff?” he said. “High school? People used to call me RR?”

She was disappointed to discover he was somebody from that place. “Oh, yeah,” she said, “but that was a long time ago.”

“Not that long.”

“You can’t break into the line that way. You’re supposed to take your place at the end.”

“These your kids?” Rollo Ruff asked.

Veradean and Baby Eddie both looked at Vicki-Vicki to see what she would say.

“No, they’re foundling children,” she said.

“I’m her sister and he’s her brother,” Veradean volunteered.

“I figured that!” he said.

“Our mother’s in jail,” Veradean said.

“Tough luck.”

“So nice to see you again!” Vicki-Vicki said. “Remember me to your friends.”

“Thought I might call you up some time,” he said.

“No phone,” Vicki-Vicki said. “No pay bill, no phone.”

“Hah-hah!” he said. “You always were so funny!”

“You don’t like him?” Veradean asked after he had gone away. “I think he’s cute.”

“Just somebody from high school,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“Maybe he’s a millionaire and you could marry him.”

“If he’s a millionaire, why would he be here?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

Finally they came to the place where the food was being served. Vicki-Vicki managed two plates on one tray, one for her and one for Baby Eddie, and Veradean managed her own tray. When they passed on to the dessert table, they all three chose pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

They went to the far end of one of the long tables and sat down, Vicki-Vicki on the end, Baby Eddie to her left and Veradean across from her. They began eating, just like any family on Thanksgiving.

“This is some good shit,” Veradean said after a few bites. “Just like in the picture.”

Soon Vicki-Vicki noticed a man moving up the table toward them, shaking people’s hands and patting them on the backs. He was dressed all in black like a pilgrim. She knew she wouldn’t be able to avoid talking to him.

“So happy to see you here today, sister,” he said, touching Vicki-Vicki on the shoulder and moving around to the end of the table where he could stand beside her and get a better look. “I’m Brother Galvin. I don’t think I’ve seen you here before. What is your name?”

“I’m Vicki-Vicki,” she said, almost choking. “Vicki-Vicki Novak.”

“Are you the mother of these two children?”

“Brother and sister.”

He patted Baby Eddie on the head and chucked Veradean under the chin and flashed his teeth at them. “Well, all are welcome in the house of the Lord,” he said. “All are welcome. And I hope you will honor us with your presence at the service that begins in half an hour.”

Vicki-Vicki gave a noncommittal shrug as Brother Galvin moved on to the next group of people, an old man with a gang of children of all ages.

“Do you mean we have to go to church afterward?” Veradean asked.

“It’s the price you pay,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“He likes you,” Veradean whispered. “Maybe you could marry him. I’ll bet he’s rich.”

“He’s at least forty years old.”

“That doesn’t matter as long as he’s got money.”

After they ate everything on their plates, they got up from the table to give newcomers their places. Vicki-Vicki took Baby Eddie by the hand and, aware that people were watching her, took Veradean’s hand in her other hand, even though Veradean tried to pull away. With great poise, Vicki-Vicki steered Baby Eddie and Veradean past all the tables, all the people and all the food, and went out the door.

“Can we go home now?” Baby Eddie asked.

“Church first,” Vicki-Vicki said.

The church was part of the same building but reached by going out one door and through another.

There were places for fifty, but there were only a dozen or so people inside. Vicki-Vicki pulled Baby Eddie to a chair on the back row and Veradean followed dutifully. They sat down and waited for the service to begin.

Up front, off to the side, an old woman sat at an organ and played Abide with Me softly. The people were lulled by the music and by the lavish dinner they had just eaten.

In a few minutes, Brother Galvin came to the front and looked out at the small crowd. He held up his hands and smiled and the organ music stopped.

“Brothers and sisters!” he said. “Is there anybody here who doesn’t believe that this is a day that the Lord hath made.”

“No!” somebody shouted and the others laughed.

“We are so happy that you have made your way into our little fold on this blessed Thanksgiving Day. I’m here to tell you that the Lord loves you, no matter what you’ve done and no matter how low you might have sunk in this life. That is our message of hope at the Heavenly Light Mission: You are loved, in spite of all your transgressions, as only He can love, and you will be redeemed!”

Several shouts of “Amen!”

Now,” Brother Galvin said, “I’m going to ask each of you to come forward, one by one, on this glorious Thanksgiving Day, and be washed of your sins in the house of the Lord! What better thing could you do on this Thanksgiving Day than be washed in the blood of our blessed savior?”

Baby Eddie went to sleep, leaning his head against Vicki-Vicki’s side, while Veradean played with a piece of string. Vicki-Vicki listened as attentively as she could until the people started going forward one by one to be cleansed of their sins and she saw that she was going to have to do the same. Even Veradean and Baby Eddie would have to do it. What sins did Baby Eddie have? He was only four years old.

When Brother Galvin’s eyes were closed, Vicki-Vicki stood up and, pulling Veradean and Baby Eddie by the sleeves of their coats, made for the door.

As soon as they started for home, the rain began to fall, lightly at first and then harder.

“We’re going to have to walk all the way home in the rain,” Veradean said.

“Oh, it’s not going to kill you!” Vicki-Vicki said.

“Carry me!” Baby Eddie whined.

“Maybe somebody will come along and give us a ride,” Veradean said.

“And who would that be?” Vicki-Vicki asked.

They hadn’t gone very far when a red-and-white Chevrolet veered around in front of them and stopped on the shoulder of the road.

The door opened and a head popped up. “Care for a lift?” a voice asked.

“Who is that?” Veradean said.

“Oh, it’s that silly boy, Rollo Ruff,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“What kind of a name is that?”

“Come on!” he said. “Get in before you cause an accident!”

Vicki-Vicki got into the passenger seat beside Rollo Ruff and Veradean and Baby Eddie got into the back seat.

“The only reason I’m accepting a ride from you is because I’ve got two little ones with me,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“Hey!” Veradean said.

“So you do remember me from high school, then?” Rollo Ruff asked.

“I said I did, didn’t I?”

“Where is it you live, now?” he asked.

“We live in Poor Town,” Veradean said.

“You’re going to have to tell me where to turn,” Rollo Ruff said.

When Rollo Ruff pulled up in front of the house, Vicki-Vicki was glad it was raining so hard that Rollo Ruff wouldn’t be able to see how shabby the house was.

Vicki-Vicki made Veradean and Baby Eddie both thank Rollo Ruff for the ride and then she started to get out of the car.

“Can I see you a little later?” Rollo Ruff asked.

“What for?” Vicki-Vicki asked.

“I can swing by about seven o’clock and we can have a little fun.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not alone,” she said, pointing to the back seat.

“Put them to bed and then we can go out.”

“I can’t go off and leave them. They’re too little.”

“Well, then,” he said, “put them to bed and you and I can watch TV.”

“We don’t have a TV. We have one, but it hasn’t worked in a long time.”

“I want to watch TV!” Baby Eddie said.

“I’m not giving up,” Rollo Ruff said. “When I saw you again today, I wondered why I let you get away in high school.”

“Put that with ten cents and you can buy yourself a Coke,” Vicki-Vicki said, reaching for the door handle.

“Wait a minute!” he said. “I can’t call you because you don’t have a phone.”

“That’s right.”

“If I give you my phone number, will you call me?”

“I suppose I might consider it.”

“Do you have a piece of paper?”

“No.”

He took a pen out of the glove compartment and wrote the number on the back of Vicki-Vicki’s hand.

“Write it down before you wash it off,” he said.

“Don’t count on it,” she said as she got out of the car and opened the door for Veradean and Baby Eddie.

Darkness came early on Thanksgiving night. Baby Eddie was in bed asleep. The house was quiet as a tomb. Veradean and Vicki-Vicki sat at the kitchen table drinking cocoa.

“When’s mama coming home?” Veradean asked.

“As soon as you find out, you let me know,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“Are you going to marry that boy?”

“What boy?”

“That boy that brought us home. Rollo what’s-his-name.”

“Of course not.”

“He likes you.”

“I don’t care.”

“Are you going to call him up?”

“I don’t know. If I feel like it.”

“If you go off with somebody like him and leave me and Baby Eddie alone here, they’ll come along and put is in an orphanage. I don’t want that to happen.”

“I’m not going off with anybody,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“You promise?”

“Nothing is certain in this stupid world.”

“If you marry Rollo, can we come and live with you until mama comes home?”

“I guess you’ll have to, won’t you? You won’t have any place else to go.”

“You promise?”

“I just said so, didn’t I?”

Veradean sighed and, with a candy cigarette in her mouth, pretended to smoke it exactly the way her mother would smoke a real one. “I sure hope we can have a Christmas tree this year,” she said, blowing out a stream of imaginary smoke.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

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Happy Starfish

Happy Starfish ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Did I tell you how I hate school? This morning in zoology I had to dissect a starfish. The inside of the starfish is green. That’s disgusting enough, but the thing that got to me is the fishy smell. It’s a smell that lingers in my head and my nose. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat any kind of fish or seafood again for as long as I live without being reminded of the green insides of a starfish.

The world is very cruel. That little starfish was probably just minding its own business on a beach somewhere when somebody picked it up and put it in pickling solution where it instantly died. One minute a happy starfish and the next minute a laboratory specimen to be cut open and have its insides probed. If I was a starfish, I would want to live on a faraway island where there were no people and I could die of old age.

After zoology was American history, but I skipped. I thought I was going to vomit and I didn’t want anybody to see me. I went to the boys’ toilet on the third floor where it was quiet and went into a stall and latched the door. I put my hands on my knees, leaned forward and closed my eyes, trying not to think about that starfish.

In a minute somebody came into the toilet whistling. I hate to hear people whistle. It spoiled my concentration, so I just spit into the toilet and flushed without vomiting. I opened the stall door and went to the sink and started to wash my hands.

“What do you think you’re doing?” somebody to my left said.

I turned and saw it was Claude Qualls. If there’s anybody in school I hate, it’s Claude. He’s the class president and a snitch. Mr. Do-Gooder. Mr. Over-Achiever. Mr. Perfect. He has somehow taken it upon himself to keep the rest of us in line. Probably someday he’ll be a congressman or a senator or something if somebody doesn’t kill him first.

“Washing my hands,” I said. “What does it look like?”

“That’s not what I meant, smartass! What are you doing out of class?”

“I’m sick.”

“You don’t look sick.”

He took his eyes off himself in the mirror and leaned in close to me, sniffing.

“Get away from me!” I said. “What I have is probably contagious.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in American history?”

“What business is it of yours?”

“As class president, I’m supposed to report anybody skipping class.”

“Go to hell!” I said.

He grabbed me by the collar and pulled me toward him, holding his right arm back like he was going to hit me in the face. “What did you just say to me?” he said.

“You heard me. I said: Go to hell, bitch!

He roughed me up a little bit but didn’t hit me. He finished by pushing me into the sink. The fingers on my left hand bent back painfully.

“You stupid little baby!” he said. “You can be sure that this little episode will be reported.”

“You’re the big man, aren’t you?” I said. “The big man will always be there to tell the rest of us what to do, won’t he?”

“Shut up, you little freak!”

“No, you’re the freak, Claude! Not me! Everybody hates your guts!”

“I’m going down to Mr. Ludlow’s office right now and write up a report stating that you’re loitering in the bathroom when you’re supposed to be in class.”

“I hope you break your leg going down the steps,” I said.

I went to the library to hide out for the rest of the period. I knew that if I sat at one of the tables out front, anybody coming in would spot me right away, so I wandered around in the dusty stacks for a while and then went all the way to the back where nobody ever ventured and sat down on the floor in the corner. I opened a book on my knees so if I heard anybody coming I’d pretend to be reading.

I was starting to feel a little less like vomiting. The quiet and the smell of old books made me sleepy, so I leaned my head against the wall and dozed off like a bum sleeping it off in an alley.

“Here he is!” I heard somebody say in a loud voice.

I jerked awake and saw Claude Qualls looking down at me. Behind him was Mr. Ludlow, the principal.

“I was sure he’d be hiding out somewhere!” Claude said.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Mr. Ludlow scolded. “Sleeping on the floor in the library!”

“I was feeling sick,” I said, standing up.

“You haven’t been drinking, have you?”

“Of course not!”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in class?”

“American history class,” Claude said.

“I was going to vomit,” I said. “I didn’t want to be in class when it happened.”

Mr. Ludlow took hold of my arm above the elbow and squeezed. I was sure I would have a bruise there and I was sorry that Claude was the only one present to witness this rough treatment.

“Skipping class will not be tolerated in this school,” Mr. Ludlow snarled in his best warden-of-the-big-house voice. I could smell his cologne and it was worse than the starfish. “Do you want a suspension?”

“No,” I said. “I just want my high school years to be over.”

“Do you need me to help you with him?” Claude asked.

“No, thanks, Claude,” Mr. Ludlow said. “I can take it from here.”

“Before you tell somebody else to go to hell,” Claude said to me with his demonic smile, “think about who you’re talking to.”

“That’s fine, Claude,” Mr. Ludlow said. “You may go now.” To me Mr. Ludlow said, “Proper disciplinary action will be taken at the appropriate time but, for now, you may go to your next class, and if you even think about skipping class again you’ll be faced with a three-day suspension. Think what that will do to your scholastic record and to your chances of getting into a good college.”

My next class was gym class, which I hated more than all my other classes put together. I went to the locker room and changed out of my “street clothes” into the ridiculous gym togs: baggy red shorts that hung down to my knees, a stretched-out tee shirt and grass-stained high-top tennis shoes that were too small for me and made my toes hurt.

While we were all standing around waiting for the teacher to arrive so the class could begin, I spotted Claude Qualls about twenty feet away, bouncing a basketball. When he saw me, he gave me a look of bemused hatred and I mouthed the words go to hell. There wasn’t any way he could not know what I was saying.

The physical education teacher was Mr. Upjohn, or “coach,” as he liked to be called. He was four feet, eleven inches tall and he looked like a troll in a fairy story who hides under a bridge.

“All right now, everybody!” he yelled and blew his whistle. “Time for warm-up!”

As bad as the warm-up was, it wasn’t as bad as the game of volleyball or basketball that followed. We stood in rows as Mr. Upjohn faced us and directed us in the knee bends, sit-ups, pushups, and jumping jacks.

It was during the jumping jacks that I vomited on the floor, a thick green mass that looked exactly like the insides of the starfish. Everybody stopped jumping up and down and looked at me. I bent forward to vomit again and fainted face down in what I had just deposited on the floor. It was only the second time in my life that I had ever fainted. The first time was when I was eight and had the flu.

When I regained consciousness, they were all standing around in a circle watching me. I had really spiced up their boring old gym class. Mr. Upjohn was kneeling beside me, waving a bottle of smelling salts under my nose.

“He’s coming around,” he said.

“I want to go home,” I said.

“Can you make it to the nurse’s office?”

“She doesn’t like me. I pushed her down the stairs once.”

As I stood up, Mr. Upjohn took hold of my arm. “Go get dressed,” he said, “and go see the nurse.”

“I don’t know,” I said, wobbling for effect. “I feel like I’m going to faint again.”

“Claude!” he barked. “Go with him and help him get dressed!”

Claude stepped forward, ready once again to fulfill his role as student leader.

“I don’t need any help from him!” I said. “Just give me time!

I went down to the deserted locker room, cleaned the vomit off my face and out of my hair and put my clothes back on. As I was leaving the locker room, I noticed the door to Claude’s locker was partway open. I approached the locker, pulled the door open all the way and looked inside. There, on the top shelf, was Claude’s expensive gold wrist watch. I slipped the watch into my pocket and deposited it in a trashcan on my way to the nurse’s office.

I walked into her office and vomited again, all over the floor. Now, I have to tell you, there’s nothing like vomiting to get people’s attention. You can say you’re sick, but dramatic vomiting leaves no room for doubt.

The nurse dropped what she was doing and came running with a kidney-shaped metal pan. She told me to lie back on the cot and she put a wet cloth on my head. When she took my temperature and saw I had a fever, she called my mother and told her to come and get me.

When I got home, I kicked off my shoes and got into bed. My mother stood in the doorway and harangued me, as usual.

“Why did you choose today of all days to be sick?” she asked.

“I figured it was time,” I said.

“Algebra test today?”

“No, I failed that last week.”

“Well, I have to tell you,” she said, “sometimes when you say you’re sick I don’t believe you, but today you look sick.”

“Thank you,” I said.

She called the doctor and described my symptoms. From my bed, I could hear her yapping into the phone in the other room for a good ten minutes. After she hung up, she came back into my room. I pretended to be asleep until I heard her breathing and opened my eyes.

“He said it sounds like you have a virus that’s making the rounds,” she said. “It’s contagious and he said to keep you at home in bed for a few days.”

“I always liked Dr. Fain,” I said.

“He said that after the nausea passes I’m to give you anything you want to eat or drink.”

“I want a champagne cocktail,” I said, “and a steak medium rare.”

“But the main thing,” my mother said, “is to keep you quiet and in bed.”

I groaned for good effect and my mother went out of the room and closed the door.

I remembered my conversation earlier in the day with Claude Qualls in the boys’ toilet. He had stuck his snoot in my face and I hope he caught what I had, only ten times worse. He would be distraught at the thought of missing any school, while I, on the other hand, loved it better than anything.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Anniversary

Anniversary ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Elliot loved driving when traffic was light and he owned the road. The car maneuvered easily on curves and hills, almost as if it drove itself. Temple, his wife of five years, sat on the seat beside him.

“Do you have to take the curves so fast?” she said. “You’re making me sick.”

“Do you want to drive?”

“No, I just want to get this night over with.”

“I’ll bet Bear Lodge hasn’t changed a bit,” he said.

“Why couldn’t you go there by yourself and leave me at home?” she said.

He looked over at her to see if she was making a joke. “I thought you’d be pleased.”

“I don’t like riding in the car.”

When he came to Bear Lodge and turned in at the gate, he said, “The place still looks the same, just as I said. Remember how somebody told us the old hotel is supposed to be haunted?”

“It was the waiter,” she said, “He’s paid to tell people that. It keeps people coming back, bringing their gullible friends, so they can all say, ‘that old hotel on the hill up there is supposed to be haunted’. Then those friends will bring more friends and say the same thing.”

“I believe it is haunted,” he said. “Somebody wrote a book about it.”

“Any sensible ghost wouldn’t want to stay there.”

“After we’ve had dinner, let’s get a room and spend the night. Just like our wedding night five years ago.”

“Not on your life! I didn’t bring anything.”

“We don’t need anything. All we need is each other.”

“I’m not spending the night,” she said.

Elliot parked the car and they went into the restaurant. He hadn’t made a reservation, but it didn’t matter because another party had cancelled theirs.

“I knew this was going to be a lucky night,” he said.

“Why didn’t you make a reservation?” Temple asked.

“Slipped my mind, I guess.”

They each had a cocktail and then they moved out onto the dance floor. The orchestra was playing a slow, dream-like number, popular a number of years earlier.

“You were always a lousy dancer,” she said. “I don’t know why you even bother.”

“They played that song five years ago tonight,” he said.

“It’s probably something they play every night.”

“Some of the musicians are the same and some are different.”

“I don’t know why you remember all those details about things that don’t matter,” she said. “It’s morbid, somehow.”

“It was an important night,” he said. “Five years ago. Tonight is an important night, too.”

“Yes, yes, yes! Let’s sit down again. You’re stepping all over my feet.”

When they were seated again, he said, “Five years ago we sat over there by the fireplace.”

“I remember,” she said. “You spilled a drink on my dress.”

“It was an accident.”

“I ended up throwing the dress away.”

They had another cocktail and the waiter came and took their order for dinner.

“This is our fifth wedding anniversary,” Elliot said to the waiter.

“Congratulations!”

“We were here five years ago on this very night.”

“You must like it here.”

“Were you here then? Five years ago? I don’t remember seeing you.”

“I’ve been here less than a year,” the waiter said.

“We sat over by the fireplace that night.”

“Yes, sir.”

When the waiter went away, Temple said, “You have the annoying habit of engaging waiters in personal conversation that I find very distasteful.”

“It doesn’t hurt to be friendly. You get better service.”

“He’s probably laughing at you right now behind your back.”

“What do I care?”

Elliot sipped his drink and looked out into the crowd. “Lots of people here tonight,” he said, “just like five years ago.”

“Too many, as far as I’m concerned,” Temple said. “They’re like a bunch of cattle. I mean, honestly, don’t people make you sick?”

“Maybe some of these same people were here five years ago this very night.”

“Why don’t you go ask them?”

“Have you ever thought that you and I are quite ordinary looking? We look the same as everybody else here. There’s nothing unusual about either one of us.”

“I’d like to think that I’m not quite so ordinary,” Temple said.

“Not one of these people here will remember having seen us tonight.”

“I’m sure you think you know what you’re talking about, but I don’t have a clue.”

“Just thinking out loud, I guess. It doesn’t matter.”

The waiter brought the food and when he went away again, Temple said, “Are you sure you didn’t want to give him an appreciative little pat on the ass? No? Maybe next time around.”

They ate in silence. When they were finished, she went to the ladies’ room to rearrange her face while Elliot smoked a cigarette and drank two more cocktails. When she came back, he asked her to dance with him again.

“No,” she said. “I don’t enjoy having my feet stepped on and, besides, I have a headache and I want to go home.”

“But we’ve been having such a good time,” he said.

“I plan to sleep on the way home.”

“You’re going to have to drive,” he said. “I’m had five or six cocktails and I’m really feeling it.”

Temple reluctantly agreed. When she started to turn out of the restaurant parking lot onto the highway, Elliot told her to go left instead of right.

“Why?” she asked. “I want to home.”

“While we’re this close,” he said. “I want to go to the promontory. There’s a full moon. It’ll be so beautiful.”

“You’re such a child!” she said, but did as he wanted.

There were no other cars on the promontory. Temple stopped the car behind the barrier in front of the cliff and turned off the engine.

“Let’s go for a little walk,” he said. “It’ll help clear my head.”

He walked out to the promontory, stood close to the edge and looked down. There was indeed a full moon, reflected in the winding river below. He turned around to see if Temple was behind him, but she was standing beside the car looking down at the ground.

“I want you to see this!” he called to her.

“I’ve seen the moon before,” she said, but she came and stood to his left, not too close.

He lit a cigarette and said, “I wanted to come here where we could have a little talk.”

“We could have talked in the car on the way home,” she said.

“But not like this.”

“I think we’ve talked quite enough for one night.”

“I know what you’ve been doing,” he said.

“What?”

“I know you’ve been having an affair with Mickey Peagram for over a year.”

“That’s not true,” she said. “Who’s been telling you lies?”

“Have you ever heard of Swede Gustafson?”

“No, I’m happy to say, I haven’t heard of him. Who is he?”

“He’s a private investigator. He can find out anything as long as you pay him enough money.”

“You’ve been spying on me?”

“I haven’t. Swede Gustafson has.”

“You’re a pig!”

“Is that what you call a man whose wife has been unfaithful to him?”

“You’re drunk,” she said. “I want to go home.”

She started to walk away. He grabbed her by the wrist and held her in place.

“Just admit that you’re in love with Mickey Peagram.”

“I won’t admit anything!” she said. “You have no right to spy on me!”

He swung her around in front of him so that her back was to the drop-off, her feet only inches from the edge. He held her by both wrists.

“Let go of me!” she said. “You’re hurting me!”

“An anniversary is a time for reflection,” he said. “You look back on the years and evaluate.”

“Let go of me!”

“It’s a long way down.”

“I said let me go!”

“All right. If you insist.”

He had been holding her upright. When he let go of her wrists, she lost her footing and fell backward. He didn’t even have to push. An unfortunate accident. No, wait a minute—something even better: she meant to do it. She drove here in her own car and, despondent over the turn her affair had taken with Mickey Peagram, decided to end it all.

Alone now on the moonlit cliff, he took a small canvas bag out of the trunk of the car and opened it. Inside were a black wig, a fake mustache, a pair of glasses, a hat and a long black coat.

Wearing this disguise, he walked back to the hotel that was supposed to be haunted, a walk of just under an hour, and engaged a room for the night, signing the register as Lance Hilliard.

In the morning, he enjoyed a large breakfast delivered to his room and then he put on the disguise again, checked out of the hotel and walked the half-mile down the highway to the bus station. There he caught a bus that took him the thirty miles back to town.

He approached his house from the back in case of the neighbors were watching. Nobody saw him, though, he was sure of it, and everything was as it should be. His car was visible from the street, parked in the driveway; anybody would think, if they thought anything at all, that he had been at home all night. Temple’s car, however, wasn’t there.

When Temple’s body was found five days later, it was so battered that identification was difficult. Elliot had to make a trip to the morgue to identify her. When the attendant pulled back the sheet, Elliot was genuinely distraught without any pretending.

The police determined that Temple’s death was suicide, plain and simple. Elliot provided them with plenty of evidence of her mental instability: she drank to excess, took doctor-prescribed tranquilizers and was known for her emotional outbursts. At one time she had been charged with disorderly conduct for a fistfight she had with another woman in a department store over a set of finger bowls.

Temple’s funeral was well-attended. Just about everybody she had ever known was there. Mickey Peagram was there with his wife. Observing him from across the room, Elliot believed that Mickey showed no signs of excessive grief other than the dark glasses he wore.

Elliot’s involvement in Temple’s death was never suspected. It was so easy, the way it happened, that it seemed to him in later years that he had done nothing wrong. Anybody could believe that a woman like that would take her own life. He came to believe it himself.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Until We Meet Again

Until We Meet Again ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in The Corvus Review.) 

During the years that Hulga Van Sipes took care of Isadore, her invalid husband, he wasn’t able to speak or barely to blink his eyes. She did everything for him: got him up in the morning and put him to bed at night, bathed him, dressed and undressed him, lifted him in and out of his wheelchair (he had always been a small man), cooked his food and fed it to him (all he had to do was swallow), and talked to him as if he might answer. She read to him, sang to him in her wheezing soprano, and sometimes she put a little rouge and lipstick on him to make him seem more alive.

When Isadore finally died in his sleep, Hulga had his body cremated without fanfare. She put his ashes in a large-sized Hellman’s mayonnaise jar and kept the jar on a shelf of the curio cabinet next to the TV where she could always see it.

Hulga thought she could go on with her life (what was left of it), but she found it was just too bleak and lonely—empty, so empty—without Isadore. She had been married to him for fifty-two years and most of them were good, fine years. She wasn’t able to erase all those years and go on her merry way as if nothing had happened.

At a store called Under the Sun on Skid Row Boulevard that sold just about anything, she bought a full-sized male mannequin (also known as a doll) with fully articulated arms and legs. She took the mannequin home with her in a taxi.

Of course the mannequin looked nothing at all like Isadore. Everything about him was shiny. He had shiny black hair (complete with pompadour) painted on his head, shiny black eyes (sparkling, like the glass eyes of a stuffed mountain lion), and a shiny skin with red spots on both cheeks. His shiny lips were slightly parted, showing tiny, perfect teeth which, of course, were shiny.

At first Hulga was put off by the difference between the mannequin and Isadore, but after a few days she came to accept the difference and appreciate it. The mannequin was a young man and at times she was able to think of herself as a young woman worthy of him (even if the mirror told her otherwise). And, even though he was inanimate, he was for the most part no more inanimate than Isadore had been.

Hulga Van Sipes was happy again or, if not happy, she felt useful and not quite so lonely. At mealtimes, she propped the mannequin up at the table and put little dabs of food on his plate which, of course, she ended up eating herself or putting down the garbage disposal. She was delighted that her grocery bills were smaller because the mannequin really didn’t eat all that much.

As she chewed her food, with the radio playing lively dance music in the background, she looked over at the mannequin and smiled and he always smiled back. He was never grumpy or out of sorts. He never dribbled food out of his mouth down his front. He was the perfect dining-table companion. How fortunate she was to have found him!

She left him in his place at the table while she washed the dishes, and when she was finished she wheeled him into the living room and lifted him onto the couch, propped his feet up and covered his legs with an afghan. (He had always been susceptible to chill, especially in the lower extremities.)

They both liked the same programs on TV. If she laughed while watching, she looked at him to see if he was also laughing. If she cried, he also cried, and if she became bored with a program and wanted to change the channels, he was always compliant.

After the weather report, she switched off the TV, took the mannequin into the bedroom and got him into his pajamas and into bed. She pulled the covers up under his chin, kissed him on the forehead and turned off the light. She always left his door open a little bit so she would hear him if he stirred.

After several months of unchanging days, the line between Isadore and the mannequin became blurred for Hulga and then disappeared altogether. The mannequin became no longer a substitute for Isadore but Isadore himself. Hulga forgot that Isadore had died (she put his ashes in the basement where she wouldn’t have to look at them). He had been with her all the time. It was a leap that she made in her mind as easily as breathing.

In October the days were warm and the sky as blue as it had been all year. Hulga wanted Isadore to have some time outdoors before winter set in again. She dressed him warmly and took him for a stroll in the park where he might observe the beauty of nature. The little outing went so well, and they both enjoyed being out of the house so much, that she took him again the next day and then the day after that.

On the third day of Hulga pushing Isadore through the park, a woman came and stood in front of the wheelchair and Hulga was forced to stop. She thought the woman was going to ask her for change because she was that kind of woman, a bum or a homeless person.

“What’s the matter with you?” the woman asked.

“What?” Hulga asked.

“What are you, deaf? I said: What. Is. Wrong. With. You?”

“Why, nothing’s wrong with me,” Hulga said, thinking she was being indulged in a joke of some kind.

“Are you an escapee?”

“Am I a what?”

“You are such an asshole!” the woman said. She was very short and fat, wore a filthy knit cap on her head and a man’s wool overcoat, even though the day was warm. She brandished a lighted cigarette like a knife.

“What was that you called me?” Hulga said.

“Every day for the last three days I’ve seen you pushing that dummy around in that chair.”

“Dummy?” Hulga asked.

“Yeah! Him!” the woman said, pointing at Isadore.

Looking down at Isadore to see if the woman was upsetting him, Hulga said, “He’s my husband.”

“Your husband!” the woman said with a hoot of laughter. “One of us is nuts and I don’t think it’s me!”

“If you’ll just let me pass, miss.”

“It’s time you woke up and smelled the roses, dearie!” the woman said. “That dummy ain’t nobody’s husband!”

A small group of people, sensing that something interesting was happening, had gathered around to listen.

“We’ve been married for fifty-two years,” Hulga said. “Not that I think it’s any of your business.”

“Well, I hope you’re married for another fifty-two and I hope he don’t give you a bit of trouble, neither.”

“That’s silly,” Hulga said.

The people who had gathered around laughed and the woman with the cigarette bowed like a courtier and went away as quickly as she had appeared.

Hulga felt the people looking at her, laughing at her the way they would laugh at a freak. She wanted to get herself and Isadore away as quickly as she could, back to the safety and security of their own home. How ugly the world was! How cruel people could be!

Feeling shaken, she stopped the chair and sat down on a bench to rest before going home. The air had suddenly grown colder and the sun, shining so brightly just a little while ago, had receded behind gray clouds.

“It was a mistake to bring Isadore out into the world,” she said. “He doesn’t need this any more than I do.”

She pushed her fingers lightly into Isadore’s upper arm and he tilted crazily against the arm of the wheelchair in such a way that only a crazy person would think he was a real man.

“You aren’t real, are you?” she said. “I’ve only been fooling myself all along.”

She began to be afraid somebody might report her and they—the bureau of crazy people, maybe—would come and take her out of her home and make her stay in a mental home against her will. They might even shoot volts of electricity into her head, as she had witnessed on TV. The thought made her feel frightened and helpless.

She dumped the mannequin (not really her Isadore, after all) out of the wheelchair under a tree and hurried away before she changed her mind.

On her way out of the park, an old man shuffled toward her.

“Can you spare a dollar?” he asked.

She looked at him and smiled. “Isadore?” she said.

“Name’s Boo-Boo,” he said. “At least that’s what my friends call me.”

“Would you like to come home with me?”

She touched the sleeve of the jacket, slick with dirt. He pulled back as if uncertain what she was might do.

Gunsmoke is on tonight,” she said. “It’s your favorite show.”

“What time is it?” he asked.

“It starts at eight o’clock,” she said.

“You really want me to come home with you?”

“Yes.”

“What’s the catch?”

“No catch.”

“Could you fix me some bacon and eggs?”

“Sure.”

“Got any beer?”

“You never drank before.”

“Could I have a bath and some clean socks?”

“Anything you want.”

She pointed to the wheelchair. He sat in it and twisted his head around and smiled up at her.

“This is all right!” he said. “Very kind of you, I’m sure. It’s only fair to warn you, though: I ain’t much of a lover.”

She patted him reassuringly on the shoulder and began pushing toward home. She thought how light he was, how easy to push, and how much she had missed him the whole time he had been away.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Mother Witch, Father Ghoul

Mother Witch, Father Ghoul ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Jock and Lena had been married for eighteen years when their first child came along, a boy they named Finley. They had resigned themselves to being childless, so Finley was something of a surprise. Lena was sick the whole time she was carrying Finley and she wondered secretly if childbirth was worth all the trouble and fuss. She had been happy without children and wondered if she would ever be happy again.

Always a reader, she read book after book on child-rearing and parenting, hoping that the words on the printed page would make her feel inspired, but they had no effect in that direction. She woke up every morning during her pregnancy hoping that the little thing growing inside her would—if not exactly die—just not be there at all.

When Lena told Jock she was going to have a baby that neither of them expected, he was so dismayed he couldn’t speak. He shook and felt weak and had to sit down. When he recovered his senses, he demanded a scotch and soda and a steak medium-rare and accused Lena of having a secret affair with the obese man who cleaned the carpets.

The birth was a difficult one and Lena thought she would die. When the nurse at the hospital placed Finley in Lena’s arms for the first time, Lena fainted and fell out of bed; the nurse caught Finley just in time before he hit the floor. When Lena woke up from her faint, she had temporarily lost her senses.

Jock and Lena readied an upstairs room in their spacious house for the baby. They bought all the requisite furniture and all the little things they thought a baby would like. They had the room painted a cheerful yellow color and bought new curtains with elephants and giraffes on them; they spared no expense.

On the day Lena brought Finley home from the hospital, a few curious neighbors dropped in to see him. Lena wore a tight smile and welcomed the visitors graciously. Jock locked himself in his study and drank whiskey and wrote atrocious poetry.

Finley was a beautiful, perfect child with abundant light-brown hair and a full set of teeth. It was his strange, green-and-amber eyes, though, that people noticed first. He looked searchingly at any visitor who came into the room, as if he were studying them and knew things about them that nobody else knew. When people talked, he moved his lips and smiled, pretending he too was talking. Frequently he pointed at something across the room and when people turned to look at what he was pointing at, there was nothing there except the blank wall. He was seeing things that nobody else saw.

At about three weeks old, Finley began moving objects around the room by pointing at them with his tiny index finger and pursing his lips. If a floppy yellow bunny was sitting on the chest of drawers, he could make it fall to the floor or float across the room and fall into his bed, at which time he would grab it and stick it in his mouth. When a wasp came into this room, he pointed at it and flicked his tongue and the wasp fell dead in mid-flight.

“I don’t see anything of myself in him,” Jock said. “Nobody in my family ever had eyes that color.”

Lena was hurt anytime Jock suggested that somebody else was Finley’s father. The marriage, which before had been tolerable, was strained to the breaking point. Jock went out of the room when Lena entered and spoke to her only when it couldn’t be avoided. He blamed her for Finley’s existence and came to see their marriage as a mistake. He tried to warm up to Finley but believed that the two of them would only ever be strangers. He couldn’t visualize Finley living in his house for twenty or so years until reaching adulthood.

Despite Lena’s misgivings about parenthood, she tried to be a good mother to Finley. She fed him, bathed him and spent most of her waking hours looking out for him. There was always something about him, though, that to her didn’t seem right. It seemed he didn’t need her. He was attuned to something or someone else besides her. At times he would look longingly outside the window and point his finger and warble at something that only he could see.

At six months, Finley was walking and at nine months talking in complete sentences. He asked for pencil and paper and began drawing pictures of birds, castles, airplanes and elephants.

“How could you know about such things?” Lena asked.

When Finley was less than a year old, a relative gave him a picture book with farm animals and jungle animals. He looked appreciatively at all the pictures and then asked for a book with words.

“What kind of a book would you like?” Lena asked, stunned that a baby would make such a request.

“It doesn’t matter,” Finley said. “Just something I can hold in my tiny hands and turn the pages.”

She didn’t want to give him anything too “adult,” so she gave him a juvenile book about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. He read the book in one afternoon and asked for another one.

“Where did you learn to read?” Lena asked. “You haven’t been to school yet.”

“Some people are just born knowing things, I guess,” he said.

At one year, Finley was dressing and bathing himself and getting his own food. Lena kept a little stepstool within easy reach of the refrigerator. He never dropped any crumbs or spilled anything on the floor, and when he was finished eating he washed his own dishes, standing on a chair at the sink.

He learned to turn on the TV when nobody was around and watch on his own. He wasn’t interested in anything where people were talking. He wanted to hear music and see movement: pictures of animals, cars, airplanes, trains—anything but people.

One day, when Finley was one year and two months old, someone knocked on the door in the middle of the afternoon. Opening the door, Lena saw a strange-looking man and woman standing on the porch peering in at her. The man was very thin and pale and dressed in formal attire. (He seemed like a holdover from the Third Reich.) The woman was taller and broader than the man and wore a very old-fashioned kind of lady’s hat with a red feather and a veil. The chimpanzee she held by the hand wore an aviator cap with goggles and a little leather coat.

“You have the wrong house,” Lena said.

“I’m Mrs. Miggles and this is my husband, Julian.”

“Charmed,” Julian said.

“Whatever you’re selling, I’m not interested.”

“We’re not selling anything, but we would like to speak to you.”

“I’m very busy right now.”

“You’re going to want to hear this,” the woman said. “It concerns your son.”

When Mrs. Miggles said the words your son, she inclined her head toward the chimpanzee.

Lena allowed them into the living room and asked them to sit down. The woman began by saying, “The boy’s name is Armand. Say hello to the lady, Armand.”

The chimpanzee took two steps toward Lena and held out his hand for her to shake.

“How do you do?” Lena said.

Armand rolled his lips back over his teeth and gave a little squawk.

“Is your husband at home?” Mrs. Miggles asked. “We really wanted to speak to both of you.”

“He’s out right now,” Lena said. “Just what is this about?”

“I don’t know quite how to say it.”

“Just say it. Isn’t that usually the best way?”

“Well, you can probably tell we’re not like anybody else. I’m a witch and my husband here is a ghoul.”

“A ghoul?”

“Yes, a ghoul.” Mrs. Miggles faltered and then continued. “You had a son on the last day of August last year, I believe.”

“How do you know that?”

“I also had a son on that day.”

“And you’re a witch?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Witches have children?”

“Sometimes they do.”

“All right. So you had a son on the same day as me. How does that concern me?”

“Well, to put it bluntly…”

“Yes.”

“I have your child and you have mine.”

“What?”

“The child that you have that you think is yours is really mine. He’s half-witch and half-ghoul.”

“All right, if that’s true, then where is my child?” Lena asked.

“This is him,” Mrs. Miggles said, picking Armand up and setting him on her lap.

“You’re telling me I gave birth to a chimp?”

“Oh, no, no, no! You gave birth to a human child on the same day that I gave birth to my child, who isn’t really human in the sense that you mean it.”

“Then where is my child?” Lena asked.

“I just told you! Your child is Armand!”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave my house now.”

“Well, perhaps I should backtrack and explain a little further.”

“I think you must!” Julian said in his odd croaking voice.

“When your attention was diverted for just a tiny second, my sister, who is also a witch, stole your baby and replaced him with mine.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Oh, witches can trick you very easily, I assure you!”

“I don’t believe a word of this!”

“She switched babies, and then do you know what she did? To get back at me for something I did to her a long time ago, she turned your baby into a chimp!”

Mrs. Miggles and Julian both laughed heartily.

“Nobody took my baby,” Lena said. “If such a thing had happened, I would have known.”

“It has taken me all this time to find you!” Mrs. Miggles said. “Of course, I had to torture my sister to get it out of her!”

“I’m going to call the police,” Lena said.

“And what do you think they’ll do, my dear!”

“My husband is behind all this, isn’t it? He’s playing an elaborate Halloween hoax on me because he never wanted a baby in the first place.”

“I’ve never spoken to your husband.”

Lena looked down at Armand who was sitting at Mrs. Miggles’s feet. When he realized he was being looked at, he smiled sweetly and yawned.

“So, if your sister turned my child into a chimp,” Lena asked, “why can’t she turn him back again?”

“That is a very reasonable question, my dear,” Mrs. Miggles said. “The truth is that the spell was hers and I don’t know how to reverse it.”

“Can’t you get her to reverse it?”

“Oh, no! I had to kill her!”

“You killed your own sister?”

“Oh, my, yes! She was a terrible trickster! If I hadn’t killed her, she would have killed me in the end!”

“She was a poor jealous thing,” Julian said. “She couldn’t have children of her own.”

“So, if you’ll just go and get your little fellow, whatever his name is,” Mrs. Miggles said, “we’ll make the switch and be on our way!”

“Do you think I’m going to turn my baby over to a couple of crazy people and take a chimp in return?” Lena asked.

“We prefer that you didn’t call him that,” Julian said.

Finley, who had been standing at the top of the stairs the whole time hearing every word, came running into the room.

“Mother! Father!” he said. “I knew you’d come for me on Halloween!”

During the embraces and kisses, Mrs. Miggles turned to Lena and said, “Now do you believe me?”

Armand went and stood beside Lena and took her by the hand. She reached down and picked him up in her arms and he kissed on her cheek, the way Finley was doing with Mrs. Miggles and Julian.

“At last, everything is right in the world!” Mrs. Miggles said.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Bereavement Leave

Bereavement Leave ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in The Dirty Pool literary magazine.)

“I feel like firing somebody today,” Mr. P. said. “Who shall it be?”

“I don’t know,” Mr. C. said. “Go down the list and pick somebody.”

“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. P. said. “We have lots of suckers to choose from. Are there any standouts? Yes, there are many, many standouts. Anybody you’ve found especially offending lately?”

“Ed Boyce spends too much time in the men’s room,” Mr. C. said.

“He has a chronic bowel disorder,” Mr. P. said, “so I don’t think we could get him on that. He might counter with a lawsuit.”

“How about Frank Taplin? I’ve noticed him staring off into space a couple of times lately when he ought to be working.”

“He just lost his wife to an automobile accident. We gave him three days’ bereavement leave, but I think it takes longer than that to get over the accidental loss of a wife. Sometimes it’s a good idea to have a heart, or at least pretend we do.”

Haw-haw-haw!” Mr. C. laughed. “You’re right, of course, as you usually are.”

“Always being right is the thing that got me where I am today!”

“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. C. said. “Who to fire? Who to fire? Betty Ballantine comes to mind. I don’t like the way she lounges around in the break room, showing her legs like a whore in a waterfront saloon.”

“Can’t fire Betty,” Mr. P. said. “She makes the best coffee in the office and her father is on the board at the country club. We don’t want to make him mad.”

“All right, then. How about Florence Smalls? She’s put on a lot of weight lately. That means she’s moving slow and isn’t working as efficiently as she might.”

“Lot of weight is right!” Mr. P. said. “She’s going to have a baby.”

“You don’t say! I just thought she had been eating too many donuts.”

“You can’t fire an expectant mother, no matter how much you may want to. Pick somebody else.”

“I’m starting to get one of my headaches,” Mr. C. said. “Finding somebody to fire is just too taxing! You pick somebody from the list. I’m going to take a little snooze before lunch.”

Mr. P. and Mr. C. believed in their heart of hearts that that they managed the company, but the truth was they did nothing. When there was any real work to be done, they put it off on one of their minions and sat back and took the credit (and the profits), if any was to be taken.

Mr. C. went into his private office and closed the door. Mr. P. continued studying the list for somebody to fire. When he grew weary and decided it was time to take a little break, he called one of his current girlfriends, one Pansy Ruff, on the telephone. Pansy was a failed actress and had spent some time behind bars for cashing other people’s checks.

Mr. P. and Pansy spoke for over an hour about sundry personal matters, including her two pet poodles and the lousy manicure she had from a manicurist who was obviously high on drugs. Then she told him about how she had been taxing her intellect looking at travel brochures, trying to decide on a vacation destination (the French Riviera, Rome, or both?) and grew pouty when he told her he didn’t know when he would be able to get away to join her.

“You don’t know how difficult it is to run a large corporation with thousands of employees,” Mr. P. said.

“Have one of your perky little secretaries take care of things while you’re gone,” Pansy said. She was referring, of course, to the dozens of short-skirted, large-breasted female employees of Mr. P.’s of whom she was jealous.

By lunchtime Mr. C.’s headache was better and Mr. P. had had enough of the office for one morning, so the two of them left to have a steak-lobster-martini lunch at the fanciest restaurant in town.

They made it a rule never to discuss office matters while lunching, so Mr. C. didn’t ask Mr. P. who, if anyone, he had chosen to fire. Mr. C. trusted Mr. P.’s judgment and he knew that Mr. P. would pick somebody who would be crushed at losing his job and would probably cry and throw things, maybe turn over some chairs, and would have to be removed by the security staff. It would certainly spice up the afternoon.

While they were lunching, though, they talked of personal matters. While Mr. C. had a dull, dowdy wife and three dreadful children in the suburbs, he lived vicariously through Mr. P.’s exploits with the opposite sex.

Despite Mr. P.’s penchant for the ladies, he had never married, believing it would be unfair to the female population to confine himself to just one. Also, he was afraid of how expensive a divorce would be for someone of his stature. No, he would continue to make himself available to large numbers of women and keep everybody—but mostly himself—happy.

After two hours of excellent food and drink—and after Mr. P. had ogled all the women in the place under the age of seventy—Mr. C. paid their tab and left.

Once back at the office, Mr. C. retired for a little siesta, while Mr. P. again sat down at his desk with the list. Now that his mind was clear after a good lunch and a spate of martinis, he would find the perfect candidate for termination.

In no more than five minutes, he settled on the name Paul Schiller. Paul Schiller had a German-sounding name and he wore hideous ties with birds on them and the American flag. He kept to himself and didn’t seem to enjoy the three-hour meetings that everyone was required to attend.

Mr. P. couldn’t wait to share the news with Mr. C. He buzzed Mr. C. to come into the main office and, when Mr. C. appeared looking sleepy-eyed, Mr. P. burst out with the news.

“Paul Schiller!” he said. “He’s the one we’ll fire.”

“Oh? Which one is he?” Mr. C. asked.

“He’s an accountant or something. He’s a mousy sort of a short man with a mustache. He didn’t get drunk and act like a pig at the office Christmas party the way everybody else did. In fact, he wasn’t even there.”

“I still don’t know who he is,” Mr. C. said.

“He always keeps his head down and doesn’t try to flirt with any of the ladies.”

“You’ll have to give a reason to fire him,” Mr. C. said.

“Well, word is he uses a lot of soap and paper towels when he’s washing his hands in the men’s room.”

“He must be really clean.”

“And that he has arrived for work five minutes late two times in the last year,” Mr. P. said.

“Well, that was the commuter strike and the snowstorm, I’m sure,” Mr. C. said. “Everybody was late those days!”

“Somebody else told me they saw him put a packet of sugar in his shirt pocket, obviously to take home with him. Now, when employees begin stealing sugar from the company, you know it’s time to take some action!”

“That is so true!” Mr. C. said.

“And, if all that weren’t enough, there’s simply something about the fellow I don’t like,” Mr. P. said. “I think it’s the way he carries himself when he walks. He seems just a little too sure of himself.”

“He’s cocky.”

“Yes, that’s it exactly!”

“Have your secretary show the man in, then, and we’ll get right to it!” Mr. C. said, rubbing his hands together.

Mr. P. and Mr. C. both greeted Paul Schiller with enthusiastic smiles, shaking his hand and patting his shoulder.

“Take a chair, please, sir,” Mr. P. said.

Paul Schiller sat in the large leather chair in front of Mr. P.’s desk, crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap. Even now, Mr. P. thought, when he’s called into the boss’s office, this Paul Schiller person is entirely too sure of himself.

“What can I do for you gentlemen today?” Paul Schiller asked.

“You’ve been with the company now for about—what?—sixteen months?” Mr. P. said.

“That’s right,” Paul Schiller said.

“And how do you like it here?” Mr. C. said.

“Well, I have to say I’ve found it very enlightening,” Paul Schiller said.

“In what way?” Mr. C. asked.

“I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish and more,” Paul Schiller said, smiling in a way that Mr. C. found disconcerting.

“That’s fine!” Mr. P. said. “The reason we asked you to come in and chat with us today is…”

“Well, I’m afraid whatever it is, it won’t matter much now,” Paul Schiller said. “I was just typing my letter of resignation when the secretary came and said you wanted to see me.”

“Oh? You’re leaving us?” Mr. C. asked.

“Yes. I didn’t think it would be necessary to give you the usual two weeks’ notice since my work here is finished,” Paul Schiller said, taking a folded letter out of his pocket and placing it on the desk in front of Mr. P.

“No, of course not!” Mr. P. said, not wanting to admit that he didn’t know what work Paul Schiller was talking about because he didn’t know what Paul Schiller’s job was.

“I’ve already removed my personal effects from my desk and said goodbye to my co-workers,” Paul Schiller said, “so I guess there’s nothing more to be said.”

He stood up and shook Mr. P.’s hand briskly and then Mr. C.’s hand and went out the door, leaving Mr. P. and Mr. C. at a loss for words.

“Well, I never!” Mr. C. said.

“That’s very disappointing!” Mr. P. said. “I thought we would at least see a temper tantrum from the fellow and have to call security.”

“You just never know about people!” Mr. C. said, shaking his head.

“Did you ever see anybody with more gall?” Mr. P. said. “He wouldn’t even let me fire him!”

“It takes all kinds,” Mr. C. said.

“I wasn’t even able to make him feel humiliated,” Mr. P. said, “and I’ve always been so good at that!”

“Well, pick somebody else from the list.”

“I’m afraid it’s going to have to wait until Monday. That fellow gave me a headache.”

“I’m going to take a little lie-down in my office,” Mr. C. said.

At four o’clock, with one hour left to go before time to go home, Mr. P. was relaxing in his big chair in front of the window, thinking about where he was going to have dinner and with whom, when he heard a commotion in the outer office. Before he had a chance to go and see what it was, three men, with several others behind them, burst into his office.

“Mr. Cornelius P.?” the tall man in front asked.

“Yes?” Mr. P. said, blusteringly. “And just who the hell might you be?”

“We have a warrant for your arrest, sir.”

What?” Mr. P. said. “I believe there’s been some mistake!”

Mr. C., also hearing the commotion, emerged from his office.

“Are you Mr. Alonzo C.?” the tall man asked.

“Well, uh…” Mr. C. said, unable to go any farther.

“I’m afraid you’re both under arrest, sir!”

“What is this all about?” Mr. P. asked.

“You’ll have plenty of time to ask questions later,” the tall man said. “All we’re here to do is to take you in.”

“In where?” Mr. C. asked, his fingertips in his mouth.

Desperate for a stalling tactic, Mr. P. began grabbing articles and papers from his desk and throwing them in all directions. While the tall man and the others were trying to get out of the way of flying articles, Mr. P. grabbed Mr. C. by the arm and they ran out their private door into the hallway.

“What now?” Mr. C. said.

“I’m not going to jail!” Mr. P. said.

“Me, either!”

“To the roof, then!”

They ran up to the roof, both knowing in their hearts that it was all over for them; there was no way to get out of the trouble they were in. They had been embezzling money from the company for years and it had been so easy. They had no reason to believe they couldn’t go on in the same way forever.

Crying real tears, they joined hands, stepped to the edge, and leapt to their deaths, thirty-three stories to the street. They created an epic traffic jam in all directions and were the top story on the evening news.

While Mr. P. and Mr. C. were sitting in Satan’s outer office, waiting to be admitted to hell, Mr. P. said, “Maybe we shouldn’t have taken quite so much money. Maybe we could have treated people a little better. Showed some humility.”

“I think it’s too late for that now,” Mr. C. said.

“Maybe they’ll let us into heaven if we apologize and promise to do better,” Mr. P. said.

“I don’t think it’ll do any good. Once you’re in hell, I don’t think there’s any getting out.”

“Who would have ever guessed that Paul Schiller was a federal investigator?” Mr. P. said.

“There’s no way we could have known,” Mr. C. said.

“Who hired the fellow in the first place?”

“It was you!

“No, it wasn’t me! I remember now! It was you!

“What does it matter now?” Mr. C. said. “I do hope, though, that I get a well-appointed room with a private bath and a view.”

“As for me,” Mr. P. said, “I’m going to insist on a supervisory position.”

“Yes,” Mr. C. said. “We’ll let them know we’re not going to take this hell thing lying down. We can beat them at their own game.”

“Yes,” Mr. P. said. “We’re two very special and unique fellows. We’re not going to stand for any ill treatment here.”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Baby

Baby ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in the literary journal, Streetcake, Issue 43.)

Louise was gone for three days. When she returned home, she was carrying a bundle in the crook of her arm.

“Where have you been all this time?” Theodore asked. “I was about to call the police.”

“Oh, you silly man!” Louise said. “Where do you think I’ve been? I’ve been giving birth to your son.”

She lifted the corner of the blanket to show him the baby’s face.

“This one has blue eyes,” Theodore said.

“He has your eyes.”

“My eyes are brown.”

“I’m going to name him Nathaniel,” she said. “After Hawthorne.”

“Name him whatever you want.”

“If I give him the name of a great writer, he might turn out to be a great writer himself.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You like that name?”

“It’s as good as any other, I suppose.”

She laid the baby down gently on the couch and took off her coat and laughed.

“Believe me,” she said. “It’s not easy carrying a newborn baby home on the uptown bus. I had to stand up the whole way, holding the baby in one hand and trying to keep from falling with the other. You’d think a gentleman might have given me his seat, but nobody even noticed me.”

“I could have come down and met you.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” she said. “I managed perfectly fine. And, anyway, I wanted to surprise you. What do you think of our new son?”

“He’s, uh…I can’t seem to find the words. I’m speechless.”

“I know! It’s a shock, isn’t it? Seeing him for the first time?”

“Especially since I didn’t know he was expected.”

“But that makes it that much more fun, doesn’t it?”

“If you say so.”

“Now, don’t you be an old grump puss! I’m going to need lots of help from you with this baby. Feeding him, changing his diapers, bathing him, and all the rest of it.”

“I don’t think that baby is going to be any trouble at all,” he said.

“No, of course not! He’s such a good baby! I can tell already, as young as he is.”

Theodore played piano in a jazz combo in a bar, so he had to leave to go to work. “Don’t wait up for me,” he said.

“Have a good time,” she said, “and don’t worry about me. The baby and I will be here when you get back.”

With Theodore gone, Louise was glad to have some time alone with the baby. She carried him into every room in the apartment, talking to him all the while, even though she knew he didn’t understand a word she said. She fed him, bathed him, and put him to bed in the crib at the foot of her own bed.

She slept until one o’clock, at which time she got up and fed him again. After she put him back in his crib and got back into bed, she had trouble going back to sleep. She kept thinking about how Theodore didn’t seem very happy about the baby. Well, men, she thought. You can’t ever tell what they’re thinking or how they really feel. They keep it all bottled up inside.

At two o’clock she still hadn’t gone back to sleep. She got up and checked on the baby and when she saw he was sleeping peacefully she knew the problem wasn’t with the baby but with her. She was lonely and sad. She picked up the sleeping baby and put him in the bed beside her. After that she was able to go to sleep.

Theodore came home about three-thirty. He undressed quietly and got into bed and after a couple of minutes Louise began to cry.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“I’m not going to have any more children,” she said.

“Okay.”

“I don’t think you love them.”

“Could we postpone this conversation to another time? I’m very tired.”

“Take Nathaniel and put him with the others. They need to get acquainted.”

“I just got into bed. Can’t you do it?”

“You’re the father.”

He sighed and got out of bed again without turning on the light. He picked Nathaniel up by the neck and carried him out of the room and down the hallway to another room. In this room was a bed with six lifelike plastic dolls lying side by side, all exactly like Nathaniel. He added Nathaniel to the collection and went back to bed.

“Better now?” he asked Louise.

“Yes.”

“And this is going to be the last one?”

“Yes, I think so. Seven is my lucky number.”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp