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A Mother in Her Cadillac

A Mother in Her Cadillac ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He heard her voice downstairs and recognized her tread across the floor. She’d be up but it would take a while, she had grown so fat. He smelled her awful perfume already; it smelled like trouble. He heard her pulling herself up by the banister, heard her huffing and grunting. He pretended to be asleep but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Before he was ready, she burst into the room like a bull out of a chute.

“Can’t you knock?” he said, raising his head from the bed.

“Family don’t have to knock!” she screamed.

She approached the bed and gave him a kiss on the forehead. Thank goodness she wasn’t a mouth kisser!

“Uncle Pell!” she said. “How in the heck are you?”

He managed a weak smile. “How do you think? Now that you’re here, I’m worse than ever. I think I might die.”

“Hah-hah-hah! Always the joker! You’ll be cracking jokes right up until the very end, won’t you?”

“What can I do for you today, Thelma?” he asked. “You must want something or you wouldn’t be here.”

“Well, can’t a gal pay her old uncle a visit?”

She plopped herself down in the bedside chair and placed her patent leather pocketbook over her broad thighs.

“I swear!” Pell said, looking down at her feet. “You just get fatter all the time. You must have put on fifty pounds since the last time I saw you. Your ankles are as thick as logs.”

“It’s just the age I am,” she said. “I’m at the age where my body retains liquids. My ankles is swollen.”

“If you’d lose some weight, maybe they wouldn’t swell so bad.”

“I didn’t come here to talk about my weight, uncle.”

“What did you come here to talk about?”

“How in the world have you been?”

“I already told you. I’m terrible and worse now that you’re here.”

“I’m worried, uncle Pell,” Thelma said.

“What about?”

“I’m worried that you’re not taking good enough care of yourself. There’s a lovely new nursing home out by the park. I heard almost all the beds is taken already. One phone call and we could get your name on the list and you’d be all set.”

“I’ve told you a million times already. I will not go into a nursing home. I will take my revolver and blow my head off first.”

“You will go into the nursing home, you old coot, when you don’t have no other choice.”

“I bet I’ll outlast you, you old harridan, with your fat legs.”

Thelma laughed but it was a pretend laugh. “Let’s not quarrel,” she said. “That’s not what family ought to be doing.”

“You keep throwing that word up in my face. Family. You’re here for a reason and I know it!”

“My goodness! You are a grumpy old bear today, aren’t you?”

“Where’s Alveda? I want her in the room.”

“Why?”

“Because if she’s in the room, plopping up the pillows and taking my temperature every few minutes, you won’t be inclined to stay so long.”

“I left her downstairs,” Thelma said. “I told her she didn’t need to show me up.”

“Well, I want her here, or you’re going to have to leave.”

“Why?”

“I want my nurse with me, that’s why.”

“She ain’t a nurse, uncle Pell. She’s nobody.”

“Get her.”

She heaved herself up from the chair and went to the top of the steps and screamed down: “Alveda! Come right up here this minute! This old bastard wants you in the room with him, like you was a teddy bear or somethin’.”

“A voice like that ought to win first place in a hog-callin’ contest,” Pell said.

“You told me to call her and I did. You don’t think I’m going to haul ass all the way back down those stairs, do you?”

Alveda came into the room. “Did you want something, Mr. Pell?” she asked.

“I just want you to be here so I have a witness in case I happen to murder my niece.”

Eyes averted, Alveda went about straightening the room, putting some clean laundry in the dresser drawers.

Thelma sighed. “Good help is certainly hard to find nowadays.”

“Which brings me back to the original question,” Pell said. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, to put it bluntly, we need your help.”

“If you say ‘family’ again, I’m going to throw my bedpan at you.”

“David’s in trouble again. We need to get him a lawyer.”

“What is it this time?”

“Well, the kids was drinkin’ and havin’ a barbecue at the river. There was five or six boys and one girl. The boys took turns takin’ the girl into the woods. The girl was willing—she was whoopin’ it up and drinkin’ same as everybody else—but after she got back to town she wasn’t so willing no more. She went straight to the sheriff’s office and said these fellas raped her against her will.”

“And David is innocent, I suppose?”

“He says he didn’t do nothing. He was there and he saw it, he said, but he thought it was just all in fun.”

“Of course, that’s the story he would tell everybody to try to keep himself out of jail.”

“I believe him, uncle Pell. We need to get him a good lawyer and no mistake. No mother wants to see her child in prison. That’s why my ankles is swollen. I need eighteen thousand dollars and I need it bad.”

“Good God! Is that how much it takes to retain a lawyer these days?”

“It’s not just for a lawyer. I have other expenses, too.”

“What other expenses?”

“I have doctor bills.”

“You’ve seen a doctor?”

The tears started flowing; she dabbed at each eye with her handkerchief. “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I’m dying.”

“What is it this time?”

“I have a terribly weak heart.”

“Too many cigarettes.”

“I gave up smoking long ago.”

“If you’d lose a couple hundred pounds of blubber,” he said, “your heart would be able to function normally.”

“Please stop joking for one moment and listen to me,” she said. “The doctor has given me no more than six months to live.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“It’s not so much myself that I care about. It’s David. I’m all he has in the world. I’m afraid I’ll die while he’s in this rape mess and there won’t be nobody to help him through it.”

“How old is David now?”

“You know how old. He’s thirty-nine.”

“Most men of thirty-nine years no longer rely on their mothers to pull them along through life.”

“David isn’t like the others,” she said. “He weighed less than four pounds when he was born and he came out yellow. Can you imagine? He was always so sickly. The doctors thought he’d die right away but he didn’t and I think the only reason he survived was because he had me for a mother.”

“And he’s been nothing but trouble ever since.”

“Having children is a gamble. You take the bad with the good.”

“In David’s case, it’s been all bad.”

“You think so because you’ve never had a chance to know him. He has a very sweet nature. There’s a lot in him that’s good.”

“I know him well enough. He tormented the cats and he tormented the chickens and he tormented his cousins and in school he tormented the teachers and the other kids. He probably should have been locked up from the time he was seven years old.”

“I know,” Thelma said, sniffling. “He was always a little off somehow. What was I gonna do? A mother can only do so much.”

“Very sad, I’m sure,” Pell said, “but I’m not going to give you eighteen thousand dollars.”

“Oh, my god!” she cried, bringing her handkerchief to her eyes. “Oh, my god! Oh, my god! Oh, my god! What am I going to do? What’s going to become of my David?”

“Forget the expensive lawyer,” Pell said. “If David is innocent, a court-appointed attorney will be good enough.”

“I’m afraid that’s too risky! I abhor the thought of dying with my son in the penitentiary and not even being able to stand beside my grave as they lower my body into the cold ground.”

“Find out who the girl is,” Pell said. “The girl who said she was, uh, violated.”

“I already know who she is. Her name is Willie Walls.”

“A trashy girl, I imagine.”

“You would think that, wouldn’t you?” Thelma said. “At a wild drinkin’ party at the river with five or six men. The only girl there.”

“Offer her a thousand dollars to drop the case. I’ll bet that’s more money than she ever dreamed of owning in her life.”

“Drop the case? Why would she do that?”

“If it goes to trial, her character will be impugned. They’ll dig up all the dirt on her they can find; every low character she’s ever associated herself with. She’ll be humiliated and made to look like a fool. She’ll lose the case and end up with nothing. A sure thousand dollars would spare her all that.”

“I don’t know if I would want to try that or not,” Thelma said.

“So you want to throw away thousands of my money on a lawyer when you don’t have to?”

“I just don’t know what’s best! I’m at the end of my tether!”

“I’ve given you what I consider sound advice. That’s the best I can do.”

“I didn’t come here for advice, uncle.”

“I know. You came here for money.”

“You’ll the only family that David and I have left.”

“That’s not true.”

“Isn’t it only natural that families help each other out in time of need? I know you can afford it. I don’t know what all you have because you’re so secretive about money, but I’ll bet this big house is worth plenty. You could sell it and we could get you moved into the nursing home out by the park and you’d be so happy and you’d have all your needs taken care of.”

“Thelma, I’m just a hair’s breadth away from ordering you out of my house.”

“If you were to die tomorrow, what would happen to this house? Who would get it?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Are you planning on takin’ it with you when you die?”

“Maybe. If I can figure out a way.”

“Are you sayin’ that David and I mean nothing to you?”

“Thelma, I’m saying that you’ve given me a terrible headache and if you don’t leave now, I’m going to get out of this bed and drag you by the hair of your head down the stairs and out the front door.”

“I don’t know how you dare talk to me that way! After all I’ve done for you!”

Hah-hah! What have you ever done for me?”

“I’ve helped you out in a number of unseen ways!”

“Alveda, show my niece to the door. And make sure she doesn’t steal anything on her way out.”

“Don’t bother yourself! I think I can manage to get myself out the damned door, thank you!” She pulled herself out of the chair and stood unsteadily, grabbing the bedpost for support.

“Good bye, dear!” Pell said. “Drive carefully on your way home. Make sure your heart doesn’t fail you while you’re driving in traffic.”

“You know what, you old son of a bitch? I can have you declared incompetent and get control of your assets as your next of kin. How would you like that? And don’t think I’ll put you in the new nursing home out by the park, neither. I’ll find one that’s a regular shithole where they tie you to the bed and let you lay in your own filth all day!”

“Oh, my goodness! That does sound dreadful, doesn’t it?”

Thelma went out of the room like a charging rhinoceros and down the stairs. When she slammed the front door, it sounded a like a gunshot.

“Alveda, go to the window and watch her,” Pell said. “Make sure she gets into her car and drives away.”

Alveda went and stood at the window and looked down into the street.

“Tell me what she’s doing,” Pell said.

“She’s going down the walk. She’s stopping and looking back at the house. She’s taking a cigarette out of her purse and lighting it.”

“Gave up smoking! Bah!”

“Now she’s opening the door of her car.”

“What kind of car is it?”

“It’s a big shiny car. It looks new. I think it’s a Cadillac.”

“Does that sound like a woman desperately in need of money to you?”

“She’s not getting in yet, though. She’s just standing there, smoking her cigarette, looking up at the house.”

“Probably plotting her next move.”

“She’s dropping her cigarette to the ground and reaching into the car for something.”

“Probably a gun.”

“No, it’s a jacket. She’s putting it on. Looks like fur, maybe mink. That woman has got herself a new mink fur jacket. She’s getting in now, slamming the door and starting the engine. She’s looking at herself in the mirror and now she’s putting the car in gear and now she’s driving off.”

“Out of my life forever,” he said.

“Do you want some aspirin for your headache?”

“Not now. I’m going to get up and get dressed and after lunch I want you to take me downtown to see my lawyer.”

“Are you sure you’re up to it?”

“Yes, I’m up to it. I have no familial relations now, so I’m going to change my will. Can you see yourself living in this house with your family after I’m dead?”

“Your niece would kill me before she’d let that happen.”

“There’s nothing she can do about it.”

Alveda went downstairs to fix lunch and the old man got out of bed and began pulling the clothes out of the closet that he planned on wearing for his afternoon outing. He’d wear a sports jacket and his green-and-yellow tie—nothing like bright colors. He would show people he was still in the game and wasn’t ready to leave the sad old world behind. Not just yet. Maybe never.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

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Tractor Pulls and Wrestle Mania

Tractor Pulls and Wrestle Mania ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

My mother-in-law’s name is Elna Olmstead. She has pink hair and looks like Edward G. Robinson. Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, Little Caesar (not the pizza but the Prohibition-era movie gangster) wearing a cotton-candy wig, a mass of pink curlicues and ringlets, encasing his melon-shaped head. Whenever I see Elna, I expect her to be wearing a double-breasted suit with a machine gun as a fashion accessory, but instead she’s wearing a horned helmet and an iron breastplate, like a tiny Brunehilde (complete with the German accent). Yes, she’s very small but don’t be fooled by her size. She would cut off your head with her battle-axe and serve it to the neighborhood dogs and then, without missing a beat, go inside and watch today’s episode of General Hospital.

Elna doesn’t have very high regard for men. She has had four husbands. Two of them died and the other two escaped. Of the two that died, one of them, Julius, had his heart burst (or, as Elna likes to say, his heart “busted”), and the other one, Hec, committed suicide by hanging himself from a rafter in the attic. Elna was very put out with Hec because he hadn’t finished his housework. When he was laid out at the funeral home (with a smile on his face), she was there with a big bag of pork rinds in one hand and a pint of malt liquor in the other. When she lit a cigarillo over Hec’s casket with a lighter like a torch, it activated the very sensitive fire sprinklers, and water came pouring down on her and poor dead Hec. She threatened to sue the funeral home because she had spent four hours that day at Mitzie’s House of Beauty getting her hair re-pinked.

Elna’s best friend is a former lady boxer named Doris Grotnick. Elna brought Doris along one Thanksgiving to our house for dinner. Doris proudly raised her sleeve and showed us the tattoo of the grim reaper on her upper arm and then she informed us that “Grim Reaper” was her professional name when she was in wrestling. After dinner, Elna and Doris sat at the kitchen table arm-wrestling and drinking margaritas, while the rest of us ate pumpkin pie and watched Miracle on 34th Street on television.

More than anything else, Elna and Doris love sports, but especially wrestling. They go to all the matches and have their favorite wrestlers. Elna calls them “my boys.” She got arrested at one of the wrestling matches because she had too much to drink and wouldn’t sit down and shut up. When security guards came and tried to make her leave, she hit him one of them in the face and broke his nose. When we went to bail her out of jail the next day, she had the man’s blood all over her clothes and underneath her fingernails.

Next to wrestling, these two paragons of refinement (Elna and Doris, in case you’re not paying attention), love tractor pulls. They watch tractor pulls on TV and get so excited they pull down the curtains and bust up the furniture. Elna screams at the tractor she hopes will win, jumps up and down and flails her fists. One time she accidentally hit Doris in the side of the head and knocked her out. She waited until the tractor pull was over (her tractor won) and then called for an ambulance. Doris was taken to the hospital and spent two weeks recovering from a concussion.

We found out later that Doris Grotnick was a Satan worshipper and that she persuaded Elna to join her “church” (or “anti-church” if you prefer). They both dressed in black and went arm-in-arm to all the services. Elna told us that making Satan her master was the best thing she had ever done and that it had “set her free.” She tried to get the rest of us interested in Satanism. She gave us pamphlets to read, extolling the value of Satan worship, but I refused to look at them and threw them in the trash.

Elna and Doris became minor celebrities for a time when they appeared on a TV talk show in white makeup as witches and practitioners of black magic. They moaned, frothed at the mouth and rolled around on the floor to invoke the spirit of Satan for the studio audience. My wife was embarrassed and refused to leave the house for a few days. She realized, finally, that her mother was insane. I had known it all along.

For Christmas Elna bought three cemetery plots for herself, my wife and me. I was to be on one side of her and my wife on the other side. We were her children. Children of Satan. That’s when I decided I was going to be cremated.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

People Come and Go So Quickly Here

People Come and Go So Quickly Here ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Alva was new to the city and marveled at its wonders: the buildings that reached to the sky, the lines of automobiles that stopped and started and then stopped again, the glittering hotels and restaurants, the crowds of people everywhere, the theatres blazing with electric light, the library that took up an entire block, the department stores, the garish shops and, yes, the soup kitchens. It was 1932 and, in the midst of all this plenty, there were people who had to stand in line to get something to eat because they had no money.

The first time a woman approached him on the street he felt flattered because she wasn’t bad looking. He believed she was interested in him in a friendly way until she started rubbing her hands along his chest and abdomen, and he could tell on close inspection that she wasn’t right somehow. He pushed away from her groping hands and then felt embarrassed that a stranger would have such thoughts in connection with him.

He had always liked books but had never read many. He went into a big bookstore a few blocks from his hotel and spent a long time just walking the aisles, looking at the rows and stacks of books with colorful and interesting covers, more books that he had ever seen before. He hoped one day to live in his own house without interference from anybody and own a lot of books just like these. Even if he didn’t read them, he would enjoy having them on a shelf where he could see them.

A clerk approached. “Can I help you find something, sir?”

He blushed at being called “sir” and shook his head. It occurred to him that maybe he shouldn’t be walking around the way he was if he wasn’t going to buy anything. “No,” he managed to say.

“If you need help finding anything, let me know.”

He nodded his head and then left the store, afraid he might be asked to leave if he didn’t leave on his own.

Down in the next block was a restaurant that touted Italian and American cuisine. He went inside and took a seat at a small table where he could see out the window. A waitress approached and gave him a menu and a glass of icy water. He was still astounded by the freedom of going into a restaurant and ordering whatever he wanted to eat.

Never having eaten spaghetti before, he ordered a plate of spaghetti, and while he was waiting the waitress brought a glass of beer and a little basket full of breadsticks. He began eating the breadsticks and was sure he had never tasted anything so good. The beer tasted bitter at first but after a few sips he liked it and when he emptied the glass the waitress brought him another one as if he was a person of importance.

He took his time eating the spaghetti, savoring its exotic flavor and when he was finished he had a large piece of chocolate cake with pecans. He never knew before that such wonderful things existed in the world.

Any time he did something the mother didn’t like, she hit him on the side of the head, on the left ear, with the flat of her hand. Over time, he developed a ringing in the ear and could no longer hear out of it as well as he could the other ear.

Here was another movie theatre. He slowed and studied the posters. He had never seen movies and wondered about them. Might anybody go? When finally he got up the nerve to buy a ticket and go inside, he was relieved to see how easy it was. Nobody looked at him askance or asked him any questions. Pay your money and they give you a little piece of paper to show you’ve paid and you go inside and give the paper to a boy standing there and then you find yourself a seat and sit down. You may sit anywhere you choose. What freedom! What luxury!

The cartoon began, and in it were picture-book animals that talked and wore clothes. He thought at first this was the movie. The cartoon ended after only a few minutes, though, and then it was the previews of coming attractions to tell the audience about movies that would be shown in the theatre at a future date. The sparse audience watched the previews with rapt attention and then it was time for the feature to begin.

There was a lot of talk at first and arguing among the characters in the movie. They were all men and wore suits and hats. It wasn’t very interesting. After a few minutes, though, it became more so. One of the men shot and killed another man and then there was a scene in a funeral home with a body in a casket and women standing around crying. Then the man who had done the killing was at home with his mother and sister. The mother stood at a stove cooking and spoke in a strange accent so that you could barely understand what she said. The sister was dressed up to go out but the mother pleaded with her to stay at home.

After the first few minutes, Alva was riveted by the movie. He was seeing a side of life he never knew existed. He didn’t care much for the scenes that were mostly talking but he liked the scenes where the characters were doing things, careening through the city streets in expensive-looking cars with machine guns. It seemed so real. He had to remind himself that it was just another kind of make-believe, like reading a story in a book.

When the movie was over, it seemed there was nothing left to do but go back to the hotel. He retrieved his key from the desk clerk and went up to the eighteenth floor in the elevator, another marvel that he never expected to see.

He was tired and his room seemed comforting and inviting. It was his and his alone for as long as he paid for it. He loved the solitude. He opened the curtains and stood for a long time looking off into the distance at the buildings. The lights were like glinting jewels and there were so many of them. He could see no trees, mountains or hills. He was truly in the city.

A siren brought his attention back to the street and he looked down. He had never been so high up before and it was thrilling in a way to be able to look down at the bustling life that never ended, no matter how late. He felt a part of things but also detached.

He opened the window a couple of inches and turned off the light and got into bed. Lying on his back, looking at the ceiling, he listened to the air rushing in at the open window and the faraway sounds from the street. He turned on his side, covered up his head and soon he was asleep.

The father didn’t usually hit him the way the mother did, but he liked to flip his ears from behind with his fingertips and squeeze him painfully at the back of the neck, and sometimes he would grab him by the upper arm and throw him against the wall and the next day there would be the imprint of the hand in his flesh.

In the morning he awoke to the sound of voices outside his door. He got up and dressed and went down in the elevator to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. He took a long time eating, bought a newspaper, and was on his way back to his room when a young man of about thirty years stopped him in the lobby by touching him on the shoulder.

“Might I have a word with you?” the man asked.

Alva looked at him with surprise.

“I’ve been seeing you for several days now,” the man said. “You’re staying here…alone?”

Alva nodded, wary of this stranger.

“Well, my name is Freddie Lindhoven. I…might we sit down?”

Alva went to the nearest chair and sat, placing the newspaper on his knees, and Freddie sat beside him.

“In seeing you alone,” Freddie said, “I thought I might be of some service.”

Alva looked in the other man’s face and shook his head.

Freddie laughed. “I can see you don’t have any idea what I’m getting at, do you?”

“No.”

“You’re from some other place. Let me guess. Arkansas?”

“Texas,” Eugene lied.

“Whereabouts in Texas? Galveston? One of the big cities?”

“Small town.”

“Very good! So you are a stranger to the city!”

“I’ve been here almost a week now,” Alva said.

“Well, I’m, uh, not exactly an employee of this establishment, but I help out some of the guests from time to time.”

“Help out?”

“I get them what they want. No matter what it is.”

Again Alva shook his head.

“I could get you a girl if you wanted one. Any kind of a girl. A Chinese or a black. Or a boy. I could get you a boy. An Asian boy or an Italian lad.”

Alva at last had a glimmer of what Freddie Lindhoven was talking about. “No,” he said. “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here. I don’t want anything like that.”

“I can get you any kind of booze you want and only the best kind. Also pills of any kind. Pills to dull pain. Pills to send you off into dreamland. Pills to bring you back from dreamland. Pills to make you happy. Pills to overcome shyness.”

“I don’t think so.”

 “I can get you hashish or dope. Any kind of dope. The kind you swallow, smoke or inject into your veins.”

Alva stood up. “No, I don’t want anything,” he said.

Freddie stood up too. “Well, if you think of anything later, let me know.” He handed Alva a card with his name and phone number and at the bottom these words: Fast. Discreet. Any time day or night.

The next day in the lobby, Freddie approached Alva and asked if he’d care to have lunch with him at his “club.” Alva shrugged his shoulders and accepted the invitation with indifference.

The “club” was a private men’s club where Freddie was a member. They were seated at a little round table with a white tablecloth amid a sea of identical tables, all of them occupied. Freddie asked Alva if he had ever eaten duck and when he said he hadn’t, Freddie ordered it for both of them along with a bottle of white wine.

“So, tell me your story,” Freddie said as they were waiting for the duck.

“I don’t have one,” Alva said. “My life began when I came to the city.”

“So, what you’re saying,” Freddie said, “is you don’t want to talk about it.”

“If you don’t say anything,” Alva said, “you don’t have to regret anything you said.”

Hah-hah-hah!” Freddie said. “You are a strange one, but I like you.”

While they were eating, Freddie was more than happy to share his own story. He came from a poor family, one of six children without a father. His mother had to support all of them on the meager wages from her job in a laundry. When Freddie was seventeen, he left home to make his own way and never looked back. At the age of twenty, he married a girl named Myrtle. Six months later she died of an infection.

“And I’ve never looked at another woman since,” he said. “Hah-hah-hah!”

Alva told Freddie about the movie he saw, his first movie ever, and about the cool, cave-like theatre and how all the people sat quietly, like in church, and watched the screen, trance-like.

“You never saw a movie before in your life?” Freddie said. “Don’t they have movies in Texas?”

“Not where I come from.”

When they were finished eating and it was time to pay, Freddie signed his name to a piece of paper and that’s all there was to it.

After they left the club, Freddie took Alva to a burlesque theatre, where half-naked women danced on a dimly lighted stage before an all-male audience. Alva thought the whole thing silly and vulgar. He found the women ugly and unappealing but pretended to like it.

The father laughed at him and called him sissy and other names he didn’t know the meaning of. He asked him if he wore women’s underwear and washed his pussy at night and put powder on it to keep it fresh. The mother might have intervened, but she bent over double with laughter. The slatternly bitch in her filthy dressing gown.

Freddie became the only friend Alva ever had. They spent hours talking. Freddie loved talking about himself and loved having an audience. Alva never spoke of his past life or where he came from. When Freddie asked him about his family, he only said he didn’t have one.

They went around the city together. They rode busses, taxi cabs and the subway. Freddie took Alva to places of interest he would otherwise not have seen. They saw movies together, including a “blue” movie at a little out-of-the-way theatre in an alleyway between buildings. They walked in the park and sat on the grass and fed popcorn to ducks. They went to a concert in a beautiful hall where there were a hundred musicians on a stage and thousands of people sitting in the audience listening to them play. In a labor hall they heard a speech given by a Socialist who advocated overthrow of the government. They saw a serious play in which a man murdered his wife for infidelity.

Alone in his room at midnight, Alva counted out his remaining money on the bed. He only had enough left for two more days in the hotel and modest meals. Time was running out for him.

The next day, while he and Freddie were having lunch in a diner that had once been a railroad car, he asked Freddie a question that had been on his mind.

“You said you have pills for anything?”

“I can get them,” Freddie said, his mouth full.

“What about a pill that makes a person go to sleep and not wake up?”

Freddie looked at him searchingly, took a drink of his Coke and belched. “I’ll have to ask my doctor friend about that. Nobody has ever asked me for that particular thing before.”

The next day when they met in the lobby of the hotel, Freddie grabbed Alva by the arm and pulled him outside to the sidewalk.

“I asked the doc what you wanted to know,” Freddie said.

“Yeah?”

“He says there is such a thing, if you want it bad enough.”

“What does that mean?”

“It’s expensive.”

“How much?”

“Don’t know yet. The doc won’t know how much until he gets it from his source.”

“Okay. Can you get it for me tomorrow?”

“Sure. I guess. Are you sure you want it?”

“Never more sure of anything in my life.”

At ten years of age, he knew he was nothing like the mother or the father, looked nothing like them. When he inquired about it, the mother told him he was adopted. It was a lie he believed for the next ten years.  

Right before he came to the city, he found out the truth. The mother was making him clean out the closet in her bedroom. He found an old yellowed newspaper, twenty years old. There was a story in it about an eighteen-month-old baby, named Draxton Capers, snatched from his parents in a Kansas City suburb. Police had no clue about where the baby might be and sought the help of the public. He was described as having brown hair and green eyes, a quarter-sized birthmark on his right shoulder.

As Alva looked at his brown hair with his green eyes in the mirror, he knew, finally, the truth about the woman and the man, the mother and the father, whom he had thought were his adoptive parents. They were kidnappers. They were the lowest form of human life. His real name was Draxton Capers. The birthmark on his shoulder removed any doubt there might have been.  

The mother always said she had a bad heart and she was always so fat. She needed somebody to do things for her, to fetch and carry, to wash her back and clip her toenails. All she and the father had to do was kidnap a healthy baby and they had an unpaid servant for life.

When he found out the truth, he couldn’t go on. These people had taken away his life. He would rather they had killed him when he was a baby.

The father was sitting at the kitchen table eating his breakfast. Alva stood at the sink washing the cast-iron skillet in which he had cooked the breakfast. He held the skillet in his right hand and dried it with his left. He looked at the back of the father’s head and, wielding the skillet in both hands like a baseball bat, hit him there with all his might.

The father shrieked and fell forward, slid off the table onto the floor. He was bleeding profusely from the head, but he wasn’t dead yet. Alva hit him repeatedly until he was sure he was dead.

The mother was still sleeping. When he went into her bedroom, she was lying on her back, breathing heavily, one enormous tit escaped from her nightgown. With the skillet, Alva smashed her head to liquid pulp. She never woke up. She never knew anything.  

He knew she had money hidden in the house. Ten dollars here, seven-fifty there. When he found it all, he had almost three hundred dollars. He packed a small bag, took the money and left the house in which he had lived all his life.  

He rode on the bus for a day-and-a-half to get to the city and all that time his mind was blank. He felt no remorse or fear. Nothing. The hatred he felt for the mother and the father was gone. They were in the place now where they belonged.

It would be a while before anybody found the bodies, maybe as long as a week. When they did find the bodies and discovered the son was gone, they would assume he had done the terrible deed. He wasn’t right in the head, people would say. He always kept to himself. Afraid to go out of the house.

They would trace him to the city, he knew. They would find him and put him in jail for the rest of his life, maybe even send him to the electric chair. Time was running out. Any day now they’d come for him.  

He didn’t see Freddie at all the next day and was afraid he had run out on him. He wanted to call the number on Freddie’s card but was afraid of what he’d find out. Freddie didn’t exist. The number was a dead end.

On Friday as he was leaving the hotel restaurant after dinner, he saw Freddie sitting across the lobby reading a newspaper. The relief he felt caused him to smile.

“I’m glad to see you again,” he said and meant it.

Freddie looked up from the newspaper. “Sit down, kid,” he said.

Alva sat down and waited until Freddie stopped reading and looked at him.

“Did you get it?” Alva asked. “What we were talking about?”

“Yeah, I got it,” Freddie said. “I don’t know if I’m going to give it to you or not, though, unless you tell me what it’s for.”

“You know what it’s for.”

“You did a bad thing back there in Texas. Maybe stole some money. Believe me, it’ll be a lot better if you go home and face the music, whatever it is, than to do a foolish thing that can never be undone.”

“I’ve already made up my mind. There’s no other way.”

“I’d talk you out of it if I thought I could.”

“You can’t.”

Freddie sighed and took a little white box, like a match box, out of the pocket of his jacket. “The doc says to get into bed and take all of these at once.”

“I can do that,” Alva said. “So easy.”

From his other pocket he took a fifth of whiskey. “The doc says to drink as much of this as you can. It’ll make the pills work better. Mix it with water if you can’t stand the taste.”

Alva took the box of pills and the fifth of whiskey and put them under his coat. “How much do I owe you?” he asked.

“It’s taken care of,” Freddie said.

“What?”

“The last thing I can do for a friend.”

They shook hands, Freddie wishing Alva good luck on his journey, and then he left in a hurry.

It was too early to go up to his room. Not just yet. He still had the rest of the evening.

He took a walk, with the object of making himself tired, but, more importantly, to say goodbye to the city. He walked an impossibly long way from the hotel. He felt calm and happy, kindly disposed toward everybody he saw, even the drunks who asked him for money.

When he got back to the hotel, it was nearly eleven o’clock. He went up in the elevator to his room and took a bath and washed his hair and, when he was finished, dressed himself in his pajamas and turned back the covers on the bed.

He filled a glass half with water and half with whiskey and went to the window and looked out as he drank it. He watched the lights twinkling off and on, heard the traffic down below, and was thankful for the wondrous time he had had in the city and for the friendship of Freddie Lindhoven. All that came before was nothing, or soon would be.

He drank the whiskey mixed with water until the bottle was two-thirds empty. He sat on the edge of the bed and dumped the pills from the little white box into his hand and swallowed them and covered himself up in the bed and switched off the light.

As he drifted off to sleep, he thought of a dog he had when he was little and how much he missed the dog when it ran away. The dog would be over there waiting for him, he knew. He could already see his bright eyes and his happily wagging tail.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Human Blood

 

Human Blood ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a re-post.) 

School was out. Arlene Buck walked home by herself through the quiet streets of the town. It was a cloudy, warm day in late October. Leaves and debris swirled along the sidewalk in the wind. Arlene turned her head to the side to keep the wind from whipping her in the face.

When she got home, her mother and sister weren’t there. She didn’t like being the first one home with nobody there. She went into the kitchen and had a chocolate chip cookie and a drink of cold water and then left again. She would walk down to Jesus Saves and when she came back her mother and sister would be there.

Jesus Saves was at the bottom of a hill, where the street dead-ended. It was an easy walk down and a harder walk back up. Anybody in the neighborhood who went out for a walk went down to Jesus Saves and back. There weren’t many other places to walk, unless you wanted to go a lot farther.

Since Jesus Saves was where the street ended, people were always using the parking lot there for turning around because they didn’t know until they got to the bottom of the hill that they couldn’t go any farther. Today it was deserted, though, with nobody turning around and no cars parked on the lot. That meant nobody would be getting saved from their sins tonight.

Arlene was superstitious and believed that when she walked down to Jesus Saves, Jesus wouldn’t save her until she touched the low wall on the far side of the parking lot with her foot. She did this and whirled around, when a dark spot on the asphalt caught her eye, glistening and wet as if somebody had spilled a bucket of paint and gone off and left it. She approached the spot to see what it was. She was studying it when the door of Jesus Saves opened and a man came running out. He approached her at a run and for an instant she thought he was going to tackle her like in a football game.

“Hey, you there! What do you think you’re doing? Get away from there!” the man said.

She looked from the spot on the asphalt to the man and back at the spot. “What is this?” she asked. “Did a dog get run over by a car?”

“No, no, no!” he said. “It’s nothing for you to worry about!”

It was Reverend Pearl, a fussy little man in black who preached at funerals and saved souls from going to hell. He wore glasses on a string around his neck. He was no bigger than a thirteen-year-old child but he had broad hips and the mannerisms of a woman.

“I want to know what this is,” she said. “It looks like blood.”

“You go on home, now!” Reverend Pearl said. “You have no business here!”

“I can be here if I want to be. You don’t own the world.”

The door of Jesus Saves opened again and two Sisters of the Church came out, lugging buckets of water and mops. They were large, homely women, wearing loose sack-like dresses and diapers on their heads.

“Over here!” Reverend Pearl called to the women. “Here’s where the mess is!”

The Sisters of the Church went to work, dipping their mops in the water and then swabbing at the spot. They moved the blood around until they had a sloppy pink mess. The water in the buckets, after they had dipped the mops a couple of times, looked like blood.

“We need something to soak it up,” Reverend Pearl said. “You’re just making it worse. Dump this water out and go inside and get some fresh. Jesus! I never saw so much blood in my life! The police left the mess for us to clean up! How do you like that?”

Arlene stood back a few feet and watched as the Sisters of the Church worked over the blood. Reverend Pearl forgot about her for the time being, but when he saw she was still there he advanced on her again.

“Didn’t I tell you to go on home?” he said. “There’s nothing here for you to see! Didn’t your mother ever teach you to obey your elders?”

“You’re not my elder,” Arlene said.

One of the Sisters of the Church stopped mopping and leaned over and whispered into Reverend Pearl’s ear, holding her hand over her mouth.

Oh!” Reverend Pearl said. “Oh, I didn’t know. Oh, my!”

“What did that woman say?” Arlene asked. “She whispered something in your ear about me, didn’t she?”

Reverend Pearl changed his tone now; he even attempted a smile. “I’m sorry if I was cross with you, little girl. A very bad thing happened here last night and it has my nerves on edge.”

What bad thing?”

“It isn’t my place to tell you,” he said. “You run on home now and I’m sure you’ll hear about it soon enough.”

As she began walking up the hill toward home, her heart beat in a funny way and she felt sick like when she had to go to the doctor. She knew something was wrong. Momma didn’t come home last night. Could the blood on the Jesus Saves parking lot having anything to do with that? What had the Sister of the Church whispered in Reverend Pearl’s ear?

She ran up the hill and when she got home, out of breath, her sister Camille was waiting for her.

“Where were you?” Camille asked.

“I’m afraid a very bad thing has happened,” Arlene said.

“Don’t be silly,” Camille said. “Nothing bad has happened.”

They waited all evening for momma to come home or at least to call them and let them know where she was. Camille fixed fish sticks and macaroni and cheese for dinner and while they were eating Arlene told her about the blood on the parking lot at Jesus Saves and what Reverend Pearl said and how he acted mad at first and then sympathetic.

“The blood of Jesus cleanses us of our sins,” Camille said.

“It wasn’t that kind of blood,” Arlene said. “Something bad has happened. I just know it.”

“You worry too much,” Camille said. “Everything will be fine.”

“I think we should call the police and tell them momma didn’t come home last night.”

“She’s stayed out all night before. She likes to have a good time.”

“But she always came home the next morning,” Arlene said. “Here it is night again and we haven’t heard a word from her.”

“We’ll wait until nine o’clock,” Camille said. “If she hasn’t come home by then we’ll call the police.”

They washed the supper dishes and were watching TV when there was a loud knock on the door. Arlene got up off the couch and went to the front door and, opening it, was not very surprised to see her grandma standing there.

“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” Arlene said, standing aside to let grandma come inside.

“I’m afraid I got some bad news for you,” grandma said, crying and wringing a handkerchief. “Your momma this day has joined the angels.”

What?” Camille said.

“She fell prey to the ravening beast and the beast hath slain her. Oh, Satan! Ruler of the world! What is going to become of us?”

“She was killed?” Camille asked, disbelieving. “By a beast?”

It was worse even than Arlene imagined. It was ironic (although she wouldn’t have known that word) that she just happened to be the one to walk down to Jesus Saves on that day of all days and see the blood. It was as if God or somebody had meant her to see it.

Grandma sat on the couch and wailed while Arlene and Camille packed overnight bags to go home with her. When they left the house, strangers were outside gawking at them.

“What do they want?” Arlene asked.

“There ain’t nothin’ here for you to see!” grandma called out to the strangers. “If you don’t beat it, I’m gonna call the sheriff! Leave us alone in our grief!”

At grandma’s house, the police came and talked to them. All Arlene and Camille could tell them was that momma had a lot of different boyfriends and had stayed out all night before on dates. She had always come home in the morning, though, almost always before Arlene and Camille left for school.

After the police were finished examining momma’s body, they released it to the Sutcliff Brothers’ Mortuary. Momma was laid out in her best navy-blue dress that she always saved for weddings and funerals. Now she was wearing it to her own funeral. She looked fine, as if nothing bad had happened to her. That would erase the terrible image, grandma said, of her being butchered by a savage killer.

Just about everybody momma ever knew came to the funeral home to see her off. Distant relations from other states. People she had grown up with that she hadn’t seen for twenty or thirty years. There were lots of strangers there, too. People who had read about the murder in the newspaper or seen it on TV and wanted to witness a little part of it themselves to be able to say they had been there and seen the grieving next of kin. And now it had the added attraction of being a murder mystery because police still didn’t know who did it or why.

At the funeral home a strange man with pale skin and tousled hair introduced himself to Arlene and Camille. They were sure they had never seen him before, but it so happened he was there father. He had left when Arlene was three and Camille six and neither of them remembered anything of him. All momma had ever said of him was that he was in prison and should be forgotten.

Now that momma was dead, this strange man, their father, wanted Camille and Arlene to come and live with him. He had a new wife, a baby son, and he was ready to be a real father to Camille and Arlene. He lived in a small town in a distant state and they would need to leave their school and all their friends and start over in a new place.

“I don’t want to go!” Arlene said. “Momma would want us to stay here!

“We’ll talk about it later,” grandma said, putting her hand on Arlene’s arm.

On the day of the funeral it rained. Momma’s casket was removed, not to Jesus Saves, but to the Methodist church for the service. The church was full one hour before the service began. People had to be turned away or made to stand out in front of the church in the rain. The front row was reserved for Arlene and Camille, grandma, and the man who said he was their father. To Arlene none of it seemed real.

There were flowers, soft words, organ music and Bible talk that Arlene barely noticed. When the service was finished, everybody got into cars and made a slow procession in the rain the two miles to the cemetery, where momma was laid to rest alongside her own baby brother who died when he was four years old.

During the graveside service, with all the people standing around the open grave, Arlene noticed a tall man standing behind everybody else, looking on. He was wearing a black hat pulled down almost to his eyes. He looked directly at Arlene and smiled and, as if the smile wasn’t enough, he winked. While everybody else was looking sad, he was smiling and winking.

“There’s something about him that’s not right,” Arlene told herself.

Maybe he was one of momma’s boyfriends and maybe not, but Arlene knew all at once, as well as she had ever known anything, that he was the beast, the Satan, who had spilled momma’s blood on the parking lot of Jesus Saves. It was written on his face.

She watched the man during the rest of the service, without seeming to watch him. When the service was over and momma’s casket was being lowered into the ground and everybody was making a dash for their cars in the rain, she kept her eyes on the man until he was out of sight.

She lost him in the crowd but kept watching and saw him again. He was getting into a black car on the far side of where all the cars were parked. She couldn’t see his face but saw the black hat he was wearing and knew it was the same man.

As the crowd dispersed, she had a clear view of the black car as it drove away. She tried desperately to read the license plate, but she slipped in the mud and fell on her backside. When she got up again, the black car was lost among all the other cars trying to get out of the cemetery in the rain.

She turned and began running back to where the others were waiting for her. She had to tell somebody–but most of all she had to tell momma–what she knew and what she had seen. She swerved around a large tree and jumped over some standing water and then, in a flash, it came to her: momma was dead and she’d never be telling her anything, ever again.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

The Last Time You Were Here

The Last Time You Were Here ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

It was 1953. I don’t need to tell you the story of my life, except to say that I was married and had two children. We lived in a three-bedroom, mortgaged-to-the-hilt ranch house on a quiet street in the suburbs. I had worked five years at the same job as an editor at a publisher of text books downtown. Every morning I got into my car and began the slow crawl to work. It sometimes took me as long as forty-five minutes or an hour to drive the congested twelve miles. (I could never get used to all the cars and all the people in the world.) I couldn’t see myself going to work at the same job, year in and year out, until I dropped dead or until I became too old to do it anymore. What I really wanted to do was write my own books, but I was realistic and knew it was a difficult way to make a living.

I drove a three-year-old green Pontiac, a reliable car, if not flashy. I always stopped at the same gas station to fill up, several blocks from my house, on the way to where I got on the highway to go downtown. An old man named Gus Gray owned the station. He had been in a business so long that my dad and my grandpa had both known him and bought gas from him. Any time I pulled into his station, he stopped whatever he was doing and waved at me as if we were old friends.

On the Monday morning when I pulled into Gus Gray’s place of business, I saw he had a new attendant. It was obvious he was new because he wore a clean uniform, complete with bow tie and cap. He was just waiting there for me, smiling, as I pulled in. I told him to fill me up, and while the gas was flowing into the old Pontiac, he cleaned my windshield and while he was doing that I had a chance to see him up close.

He was maybe twenty-two or twenty-three. The tag on the pocket of his uniform said his name was Thaddeus. His hair, what wasn’t covered by the cap, was light brown; his sideburns ended in a straight line at the bottom of his earlobes. There was razor burn on his neck from shaving too close. The shirt of his uniform was tucked neatly into the trim waist of his pants and he wore a new-looking leather belt. He was different; he looked too good to be working in a gas station. As I handed him the money, I saw that his fingernails were clean.

“First day?” I asked.

“Been here a week,” he said, as he counted out my change.

“I never knew a Thaddeus before.”

He smiled and nodded, maybe a little pleased that I had noticed his name.

I could go for two weeks without filling up, as long as I only went to work and back. I forgot all about Thaddeus until the next time I needed gas.

He was standing next to the pumps, as if he had nothing better to do than wait there for me. My brakes squealed as I pulled up to where he was standing.

“Better have those brakes checked,” he said, as I rolled down my window. “They might need to be readjusted.”

“Oh. Sure,” I said. “I’ll do that.”

“Come in any time when the mechanic is here and he’ll take a look.”

“Will you be here?”

“I will unless Gus fires me.”

When I gave him the money for the gas, my hands were trembling. He counted out the change and when he handed it to me, he looked straight at me a little longer than was necessary and his brown eyes twinkled as if he and I had a secret.

I felt strangely happy as I drove to work. The happy feeling faded, of course, after I had been in the office for a while.

There was trouble at work. We missed a deadline on a contract and the boss, ranting as usual, threatened to fire all of us. I didn’t much care if he did. I was fed up with working in an office with officious assholes. I had a little money saved and some invested. If I had to do without a job for a while, we’d be fine.

In my head I had an idea for a novel. I had never written a novel and I wanted to see if I could do it. Working full-time, though, took all my time and energy and kept me from doing the worthwhile things I wanted to do. I dreamed about spending my days doing what I wanted to do instead of working at a job that had grown odious to me.

Trouble at home, too. My ten-year-old son was pushed down at school and broke two front teeth and had to have stitches in his upper lip. My twelve-year-old daughter was just coming on to her rebellious stage. She and my wife bickered all the time and I could see they would spend the next few years engaged in battle. Sometimes in the evening I’d lock myself in the den to get away from them.

I had never had what I would call a good marriage. I had faced a truth about myself a long time ago, and that truth was that I never wanted to be married in the first place. I got married because everybody was doing it, and my parents, who had messed up their own lives in their own foolish way, thought it was the only way I could be respectable.

I had known Katherine and her family since high school. I only ever considered her a friend, but when I saw she was serious about me, I figured she was the logical choice if I was ever going to get married. We had a fancy church wedding, which her parents paid for. In three years I was a father and then a father for the second time two years after that. After the second child, Katherine fixed it so there would be no more.

I wanted to try to make my marriage work, although at times I had my doubts. Katherine and I had few common interests and after a few years of marriage we each went our own way. She never asked me anymore where I was going or what time I’d be home. She didn’t care who I was with or what I was doing, and the feeling was mutual. We pretended at being husband and wife; we stayed together only because she was a Catholic and didn’t believe in divorce, and, of course, there were the kids to think about.

The next time I stopped in for gas, Thaddeus wasn’t there. I asked the greasy, plug-ugly attendant named Johnny Walker Red (red hair down to his shoulders) where Thaddeus was and he looked at me and laughed.

“I ain’t seen him all day,” he said. “What’s your business with him?”

“I just wondered if he still worked here.”

“Yeah, he still works here, as far as I know. If you really need to know, you can ask old Gus.”

Embarrassed, I said, “No, that’s all right.”

I drove on to work, feeling glum and disappointed all day. When the work day was over and it was time to drive home again, I barely had the will.

The next morning I called in to work and said I wasn’t feeling well and was going to work at home for the day. After the kids left for school and Katherine had gone off to I knew not where, I drove over to Gus Gray’s filling station. My heart sank when I didn’t immediately see Thaddeus. I parked the car alongside the building where it was out of the way of the pumps and went inside. I bought a pack of cigarettes, and when I went back outside, there was Thaddeus cleaning the windshield of a black Buick. I waited there for him until he was finished and the black Buick drove on.

“Missed you yesterday,” I said.

“I have a day off every now and then,” he said.

“You still look too clean to work in a gas station.”

“I’ll try to dirty it up next time.”

It was the first time I had seen him when I wasn’t sitting in the Pontiac. He was compact, about five feet, eight inches tall, a couple inches shorter than me.

My heart was pounding. I took a deep breath. “I thought I’d have the mechanic check my brakes if he has the time.”

“Sure,” Thaddeus said. “I’ll ask him.”

He went inside and when he came back out, he said, “It’ll be about ten minutes if you want to wait.”

I gave him my car keys and bought a Coke out of the vending machine and drank half of it in one gulp.

“There’s a chair inside if you want to sit down,” Thaddeus said.

“Can you sit with me?”

“What?”

“Just kidding.”

Another car pulled in to be waited on and then another and another. I sat on a hard lawn chair inside, smoked a cigarette and drank the rest of my Coke. I felt strangely contented sitting there because I could see Thaddeus out the front window if I craned my neck.

I waited about an hour for my car and then Thaddeus came in and handed me my keys.

“No more squeaky brakes,” he said.

I stood up to pay. He stood behind the counter at the cash register and I stood in front of the counter. He pointed at my wedding ring.

“You’re married,” he said.

I looked at my left hand as if I had no knowledge of how the ring got there. “What? Oh, the ring! Yeah, I’m married.”

“Too bad,” he said.

I smiled and looked down. I was too rattled to look at him as he counted out the change into the palm of his hand.

I began driving by Gus Gray’s service station every day to try to catch a glimpse of Thaddeus. If I saw him, it was like a good luck charm. If I didn’t see him, I was afraid he had left and I’d never see him again.

The next time I pulled in to buy gas, I was relieved to see Thaddeus. I had been thinking about what I would say to him when I had the chance. While he was waiting for my car to fill up with the old Ethyl, he came around on my side to clean my windshield.

I waved my hand to get him to look at me. “It doesn’t matter,” I said, loud enough for him to hear me over the traffic noise.

“What?”

I held up my left hand so he could see the ring.

“Okay, so it doesn’t matter,” he said. “What do you want to do about it?”

After I left, I felt so foolish and embarrassed that I wanted to find a cliff and drive off it. What must he think of me? I must have given him a good laugh. I had completely misinterpreted an innocent little remark and read something into it that wasn’t there. I seriously considered calling Gus Gray’s and asking to speak to Thaddeus so I could apologize.

My job was making me ill. Two more people quit and I was being pushed and driven all the time to get more and more work done and it was beginning to take its toll. I was having nightmares, chest pains and digestive problems. If I had been the impulsive type and didn’t have two kids and a mortgage, I would have walked out and never gone back.

I was working overtime most days. The only good thing about that was that I had little time to think. When I got home in the evenings, Katherine and the kids had already had dinner and I would fix myself a sandwich, take a shower and go to bed to rest up for the next day of hell.

The next time I drove in to Gus Gray’s for gas, Thaddeus was standing at the pumps. He swiveled his head around and looked at me and smiled. My intention was to treat him the same way I would treat Johnny Walker Red or anybody else.

“Fill it?” he asked, as I rolled down my window.

“Yeah.”

“Haven’t seen you in a few days,” he said as he grabbed some paper towels to clean my windshield.

“Been busy,” I said, looking down at the steering wheel.

“Remember what you said last time you were here?” he asked.

“No.”

I gave him the money to pay for my gas and he went inside. When he came back out and handed me my change, there was a little slip of paper with a phone number written on it. I looked to him for an explanation, but he was already off to wait on another car.

I called in sick to work for a couple of days. I didn’t care if they fired me. Good riddance. What a relief it would be.

For about three days, I didn’t have any time alone to call the number, but on Saturday afternoon Katherine took the kids to a matinee movie, so at three o’clock, I took a deep breath and picked up the phone and dialed the number.

A woman answered the phone. I asked to speak to Thaddeus. She clunked the phone down and in a minute he came on the line.

“Thaddeus?” I said.

“The green Pontiac man!” he said. “I don’t even know your name.”

I told him my name and then he had to put the phone down. I heard voices in the background and the slamming of a door.

“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t have much privacy.”

“Do you want me to call back?”

“No, it’s all right. Are you free tonight?”

“Yeah, I’m free,” I said.

“Can you come and pick me up around seven o’clock?”

“Where?”

He gave me an address and I told him I’d be there.

I had a little trouble finding the place and was a few minutes late, but when I got there Thaddeus was waiting for me. He got in and smiled at me.

“Where to?” I asked.

“I don’t care,” he said.

“Have you eaten?”

“Not since lunch.”

I drove to a steak place where Katherine and I had eaten a time or two. We went in and sat at a back booth that afforded some privacy. I didn’t ask him about his family, if he had a girlfriend, where he was from, or anything like that. I didn’t care.

“This is the first time I’ve seen you away from the station,” I said.

“Do I look different?” he asked.

“Handsome. As ever.”

“You must do this a lot,” he said.

“Do what?”

“Pick up boys.”

“This is the first time.”

“Why me?”

“I’ve been asking myself that question and haven’t been able to come up with an answer.”

“I’m nothing special.”

“I think you are or I wouldn’t be going to all this trouble.”

“What trouble?”

“Going out of my way to catch a glimpse of you at the station. Hoping that every time I stop in for gas you’ll be there.”

“You do that?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll be quitting in a week or two.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“I won’t see you again.”

“I have to have a job where I’m not on my feet all day,” Thaddeus said. “I have a bad heart.” 

“Bad how?”

“Rheumatic fever when I was little. Very tiresome. To me and everybody else.”

“I want to take care of you,” I said.

What? You don’t even know me.”

“Don’t you believe in fate? Two people fated to meet?”

He laughed and shook his head because he thought I was making a joke.

He told me a little bit about his life while we were eating and I listened without comment. His mother kicked him out of the house right after high school when she discovered his sexual predilection and he had been living with his elderly grandmother since then, for about five years. It was his grandmother who answered the phone. His job pumping gas for Gus Gray was his fourth job in five years. He was having a hard time finding his place in the world, as so many of us do.

He didn’t ask me any questions about my life; where I lived, if I had children, what I did for a living, or anything else. He knew I was married, drove a green Pontiac, and bought my gas from Gus Gray. That was all. I didn’t tell him that I had been looking for something my whole life and had been telling myself for a while now that I believed he might be it.

After we were finished eating and had had a couple of beers apiece, I paid the check and we went back out to my green Pontiac. When I pulled off the parking lot onto the highway, I went in the opposite direction from home.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“Does it matter?”

I drove for hours, crossing the state line. The farther I got from home, the better I felt. I was leaving all the trash, all the baggage, behind me.

About one in the morning, I stopped at a motel. Thaddeus and I slept side by side through the night until eleven o’clock in the morning. It was the best night’s sleep I had had in weeks.

After breakfast in the motel restaurant, we continued on our way. I didn’t bother to ask myself where we were going. I would drive until I died or until I came to the place where land meets sea and, even there, I had no intention of stopping.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

If Mr. Shinliver Dies

If Mr. Shinliver Dies ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

I arrived late to work and as soon as I walked into the office I heard laughter and loud voices. I knew something unusual had happened. Ramona Sugarman, the receptionist, sat at her desk filing her fingernails.

“What’s going on, Ramona?” I asked.

“Mr. Shinliver had a heart attack,” she said casually.

“Oh, my gosh! Is he all right?”

She shrugged her shoulders and trained her cross-eyed gaze on her little finger. “How should I know?”

As I proceeded to my cubicle, all the way in the back by the window, a football whizzed by my head, followed by a burst of laughter.

“Uh-oh,” Chick Chapwick said. “Tremaine is here. Do you think he’s going to tell on us?”

Irvine Beasley caught the ball, gripped it with both hands and pretended to throw it right at my face. “No, Tremaine won’t tell,” he said. “Not if he knows what’s good for him.”

“I’m not seeing this,” I said.

“That’s the spirit!” Chick Chapwick said.

I entered my cubicle and set my briefcase on the desk. Felice Belladonna poked her head up over the partition that separated my cubicle from hers. She held a lighted cigarette in the corner of her mouth like a death row convict.

“I didn’t know you smoked, Felice,” I said.

“I don’t. Until now.”

“Why now?”

“Haven’t you heard the good news?”

“No, I haven’t heard any good news this morning.”

“You know that Mr. Shinliver had to go to Fairfield on business this week and took with Miss Wagstaff with him, don’t you?”

“Who doesn’t know?”

“Well, Mr. Shinliver had a heart attack. Can you believe it?”

“Oh, my goodness!” I said. “Is he all right?”

“They say he was in Miss Wagstaff’s room when it happened. You can only imagine what they were doing.”

“I’d rather not.”

“He’s on one of those machines that does his breathing for him.”

“Sounds serious.”

“It’s the best thing that’s happened around here in a long time.”

“Depends on how you look at it,” I said.

“He’ll be out at least for a couple of weeks. That is, if he doesn’t die. If that happens, he’ll never be back! Hurray!”

“You’re terrible, Felice!

“If the old buzzard dies, you should become the boss.”

“Not me,” I said, yawning. “I don’t want to be the boss.”

“If you want to go back home and go back to bed, I’ll cover for you.”

“No thanks, Felice. Now that I’m here, I’ll stay.”

Nobody was doing any work. Everybody was excited, talking and laughing but mostly speculating about how bad Mr. Shinliver’s condition was and, if he should happen to die, who would take his place.

I heard Ramona Sugarman scream, following by a crash. I figured the football had hit one of the ornamental planters in the reception area and knocked it over.

Somebody went for donuts and then everybody converged on the break room for a donut party. I waited a few minutes and then I went in for my morning cup of tea.

“Did you hear the good news?” Ricky Spears asked me. He was eating an iced jelly donut, jelly dripping down his chin.

“Yes, I heard, Ricky.”

“If Mr. Shinliver dies, you should be the new boss.”

“I don’t want to be the boss, Ricky. Maybe it’ll be you.”

“Not me,” he laughed. “I miss too much work.”

While I heated the water for my tea, I stood and looked over the tray of donuts. I was happy to see that there was still one left that was oozing red jelly out the side like a glorious wound. As I picked the donut up and bit into it, somebody clapped me on the shoulder from behind.

“Well, well, well!” a booming voice said. “Look who bothered to show up for work today!”

“I’m always here, Melville,” I said as I turned around and tried to smile. “I never miss work.”

It was Melville Herman, of course. Mr. Big. The blowhard. The blatherskite. The man who managed to make himself offensive to everybody in the world, including a string of ex-wives.

“Did you hear the good news?”

“About Mr. Shinliver, you mean?”

“If the old boy buys the farm, guess who your new boss will be?”

“I wouldn’t even venture a guess,” I said. I took a step away from him so I wouldn’t have him breathing in my face.

“It’ll be me, you fool!” he said. “Who else?”

“What makes you think so?”

“It’s all but in the bag. Who’s the person with any competence around here? Who keeps this place afloat?”

“I don’t know. Miss Wagstaff?”

“Wagstaff’s just a puppet! And she’s a lesbian, besides.”

“Really? I didn’t know that. I heard that she and Mr. Shinliver were an item.”

He laughed his hyena-like laugh. “You are so funny!” he said. “Nobody talks like that anymore!”

“Like what?”

“I’m going to take some measurements in Mr. Shinliver’s office and see how my furniture is going to fit in there. I think I’m going to want some new curtains, too. The old ones smell like old man Shinliver.”

After Melville left, I sat down at one of the little round tables in the break room and looked out the window. I envied the birds flying across the sky because they were free and didn’t have to work in an office.

In a few seconds, Flora Upjohn was upon me like a charging rhino. Any time I ever found myself near her, I always imagined she was going to crush me. She weighed three hundred and fifty pounds and had an elaborate Louie the Fourteenth hairdo.

“Well, look who’s here!” she said, smacking her hand down on the table, causing me to jump.

“Leave me alone,” I said.

“Heard about Shinliver?”

“Everybody has heard, Flora.”

“Nobody is doing any work.”

“Including me,” I said. “And you.”

“So, what do you think is going to happen with Shinliver?”

“I don’t know, Flora. I left my crystal ball at home this morning.”

“I heard that if Mr. Shinliver dies, you’re going to get a big promotion. I’ll bet you’ve already been in his office taking measurements, haven’t you?”

“That’s Melville Herman,” I said. “He’s picking out new drapes.”

“That clown? He’ll never be boss. Nobody likes him.”

“Nobody likes Mr. Shinliver either, but that hasn’t kept him from being the boss.”

“You’d make a good boss. Everybody looks up to you.”

“No, they don’t. They hate me because I hate them.”

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

“I can’t be the new boss because I’m leaving this place.”

“What? Have you found a better job?”

“I didn’t say that. I said. I. Am. Leaving. This. Place.”

“Well, you don’t have to be so smart-ass about it.”

“I’m not being smart-ass. I just don’t like having people asking me questions.”

After lunch we were in full party mode. Somebody brought in a radio and put it next to the coffee maker and tuned it to a dance station. One person began dancing and then two and then just about everybody in the office. Men danced with other men and women danced with woman. I think there is nothing more disquieting than seeing mousey accountants dressed all in black and white—one of them wearing red socks—shaking all over, tilting their heads back and closing their eyes in ecstasy.

“They’ve all gone crazy,” I said.

“Their oppressor is gone,” Flora said. “They’re experiencing a heady moment of freedom.”

“It won’t last. Mr. Shinliver will be back or somebody even worse, like Captain Queeg.”

“Captain who?”

A few minutes after three o’clock, I received a call. When I picked up the phone, it was Bertha Wagstaff on the line, Mr. Shinliver’s right-hand man.

“Is this Tremaine?” she said in her foghorn voice.

“Yes, ma’am! What can I do for you?”

“Bertha Wagstaff here.”

“Yes, Miss Wagstaff!”

“I have some news about Mr. Shinliver.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to speak to Melville Herman?”

“No, you’re the one,” she said.

“The one what?”

“Everybody looks up to you. Everybody likes you.”

“No they don’t!” I said defensively.

She imparted her news and then at the end of the conversation instructed me that I was to call everybody into the big conference room and tell them what she had told me.

It took about ten minutes to round everybody up and when I had them all in the conference room, about fifty in number, they thought it was just part of the ongoing party.

I didn’t like euphemisms or stringing people along for dramatic effect, so, after I got everybody quieted down, I told them straight out: “Mr. Shinliver died at eight minutes past noon today.”

There was a stunned silence. The room became so quiet I could hear the blood coursing through my veins. The loud mouths like Melville Herman were quiet for a change. After they had had a couple of minutes to absorb the news, I told them the rest.

“The company ceases to exist as of today.”

What?

“Mr. Shinliver was the company,” I said. “With no Mr. Shinliver, there’ll be no company. It’s the way he wanted it.”

“Where does that leave us?” somebody asked.

“Unemployed,” I said.

What?

“I’m sorry to be the one to deliver this news, but somebody had to do it.”

There were no goodbyes for me. I got away as quickly as I could and, as I left Shinliver and Company for the last time, I felt light with happiness and relief. I stopped at a bakery and bought myself a strawberry pie. I gave a five-dollar bill to an old fellow who asked me for change. All at once I loved the world and everybody in it.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

And That Includes Cab Fare

And That Includes Cab Fare ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Mrs. Deal was eighty-five and had more cobwebs in her head than the basement and attic combined. She could no longer be trusted to stay at home by herself. She had been known to leave the front door open all night in the winter or turn the burners on in the kitchen and let dangerous amounts of gas escape into the room before she noticed the blue flame hadn’t come on the way it was supposed to. Her daughter, Patsy Ruth, age sixty-three, left her latest husband in the city and went to live with Mrs. Deal in her old-fashioned house on a corner lot in a small provincial town a good five-hour drive away.

Patsy Ruth had smothering emphysema from a lifetime of smoking Camel cigarettes, but her more immediate problem was her fragile nerves. She took little yellow pills her doctor had prescribed, sometimes twice the number she was supposed to, but still, no matter how many pills she took, Mrs. Deal tried her nerves almost beyond endurance. Mother and daughter had never been on the best of terms anyway, going all the way back to the beginning, and it was an almost impossible situation with them both living under the same roof. Mrs. Deal was stubborn on principle; it if was mealtime, she wasn’t hungry and refused to eat. At bedtime she refused to have the light off. Patsy Ruth thought at times about taking the whole bottle of yellow pills at once and getting into her big four-poster bed and going to sleep and never waking up, or going down to the railroad trestle and jumping into the shallow, muddy water a hundred feet below.

“I’m not a well woman,” she was fond of saying to anybody that would listen. “I still have my own life to live.”

To have an occasional “day off,” Patsy Ruth had to engage the services of a “woman” who was willing to spend a day, or at least part of an afternoon, sitting with an impossible old woman and keeping her from doing any harm to herself or to the house. When Mrs. Ida Stroud answered Patsy Ruth’s newspaper ad the first day it appeared, she seemed ideal; she had sat with old people before, she said, had some nursing experience, and lived only a short distance away. Patsy Ruth would have to pay for her to take a cab, though; Mrs. Stroud was fat, had painful varicose veins, and wasn’t able to walk very far.

“I guess we can manage the cab fare,” Patsy Ruth blatted into the phone, delighted that she had found the right person so easily and on the first day.

On Saturday, Patsy Ruth was going to visit the dentist, meet a friend for lunch and see a two o’clock matinee movie. She arranged with Ida Stroud to come on that day.

Patsy Ruth was gratified that Ida Stroud arrived on time on Saturday morning but was a little dismayed to see that she had brought her thirteen-year-old daughter, Stella, along with her.

“Stella don’t cause no trouble,” Ida said. “I can’t leave her at home by herself. She gets into too much mischief.”

Stella Stroud was a pale, skeletal girl with a permanent scowl on her face and dark circles around her eyes. Refusing to say hello to Patsy Ruth or to Mrs. Deal, she slumped down on the couch, folded her arms and yawned.

“We’ll all get along just fine!” Ida gushed. “We’re going to have a fine time, aren’t we? Everything will be just fine.”

“I’ll be back around six,” Patsy Ruth said.

“Don’t give us a thought!” Ida said. “We’ll all be just fine!”

“Do you mean I have to stay in this hell hole all day until six o’clock?” Stella asked after Patsy Ruth was gone.

“Find something to do,” Ida said. “Go outside and commune with nature.”

“I don’t want to go outside!” Stella said. “I didn’t want to come here in the first place!”

“Sit there and be miserable, then! I don’t care!”

“You’re just a horrible old woman, you know that?” Stella said.

Of Ida’s eight children, Stella at thirteen was the youngest. Mr. Stroud had been dead for many years, the victim of a bad heart passed down to him through father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Ida beamed at Mrs. Deal. “You certainly are a lucky woman,” she said. “You have your daughter to look after you and you live in this fine, big house. That’s as much as any Christian woman might expect.”

“I’m a Methodist,” Mrs. Deal said.

“Where’s your husband?” Stella asked.

“He died.”

“What did he die of?”

“Shut up!” Ida said. “You’re not supposed to ask questions like that!”

“Well, I just wondered!”

 “Would you like a piece of butterscotch?” Mrs. Deal asked. “My daughter buys this butterscotch candy for me when she goes to the store.”

“No, thank you, dear,” Ida said.

“Haven’t you got any peppermint?” Stella asked. “I hate butterscotch.”

Ida gave Stella a warning look. “If you can’t be nice,” she said. “I’m going to slap you silly.”

“Well, let’s talk about something interesting,” Stella said. “I have sleep apnea. I could die in my sleep any night.”

 “Nobody wants to hear about that,” Ida said.

“Well, I don’t know why the hell not! I think it’s very interesting!”

“You think it’s interesting because it’s about you! You need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around you! And I told you not to use words like that!”

“Words like what?”

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about!”

“Well, pardon the hell out of me! I have to go to the bathroom! Where is it?”

“Ask Mrs. Deal,” Ida said. “It’s her house.”

“All right. What’s her first name?”

“You’re not supposed to use her first name, silly! Call her ‘Mrs. Deal’.”

“All right. Mrs. Deal, honey, I need to use your bathroom. Is that okay?”

“What?” Mrs. Deal said.

“She wants to know where the bathroom is,” Ida said.

“Oh. Go through the dining room into the back part of the house.”

Stella leapt to her feet. “It’s always so interesting to see other people’s bathrooms!”

“And don’t break nothing, either,” Ida said.

When Stella had gone out of the room, Ida gave Mrs. Deal a sad smile. “Kids!” she said. “This girl has given me more trouble than all my others put together. From the time she was born, she was trouble with a capital T, morning, noon and night. She would lie in her crib and scream all day long and all night. I told my husband I wasn’t having any more children because I was afraid they’d turn out like her. He didn’t care if we had another dozen because I did all the work of takin’ care of them. He made the living for the family, but that was all he ever did. At home he never lifted a finger.”

“I had three children,” Mrs. Deal said, “but only one of them is still alive.”

“All of mine are still alive!” Ida said. “I rue the day! Now, let me tell you, that Stella has had a rough time of it her whole life. When she was just a baby, she had yellow jaundice, whooping cough and I don’t know what all. You name it, she had it. And from the time she started to kindergarten, it’s been one problem right after another. She wet her pants just to defy the teacher and she refused to sit still and pay attention. Finally the school gave her a test and they said she wasn’t right in the head and they put her out! Can you imagine putting a child out of school? Then we had to send her to a special school in another town and, believe me, it cost a lot!”

“Maybe it’s just better not to have any children,” Mrs. Deal said. “I had three and both my boys are dead. One died two days after he was born.”

“Oh, isn’t that a shame! But it’s such a blessing to you that you still have your daughter. She lives with you and takes care of you.”

“She wants to put me in a nursing home so she can get married again. She’s been making a lot of calls, asking questions. She thinks I don’t know what she’s up to, but I’m not as stupid as she thinks I am.”

“I’d have you come and live with me,” Ida said, “but we live in such a small house. Not big like this one.”

“She’s still married to that last husband of hers, but here she is scouting around for the next one. She’s had I don’t know many husbands.”

“No!” Ida said. “And she seems like such a nice woman!”

“One of them she was married to twice.”

“Some people is like that. Can’t seem to find what they’re looking for.”

“My son was married two different times,” Mrs. Deal said. “He was an alcoholic and died at age thirty-five. Even younger than his father.”

“Isn’t that sad! Well, I guess we learn tribulation through our children if nothing else.”

“That’s what I mean,” Mrs. Deal said. “It’s probably better not to have any children at all.”

“Then we’d be alone, I guess, and that might be even worse.”

Stella came back from the bathroom smiling and wiping her hands on the seat of her pants.

“What were you doing in there so long?” Ida asked.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“You weren’t smoking, were you?”

“Don’t be re-dick! I don’t have any cigarettes!”

“Mrs. Deal and I were just swapping stories about our children.”

“I bet you told her how awful I am, didn’t you?” Stella said.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“I’m not ever having any kids. I don’t want the little son-of-a-bitches.”

“You shouldn’t say that,” Ida said. “You don’t know what the future holds for you. You’ll meet a wonderful man.”

Hah-hah! Where?”

“You’ll get married and live in lovely little house and you’ll realize after a while that something is missing and that something is little ones. After you’ve had one, you’ll want another and then another and then another.”

“You are so full of shit!” Stella said.

“Hey! I warned you about using that kind of language! One more word like that, and you’re going to have to wait outside on the front porch until six o’clock. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

“Oh, you know what you can do, don’t you?”

“I don’t want to hear another word out of you!”

“I just remembered,” Stella said. “Today is my birthday.”

“No, it ain’t, either,” Ida said. “Your birthday is in April. This is October.”

“I can make today my birthday if I want, can’t I? It’s such a boring, terrible day, I can say it’s my birthday just to help make it a little bit special, even if it’s not really my birthday.”

“No, you can’t, or if you do, just do it silently and don’t say anything!”

“I wonder if I’ll get any presents?”

“No, you won’t, so just forget about it!”

“When I get a little older, I’m going to run away from home!”

“Why wait?” Ida said. “Go now! Go anytime! You have my blessing!

“I’m not going to hang around this stupid, dead town and have a bunch of ugly babies and be just like everybody else. I’m going to Hollywood and I’m going to be a big movie star and when that happens, you’ll be sorry you were ever mean to me!”

“Send me a postcard!”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d like to be rid of me!”

“You try the patience of a saint!”

Stella said to Mrs. Deal, “You see what a crazy old bitch my mother is, don’t you? And she never stops being crazy! She’s crazy twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week! It’s a wonder I just don’t shoot myself!”

Ida stood up, took three elephantine steps, and in one deft motion, slapped Stella across the mouth. “I don’t want to hear another peep out of you for the rest of the day!”

Stella sobbed and rubbed her cheek and was sullen for the rest of the morning.

At noontime, Ida went into the kitchen to fix lunch, leaving Stella and Mrs. Deal alone together.

“My mother says you’re a tiresome old woman,” Stella said.

“She can leave any time,” Mrs. Deal said.

“Did you ever see anybody talk as much and not say anything at all? She’s like a big gas balloon with a leak. And did you ever see anybody so fat in all your life? Lord God! I’m embarrassed to be seen walking down the street with her.”

“Stick a pin in her,” Mrs. Deal said.

“Did you know I have a boyfriend? I’ll bet you’re kind of surprised to hear that about me, aren’t you? He’s sixteen and he has his driver’s license. He hasn’t got his own car yet, but he can borrow his brother’s car any time he wants. He’s coming to pick me up tonight. My mother doesn’t want me to go out with him, so I’ll tell her I’m going to a girlfriend’s house. She’ll never know the difference. And me and my boyfriend? We’ll drive out someplace to a secluded, romantic spot, and when we’re sure there’s nobody around we’ll get into the back seat and make love. Doesn’t that sound romantic? I’m a very romantic person, but I guess you can tell that just by looking at me.”

When lunch was ready, Ida took one of Mrs. Deal’s arms and Stella took the other arm and helped her into the kitchen.

“I’m not helpless, you know!” Mrs. Deal said.

Lunch was canned tomato soup and dainty little baloney sandwiches with the crust cut off. Ida was of the opinion that bread crust made old people choke.

“I don’t like tomato soup,” Stella said.

They ate in silence. Stella discovered she could eat the tomato soup as long as she soaked bread in it first. When Mrs. Deal was finished eating (hardly anything at all), she said she was sleepy and wanted to take her nap. Ida helped her into her bedroom, covered her up with an afghan and went back into the kitchen.

Stella was still sitting at the kitchen table, looking at something she held in the palm of her hand.

“What is that you’ve got there?” Ida asked her.

“Nothing,” Stella said.

Ida grabbed Stella by the wrist and made her drop what she was holding. It was a pair of little gold earrings.

“Where did you get those?” Ida asked.

“I found them in the bathroom.”

Stole them in the bathroom is more like it.”

“It doesn’t concern you.”

“It concerns me if that daughter knows that you’ve been stealing from them and fires me. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s all I have coming in right now.

“She’ll never know I took them.”

“Put them back right now or I’m going to shake your head so hard it’ll fall off your shoulders.”

“Not on your life! You get paid for sitting around this dump all day, while I get nothing! Isn’t my time worth something? I’ll be lucky to get five dollars for these. I’m not even sure if they’re real gold.”

“It breaks my heart to know I have an unrepentant thief for a daughter.”

“There’s worse things.”

“If Mrs. Deal and her daughter find out you do such things, they’ll think you’re just terrible!”

“They won’t find out.”

“When that daughter comes back, I want you to tell her you found those earrings on the floor and then give them back to her. Then she’ll know you’re acting in good faith.”

“Screw good faith! I’m not gonna tell her anything!”

“If you won’t tell her, I will! Do you want her to know you’re a thief?”

When Patsy Ruth returned home, she was in a happy frame of mind, with smiles all around. “I’ve had the most relaxing day,” she said. “Sometimes all a person needs is to get away from home for a few hours.”

“I know just what you mean,” Ida said. “We had a lovely visit with your dear mother and the time just flew by.”

Patsy Ruth paid Ida, plus cab fare, plus an extra five dollars since everything went so well.

“Now I can pay the light bill,” Ida said.

Ida and Stella put on their coats and made ready to leave.

“Stella has something she wants to tell you before we go,” Ida said to Patsy Ruth.

“What is it, dear?”

“Go ahead and tell her while I call the cab,” Ida said.

Stella hesitated until Ida was in the kitchen, where the phone was. “I just wanted to say…”

“Yes?” Patsy Ruth said.

“I just wanted to tell you there’s a bad smell in your bathroom. I think it might be coming from underneath the floor.”

“Oh, really? I haven’t noticed any smell.”

“Some people can smell things that other people can’t.”

In just a minute, Ida came back into the room. “The cab will be here in two shakes,” she said.

“Finally, I can go home!” Stella said.

Patsy Ruth opened the front door and gave Ida a friendly pat on the shoulder as she passed through. Stella refused to look at her or return her smile.

Patsy Ruth sat down on the couch facing Mrs. Deal and lit a cigarette. Her smile had turned into a scowl, the scowl that Stella wore as she went out the door. The happiness she felt when she came home had left her. The good day was at an end and now it was time to return to the ugly reality of living in the same house with her mother.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp