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The Man with Six Kids Whose Wife Ran Off and Left Him

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The Man with Six Kids Whose Wife Ran Off and Left Him ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

They go to the shops on Saturday afternoon and usually end up in a bar somewhere Saturday night. Leona at one time had a husband but he left her so long ago she barely remembers. Val never married but lives with her mother, whom she loves and despises at the same time. She’s thirty-seven years old but still cherishes the illusion that someday a man will come along and want to marry her.

It’s a hot Saturday in July. Leona and Val sweat as they walk along the sidewalk, avoiding brushing shoulders with any of the other sweating strangers. A small child, three or four years old, squeals and gets a pounding from his mother, which makes him squeal even louder.

“Lord, they sure can make a big noise to be so little,” Leona laughs.

“Little son of a bitch!” Val says. “My mother would have ripped my head off if I had screamed that way in public.”

“They’re not taught to behave, the way we were.”

They stop off at the drug store to pick up Val’s mother’s pills and Leona lingers over the cosmetics counter, looking for a color of lipstick that she thinks will look good with her complexion. The salesgirl comes out from the back and watches them, so they leave the cave-like coolness of the store and go back out into the bright light.

A little farther down the street they find themselves standing in front of a movie theater. A double feature is playing tonight, but it doesn’t begin for two hours. They think they might come back and see both shows, but Leona says she can’t sit still that long on such a hot night and anyway she just isn’t in the mood for cinematic entertainment.

They go into a place called Glad Rags, a store where everything has been owned by somebody else. Leona is looking for a couple of “nice dresses,” as she says, to wear out on dates, and she doesn’t have much money. She goes to the racks of ladies’ dresses, extending all the way to the back of the store, and Val follows along behind her.

“Can I help you find something, honey?” a fat saleslady asks.

“Just looking today, honey,” Leona says.

Val smiles at the saleslady but she ignores her.

Leona picks a red cocktail dress off the rack with a glittery bodice and holds it up. “What do you think about this one, honey?” she asks Val.

“You probably shouldn’t wear that one to church, honey.” Val says.

She picks a blue chiffon and twirls around with it.

“That would have been perfect for you twenty-five years ago!” Val says.

A yellow one with puffy sleeves.

“That one looks like the bathroom curtains.”

A blue one, very immodest.

“Part of that one is missing.”

Finally she finds two that she liked: a sedate black for funerals and a medium-green for happier occasions.

She finds the fat saleslady again and says, “Where can I try these on, honey?”

“There’s a screen back there by the wall, honey. You can go behind there.”

Val sits in the chair for weary husbands and Leona takes the two dresses behind the screen. Val hears grunting and sighing and in a few minutes Leona emerges.

“I guess I’ve put on a little more weight than I thought,” she says. “Neither one of them fits.”

“How can you ever expect to find a man?” Val asks.

“Don’t worry about me, honey! A little face powder does the trick every time.”

“It’s the face powder that catches ‘em and the baking powder that keeps ‘em at home,” Val says.

Come again, honey!” the saleslady calls to them as they go out the door.

“Where to now?” Val asks.

“There’s that man I told you about,” Leona says, pointing with her nose.

“What man?”

“The one in the green pickup truck that just pulled into the parking space.”

“What about him?”

“His wife just left him and he’s got six kids.”

“Where’d she go?”

“I don’t know. Ran out on him. And now he’s got six kids to take care of on his own.”

“Too bad.”

“If it wasn’t for all those kids, I think I’d make a play for him. He’s kind of handsome, don’t you think?”

“Maybe he can get rid of the kids and clear the way for you,” Val said.

“What’s he going to do? Take ‘em out back and strangle ‘em one by one?”

“Well, no. Not that exactly. He could put them in an orphanage.”

“It doesn’t work that way, honey,” Leona said. “Once you bring ‘em into the world, they’re yours to take care of as long as you’re still aboveground.”

“Sounds awful, doesn’t it, honey?”

“Yeah, life’s a bitch.”

“The important thing is not to have ‘em in the first place and then the person you’re married to can’t run out on you and leave you holding the bag.”

“Truer words were never spoken.”

They have a sandwich and a soda at the diner and by the time they are finished the long summer twilight has begun.

They go down the stairs that connect the lower street to the upper and there come to a place called Louie’s Hot Spot. Val has never been there but Leona says it’s a lot of fun, so they go inside and sit down at a table for two.

After a couple of drinks, Val is ready to leave but Leona is obviously enjoying herself. She sways in time to the music and looks appreciatively at the men around her; if they ignore her, she doesn’t seem to mind.

Somewhere about the third drink, Leona sticks her fingernails into Val’s wrist and says, “Guess who just came in?”

“I wouldn’t even venture a guess,” Val says.

“It’s him!

“Who?”

“The man with six kids whose wife ran off and left him.”

“Well, everybody has to be someplace.”

“He just sat down at the bar. After he gets his drink, I know he’ll turn around and look to see if there’s anybody here he knows.”

“So what?”

“He’ll see me sitting here.”

“Do you owe him money?”

“No, silly! I’m going to make myself look available so he’ll ask me to dance.”

“Do you want me to leave?”

“Not unless you’re about to have a seizure.”

Within five minutes, the man with six kids whose wife ran off and left him approaches the table coolly and leans down and whispers in Leona’s ear.

“Why, I’d love to!” she says, standing up.

She gives Val a secret little smile and moves to the dance floor with him.

Val moves around to the other side of the table so she can  watch. They look rather silly together, he so skinny as to hardly have any shape at all, with Leona’s belly obtruding between them. They move awkwardly in time to the music like a couple of self-conscious teens at their first dance.

“Not a pretty sight,” Val says, but not loud enough to be heard.

When the song ends, Leona glides over to the table as though she is still dancing and says to Val, “He’s asked me to go for a ride with him. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No. I don’t mind.”

“You can make it home by yourself all right?”

“I think I’ll find the way.”

“His name is Virgil Miller,” Leona says “He’s just the sweetest thing. And I think he’s kind of lonely.”

“What about the six kids?”

“They’re spending time with grandma.”

“How lucky for you!”

“Isn’t it, though?”

“If you end up murdered, we’ll know who did it. I even have his name now.”

After Leona leaves, Val finishes her drink so as not to appear rushed. If any of the men in the place take any notice of her at all, she sees no outward sign of it.

When Val gets home, her mother is wrapped up in her pink chenille bathrobe watching Have Gun, Will Travel on television. She insists that Paladin is somebody she knew during the war. Earlier in the evening she would have watched The Jackie Gleason Show and Oh! Susanna. In the morning at the breakfast table she’ll have to tell Val all about them. On Sunday she’ll be excited about The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour and The Ed Sullivan Show, not understanding why Val doesn’t want to watch with her.

“Did you get my pills?” she asks, not taking her eyes off Paladin’s face.

“Yes, mama, I got your pills,” Val says, not realizing until that moment how tired she is.

“Put them on the table where I’ll be able to see them.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

“Did you have a good time tonight?”

“Yes, mama. I met a handsome millionaire.”

“As handsome as Cary Grant?”

“Oh, much better looking than that!”

“Did he ask you to marry him?”

“Well, not exactly. He asked me to go to the Riviera with him, but I told him I wouldn’t be able to get away right now.”

“Too bad.”

“He had tears in his eyes. I hated to hurt him that way, but I believe in time he’ll understand.”

“They usually do.”

On the swell of dramatic music from the TV, Val goes into her bedroom and shuts the door. She changes into her pajamas, gets into bed and turns off the light. She can still hear the drone of the TV and some traffic sounds, but more than that. When she listens closely, she knows that what she hears is the sound of life passing her by.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

A Man is Only as Good as His Word

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A Man is Only as Good as His Word ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Tierney stood in the corner of the yard, his work finished for the day. When he saw Wolfram come out of the house, he motioned him over and held out both fists.

“Guess which one,” he said.

Wolfram smiled, something he hadn’t done all day. “That one,” he said, pointing to the right fist.

Tierney unclenched both fists and in his right palm was a dull cold coin.

“What is it?” Wolfram asked.

“It’s an old Roman coin. It’s yours if you want it.”

Wolfram picked the coin up from Tierney’s palm and held it close to his eyes to get a better look. “Thank you,” he said.

“It’s not for spending,” Tierney said. “It’s just a keepsake.”

“I know.”

“Don’t tell the others.”

“I won’t.”

Tierney had given Wolfram other small gifts before: an insect trapped in amber that he said was millions of years old; a shark’s tooth, a monkey’s paw that was supposed to be good luck. Wolfram didn’t question the giving of the gifts but was only glad to get them.

He left Tierney and went in to dinner, the Roman coin in his pocket. He wanted to take it out and look at it again, but he knew that everybody would want to know where he got it.

“I saw Wolfram out the window talking to Tierney,” Eden said, about ten minutes into the meal.

“What were you talking about, Wolf?” mother asked.

“Nothing,” Wolfram said.

“If you were talking, you must have been talking about something.”

“We were just exchanging pleasantries,” Wolfram said. “I’m the only one in the family that ever talks to him.”

“Well, I talk to him!” mother said. “I have to tell him what I want done, don’t I?”

“I think you should discharge him,” Eden said. “He gives me the creeps.”

“Why?” mother asked.

“He’s always looking at me and when I look back at him, he looks away. All innocent like.”

“Has he ever said anything indecent to you?” mother asked.

“Well, no, but he just has this look about him.”

“Who would want to look at you, you silly old thing?” Wolfram said. “If he’s looking at you, he’s probably only trying to figure out what kind of a freak you are.”

“That’s enough of that kind of talk at the table!” mother said. “Nobody is going to discharge Tierney until and unless there’s a good reason.”

“The lawn and garden have never looked better,” father said, obviously bored with the conversation. “Tierney does a very commendable job and we pay him very little money. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

“So Tierney stays,” Wolfram said, giving Eden a victorious look.

Eden was seventeen, three years older than Wolfram, and he despised her. She was always sticking her nose into his business. He had even caught her going through his closet and the drawers of his dresser when she thought he was out of the house. She had made herself the family detective. Wolfram wished Eden would choke on a peach pit and die.

“He does seem like a rather mysterious character,” Isabel said.  “Nobody knows where he lives or what he does after he leaves here.”

Isabel was Wolfram’s other sister. She was twenty-one and engaged to be married to a man named George Jasper. Because she was in love, she always appeared to be partly absent, present in body but someplace else in spirit.

“Well, he’s discreet,” father said. “What’s wrong with that? If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s somebody always coming up with personal excuses for not doing the work they’ve been hired to do.”

“I like Tierney,” Wolfram ventured to say.

“You would!” Eden said. “You’re a junior version of him. When you get older, no girls will want to have anything to do with you because they’ll be afraid of you.”

“I don’t care how much you insult me,” Wolfram said. “And if all the girls are like you, why would I want to have anything to do with them, anyway?”

He was secretly flattered that Eden had compared him to Tierney.

That night he slept with the Roman coin in his fist. When he awoke in the morning, the coin was gone but he found it again underneath the quilt by his side.

During the next week, Wolfram had some troubles at school. He said he was too sick to do calisthenics and, when he was excused and told to go to the nurse’s office, he was found a short time later smoking a cigarette behind the building. Then there was a heated argument with a teacher that ended with him calling the teacher an idiot and being forcibly ejected from the classroom. The next week he was accused of cheating on a geometry test (looking up the answers from the textbook while the teacher was out of the room), a charge he vehemently denied.

The school principal called Wolfram’s father and told him they were going to have to take disciplinary action, which might include suspension.

“Don’t worry,” Wolfram’s father had said firmly. “He’ll be disciplined from this end. I assure you there will be no further problems.”

That evening there was a big row between Wolfram and his mother and father. His mother cried and said she was afraid he was going to end up in the penitentiary, while his father paced the floor, trying, as he said, to figure out where he “had gone wrong.”

“It’s nothing,” Wolfram said, trying to keep a straight face. “They blow everything up out of all proportion. I didn’t do anything that everybody else doesn’t do all the time.”

“Yes, but you were the one that got caught!” his father exclaimed. “How could you be so stupid?”

“How could you be so careless?” his mother sobbed.

Eden lurked around the corner in the next room, taking in every word, delighted in every fiber of her body.

“One more stunt from you,” his father said, “and it’s off to military school! If I can’t instill discipline in you, we’ll see if they can!”

“I have no intention of going to military school,” Wolfram said calmly. “I’ll kill myself first.”

As much as Wolfram tried to appear unmoved by his conversation with his parents, he was visibly shaken when he sought out Tierney in the barn as Tierney was leaving for the day.

“I have to get out of here,” Wolfram said.

“What happened?” Tierney asked.

“Oh, trouble at school. My parents are threatening to send me to military school.”

“And you don’t want to go to military school.”

“No.”

“If you have to get away, maybe military school is where you need to be.”

“My father has some idea it would straighten out all my problems, but I told him I’d kill myself first.”

“He knows you don’t mean it.”

“But I do mean it!”

Tierney put his hand on Wolfram’s shoulder, close to his neck, and squeezed reassuringly. “I have to get a move on now,” he said. “We’ll talk more later.”

When Wolfram went back into the house, his mother was waiting for him. She said, “I absolutely forbid you to have anything more to do with that man!”

“What man?” Wolfram asked.

“You know what man I mean. Don’t act innocent with me. I believe he’s a corrupting influence on you. I believe your downfall began when you started spending so much time with him.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, mother.”

“I want to know what he says to you.”

“He doesn’t say anything that would be of interest to you or father.”

“Does he show you pictures of naked women?”

“Mother, how can you be so oblivious to everything that’s going on around you?”

Wolfram still managed to speak to Tierney at least once every day he was there, but he no longer sought him out for long talks. He was told to come straight home from school and begin his homework. Then there was dinner and then more homework and then lights out. On weekends he was made to do yard work and housecleaning. He never made a move that wasn’t observed, noted and passed on. When his grades slipped even further from where they had been, his father hired a former elementary school teacher, a Miss Dahrenheim, to come in two evenings a week and tutor him in the library. Miss Dahrenheim was under strict orders to report any signs of insolence, laziness or insubordination in her young pupil. Always the threat of military school, tantamount to a prison sentence, was held over his head.

One day in early autumn, Tierney waylaid Wolfram as he was coming home from school. “I need to have a word with you,” he said.

“What is it?” Wolfram asked, heart thumping.

“I’m locked out of my room and I don’t have anyplace to stay tonight. I thought I’d bed down in the barn after everybody has retired.”

“It’s cold in the barn.”

“I don’t mind the cold.”

“Mother would let you stay in the guest room.”

“I would never ask. I think it’s best not to involve them in this, don’t you?”

“You can stay in my room.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

Wolfram laughed. “More trouble than I’m already in?”

“It’s off to the military academy with you,” Tierney said, making a slicing motion across his throat with his index finger.

“Look, I want you to stay in my room,” Wolfram said. “Please. Nobody has to know anything about it. They’ll all be asleep by ten o’clock and they won’t know a thing.”

“Yes, if your father finds me creeping up the stairs after hours, he’ll shoot me and the world will applaud him for it.”

“No, you can climb up to the flat part of the roof and over to my window. There’s a ladder there all the time. It’s easy.”

“Well, if you think it’s all right.”

“I know it is. Just don’t make any noise. Mother has ears like a cat’s.”

“Well, we’ll see how it goes then.”

“After ten o’clock,” Wolfram said.

“Maybe I will and maybe I won’t.”

That night it was raining. At nine-thirty, Wolfram finished his homework, unlatched the window and got into bed. The small light he left burning would tell Tierney he was expecting him.

A few minutes after ten, he heard a slight rustling and then the sound of the window being inched up slowly. Tierney squeezed himself in through the small opening and reclosed the window as quietly and as deftly as he had opened it.

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Tierney said. “I feel like I’m breaking in.”

“Nobody ever comes in here,” Wolfram said. “They’re all asleep, anyway.”

Tierney removed his coat, cap and shoes.

“You can take my bed,” Wolfram said. “I’ll sleep in the chair.”

“No, the floor is fine for me,” Tierney said. “I won’t take your bed.”

“It’s all right. I don’t care to sleep in the chair.”

“The rug beside your bed will do well for me. That way, if I hear anybody coming, I can skedaddle out the window.”

“Nobody ever comes in here,” Wolfram said.

“I’m just glad to get in out of the rain, where it’s warm.”

Wolfram gave him the other pillow off his bed and a spare blanket, said good night and turned off the light.

After Tierney had settled down on the rug between the bed and window, he said, “I’m going to be moving on from here soon. I haven’t told anybody yet.”

“Where to?” Wolfram asked.

“I don’t know yet. Maybe Chicago.”

“I’m coming with you.”

Tierney laughed. “I don’t think I’d get very far,” he said. “Child abductors aren’t very popular in this state. I don’t think I would care to spend the next thirty years behind bars.”

“I could say I wanted to come.”

“You’re a minor. You don’t have anything to say about anything until you’re at least eighteen.”

“You could say I’m your son.”

“Go to sleep. You’re a child. You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I know if I stay here I’m going to end up in military school or dead.”

“You’ll be fine, even in military school.”

“Would you want to go?”

“No, but that’s not the issue here.”

“I’m not like other people.”

“I know.”

“When I’m old enough, I’ll come to wherever you are, whether it’s Chicago or some other place.”

“Now, why would you want to do that? You live in this beautiful house and you have a fine life here. Your parents care for you and that means a lot. It’s something a lot of people don’t have.”

“I’m coming with you.”

“No, you’re not. Do you want to get me in a lot of trouble?”

“Of course not.”

“Maybe when you’re old enough, if you’re still interested, we can talk about it then.”

“When I’m sixteen?”

“No, that’s too young. You need to be at least eighteen. You’ll want to finish high school. If you don’t finish, you’ll never forgive yourself.”

“Did you finish high school?”

“Yes, a long time ago. In another life, it seems.”

“So, when I’m eighteen, then?”

“You’re young. You’ll forget all about it.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Four years is a long time when you’re as young as you are. You’ll change completely in the next four years. You’ll find a pretty girl and you’ll want to marry her.”

“No, I won’t.”

“You’ll forget, in the next year or so, that this conversation ever took place.”

“No, I won’t.”

“You’ll forget about me.”

“I won’t.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t say. I can’t put it into words.”

“I’m keeping you awake.”

“No, you’re not. I’ll finish high school in four years. I’ll stay here until then.”

“Do you promise?”

“Yes.”

“In four years I’ll send you a letter telling you where I am. If I’m still alive, that is. You can say then whether or not you’re still interested. You don’t even have to send me an answer if you’re not.”

“You’ll really write to me?”

“Yes.”

“In four years.”

“Yes, but I would bet a million dollars you’ll have other things on your mind by then. That’s the way it is when you’re young. Four years is a long time.”

“Four years, four years, four years,” Wolfram said, and then he drifted off to sleep.

When he awoke in the morning at the usual time, the rain had stopped and Tierney was gone. He had folded the blanket and arranged it neatly on the chair with the pillow. He left a note on Wolfram’s desk that said, simply, I was never here.

The four years progressed slowly and uneventfully. Wolfram was kept busy all the time with chores and school work. He attended summer school for two years running to make up for classes he had failed.

In the spring of 1914, right before he graduated from high school, Wolfram received a letter with a Denver postmark. He never doubted for a minute that it would come. He sent back a reply the same day.

He pawned the Roman coin, swearing to the pawnbroker that he was over twenty-one, even though the old man knew it was a lie. It brought him enough money to buy his train ticket West, with enough left over to buy some new clothes and some boots. When he boarded the train for Denver, it was to begin a new life completely removed from the old one.

Tierney met him at the train in Denver. He still looked the same, but Wolfram had changed a lot. He was no longer a boy but a man. He and Tierney spent the next sixty years together until they were parted by death. When one of them died, they both died.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

The End is Not as Good as the Beginning

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The End is Not as Good as the Beginning ~ A Short Story
by Allen Kopp

“It’s a beautiful day,” Harmon Bracegirdle said as he approached Chaz Spurlock. He put his arm over Chaz’s shoulders and pulled him closer. “Thank you so much for meeting me here today!”

“Not at all,” Chaz said. “I’m free this afternoon.”

“I love the park, don’t you?” Harmon said.

“Indeed, I do!” Chaz said.

“I asked you here today, not so we could take in the scenery, but to have a little talk, just the two of us. A little private talk. There are so many interruptions at the studio, people coming in and out all the time.”

“I understand how it is, Mr. Bracegirdle, sir!”

“Please, Chaz! Call me Harmon!”

“All right, sir! Harmon!

They walked a little way and sat down on a bench at the edge of a scenic pond, home to a flock of geese and ducks.

“They’re so beautiful!” Harmon said. “Nature is so beautiful!”

“I quite agree, sir,” Chaz said.

“Whenever you begin to feel dehumanized by what you do for a living, just come here and forget your troubles and in a little while you’ll begin to feel inner peace.”

“Inner peace, sir. Yes, sir!”

“But I digress. I didn’t come here to discuss nature.”

“I didn’t think you did, sir.”

“The picture business is a cruel business,” Harmon said, looking over his shoulder up the hill to his car, where his two associates and his driver were waiting. “It’s 1935 and there have been so many changes.”

“Don’t I know it, sir!”

“First sound and then color, and God only knows what’ll be next.”

“You roll with the punches, sir. It’s all you can do.”

“It isn’t easy being head of the largest picture studio in the country.”

“I don’t imagine for a second that it is, sir.”

“I’m responsible for hundreds of jobs. My decisions affect hundreds of workers and their families. If I don’t make the right decisions, a lot of people will suffer.”

“I wouldn’t want that much responsibility on my shoulders, sir.”

“The studio isn’t as profitable as it once was. Competition is fierce!

“Terrible, sir! I’m sure it’s just terrible!”

“You were one of our most bankable stars for five or six years, Chaz, but your last three pictures have lost money.”

“Not my fault, sir! Those pictures just weren’t right for me.”

“I know. Each person has his own version of where things went wrong.”

“The studio is picking the wrong properties for me.”

“Do you think you could do better choosing your own scripts?”

“I’m sure I could, sir!”

“Well, that isn’t the way our system works. When you’re a contract player in a large studio, those decisions, whether right or wrong, are made for you.”

“I have high hopes, though, for my next picture.”

“The one based on the Russian novel?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Literary adaptations haven’t done well for us in the past, I’m afraid.”

“We have a couple of top-notch directors interested in the project and I’m pretty sure we can get Lola Lola to play the female lead.”

“Lola Lola won’t be available to appear in that picture.”

“I just spoke to her yesterday. She said…”

“She has commitments abroad.”

“Oh? She didn’t mention…”

“In fact, we won’t be making that picture at all, Chaz. I’m sorry.”

“Why not?”

“We just received word this morning that another studio has started production on that same story, using a different title.”

“Oh.”

“I know you’re disappointed, Chaz, but that’s the way things are in the picture business. As I said. Cruel.”

“There’ll be something else come along. What about that Western that everybody’s talking about?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I know I can be on top again with my next picture if I’m given the chance. I know I can!”

Harmon put his hand on Chaz’s leg and squeezed his inner thigh. “I’m afraid you’ve come to the end of your run, buddy. I’m sorry.”

“What are you saying? I’ve been with the studio twelve years! I have two years left on my contract!”

“We’re going to buy out your contract. Our lawyers are working on it now.”

“What if I say no?”

“The decision has already been made. I wanted to give you the news myself before you heard it from somebody else.”

“This is so unfair! My pictures have made a lot of money for the studio.”

“You’ve had three flops in a row. Last year alone, Intemperate Stranger and Rascal at Arms were our biggest box office flops. You’re only as good as your last picture.”

“I hope you’ll reconsider.”

“I’m afraid not. The die has already been cast.”

“Just one more picture. One more chance.”

“You have the very best wishes of all of us at the studio.”

“I’m just stunned. I don’t know what to say.”

Harmon gestured to his two associates up the hill, who were at that moment standing beside the front fender of the car smoking cigarettes. They came down in a wide arc so Chaz wouldn’t see them from where he was sitting.

“It’s going to be all right, buddy,” Harmon Bracegirdle said. “Just drink in the splendor of nature arrayed before you.”

“I think you’re making a big mistake,” Chaz said.

“That’s the nature of my job, kiddo. I have to make these hurtful decisions.”

Like children playing a game, the larger of the two men went up behind Chaz so as not to be detected. He waited for a signal from the other man, indicating that no one was watching, and when he received the signal he crept up behind Chaz, took a gun from inside his coat and shot him in the back of the head. One shot and Chaz lurched forward, dead before he hit the ground.

“Get his wallet and his wrist watch,” Harmon Bracegirdle said, standing up quickly. “That’ll satisfy the press.”

The news spread all over the world: Movie Star Shot Dead in Park. Robbery Suspected Motive.”

The funeral was well attended. Leading the pack of motion picture luminaries was studio head Harmon Bracegirdle, in dark glasses and tailor-made suit. On his arm was the great star Lola Lola, looking stunning as she wept behind her lace handkerchief. The picture of her placing one lily on the casket made all the pictures the next day.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Bob White

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Bob White ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The fat woman sat on a bench to rest before walking the rest of the way home. In a moment a little boy ran by, a streak in a red-and-white shirt. When he did it the second time, the fat woman grabbed onto his little bird-like arm and held him.

“Where you goin’ to, boy, in such a hurry?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Let me go.”

She had forgotten that children run just for the sake of running and don’t need a reason.

“Where’s your mama?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You shouldn’t be out here on the street all by yourself. You might get kidnapped or run over by a car.”

“No, I won’t! Let me go!”

“What’s your name?”

“Bob White.”

“My name is Mrs. Tinser. Mary Tinser.”

“So what?”

“Why don’t you sit down beside me on the bench here, Bob? You’re all hot.”

He climbed onto the bench and leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

“How old are you, Bob?” she asked.

“Eight.”

“You look small for eight.”

“How old are you?”

“You should never ask a lady her age, Bob.”

“You asked me.”

“That’s different. You’re young. When you’re young, you don’t ever mind divulging your age. It’s only after you get much older that it becomes a secret.”

“I have to go now.”

“Where to?”

“I don’t know. I was playing with a couple of other kids but they ran off somewhere.”

“Would you like to come home with me, Bob?”

“Where to?”

“To my home. Where I live.”

“Where is that?”

“It’s two blocks down that way; then you turn left down there where those trees are and go two blocks the other way.”

“I don’t want to get lost.”

“You won’t get lost.”

“All right, then,” he said. “I’ll go.”

She wanted to take his hand when they were walking on the street because he was so little, but she was sure he wouldn’t like it. When they came to her building, they went down some steps to get to where she lived.

“I haven’t ever seen a place like this before,” he said as he walked inside.

“Do you like it?”

It was dark and cool in the apartment, but she opened some window shades and soon the room was flooded with cheerful light.

“I like it,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind living here.”

“Where do you live?”

“Oh, I don’t remember the address.”

“I didn’t mean the address.”

“I live with my mother and my sister on the third floor in a building not far from where I go to school.”

“Oh, that must be nice.”

“I should probably go now,” he said.

“But you just got here.”

“I know, but…”

“Are you hungry, Bob? Would you like it if I fixed you a sandwich?”

“Okay.”

She took Bob White into the kitchen and sat him down at her little white table for two against the wall. Sitting all the way back in the chair, his feet were a long way off the floor.

“Is your husband at home?” he asked.

“He died.” she said.

“What was the matter with him?”

“He got sick and he died.”

She took a slice of white bread and slathered it with peanut butter, added a layer of strawberry jam to the peanut butter and slapped another piece of bread over it. She put the sandwich on a little plate and carried it over to the table.

She watched him as he took the first couple of bites. “Would you like a Coke?” she asked.

“Sure.”

“I don’t have any milk.”

“I don’t like it, anyway.”

She took a bottle of Coke out of the refrigerator and placed it on the table in front of him.

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you to say ‘thank you’?” she asked.

He looked at her sheepishly and grinned. “Thank you,” he said.

She sat down in the other chair at the table and watched him as he ate and drank.

“A long time ago I had a little boy a lot like you,” she said.

“What was his name?”

“Troy.”

“What happened to him?”

“He grew up and left me.”

“Where is he now?”

“I wish I knew, Bob.”

“Did he die, too?”

“Not that I know of.”

“At school they always tell us not to talk to strangers,” he said.

“That’s a good policy, but I would never hurt you.”

“I know. I’d better not tell my mother I was here, though. She wouldn’t like it.”

“Whatever you think is best,” she said.

After he finished eating, they went back to the front part of the apartment. She sat on the couch and he sat beside her.

“Do you know you have the name of a bird?” she asked.

“No. What do you mean?”

“A bird called the bobwhite. There aren’t any in the city, but I grew up in the country and we had lots of them there. It’s a pretty brown bird, but you hear them more than you see them. In the evening they call to each other and it sounds like they’re saying ‘bobwhite, bobwhite, bobwhite. That’s how they get their name.”

“I’d like to hear one of them sometime,” he said.

“You’d feel right at home.”

He leaned into her, into her soft, warm flesh, and she draped her right arm over him, touching him lightly along the shoulder.

“Tell me a story,” he said.

“I’m not good at telling stories,” she said, “but I’ll sing you a song.”

“All right.”

In her soft, quavering soprano voice, she began to sing: 

“When the red, red robin
Comes bob-bob-bobbin’
 Along, along,
There’ll be no more sobbin’
When he starts throbbin’
His old sweet song. 

“Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head!
Get up, get up, get out o’ bed
Cheer up, cheer up, the sun is red,
Live, love, laugh and be happy!” 

“Sing some more,” he said. 

“I’m just a kid again,
Doin’ what I did again,
Singin’ a song,
When the red, red robin
Comes bob-bob-bobbin’
Along.” 

By the time she finished the next verse, he was asleep. With her left hand she reached for a pillow and put it behind her head. In a couple of minutes she was also asleep. With her good ear pressed into the pillow, she didn’t hear the knocks on the door. Or maybe she heard them, but if she did she chose to ignore them.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Mein Fuehrer is Sleeping

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Mein Fuehrer is Sleeping ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

His name was Albrecht Fennerman and he was a ghoul. Tall and emaciated, with skin the color of ivory, he wore only formal attire, top hat and monocle. A most distinguished fellow. His teeth were long and gray and he used them for biting when necessary, but most of the time he wore a benign smile. He was over a hundred and thirty years old and by any reckoning should have been dead a long time ago, but, since the fall of the Third Reich in 1945, he had kept himself alive with a secret formula devised by Dr. Mengele and by self-administered jolts of electricity.

At one time Albrecht Fennerman the ghoul had been married to a witch named Rafaela, but Rafaela had been dead for, lo, these many years. From this blessed union had been born two daughters, Regina and Gloriana, whom Albrecht suffered to live with him in his castle.

Regina and Gloriana were half-ghoul and half-witch and, as a result of this duality, were temperamental and bitter in the extreme. They believed they belonged in neither camp, the ghouls or the witches, so they kept themselves apart and were mostly unhappy. Regina in her hulking enormity was not as formidable or as frightening as tiny Gloriana, who possessed the deviousness and cunning of a master criminal. She mistreated her servants and had been known to kill one or the other of them in a fit of pique, flinging their lifeless bodies down a ravine while Regina stood by and laughed uproariously.

Both of Albrecht’s daughters had been disappointed in love many times. In the game of romance, they didn’t seem to be able to get a decent hand. Men either ran away from them, or Gloriana for one reason or another had to kill them. Sometimes on very short acquaintance.

They still held out hope, though. Their one wish and their most fervent desire lay in a vat of formaldehyde in a sealed chamber in the castle.

Since the death in 1945 of the Fuehrer, Albrecht Fennerman had been in possession of the Fuehrer’s well-preserved body. When the time was right, he and some of his friends would return the Fuehrer to life and from that moment on the history of the world would be forever changed. The Fourth Reich would be born, the greatest the world has ever known. Mighty and invincible, with world domination its goal. Everything would go according to plan this time. Knowledge of past mistakes would smooth the way for the future.

And when he awoke from his long sleep, the Fuehrer was going to need a queen, a mate to stand by his side, to help him guide the destiny of the world. Regina, with her bulk and physical prowess, her horned helmet and breastplate, believed that she was to be the female ideal of the Fourth Reich. Gloriana, however, was convinced that the Fuehrer would choose the woman of intellect and the ruthlessness to kill anybody who tried to stand in her way.

So each sister harbored a secret desire to be Queen of the coming Fourth Reich, never discussing it with the other but all the time plotting what they would do and how they would do it when the time came. Each was as determined as the other. Their feminine wiles, so they believed, were inexhaustible and without peer.

One autumn day, after being gone for more than a week, Albrecht pulled up in front of the castle in his 1936 touring car. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he went around to the other side of the car to help somebody else get out. It was a lady and he knew that Regina and Gloriana were watching from the upstairs window.

Albrecht and the lady went inside the house, smiling and laughing. He welcomed her effusively and showed her into all the downstairs rooms with a sweep of his arm. He would show her the upstairs after they had rested a while and had a drink.

At the dinner of pig brains in a blood sauce and dinosaur eggs (an expensive delicacy), Regina and Gloriana discovered that the “lady” called herself Marie Antoinette and that she was a witch. They knew there had been other witches in Albrecht’s life before but none had ever been invited to dinner before.

“How long will you be staying with us?” Regina asked innocently as blood dripped from her mouth.

Albrecht and Marie Antoinette looked at each other and laughed.  He reached over and took her hand in his.

“She’s going to be here always,” he said with his sly smile.

“Isn’t it rather ridiculous to suppose that she would want to live in a drafty old castle on a lonely mountain top,” Gloriana asked, “where the nearest town is twenty-five miles away?”

“Oh, I think the castle is marvelous!” Marie gushed.

“I have to let you in on a little secret,” Albrecht said and giggled foolishly. “She is to be your new step-mama.”

Ooooh!” Regina said, clapping her hands in baby claps.

“You mean you’re going to marry her?” Gloriana asked.

“We were married three days ago!” Albrecht said. “We’ve been honeymooning in Switzerland!”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Gloriana exclaimed.

Marie looked from one to the other of them, expecting their congratulations. “I think we shall all get along famously!” she cooed.

“Oh, dear!” Regina exclaimed, looking at her sister.

“I know!” Albrecht said. “It’s a bit of a shock and it’ll take some time for all of you to get acquainted.”

“What if I say no?” Gloriana said.

“What do you mean?”

“I for one don’t want her here and I’m sure Regina feels the same way.”

Oui, oui!” Regina said, reverting to the French whenever she became upset.

“Whose castle is this?” Albrecht asked. “Whose table are you sitting at? Whose food are you eating?”

S’il vous plaît!” Regina simpered. “Il ne faut pas se quereller.”

“Tut, tut, tut!” Marie said. “I don’t want to cause discord in the family. I’ll go whenever my husband tells me to go.”

“That will be never, my dear!” he said.

“You and your sister are only about a hundred years old,” Marie said, facing Gloriana with a gracious smile. “I am hundreds of years old. The two of you are half-witches. I am a full-fledged witch. Your powers, if they even exist, are no match for mine!”

“There’ll be no reason for a display of powers!” Albrecht said.

Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!” Regina said.

“I don’t believe she’s really Marie Antoinette,” Gloriana said. “She could make up any story she wanted to try to impress people. Well, I for one am not impressed!”

Marie loosened the collar of her dress to show the hideous scar where her head had been separated from her body. “Maybe this will help to convince you,” she said.

“Anybody can have a scar on their neck!” Gloriana said.

“How did you do it?” Regina asked.

“After my execution by guillotine, some friends took my body away and reattached my head. Quite simple.”

“And then they made you a witch?”

“I was always a witch. I was born a witch.”

“Did your husband, the king, know?”

“Not at first.”

“But you told him later?”

“He came to understand it on his own.”

“Anybody can tell a pack of lies!” Gloriana said.

“I don’t really care one way or another if you believe me,” Marie said. “I do not have to try to prove myself to any half-witch.”

“Do you know I have been known to kill?” Gloriana asked. “Just ask Regina.”

Oui, oui!” Regina said.

“I am not afraid of you,” Marie said.

“I may not kill you but I can order you out of the house!”

“No, you cannot!” Albrecht said. “If anybody is ordered out of the house, if it be you and I will be the one doing the ordering!”

“I forgive you, my dear!” Marie said. “I know it isn’t easy being what you are.”

“You don’t know anything about me!”

“I know you are half-witch and half-ghoul, and that in anybody’s book is a very bad combination.”

Nous nous intendons!” Regina said.

“That will be enough of all this!” Albrecht said. “I’ve had a long journey and I’m tired. Gloriana, Marie is here and here she will stay. If you don’t think you are capable to adjusting yourself to the situation, I invite you to leave at any time.”

“We’ll just see about that.”

“We should not engage in petty quarrels,” Marie said. “We are all nothing compared to the destiny that awaits us.”

“Meaning what?” Gloriana asked.

“A god sleeps in our midst.”

Comment poétique!” Regina said.

“We will all live only to serve him. Nothing else will matter!”

“You told this woman of your plans to resurrect the Fuehrer?” Gloriana shrieked at Albrecht. “How could you?”

“We have chosen the date,” Marie said, standing up from the table. “It will be October the thirty-first, All Hallow’s Eve. Dr. Mengele, himself a ghoul since the fall of the Third Reich, now possesses the knowledge to awaken the Fuehrer from his long sleep. Albrecht and I, along with thirteen of our closest associates, will be present to witness the moment that will electrify the world!”

“What are you saying?” Gloriana asked. “Do you think the Fuehrer will want you as his queen?”

“My dear, I already am a queen! While you, I am afraid, are nothing! You don’t even figure into the equation.”

Est-ce vrai?” Regina whimpered.

“I don’t think some of us will live to see the day!” Gloriana said.

With those words, she picked up a knife and hurled it at Marie’s head. When the knife missed, she lunged across the table to get her hands around Marie’s neck to strangle her.

What Marie had said was true. Gloriana was no match for her powers. With one movement of her finger, she turned Gloriana into a crow.

Mon Dieu!” Regina said. “Qu’avez-vous fait?”

Gloriana hopped around on the table and looked around in amazement with her beady, blinking eyes.

“How appropriate!” Marie said. “This half-witch is now a lowly crow.”

“I think you may have gone too far, my dear!” Albrecht said mildly.

“Nonsense!” Marie said. “I think I know how to handle unruly children.”

“Can you change her back?”

“If she behaves herself and if I remember how to do it. I think it would be best for all of us if she remains a crow until well into November, don’t you, darling?”

“I suppose you’re right,” Albrecht said.

“What do we do with her in the meantime?” Regina asked.

“In the basement you will find a large bird cage. Go down and bring it up.”

“But I’m afraid to go to the basement by myself, father!”

“Find it! Put your sister in it and keep her in your room. I’ll leave her in your charge until we change her back.”

If we change her back,” Marie said.

“Feed her corn or whatever crows eat. If she won’t eat corn, find something that she will eat.”

“Probably dead flesh,” Marie said, resuming her seat at the table to finish her dinner.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Elderly Woman With Dignity

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Elderly Woman With Dignity ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“I was born old,” grandma said. “I’ve always been old.”

“You were born just like everybody else,” Alveda said. “A tiny, helpless baby.” She put the shirt she was ironing on a hanger and took another one out of the basket. “You’ve been old for so long you don’t remember anything else.”

“I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here.”

“You mean in this town? In this house?”

“No! In this life! What am I doing still alive?”

“You have too much time on your hands.”

“Look at you. Ironing clothes for a living. You had such high hopes when you were young and now here you are ironing clothes.”

“I’m not ironing clothes for a living. I’m ironing clothes because it gives me such a thrill.”

“Don’t get cute with me. You know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t believe I do, mother. And I don’t care.”

“Maybe one of these days I’ll explain it to you.”

“I’ve discovered that the greatest thing in the world is not caring.”

“When was the last time you had an alimony check from that no-good ex-husband of yours?”

“It’s not alimony. It’s child support. And you know exactly how long it’s been.”

“Yes, I do! It’s been four months! That son of a bitch was supposed to send you a check every month!”

“Well, times are hard, you know.”

“He spends all his money on that bitch he married. And to make matters worse, I heard in the beauty parlor that she’s going to have a baby. Can you imagine? A man like that bringing more children into the world?”

“It’s his business, mother. I don’t care what he does. I don’t care how many children he brings into the world.”

“When it takes bread out of your baby’s mouth, you’d better care!”

“She’s not a baby. She’s twelve years old and she’s not exactly starving to death, either.”

“You need to call the sheriff and have him go find that turd and lock him up in jail until he pays off. If you don’t do it, I will!”

“Stay out if, mother, unless you want to know what it feels like to have a hot iron up the side of your head.”

“My own daughter threatening me with violence! I don’t know how you dare to even speak to me that way!”

“You used to have a sense of humor, mother. What happened?”

“I find nothing humorous in your situation.”

“Well, maybe it’s time you did.”

The clock chimed four and, as if on cue, Gracie came in the door, breathless and sweaty.

“Did you run all the way home?” Alveda asked.

“No,” Gracie said. “We were practicing some dance steps outside.”

“Who was?”

“Just some girls I know. I think they’re cousins, or something.”

“Dancing!” grandma said. “At her age! What is the world coming to? Next thing you know she’ll be wearing makeup and nylons and a brassiere.”

“Well, mother,” Alveda said. “It is nineteen sixty-one. It’s not nineteen hundred anymore.”

“Humph! I’ll take nineteen hundred any day!”

“Mama, I need a dollar,” Gracie said.

“Say hello to your grandmother.”

“Hello, grandma.” Barely looking in her direction.

“What do you need a dollar for?” Alveda asked.

“I need to buy some stuff for school.”

“Tell me what it is and I’ll get it the next time I go to the store.”

“No, it’s something I need to get myself. It’s too personal for you to get.”

“I need to know what it is. I need to know if you really need it or not before I give you the money.”

“I need it, I assure you!” Gracie said. “Some of us are going downtown tomorrow after school and I need it before then.”

“Oh, brother!” grandma said.

“Well, we’ll see,” Alveda said. “We’ll talk about it later. You’re giving me a headache now.”

“Come here, little girl,” grandma said.

Gracie sighed and went over and stood in front of grandma’s rocker, slouching.

“What is it?” Gracie asked.

Grandma took both of Gracie’s hands in hers. “I think you should know you’re going to have a new little baby brother or sister.”

“What do you mean?”

“You remember your daddy, don’t you? Or at least the man who claimed to be your daddy?”

“Yeah, I remember him. What about him?”

“He has a pretty new wife. Younger than your mommy. Her name is Opal or something like that. He impregnated Opal and now she’s going to have his baby.”

“Mama, is this true?” Gracie asked.

“It’s just a rumor grandma heard at the beauty parlor. I don’t know if it’s true or not and I don’t care.”

“Well, anyway,” grandma said. “I just think you ought to know how things stand between your mommy and your daddy.”

“Mother, is this really necessary?” Alveda asked.

“I was always on the square with my children and I think you should be, too.”

“Like the time you hid my letters when I was working in the factory?”

“I did that for your own good. Those letters were from a person who in my estimation was unsuitable and unsavory.”

“That wasn’t for you to decide, mother.”

“Anyway, it’s been a long time ago and should no longer matter.”

“It matters to me. Some things you never get over.”

“Just like your father. Holding onto the past. I’m sure that’s why he had a heart attack and died at such a young age.”

“It wasn’t that,” Alveda said. She turned off the iron and fanned herself with a newspaper.

Ignoring what they were saying, Gracie stood and looked at herself in the mirror in the hallway. Though her face was flushed, her Lilt home permanent (one dollar at Woolworth’s) looked exactly the same as it had in the morning when she went to school.  “I thought I might try a little lipstick,” she said, turning her head this way and that.

“I don’t think so,” Alveda said. “Ask me again in three or four years.”

“I never get to do anything!”

“Life’s rough, though, isn’t it?”

“Be a child while you can,” grandma said. “You’ll find it’s a lot more difficult being an adult.”

“Oh, that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of!” Gracie said. “I can’t wait to be grown and get away from this place!”

“Well, be sure and send us a postcard,” Alveda said.

“Oh, not everything is always a joke, you know!”

“Now, go wash your hands and peel the potatoes and wash some lettuce and get supper started for me.”

“That’s all I’m good for, isn’t it? I’m just a galley slave and that’s all I’ll ever be.”

“She’s getting a real smart mouth on her,” grandma said, after Gracie had left the room. “You’d better stop it before it gets out of control.”

“And how would you suggest I do that?”

“Smack her in the mouth every now and then.”

“I don’t want her to hate me.”

“You’ve got a lot to learn as a mother.”

“I think I can handle my own daughter in my own way.”

“Suit yourself. Remember, I raised six kids and you only have the one.”

“Yes, and all six of us are sterling examples of…I don’t know what!” Alveda said.

“I delivered all six of you to adulthood. I never had a baby die on me.”

“Hooray for you!”

“I see where Gracie gets her smart mouth.”

Alveda lit a cigarette and blew smoke out in grandma’s direction. Grandma waved her hand in front of her face and Alveda wanted to laugh.

“I invited George to have dinner with us on Sunday,” Alveda said. “After dinner, I’m going with him to the hospital to see his mother.”

“You’re wasting your time with him, you know. He’ll never marry you.”

“Who said anything about marriage?”

“Well, you have to be thinking about your future and your daughter’s future.”

“George is just a friend. Can’t I have a friend?”

“It looks funny for a middle-aged divorcee to be going around with a man like that.”

“A man like what?”

“You know what people say about him.”

“I don’t care.”

“He’s at least forty-eight years old. He’s never been married and never wanted to be married, as far as I know. He plants flowers in his yard. He has always lived with his mother and he plays the organ in church.”

“So?”

“Well, people have to draw their own conclusions about a person who is so obviously different.”

“You think everybody is supposed to be the same?”

“One must follow certain conventions in this town to be accepted.”

“He’s coming for dinner on Sunday and if you don’t like it you don’t have to be here.”

“Where would I go?”

“I don’t know. Spend the afternoon in the cemetery visiting the deceased.”

“You cut me to the core when you speak to me that way. I don’t know how you can treat me with so much disrespect. That isn’t the way you were brought up.”

Alveda went out to the front porch to finish her cigarette. George was just pulling into his driveway across the street. She waved to him and then crossed over as he was getting out of his car.

“I’m pretty sure I’m going to kill my mother,” she said.

He laughed. “I’ll come and visit you in jail.”

“I’ll make it look like an accident. Nobody will ever know I did it.”

“That might be difficult to arrange.”

“Will you help me?”

“Sure. But only if you include my mother in on it, too.”

“How is she?”

“Complaining. Giving the nurses a bad time.”

“When are they going to let her come home?”

“Not for a while, I hope. I love having the house all to myself.”

“They’ll never die, will they, George?”

“Probably not.”

“Let’s run off together.”

“Any time you say.”

She helped him into his house with his groceries and then turned to go back home. As she walked across the yard, she pretended not to see her mother peering at her through the curtain and then letting the curtain fall back into place. She would save it for another time.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Before His Time

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Before His Time ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

What can you say about addicts? That they engage in irrational behavior to get whatever it is they are addicted to? That they will kill if necessary, even if they don’t see themselves as killers? Did he really believe that going into a pharmacy with a gun and killing a woman and shooting another person was the right thing to do? Did he think nobody would know it was him? Did he really believe he would get away before he was caught?

His name was Gerald Lashley, but that wasn’t his real name. He broke his back in an accident. (It hurts so bad!) Doctors thought he might never walk again but he did. A long, slow recovery. He took pain killers for two years and came to depend on them. After two years, the doctor said to him, “You’re well enough now that you’re on your own. I will give you no more pain killers.”

Except that he still had pain. A lot of it. He tried to get along without the pain pills but he just couldn’t do it. He drank prodigious amounts of whiskey to take the place of the pills. Whiskey dulled the pain some but not enough. He began laying around all the time, drinking and not eating. Not washing himself and not speaking to anybody.

He saw himself many times going into a drugstore and stealing the pills he needed but he was afraid. He wasn’t the type of man to steal. He had been brought up in the church and had the fear of God in him.

Finally the pain got the best of him. When he called his doctor once again to try to get some help, the young girl who answered the phone told him the doctor was on vacation. (Do people still do that?) He slammed down the phone and sat on the couch and sobbed. He was thinking about the various ways that he might kill himself, but this, also, was against his moral beliefs.

He didn’t remember who the gun belonged to. Somebody in his family. It was still in an old wooden box in the basement along with some other junk. Also some bullets. He loaded the gun and put it in the pocket of his bathrobe and in that moment he felt better than he had felt in a long time. With hope in his heart, he went to sleep and when he woke up he knew exactly what it was he was going to do.

Except that it would never work without careful planning. There were drugstores anywhere but he would have to pick the right one. Not one in his hometown, either, where people knew him, but away, in some other town. And he would take the loaded gun along, of course, but never use it. It would just be to make sure people knew he meant business and to scare them. Not to hurt anybody.

After two weeks of planning he arrived at the “when,” the “where” and the “how.” The drug store was about twenty-five miles away in a town that was connected to the town he lived in by an old, seldom-used country road. He knew they had the kind of pain medicine he needed because he had called and asked. Yes, sir, the lady said, we have in a fresh supply; always happy to oblige. The pieces were falling into place for him.

He chose a Saturday morning at the end of winter. The sky was gray, threatening rain, like so many other days. He wore a lightweight coat with zip pockets and a knit cap pulled down to just above his eyebrows. That would make it harder for people to identify him later, if it came to that. He put the gun in the right-hand pocket—he was right-handed—and zipped it up.

Traffic was light, as he knew it would be. Not a lot of people out stirring on a dreary Saturday morning. He tried to look at the sky and concentrate on the scenery because when he thought about what he was about to do he felt light-headed and breathless. He believed his nerve might fail him, but only if he let it.

The town was nearly deserted. There were a few cars parked at the drug store and other businesses in the block, but not many. He drove around the block and parked on the street in the direction he would need to take to get away. He checked the gun in his pocket one last time and went inside.

The prescription counter was all the way in the back of the store. As he approached it, a female worker came forward, smiled, and asked if she could help him. He handed her the note he had written out beforehand and showed her the gun, holding it close to his side so nobody else would see it. She nodded her head, one time, and then turned away.

When she was gone for more than thirty seconds, he began to panic. She was taking too much time. She was telling somebody else what was happening. She would try to stall him while somebody in the back called the police. But then she reappeared from the back bearing a white plastic bag of the stuff he wanted and he felt relieved for the moment.

“Anything else?” she asked, and he knew she said this to every customer.

Before he took the bag from her, he said, “Put all the money from the cash drawer in there with the medicine.”

At that moment he was jumped from behind by somebody he didn’t see. His gun discharged with the reflex of his hand and he was aware that the bullet struck the female worker and she went down behind the counter as he was being pulled back.

The pain from the weight on his back nearly tore him in two, but he was able to throw the person off, which, he saw in just a moment, was a small old man with bent back and white hair. As the old man got up from the floor and began to charge him again, he fired the gun again. The bullet struck the old man in the upper thigh, taking him down.

Before the female worker went down, she had put at least some money in the white plastic bag with the stuff and the bag lay on the counter. He grabbed for it and ran for the front of the store, hearing gasps and screams as people in the store realized what was happening.

His hands were shaking as he opened the car door and started the engine. He sped away from the curb without even looking to see if the way was clear and drove through town.

As he was about to make the left-hand turn on the edge of town to get onto the highway, two speeding police cars appeared, their sirens deafening. One of them pulled around in front of him and stopped at an angle to keep him from going any farther and the other one stopped behind him. Officers swarmed from both cars and in a moment had him facedown on the ground. The whole thing had taken seventeen minutes.

He was taken to the town jail and then to the county jail. He was wailing and blubbering and couldn’t speak, so he was put on suicide watch and given a shot that made him feel like he was falling down a black hole that had no bottom. When he woke up he was questioned by a roomful of officers whose job it was to piece together what had happened.

During his various court appearances, he didn’t understand what was being said, but he knew there would be no trial since he had given a full confession. There would only a hearing to decide what to do with him. His lawyer told him it didn’t look good for him. The old man would recover, but the woman, mother of three, had died. The prosecution was seeking the death penalty.

After much wrangling between lawyers, he was spared the death penalty—due to “mitigating circumstances”—and sentenced instead to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Twenty-two years went by in prison. He was an old man before his time. He walked with a terrible limp or not at all. One morning when he woke up he was too sick to get out of bed and was moved to the infirmary. That same day, as he lay dying, he saw a hill on his grandfather’s farm from his childhood. He looked up the hill and shaded his eyes to see if he saw there any sign of the forgiveness that he wanted more than anything else on earth.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp  

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