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If I Had a Heart

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If I Had a Heart ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

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

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

“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. Punsley said, folding his hands and going down the list of names. “We have lots of suckers to choose from. Are there any standouts? Yes, there are many, many standouts. Anybody you’ve found especially offending lately?”

“Otis Nadler spends too much time in the men’s room,” Mr. Cundiff said.

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

“How about Tenny Peterkin?” Mr. Cundiff asked. “I’ve noticed him staring off into space a couple of times lately when he ought to be working.”

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

“Yes, you’re right, of course,” Mr. Cundiff said. “As usual.”

“Always being right is what got me where I am today,” Mr. Punsley said.

“Well, now, let me see,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Judith Traherne comes to mind for some reason.”

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

“How about Florence Lawrence, then?” Mr. Cundiff said. “She’s put on a lot of weight lately. That means she’s not carrying her share of the load.”

“She’s carrying a load, all right,” Mr. Punsley said. “Haven’t you noticed she’s going to have a baby?”

“No! I just thought she had been eating too many donuts,” Mr. Cundiff said.

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

You pick somebody,” Mr. Cundiff said. “Somebody good. Just let me alone for a while. I feel one of my headaches coming on.”

Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff managed the company, or at least they thought they did. In reality, they did practically nothing, having no idea of what needed to be done or how to do it. When there was any real work to be done, they put it off on one of their underlings and sat back and took the credit (and the profits), if there was any to be taken.

Mr. Cundiff locked himself in his office to be alone to try to make his headache go away, and Mr. Punsley continued looking down the list of company employees for prospective firees. When this task became tiresome, he called one of his current mistresses, one Mona Montclair, on the phone and chatted with her for close to an hour about sundry personal matters, including her two pet poodles and the lousy manicure she had from a manicurist who was obviously high on drugs. Then she told him about how she had been taxing her intellect looking at travel brochures, trying to decide on a vacation destination (the French Riviera or Paris?) and grew pouty when he told her he didn’t know when he would be able to get away to join her.

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

“Have one of your little secretaries handle things while you’re gone,” she said. This was a reference to the dozens of female employees of Mr. Punsley’s of whom Mona Montclair was jealous.

By lunchtime Mr. Cundiff’s headache was better and Mr. Punsley had had enough of the office for one morning, so the two of them left to have a steak-lobster-martini lunch at the most exclusive restaurant in the city.

They made it a rule never to discuss office matters while lunching, so Mr. Cundiff didn’t ask Mr. Punsley who, if anyone, he had chosen to fire. Mr. Cundiff trusted Mr. Punsley’s judgment and he knew that Mr. Punsley would pick somebody who would be absolutely crushed at losing his job and would probably cry or maybe become violent and have to be bodily ejected by the security staff. It would certainly spice up the afternoon.

Mr. Cundiff had a dull, dowdy wife in the suburbs and four miniature Cundiffs, so he was always eager to hear about Mr. Punsley’s exploits with the opposite sex. Mr. Punsley had never been married, had always steered away from it, in fact, because, as he said, he would lose too much in a divorce settlement. He would lead women on, though, and make them think he was going to marry them, and then, pull the rug out from under them, in a manner of speaking, just as they believed they were on their way to the altar.

After two hours of excellent food and drink—and after Mr. Punsley had ogled all the women in the place from seventeen to seventy—Mr. Cundiff and Mr. Punsley paid their tab and left.

Once back at the office, Mr. Cundiff retired for a little siesta, while Mr. Punsley again sat down at his desk with the list. Now that his mind was clear after a good lunch and six martinis, he settled on the name of a person to fire: Nelson Dunwoody. When Mr. Cundiff emerged from his period of rest refreshed, Mr. Punsley greeted him with the news.

“Which one is Nelson Dunwoody?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

“He doesn’t talk much,” Mr. Punsley said. “He didn’t get drunk at the office Christmas party the way everybody else did. In fact, he wasn’t even there.”

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

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

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

“Well, somebody told me he uses a lot of soap and paper towels when he’s washing his hands in the men’s room,” Mr. Punsley said.

“He must be very clean,” Mr. Cundiff said.

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

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

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

“Truer words were never spoken!” Mr. Cundiff said.

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

“He’s cocky,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Yes, that’s it exactly!” Mr. Punsley said. “I can always rely on you to find the right words.”

“Have your secretary show the man in, then, and we’ll get right to it!” Mr. Cundiff said.

Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff both greeted Nelson Dunwoody with enthusiastic smiles, shaking his hand and patting his shoulder.

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

Nelson Dunwoody sat in the large leather chair in front of Mr. Punsley’s desk, crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap. Even now, Mr. Punsley thought, when he’s obviously in trouble, this Nelson Dunwoody person is entirely too sure of himself.

“What can I do for you gentlemen today?” Nelson Dunwoody asked.

“You’ve been with the company now for about—what is it?—sixteen months?” Mr. Punsley said. He was nervous and seemed to be having trouble getting the words out.

“Yes,” Nelson Dunwoody said.

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

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

“In what way?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

“I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish and more,” Nelson Dunwoody said, smiling confidently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, I never!” Mr. Cundiff said.

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

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

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

“It takes all kinds,” Mr. Cundiff said.

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

“Well, pick somebody else from the list,” Mr. Cundiff said.

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

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

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

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

“Yes!” Mr. Punsley said, showing his indignant side. “And just who the hell are you?

“We have a warrant for your arrest, sir!” the tall man said.

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

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

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

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

“I’m afraid you’re both under arrest, sir!” the tall man said.

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

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

“In where?” Mr. Cundiff asked.

As a diversionary tactic, Mr. Punsley began grabbing articles and papers from his desk and throwing them about the room. While the tall man and the others were distracted, Mr. Punsley grabbed Mr. Cundiff by the arm and they ran out the side door into the hallway.

“What now?” Mr. Cundiff said.

“I’m not going to jail!” Mr. Punsley said.

“Me, either!” Mr. Cundiff said.

“To the roof, then!” Mr. Punsley said.

They ran up to the roof before anybody spotted them and, joining hands, jumped to their deaths, thirty-three stories to the street. They created a monumental traffic jam in all directions and were the top story on the evening news.

While Mr. Punsley and Mr. Cundiff were sitting in Satan’s outer office, waiting to be admitted to hell, Mr. Punsley said. “Maybe we should have treated people a little better than we did. Showed a little more humility.”

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

“You don’t think they’ll let us go if we apologize?” Mr. Punsley asked.

“I don’t think it’ll do any good now,” Mr. Cundiff said.

“Who would have ever guessed that Nelson Dunwoody was a federal investigator?” Mr. Punsley said.

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

“Who hired the fellow in the first place?” Mr. Punsley asked.

“It was you!” Mr. Cundiff said.

“No, it wasn’t me!” Mr. Punsley said. “I remember now! It was you!

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

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Less Time to Spend With Hermaphrodites

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Less Time to Spend With Hermaphrodites ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Chick came home at seven in the morning, quietly letting himself in at the back door. Mother was waiting for him in the kitchen.

“Where the hell have you been?” she said loudly, startling him.

“I thought you’d still be asleep!” Chick said.

“Well, I’m not! I want to know where you’ve been!”

“I told you I was spending the night at Squeamy’s house. You said it was all right.”

“I called Squeamy’s mother and she said you weren’t there.”

“Well, I wasn’t in the house. That’s what she meant. We slept out in Squeamy’s tent in the back yard.”

“Who did?”

“Me and Squeamy.”

“Who else?”

“Vic Barker and Arden Halton.”

“So there were four of you?”

“Yes.”

“Isn’t Vic Barker the one with the harelip?”

“Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything? He’s going to have surgery in August.”

“And Arden Halton,” she said, leaning her backside against the range. “Where have I heard that name before?”

“How should I know?”

“Isn’t he the one that…”

“He doesn’t go to regular school. He goes to special school.”

“Why? Is he retarded?”

“No! He doesn’t go to regular school because people there are too mean to him.”

“I know now!” she said. “He’s the one that…”

Before Chick knew what was happening, she was on him, slapping at him with both hands. He raised his arms to protect his face.

“What’s the matter with you?” he said. “I didn’t do anything!”

“You’re thirteen years old! What do you mean by spending the night with a freak?”

“He’s not a freak!”

“So, it’s a ‘he,’ is it? How do you know tomorrow ‘he’ won’t be a ‘she’?”

“What difference does it make?”

“You come from a respectable family! You know you should not be spending the night with people like that!”

“We didn’t do anything!”

“Everybody in the neighborhood will know you spent the night together.”

“It wasn’t the way you make it sound!”

“What do you do in the tent all night with a hermaphrodite, if that’s what you even call them?”

“There were four of us! We didn’t do anything!”

“I’m going to call the law! Freak kids should be locked up and should not be allowed to associate with normal kids!”

“Please don’t do that!” he said. “You embarrasses me!”

I embarrass you? You’re the one spending the night with freaks!”

“He’s not a freak! I like him! We all like him!”

“Well, that says a lot about you, then, doesn’t it?”

“He’s smart and funny. He’s been to Washington, D.C. and New York City. He’s seen ghosts and he’s been inside the embalming room at a funeral home.”

“I want you to promise me that you won’t ever associate with him again and you will, above all, not be seen with him in public!”

“No!” he said.

“No what?

“I won’t promise that I won’t see him again!”

“You little shit!” she said, slapping at him again. “When you’re thirteen years old, you do as you’re told!  I’ll tell you who you can go around with!”

“I’m going to invite him over so you can see he’s not as bad as you think!”

“And do I address him as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’?”

“Don’t address him as anything! Just be nice to him!”

Hah-hah-hah!” she said, lighting a cigarette and throwing the match in the sink. “You’re just a punk kid and you don’t know shit!

“We’re all going roller skating together on Saturday night!”

“I don’t think so! You are as of this minute permanently grounded! If you don’t know what that means, just ask your sister!”

When father came home, mother went outside to meet him as he got out of the car. Chick was watching from the upstairs window. He knew exactly what she was saying as she stood there in her ugly gray housedress that looked like a prison matron’s uniform.

Father didn’t rant and excoriate the way mother did, but he was judge and jury. At the dinner table, he looked solemnly at Chick and said, “I hear you’ve been keeping some inappropriate company.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Chick said, looking down at his plate.

“Starting tomorrow you can scrape the old paint off the garage and give it a fresh coat. Also you can take over the cutting of the grass for the rest of the summer. That should keep you busy right up until time for school to take up again.”

“Why don’t you just take me out in the back yard and hang me from the tallest tree?”

“We could also do that,” father said.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Immoral Purposes

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Immoral Purposes

Immoral Purposes ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“When was the last time you saw your granddaughter?”

“Saturday night,” Mrs. Cassin said.

“What did she say to you the last time you saw her?”

“She said ‘goodbye’.”

“That’s all?”

“I was watching TV. If she said anything more than that, I didn’t hear it.”

The big man shifted uncomfortably on the brocade sofa and cleared his throat. Mrs. Cassin looked at him in anticipation of the next question and smiled vacantly.

“Now, she had been dating this boy, this Eddie Weems, for how long?”

“If that was really the son-of-a-bitch’s name!” Mrs. Cassin said.

“How long had she been dating the boy you knew as Eddie Weems?”

“About a month that I know of, but I guess it was going on even longer than that.”

“And you disapproved?”

“You damn right I disapproved!”

“And why did you disapprove of Eddie Weems?”

“He was too old for her!”

“Was that your only objection?”

“No! He was trash! And a hellion!”

“Why do you say that?”

“He wore overalls. He drove a car that made a roaring sound and he didn’t care who saw him smoking cigarettes.”

“So these are the reasons you didn’t like him and didn’t want your granddaughter associating with him?”

Peachy Faraday, the next-door neighbor sitting beside Mrs. Cassin on the red velvet settee facing the brocade sofa, made sympathetic clucking sounds and patted Mrs. Cassin on the hand. “Anybody with eyes in their head could see that Eddie Weems just wasn’t the right kind of boy for Toppy to be going around with,” she said.

“Maybe it would be best if I speak to Mrs. Cassin alone,” the big man said.

“She stays!” Mrs. Cassin said. “I want somebody here on my side to hear the questions you’re asking me.”

“All right,” he said, “but there’s no need for it.”

Peachy was now emboldened to speak: “I heard some awful things about Eddie Weems in church. One of the ladies in my Sunday school class who knows the family says he preys on young girls.”

“Preys on young girls how?”

“How many ways are there?”

“Sounds like gossip to me,” he said. “Gossip is of no use.”

“I’ll have you know I never gossip!”

“Mrs. Cassin, what was your granddaughter wearing the last time you saw her?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I didn’t pay much attention.”

“I know what she was wearing!” Peachy said.

“You were here when she left?”

“I was just coming onto the porch as she was leaving. She was wearing black slacks, a red sweater and an old mink jacket.”

“Mink jacket?”

“Yes. And she had a red hair ribbon in her hair.”

“Did you speak to her?”

“I asked her where she was going but she didn’t answer. Then she ran to the car that was waiting for her and got in and the car sped away.”

“Did you see who was in the car? Who was driving?”

“Well, no, it was too dark to see who was driving, but I know it was the car belonging to Eddie Weems.”

“You were familiar with his car?”

“Everybody in the neighborhood knew his car because it was so loud. You could hear it from two or three blocks away.”

“Is it possible that it was some other car?”

“I don’t think so!”

“She lied to me!” Mrs. Cassin said. “She said she was going to the movies with a girlfriend who had her own car.”

“So it couldn’t have been that car you saw?” the big man asked. “The car of the girl Toppy was going to the movies with?”

“I’m absolutely certain it was the car of Eddie Weems I saw!” Peachy said.

“Now, Mrs. Cassin, did you notice any change in Toppy’s behavior in the days before her disappearance?”

“Like what?”

“Did she seem worried about anything or fearful?”

“No.”

“Did she receive any mysterious phone calls or have any mysterious visitors?”

“Of course not! Don’t you think I would have known if there was anything like that going on?”

“How long had Toppy lived with you?”

“I took her in and raised her as my own little girl from the time she was eight years old. Eight years ago.”

“Her father was your son?”

Is my son! He’s still alive as far as I know!”

“And where is he now, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Prison. No parole.”

“And the mother? Your son’s wife?”

“She’s a no-good tramp! If she’s not dead, she should be!”

“Does Toppy speak to her mother or know where she is?”

Mrs. Cassin raised both her feet and brought them down on the floor with impatience. “There’s no good in asking all these questions!” she said. “You find that asshole Eddie Weems and there you will also find my granddaughter!”

“Are you sure of that?” the big man asked.

“I’ve never been so sure of anything in my entire life!”

“Well, I have to tell you,” he said. “The family of Eddie Weems has also reported him missing.”

“I knew it!” Mrs. Cassin said.

“He probably took her to another state,” Peachy said. “There’s a name for that. Immoral purposes.”

“Could they have gone off someplace and got married?” the big man asked.

“If they did, I’ll kill that bastard Eddie Weems!” Mrs. Cassin said.

“Getting married is not a crime, Mrs. Cassin,” he said.

“He’s taking advantage of my little girl. She’s a minor and he is not. Isn’t that enough to put him behind bars for the next thirty years?”

“Try to keep calm,” he said. “These things usually work themselves out.”

“I want you to find them and bring them back!”

“We’ll do our best to locate them,” he said. “It might take a few days.”

“When I get my hands on that Eddie Weems, I’ll make him wish he had never been born! And, as for Toppy, it’s convent time for her!”

“She’ll make a pretty little nun,” Peachy said.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Clown Voodoo

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Clown Voodoo

Clown Voodoo ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

It was autumn and the back yard was littered with walnuts. Mother had husked some and some still remained in the tight green outer husk, drying in the sun. If you’re not careful, you’ll get that stuff on your hands and it’s the very devil to get it off. You don’t want to go to school with brown hands, do you?

Ian was seven. His father died when he was a baby and his mother married a man named Devin when Ian was five. Devin was Ian’s stepfather. There was an unspoken thing hanging in the air between Ian and Devin: They didn’t like each other. All Devin had to do was walk into a room for Ian to want to leave it.

On more than one occasion Ian spoke to his mother about it. “Devin doesn’t like me, mother,” he would say. He didn’t even have to ask her if she thought it was true because he already knew it was. He also didn’t mention that the dislike was mutual.

“Of course he likes you,” she said. “He’s just a little distant.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means we have to give him some time. He’s not used to children.”

“Why did you marry him?”

“I guess I got tired of being alone.”

“Would you be sad if he died?”

“Of course, I’d be sad! He’s my husband. We’re a family now. You shouldn’t even think such things.”

“Devin doesn’t like me, mother. I think he’ll try to kill me one day and try to make it look like an accident.”

“Don’t be silly!” mother said. “Go and find something to do and stop having such morbid thoughts.”

“Devin doesn’t like me, mother.”

When Ian and mother were alone in the house without Devin, they were happy. They watched TV together, played monopoly or scrabble, and baked cookies or brownies. As soon as Devin walked through the door, though, Ian saw the change that came over mother. She stopped laughing and became uneasy. Devin jerked things out of her hand and cut her off when she was talking. Several times he threw a sandwich or a cup of coffee or a beer bottle at her, barely missing her head. Then he would storm out of the house and she would have to get down on her hands and knees and clean up the mess he had made.

Devin made Ian go to bed every night at nine o’clock, even on  weekends. Then in the morning he would stand over him and force him to make his own bed “military style.” He wouldn’t let him eat more than one cookie at a time or drink more than two sodas a week. When they had liver and onions or Brussels sprouts, which Ian hated, Devin made him eat every bite before he could leave the table.

At times Devin made Ian work in the yard, hoeing the flower beds or raking leaves, while Devin sat in the shade and watched. If Ian made a mistake or missed some leaves or weeds, Devin called him a “little turd” or a “worthless piece of shit.” Ian began to have antagonistic feelings toward mother for not standing up for him, but he knew she was afraid of making Devin mad.

Ian saw a story on TV about voodoo. An old woman had an “effigy,” a small likeness, of a person who was supposed to be her enemy. She said magic words and stuck pins in the back and through the neck of the effigy, which was supposed to inflict pain and suffering on the enemy.

Ian found an old clown doll in the trash. He cleaned it up and sprinkled it with Devin’s aftershave and hid it in his room. At night after everybody had gone to bed, he took the effigy out of its hiding place and, saying his own magic words, stuck pins in its stomach or through the eyes, drove a nail into its head. He fashioned a hangman’s noose out of a shoelace and hung the effigy in the back of the closet where mother wouldn’t see it and ask him what it was.

On the last Sunday in October, Devin was working in the back yard on an old Cadillac he was restoring. The car was jacked up in the back, all four tires removed. He was underneath the car, only his legs sticking out from the knees.

Ian went out the back door and saw at once the thin arm of metal that was holding the car up. He knew Devin was there, underneath the car; he wanted to escape Devin’s attention before he put him to work picking up walnuts or raking leaves. He had a library book, so he crept quietly all the way to the far edge of the back yard, all the way by the back fence that separated one yard from another, intending to sit underneath the trees and read.

On the ground near the fence was an old slingshot he had never seen before. He picked it up and looked at it. He thought it must belong to the neighbor kids and was going to throw it over the fence into their yard when he decided he’d like to give it a try first. He picked up one of the walnuts off the ground and put it in the slingshot and pulled the heavy piece of rubber back as far as he could and let go.

He wasn’t aiming at anything in particular. With amazing velocity and uncanny accuracy, the walnut struck the jack, knocked it over, and brought the car down on top of Devin. He saw Devin’s legs jerks, the big feel sticking out comically as in a cartoon. Scared at what he had done and not knowing what else to do, Ian ran into the neighboring yard to the alley and all the way to the Methodist church and on past that to the cemetery.

He hid out in the cemetery for what must have been more than an hour and when he decided to go home, the neighbor woman from across the street was waiting to corral him into her house.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Your mother had to leave in a hurry and she asked me to take you to my house until she gets back,” the neighbor woman said.

She gave him a big plate of spaghetti and a piece of cherry pie and when he was finished eating she told him to sit quietly and watch TV until mother came for him.

When finally he saw mother, well after dark, he saw she had been crying. “Where have you been?” he asked. “Did something happen?”

“There was an accident,” she said.

When she told him what had happened, he pretended to be sad while feeling nothing, not even fear that he might be blamed.

“It’ll be all right, mother,” he said, turning his face away so she wouldn’t see his smile. “I’ll look after you.”

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

From the Shallow to the Deep

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From the Shallow to the Deep ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The first lesson was a lecture in a small room that smelled like wet towels. Wesley-John Garbutt hated it already. He sat in the back of the room observing the fifteen or so other boys who were lucky enough to be learning how to swim. They were all gung-ho types, staunch little men; some were actually taking notes because they wanted to remember everything Boss said, get everything just right. They were excited; couldn’t wait to get their suits on and get into the water.

The swimming instructor insisted on being called Boss as if he had no other name. He was a short, swarthy man in his early forties with a face like a movie hoodlum. He wore a gray sweatshirt and black swim trunks with a whistle on a string around his neck. His legs were thick and short, disproportionate, covered with black hair. Wesley-John wanted to laugh because he had more hair on his legs than he did on his head.

“Now, none of you are babies,” Boss barked, the gruff drill sergeant whipping the raw recruits into shape. “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a baby. Or a sissy. Sissies are even worse. So if there are any sissies or babies among you, you’re welcome to leave now.”

There was a murmur in the room as the boys all attested that they were manly enough for what was coming. Wesley-John sighed loudly and wished he was gone.

“Everybody must have his own suit and his own towel,” Boss said. “If you arrive for your lesson without either of these two items, you will not be allowed to participate. You will fall behind and end up failing the class and we don’t like failures. Now, do we have any failures here?”

No!” the boys shouted.

“Good! Now, your suit may be any color you like. Except pink. I wouldn’t recommend pink.”

The boys laughed appreciatively.

“And it must be presentable.”

“What do you mean by ‘presentable’?” somebody asked.

“Well, you don’t want your balls or your ass hanging out, now, do you?” Boss said.

The boys laughed loud and long. Wesley-John hated Boss for his crudity and hated everybody else for laughing.

“Now, we all know what horseplay is, don’t we?” Boss said. “That’s another thing that will not be tolerated here. You will have fun, of course, but you’ll have to follow instructions and do as you are told at all times or you will be sent home. Whenever you hear me blow my whistle, that means that you are to stop what you are doing, whether in or out of the water, and listen to what I’m about to say. The whistle is the signal for you to stop and listen. Is there anybody here who doesn’t understand this?”

No!”

“All right, then! Over the next eight weeks each and every one of you will learn how to swim like a champion. Are we all champions?”

Yes!

“Is there any one of you who doesn’t firmly believe in his heart that he is a champion?”

Wesley-John ached to raise his hand and dismiss himself, that he was sick or was expected somewhere else at that moment, but he was too embarrassed to speak up. They would all laugh at him and he was sure Boss would say something to make it worse.

“Now, at the end of your eight weeks,” Boss continued, “you will take a final exam.”

A collective groan went up.

“It’s not the kind of exam you take sitting at a desk with a pencil in your hand, though. It’s an exam that will consist of swimming the length of the pool, from the shallow to the deep, and back again. And that’s not all. Each of you will be required to dive at least once off the high dive.”

“How high?” somebody asked.

“Thirty feet.”

“What if we can’t do it?”

“Then you fail the class. You will have wasted your time and mine and made a complete ass of yourself in the bargain. Is there anybody here who thinks he can’t do it?”

No, sir!

“All right, then. Be here on Friday at two o’clock, suited up and ready to swim. And that doesn’t mean two minutes after two, either. It means two on the dot!”

Yes, sir!

After the others had left, Wesley-John Garbutt hung back to have a word with Boss.

“I won’t be here on Friday, sir,” he said. “Or any other day.”

Boss looked at him with distaste. “And why not, may I ask?”

“I’m not really a pool person. I don’t care for this whole scene.”

“Then why did you sign up?”

“I didn’t. My father signed me up without consulting me first.”

“You won’t get your money back.”

“I don’t care about that, sir.”

Boss marked Wesley-John’s name off the class roll and left without another word.

That evening at the dinner table, Wesley-John’s father, Boyd Garbutt, asked, “Wasn’t today your first swim lesson?”

“Yes,” Wesley-John said, looking down at his plate.

“How did it go?”

“I quit.”

“You what?

“I said I quit the swimming class. I won’t be going back.”

“After the first lesson?”

“It wasn’t really a lesson. It was just talking.”

“I’m not going to let you quit.”

“I already have.”

“You can’t do that! Do you know how hard it was to get you in that class? They have a waiting list. I had to pull some strings to get your named moved up on the list.”

“They can let some other poor sap take my place,” Wesley-John said.

“Other boys your age would kill for the chance to learn how to swim!”

“I’m not like them, sir.”

“Sometimes I look at you and I wonder what’s wrong with you.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me, sir. I just don’t want to learn how to swim.”

“You’re a quitter. Just like your mother.”

“She would never have signed me up to do something she knew I would hate.”

“How do you know you hate it? You’ve never done it!”

“The pool scares me. I see myself dead in it.”

“Nobody is going to let you die!”

“No, sir, they won’t, because I’m not going to do it.”

“When I was fourteen years old,” Boyd Garbutt said, getting red in the face, “do you know what my father would have done to me if I defied him the way you’re defying me now?”

“No, sir.”

“He would have knocked my head off my shoulders!”

“Rather extreme, don’t you think?”

“You’re the weirdest kid I’ve ever seen!”

“You haven’t seen many.”

“When is the next class?”

“Friday, but I won’t be there.”

“You’re going to go if I have to take you myself and stay there the whole time. Do you want the other kids to see what a big baby you are? That you have to have your father there to make sure you do what you’re supposed to do?”

“It couldn’t be any worse than it already is.”

“I think you should leave the table now!” Boyd Garbutt said. “I don’t want to have to look at your face any more today.”

Wesley-John stood up and carried his dishes to the sink. As he was scraping the plate under the faucet, he said, “Do you know that new thirty-story office building on the south side of the park?”

“I drive by it every now and then,” Boyd Garbutt said. “Why?”

“They have an observation deck on the top floor. Open to the public.”

“So?”

“Anybody can go up there, even a kid. Even me.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not saying anything. Just that it’s a long way down, that’s all.”

After stacking the dishes, Wesley-John went upstairs to his room and locked himself in. He kicked off his shoes and lay on his back on the bed, tired out from the awful day. He would take a nap until about dark and then get up and sit at his desk and read to try to keep from remembering all that had happened.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Rainwater

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Rainwater

Rainwater ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The bell rang and recess was over. The students marched solemnly back into the classroom and took their seats. In a few minutes the teacher, Miss White, noticed that somebody was missing.

“Has anybody seen Shirley Watson?” she asked.

She waited for an answer and, receiving none, stood up and went to the window. She saw, without looking very hard, little Shirley Watson, dirty hair and ugly plaid dress, sitting on the asphalt on the playground.

“Does anybody know why Shirley Watson didn’t come in when the bell rang?”

Nobody had an answer for that, either, so Miss White told the class to begin reading on page thirty-nine in their social studies books and she would be back in a couple of minutes. If anybody made any noise, she said, Miss Periwinkle in the next classroom would hear them and come in and rip their little heads off.

She went down the three flights of stairs and out the door. As she approached, Shirley Watson, sitting on the ground, turned and looked at her and then looked away.

“Didn’t you hear the bell, Shirley?” she asked.

“I heard it,” Shirley said quietly.

“Well, why didn’t you come in when you were supposed to? Are you sick?”

“No, I’m not sick.”

“What, then?”

“I can’t get up.”

“Why not? Did you hurt your leg?”

“No, I wet my pants.”

“Oh, Shirley! Why didn’t you go to the restroom when everybody else went?”

“I didn’t have to go then.”

“So it just came on you all of a sudden?”

“I guess so.”

“Well, you can’t sit there all day. Do you want me to bring you some paper towels?”

“No.”

“You can just go on home, then, and get yourself cleaned up. You’re excused for the rest of the day.”

“I can’t go home. There’s nobody there. The door’s locked and I don’t have a key.”

“Do you want me to call your mother?”

“She’s in Atlantic City.”

“You father, then?”

“He’s been drunk for three days.”

“Don’t you have an older sister?”

“In the hospital.”

“Come on inside, then, and we’ll get you cleaned up the best we can.”

“I’m not getting up.”

“Why not?”

“Embarrassed.”

“You don’t have to be embarrassed in front of me. Nobody will see you. Everybody’s in class now.”

“I’m not getting up.”

“Is it something worse than just wetting your pants?”

“Is there anything worse than that?”

“Nobody will see you. Nobody will laugh at you. Nobody will make fun of you.”

“They already have.”

“Who?”

“At recess. Everybody knows about it.”

“When I asked the class, nobody knew where you were.”

“Well, isn’t that just like them?”

“I have to go back now and tend to my class,” Miss White said, “but you just stay where you are and we’ll think of something to do.”

“I’m not getting up.”

Miss White went back upstairs to her classroom and proceeded with the social studies lesson. During the next forty-five minutes, she went to the window to check on Shirley again two or three times, but after that forgot all about her.

One of those sudden spring thunderstorms blew up out of the southwest. The wind blew, the sky turned black, and thunder rumbled alarmingly close. When the rain started to pour down in sheets was when Miss White remembered Shirley Watson.

“Will somebody go out to the playground and tell Shirley Watson to come in out of the rain right now?” she said.

“I’ll go!” Lester Jackson said.

“That’s very gallant of you, Lester,” Miss White said, but she knew that gallantry was the farthest thing from Lester’s mind. He only wanted an excuse to go outside and experience the rainstorm firsthand.

“Now, where were we?” she said after Lester had left the room.

In five minutes Lester came back, drenched to the skin. “She ain’t there,” he said.

“What?”

“I said she ain’t there.”

“Did you look all over?”

“The best I could in a cyclone.”

“Well, it’s not exactly a cyclone, but thank you, all the same.”

The storm didn’t let up for the next half hour. With every lightning bolt and thunderclap, Miss White found the class increasingly past the point of learning anything. Some of the children were scared almost to the point of tears, while others wanted to laugh and jump up out of their seats, finding that the storm added a welcome zest to the afternoon.

“Would somebody like to tell us a story?” Miss White asked.

While Myrna Hollander was giving a rambling and not very interesting account of how her great-grandparents had been killed in a storm just like this one in Texas, Miss White stood up and went to the window again.

Since the playground was on a slope, there was a sort of trough at the end of the slope where the rainwater collected to run off into the storm drain. There, in the trough, was Shirley Watson, face down in the water, arms outstretched. In a minute she floated out of sight and disappeared into the storm drain.

Miss White thought she should probably go and get some kind of help but, from the look of things, it was already too late. Tomorrow there would be one less grubby little girl in the world. She, Miss White, felt quite absolved of any responsibility. She was sorry for Shirley Watson, of course, but she had done all that was humanly possible. She had her entire class as witnesses, if it ever came to that.

She put the incident out of her mind and enjoyed a restful evening at home. In her snug little singles apartment, she broiled herself a steak and watched TV. On the ten o’clock news was no mention of a little girl found in a storm drain, so everything was all right. The less said about it, the better.

In the morning before the day began Miss White was astonished to see Shirley Watson walk into the room with a couple of other girls. She looked, for the first time, clean and well-groomed. She wore a bright, new-looking, yellow dress with white trim. Her hair had been washed and combed, parted neatly on the side.

Miss White called Shirley aside and said, “I’m glad to see you here today.”

Shirley smiled, showing sparkling teeth, and said, “Why wouldn’t I be here today?”

“Wasn’t there a little trouble yesterday? A little accident?”

“Not that I know of,” Shirley said innocently. “I didn’t have any accident.”

“All right, dear. Take your seat. The bell is about to ring.”

All day long Miss White found herself, at odd moments, studying Shirley Watson from the front of the room. When Shirley looked back at her with an ever-so-slight but knowing smile, Miss White looked away quickly. The question that remained unasked hung in the air between them.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

This Morning It Looked Like Rain

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This Morning It Looked Like Rain image 1

This Morning It Looked Like Rain ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“Do you have any plans for summer?” Miss Eye asked.

“I’ll be spending a couple of weeks with my sister in Fort Smith, Arkansas,” Miss Hackley said. “Other than that I don’t know.”

“Well, we’ll all be back at school again before you know it.”

“Next year will be my last year,” Miss Peebles said. “I’m retiring.”

“Oh, I can hardly believe it!” Miss Eye said. “We’ve been teaching together for fifteen years! I don’t know what I’ll do without you there!”

“You’ll soon forget about me,” Miss Peebles said.

“What are you going to do after you retire?” Miss Hackley asked. “Won’t you be lost without a desk and a classroom full of students?”

“Oh, I have a million things I want to do!” Miss Peebles said.

Wesley-John Garbutt sighed and yawned and the ladies turned and looked at him.

“I’m afraid we’re boring Wesley-John,” Miss Peebles said.

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to be rude,” Mr. Garbutt laughed. “Did you, Wesley-John?”

“Huh?”

“Tell the ladies you didn’t mean to be rude.”

“No.”

“No what?”

“No, I didn’t mean to be rude.”

The ladies tittered appreciatively and Mr. Garbutt fumbled for a cigarette.

“Why, I didn’t know you smoked, Mr. Garbutt!” Miss Hackley said.

“When I’m away from school I smoke a little,” he said. “I’m afraid I picked up the habit in college and haven’t been very successful at ridding myself of it.”

“There are things that can be done about that,” Miss Peebles said in the same tone of voice she would use in scolding her students.

“No doubt,” he said, inhaling smoke and blowing it out through his nose.

It was the annual Teachers’ Picnic and Miss Eye, Miss Hackley and Miss Peebles found themselves sitting at the same table with their principal, Mr. Boyd Garbutt, and his son, Wesley-John. Their sack lunches were spread out before them.

“This morning I was afraid it was going to rain,” Miss Eye said, “but it turned out to be a beautiful day after all.”

“Yes,” Miss Hackley said. “Summer is definitely here! You can just feel it in the air!”

“And what are your plans for summer, Wesley-John?” Miss Eye asked.

“What? I, oh, uh, nothing.”

“That’s not true, now, is it, Wesley-John?” Mr. Garbutt said. “He’ll be taking a couple of remedial classes in summer school and when he’s not in school he’ll be taking swimming lessons at the YMCA.”

“Oh, won’t that be fun?” Miss Eye said.

“I don’t even have a suit,” Wesley-John said.

“A suit? Why would you need a suit?”

“A swimsuit.”

“Oh, of course!”

“I thought it would be a good idea for him to know how to swim,” Mr. Garbutt said. “I learned as a child.”

“I’d almost rather die than take swimming lessons,” Wesley-John said.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll have a very nice time.”

“I’m afraid of the water. I’m afraid of drowning. I have nightmares about it.”

“When you begin swimming, they’ll teach you not to be afraid.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.”

“When school takes up again,” Mr. Garbutt said, “he’ll be in junior high. No longer a baby.”

“Imagine that!” Miss Peebles said. “And I remember when he was born. Seems like about two years ago.”

Wesley-John looked squarely at Miss Peebles and said, “Did you know my mother left me behind?”

“Why, no, I didn’t know that,” Miss Peebles said.

“There’s no reason to talk about that now,” Mr. Garbutt said.

“She’s living in New Mexico. She’s married to some other guy.”

“I thought it best not to talk about the divorce at school,” Mr. Garbutt said.

“You should have told us,” Miss Hackley said. “We might have been able to help.”

“I don’t think so. It happened very fast and we decided it was the best thing for all parties concerned.”

“The man my mother married has three kids of his own,” Wesley-John said. “They didn’t have room for me.”

“I thought it best if I raised him and put him through school myself,” Mr. Garbutt said. “Otherwise he would have had to transfer to another school and that would have been disruptive.”

“I understand,” Miss Hackley said, waggling her chins. “These things are always difficult for the children.”

“We’re getting along pretty well, though, aren’t we, Wesley-John?”

“Maybe there’ll be, you know, someone else in your life one day,” Miss Eye said.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Garbutt said. “It’s too early to think about anything like that.”

“May I have one of your cigarettes, Mr. Garbutt?” Miss Eye asked.

“Why, Evie!” Miss Hackley said. “Not you, too!”

“And why not, may I ask?”

“I just never thought of you as one who would smoke cigarettes!”

“You just never can tell about people, can you?”

Miss Evie Eye laughed her cackling laugh and leaned across the table. Mr. Garbutt lit the filterless cigarette she held clamped between her ruby-red lips, and in her eyes was a special glow that hadn’t been there before.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

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