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Ugly Nurses

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Ugly Nurses ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He didn’t always know what was happening. They gave him pills and he didn’t know what they were for. He suspected they purposely kept him knocked out so he wouldn’t complain or cause trouble.

“What is this place?” he asked a nurse who came in to turn the knobs on the machines behind his head.

“You’re in the hospital,” the nurse said.

“What hospital?”

“Does it make any difference?”

He drifted off to sleep and when a young doctor came in, he asked, “What is this place?”

“How are you feeling today, Mr. Leonard?” the young doctor asked.

“I don’t feel anything.”

“No pain?”

“Nothing.”

“That’s the definition of happiness,” the doctor said. “The absence of pain.”

“I’m going home today.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Am I in prison?”

“No, you’re not in prison, but you’re not able to go home just yet.”

“What’s wrong with me anyway?”

“You’re just feeling your age, Mr. Leonard, as we all do.”

“How old are you, doctor?”

“Twenty-seven.”

“Do you want to trade places?”

After the doctor left, he turned as far as he could to look out the window. He could see a patch of blue sky, some white clouds and the corner of a building. None of it helped him to know where he was.

The next time a nurse came in, he asked, “What city am I in? What state?”

The nurse ignored him, marked something on her clipboard, and left.

A little while later they said they were going to get him up. They unhooked him from the machines and put him in a wheelchair.

“I can walk!” he said.

A large nurse wheeled him down a long hallway and into a large room with potted plants. One entire wall was glass. They called this room the “solarium.”

The nurse parked the chair so that his back was to the glass wall and left without a word. He tried to turn the chair around so he could see out, but it was locked in place and wouldn’t move. He was going to stand up and turn the chair around on his own, but he knew that as soon as he did that, he’d have a sharp-tongued nurse squawking at him and she would probably take him right back to his room and put him back to bed as punishment.

From where he sat, he could see the hallway and an elevator. People passed by so fast they were a blur. Some of them talked loudly and some of them laughed. The elevator doors opened and closed. Blurs got on and some got off.

“I have to get out of here,” he said. “This place is making me sick.”

A man in a red bathrobe came and sat on the couch to his left. He was the only other person in the solarium.

“Excuse me!” Mr. Leonard said.

The man in the red bathrobe turned and looked at him.

“Can you help me turn the chair around so I can see the sky?” he asked.

The man in the red bathrobe stood up, released the brake on the chair, turned it around and sat back down on the couch.

“What is this place?” Mr. Leonard turned his head and asked. The man was now to his right instead of left.

“Hospital,” the man said.

“What city? What state?”

The man shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “I’ve been here for six days,” he said. “Had surgery.”

“When are they going to let you go home?” Mr. Leonard asked.

The man shrugged again. “I like it all right here,” he said. “I like having pretty nurses take care of me.”

“I haven’t seen any pretty nurses,” Mr. Leonard said. “The ones I’ve seen are all ugly.”

“They make themselves pretty by being kind.”

“I’m going home, whether they say I can or not.”

“Where do you live?”

“I can’t seem to remember.”

“Do you know we’re on the ninth floor?” the man in the bathrobe asked. “That means it’s ninety feet down to the street.”

“Look up there in the sky,” Mr. Leonard said. “A jet plane.”

“That’s a hawk or a large crow,” the man in the bathrobe said.

“I can walk, and as soon as I get back to my room I’m going to get dressed and go home.”

“How are you going to get there?”

“I’ll call me a cab.”

“That might be a problem if you don’t remember where you live.”

“I’m not going to stay here.”

“Would you like to play a game?” the man in the bathrobe asked.

“What kind of a game?”

“I don’t know. A card game.”

“I don’t know how to play any card games.”

“Me, either. You got a wife?”

“Dead.”

“Mine too. She died. Children?”

“Yeah, two, I think,” Mr. Leonard said. “A boy and a girl. I’m not sure if they’re still alive, though.”

“Don’t they ever come to visit you?”

“I’m not sure they know where I am.”

“I have three daughters,” the man in the bathrobe said. “Two are married and the third one is a lesbian.”

“I knew a lesbian once,” Mr. Leonard said. “She was a steel worker.”

“My name’s Eddie Peabody,” the man in the bathrobe said.

“Pleased to meet you.”

“I have a car parked outside. I can leave this place any time I want and go wherever I want. Free as a bird.”

“Maybe you could drop me off at my house,” Mr. Leonard said.

“I can’t if you don’t know where you live.”

“I could pay you for your gas.”

“It’s not that. How can I take you home if you don’t know where home is?”

“As soon as I get out of this place,” Mr. Leonard said, “I’ll start to see things I recognize. Then I’ll know where I am and I’ll know how to get home.”

“I don’t know,” Eddie Peabody said. “I think they’d see us and stop us on the way down.”

“Who would?”

“Those ugly nurses.”

“This is not a prison,” Mr. Leonard said. “I’m an American citizen and I have certain rights.”

“Maybe I’d rather stay until they say I can go,” Eddie Peabody said.

Do you have a car parked outside, or don’t you?”

“No, I don’t. I was only fooling.”

“Then why did you say you did?”

“I don’t know. I guess I was trying to impress you.”

“I wasn’t impressed,” Mr. Leonard said.

“Nobody ever is.”

Mr. Leonard stood up from the wheelchair and took three small steps. “See?” he said. “I told you I can walk!”

Eddie Peabody clapped his hands like a child. “Let’s go someplace and grab us a beer and a hamburger,” he said.

“Don’t you think I ought to go get dressed first?”

With tiny steps, he went out of the room and started down the hall in the direction of his room. He didn’t get far, though. Two nurses intercepted him and when they had hold of his arms, a third nurse wheeled a chair up behind him and he was forced to sit down.

“Just where do you think you’re going?” the nurse asked.

“My friend and I were just going out for a beer and a hamburger.”

The nurses put him back to bed and one of them gave him a shot that made him sleep. He dreamed that he was in the solarium but on the other side of the glass. Instead of falling the ninety feet to the street, though, he found that he could float and, once he was floating, he began to hover like a bird. There were hundreds of nurses in white uniforms down there on the street looking up at him. One of them aimed a gun at him that was a very large syringe. He smiled and waved at them and flew off over the tops of the buildings. They shook their fists at him and called him names.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Unwed Babies

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Unwed Babies ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Little Thelma Kane hadn’t been to school for two weeks. When she returned, presumably for the last time, she was accompanied by her mother, Nova Kane. The two of them presented themselves in the principal’s office immediately after lunch on Friday afternoon.

“We want to see Mr. Middledyke,” Nova Kane said to Ima Chiclet, Mr. Middledyke’s secretary.

Ima Chiclet eyed Nova Kane suspiciously. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked.

“No.”

“You have to have an appointment to see Mr. Middledyke. He’s a very busy man.”

“Look here, doll face,” Nova Kane said. “I’m in no mood. I had to rearrange my schedule to be here.”

“What is the nature of your visit?”

“Of a private nature, for Mr. Middledyke to know.”

Ima Chiclet sighed and stuck the tip of her tongue out between her ruby-red lips. “I don’t think Mr. Middledyke will see you without knowing the reason.”

“Just tell him it’s personal.”

“Name?”

“Nova Kane, mother of eleventh grader Little Thelma Kane.”

“I’ll see if he’s free.”

She stood up from her desk, tapped on a door and went inside. In a moment she came back out.

“Mr. Middledyke says he’ll see you on one condition,” she said.

“What’s that?” Nova Kane asked.

“That you’re not carrying a gun.”

Nova Kane held open the sides of her coat and whirled around. “No guns,” she said.

“How about you?” Ima Chiclet asked Little Thelma Kane.

“I don’t have a gun, either,” Little Thelma said, “but I wish I did.”

“If you’re both clean, then you may go right in.”

Mr. Middledyke was a small man with protruding ears and a thatch of sparse reddish hair on top of his head. In his pinstripe suit, he resembled a junior-league gangster. Not at all pleased that his after-lunch solitude was being interrupted, he ushered Nova Kane and Little Thelma Kane into his office and pointed to two chairs.

“Yes?” he said. “How may I help you today?”

“My daughter here, Little Thelma Kane, wants to quit school,” Nova said, settling her wide hips in the high-backed chair. “Show me where to sign and I’ll sign the damn form.”

Mr. Middledyke looked from Nova Kane to Little Thelma and back again. “She wants to quit school? For what reason?”

“She’s getting married.”

“She’s just a child!”

“She’s sixteen.”

“Have you thought long and hard about this, young lady?” Mr. Middledyke asked Little Thelma.

“Yeah,” Little Thelma said, looking bored.

“It’s a very big step to quit school,” he said.

“I know.”

“Without a high school diploma, you may find yourself unable to meet life’s challenges.”

“I’ve told her all that,” Nova Kane said.

“Don’t you think you’d be better off to wait a couple of years until after you’ve graduated and have your diploma in hand?” Mr. Middledyke asked.

“It won’t wait,” Nova Kane said.

“And why not, may I ask?”

“It seems there’s going to be a baby.”

For a few seconds Mr. Middledyke was speechless. He looked at Little Thelma Kane and didn’t recall ever seeing her before among the students at the school. She was dowdy, pasty-faced and unattractive; so easy to overlook or not see at all.

“Is the boy also a student here?” he asked.

Nova Kane and Little Thelma looked at each other and laughed.

“No, his name is Finn Wozniak,” Little Thelma said. “He’s almost thirty years old.”

“He’s in scrap metal,” Nova Kane said.

“You’re marrying a man thirty years old?”

“Yeah, what of it?”

“The age of consent in this state is eighteen.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that if a thirty-year-old man has had sexual relations with a girl of sixteen, it’s statutory rape, no matter how willing she is.”

“Finn didn’t rape me,” Little Thelma said.

“The way the law sees it, he did.”

“What are you saying?” Nova Kane asked.

“This girl does not have to marry a thirty-year-old man and have his baby.”

“Maybe I want to!” Little Thelma said.

“It’s my duty to report these cases to the police,” Mr. Middledyke said.

“Do you mean I can’t quit school?” Little Thelma asked. She surprised Mr. Middledyke by starting to cry.

“See what you’ve done?” Nova Kane said. “She was perfectly happy and now you’ve made her cry.”

“Are you sure there’s going to be a baby?” Mr. Middledyke asked.

“Pretty sure.”

“Have you seen a doctor?”

“No.”

“Why do you think you’re going to have a baby?”

“I just am, that’s all.”

“You can’t ask a woman questions like that!” Nova Kane said.

“If you weren’t going to have a baby, would you still want to quit school and get married at your age?”

“Well, I haven’t thought about it.”

“There’ll be no unwed babies in my family!” Nova Kane said.

“I’m asking her.”

“Well, I don’t much like school,” Little Thelma said, “but I guess I’d choose school over some things.”

Nova Kane glared at Little Thelma. “You got me here for nothing!” she said.

Mr. Middledyke buzzed for Ima Chiclet. When she came in without delay, he knew she had been listening at the door.

“Get me the parental consent form,” he said.

“Parental consent for what?” Ima Chiclet asked.

“For this young girl to quit school and marry her thirty-year-old boyfriend.”

When Ima Chiclet brought him the form, he signed his scrawl to it and handed it over to Nova Kane.

“Wait a minute!” Little Thelma said. “Don’t sign it! I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to quit school.”

“What?”

“There’s no baby. I thought there was a for a while but I was wrong.”

Nova Kane regarded Little Thelma with disgust and punched her in the mouth with her knuckles, a sort of backhanded slap. Little Thelma grunted; her mouth began to bleed.

“I should have drowned this one at birth,” Nova Kane said.

“I’ll come back to school on Monday,” Little Thelma said. “I’m going to tell Finn Wozniak tonight that I’m not going to see him anymore.”

“Enjoy your high school years while they last,” Mr. Middledyke said, his eyes welling with tears.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Is Ruth Costello at Home?

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Is Ruth Costello at Home? ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He knocked and waited. A man with a mustache came and regarded him through the screen door.

“Hello, sir,” the knocking man said. “My name is Les Good. I’d like to speak to Ruth Costello, please.”

“Wrong house,” the mustached man said.

Mrs. Ruth Costello.”

“I don’t know who that is.”

Les Good stood back so he could see the number on the house. “Isn’t this 737 Windermere Lane?”

“That’s right.”

“And Ruth Costello doesn’t live here?”

“No.”

“Well, I think there’s been some mistake. My information clearly indicates that Mrs. Ruth Costello lives at 737 Windermere Lane.”

“She doesn’t.”

“And you live here, sir?”

“Yeah.”

“And you don’t know a Ruth Costello?”

“No.”

“Well, isn’t that funny?”

“Did you have important business with her?”

“What?”

“I said, did you have important business with Ruth Costello?”

“She called me and asked me to drop by and speak to her about some insurance.”

“Oh,” the man with the mustache said. “You’re an insurance salesman.”

“I’m an insurance agent.”

“Well, no Ruth Costello here. Sorry.”

“And you don’t know anyone named Ruth Costello?”

“No.”

“May I ask your name?”

“It isn’t Ruth Costello.”

“Is your name Costello?”

“No, and it’s not Abbott either.”

“Well, I wonder, since I’m here, if I might speak to you about your insurance needs?”

The mustached man sighed and said, “I don’t have any.”

“Don’t have any what?”

“Insurance needs.”

Les Good laughed his infectious laugh that had opened many doors. “Come, come, now, sir!” he said. “We all have insurance needs.”

“I’m not Ruth Costello, so I think there’s nothing more to be said.”

“May I ask if you have a wife and children, sir?”

“No.”

“So, you’re a single gentleman?”

“I didn’t say that. I said you may not ask if I have a wife and children.”

“May I ask your profession, sir?”

“No.”

“Could I have your place and date of birth?”

“No.”

“Your social security number?”

“No.”

“What kind of vehicle do you drive? I take it you’re an insured driver?”

“I’m not Ruth Costello.”

“What about health insurance? Do you have coverage with your employer?”

“I’m not Ruth Costello.”

“If you would just give me your name, I think we could get all this straightened out in a jiffy.”

“I think it’s time for you to leave,” the man with the mustache said.

“Before I go,” Les Good said, “I’d like to leave some brochures with you that explain our services. After you’ve had a chance to look them over, I hope you’ll give me a call and we can sit down and discuss all your insurance needs.”

“I don’t want any brochures.”

“At least take my card.”

“All I want is for you to get away from my door and off my porch.”

“I understand your hesitation, sir.”

“No more words. Leave now.”

“Well, it’s been lovely talking to you, sir, and I hope you have a wonderful day!”

Les Good wasn’t easily discouraged. At the next house over, a woman answered the door. He flashed his thousand-watt smile.

“Hello, ma’am,” he said. “My name is Les Good. I’d like to speak to Ruth Costello, please.”

“You have the wrong house.”

Mrs. Ruth Costello.”

“Nobody here by that name.”

Les Good stood back so he could see the number on the house. “Isn’t this 739 Windermere Lane?”

“Yes.”

“And Ruth Costello doesn’t live here?”

“No.”

“Well, I think there’s been some mistake. My information clearly indicates that Mrs. Ruth Costello lives at 739 Windermere Lane.”

“She doesn’t live here.”

“This is your home, ma’am?”

“Yes.”

“And you don’t know a Ruth Costello?”

“No.”

“Well, isn’t that funny?”

“What was it you wanted to see her about?”

“She called me and asked me to drop by and speak to her about some insurance.”

“I see.”

“Well, I wonder, since I’m here, if I might speak to you about your insurance needs?”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Moth-Eaten Furs and Tarnished Jewels

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Moth-Eaten Furs and Tarnished Jewels ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Blanche arrived on the ten-fifteen train. Stella was there to meet her. They greeted effusively. Blanche wept, held Stella in a tight grip and kissed her on both cheeks.

“It’s just so wonderful seeing you!” she said. “I can scarcely believe I’m finally here.”

“Was it a difficult trip?” Stella asked.

“Well, you know, the train always rattles my nerves and then there’s all this heat.”

“Still the same!” Stella said with a laugh.

They stopped off for a drink, just a little nightcap as Blanche said (which she didn’t touch after ordering), and seated themselves in a back booth at a little bar where they might talk.

“You’re looking wonderfully well,” Blanche said. “Married life seems to agree with you.”

“I wish I could say the same for you,” Stella said. “You look awfully pale and tired.”

“Oh, don’t look at me!” Blanche said, holding her hands up between her face and the light. “Daylight never exposed so total a ruin!”

“Is anything the matter? You’re not ill, are you?”

“No, not ill, exactly. No more than you might expect.”

“I heard all the talk about the vampires around the home place. I hoped you were all right.”

“Yes, I was fine. As well as might be expected, as the doctors say. But I’m afraid I have some bad news about the home place.”

“What is it?”

Blanche’s face clouded; she took Stella’s hand across the table in her own. “We’ve lost the home place.”

“What? What do you mean we’ve lost it?”

“Everything had to be sold to pay off the debts. I’m afraid there’s nothing left.”

“Why didn’t you tell me things were so bad?”

“I didn’t to worry you, dear, and, besides, I knew there was absolutely nothing you could do.”

“I could have come down for a few days and helped you sort everything out.”

“I managed all on my own.”

“Imagine that! The home place gone!”

“Yes, it took exactly a hundred and fifty years for our once-prosperous family to squander a considerable fortune and come to nothing. My greatest regret is there’s nothing left to pass on to you.”

“Oh, Blanche! I feel so bad about all this!”

“So do I, dear, but what’s done is done! The only thing to do now is to move forward. Life goes on, you know!”

“You’ve lost your home and everything! What on earth are you going to down now?”

“You needn’t worry, darling sister! I’m not planning on descending on you and your poor husband forever.”

“I know. That isn’t what I meant.”

“Just let me rest up for a few days in your comforting presence and I shall be right again in no time.”

“Of course, darling! For just as long as you need! Stanley travels a lot in his work and it’ll just be the two of us again, the way it was when we were young.”

“Sounds like heaven!”

In Stella and Stanley’s modest rooms on the ground floor of an old stucco apartment building, Stella installed Blanche in a tiny back room where there was a small bed, a bureau, a ramshackle chair and a closet that wouldn’t even begin to hold all her clothes. There was no door to the room so Stella hung a thick curtain that Blanche could pull closed whenever she felt the need of privacy.

For two days she stayed mostly in the little darkened room (“where the light doesn’t hurt my eyes”), lounging on the bed and listening to her tinny old phonograph records. Stella offered to fix her special dishes that would tempt her appetite, but she refused them. She was just getting over an illness, she said, and had no appetite.

On the third evening, Blanche came out of her room and, after spending a couple of hours in the bathroom taking a bath—hydrotherapy, she called it—she dressed to go out.

“Why, where are you going, dear?” Stella asked.

“I thought I would like to see what the world looks like outside these four walls,” Blanche said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t mind! You can do whatever you want. Do you want me to come with you?”

“Oh, no, my dear! I’ll be fine!”

“But you don’t know the city. You might get lost.”

“I have an uncanny ability to find my way around in the strangest of places. Don’t worry about me.”

Stella waited up until two in the morning for Blanche to return and finally went to bed.

The next day Blanche slept all day. When she awoke in the early evening, Stella offered her coffee and various things to eat, but she would take nothing. She flitted about the apartment in her Japanese silk kimono, endlessly smoking cigarettes and looking nervously out the window, as though waiting for something or someone.

“Are you feeling rested now, dear?” Stella asked.

“Yes, I feel ever so much refreshed now. Thank you for asking.”

“Did you enjoy your evening out?”

“Oh, yes! I had a marvelous time!”

“What would you like to do this evening? We could go to a movie or play some gin rummy. If you’re still feeling tired, I could read to you while you rest.”

“I’m sorry, sweet. I’m meeting someone in just about an hour or so. That doesn’t give me much time.”

“Meeting who?”

“You don’t know them, dear.”

“Them?”

“Yes, I met up with some friends last night in my rambles about town.”

“I thought you didn’t know anybody in the city.”

“Well, it’s just the funniest thing! I didn’t know they were in the city, but they somehow knew I was.”

“What did you do last night?”

“Oh, we talked and danced and laughed a lot. How we laughed!”

“What did you find so funny?”

“We were just talking over old times. You know how it is when you meet people you knew from a long time ago.”

“Were they people from the home place?”

“Oh, no. I knew them after that.”

“What time are you planning on coming back? Should I wait up for you?”

“Oh, no! You go to bed and get your beauty sleep and, above all, don’t worry about me!”

The next day Stella was going to suggest a shopping trip, but Blanche slept all day again.

After five days of what Stella considered uncharacteristic behavior, she took Blanche by her cold hands and made her sit down at the kitchen table.

“I think it’s time we had a talk,” she said.

“Is something the matter, dear?” Blanche asked.

“Something’s the matter with you and I want to know what it is.”

“Why, there’s nothing the matter with me!”

“I don’t know you anymore. The Blanche I knew would never stay out all night and sleep all day.”

Blanche lit a cigarette. Her hands shook and her eyes looked glassy. “It’s true I’m not the person I once was,” she said.

“You’ve been through a difficult time, I know.”

“Yes, and it’s changed me greatly.”

“You’re not telling me everything, are you?”

“I planned on telling you when the time was right.”

“Now is that time.”

“Besides losing the home place, I also lost my job at the high school. They called me into the office and fired me.”

“Oh, Blanche! Why did they fire you?”

“I became involved with one of my students. Romantically involved.”

“A high school boy?”

“More of a man, really.”

“Oh, Blanche! How could you!”

“I was desperately lonely.”

“How humiliating it must have been for you!”

“Words don’t begin to describe it! They said I was lewd and lascivious and a lot of other words that are too embarrassing to relate.”

“Oh, how awful!”

“They threatened to have me arrested. The only reason they didn’t was because I promised to leave town, never to return.”

“So that’s why you came here?”

“Not at first. I didn’t want to prevail upon you until things became really desperate for me. I was staying in an old railroad hotel about twenty miles from the home place, trying to figure out what my next move would be. I was as low as I had ever been in my life. I had about eighteen dollars to my name and some moth-eaten old furs and tarnished jewels. And then I met a man.”

“Oh, Blanche! Not another man!”

“I was drinking in the bar one night, alone, when he came in. He was not like any man I had ever seen before. He was young but not young, if you know what I mean. It’s impossible to describe.” She puffed on her cigarette and blew out a stream of smoke.

“Go on,” Stella said.

“I had heard stories about the vampires, of course, same as everybody else, but I didn’t know what they could be like.”

“So, you’re saying this man was a vampire?”

“His name was Alessandro.”

“Foreign?”

“Aren’t we all? I spent the next few days with him, doing the wildest and most unimaginable things. It’s all a blur now, thankfully, which I can barely remember. But the fact is that he lifted me out of my despair and made me want to live again.”

“Don’t tell me you let him make you a vampire!”

“It was the way I could survive all the blows that life had dealt me!”

“Oh, Blanche! I don’t think you should be here! There are people who kill vampires on sight!”

“I’m aware of that, and the last thing in the world I want to do is to endanger you or Stanley. I came here out of necessity, though, as you are my only living relative in the world.”

“When you go out at night, have you been killing people and drinking their blood?”

“Oh, no! Somebody else does the killing.”

“The friends you mentioned.”

“Yes.”

“And what happened to Alessandro, the man who made you a vampire?”

“He had to go away and leave me. He told me from the very beginning that it had to be so.”

“Where did he go?”

“He wouldn’t tell me.”

“Is he dead?”

“We’re all dead, dear. Even you. Even Stanley.”

“Since you speak Stanley’s name, I have to tell you that he’ll be back from his business trip tomorrow. He won’t be happy to hear there’s a vampire living in his house. He’s very traditional.”

“He doesn’t have to know I’m a vampire, does he?”

“How can he not know, with you gone all night and sleeping all day?”

“I can keep him from knowing.”

“I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, Blanche, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave before Stanley comes back! I have about seventy dollars in the house and you’re welcome to every cent of it.”

“Oh, I could never take your money, sweet!”

“Why not?”

“I don’t think seventy dollars would get me very far, anyway. And, besides, you just let me handle Stanley. I’m sure I’ll have him eating out of my hand before you know it.”

“I’m afraid you don’t know Stanley.”

Stella prepared a special dinner for Stanley’s homecoming. Blanche took one of her long baths, fixed up her hair and put on her best dress. She had a way with men and Stanley was a man.

He was about what Blanche expected from the things Stella had told her. He was rather on the short side, muscular and with a decidedly animal nature, indicating low intellect. She had known men like him before and knew how to put them in their place.

“How do you like our little home?” he asked Blanche as they sat down to the table to eat.

“It’s very cozy,” she said, “but different from what I’m used to.”

“That’s right. You are used to luxury and a big fancy house with lots of rooms.”

“That wasn’t quite what I meant.”

“While you’re here we need to have a talk about that big house and about what my wife is entitled to as her share.”

“Stanley, we’ll have to talk about that another time,” Stella said.

“I’m afraid there won’t be any share,” Blanche said.

“What do you mean?”

“Everything was sold to pay off the debts.”

“Oh, debts, is it? Is that the line of crap you’ve been feeding my wife?”

“I’m afraid we’ve made rather a bad start, haven’t we?” Blanche said. “In a situation like this, I think it’s always a good idea to go back to the beginning and start all over.”

“What’s she talkin’ about?” Stanley asked. “I’m not able to follow this kind of talk.”

“Just drop it, Stanley,” Stella said. “We’ll discuss the home place at a more appropriate time.”

“A more appropriate time? What the hell does that mean? You’re both talking a lot of nonsense and I don’t like nonsense!”

“Well, how was your trip?”

“It was bad, that’s how it was! When a man comes home, he wants to be able to relax and not have a couple of magpies saying things in his face that he doesn’t understand.”

“Just forget it, honey,” Stella said. “There’s no reason in the world why you can’t relax and enjoy your dinner.”

When Stanley realized that Blanche wasn’t eating but was only holding a glass of wine, he pointed at her with his fork and said to Stella, “Why isn’t she eating? Isn’t our food good enough for her?”

“She has an unsettled stomach,” Stella said, “and she thought it would be best if she doesn’t eat anything just yet.”

“I think I ought to tell him the truth,” Blanche said.

“And what truth might that be?” he asked.

“I have become vampire.”

“You have become a what?”

“I don’t eat what you eat because I’m a vampire.”

“I don’t think it’s right to just blurt it out that way,” Stella said helplessly.

“Oh, so you’re a vampire?” he said. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“Please, let’s not have a row,” Stella said.

“I thought it only fair to tell you since I’m living in your home.”

“Well, not for long, you’re not!”

“Stanley, we can just put her out on the street!” Stella said.

“There are people in this town who consider vampires the lowest form of animal life,” he said, “and I tend to agree.”

“You have to remember she’s my family!” Stella said.

“Well, she’s not my family. I can grab her by the throat and throw her out the same as if she was a bag of garbage!”

“Well, that isn’t very nice!” Blanche said. “I was trying to be honest with you and put all my cards on the table.”

“Here are the cards that are on the table!” he said. “You have about five minutes to get out of my house!”

“Stanley, you’re not throwing her out!” Stella said.

He clenched his jaw and pointed his finger. “Are you a vampire, too?” he asked.

“Of course not!”

“It’s all right, Stella,” Blanche said calmly. “I’ll go. But I could use that seventy dollars, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course, darling. You can have anything that’s mine.”

Stella pushed herself back from the table and went into the bedroom to get the money. When she returned, Blanche and Stanley were standing beside the table, grappling. Stanley had his hand around Blanche’s diamond necklace and was trying to pull it off. Blanche was holding him off the best she could but was no match for his muscular strength. When she tried to claw his face, he stayed just out of her reach.

Finally the necklace came free and Stanley let go of Blanche. She fell against the table and her hand found its way to a knife, a sharp knife used for cutting meat. As he was stuffing the diamond necklace into the pocket of his trousers, she sliced across his throat, severing the jugular.

The blood spurted fountain-like. Blanche watched it with fascination and then went to it and drank greedily, thinking of nothing other than how wonderful it tasted and how restorative it was.

Stella came into the room and saw the bloody scene. She screamed and tried to pull Blanche off Stanley, but she knew it was too late to help Stanley.

When Blanche had finally drunk her fill of Stanley’s blood, she stood up, trying to stop the stray drops of blood escaping her lips.

“I’m afraid I’ve made rather a mess of your lovely home, dear,” she said.

“You’ve killed Stanley!” Stella said.

Blanche tried to enfold Stella in her arms. “I am so terribly sorry!” she said.

“You killed him!”

“Now is not the time to lose our heads, dear!”

“I’m going to call the police.”

“No, I beg you to reconsider! Do you know what they do to vampires in this town?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that you killed Stanley!”

“If you call the police, they’ll come and take me away and that’s the end of me. You won’t ever see me again.”

“How am I going to explain to people that my sister killed my husband?”

“You don’t have to explain anything to anybody, dear! The thing for us to do is to go away.”

Stella looked at Stanley lying on the floor and shuddered. “I can’t leave him here like this.”

“He is beyond our help,” Blanche said.

“In a couple of weeks we would have celebrated our first wedding anniversary.”

“It’s for the best that it happened this way. He was a brute, a low animal. You’re not like that. You have refinement and taste. You were brought up to experience the finer things. Things about which he knew nothing.”

“I can’t listen to your talk right now, Blanche. You’re not making any sense.”

“The only thing that makes any sense is for us to go away together. You and me! Far away!”

“What will people think when they find Stanley like this?”

“They’ll think it was just another random vampire attack. Regrettable, but all too common these days.”

“Oh, Blanche! I don’t know if I can just go off and leave him lying on the floor like that.”

“He’s dead, honey! You have to get that through your head. Stanley is no more! It’s only you and me now!”

“I just don’t know about this.”

“We’ll have such fun together! It’ll be just like old times when you were twelve and I was fifteen. Not a care in the world!”

“I suppose I should call the police and at least tell them that Stanley is lying here dead.”

“You don’t want to do that, honey. You don’t want the police snooping around. We don’t want to have to submit to their questions.”

“Where would we go?”

“It’s all becoming clearer now in my mind. I know some people on the East Coast who would be willing to help us.”

“And would I be expected to become a vampire like you?”

“Of course not, darling! Never, if you don’t want to.”

“It’s funny, Blanche,” Stella said, after a while. “We’re both just alike now, aren’t we? We’ve both lost everything.”

“It may seem that way now, dear, but we can start anew. You’ll see.”

Later, safely on the train heading out of the city, Stella put her head back and closed her eyes. “I feel so tired I just want to die,” she said. “When I think I’ll never see Stanley or my home again, I want to jump off the train and let it run over me.”

Blanche indulged in a secret smile. Everything had worked according to plan. She baited Stanley from the moment she saw him. She knew he would be greedy and would want a share of the family’s money and, not getting what he wanted, he’d grab for the diamond necklace she wore at the dinner table and that would be her justification for killing him. He played into her hands, as people of inferior intellect always do, and now her sister Stella was free of him forever.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

You’re Going on a Trip

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 You’re Going on a Trip ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The bus station was noisy and crowded. Bernice stopped just inside the door with Mrs. Greenstead, looking for a place to go. On the far side of the room, a man and a woman were just vacating chairs. Bernice pulled Mrs. Greenstead by the arm, quickly, to get to the chairs before somebody else did.

Mrs. Greenstead didn’t know what was happening. Bernice turned her around and backed her up to the empty chair and then, taking her by both hands, bade her sit. Once in the chair, Mrs. Greenstead swiveled her head from left to right. “What is this place?” she asked. “Are we here to see the doctor?”

“We’re in the bus station, mother!” Bernice said loudly, sitting down beside her.

“Are we going on a trip?”

You’re going on a trip. I’m staying at home.”

“I don’t want to go. I think I forget to turn off the stove.”

“No, mother, the stove is fine. I checked it before we left.”

“I don’t feel like riding on a bus. I’m going to be sick.”

“I gave you Dramamine. Don’t you remember? That’s supposed to keep you from getting car sick.”

“Dramamine?”

“You can doze on the bus and in a couple of hours you’ll be there and Warren and Velma will meet you.”

“Two hours?”

“You can take a little nap and be there in no time.”

“What if I don’t want to go?”

“You don’t want to disappoint Warren and Velma, do you? They’re expecting you.”

“Call and tell them I’m not coming.”

“Now, you just sit right here and don’t get up. I’ll go get your ticket.”

“Can you hurry it up a little? I don’t want to miss that train.”

“It’s a bus, mother, and you’re not going to miss it.”

After what seemed to Mrs. Greenstead a very long time, Bernice returned with the ticket.

“Here it is, mother!” she yelled. “Give it to the driver when you get on the bus.”

“What is it?”

“It’s your bus ticket! Don’t lose it! You’ll need it when you get on the bus!”

“I don’t want to go. I want to stay home.”

“Now, your suitcase is right beside your feet. Keep an eye on it because people steal things in bus stations. Your money is in it and your identification.”

“My what?”

“We want people to know who you are in case you get lost.”

“I won’t get lost.”

“There’s your ticket in your right hand. Your suitcase is on the floor beside your feet. Don’t let the ticket or the suitcase out of your sight. If you need to go to the toilet, take them with you. Don’t leave them here. Somebody will steal them.”

“I won’t get lost.”

“Well, goodbye, mother. I hope you have a wonderful time.”

Mrs. Greenstead was glad when Bernice left. She never did like being bossed and fussed over.

What was she supposed to be doing, now? Wait for something and then get on a bus and go somewhere. Wait a minute, though. Wouldn’t there be more than one bus? How was she to know which bus? Bernice had a way of making things more complicated than they needed to be. Always so many words.

She wanted an ice cream cone and looked around from her chair for a place where she might buy one but saw nothing. She had the money to buy one—she knew she did—but there was no ice cream cone to be had. She’d have to get up and go outside to find a place and she wasn’t supposed to do that. She was supposed to wait in her seat until something. Until what? She couldn’t remember.

She forgot for the moment about the ice cream cone. An enormously fat man walked in front of her, moving with the ponderous and deliberate slowness of an elephant. She was sure she had never seen so fat a man. He wore a long coat that might at one time have been used as a parachute. He found a place to sit; the chair upon which he sat nearly disappeared beneath his girth.

The loudspeaker rumbled and crackled announcing arrivals and departures. To Mrs. Greenstead, it might have been in an obscure foreign tongue. She didn’t know how anybody could know what was being said. She looked around for somebody who might help her, but the people near her didn’t see her. She didn’t exist.

A small girl screamed and her mother jerked her by the arm, knocking her off her feet. She didn’t fall all the way to the floor, though, because the mother kept hold of her arm. The girl screeched like an animal, dangling in a horizontal position just inches from the floor. She started crying and the mother pulled her upright and clapped her soundly on the side of the head, which made her cry even louder.

A pair of nuns came into view and Mrs. Greenstead gawped at them in fascination, as at a species of penguin. The nuns’ faces were hard and sour and they seemed to be arguing, but quietly. The skirts of their black gowns swept the filthy floor. They took seats and continued moving their mouths, consumed in their arguing.

More interesting than the nuns was a pair of husband and wife midgets. They were the size of children but dressed in adult clothes. The woman wore a white dress with puff sleeves and carried a handbag over her arm. Her face was sweet but freakish and mask-like because of the disproportionate size of her head. The man was dressed in a suit and hat and smoked a cigarette. He looked like a tiny businessman. The woman nearly lost her balance when someone ran into her. The man laughed at her and took hold of her arm to steady her. Mrs. Greenstead watched until they were out of sight.

Finally she grew restless with the waiting and began wondering if it wasn’t about time for her to get on the bus. The voice on the loudspeaker came again, but not a word of it was to be understood.

She was on the verge of getting up, when a large woman with a girl of about eleven approached her. The woman sat in the chair to her left and the girl to her right. Mrs. Greenstead looked from one to the other.

“Anything the matter, honey?” the woman asked. “You look a little bewildered.”

Finally a kind word! Mrs. Greenstead could have wept. She handed the woman her ticket. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do,” she said piteously.

The woman looked at the ticket and then looked at the clock. “You got about seven minutes before your bus leaves,” she said.

“Seven minutes!” Mrs. Greenstead said. “That’s not much time!”

“You’ve still got time,” the woman said. “You need to take it slow and easy. Take your time. We don’t want to fall down, now, do we?”

“Can you show me where to go?”

“Of course I can, honey!” the woman said.

She helped Mrs. Greenstead up and they had taken only a few steps when Mrs. Greenstead remembered her suitcase. She started to go back to get it, but the girl had picked it up for her.

“Now, which way do we go?” Mrs. Greenstead asked.

“The busses board over there, honey,” the woman said.

“Where’s my suitcase?”

“Gina’s got it, honey. She’s right behind us.”

“It’s got my money in it and all my valuables. My medicine, too.”

As they passed the restrooms, Mrs. Greenstead remembered that she needed to make a stop there before she got on the bus. Once in her seat on the bus, she wasn’t getting up again.

When the woman realized Mrs. Greenstead’s intention, she said, “You’d better make it quick, honey. They called your bus a few minutes ago.”

“Won’t be a minute.”

“Me and Gina will wait right here for you,” the woman said. “Right outside the door.”

Mrs. Greenstead hated using a public toilet, but sometimes she had no other choice. She did what she had to do as fast as she could and washed her hands thoroughly.

When she exited the toilet, the large woman and the girl were not waiting by the door. They were not among the dozens of strangers walking, talking, sitting or loitering within the radius of a few yards.

Maybe they’ll be right back, Mrs. Greenstead thought. They only stepped away for a minute to buy a newspaper or get a drink of water.

She stood by the door of the ladies’ toilet for a few minutes and when the large woman and the girl didn’t reappear, she knew the worst of it. She had been robbed. Her money, her clothes, her bus ticket, her precious Bible. Everything!

When she approached the man who swept the floor and emptied the trashcans and told him what had happened, he told her she needed to report it to the office.

“Report it to the office?” she asked, not sure if she understood the meaning of the phrase.

Making her way to the door, she went out onto the sidewalk. It was the middle of the afternoon and glaringly hot. She looked one way and then the other. Both ways looked the same. She set off walking in the direction away from the sun.

After she had walked a couple of blocks, a filthy-looking bum approached and asked for a dollar.

“No!” she snapped. “I don’t even have money for an ice cream cone!”

She continued walking. When she came to a hotel with a smudged plate glass window, she went into the lobby that, though squalid, was much cooler than the street.

“I’m looking for someone,” she said to the desk clerk. “A fat woman with a moon face and a little girl of about eleven or so.”

The clerk smiled. He himself was fat with thinning blond hair combed back from his forehead.

 “That sounds like Toots Gottlieb and her daughter,” he said. “The daughter may look eleven but she’s really twenty-seven. There’s something wrong with her to make her look that way.”

“Is the girl’s name Gina?”

“That’s the one!”

“Can you tell me where I might find her?”

“She robbed you at the bus station, didn’t she? Took your purse?”

“Suitcase. How did you know?”

“It’s what she does.”

“Where can I find her? I need to get my suitcase back.”

The clerk picked up a phone. “Hello, is this Toots?” he said. “There’s a lady in the lobby wants to speak with you. Says you took her suitcase at the bus station. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think so. Well, you’d better give it back or the lady is going to call the police. She’s plenty mad. She’s willing to pay a twenty-five-dollar reward, though, for the return of her property.”

When he hung up the phone, he was laughing. “Toots is indisposed,” he said. “If you’ll give me the fifty dollars now, I’ll go up and get your suitcase for you and you can be on your way.”

“You said twenty-five.”

“The price of the reward has just gone up.”

“I have no money,” Mrs. Greenstead said. “It was all in my suitcase.”

“Nothing in your pockets?”

“Only a handkerchief.”

“How about a watch or a ring or a bracelet?”

“Nothing.”

“In that case, I’m afraid we can’t help you. Move on, please. We’re awfully busy here.”

She left then, back out into the heat and glare of the sidewalk. A couple of blocks past the hotel, she heard the wailing siren of an ambulance. She waved her handkerchief but it just kept going. She heard someone laugh then and, turning, saw the bum who had asked her for a dollar.

“Did you see a big fat woman with a girl who looks about eleven but is really twenty-seven?” she asked. “The fat woman would have been carrying a suitcase. The suitcase belongs to me.”

“I don’t speak no English,” the bum said, but she knew it too was a lie.

She kept walking back the way she had come, toward the bus station. She knew after a few steps that the bum was following her closely. When she felt him touch her somewhere around the upper back, she twitched her elbow as if at a pesky insect. When the bum laughed she turned and confronted him.

“What do you want from me?” she said. “I already told you I don’t have any money!”

The bum smiled, showing stained teeth. “It’s all right,” he said. “You seem like nice lady. I take you anyplace you want. Five dollar.”

She looked around and, seeing nothing, said, “You have a car?”

“Hell, no, ain’t got no car!” he said.

He took hold of her arm at the elbow. She resisted but when he didn’t let go she had no other choice but to submit herself to his touch.

“Do I know you?” she asked.

“Everybody know me,” he said. “Take you anyplace you want go. Only five dollar.”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Society Wedding

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Society Wedding ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

On Saturday evening the sixth of August, marriage vows were solemnized between Ponselle de Fortenay von Hoople and Roger Melville Arcotte-Devaney III. The bride is the youngest daughter of Sebastian Fortescue de Fortenay von Hoople and Mitzi Upjohn de Fortenay von Hoople, both of whom are leading lights of café society and the yacht club set. The groom is a well-known champion polo player and scion of the Arcotte-Devaney manufacturing fortune.

The flower-laden ceremony was held in the lovely gardens of the palatial country estate of the bride’s parents, Forty Winks. The Right Reverend Everett Yawberry Lovell officiated, with a thousand invited guests in attendance, including the governor, Luther Addison Biggs, who is pleased to call himself friend of the family and business associate of the bride’s father. Also in attendance were the renowned novelist Miss Millicent Farquhar Meriwether (whose latest novel, Just Hurry Up and Die, is a huge success), and Broadway hoofer Miss Beulah Doakes.

The bride wore a lovely seventeenth century-inspired gown made entirely of Neapolitan lace that just about swallowed her up and made her look like the dress was walking down the aisle on its own. She chose as her maid of honor her lifelong friend and confidante, Miss Penelope “Pinky” Peebles, who, since she is a midget, was given a stool to stand on to make her as tall as everybody else. Those honored to be bridesmaids were Miss Vesta Cundiff (daughter of the well-known film actress Lola Lola), Miss Marguerite “Tiny” Cadwallader, Miss Fricka Wagstaff, Miss Beryl Belladonna-Stammers, Miss Veronica “Hambone” Turlock, and Miss Hildegard “Puffy” Mannering. In a unique twist for any wedding this season, and, in keeping with the outdoor setting, all the bridesmaids were dressed in costumes representing different birds, from the familiar robin to the sweet mourning dove.

The groom chose as his best man his brother, Mr. Bryce Errol Fennimore Arcotte-Devaney. Groomsmen were Mr. Antonio “Little Tony” Delessio, Mr. Justin Marburg Phipps IV, Mr. Franklin Lester Shumway, Mr. Percy Sherwood-Upjohn, Mr. Troy Biggerstaff, and Mr. Gideon Elijah Gottlieb. The men of the wedding party wore matching linen suits inspired by the planter of the pre-Civil War South, with broad-brimmed Panama hats and black patent-leather knee boots.

The bride’s mother, Mrs. Mitzi Upjohn de Fortenay von Hoople, was a standout among the ladies in her dress and hat made entirely of chicken feathers. She wasn’t able to speak with the beak she wore, but those who know her considered this a great advantage. The father of the bride, Mr. Sebastian Fortescue de Fortenay von Hoople, was the life of the party in his tuxedoed gorilla costume, complete with porkpie hat and cigar.

The mother of the groom, Mrs. Clara Tubbins Arcotte-Devaney, was dressed entirely in black in honor of her late husband, Mr. Roger Melville Arcotte-Devaney II, who died last fall when he fell into the ocean on his return trip to the United States from his travels abroad and was eaten by sharks.

The newly married couple departed on a honeymoon trip around the world on the luxury liner The Virgin Queen. When they return from their travels in about six months, they will reside in their renovated Fifth Avenue townhouse that reportedly cost twelve million dollars, a gift from the bride’s father. Part of the year they will reside in Palm Springs or in the chalet in Switzerland the groom inherited from his father.

This reporter had a chance to chat with the excited bride and groom before they ventured into the world on their own. The bride kissed this reporter on the cheek, leaving the imprint of her lips, and whispered in his ear, “I want a good write-up; no funny business, or my father will have you killed.” The groom gripped this reporter’s hand and, in his booming baritone voice, announced that he wanted him to come back in about ten years and see how many “little bluebloods” they have been able to “pop out” in that length of time. The bride squealed in mock outrage and punched her newly minted husband on the arm.

As the couple made their way to their waiting limousine, the assembled crowd shouted out their good wishes and threw handfuls of rice. The bride’s mother held a handkerchief to her beak and sniffled as the car drove down the winding drive and through the immense gates. She retired to her room in exhaustion as the guests began a drunken bacchanalia that would last until long after daybreak.

Copyright @2017 by Allen Kopp

He Fell Over Dead

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He Fell Over Dead ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

They lived on a small farm. They grew corn and wheat, strawberries, peaches, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, melons and cucumbers, among other things. Their chickens yielded four or five dozen eggs a week. They sold most of their eggs and whatever happened to be in season to two different stores in the town of Marburg twelve miles away. In the lush season, they set up a stand out in front of their property on the highway and sold whatever surplus they had to passing cars.

Lathrop was fifteen. He had gone to school through the eighth grade, and then he wasn’t obliged to go any farther. He wanted to go on to high school in Marburg but father said he was needed on the farm. Lathrop did the work of a hired hand without any pay. When he was younger, they had a hired hand, but his father fired him when he found he was stealing vegetables and selling them on his own in town. 

Lathrop liked working at the vegetable stand. It was easy work in the shade of an enormous oak tree, and it gave him a chance to see and talk to other people, who were mostly friendly and cheerful. Sometimes somebody he knew from his school days would stop by and he would talk to them, but most of the people he had never seen before. They were just passing by on the highway on their way home from wherever they had been. They would see the stand, and the idea of fresh tomatoes, corn or cucumbers for supper would make them stop.

On a warm Tuesday afternoon in the middle of June, Mr. Wessel, the nearest neighbor, came by. He was happy to see that Lathrop still had a dozen eggs left and some tomatoes.

“How are you doing today, Lathrop?” Mr. Wessel asked as he counted out his money.

Lathrop felt flattered, somehow, that Mr. Wessel would speak to him in this way. Nobody else ever did. “I’m just dandy,” he said jauntily, with a smile. He put Mr. Wessel’s purchases in a wrinkled paper sack and handed the sack over the makeshift counter. 

“Do you ever read books, Lathrop?” Mr. Wessel asked.

“I did when I was in school,” Lathrop said. He was reluctant to say that he lived in a house without books or that he had only gone through the eighth grade and would probably never go any farther.

“You seem like a smart boy. I have many, many books in my house. If you ever want to borrow, drop by and I’ll see if I have anything that might interest you.”

“Yes, sir! I’d like that!”

“You don’t have to call me ‘sir’. My first name is Eldridge, so you can see why people call me Wessel. It’s my handle.”

Lathrop smiled, even though he didn’t know what it meant. “I might just do that, sir,” he said. “Stop by and borrow a book, I mean.”

Late in the afternoon Lathrop was happy. He sold all the vegetables and eggs and had a cigar box full of change and one-dollar bills. He handed the money box over to mother.

“Mr. Wessel came by the stand today,” Lathrop said at the supper table. “He told me I could come over to his house and borrow some books to read.”

“You stay away from him!” father said.

“Why?”

“I don’t like him, that’s why!”

“If you don’t like him, does that mean I’m not supposed to like him, too?”

“If I find out you’ve been over there, I’ll knock your head off your shoulders and feed it to the hogs.”

After supper, when mother was clearing the table and father had gone outside, Lathrop asked her, “Why doesn’t he like Mr. Wessel?”

“He’s heard something about him, I guess,” mother said. “You know how he is.”

“What did he hear?”

“God only knows.”

“Well, I like Mr. Wessel. He’s nice to me. Most people don’t even look at me. I’m only Hodge’s kid and I don’t mean a damn thing.”

“I don’t like you to use that kind of language in the house.”

“Mother, when I was in school, I heard ten times worse than that every day.”

“I don’t want you to be like him.”

“Why did you ever marry him?”

“You never met my mother.”

She laughed then, something she hardly ever did, and Lathrop wiped the crumbs off the table onto the floor.

“I want to go back to school,” he said. “Eighth grade isn’t enough.”

“I know,” she said. “We’ll manage it somehow. And if you want to borrow books from Mr. Wessel, go ahead and do it. Just don’t let your paw find out. Keep the books hidden in your room.”

The next time father went to visit his ailing mother, a trip that always took all day, Lathrop, with his dog Ruff, walked the mile to Mr. Wessel’s house. His heart hammered in his chest as he knocked timidly at the door. He half-hoped that Mr. Wessel wouldn’t be at home. 

Mr. Wessel came to the door and when he saw Lathrop he smiled and motioned him inside. Ruff settled himself on the porch for a nap.

“I hope I’m not bothering you,” Lathrop said.

“Not at all,” Mr. Wessel said. “I’m always glad of visitors.”

The house was cool and dark. Lathrop sat in a large padded chair across from the couch. Mr. Wessel sat on the couch and crossed his legs. He wasn’t wearing any shoes.

After some polite talk in which Mr. Wessel asked Lathrop about his family, his dog Ruff, where he went to school and other mundane things, he took Lathrop into the next room, his “study,” where he wrote and had his books.

Lathrop never saw so many books in one place before. There were shelves and shelves of books, so many books that the ones that wouldn’t fit on the shelves were stacked neatly in rows on the floor.

“Where did you get so many books?” Lathrop asked.

“Some are mine and some belonged to my family. When you’re the last one left alive, you get, by default, everything that belonged to everybody who came before.”

Lathrop wasn’t sure what Mr. Wessel was talking about, but he smiled and nodded his head.

Lathrop looked over the books. There were novels, volumes of poetry, short stories, books on history and books that people had written about their own lives.  

“Do you have anything in mind that you’d like to read?” Mr. Wessel asked.

“I don’t know much about books,” Lathrop said. “In school, I only read what I had to to get by.”

“Have you ever read anything by Charles Dickens?”

“No. I’ve heard of him, though.”

“How about David Copperfield? Do you think you’d like to read that?”

“Sure, I guess so.”

“I read it when I was about you age. I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble with it.”

“Sure, I’d like to give it a try.”

With David Copperfield clutched tightly in his hands, he followed Mr. Wessel back into the front room. They sat again and after they had talked for a while Mr. Wessel got up and went into the kitchen and came back with two glasses of sweet cider and a little plate of walnut cookies.  

After an hour or so, Lathrop realized he had been in Mr. Wessel’s house for over an hour. He would like to have stayed much longer, but he didn’t want to overstay his welcome. He thanked Mr. Wessel for David Copperfield and walked back home with Ruff trailing along behind.

He showed mother the book when he got home and inside the front cover where Mr. Wessel had written his name.

“That’s so you’ll remember who the book belongs to,” mother said.

He hid the book in the bottom of his dresser drawer. He couldn’t let father see it. He would be mad at him for disobeying orders to stay away from Mr. Wessel’s house and would make fun of him for reading such a story book.

That might after mother and father had gone to bed, he began reading David Copperfield in his bed. If father came and unexpectedly opened the door, which he never did, Lathrop could easily thrust it under the covers and pretend it wasn’t there.

He considered himself mostly ignorant and uneducated, but he didn’t have any trouble reading David Copperfield or knowing what was going on. There were some words he didn’t know and the characters talked in a funny way, but Lathrop knew it was just because they were in a different country and the book was written a long time ago. 

The next time he worked the vegetable stand, he overhead two ladies from town talking as they picked out their vegetables. Lathrop didn’t care what they were saying, but when he realized they were talking about father he paid closer attention.

Lathrop gleaned from the ladies’ talk that father had a “girlfriend” in town and she had a small child by him. He paid the rent on the house she lived in and visited her regularly. The ladies had seen father, the woman and their child together at a fireworks display in the park on the Fourth of July. 

“That old coot,” one of the ladies said. “He ought to be ashamed of himself. And she’s half his age, too.”

She’s the one that ought to be ashamed,” the other lady said. “Damned old home wrecker!”

“Well, you never know about people.”

In a little over a week, Lathrop finished David Copperfield and was glad for a reason to make another trip to Mr. Wessel’s house.

Mr. Wessel asked Lathrop how he liked the book and Lathrop said he was surprised he was able to get through such a big book so fast and with seemingly so little effort. He forgot about the time when he was reading it.

Next Mr. Wessel gave him A Tale of Two Cities, which, he said, was a little more challenging than David Copperfield but of moderate length. Lathrop agreed to give it a try.

When the conversation switched from books to other matters, Lathrop told Mr. Wessel how he hated his father and was sure his father hated him. His father was gruff with him and impatient and turned his head away whenever Lathrop walked into a room. The two of them had very little to say to each other and never talked about anything that mattered.

He told Mr. Wessel his father didn’t want him to come there and borrow books but that he was doing it anyway when his father was away. His mother knew about it and thought it was all right. To Lathrop’s surprise, Mr. Wessel smiled and nodded his head.

“I never got along well with my father, either,” he said.

“What did you do about it?” Lathrop asked.

“Left home and didn’t come back until after he was dead.”

“What did you do away from home?”

“Went to college. Taught high school. Worked in a lumber mill and as a copy boy at a newspaper. I was clerk in a book store. I was even a waiter for about ten months.”

“Did you like that?”

“It made my legs tired.”

“Then what did you do?”

“When my mother died, I got a little money. Not enough to make me rich but enough to keep me from having to work, at least for a while.”

Then, even though he was embarrassed to say it, Lathrop told Mr. Wessel what he had heard the town ladies say at the vegetable stand.

“Do you think it’s true or just gossip?” Mr. Wessel asked.

“I think it could be true. He’s away from home a lot.”

“Does your mother know?”

“I don’t think so.”

Then there were other books: The House of Seven Gables, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Sea Wolf, The Red Badge of Courage, Life on the Mississippi. There was a whole world in them that Lathrop didn’t know existed.

On a stifling afternoon in August, Lathrop was sitting in the wagon in the barn looking at an old newspaper he had found when his father came in. Ruff went to meet him, tail wagging, and Lathrop’s father kicked him. Ruff yelped and leaped out of the way.

“What did you do that for?” Lathrop said. “He only wants you to notice him.”

“I’m going to take him out and shoot him!” his father said.

What?

“I can’t stand that dog and I never could.”

“The only reason you can’t stand him is because he’s mine and you know I like him!”

His father wiped the sweat from his mouth with the back of his hand and grabbed Lathrop by the arm and pulled him off the wagon onto the floor.  

“What’s the matter with you?” Lathrop said, trying to stand up.

“Yeah, what’s the matter with me? You’d like to know what’s the matter with me, wouldn’t you? The question is, what’s the matter with you?”

“I haven’t done anything!”

“You’ve been going over to that Wessel’s house. Don’t bother to lie about it because I know you have. What filthy things have you been up to with that man?”

“What?”

“What have you been up to with that Wessel?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about! He lends me books. I read them and then I take them back.”

“Yeah, and what do you do for him in return?”

“I don’t do anything!”

He grabbed Lathrop by the arms and turned him around and struck him on the side of the head with the flat of his hand.

“Let go of me, you bastard!”

“What did you just call me, you little chicken shit?”

Lathrop started to run and his father grabbed him from behind and slammed him to the floor. He was straddling him, undoing his belt to thrash him with it when Lathrop pulled himself up and started running again. He nearly ran into the wall of the barn and when he did he saw the big knife in the leather case his father used when he butchered hogs. He pulled the knife out of its case and when his father charged him he stabbed him in the throat. He then stabbed him two more times, once in the side of the neck and then just above the heart until he went down.

Right away Lathrop knew his father was dead. When he caught his breath, he took an old canvas tarpaulin and threw it over him so he wouldn’t have to look at him. Then he thought about all the blood that was leaking all over the floor of the barn that would be very difficult to clean up, so he wrapped his father in the canvas the best he could and pushed the body against the wall. Ruff jumped up and wagged his tail and seemed to think he was helping.  

After he got himself a long drink of water, he went into the house and told mother what had happened. She dried her hands and sat down at the kitchen table and looked at him and didn’t say a word.

He thought about what he could do with his father’s body so that nobody would ever find it. Just burying it didn’t seem the right thing.

Two miles away was an old homestead that had been abandoned for seventy-five years or more, people said. There was an old well that went down two hundred feet, maybe three hundred. Lathrop remembered seeing it when he was seven years old. It had given him bad dreams for a long time.

After midnight, while mother was sleeping the sleep of the innocent, Lathrop went out to the barn and, without too much effort, pulled his father’s body, using ropes, into the back of the wagon. He then hitched the sleepy mule, the one they called Timmy, to the old wagon and set off into the woods along a road that could hardly be called that.

There was no moon. Lathrop could barely see past Timmy’s ears, but he found the old homestead from memory. He pulled the wagon around to the back of where the house once stood and jumped down. The well was right where he remembered it.

A metal plate covered the well. He was able to lift it by one corner and, with a huge amount of effort, slide it to the side far enough to drop a body in.   

He pulled the wagon as close to the well as the remaining foundation of the old house would allow and, pulling on the ropes, maneuvered his father’s body to the opening and dropped it down, canvas and all. He listened for the body to hit bottom, but he heard nothing so he believed that meant the well was hopelessly deep.

He pushed the metal plate back into place and kicked the leaves and sticks that he had disturbed back so that the well would look undisturbed.

When he got back home, it was after three o’clock in the morning. He washed his hands and face and fell into bed, exhausted. He slept until nine o’clock and when he woke up breakfast was waiting for him in the kitchen.

For supper that day mother cooked fried chicken and mashed potatoes, Lathrop’s favorite. She baked a chocolate cake as a sort of celebration and put little red candy stars on top. It tasted so good that Lathrop ate almost half of it at one time.

In the evening it was rainy and cool and the dark came early, as if announcing the arrival of fall. Lathrop laid a fire in the front room, the first since April.

“You killed your father,” mother said, and it was the first words she had spoken about it.

“He was going to kill me.”

“Yes, but you killed him.”

“I couldn’t let him hurt Ruff.”  

“You killed him.”

“We don’t need him. We can get along with him.”

“You killed your own father.”

“He got tired of farming and ran off to California or someplace even farther. He hated me and I’m pretty sure he hated you. He doesn’t want us to find him. Anybody who ever knew him could easily believe it of him.”

“I don’t know what to think of a boy who kills his father.”

“You’re as glad as I am that he’s gone.”  

She looked at him in her quiet way and picked up her knitting and sat in her rocker near the fire. Lathrop lay on his back in front of the fire, a pillow from the couch underneath his head, and read a book. Ruff lay beside him. Now he could read all the books he wanted without having to hide. He was going to start to high school in September. It was a fine life.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp