The Day Belongs to the Rain ~ A Short Story

The Day Belongs to the Rain image 6
The Day Belongs to the Rain
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

The cool air came down from the north. The warm air came up from the south. When these two monolithic forces met somewhere in the middle, they engaged in fierce battle. The weather reports on the radio were dire: The storm is coming—if you aren’t in a safe place, go to one. Almost immediately, anxious mothers in plastic rain bonnets began showing up to pick up their children.

Miss Julian turned from the blackboard where she was explaining how to diagram a simple declarative sentence. Hardly anybody was paying attention to what she was saying. Most of the attention in the room was focused on the storm that was raging outside the windows. Some of the children looked worried; a couple of them were making no secret of the fact that they were afraid and about to cry. Others were enjoying the excitement that was making their day so much more interesting than they had expected. More than a few of them were blank and slack-jawed—it would take a bomb exploding to get a response from them.

“Does everybody see how to diagram a sentence now?” Miss Julian asked. “Are there any questions?”

“Are we going to die?” a boy in the third row asked.

“Of course not.”

The rain pelted the windows, louder now than it was a minute ago. The lightning crashed, the lights flickered and went out. Everybody in the room said “Oh!” as if on cue.

She knew they wouldn’t get any work done until the storm was over. “You may put away your language books,” she said, “and read your library books silently for the time being.”

A boy in the back of the room, unable to sit still any longer, stood up and went to the window. Then another boy joined him and after that another.

“What is this?” she said loudly from the front of the room. “Nobody told you to get out of your seats! School isn’t over!”

There was a knock on the door: another mother come to rescue her child from the storm. When the girl saw her mother, she went running into her arms like a war refugee. The mother and daughter left tearfully without looking back. In a few seconds, another mother came and after that they came in bunches.

Miss Melline, the fifth-grade teacher from down the hall, came to the door and motioned Miss Julian to step out into the hall.

“How are we doing in here?” Miss Melline asked, leaning in too close. She had hooded eyes like a frog.

“We’re all right,” Miss Julian said. “About half the class has already absconded.”

“Mine too,” Miss Melline said. “The little bastards. You’d think they’d never seen a thunderstorm before.”

“I wonder that they haven’t sent us word to send everybody home. Especially with the lights out.”

“I think they’re waiting for the rain to let up. If we send the students out in this raging storm, some of them will drown and the school will be faced with lawsuits.”

“I’m all for the shutting down for the day,” Miss Julian said.

“Amen to that,” Miss Melline said. She laughed idiotically and went back to her class.

The storm continued and didn’t seem to be weakening. By the time the principal’s office sent word to the teachers to send the students home early, Miss Julian only had five left who hadn’t been picked up. When she asked them if they could make it home all right, they said yes; they had just been waiting to be allowed to leave. They didn’t mind getting drenched if it meant getting to leave early.

“By morning they’ll have the lights on again,” Miss Julian said, “and everything will be back to normal.”

When she thought everybody had left and was getting ready to leave herself, she noticed someone sitting quietly in the back of the room, almost blending into the background as if he wasn’t there at all. On closer inspection, she saw it was Leander Nevins, the shabby, brown-eyed boy who never spoke unless spoken to.

“You can leave now, Leander,” she said.

“I know.”

“Is anything wrong?”

“No.”

“Come on, then. Everybody has left. I can’t leave you here all alone.”

“I’d like to stay a while longer.”

“Are you afraid to go out in the rain?”

“No.”

“Do you want me to call your mother to come and get you?”

He stood up from his desk and left the room without looking at her. She heard his footsteps going down the stairs. Relieved that everyone had finally left, she put on her coat and headscarf and locked the door. As she walked down the stairs, she was thinking about what she would do with her unexpected afternoon off. There was always laundry to do and shopping. Maybe she would just get into bed and listen to the rain on the roof.

While backing her car off the nearly empty teachers’ parking lot, she saw someone, no more than a blur, standing in the rain against the building. She couldn’t tell who it was at first, but when she rolled down the window she saw it was Leander Nevins. She motioned him over to the car.

“What’s the matter, Leander?” she asked.

“Nothing.”

“You need to get on home and get in out of the rain.”

“Okay.”

“Where’s your jacket? You’re soaked through to the skin.”

“I couldn’t find it.”

“Well, get in. I’ll drive you home.”

“That’s okay. I’ll walk.”

“Get in, Leander! Now!”

He opened the passenger-side door and slid onto the seat beside her.

“Where’s your cap?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I lost it.”

She had a folded-up dinner napkin in her purse that she had been saving for just such an emergency. She took it out and gave it to him. He ran it over the top of his head and down his face.

“Thanks,” he said. “It sure is raining hard.”

“Where do you live?” she asked.

“I live out on the rural route.”

“Where is that?”

“Out of town. Out in the country.”

“You walk that far to school and back every day?”

She put the car in gear and lurched forward into the rain that was like being under water.

“I walk to the bus from my house and then I ride the bus the rest of the way. When I go home in the afternoons, I catch the bus at school and ride it as far as it goes and then walk the rest of the way.”

“Why aren’t you riding the bus today?”

“I guess I missed it.”

“Was it an accident that you missed it?”

“No, I just didn’t make it in time.”

“Is there some reason you don’t want to go home?” she asked.

“No.”

“Your mother and father will be glad to see you. They’ll be glad to know you made it home safely in this storm.”

“I live with my grandma. My parents are gone.”

She looked over at him. She hoped he’d volunteer more information, but he didn’t. He shivered, so she turned on the car heater.

“There’s a heavy old shirt on the back seat,” she said. “You can put it on since you don’t have a jacket.”

“I’m okay.”

“If you’re worried that it’s a girl’s shirt, it’s not. It belonged to my ex-husband.”

He leaned over the back seat, found the shirt and wrapped himself in it like a blanket.

Beyond the downtown business district she turned onto the old highway that went out into the country. There were no other cars on the road. Everybody else had the good sense to stay inside.

“It’s lonely this far out of town,” she said.

“Just a little bit farther and you can let me out,” Leander said.

“I’m not putting you out in this storm!” she said. “We’ll just wait it out together if we have to!”

The rain lashed the car, growing in intensity. The sky was all black. Small limbs and other flying debris slammed into the car. When she could no longer see the road, she pulled over onto the shoulder.

“We’ll just stay here for a little while until the storm lets up,” she said.

“I can walk the rest of the way from here,” Leander said.

“No! I’m not going to let you walk!”

“Well, all right, but, really, I don’t mind.”

“If anything should happen to you, don’t you think I’d be held responsible?”

“I don’t know.”

The twister that hit the car was like a many-armed, living thing. It lifted the car up, spun it around, and deposited it on the ground, on its top, in another location.

When she was lifted out of the car, she was only partially conscious. She knew that some part of her body hurt, but she didn’t know which part. She wasn’t fully conscious again until two days later, flat on her back in a hospital bed.

“I won’t ask what happened,” she said, “because I already know.”

“She’s waking up!” a nurse said.

“What was that she said?” a doctor asked.

“I said I already know what happened.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“It looks like a hospital. Am I going to live or die?”

“You have a brain concussion. You also have a couple of broken bones, but you’ll be all right. You don’t need to worry about a thing.”

“But there was another person with me in the car!”

“You were brought in alone.”

“No! There was a boy with me, one of my students. I was giving him a ride home because of the storm.”

“There was no report of another person in the car.”

“His name was Leander. He lives out on the rural route, he said. I was giving him a ride home because he missed the bus.”

“Could you have imagined it?”

“No! I didn’t imagine anything! I want to talk to the police!”

“No reports of any missing children,” the police said.

“He lived with his grandmother,” Miss Julian said. “On a farm someplace outside of town. She must be worried sick about him.”

“Do you know the grandmother’s name?”

“No.”

“Do you have an address?”

“No, I don’t know anything about the family! I only know there was a boy in my car with me. His name was Leander. I was giving him a ride home in the storm because he missed his bus.”

“That’s not much to go on, ma’am.”

“He might be badly hurt.”

“We’ll be on the lookout for him. Unless he’s reported missing by family, though, there isn’t much we can do.”

She recovered from her injuries. She was written up in the local newspaper as one of the fortunate survivors of the storm. After a few weeks, she returned to the classroom.

No trace of Leander Nevins was ever found. He was a boy so insignificant that his disappearance wasn’t noted by the world.

That might have been the end of Leander, except that every now and then Miss Julian saw him fly by the window of her classroom, his arms extended like a bird’s wings. He looked longingly through the glass. He wanted to come inside and rejoin the class. “Look at me,” he seemed to be saying. “I am here.”

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Men With Red Hair ~ A Short Story

Men With Red Hair image 1
Men With Red Hair
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Gerta Fain awoke at nine o’clock with the sunlight streaming through the window and the birds singing their happy song. She rolled out of bed feeling good for a reason that for the moment escaped her and then it came to her: her mother was gone for the day and she had the house to herself. She had always liked being alone and it was going to be a good day. She would roll up her hair, paint her nails and bake an angel food cake. While she was doing these things she could listen to her music on the radio and watch soap operas on television and there would be no one to complain.

She went downstairs to the kitchen and was scouting around in the refrigerator for something to eat for breakfast when she saw a man in the back yard, painting the old garage. Her mother didn’t tell her she had engaged someone to paint the garage; it must have slipped her mind.

From the kitchen window she could see him quite well. He was about thirty-five, slender, dressed in white painter overalls. The best thing about him, though, was that he had red hair that glinted in the sun. She never knew a person with red hair that she didn’t like.

Wearing only her thin pajamas and no shoes, Gerta went out the back door and down the porch steps. “Hey, you!” she said as she approached him. “I saw you out the window of my kitchen! Here I was thinking I was all alone and then I look out the window and see you!”

“Yes, ma’am!” he said. “I’ll be finished up here before you know it!”

“This garage belongs to us. It’s an old rickety thing, isn’t it? There’s hornets’ nests inside there. I’d watch out if I was you.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“It must have been my mother you talked to, but she didn’t tell me you were coming today. She’s gone today, though. All day. I have the house to myself and I can do whatever I want. I like it when she’s gone.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I sure do like your red hair! As soon as I saw you out the window, I noticed it. I bet you get a lot of compliments on your hair.”

“Not until now.”

“You don’t see that many men with red hair. I had a cousin with red hair, but he was shot and killed.”

“Oh?”

“You’ll be here today and tomorrow?”

“That’s right.”

“That’s only two days. Where will you be after that?”

“I don’t know. Another painting job somewhere else.”

“Do you like being a painter?”

“Better than some things.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you around before,” Gerta said. “Are you new in town?”

“I’ve only been here seventeen years.”

“If you do a good job on the garage, maybe my mother will have you paint the whole house.”

He looked up the slope of the yard to the house. “It’s a big house,” he said.

“Yeah, we’ve got nine rooms. I’ve never lived anywhere else.”

“Just you and your mother?”

“That’s right. I don’t have a husband. I’ve never been married. I’ll probably get married someday, but for now I like being single. You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette, would you?”

“Don’t smoke.”

“Well, I’m not supposed to smoke, either, but I do it anyway when my mother isn’t around. It’s not as if I’m a child or anything, but she doesn’t like smoking and gets awfully mad about it sometimes.”

“Well, I’d like to stand around and talk all day,” he said, “but I’ve got a lot of ground to cover in two days.”

“Oh, don’t mind me! I certainly don’t want to keep you from your work!”

“No, ma’am.”

“Would you like a drink of water? It must be awfully hot working out here in the sun.”

“I usually don’t take a drink until I’m finished working,” he said.

“Don’t you ever take a break?”

“No time to waste. Always in a hurry, I guess.”

“Oh, if it was me, I’d take a lot of breaks!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I don’t have a job,” Gerta said. “I had a job once but it was just temporary. I was a phantom shopper. Do you know what a phantom shopper is?”

“No, ma’am.”

“It’s sort of a department store spy. If they catch you spying, they’ll break both your legs. Another time I worked for a cleaning service, but I had to quit that job because the chemicals we used to clean with made me break out all over. The doctor said I had an allergic reaction. Have you been painting garages long?”

“About seven years. Seems like a lot longer.”

“Are you planning on doing that all the rest of your life?”

“No, when something better comes along, I’ll take it.”

“One of these days I’ll get me a job that lasts,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind doing what you do, but I guess there aren’t many women that do that, are there?”

“I haven’t known of any.”

“I think I’d like a job on TV,” she said. “I’d either like to be an actress on one of those soap operas or a news reporter. I could stand up in front of a map on the television screen and talk to people about what the weather is going to be like tomorrow. If they won’t let me do that, then I’d like to work behind a counter in a department store or as a supermarket checker. I’d be good at that.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I was going to go back inside the house, but it feels so good being out here in the sunlight and the air that I think I’ll just stay out here for a while.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She sat down on the ground and put her knees up, forgetting for the moment that she was wearing only thin pajamas with nothing on underneath. She didn’t mind that the ground was a little bit soggy. She put her feet together and her hands on her ankles.

After a couple minutes of silence, she said, “Did I tell you that my mother is gone for the day? I like it when she’s gone. My father died a long time ago. He worked as a foreman in a factory and one day he just fell over dead. I think he was lucky in that respect. He had an easy death. I’d like to have an easy death, wouldn’t you?  Do you mind if I ask you whether or not you have a girlfriend?”

“No, I don’t have a girlfriend,” he said, “but since the two of us don’t know each other at all, don’t you think it’s better not to ask personal questions?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just like to know about people, is all. Some people call it friendly and others call it nosy.”

“It’s all right. It’s just that I don’t have any time for talking.”

“I understand and I apologize.”

“No need.”

“You make me tired just by watching you,” Gerta said. “I guess I’m not much for working. My mother says I’m lazy. Well, if I’m lazy, she’s lazy too. She doesn’t do any more work than I do. I do all the housework and most of the laundry and most of the cooking. I like to cook, though, when my mother isn’t standing over me. She calls me an idiot and a dumbbell when I don’t do things the way she likes them. Is your mother dead?”

“No, but she lives far away and I never see her.”

“Families are funny things.”

“Yes, they are.”

“I prefer friends over family, but I don’t have that many friends, either. Sad to say. When I was in high school I had friends but that’s been years ago. The friends I had then have all drifted away. Some of them got married and some moved away. One or two of them are even in jail.” She laughed. “I wouldn’t like to be in jail, would you?”

“No, ma’am.”

“If they were going to lock me up for thirty years for a crime I committed, I think I would just prefer the death penalty, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“They just do the lethal injection thing now. I hear about it all the time on television. It probably doesn’t even hurt. I’m pretty sure it’s a painless death. They used to hang people by the neck or put them in front of a firing squad, but they had to stop doing that. People were complaining.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to take a little break for a while? Aren’t you tired.”

“No, I’m not tired.”

“You must be hungry. Would you like a sandwich or something? You can come into the kitchen and sit at the table and I’ll fix you a baloney and cheese sandwich.”

“No, thanks. I’m not hungry and I’m not tired.”

“Well, if you want to take a break, let me know.”

“I will.”

“I know I’ve just about talked you to death. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I don’t usually talk so much. You just seem like a sympathetic person that I can talk to.”

“People don’t usually notice me when I’m working.” he said. “They don’t even see me. They’re only interested in the finished job. They never think about the person doing the work.”

“Well, isn’t that just typical? Tomorrow you can meet my mother. And I promise I won’t talk so much.”

“That’s all right, ma’am.”

“You’re a real gentleman. You don’t meet many of those, anymore. I’ll go back inside now and leave you to your work. Before I go, though, I wonder if I could ask you one tiny favor?”

“What is it?”

“I have this old trunk upstairs in my bedroom. The lock is busted; the key won’t turn. There are some important papers in it that I need to get out. I’ve had a feeling ever since I first saw you that you would know how to get it opened, but I hated to ask.”

“Can you bring the trunk out here?”

“No, it’s too heavy.”

“Well, all right. I guess I can take a couple of minutes and go upstairs and take a look.”

Gerta took him into the house, through the kitchen, into the dining room, and down the hallway to the stairs. She held onto the banister as she went up ahead of him, wondering what he must be thinking.

When she came to the door of her bedroom, she paused for a moment for him to catch up. Then she opened the door and took him inside.

She was aware of how messy the room was. She hadn’t even made the bed. He’d think she had the manners of a pig.

The trunk was on the other side of the bed, beneath the window. She had to move some clothes and old blankets out of the way for him to get to it.

He knelt down. After a thorough examination of the lock, he asked her for a hammer and a screwdriver and when she produced them, he inserted the screwdriver into the lock and tapped lightly with the hammer until the lock opened.

She squealed and clapped her hands together with genuine delight. “I knew you could do it!” she said.

“It’s an old lock,” he said. “Needs some oil.”

“I want to give you something,” she said.

“Oh, no! It’s not necessary!”

“I don’t have any money, but I want to give you something!”

She opened the dresser drawer and rummaged around inside until she found a Fourth of July lapel pin that she had since she was eleven. It showed an American flag on a background of exploding shells.

“This isn’t much,” she said, “but it will help you remember that you did a good deed for a stranger and asked nothing in return.”

He stood still while she came very close and attached the pin to the front of his shirt.

“This isn’t necessary,” he said.

After she pinned the lapel pin to his shirt, they continued to stand very close to each other for a few seconds too long. Then he stepped away from her and they both realized at that moment that they weren’t alone in the room.

Gerta’s mother had returned earlier than expected. She stood in the doorway, hand on knob, glaring at Gerta and the painter.

“What’s going on here?” her mother asked. “Who is this man?”

“He’s nobody,” Gerta said. “He’s the man painting the garage.”

“What’s he doing in your bedroom?”

“We were talking and I asked him if he would take a look at the lock on my trunk.”

“Since when was there anything wrong with the lock on your trunk? That was just an excuse to get him up here, wasn’t it?”

“No!”

“I’ll go,” he said.

“That’s right! You go! And if you ever come messing around my daughter again, I’ll have you arrested!”

She stood aside to let him pass. As he was going down the stairs, she called out after him, “And I’m going to have you fired for this! Don’t think I won’t!”

“You have to ruin everything, don’t you?” Gerta said.

“So I was right! You were about to take him to bed!”

“Of course not! I was going to give him something out of my dresser drawer.”

“Give him what?”

“None of your business!”

She tried to go out of the room but her mother grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back and started slapping her. When she put her arms up to fend off the blows, her mother stripped off her pajamas with a wrenching pull and knocked her to the floor.

“Just what I thought!” her mother screamed. “You’re a cheap whore! You’re trash through and through! I can’t leave you alone for just a few hours! You should be locked up!”

“I didn’t do anything!”

She tried to stand up, but her mother kept slapping and kicking her so that after a while she just lay still and didn’t offer any resistance.

When she awoke she was on the floor and it was after two in the morning. Her head hurt terribly and her wrist, she was sure, was broken. She felt too sick and demoralized to stand upright.

Then she thought of him and it all came back. He came to paint the garage. He had the prettiest red hair she ever saw. They started talking, except that she did most of the talking. He listened politely but she knew, deep down, that he wanted her to go away and stop bothering him. She persuaded him to go upstairs with her to take a look at a lock on her trunk. Her mother came back at that moment and found them alone together in the bedroom, but they weren’t doing anything. Nothing at all. It was all so innocent. Her mother, of course, would make it out to be infinitely worse than it was, like two pigs rutting in the mud.

They’d get somebody else to finish the garage. She’d never see him again. She hadn’t even thought to ask him his name. All she knew about him was that he painted garages and had red hair. It wasn’t much to go on.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Washed in the Blood ~ A Short Story

Agnus by Konstantin Korobov
Washed in the Blood
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

He heard a car out front. Who could it be? He wasn’t used to impromptu visitors. He tried to see out the separation in the curtain, but all he saw was the sun glaring off a white car. It was probably nobody, just somebody looking for the way back to the main highway.

When the urgent knock came at the door, his heart jumped inside his chest. He didn’t want to answer, but he was standing just a few feet away, so he felt compelled to answer. When he opened the door he saw a large, pink-faced man standing there smiling at him.

“Yes?” he said, looking around the edge of the door like a frightened mouse.

“Mr. Whitson?” the large man said.

“Yes.”

“Mr. Wolfram Whitson?”

“Yes?”

“I’m Reverend Rayford Kennerly. I’m the pastor at your mother’s church.”

“Yes?”

“I was wondering if I might have a little talk with you.”

“What about?”

“I promise you it won’t take long. If you’re busy, I can come back tomorrow or the day after.”

“No, it’s all right.”

“Might I come in?”

He stood back and let the large man enter the house. They looked at each other awkwardly and then Wolfram pointed to the couch, indicating it as a suitable place for the reverend to sit.

“What was it you wanted to talk to me about?” Wolfram asked, sitting in the chair across from the couch.

“I wanted to express my condolences at the passing of your mother.”

“That was a month ago,” Wolfram said.

“I know, and I apologize for not making the call sooner.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to ask if there was anything I might do for you.”

“Like what? Dig a hole in the back yard?”

The reverend laughed when he saw that Wolfram was making a joke. “That’s not quite what I meant,” he said. “I meant more of a spiritual nature.”

“No, there isn’t anything,” Wolfram said. “I’m fine.”

“Are you aware that we now offer grief counseling at the church?”

Grief counseling? What’s that?”

“It’s to help people like you who have recently lost a loved one: a parent, a husband or wife, a child, or even a dog or a cat. You share your feelings of loss in a group setting with others who are going through the same thing. The group meets twice a month, on alternating Fridays. I believe this coming Friday, the day after tomorrow, is their night to meet. Please feel free to attend if you feel you’re up to it. The meeting begins at seven o’clock. Dress is casual.”

“I don’t like sharing my feelings. I wouldn’t know what to say.”

“Wouldn’t you like to give it a try?”

“I don’t think so.”

“It helps to keep an open mind, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose some people think it does.”

Reverend Kennerly cleared his throat and looked down at the worn carpet, shifted his big legs to a more comfortable position. “I knew your mother for many years. Not only was I her pastor; I was also her friend and spiritual advisor. She spoke often of you.”

“Spoke of me? Why?”

“She worried that you would be alone after her passing.”

“Oh, that doesn’t bother me. And I’m not really alone. I have lots of friends.”

“Well, you see, Wolfram, the thing is that most men get themselves a wife by the time they’re your age.”

“Oh, a wife!”

“Yes, a man needs a wife.”

“I don’t have one.”

“Wouldn’t you like to have one?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I just wouldn’t.”

“There are any number of lovely, single young women in your age category in our congregation who would be happy to get to know you.”

“Why would they be happy to know me?”

“We have casual get-togethers called mixers in the basement at the church. It’s a chance for the members to meet and get to know each other.”

“But I’m not a member.”

“That doesn’t matter. The mixers are for anybody.”

“I don’t think so. I don’t mix well with other people. I never have.”

“The point is, it’s not too late for you to have a family of your own.”

“If I wanted a family of my own, don’t you think I would have had it by now?”

“Well, it’s something for you to think about.”

“Yeah, I’ll think about it.”

“Well, let me ask you this. Are you eating a healthy diet?”

“Sure. I go into town about once a week to buy groceries.”

“Are you managing the household chores on your own? Laundry and housecleaning”

“Sure, I do those things. I’ve always done them. My mother didn’t do everything. After she fell and broke her leg that time, I did just about everything on my own.”

“I just want you to know that if you need help we have ladies in the church, volunteers, who will come in a morning or two a week and help out with laundry or household chores.”

“Ladies?”

“Yes, they’re older women, retired, with plenty of time on their hands. They like to help out bachelors and widowers. People like yourself.”

“Do they get paid by the hour?”

“They don’t get paid at all. They’re Christian ladies. They like to help out where help is needed.”

“Like Superman?”

“Well, not quite like Superman. Superman’s a fictional character. These are real people.”

“Real people in real life. Not super heroes.”

“Yes, that’s it. Shall I send someone out for you? Wouldn’t you like some help?”

“No, I don’t think so.

“Well, you’re very lucky, then. Most men are helpless without a woman around.”

“That’s largely a myth and a stereotype perpetrated by women.”

“May I be honest, Wolfram?”

“Of course.”

“You’re not an easy man. I’m trying to reach out to you in a Christian way and you haven’t been receptive to anything I’ve said.”

“Just being honest. My mother always said I’m a hard-nosed bastard. A lot like her, I’m afraid.”

“I think it’s more than that. I think you’re grieving for your mother. I think you’re in a fragile emotional state and I think you need help getting out of the hole you’re in.”

“I don’t need any help. I’m not in a fragile emotional state. I’m not in any hole.”

“With your mother gone, you need to ask yourself this question: Where do I go from here?”

“I don’t ask myself questions. Only crazy people ask themselves questions.”

“Come, now, Wolfram! You must want something out of life.”

“I can’t think of a thing. Air to breathe, I suppose.”

“Your mother would be so happy smiling down on you from heaven if you were to become a church member and start attending church services regularly.”

“If you want to know the truth, Mr. Whatever-Your-Name-Is, I tried church when I was younger and it left me feeling sad and hollow.”

“We’re having a special prayer meeting on Saturday evening that you might find enlightening. The theme will be ‘succor for the lonely’.”

“Sucker?”

“Yes, ‘succor for the lonely’. The meeting starts at seven o’clock. We’d be happy to have you join us. Dress is casual.”

“Am I the sucker?”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

“So, will we see you at the prayer meeting on Saturday evening?”

“I’m afraid not. I have a previous engagement that evening.”

“Wolfram, sir, if you’ll pardon my saying so! Having known your mother as the devout Christian that she was, I find your resistance a little difficult to understand.”

“She wasn’t really a devout Christian. She pretended to be devout because she was afraid of dying and going to hell. When she was younger, she was a big-time hypocrite and liar. She smoked and drank and cursed like a bar on fire. She was a crook too.”

“Well, I don’t know of that part of her life, of course, but I can assure you she confessed all her transgressions to the Lord Jesus Christ, whatever her transgressions were, and she was forgiven. She was washed in the Blood of the Lamb.”

“Do you think she believed that?”

“I’m sure of it.”

“Then she had you fooled too.”

The reverend Kennerly took a handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose loudly. There were tears of frustration and failure in his eyes.

“There is one more topic I wanted to broach with you today, Wolfram, but I don’t know if now is the proper time.”

“Sure, lay all your cards on the table.”

“I’m going to make you a proposition and I ask that you give it serious consideration.”

“What kind of proposition?”

“You live all alone in this big house. It has how many rooms?”

“Fifteen.”

“And how many bedrooms?”

“Eight.”

“Why does one young man living alone need a house with fifteen rooms and eight bedrooms?”

“I’m beginning to see the light now,” Wolfram said.

“There’s no other way to say it than to just come right out and say it,” the reverend Kennerly said.

“You want me to donate my house to the church.”

“It would make an excellent halfway house.”

“A what?”

“Halfway house. A place for troubled young offenders to stay while they’re getting their lives in order.”

“What are you saying? I don’t want people like that living in my house!”

“Oh, no, no, no, Wolfram! You don’t understand! You wouldn’t still live here! We’d swap you for a smaller, more modern house or a nice apartment in town.”

“Well, you’ve got some nerve, you know that? You want me to believe you’re truly concerned about my welfare, and all along you only want my house.”

“That’s not true, Wolfram! We are concerned about you. When I look at you, I see a lost lamb. I only want to help in any way I can.”

“I warned my mother about you church people, but she wouldn’t listen. They’re always thinking of what they can get out of you!”

“That’s very unkind of you, young man! Having known your mother, I would have thought you were made of sterner stuff. I have nothing but the best intentions toward you. I just thought we might come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. I merely wanted to propose the idea to you and see if you might be receptive.”

“Well, the answer is no!”

“Very well. I see where we stand. I thank you for taking the time to talk to me today and I apologize if I offended you. Would you like to pray with me before I go?”

“No!”

“Well, I’ll be running along, then. I’ll leave you my card in case you have any questions about any of the things we discussed today.”

The reverend Kennerly took a card out of his wallet and put it on the lamp table by the couch and then stood up and quietly went out the door.

After the reverend Kennerly was gone, Wolfram triple-locked the door, closed all the curtains and went upstairs. At the top of the stairs was the room that had been his bedroom all his life. He went inside and closed the door and locked it.

The room had always been his own and nobody else’s. He had spent uncountable hours in that room, from the time he was old enough to have an upstairs room of his own. There was the huge bed in the middle of the room that belonged to somebody in his family who died long before he was born. His mother let him use the bed but always made sure he knew that if he ever left home the bed stayed where it was.

There was the desk where he did his homework when he was in high school. He used to sit at the desk and write awful themes for English class. Any time he had to sit still and do his school work, he was easily distracted by other things.

In his bookcase were all the books he had growing up. Sometimes he would get a book or two at Christmas. Some of them he had read and some not. He didn’t want to start a book like The Count of Monte Cristo because it was so long and he figured he would never stick with it long enough to finish it. Other books he had found or somehow come by in a way he didn’t quite remember. His great-grandmother had given him a big book in German before she died. He couldn’t read it, but he thought it made a good keepsake.

Along one entire wall was the closet that contained all the clothes he had ever worn from the time he started to school. If he took the time to go through all the stuff in the closet and all the boxes pushed against the back wall inside the closet, he was sure he would find things that would surprise him. He or his mother never threw anything away.

In the bottom drawer of the dresser was where he used to keep books and magazines he didn’t want his mother to know he had. Detective stories with pictures of big-bosomed women on the front. Magazines he had carried away from the public library. All so innocent now.

His small-caliber handgun was in the middle drawer of the dresser. He had had the gun for a dozen years and still kept it in the mail-order box it came in. He had only fired it one time, when his mother was away for eight days.

He took the gun out of its box and, seeing it was still loaded, went and stood in front of the dresser mirror where he could see himself. He pointed the gun at the middle of his chest and fired one shot. Since it was such a small gun, he thought one shot might not be sufficient, so he fired again. He watched his face in the mirror as he fired both times.

There was a lot of blood. He knew there would be. It soaked his shirt and his pants and his shoes and socks. He was surprised that his body contained that much blood. As for pain, it hurt, but not as much as he thought it would.

He wanted to remain standing but he staggered and then fell back on the floor by the bed. He tried to pull himself to a standing position but realized he was better off on the floor. There was nothing to do now but wait.

The blood continued to pour out of him. Breathing became more difficult. His vision blurred. He heard voices, but he didn’t know where they were coming from. One of the voices he was certain belonged to his mother. She would have plenty to say about what he did.

His heart sputtered like a piece of broken machinery. He turned his face to the left and looked under the bed. He grasped his left hand in his right hand. He took a few more shuddering breaths, and then the thing that he knew as his life was finished.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp   

I Laughed, I Cried

I Laughed, I Cried image 1

I Laughed, I Cried
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This short story is a repost. It was published in State of Imagination magazine.)

*****

The world is ending, maybe in as little as two days. I feel strangely at peace; there’s some comfort in knowing that I—along with everybody else left in the world—will go out at the same time and in the same way. There’ll be no more bills to pay, no more car insurance, traffic jams, head colds, television commercials, doctor visits, taxes, corrupt politicians, backaches, family arguments, mosquito bites, or tough chicken. The list could go on and on, but I digress.

I’m in a huge shopping mall. People are going crazy, stealing everything they can carry. It’s an end-of-the-world dream come true. All that beautiful merchandise sitting there, waiting to be taken by whoever wants to take it. And who’s going to keep them from taking it? A large woman nearly knocks me down with an armful of blankets—she’s going to be warm for the end of the world. A man rushes by me for the door with a table lamp in one hand and a telescope in the other. And if you have a sensitive nature, don’t even bother looking toward the jewelry counter. Women are fighting each other over diamond necklaces, earrings and watches. There’s blood all over the floor. I see an old woman stuffing engagement rings into her bag while a couple of young girls, no more than twelve years old, tug at the bag to try get it away from her. The end of the world, I can see, brings out the very worst in people.

I’m in the book department. I see a couple of paperback books I want, but I don’t feel right just taking them without paying, even with the chaos that’s going on around me. I decide not to take them, even though I know I can, because I know I won’t have a chance to read them. Books don’t mean much now; nothing does.

On the other side of the book rack I’m facing, I see Clifford Devore. I went all the way through school with him and haven’t seen him for many years. If I had a best friend during school, it was Clifford. He’s wearing a purple-and-white striped knit cap, fastened underneath his chin. It’s the same knit cap he wore in eighth grade, a gift he received at a union Christmas party. It makes him look like a baby and I have the urge to laugh but I don’t.

“Hello, Clifford,” I say. I have to look up because he was always a few inches taller than me.

“Oh, hello, there,” he says, not smiling.

He doesn’t seem very happy to see me, but I know that the end of the world makes people behave in strange ways.

“I have to admit I’m a little afraid,” I say. “Will you stay with me?”

He just looks at me and doesn’t answer. I’m not sure if he heard what I said. A woman screaming behind me startles me and I turn around and look over my left shoulder. When I turn back to face Clifford, he’s gone, as if he disappeared into the air. I look around for him for a minute or so and then I realize it’s no use.

I see Buckwheat standing nearby, looking at me with his enormous eyes as if he knows me. He’s the little black child from Our Gang that I used to see on TV all the time when I was growing up. He’s wearing the little print dress he always wore that made me sometimes wonder if he was a boy or a girl (which I realized after seeing many times was really a long sweater that went down to his ankles, and not a dress) and curl papers in his hair. He doesn’t appear to be afraid, even though he’s surrounded by frenzied people yelling and stealing things. He has a serenity about him that tells me he’s taking the end of the world very well.

I’m ready to leave the mall to go home, so Buckwheat and I are on a moving conveyance that at first seems like an escalator and then is more like a roller coaster. We’re sitting in a comfortable seat—Buckwheat to my left—and we go up very high into the air. We pass over water down below and trains moving backwards. Now the roller coaster is more like a train and we’re on flat, regular ground. Somebody is standing at the front of the train car talking to the passengers about how the end of the world is coming, but nobody is paying any attention to what he’s saying. We’re past the time of having to listen to somebody we don’t want to listen to—another good thing about the end of the world.

The train stops and I get off, but I’m the only one who does; everybody else stays where they are. When I get to the door of the train and start to step down, I pause and look back over my shoulder at Buckwheat. He’s smiling and he gives me the high sign, which is back of hand to chin and waggling of the fingers. I give him the high sign back and get off the train.

When I get home, it’s my grandmother’s house that she lived in when I was in grade school. She’s sitting in front of the television, smoking Old Gold cigarettes and watching Liberace. He’s playing a grand piano with candelabra. The camera moves slowly around the piano, loving every inch of Liberace. He looks up as if he doesn’t know the camera is there and when he sees it he winks. Grandma thinks the wink is especially for her.

“Isn’t he just the cutest thing you ever saw,” she says.

I hear a thumping sound against the wall. “What’s that noise?” I ask.

“It’s those people that live in the other part of the house,” Grandma says.

“I didn’t know people lived there,” I say.

I go and open a door I never noticed before and, sure enough, there’s an entire other house there, with a kitchen, furniture, a dog, and a family I never saw before. I don’t know how they could have been so close all this time; seems like I would have heard or seen them before now. They seem to be having dinner; they look at me with annoyance. I apologize for bothering them and close the door as quickly as I can.

“What did I tell you?” Grandma says, not taking her eyes off Liberace.

My mother and sister are fighting, as usual; this time about my nephew, who has somehow mutated into an egg about two feet high. The egg that is my nephew is sitting on the couch. I try not to look at him because when I do I want to cry. The top of the egg is transparent and if you look down into the egg you can see my nephew’s face. He’s moving his mouth as if he’s trying to say something but no words come out; his tongue is flicking at the inside of the egg.

“He seems to want out of the egg,” I say. “Shouldn’t we try to crack it or something?”

“No,” my mother says. “All we can do is make him comfortable.”

“How do you make an egg comfortable?” I ask.

My sister stands up and I know now why my mother is so mad at her. She’s very cold and doesn’t seem to mind that her son has turned into an egg. In fact, I would say she’s glad he’s an egg.

“I’m leaving now,” she says.

My mother doesn’t say anything to my sister and doesn’t look at her as she goes out the front door. I’m thinking that my sister should never have been a mother in the first place, but I don’t say so.

As soon as my sister exits the scene, my great-great aunt, Fritzie Williams, enters. Aunt Fritzie is considerably more than a hundred years old. She’s wearing a long yellow coat made of knobby material, buttoned up to her neck; her fluffy white hair is arranged in a triangle on her head. She has two spinster daughters well into their eighties who are my third cousins.

“How are Esther and Josephine?” I ask.

“They’re spooked,” she says.

She launches into a long explanation of why she can’t take me home with her for the end of the world. While she’s talking, I visualize her house with its French doors between the dining room and living room, her big screened-in front porch, and her thick carpeting that’s the color of a Siamese kitten. When she’s finished talking, I just smile and nod my head. She turns and disappears into the wall. I know I won’t see her again.

I sit down on the couch beside the egg. He’s not making the slurping sounds with his tongue anymore so I figure he’s sleeping inside the shell. My mother also seems to be asleep, her chin on her breastbone. Grandma is still absorbed in Liberace on TV; I hear the strains of Warsaw Concerto. I look at the big grandfather clock that has been in the same place in the corner my entire life and I see that it’s stopped. I know without proof that all clocks, everyplace, all over the world, have stopped at the same time. Time doesn’t matter anymore.

The end comes that night while we are all in our beds. There’s no fireball from the sky; no tearing of the earth; no explosions or screaming. I don’t even wake up. I just have the feeling, in my sleep, of slipping out of one place and into another. When a thing really happens, it turns out to be so much different from what you imagined it would be. That’s one of the little tricks life plays on us.

I’m now in a place that must be the afterlife. The only people I’ve seen here are far off, men in dark suits and bowler hats and ladies in long ruffled dresses with parasols. If I try to approach them, they seem to get farther away.

I don’t feel hunger or thirst or any sensation of weariness. An ache I’ve had in a joint of my right foot for ten years is gone. I can lie on the ground and sleep—and the ground is more comfortable than any bed I’ve ever known—but I don’t have to sleep if I don’t want to.

Food is all around me in abundance, for the taking without effort, but eating is only for pleasure and not for sustaining life. I catch glimpses of beautiful animals—lions, peacocks, bears, elephants, giraffes—but when I look directly at them they hide from me and I don’t see them anymore.

Off in the distance on a hill I see a beautiful structure like a castle. With the sunlight shining on it just so, it appears to be made of gold. If I can just make my way over there, I’m sure I can find somebody who can tell me where I am, what it all means, and why I have the sensation of something lost that I must find again.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Bereavement Leave ~ A Short Story

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Bereavement Leave
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This short story is a repost. It has been published in The Dirty Pool literary magazine.)

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh? Which one is he?” Mr. C. asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“He must be really clean.”

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

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

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

“That is so true!” Mr. C. said.

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

“He’s cocky.”

“Yes, that’s it exactly!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s right,” Paul Schiller said.

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

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

“In what way?” Mr. C. asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, I never!” Mr. C. said.

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

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

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

“It takes all kinds,” Mr. C. said.

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

“Well, pick somebody else from the list.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What now?” Mr. C. said.

“I’m not going to jail!” Mr. P. said.

“Me, either!”

“To the roof, then!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who hired the fellow in the first place?”

“It was you!

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Those Dancing Feet ~ A Short Story

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Those Dancing Feet
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This short story is a re-post. It has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)

Nine-year-old Edith Mullinex couldn’t keep her legs still and when her legs moved her arms moved and then her whole body moved. When this ceaseless movement turned to dancing, she believed herself to be one of the all-time great dancers of the world. She didn’t know anything about the all-time great dancers of the world but, whoever they were, she was sure she was better than any of them.

She danced her way to school in the morning and she danced her way home in the afternoon and she danced every chance she got between morning and afternoon. She danced her way to the bathroom and she danced her way to the lunchroom and after she had eaten her lump of meatloaf and her cold mashed potatoes and her two canned plums in a puddle of mauve-colored juice, she danced her way back to the fourth-grade classroom, where all of her classmates and her teacher, Miss Divine, watched in open-mouthed wonder as she danced her way to her desk at the back of the room. Stop dancing, people would say, but she just ignored them. She knew they would never be able to understand.

“We have a real dancing problem with little Edith,” Miss Divine told Edith’s mother.

“It’s a phase she’s going through,” Edith’s mother said. “She has somehow got it into her head that she’s one of the all-time great dancers of the world.”

“It’s not normal,” Miss Divine said. “I think it calls for psychiatric evaluation.”

Thirteen-year-old Fairfax taunted Edith mercilessly when she was dancing at home, but she ignored him, as she did all the naysayers. When he tripped her while she was dancing on her way to the kitchen to eat dinner, she made the fall part of her dance and in this way annoyed him even further. When friends of Fairfax’s visited to watch a football game with him on TV, she danced all around them and in front of them, obstructing their view, until suddenly they remembered they had leaves to rake or grass to cut and left to go home.

“Boy, Fairfax sure does have a screwy sister!” they said when they were out the door.

Edith was always improvising new dance steps. When the phone rang, she danced her way to answer it and when it was time to go to bed, she danced her way into her bedroom, making closing the door part of the dance. Her mother sent her to the store with a list of things to buy. She danced her way there and she danced her way up and down the aisles of the store until she had everything on the list. People looked at her curiously, sure she was either filming a television special or was an escapee from the mental hospital.

Edith had a cousin named Pansy Mullinex. Like Edith, Pansy was very thin with lank blond hair to her shoulders and stick-like arms and legs. Edith and Pansy were the exact same age, born five days apart, and could have passed for twins. Pansy should have been in the same fourth-grade class as Edith, but she still read at a first-grade level and was in special education.

On the playground at recess, Edith showed Pansy some of her latest dance steps and soon they were dancing together. They worked up a dance routine to the song “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Edith taught Pansy the words. They sang and danced every day at morning recess and, on a good day, attracted an appreciative crowd of forty of fifty. That’s when Edith knew she loved having an audience.

The school talent contest was coming up. The whole school would be watching. First prize was ten dollars. Edith proposed to Pansy that they enter, and, if they won, they could split the ten dollars. There wasn’t much you could do with half of ten dollars, but it was more money than they were used to having at one time.

Edith chose the songs they would dance to, a combination of classics and bouncy contemporary hits that anybody who listened to the radio would know. There was some Roy Orbison (“Oobie Doobie”), Elvis Presley (“Jailhouse Rock”), Connie Francis (“Lipstick on Your Collar”), Bobby Vee (“Rubber Ball”), Tommy Dorsey (“Sunny Side of the Street”), and even some Perez Prado (“Mambo No. 49”) to add a cute Latin flavor at the end. It was a range of music to show their range and versatility.

For what to wear they chose matching black poodle skirts with white trim; white, short-sleeved sweaters with pompom ties; red ribbons in their hair, saddle oxfords and bobby socks.  To add some pizzazz, Edith bought some taps and tiny nails from a shoe repair store on Main Street and turned both pairs of shoes into tap shoes.

They rehearsed every day for two weeks on a sheet of plywood in an old wasp-infested shed behind Pansy’s house and, when it was time for the talent contest, they were both ready. Neither of them had worn makeup before, but Edith confiscated from her mother’s dressing table some face powder, lipstick and rouge to slather on their faces to keep them from looking ghostly in the spotlights.

Edith knew about the other acts and she considered them stupid. There was a girl twirling two hula-hoops, a boy playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on his banjo, a boy acting like Curly from the Three Stooges, a girl moving her lips to the Connie Francis song “Who’s Sorry Now,” another boy playing spoons to the tune of “Swanee River” and other assorted acts. She knew that she and Pansy had more class and more pizzazz in their little fingers than all the others put together and were almost certain to win first prize, unless something bad happened, like freezing up in front of an audience of two hundred people and not being able to dance at all. She was sure nothing like that was going to happen.

They didn’t go on until about an hour into the show. While they waited, they stood just behind the curtain watching the contestants go on and come off. The audience applauded after each act—and there were always a few cheers—but Edith knew they were just being polite. People didn’t go to a show to just sit on their hands; they wanted to participate.

Finally, it was Edith and Pansy’s turn. They started out behind a screen with a big light shining on it from behind so that, to the audience, they were only silhouettes. They danced behind the screen and after a few seconds they came out, Edith on the left and Pansy on the right. After that they owned the talent contest. They tapped and jiggled and turned and swooped. They propelled each other into the air and did some ballet steps. Edith twirled Pansy and then Pansy twirled Edith. They joined hands and jitter-bugged, they waltzed and did some tango steps. They were a two-person conga line and then they drew some laughs when they acted like chickens pecking and scratching at the ground. They jumped, jittered and jived, drawing oohs from the audience when they both did the “splits” at the same time. Pansy remembered all the steps Edith taught her and even improvised some of her own.

When the music stopped and Edith and Pansy finished with a flourish in which they both went down on one knee with their arms extended, the crowd went wild. The clapping, cheering and whistling were deafening. They had to do several curtain calls before the show could go on.

There were more acts waiting to go on, but Edith knew it was all but over.

The show finally ended and then all that was left was for the judges to make their decision. The judges were all teachers and as Edith looked out at them from backstage, she saw they had their heads together to arrive at their decision.

The deliberations among the judges took about five minutes. When they were ready, Miss Mish, the music teacher who was also one of the judges, took to the stage to announce the winners.

Miss Mish wheezed into the microphone, “No matter who wins, there’s one thing on which we can all agree. Everybody on this stage tonight is a winner!”

The audience clapped and cheered and Miss Mish held up her hands to get them to shut up. “Our third-place winner,” she said, “is none other than Marvin Hittler and his banjo!”

Cheers and huzzahs for Marvin Hittler.

“Our second-place winner is Leeman LaFarge for his remarkable impression of Curly Howard of the Three Stooges. Come on out, Leeman, and take a bow.”

Leeman came out from backstage and, to anybody familiar with the Three Stooges, he was a perfect pint-sized version of Curly. He gave the audience a few Curley mannerisms and then he pretended to be shy and had to retreat behind the curtain.

Miss Mish clapped and wheezed into the microphone like a donkey. When the laughter and cheering died down, she brayed: “And now the moment for which we have all been waiting! The first-place winner of this year’s school talent contest is…may I have a drumroll, please!…Edith Mullinex and Pansy Mullinex! For their sparkling and innovative dance routine!”

Edith wasn’t surprised. She knew, unless the show was rigged, that she and Pansy would win first prize. She took Pansy’s hand and they both bowed graciously again and again before the audience. After they left the stage, the audience was still applauding, so they gave a curtain call and then another and another. After a few minutes, Miss Mish took to the microphone again and told everybody to shut up and go home. The show was over.

As the crowd dispersed, everybody wanted to congratulate Edith and Pansy, but especially Edith because the whole thing had been her idea. She was the star of the show.

Edith’s mother, who had been sitting in the audience, was going to give Edith and Pansy a ride home, but Edith wanted to walk home by herself. She was too excited to sit still and ride in the car, she said. She needed to dance her way home.

She said her goodbyes and danced her way down the street away from the school. It felt good to be away from the crowd and to breathe in the cool night air. Her head was still in the clouds. She still heard the music and the applause, the cheering, as her name was announced as the first-place winner and the crowd went wild! It was the happiest moment of her life!

As she danced off the sidewalk into an intersection, she wasn’t thinking about watching for oncoming cars, wasn’t thinking about anything other than how good she felt. She didn’t see the red sportscar speeding toward her.

There was a squeal of brakes, a skidding of tires and impact. A woman standing on the sidewalk screamed. Traffic came to a standstill. Somebody called an ambulance. Within minutes, they came and picked Edith up off the street and took her to the emergency room at the hospital. The hospital people were trying to call Edith’s mother, but she wasn’t home yet.

Edith died two hours later in the hospital. She never regained consciousness and never knew what happened. Everybody who knew Edith and who heard the story afterwards said the same thing: She died happy.

School closed at noon the day of the funeral so everybody could attend. Her entire fourth-grade class was there and all the teachers. She was buried in a white casket with a spray of red roses that her classmates had taken up a collection to buy for her. And, on her headstone, beneath her name, was etched one word: DANCER.

After Pansy got over the shock of Edith’s death, she assumed the dancing mantle for herself. She danced her way to school in the morning and she danced her way home in the afternoon. She danced before, during and after school. She danced her way to the bathroom and she danced her way to the lunchroom to eat lunch.

The special education teacher, Miss Cornapple, called Pansy’s mother and said, “I’m afraid we have a dancing problem with Pansy.”

“It’s a phase she’s going through,” Pansy’s mother said. “She has somehow got it into her head that she’s one of the all-time great dancers of the world.”

“It’s not normal,” Miss Cornapple said. “I think it calls for psychiatric evaluation.”

“Maybe you just can’t stand to see anybody happy,” Pansy’s mother said.

As Pansy’s dancing skills improved, so did her reading skills. Soon she was allowed to move out of special education and take her place in the fourth-grade class. She danced and danced and danced, and she looked so much like Edith, and acted so much like her, that soon people began calling her Edith instead of Pansy and whenever it happened she never bothered to correct them. Edith was back, or maybe she had never left at all.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Brumm’s Drug Store ~ A Short Story

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Brumm’s Drug Store
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Mayfleur had worked at her new job for only two weeks and already she was thinking about quitting. There was always so much to do, she had never had to work so hard before. She was on her feet all day long without ever a moment to herself. The worst part, though, was Mrs. Brumm watching her all the time.

Some people named Brumm owned the store. Mr. Brumm was the pharmacist. He stayed behind the pharmacy counter all the time. He smiled a lot and hardly ever said a word to anybody. If anybody asked him a question, he pointed to his wife to answer it. And his wife, Mrs. Brumm, seemed to be everywhere all at once. Nothing escaped her scrutiny. She was all-knowing and all-seeing.

There was only one customer at the lunch counter drinking coffee so Mayfleur wasn’t very busy at the moment, but she knew that Mrs. Brumm was lurking around somewhere—she could smell the stench of her sweet perfume—so she tried to look busier than she was. When the man drinking coffee asked for a refill, she was glad to be in motion for a few seconds with something specific to do. She gave him a sweet smile as she filled his cup and asked if he would like anything else.

“Mayflower!” Mrs. Brumm came around the corner without a sound. “The magazines are a mess! They need straightening! Right now!

Mayfleur jumped at the sound of Mrs. Brumm’s voice and sloshed some of the hot coffee on her hand. She put the pot back on the warmer with a clatter and then nearly fell down where somebody had dribbled some water on the floor. Her day was not going well and she had more than six hours to go.

Mrs. Brumm was right. The magazine rack was a mess. It was one of Mayfleur’s responsibilities to keep it in order, and Mrs. Brumm would accept nothing less than perfection. Mayfleur was just separating Look from Life and Superman from Justice League America, when Mrs. Brumm barked at her to drop what she was doing and fill a food order. Miss Tolley upstairs wanted a tuna salad sandwich on toast, a chocolate milk shake with a jigger of rum mixed in, a pack of Lucky Strikes—and she wanted them now.

Mayfleur knew that Miss Tolley was Mrs. Brumm’s sister and there was something funny about her. Something not quite right, but Mayfleur didn’t know what it was. Maybe she had a missing leg or something and couldn’t get out of bed. When she took the food order upstairs, she’d find out for sure.

She went behind the lunch counter and began preparing the food order, not bothering to wash her hands first. She put the wrapped tuna sandwich on toast in a white paper bag, along with the Lucky Strikes, and then she set about making the chocolate milk shake with the rum in it. (The bottle of rum was kept under the counter especially for that purpose.) She fastened a plastic lid on the milk shake and put it in its own white paper bag. When the order was ready, she carried it out the front door and around the corner to the door where the stairs were. She went up the steps slowly, looking at the grooves in the wood underneath her feet. The grooves made her think of all the people who had gone up the stairs who were now dead.

There were four apartments over the drug store. She found Miss Tolley’s door and knocked hesitantly, as though afraid she might wake someone. She heard the undoing of the locks from the inside and then the door opened and there stood Miss Tolley in a red Japanese kimono.

Mayfleur was only moderately surprised to see that Miss Tolley was a midget, no more than three feet tall. She realized it could have been a lot worse. She might have had leprosy or no arms or been covered in scales.

“Are you Miss Tolley?” Mayfleur asked.

“Well, I ain’t Virginia Mayo!”

“I have your food order from downstairs.”

“Okay.”

She took the two bags from Mayfleur and set them down. Mayfleur turned and started to leave, but Miss Tolley gestured for her to sit on her sagging sofa and “take a load off.”

“What’s your name?” Miss Tolley asked.

“Mayfleur Pickering.”

“How is Bertha treating you?”

“Who? Do you mean Mrs. Brumm?

Hah-hah-hah! Is that what she makes you call her?”

“That’s what she told me to call her from the first day.”

Hah-hah-hah! She’s a riot! I’ll bet she doesn’t give you a moment’s peace, does she?”

“Well, she is kind of demanding.”

“You don’t have to sugarcoat it for me, honey. She’s my sister. I know what a demon she is. How long you been on the payroll?”

“Two weeks.”

“I’ll bet it seems like a couple of years already, don’t it?”

Mayfleur felt uncomfortable hearing Miss Tolley talk about Mrs. Brumm that way and she wished she might go back downstairs and disappear behind the soda fountain.

“Well, if there’s nothing else,” Mayfleur said, “I really need to get back downstairs.”

“You don’t need to worry about it,” Miss Tolley said. “I call the shots around here and if Bertha don’t like it, she knows what she can do about it.”

“You ‘call the shots’?”

“I own the drugstore. Didn’t you know that?”

“No, nobody told me.”

“Not only do I own the drugstore, I also own these apartments and three other buildings besides.”

“Oh.”

“So, two weeks, you say?”

“That’s right.”

“I bet you think every day about quitting, don’t you?”

“Well, I…”

“You can be truthful with me, dearie. I know nobody can stand working for Bertha for long. You would not believe how many girls she has had working for her! I think we average about one a month.”

“Well, I don’t like to complain. I had a little trouble finding a job, so when this one came along I was glad to get it. I’d like to keep it for a while.”

“But still, you’d like to tell Bertha to take it and shove it, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, I…”

“And what do you think of the mister?”

“Who?”

“The pharmacist. His name is Lloyd Brumm. He’s Bertha’s husband, if you can call it that.”

“Oh, him! I don’t usually see him unless I have to go behind the pharmacy counter for something.”

“Don’t let the smile and the quiet demeanor fool you. He’s a drug addict and he’s just as crazy as Bertha.”

“He seems all right.”

“He’s in the perfect profession for an addict. One day he’s going to overdose himself. Do you know he used to go around telling people he was a doctor? He did it to impress the ladies. They’d see the white coat and believe him. Oh, he’s quite the ladies’ man, he is!”

“He seems harmless enough.”

“Let me warn you about him, though. He’s quite the skirt chaser. He’ll go after any female over fourteen years old. It don’t matter if she’s married or ugly or obese or covered in fur. Drugs are not the only thing he’s addicted to!”

“Does Mrs. Brumm know?”

“Of course she knows, and it don’t matter to her! It’s a marriage in name only.”

“I do feel a little sorry for him being married to her.”

“You and me both, honey, but you don’t want to waste too much sympathy on him, though. And, take my advice. Don’t ever let him get you alone if you can help it. That’s what he likes to do. Get a girl in the room alone, and then he’s all over her!”

“I never would have known!”

“And, something else I gotta tell you: he peeps at you when you’re going to the toilet.”

What?

“He’s got a peep hole in the wall. He spies on you when you’re in the bathroom.”

“Are—are you sure?”

“Yes, he’s a very sick person!”

“Why don’t you plug up the peep hole?”

“Because I’m waiting for the right time. I’m going to bust him and I’m going to bust her, too! I’m going to squash them both like bugs! Do you want to know why she watches you all the time?”

“No. Why?”

“She’s hoping to catch you stealing from her.”

“I’m not going…”

“She’s always on the lookout for a thief so she can call the police and have them arrested.”

“Why would she do that?”

“She enjoys getting people in trouble. That’s her thing. She’s an absolute lunatic. She wants to embarrass you in front of other people. If she so much as caught you taking a toothpick that didn’t belong to you, she’d be on you like a dive bomber. She’s hoping you steal money, though, out of the cash drawer.”

“I would never…”

“Her favorite thing, though, would be to catch you with him.”

“With who?”

“With Lloyd, her husband. The pharmacist. If she caught you dallying with him in the back room, that would push her over the edge.”

“I thought you said it was a marriage in name only.”

“It is, but she’s still jealous of his attentions to other women. She’s a drama queen down to her toenails. She loves explosive, emotional scenes. She watches soap operas on TV all the time. That’s where she gets a lot of her material.”

“Believe me, Miss Tolley, I would never dally with him in the back room or anywhere else! The thought of it makes me sick!”

“Makes me sick, too!”

“And I would never steal money from her. Or anything else.”

“I believe you’re a good girl, or I wouldn’t be telling you these things.”

“I’d better get back downstairs. She’ll think I’m taking too long.”

“Don’t worry about it, Mayflower. If she says anything, just tell her to talk to me. I’ve got your ass covered.”

She went back downstairs, expecting a large dose of Mrs. Brumm’s anger for taking so long with Miss Tolley’s food order, but Mrs. Brumm was standing in the back of the store near the pharmacy counter, talking to two men. When Mrs. Brumm saw Mayfleur come in the door, she stopped talking in mid-sentence and pointed. The two men turned and looked at Mayfleur. Breathless, Mrs. Brumm strode forward in a few sprinting steps.

“Here she is!” Mrs. Brumm said. “Here’s the girl! She’s the one!”

As the men came toward her, Mayfleur saw they were uniformed police officers, but still she didn’t know what was happening.

“You work for this woman?” one the officers asked.

“Yes,” Mayfleur said.

“How long?”

“Two weeks.”

“She says you’ve been stealing money from her. Money from her cash register.”

“I haven’t!”

“Of course she’d lie about it!” Mrs. Brumm said. “They always do!”

Mayfleur saw that there were several customers in the store and they had all stopped what they were doing and were looking at her. Mr. Brumm had come out from behind the pharmacy counter and was looking at her with a strange smile on his face. Mrs. Brumm was performing for the assemblage.

“She has a hundred and fifty dollars, at least, inside her purse that she keeps in the back room,” Mrs. Brumm said. “Where would a girl like that get a hundred and fifty dollars in cash?”

“I don’t have a hundred and fifty dollars in my purse!” Mayfleur said. “I have two dollars and some change. If there’s a hundred and fifty dollars in my purse, you put it there!”

“I did not!” Mrs. Brumm said.

“Anything else stolen besides the hundred and fifty?” the officer asked Mrs. Brumm.

“Yes, I’m sure she’s been stealing from me all along!”

“Oh, Mrs. Brumm!” Mayfleur said. “The magazines are all messed up. I never got a chance to straighten them earlier. I think I’ll do it now.”

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

A Mother and Her Cigarettes ~ A Short Story

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A Mother and Her Cigarettes
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~ 

When Ruffin awoke early on Monday morning, he immediately began calculating how he might miss school that day. He could say he was sick, but if he wasn’t vomiting or didn’t have a fever, his suspicious mother wouldn’t believe him. He had to be visibly sick. Not always easy.

He realized, after a couple minutes of deep thought, that he was going to have to go to school no matter what. There was no way around it. He already had more than enough absences for the semester; any more would result in disciplinary action, which meant tedious lectures about the tragic consequences of not taking school seriously enough.

He splashed some water on his face, made a feeble effort at brushing his teeth and dressed in the same clothes he wore to school on Friday. Taking a quick look at himself in the mirror, he went downstairs to the kitchen, where his mother was sitting at the table smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. She hadn’t yet put on her wig and makeup and looked like a derelict old man.

After pouring himself a cup of coffee and adding milk, he sat down at the table, squinting in his mother’s cigarette smoke.

“Boy, I feel lousy this morning!” he said. “I didn’t sleep a wink last night. I have a splitting head. I think I probably have the flu.”

“You’re not missing school again today,” she said.

“When you were young, I bet your mother didn’t make you go to school when you were sick.”

“I don’t believe you’re sick.”

“Can’t you tell just by looking at me? My color is terrible!”

“If you miss any more school, you know what’s going to happen, don’t you? They’re going to come after me for being a lousy parent.”

“You are a lousy parent!”

“The whole world doesn’t have to know it!”

“Just feel my forehead,” he said. “I’m burning up!”

She stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray and finished her coffee. “You’re not sick!” she said.

When she stood up to put water on her geranium in the window over the sink, he reached across the table and stole three cigarettes out of her pack and put them in his shirt pocket.

“I saw that,” she said, slowly turning around.

“Saw what?”

“Put ‘em back.”

“Put what back?”

“I’m not as stupid as you seem to think I am. I saw you steal cigarettes out of my pack.”

“I didn’t!”

She started slapping him with both hands. He put his arms up in feeble defense.

“I’ve told you I don’t want you smoking!”

“I haven’t been smoking!” he said. “I would never smoke! It’s bad for your health!”

“You stole them!”

“All right, I’ll admit I took them. I didn’t really steal them. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“So, are you telling me you’re stealing my cigarettes but not smoking them? If you’re not smoking them, what are you doing with them?”

“I took them for a sick friend.”

“What friend?”

“You don’t know him!”

“I want to know his name!” she said, slapping him again.

“Harry Burgess! His name is Harry Burgess!”

“Tell Harry Burgess to steal his own cigarettes!”

“He can’t! He doesn’t have any hands!”

“How does he smoke, then, if he doesn’t have any hands?”

“I have to light the cigarette for him and hold it up to his lips.”

“You’re a liar!”

“No, really, mother. That is the Lord’s honest truth!”

“I want you to bring Harry Burgess to meet me. I’d like to meet a boy with no hands.”

“Well, he’s shy. He doesn’t like meeting people. People laugh at him and call him ‘meat hooks’.”

“He sounds like your type of friend.”

“I’m going to the school nurse today and tell her you beat me! I’ll have the bruises to prove it! She’ll call the police and they’ll come and take you away in handcuffs.”

“Put the cigarettes back in the pack and get your ass to school!”

On his way to school, he stopped at Finklehoff’s Sweet Shoppe and bought his own pack of cigarettes. Hungry from not eating breakfast, he also bought a donut, which he ate in a few quick bites.

Being within sight of the school building always made him feel despondent and a little suicidal. He loitered out in front for a while before going in. Soon he was joined by his friend Harry Burgess.

“Did you study for the American history test?” Harry asked him.

“Hell, no!

“Me either. All that stuff just goes right out of my head as soon as I read it. Why should I care about history stuff?”

“My old lady beat the crap out of me at the breakfast table this morning,” Ruffin said.

“You mean your mother?”

“Yeah, I mean my mother.”

“Why did she beat the crap out of you?”

“Because she’s evil.”

“Yeah, there’s a lot of that going around.”

“I have cigarettes, though.”

“Yeah? Where’d you get ‘em?”

“I stopped at Finklehoff’s on my way to school this morning.”

“Did you steal ‘em?”

“No, I didn’t steal them! What do you think I am? I bought them!”

Together they went into the school building. It was still a few minutes to first bell, so they made their way to the boys’ restroom on the first floor. All the way in back was the traditional smoking space between the last stall and the wall. It was fairly private and there was a window there that might be raised to let out any excess smoke.

Ruffin took the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and opened it. He gave one to Harry and took one himself. They lit up and puffed greedily.

“Boy, that tastes good!” Harry said. “I’ve been having a nicotine fit all night long!”

“I know what you mean,” Ruffin said. “Smoking is one of life’s greatest pleasures!”

“Does your mother know you smoke?”

“I think she knows but she doesn’t want to admit it. She smokes like a fiend all the time, but she tells me if she ever sees me smoking she’s going to knock it down my throat.”

“That might cause you to get choked!”

“Yeah, if she caused me to choke to death, she’d go to jail, but she’d swear I had it coming. How about you? Does your mother know you smoke?”

“She doesn’t pay any attention. If she saw me smoking, she’d scream at me and lecture me, but five minutes later she’d forget about it.”

They heard the door open and close and then quiet footsteps.

“Who do you think that is?” Harry whispered.

“Probably nobody.”

Harry opened the window a little higher and began fanning the smoke with his hands.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ruffin said. “So, we’re smoking! What of it? Who cares?”

They heard the water running and relaxed. Whoever had come in didn’t care what they were doing. They kept smoking, generating an unusually large amount of smoke.

What’s going on here?” a loud voice said behind them.

Startled, they both turned and looked into the face of Mr. Emmett Terry, school principal.

“Are you smoking?” Mr. Terry said. “Hiding in the bathroom and smoking?”

“No, we were just taking a little break before going to class.”

“You’re not smoking?”

“No, we’re not smoking,” Harry said, grinding his cigarette out under the heel of his shoe.

“There’s enough smoke in here for a forest fire!”

“Oh, that! We were wondering about that too!”

“My office! Right now!”

“Yes, sir!” Harry said.

The penalty for smoking on school grounds was a three-day suspension. Mr. Terry, in this case, was not inclined to be lenient.

“The three days of your suspension will go on your permanent record as unauthorized absences,” Mr. Terry said gravely. “This could severely limit your ability to get into a good college.”

“This is going to kill my mother!” Harry said.

“Now, I’m sending a letter home with each of you for you to give to your parent or guardian. At the end of your suspension, you will not be readmitted to school until your parent or guardian comes to the school for a sit-down meeting with me, the superintendent, and the guidance counselor.”

Harry groaned.

“When you boys sneak cigarettes in the boy’s restroom, it’s a serious breach of discipline. School administration seeks the help and intervention of the parent or guardian in a situation this serious.”

“You make it sound like we killed somebody!” Harry said.

When Ruffin got home in the middle of the day, his mother was dozing on the couch.

“What are you doing home from school so early?” she asked.

“I’ve been suspended from school.”

What?

“I said I’ve been suspended from school for three days.”

“You’ve what?

His hand shook as he handed her the letter from Mr. Terry. She looked at the letter, front and back, but before she opened it she lit a cigarette and blew a cloud of blue smoke upward into his face. He was sure he was going to vomit. He was more afraid of her than he was of Mr. Terry.

Copyright 2022 by Allen Kopp

The Ship Sailed On ~ A Short Story

The Ship Sailed On image 2

The Ship Sailed On
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~ 

Wallace Weems didn’t like offices. They were places of confinement and discomfort. He squirmed in the chair, picked up a magazine and, finding it of no interest, threw it down again. He looked at his watch and then at the clock on the wall, confirming that it was fifteen minutes after the time of his appointment. He had arrived on time, and he wondered why they couldn’t extend the same courtesy to him.

He was thinking about getting up and going home, when, finally, the young secretary came out from behind a partition and told him Mr. Strang would see him now.

“How are you?” Mr. Strang asked, shaking his hand without smiling. “Have a seat. I’ll be with you in a minute.”

He sat in the leather chair in front of Mr. Strang’s desk and wondered if he was going to have to wait some more, while Mr. Strang fumbled through some papers on his desk. Finally he set the papers aside and sat down at his desk.

“I was sorry to hear of your mother’s passing,” Mr. Strang said.

“Thank you.”

“I represented her interests for more than twenty years.”

“Oh?”

“I wanted to come to her services, but I found myself unable to get away.”

“There weren’t any services to speak of. Just a simple cremation.”

“No family?”

“Only me.”

“Oh. That’s very sad.”

“Not so sad, really. Just a fact of life.”

“So, what are your plans now that she’s gone?”

“I don’t have any plans. I haven’t had time to think about it. She’s only been gone a few days. I still find myself in a state of shock.”

“That’s perfectly understandable.”

“Even though she was over ninety years old, I had convinced myself she would never die.”

Never die?”

“That’s not quite true. I mean, I knew she would die someday, but I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. My own death seemed more real to me than her death.”

“It was your own way of coping, I suppose.”

“Yes.”

“It helped you get through the difficult years with her.”

“When I graduated from high school, she was almost fifty years old and in failing health. She had a bad heart and cirrhosis of the liver from heavy drinking. She had smoked two or three packs of cigarettes a day since the seventh grade. She believed she would live for only two or three more years.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I also believed it. I tried to get away from her, but when I saw she was probably going to die soon, I thought I could wait. Two or three years. That’s not so long. I could ease her dying and keep her from being all alone. No more than three years and I’d be free and clear. I’d sell the house and go someplace far away. I always wanted to travel. I thought about Europe or Australia. I had always been attracted to Australia, for some reason.”

“It didn’t quite work out that way, did it?”

“No, it did not! The two or three years turned out to be more than forty years! Forty years is a big chunk out of your life. While I waited for her to die, I missed all my chances.  The boat sailed without me. I missed the chance for a college education or a career or a happy marriage. I didn’t even have any friends. I gave everything up for her!”

“Do you think she appreciated your sacrifice?”

“Of course she didn’t! She was selfish that way. She didn’t see me as a real person.”

“Surely, that’s an exaggeration!”

“No, it isn’t. She only saw me as an extension of herself. She was a person without empathy. She was unable to see anything from my standpoint.”

“Yet you loved her.”

“I wanted to kill her! I used to fantasize about pushing her down the basement steps or putting rat poison in her soup. I wanted to drop her from the highway overpass into rush-hour traffic. I wanted to take her on an ocean cruise and push her overboard in shark-infested waters.”

“Yet you never acted on these impulses.”

“Of course not! What do you think I am?”

“Well, cheer up! You’re not quite sixty. That’s not so old. You have a lot of years remaining to you. The best part is your mother left you some money. You can travel or do whatever you want now, without accounting to anyone.”

“She left me money?”

“Yes, she did.”

“She never talked to me about money, except to complain about not having enough. She always wanted me to think we were one step away from starvation and bankruptcy. We ate plenty of baloney and Ramen noodles because they were cheap.”

“She had money.”

“She wanted me to think we were poor because if I had known there was money, I might have robbed her and gone far away where she’d never find me. It makes perfect sense.”

“Well, your troubles are over. She left you in excess of one million, two hundred thousand dollars.”

What?

“She left you a fortune of over a million dollars.”

“She left me what?”

“One million, two hundred thousand dollars.”

“Are you sure there’s not some mistake?”

A few weeks later, he was on an ocean liner to the European continent. He wanted to see Paris, Rome and London. He might have flown on a plane and been there in a dozen hours, but he had always imagined himself on a mighty, ocean-going ship, and he couldn’t see it any other way.

He loved being at sea. It was everything he ever dreamed of. He was seasick on the first night out, but he refrained from eating dinner and the next morning he felt better than he had ever felt before. It was the beginning of a new life for him. He was casting off the old life like a snake shedding its skin.

He hadn’t spoken yet to any of the other passengers, but he studied them furtively and wondered what they were thinking. Some of them looked at him appreciatively and smiled knowingly. Surely they found him of some interest, or they wouldn’t bother looking at him at all.

The third night out he enjoyed a lavish dinner in the dining salon. When he was finished with his dinner, he didn’t feel like returning to his cabin alone, so he went into the bar and ordered a champagne cocktail. He found he was enjoying the music and the atmosphere, so he stayed for over an hour and had several drinks.

He returned to his cabin, more drunk than he had ever been in his life. As he switched on the lights and locked himself in, he wasn’t surprised to see his mother sitting in the chair beside the bed.

“Well, well, well!” she said in her raspy smoker’s voice. “What have we here?”

“Leave me alone, mother,” he said. “I’m enjoying myself and I’m just getting started”

“On my money!”

“It’s not your money anymore, mother. It’s my money now.”

“You’ve got a lot of nerve! Squandering my money! How much did this little trip of yours cost?”

“None of your business, mother. It doesn’t in any way concern you. You’re dead.”

“You’ll never be rid of me!”

“It’ll be easier than you think.”

“Why did you have me cremated? You know how I hate cremation!”

“I wanted to make sure you were really and truly gone.”

“I’m not gone! I’m right here beside you!”

“I want to show you something, mother.”

He opened his suitcase out on the bed and pulled out a modest-looking oblong box from underneath the pants and shirts.

“Do you know what this is, mother?”

She watched, fascinated, as he set the box on the bed and took off the lid, revealing a quantity of gray ash nestled in a plastic bag.

“This is you, mother! It’s you!”

“I think you’ve taken leave of your senses!”

“Not at all, mother. And do you know what I’m going to do with you? Come along with me and I’ll show you.”

Carrying the box of ashes, reeling from the liquor he had consumed, he left his cabin like a mad man and went out onto the deck. The wind was blowing and the sea was rough, but he was not to be deterred.

“Watch me now, mother!” he said. “This is where you and I part company!”

He lifted the plastic bag out of the box and began emptying his mother’s ashes over the railing. He leaned out a little too far and when the boat gave a little lurch he lost his balance and fell headlong into the sea.

He struggled to right himself in the frigid water. He emitted one pitiful little scream, but it was already too late. No one had seen him fall. No one heard him scream. The ship sailed on. The waves closed over his head. His absence was not noted for two carefree days.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Swimsuit Optional ~ A Short Story

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Swimsuit Optional
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Gideon Sayers had just finished tenth grade and would move on to the eleventh when school took up again. He didn’t have any specific plans for summer, but he was looking forward to having plenty of time to himself and doing exactly as he pleased. His father would be at work all day.

On the very first day of summer vacation a girl from his class named Joyce Mahoney called him on the phone.

“I don’t think I remember you,” he said. “I can’t place the name.”

“What do you mean you don’t remember me?” she said. “You see me every day at school!”

“I’m not good with names,” he said. “Describe yourself.”

“Well, let’s see. I’m taller than most of the other girls. I have short brown hair. I’m not fat like a lot of the girls.”

“A lot of people fit that description.”

“I failed the Constitution test two times. I passed it on the third try.”

“Oh, yeah! You had a crying fit in American history class and you called the teacher an effing bastard.”

“That’s me!” she said. “If I had known I was going to have to describe myself, I wouldn’t have bothered calling.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” he laughed. “The thing with girls is that they all kind of blend together for me.”

“I can see this wasn’t a good idea,” she said.

“No, no, that’s all right! What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Next week is Christine Swanson’s seventeenth birthday and we’re having a pool party at my house to surprise her.”

“I didn’t know you had a pool.”

“There isn’t any reason why you should.”

“Who did you say the party is for?”

“Christine Swanson.”

“I don’t think I know her.”

“Gideon, you are impossible!”

“Can you describe her for me?”

“She’s only the most popular girl in school! She’s a cheerleader. She was yearbook queen. Her picture is absolutely everywhere.”

“Oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard or her. What about her?”

“We’re having a pool party for her at my house.”

“I didn’t know you had a pool.”

“We’re calling everybody in drama club. We didn’t want to leave anybody out.”

“I’m not in drama club.”

“That’s funny. Your name is on the list.”

“I’m not in drama club.”

“Well, somebody made a mistake, I guess.”

“Now that you’ve invited me, do you want to uninvite me?”

“No, I made the mistake of inviting you, so the invitation still stands, I suppose.”

“That’s awfully sweet of you, Janet, but I don’t really know how to swim.”

“It’s Joyce. My name is Joyce.”

“Oh. Right. I forgot for a moment to whom I was speaking. As I was saying, I’m not a swimmer. I don’t know how to swim.”

“That’s all right. Nobody knows how to swim. We just splash around in the water. The boys try to drown each other. There’s a diving board but nobody knows how to dive—they just jump off into the water. There’ll be water volleyball, music and lots of food.”

“I don’t know how to play water volleyball.”

“It doesn’t matter. Anybody can play.”

“Would I need to wear a swimsuit?”

“We have a swimsuits-optional policy.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you can swim naked if you have the nerve.”

“And what day is that?”

“Thursday next week.”

“What time?”

“Three o’clock.”

“Um, hold on a minute! I have to check my social calendar.”

He kept her hanging on for five minutes or more and when he went back to the phone, he said, “Janet, are you still there?”

“It’s Joyce.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Joyce. Well, I’m sorry, Joyce, but I won’t be able to come that day. I’m having abdominal surgery.”

“Oh. I see. I didn’t think you’d come, but I thought I’d try anyway since your name is on the list.”

“Well, thank you so much for the call. It was lovely speaking with you.”

“Yeah, you too. Good luck with your surgery.”

As he was hanging up the phone, his father came into the room, reeking of aftershave.

“Who was that on the phone?” his father asked.

“A girl from school. Joyce somebody-or-other. She invited me to a pool party at her house.”

“Are you going?”

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“I think you should go. You’ll have fun. You shouldn’t stay at home all the time by yourself.”

“I like being by myself.”

“I’m going away on business for a few days, until at least Monday or Tuesday. I want you to go stay with Aunt Vivian.”

“I hate staying with Aunt Vivian. I want to stay here.”

“I don’t feel right about leaving a child alone in the house that long.”

“I’m not a child. I’m almost seventeen. I’ll be in eleventh grade.”

“You’re not afraid here by yourself?”

“Of course not!”

“I can trust you to behave responsibly?”

“Of course you can!”

“And if there’s an emergency involving fire?”

“I’ll call the fire department. And if there’s an emergency involving crime, I’ll call the police department.”

“Good. I think we understand each other.”

“I’m going to need some money.”

“What for?”

“A swimsuit.”

“Of course. For the swimming party. How much do you need?”

“I don’t know. I never bought a swimsuit before. I guess about fifty dollars should cover it.”

His father took two fifty-dollar-bills out of his wallet and placed them carefully on the coffee table.

“I don’t want you drinking beer. High school boys seem to think it’s grown-up to drink beer.”

“You don’t have to worry about me. Drinking beer doesn’t interest me.”

His father jangled his keys, picked up his suitcase by the front door, waved goodbye, and then he was gone.

Before his father’s car was all the way out of the driveway, Gideon went to the phone and called his friend David Deluca. David was one of the few people in school with whom he had anything in common. Their hatred for algebra was only exceeded by their hatred for gym class.

“How are you, old friend?” Gideon said cheerily into the phone.

“Fine,” David said. “Who is this?”

“It’s your best friend Gideon Sayers.”

“Oh, yeah. Hi.”

“What’s new and different with you today?”

“My mother is finding jobs for me to do around the house.”

“Why don’t you sneak out and come over?”

“Why would I do that?”

“My father is gone and I have the whole house to myself.”

“I don’t think so, Gideon. If I left now, it would only get her started. Once she gets started, she doesn’t stop.”

“I don’t have a mother.”

“I know. She killed herself.”

“Well, you don’t have to sound so happy about it!”

“I’m not. It’s very sad.”

“Well, I’ve invited you. Are you going to accept the invitation or not?”

“I don’t think so, Gideon. I’m kind of tired.”

“You’re sixteen years old! How can you be tired?”

“My blood sugar is low.”

“Well, eat a Snickers bar and come on over.”

“I don’t think so, Gideon. I have eczema on my feet. It makes walking painful. We’ll make it another day.”

“Well, suit yourself. I had something I wanted to tell you, but now I’ll just keep it to myself.”

“What is it?”

“Joyce Mahoney called me this morning.”

“She called me, too. She’s calling everybody. She’s trying to get a big crowd at her swimming party next week.”

“Oh. She called you too?”

“Yeah, she called me too.”

“Well, are you going?”

“Sure. Why not? I think it’ll be fun. If I’m not having a good time, I can always say I have a funeral to go to and leave.”

“Are you going to swim naked?”

“I don’t think so. I have some new swimming trunks from Brazil. They’re yellow with a red stripe up the side. I want everybody to see me in them.”

“You’ll drive the girls wild, especially the fat ones.”

“How about you? Are you going to swim naked?”

“I’m not going. I told Joyce I’m having abdominal surgery that day.”

“You are such a liar!”

“Well, I had to think of something quick. That was the only thing that came to mind.”

“You should go, you know, and stop being such an old nelly. I think it’ll be fun. I’m going to borrow my brother’s car. If you want, I can stop by and pick you up and we can arrive at the party like a couple of big men on campus.”

“I don’t think so. I already told Joyce I’m not coming.”

“Call her back and tell her you are coming. Tell her your surgery has been postponed until an appropriate donor can be found and you’d be thrilled to come!”

“I don’t know, David. I feel kind of funny doing that.”

“Do you want me to call her for you?”

“No, I’ll do it. I need to think about it first, though.”

“What’s there to think about?”

“I don’t know. It’s just the way I am.”

The next day he walked downtown with his father’s two fifty-dollar bills in his shirt pocket. He went to the clothing store where his mother always bought his school clothes and found the men’s swimwear department. He selected several swim suits, size small, that he wouldn’t be too embarrassed to wear in public. He took the swimsuits into the changing room, quickly, before he met somebody he knew.

After checking the door of the changing room three times to make sure nobody could get in, he took everything off except his underpants and, standing before the mirror, began trying the swimsuits on. A yellow plaid was pleasing to the eye, but it made him look like a clown. A light-blue would have been acceptable but, when he saw it was slightly transparent, he ripped it off. A white one that hung down almost to his knees made him look like an old man and, anyway, white would show stains. He finally settled on a red one, not too tight and not too baggy, that he could see himself wearing in front of his whole class. It only made him look slightly ridiculous, instead of completely ridiculous. Well, he reasoned, he wouldn’t look any worse than a lot of other people.

When he got back home from his successful shopping trip, he felt emboldened to call Joyce Mahoney and tell her he was wrong about the day of his abdominal surgery and would be happy after all to attend the pool party.

Joyce answered on the first ring.

“Hello?” Gideon said. “Is that you, Joyce?”

“Yes, it is. Who is this?”

“This is Gideon.”

“Gideon who?”

“Sayers.”

“Do I know you?”

“From school?”

“Um, I don’t seem to remember you. Can you describe yourself?”

“Look, Joyce, I know why you’re doing this.”

“Doing what?”

”Pretending not to know me.”

“I’m terribly busy,” she said. “I’m going to have to hang up now.”

“I just wanted to ask you a question.”

“What is it?”

“It’s about your pool party.”

“What about it?”

“I was wondering if it would be all right if I change my mind and accept your invitation after all.”

There was a silence on the line, making Gideon wonder if she had hung up.

“What did you say your name is?” Joyce asked.

“Gideon Sayers.”

“Do I know you?”

“I’m in your class at school.”

“I don’t want to be mean, Glenn, but your name wasn’t on the invitation list.”

“It’s Gideon. Not Glenn.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but I don’t know who you are.”

“You just called me yesterday and invited me to your party!”

“Are you sure it was me?”

“Of course it was you! Don’t you remember talking to me?”

“No, I don’t! It must have been somebody playing a trick on you.”

“It’s all right, Joyce. I know what you’re doing. Just forget I called.”

“I have to go now,” Joyce said. “It was lovely speaking with you.”

After his phone conversation with Joyce had ended, he went upstairs to his room and closed the door and locked it, even though he was alone in the house. He took off all his clothes and took the red swimsuit out of the bag and pulled it on, up his legs and over his thin thighs. After tugging the swimsuit into place, he turned and looked at himself in the full-length mirror.

It was worse even than he thought. He looked like a hairless monkey, all joints and angles, his skin as white as paste. He was meant to always be clothed. He looked so ridiculous that he couldn’t keep from cringing.

“I can’t let anybody see me like this!” he said.

He took the scissors and cut the red swimsuit into strips, relieved he would never have to wear it where anybody could see him. And after he was finished, he left the strips of red material on the floor around his bed to remind himself just how close he had come to making a complete fool of himself.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp