RSS Feed

Tag Archives: fiction

Never Mix, Never Worry (I Was Dancing and I Was Ridiculous)

Posted on

Never Mix, Never Worry (I Was Dancing and I Was Ridiculous)

They were out all night and didn’t get home until after dawn. Honey was sick from too much to drink and went right to bed. Nick slept on the couch in the living room, slept the morning away and didn’t wake up until the middle of the afternoon. Upon awaking, he had a terrible headache that he hadn’t been aware of while he slept. He wasn’t sure if his body was going to allow him to get up, but after a while he pulled himself to a standing position, head reeling, and went into the kitchen.

Honey was sitting at the table reading a book. She had a cup of tea beside her; she always said tea with lemon settled her stomach. When Nick came into the room, she didn’t look at him but concentrated very hard on the printed page.

“Hello, Honey,” Nick said, going up behind her and putting his hands on her shoulders close to her neck. She flinched and leaned forward until he removed his hands.

“What a night!” he said with a little laugh. “I feel like eating something but when I think about what I might eat I think I’m going to puke.”

She marked her place in the book, closed it and laid it aside. “Do you want me to cook some eggs?” she asked.

Nick groaned. “I can’t stand the thought of eggs.” He went to the refrigerator and opened the door. “Don’t we have any bacon?”

“I haven’t been to the market yet. I was planning on going today but I don’t think I’m up to it.

He poured himself a glass of orange juice and sat down at the table across from her. “Can somebody please tell me what happened last night?” he said.

“You haven’t asked me how I feel,” she said.

“How do you feel?”

“Lousy. I feel lousy.”

“Were you able to stop the vomiting?” He ran his hand over his face as if trying to pull it into shape.

“Yes, a person can only vomit so much. I’ve stopped for now, but I don’t dare eat anything. I think it’s going to take several days for me to feel right again.”

“Do you want me to fix you some toast? Do we even have any bread?”

“No, if I eat anything, I’ll vomit again.”

“All right.”

“We need to talk about last night,” she said.

“Not now, Honey,” he said. “I don’t feel like a serious discussion at the moment. And, anyway, I think the least that’s said about last night, the better.”

“Better for you, you mean,” she said.

“I’m going to take a bath,” he said, standing up. “If you feel better later, we’ll go out and get some chicken or something.”

“Maybe I need to talk now!” she said in a too-loud voice.

“What about, Honey?”

“I humiliated myself last night.”

“No, you didn’t. You didn’t do anything the rest of us didn’t do.”

“I was dancing and I was ridiculous.”

“We were all dancing. It was all in good fun.”

“Then why do I feel so humiliated today?”

“You’re tired and you’re overly sensitive.”

“Don’t talk down to me!”

“I’m not!”

“I’m humiliated. I drank bourbon and scotch. Not together, but one after the other.”

“That isn’t anything to be humiliated about. We were all drinking. It was a drinking party.”

“Yes, but you know my one steadfast rule is ‘never mix, never worry’. Well, I mixed and I’m paying the price.”

“Honey, nobody’s perfect,” he said. “We all have little lapses.”

“Stop treating me as if I were a child!”

“Why don’t you go back to bed? You can stay there all day and I’ll wait on you. How will that be? If there’s anything you’d like to have to eat, I’ll go and buy it.”

“The faculty party was bad enough, but after that was over we couldn’t just go home and go to bed and quit while we were ahead the way any two normal people would. No, we had to go to an after-party party.”

“Yeah, I admit it was a mistake,” he said, “and I wish we had never gone.”

“Then why did we?”

“She’s the daughter of the president of the college and he’s a senior professor in the English department.”

“The history department.”

“It never hurts to cozy up to the entrenched people. They’ve both been around a very long time.”

“You’re thinking of your career, of course.”

“Well, one does what one can to get ahead.”

“Just once I wish you would give the same consideration to me that you give your career.”

“Honey, that’s absurd,” he said. “There’s no comparison.”

“Well, I’m glad you admit it!”

“That isn’t what I meant!”

“A night like last night causes me to question my entire existence.”

“What do you mean?”

“Are we going to spend our lives hobnobbing with disgusting people just so you can get ahead in your career?”

“No!”

“Because I’m telling you, Nick, I don’t want to live that way.”

“It was just one party.”

“You can find out a lot from one party.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“If those people, that George and his wife Martha, are representative of the life in this college, then I don’t want any part of it. The way they tear each other apart is indecent. And when they’re finished attacking each other they go after whoever happens to be present at the moment. Just being in their presence makes you feel degraded.”

“You’ve been reading too many books.”

“Did you know he called me ‘angel boobs’?”

He laughed. “Yeah, I think I heard that,” he said.

“And ‘monkey nipples’.”

“He really called you ‘monkey nipples’? I didn’t hear that. When did he call you that?”

“When you were doing your provocative dance with that horrible woman.”

“He was teasing you! It was all in good fun.”

“How can you stand by and do nothing when a strange man calls your wife filthy names?”

She began to cry. He sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulder. “You take things too seriously, Honey.”

“How would you like it if he called you those names?”

“I think I might have punched him in the nose!”

“But it’s all right when it’s me?”

“That’s not what I meant!”

“I can never face those two again,” she said. “I vomited all over their bathroom. It was as if they saw me without my clothes.”

“You were just being human, Honey. It happens to the best of us.”

“How can we live here and you teach here when I feel so uncomfortable?”

“It’s just something you’re going to have to get over.”

“I don’t think I can. I want you to start looking for another position right away. If not today, then tomorrow.”

“But, Honey, we just got here! Do you know how hard it was for me to get this job?”

“I don’t care! If you have as much regard for me as you do for your career, we’ll leave right away!”

“Honey, that’s so unreasonable! You can’t be serious!”

“I have never been more serious in my life.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We’re here and we’re going to stay.” He picked her book up off the table and threw it hard against the far wall.

“I can always leave on my own,” she said. “I don’t necessarily need you.”

“Fine. Go home to your mother. Tell her what a mistake it was to marry me.”

“I want to know what happened between you and that woman, that Martha, while I was passed out.”

“Nothing happened! What do you mean?”

“I’m not as stupid as you obviously think I am. I heard them talking about it afterwards.”

“Heard who talking?”

“George and Martha. They thought I was still passed out, but I was just lying there, fully awake, with my eyes closed. I heard the words stud and houseboy. They were talking about you! Were you a stud or were you a houseboy?”

“I didn’t hear any such thing, so I don’t know what you mean.”

“How are you going to face them again?”

“I don’t think I’ll see them again until the next faculty party and that probably won’t be for several months. Everything that happened last night will be forgotten by then.”

“Well, I can tell you right now I’m not going to any more faculty parties.”

“What do I say when people ask me where my wife is? She’s too squeamish for university life? She throws up a lot and can’t stand to be teased a little bit?”

“I don’t care what you tell people. It’s your career, not mine.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m going away tonight.”

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know yet. I’ll think of something.” She got up from the table and went into the bedroom and closed the door.

“I’m hungry,” he said to himself. “I’m going to see what I can find to eat.”

He knew Honey would never leave him, but if they were ever going to settle in to university life, she was going to have to grow up. At twenty-six, she was still a child in so many ways. She needed to see the world as it really is. Yes, it’s ugly and sordid but people do what they must do to survive, to get along. You can’t teach in a university and not play the games that everybody plays. People expect you to play. They want you to be like them. If you’re not, you’ll never be accepted.

A little bit of humoring would bring Honey around. It wasn’t going to be a problem. He’d finesse his way through, just as he finessed his way through everything else. He’d buy her a new coat or a piece of jewelry and everything would be fine. She needed to get out more and meet more people. If she happened to meet a nice fellow, maybe a young athlete, who wanted to take her to bed, so much the better. Nick would encourage it. Casual infidelity was all part of the game. The sooner she realized it, the better off she’d be.

As he took the mayonnaise and pickles out of the refrigerator, he thought about Martha and felt a little stirring. He wondered what she was wearing; if she wasn’t out of bed yet, maybe nothing. He looked at the phone on the wall and wished he could call her. If he was sure George was out of the house at the moment, he’d risk it. He wanted to tell her how much he enjoyed his time with her; he hoped they’d have a chance to do it again very soon. In the morning or the afternoon, during a free hour between classes. One hour with her in own her bed with George away would be most enjoyable.

He was a stud and not a houseboy. Martha knew he was a stud. Everybody knew it. The only person who didn’t seem to realize it was his own wife. He was twenty-nine and attractive to woman. He would still be attractive to women twenty years from now, maybe thirty. It was a tremendous asset in a university, especially with a lonely, frustrated woman like Martha whose husband was a bit of a misfire. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was the daughter of the president of the university. She wielded a certain amount of influence. One good word from her might go a long way.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Advertisements

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Posted on

Welcome to the Neighborhood ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

A moving van pulled up at the house across the street and three bear-like men got out and began unloading furniture. A late-model red car pulled into the driveway from which four people emerged: a lanky boy and a man from the front and a girl and a woman from the back. The man had a big stomach and a balding head and was slightly bent over. The girl looked like a younger version of the woman; they were obviously mother and daughter.

“Looks like a girl about my age,” Stephanie said. “She’s fat and is she ever ugly! I’ll bet she has her driver’s license, though, and probably her own car.”

“Not if she’s ugly,” Zane said from the sofa without looking up. He was reading a story in True Romance magazine about a woman with four husbands at the same time.

“Ugly people have cars.”

“If they’re ugly, they don’t need cars. They don’t have any place to go.”

“I know lots of ugly people with cars.”

“You’d better quit spying on the neighbors. They’re going to see you and know you’re insane.”

“You ought to see this old couch they’ve got. It looks like it’s about a hundred years old. If it was mine, I’d set it out in the yard and douse it with kerosene and strike a match to it.”

“Maybe they’re just waiting for the right moment to do that very thing.”

“And there’s a big glass thing that looks like a fish tank. I always wanted a fish tank.”

“Why don’t you go over there and ask them if they’ll give it to you?”

“If they can afford a fish tank, that must mean they have lots of money and if they have lots of money that girl must have her own car. I wonder what her name is. She sure is ugly. I’m sure she’d have an ugly-girl name like Agnes or Clarabelle.”

“If she saw you, she’d think you’re ugly, too.”

“Oh, look at this! They’ve got a big thing that looks like a sun lamp and a huge dining room table and one, two, three, four, five, six chairs that go with it. They must have a lot of people over for dinner if they need six dining room chairs.”

“Who cares?”

“Now here comes a dresser with a big round mirror and a bed and some mattresses and a chest of drawers and—wait a minute!—here’s another bed and some more mattresses. The mattresses look brand new. They haven’t been peed on yet. Now they’re bringing out a couple of big upholstered chairs and some more boxes and—oh, my gosh!—here’s another bed and another set of mattresses. How many beds do they have, anyway?”

“Your interest in their beds is disturbing.”

“Now, what do you suppose that thing is? It looks like a big square washing machine.”

“Why do you care what it is?”

“I have natural curiosity. I want to know what’s going on around me. Oh, wait a minute! The girl is standing on the sidewalk looking up at the roof with her hands on her hips. She just pulled her underpants out of her crack. That’s the kind of thing people do when they think nobody’s looking at them. Come and take a look!”

“I don’t care about seeing an ugly girl with crack problems,” Zane said, but he put the magazine aside and stood up from the sofa and went over to the window. “This better be good,” he said as he reached for the binoculars.

“She’s ugly all right,” he said. “Her hair looks like the nest of a scavenger bird.”

“What did I tell you? Wait until she turns around and you get a look at her face.”

“She’s turning around now and she’s saying something to one of the moving men. She’s telling him where to put some boxes. I can almost read her lips because her mouth is so big.”

“What are you talking about?” She snatched the binoculars back from him. “That’s not the girl, you goof! That’s the mother! Oh, wait a minute! Here’s the girl now, just coming out of the house.”

“Oh,” he said. “The mother and the daughter look just alike. They’re both ugly.”

“Well, the mother is about fifty years old and has on a ton of makeup and the girl is about my age. That’s how you tell them apart.”

“What do I care how to tell them apart? Maybe I just want to ignore them and mind my own business.”

“I think we should go over there and welcome them to the neighborhood. That’s what you’re supposed to do when somebody new moves in.”

“Not me!”

“You won’t go with me?”

“No.”

“I might just have to tell mother about the collection of questionable magazines hidden in your room.”

“I don’t have any magazines in my room.”

“Don’t you know there isn’t anything that goes on in this house that I don’t know about?”

“I think you should mind your own damn business and stop snooping around!”

“So you will admit that you have magazines hidden in your room?”

“I admit nothing.”

“Just the suggestion of those magazines in the house would probably kill mother. You know she’s not a well woman.”

“Could we please talk about something else, or not talk at all?”

“Then you’ll go with me?”

“I’ll go because you’re a sick person who needs help, not because I have any magazines in my room.”

Stephanie put on grandma’s widow’s hat with black feathers. The veil resembled a mosquito net that went down past her chin. She got her baton out of the closet and held it in the crook of her arm, ready to twirl. Zane put on his steampunk goggles and his Trader Horn pith helmet. Arm in arm, they went out to the front yard.

The woman and the girl were taking boxes out of the back of the red car and didn’t look up when Stephanie and Zane appeared. The moving men were moving something heavy out of the back of the van, keeping up a steady patter of invective.

“They look busy,” Zane said. “Maybe we’d better wait and go over later when they’re finished moving.”

“I know how to get them to notice me,” Stephanie said. She began marching up and down in front of the house like a soldier on sentry duty with the baton as her gun. She marched so strenuously she became winded.

When they still didn’t pay any attention to her, she went into her drum majorette routine. She had tried out for drum majorette two years earlier and, even though she had failed to be chosen, she still knew all the moves. She kicked her left leg as high as her head, and then her right leg. She threw the twirling baton six feet into the air and caught it with the tips of her fingers.

“I saw a woman doing this on TV with both ends of the baton flaming,” she said. “She was blindfolded, but she never burned her hands. I’d like to try that sometime.”

While Stephanie was twirling frenetically, Zane began doing experimental cartwheels on the grass. His pith helmet fell off every time, so he began doing them much faster. When he was able to do a cartwheel and not have the helmet fall off, he congratulated himself effusively.

The baton twirling and the cartwheels still garnered no attention from the people across the street, as they continued to be absorbed in the business of moving furniture, boxes and barrel-like cartons into the house.

“Am I going to set off an explosion to get them to notice me?” Stephanie said. She threw the baton down and began walking on her hands on the sidewalk and then up the steps of the porch and down again, all the time maintaining her superb balance.

Zane left off doing cartwheels and began walking on his hands too, but he wasn’t as accomplished a hand-walker as Stephanie. When he tried going up the steps to the porch, his arms weakened and he fell on his head.

“You’ll never be able to do that,” Stephanie said. “There are some things I’m just naturally better at than you.”

“I could do it with more practice,” he said.

“This isn’t working,” Stephanie said. “They haven’t looked over here a single time. I think I should sing a showtune.”

“Please don’t do that!”

“How about ‘Seventy-Six Trombones’?”

“No, I hate that song!”

“I know! I’m going to get grandpa’s wheelchair out of the basement.”

It was in a corner underneath some old clothes and a box of fur pieces and hats. Stephanie pushed everything out of the way and rolled the chair to the door and out into the yard.

They took turns riding the wheelchair down the slope of the yard toward the street, stopping just short of the sidewalk. The chair didn’t move very well on the grass, so Stephanie sat in the chair and Zane got behind and pushed.

On one run, he pushed a little too hard and the chair didn’t stop at the sidewalk but kept on going and jumped the curb and went out into the street, out of Stephanie’s control. She put her hands on the wheels to try to stop them but she was going too fast.

Up the hill, half a block away, Milton Sills the midget was working on his old Cadillac in front of his house. He was lying on his back and as he was coming out from underneath, he accidentally kicked the jack loose that was holding up the front end of the car. It began rolling backwards down the hill at about fifteen miles an hour.

Stephanie saw the Cadillac coming toward her but couldn’t stop the chair. She tried dragging her feet but there was nothing she could do; she was going too fast. She screamed and closed her eyes and threw her arms up over her head.

The wheelchair grazed off the rear bumper of the Cadillac and kept going. The Cadillac continued down the hill until it came to rest against a tree in the yard of an old woman who wore a white pageboy wig named Mrs. Nesbitt.

After the wheelchair turned over on its side, Stephanie was half in and half out of it. She had hit her head on the pavement and felt dizzy from it. She was bleeding and when she tried to stand her legs wouldn’t hold her. She was certain the people across the street would have seen what happened to her, but they had all gone inside and hadn’t seen a thing.

She had two broken ribs, a concussion and a fractured wrist. She spent five hours in the emergency room at the hospital waiting to get fixed up. She liked the cast on her wrist and the bandage they put on her head; it looked like she had been in a war. She hoped she would still be wearing them when school took up again.

When mother found out about the incident with the wheelchair, she called Stephanie a dangerous fool. She ought to be ashamed of herself (mother said) for dishonoring grandpa’s memory by using his wheelchair as a toy. She was confined to the house for the rest of the summer. It was a setback to her mad desire to get her driver’s license and drive wherever she wanted to go.

After a few days, the headaches lessened and she was able to come out of her room. She sat in the living room with the TV on, looking out the window at the house across the street. She hoped the fat girl would come out into the yard and she could go over and get acquainted with her, but she only caught a brief glimpse of her one time.

One day when mother went shopping, Stephanie went to visit her friend Claudia Beasley down the street. Claudia was two years older than Stephanie and a notorious gossip. If there was anything to known about new people in the neighborhood, Claudia would know it.

They shared a cigarette. Claudia had heard about Stephanie’s accident and wanted to hear all the details. Finally, Stephanie steered the conversation around to the fat girl and her family.

“Oh, them!” Claudia said. “They’re weird.”

“Why are they weird?”

“Have you seen that fat girl?”

“Yeah.”

“Her name is Veda Ann. She’s only fourteen.”

“I thought she was older.”

“Have you seen her up close? She looks like a middle-aged woman. That’s because she’s not right.”

“Not right how?”

“She’s…you know.”

“No, I don’t.”

“She won’t be going to our school.”

“Why not?”

“You know that retarded bus that stops down at the corner?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s the bus she’ll be taking.”

“Oh!”

“And that old man?”

“Yeah?”

“He’s her father. He won’t hardly let her get out of the house. He’s afraid somebody will try to kidnap her.”

“Why would anybody want to do that?”

“Well, you never know about people. There are men who like retarded girls.”

“Is that woman her mother?”

“No, that’s her older sister.”

“Who’s that skinny boy?”

Claudia laughed and reached for another cigarette. “That’s not a boy, silly! That’s a woman. She’s a special friend of the older sister. They’re…you know.”

“No, I don’t.”

“An old man, two lesbians and a retarded girl living together in the same house. That’s why they’re weird.”

“And to think I was almost killed trying to get them to notice me.”

As Stephanie was leaving, Claudia invited her to a dance at the armory, but Stephanie was sure mother wouldn’t let her go. There was no point in even asking.

When Stephanie got back home, mother had just returned from the store and was carrying in the groceries. Stephanie hurried into the house and went to her room and closed the door before mother saw her and had a chance to smell the cigarettes she had been smoking.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

A Head of Its Time

Posted on


A Head of Its Time ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in Death’s Head Grin.)

Frankie Zell was not accustomed to the fast life. She grew up on a farm, where she lived plainly and simply with her mother, father and two brothers. Painfully shy and stick-thin, she was never pretty or attractive in the way other girls thought themselves and in fact she never gave much thought at all to the way she looked.

In her late teens, though, Frankie began to change. She lost her adolescent awkwardness; she became rounded in the places where she had always been angular. She developed flawless, pale skin and a head of lustrous, chestnut-colored hair. She turned into the beauty she was always meant to be, like the lowly caterpillar turning into the ravishing butterfly.

She began to attract the attention of young boys and older boys into manhood, some of them as old as forty or fifty years. When she would go into town on a shopping trip or to pay the light bill or see the dentist, people would stop what they were doing and look at her because they weren’t used to see so pretty a girl on the streets of such a dreary town. Some more astute observers said she ought to go to Hollywood and try out for the movies. She was as pretty as Rita Hayworth or Ava Gardner or any of those others.

Through a friend she became acquainted with a boy named Angus Persons who lived with his parents in the best neighborhood in town, where the finest homes were. His father was president of the bank and raised horses on a ranch he owned. Angus was the same age as Frankie and planned to be an attorney and one day go into politics. With his good looks and family connections, he would go far. He might one day be governor of the state or a senator in Washington. Frankie would be just the right kind of wife for him. They planned an elaborate June wedding to which everybody in town was invited.

Angus and Frankie indeed made a handsome couple. When they drove around town in Angus’s beautiful convertible sports car, they were like something out of a dream. People who saw them were admiring, envious, or maybe even a little bit jealous.

Frankie had never driven a car before but Angus taught her to drive. When he was busy working or at school and didn’t have time to spend with her, he let her drive his car as if it were her own. She enjoyed driving on the hilly, curvy country roads between the farm she lived on and the town where Angus lived. She liked nothing better than letting the top down on the car and driving as fast as she could and letting the wind blow her hair. She discovered that fast driving exhilarated her and made her feel free in a way that nothing else did.

On a brilliant May morning one month before Frankie and Angus were to be married, Frankie was driving in the hills and valleys she had known all her life. Bathed in the fresh morning sunlight as it was, the landscape was as beautiful as anything she had ever seen. Past fences and farms, horses and cows, and the occasional scenic barn or grain silo, she drove with abandon around curves and up hill and down dale. Her car—or rather Angus’s—was the only car on the road.

At one long downward hill with a sharp curve that wrapped around a scenic promontory of rock, signs warned prudent drivers to drive slowly and carefully. The treacherous curve could be difficult to negotiate even for the most experienced of drivers.

When Frankie Heywood came to the hill, she ignored the signs. She had driven the hill many times before and didn’t fear it. She sped up to experience once again the thrilling downward whoosh and the tension on the wheel as she struggled to keep the little car on the road.

In the middle of the curve, with her downward momentum and her accelerated speed, she lost control of the car as if an invisible hand had reached out and pulled the steering wheel sharply to the right. In the blink of an eye, the car left the road, became airborne, and sailed out over the tops of the trees. In her final seconds, Frankie had the time-stands-still sensation of being suspended above the earth—breathless and in defiance of the laws of gravity.

When she failed to appear for her luncheon date with Angus in town, he became alarmed and started calling all the places she might be, but nobody had seen her. He called her home and Frankie’s mother told him not to worry, that Frankie was probably enjoying herself too much—wherever she was—to be aware of the time. Deep down, though, Frankie’s mother believed that something bad had happened to Frankie.

The next day, when nobody still had not seen or heard from Frankie, her mother called the police and filed a missing person’s report. The police questioned Frankie’s mother and father and brothers extensively about Frankie’s habits and associations, but none of them were able to tell them anything that helped in finding her.

The police began an extensive search for Frankie between her home and the town. They theorized that she was living a secret life and had run away from home or that she had been abducted by a person or persons unknown. If they were able to find the car she had been driving, that at least might give them some clues.

Two days later a young police officer found a hubcap in the underbrush near the dangerous curve. Angus recognized the hubcap as belonging to his car. From this clue they were able to piece together what had happened to Frankie on the day she disappeared.

When they found the sports car a quarter of a mile or so from the road, concealed in the trees, Frankie’s body was in it. Her head had been sheared off at the shoulders, neatly and cleanly, as with a sharp blade.

Logic dictated that Frankie’s head would be not far from her body, but when police searched the surrounding area (and much farther away), they were never able to find any sign of the head. After a few days they gave up the search, telling Frankie’s mother and father that the head must have been carried off by wolves or some other wild animals. It was still possible, though, that the head would be found and, if so, whoever found it would be sure to report it to the police. Finding a head by itself was not that common an occurrence.

As distraught as Frankie’s mother was at having lost her only daughter, she was even more distraught at the idea of Frankie having to go to her grave without her head.

Frankie’s mother took an old china vase she had had for a long time that was roughly equivalent to the size and shape of a human head. On the front of the vase was painted a bouquet of flowers, but on the back was nothing, so on the back of this vase she painted a semblance of Frankie’s features using the watercolor paints that Frankie sometimes worked with. (Handles on the sides of the vase were a good approximation of human ears.)

When she was finished painting a fairly credible approximation of Frankie’s face on the vase, she put Frankie’s wig on it and then took it to the funeral parlor and asked the undertaker if he would put the vase where Frankie’s head should be. The undertaker was happy to comply, knowing that grief sometimes causes people to make unusual requests.

At the funeral-home visitation, people were surprised to see a painted vase in place of a real head, but most agreed the vase was less jarring than no head at all. The undertaker artfully arranged the collar of Frankie’s dress around the neck of the vase so that the vase did indeed look like a part of her body. He draped a veil across the open lid of the coffin to soften the effect, as he frequently did with the bodies of accident victims.

The entire town turned out for Frankie’s funeral, as they would have turned out for her wedding. Angus Persons, looking solemn and more handsome than ever, was impeccably dressed in a dark-blue suit and dark glasses that hid his eyes. Several young women, friends of Frankie’s who considered themselves fully capable of stepping into Frankie’s shoes, kept their eyes on Angus in the hope that he would look their way. Which one among them wouldn’t jump at the chance to marry the future governor?

Frankie’s head was never found. According to local legend, her ghost was said to walk along the highway at night near the dangerous curve, looking for her head. She wanted to find her head, the legend went, so she could stick it back on her body and go through with her wedding to Angus Persons. Every year at Halloween, different variations on the headless bride theme appeared at parties and on the streets of the town.

As for Frankie’s head, the truth was quite simple, as the truth often is. Not long after her head was separated from her body, a buzzard spotted her head lying in the brush about fifty feet from the wrecked car. It swooped down and picked up the head (by the hair) in its talons and flew away. Carrying its gruesome cargo, the buzzard was flying back to its lair (or wherever buzzards go when nobody sees them) when the weight of the head became too much and the buzzard dropped the head quite without meaning to.

The head landed in a tree, on a natural shelf formed by the convergence of several large branches thirty feet off the ground. The head was perfectly upright and lodged in such a way in the top of the tree that no amount of wind and weather would ever shake it loose. As long as the tree remained upright, the head would stay where it was and nobody would ever see it.

Crows pecked at the eyes until there was nothing left. Birds used the hair for their nests. Insects and other birds ate away at the flesh, tissue, and brain until, over time, the head was only a skull.

Several generations of chipmunks used the empty skull as their home. When the chipmunks moved on, as they inevitably do, the skull became a sanctuary for small birds, with one eye socket serving as a way into the skull and the other as a way out. As you see, nature always finds its own way to make use of things.

Copyright 2018 by Allen Kopp

The Doctor Dispenses Drugs from His Office

Posted on

The Doctor Dispenses Drugs from His Office ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Verna Shelton’s husband was long gone. The only thing she had to remember him by was a son, Cullen, and a daughter, Corinne. The three of them—Verna, Cullen and Corinne—lived in a small frame house in a seedy neighborhood on the edge of town near the railroad tracks. Verna had a job as office assistant for an osteopathic doctor, Dr. Bunch, on the upper floor of an old building across from the county courthouse. All day long she answered phones and coordinated a steady stream of people in and out of the doctor’s two examining rooms.

As a single mother, Verna did the best she could but she sometimes she felt she wasn’t equal to the task. The problems were unrelenting. One day it was a fever and a sick stomach and then the next day a chipped tooth, a new pair of shoes, a note from the teacher demanding money, or an injured ankle that needed to be x-rayed. The money she made never went far enough.

Her personal life was no more rewarding than her professional one. She was lonely, she wanted a companion, a mate, but she had an abysmal record with the unfathomable (to her) male of the species. To make it through her difficult days, she took handfuls of tranquilizers that kindly old Dr. Bunch provided to her free of charge and without a prescription. She frequently augmented the pills with wine, beer or whiskey straight out of the bottle.

And then Cary Mulvihill drifted into town from parts unknown. He was thirty-one years old, trim-waisted, dark-haired, blue-eyed, angel-faced. As soon as Verna saw him, her heart skipped a beat and she knew she was gone. He seemed equally taken with her. He asked her out on a date and, when that went well, he asked her out again and again.

All at once she developed a new outlook on life. She woke up in the morning with a smile on her face that lasted all day long, even through the most difficult days of car troubles, payments in arrears, and three-day measles. The number-one thought in her mind was when she was going to see him again. She was—dare she even speak the words?—in love.

He had a room in a hotel outside of town, causing her to think he wouldn’t be around long. When she asked him what his business was and what he did for a living, he told her he was a writer, traveling around gathering research for a book. When she asked him what the book was about, he told her she’d find out but not until it was published and sold in bookstores everywhere.

Unlike other men of her acquaintance, Cary was always a gentlemen. He held doors for her, helped her with her wrap, lighted her cigarettes. When they were alone, he never behaved inappropriately. Not only was he good-looking, he was smart and cultured; he knew about good food, good music, foreign films, books and paintings. He was a good dancer, fond of animals and children, and spoke lovingly of his mother. He was all the things she might have hoped for in a man and never expected to find.

One Friday at the end of October, he picked her up at Dr. Bunch’s office at the end of the day. With a headache, cough and sore throat, she was out of sorts and not feeling at all well.  How can you work in a doctor’s office with people coming and going all the time and not catch whatever is going around?

Cary was sympathetic. He smiled at her and put his arm around her and drew her close in the car. “I have just the thing that will make you feel better,” he said.

He reached into the back seat and brought forth a little leather case. He opened it and took out a syringe and a little bottle of liquid.

“What is that?” she asked.

“Trust me,” he said. “It’s just the thing you need for what ails you.”

She didn’t think to resist but rolled up her sleeve dutifully. He found her vein easily enough. It was over in a few seconds.

“You surprise me,” she said. “Are you a doctor?”

“Of course not,” he said, “but I’ve done this a lot.”

They went on to dinner and the injection, whatever it was, made her feel wonderful. She reveled in the food, the music, the dancing and the wine. The feeling of well-being lasted all through the evening. When Cary took her home at two in the morning, she believed she had just passed the most best evening of her life. She awoke in the morning happy, certain the happiness would last forever.

There were other injections, of course, any time motherhood was getting her down, a tooth was bothering her, it was her time of the month, or Dr. Bunch put extra work on her. And the injections always cast their magic spell. Whenever she asked him what the injections were that made her feel so good, he smiled and told her she asked too many questions. She came to see the injections as part of the wonderment of Cary Mulvihill, unexpected and delightful.

She had every reason to believe that Cary would ask her to become his wife. She invited him for a special dinner that she cooked herself so that he might see her domestic side. Cullen and Corinne loved him, as she knew they would, and he had a special way with them. He brought Corinne a stuffed elephant and Cullen a telescope.

It was all too wonderful! She had met the man of her dreams and he was going to rescue her from her dreary life. Cullen and Corinne would at last have the father they deserved and advantages in life they wouldn’t ordinarily have: travel, good schools, a promising future. Their names would appear in the society columns.

Finally Cary asked Verna to spend the night with him in his hotel room. She knew it was coming and was thrilled beyond measure. She saw it as the prelude to marriage. She arranged for a teenage sitter to stay overnight with Cullen and Corinne, packed an overnight bag, and waited out front for Cary to pick her up. She had bought all new underwear and sleepwear so he wouldn’t see her shabby stuff.

First they had a wonderful dinner, where they laughed and danced and relaxed. When she thought about what was to come later in his hotel room, her heart pounded with excitement. It was all so romantic!

After dinner, they went for a drive through town. Cary stopped his car on the street in front of Dr. Bunch’s office.

“I though it’d be fun to see where you spend your days,” he said.

“It’s not very exciting, I’m afraid.”

“Please.”

She took the keys out of her purse and unlocked the downstairs door and they went up the stairs in the dark, laughing and holding hands.

“Better not turn on too many lights,” she said, slurring her words.

When they were in the doctor’s office, he grabbed her and kissed her in the dark. She giggled, pushed away from him and turned on the lights.

“This is it,” she said.

He looked around admiringly. “I like being in a daytime place at night after everybody has gone home, don’t you?”

He wanted to see the examining rooms where the doctor saw patients. She took him into one and then the other. There was the table, cabinets, a sink, two chairs, a small, heavily curtained window.

“I’m impressed,” he said.

“We should go,” she said. “If the night watchman sees the lights, he’ll wonder what’s going on.”

“I want to see where the drugs are kept,” Cary said.

“What?”

“Didn’t you say the doctor dispenses drugs from a large closet.”

“Oh, yes. It isn’t much to see. Just shelves of stuff.”

She opened the door to the drug closet and turned on the light. Cary whistled. “That is a lot of drugs,” he said.

“Three-quarters of a million dollars worth,” she said. “That’s why we keep the door locked at all times.”

“I like it,” he said. “I like the whole layout. I’d like anyplace where you worked.”

When at last they were in his hotel room, he ordered a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice, just like in the movies. They sat on the couch, drinking the champagne, talking in throaty voices. She nestled closer to him, took his arm and draped it around her shoulders. He kissed her and she purred like a kitten.

“Would you like an injection?” he asked after a while.

“Everything is perfect already,” she said. “I don’t know how it could be any better.”

“It will release you from your inhibitions.”

He gave her the injection and, as she was starting to feel it, he picked her up in his strong arms and carried her over to the bed and laid her on it.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I just want you to be comfortable,” he said.

“What about you?”

“Just rest. Everything will be fine.”

When she awoke, it was daylight. Fully clothed, she lay in the same position on the bed where Cary Mulvihill had placed her. She gasped and sat up, not at all sure of what had happened.

He left her a note that read: Please be out of the room by noon. I’m leaving you money for cab fare.

When she saw a hundred-dollar bill sticking out of the top of her purse, she knew he was gone. Gone and not coming back. She ran into the bathroom and heaved up the contents of her stomach.

Cary Mulvihill—with help from compatriots, of course—took Verna’s keys and cleaned out the drug closet in Dr. Bunch’s office in the early hours of the morning while the night watchman was napping. Three-quarters of a million dollars worth of drugs.

When Dr. Bunch arrived to open the office, he saw what had happened. Verna’s not showing up for work at the usual hour aroused his suspicions. He called her at home and when he didn’t get her he called the police. They were waiting for her as she got out of the cab in front of her house.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Say Your Goodbyes

Posted on


Say Your Goodbyes ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Isolde was born on the first day of the twentieth century. Seventeen scant years later, in 1917, she was about to have a baby of her own. Don’t think she wasn’t married, though. She had a husband—his name was George Coyle—but he got into some trouble and had to go into hiding to keep from going to jail. He told Isolde he’d send for her and the baby later, as soon as the trouble cleared up. She didn’t doubt him.

She was sick a lot and having trouble with the baby. Some days she couldn’t keep anything down and could hardly get out of bed. The only one she had to help her now was Roland, her younger brother. There was no doctor, only Miss Settles. Roland would have to run and get her when the time came.

The thought of the baby scared Roland. He knew he’d have to help with it after it was born and he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know why people had to have babies. They were just a lot of bother and having them caused pain. He’d never have any as long as he lived.

“I might go away too, like daddy,” he said one day when he was tired of having only Isolde to talk to.

“Where would you go?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I’d go someplace and find me a job, I guess.”

“You’re still a child. You have to stay here until daddy and mama come back home.”

“I don’t think mama’s ever coming back,” he said.

“You don’t know that. She just might turn up any day now.”

“Daddy says she’ll never be right again. If he thought she’d come home, he wouldn’t have gone off with that woman.”

“I just wonder where daddy is now,” she said.

“He might be dead for all we know.”

“He must be having a really good time with that woman, or he would at least write us a letter.”

“Maybe he’ll marry her and bring her back here and she’ll be our stepmother.”

“He couldn’t marry her as long as mama’s still alive.”

“Why not?”

“A man can only have one wife at a time, silly. It’s the law. If he married another woman while mama’s still alive, it’s bigamy and they’d come and put him in jail.”

“Oh.”

“He could live with her, though, and not marry her. Then it’s called ‘common law’.”

“How do you know so much about it?”

“Everybody knows that, silly.”

“Wherever George is, maybe that’s where daddy is, too.”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Unless they just happened to meet up somewheres.”

“If daddy and George meet up, then daddy will know George isn’t here to look after things and he’ll come home real soon because he’ll know we don’t have any money.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Try not to think about it so much.”

“I wish I had never been born.”

“Everybody wishes that.”

The money jar on the top shelf in the kitchen was almost empty. When they started out, it was nearly full. It’s true there had been a lot of pennies in it, but there were also quarters, half-dollars and dollars. Since George left, it’s what they had been using to buy the stuff they needed from Devine’s grocery. Now that the money was almost gone, he hated looking at the jar and he didn’t talk about it to Isolde because she was so taken up with worry about the baby.

That night he dreamed Isolde told him to go out and find George and bring him back. While he was walking along the lane to town, he saw mama coming toward him, wearing a big hat with feathers and a long black dress. His heart leapt—she’d have money to buy food and she’d know how to take care of Isolde.

As mama came closer to him, though, he saw it wasn’t really her. It was at first an old man, then a dog, and finally a big crow that squawked and flew away as soon as it saw him. When he woke up in the morning, he could have sworn he heard daddy’s voice in the other room but, of course, it was only part of the same dream.

Isolde seemed to fade away more every day, as the time came closer for the baby to be born. On a rainy Saturday, while she was taking a nap, he counted out some money from the jar and went down the hill to Devine’s grocery to get what they’d need for a day or two. He bought a can of soup that they could have for supper, a can of peaches, a loaf of bread, a half-pound of baloney. A box full of oranges, looking so bright on a dreary day, caught his eye, so he bought two, one for himself and one for Isolde. He knew she’d like it. He’d let her have both of them if she wanted them.

When he got back home, Isolde was in a bad way. She was crying in pain and twisting the bedclothes in her fists.

“It’s time,” she said through gritted teeth.

“But we haven’t had supper yet,” he said.

“Run and get Miss Settles. And tell her to hurry!”

Miss Settles had just washed her hair but as soon as Roland told her she was needed, she grabbed her bag and was off in her old Ford car. He rested for a couple of minutes on the front porch and then ran home, getting there about the same time as Miss Settles’ car pulled up in a mud puddle. With her was her assistant, a large albino woman named January Maitland. At any other time, he wouldn’t have been able to take his eyes off the strange whiteness of January Maitland, but now he barely looked at her.

As the two women began working over Isolde on the bed, Roland stood in the doorway, relieved now that somebody else was there and his part, at least for the time being, was finished.

“You don’t want to see any of this,” Miss Settles said to him. “Why don’t you take yourself a long walk and don’t come back until you’re so tired you can’t take another step.”

He was glad he wouldn’t be needed. He had only a vague idea of what was about to happen and he was sure it would be fairly horrible.

As he walked toward town, he felt tired and hungry but almost happy. Now that the baby was about to be born, Isolde would get up from the bed and be well again. Mama would come home and maybe George and daddy would come home too. All three of them! Mama would do what needed to be done with the baby. Daddy would have forgotten about the woman he went off with and would have plenty of money. While Isolde held the baby, they’d all sit around the table and laugh and eat fried chicken and chocolate cake and daddy and George would smoke cigarettes and drink beer. When he told them about the dwindling money in the jar, they’d make fun of him a little but tell him he did a good, brave thing.

He walked all the way to town, more than two miles. He realized he still had the change from the store, so he bought himself a hot dog and a root beer and sat on the street and watched the people come and go as he ate. Nothing he had ever eaten tasted so good before.

He walked around looking in the store windows and after a while he figured he had probably been gone long enough for the baby to be born, so he headed for home. He had to smile when he remembered there’d be a new person waiting there for him when he got home.

He had been gone more than four hours. It was starting to get dark when he turned off the lane toward the house. Miss Settles and January Maitland had just come out the door and were standing on the porch.

“Hey!” he said when he saw them. “How’s the baby?”

“I’m sorry,” Miss Settles said. “I did all I could.”

“What?”

“The baby was born dead, a little boy, and the momma lost so much blood I couldn’t save her.”

“She’s dead?”

“I did all I could. You have my sympathy.”

He looked from the albino woman to Miss Settles and back again. “What do I do now?” he asked.

“You don’t need to do nothing,” Miss Settles said. “Try to get word to her husband.”

“He had to go away. I don’t know where he is.”

“Look,” she said, shifting her bag from one hand to another. “My brother, Hiram Settles, will come by tomorrow to perform the burial. In the meantime, sit with her tonight. Say your goodbyes. That’s what family does. Light a candle and say a prayer for the repose of her soul.”

He nodded his head to show he understood, started to go inside and faltered.

“You don’t need to be afraid to go in there,” Miss Settles said. “There’s no mess. We cleaned it all up. They’re lying side by side on the bed. They look like they’re asleep. It was a hard struggle but she’s in a better place now.”

Miss Settles was right. Isolde, looking clean and childlike, seemed asleep rather than dead. The perfectly formed, nameless baby lying beside her was something that had never been alive, had never had a chance to take even one breath.

He pulled the rocker up beside the bed, placed the candle on the bedside table and sat down. He tried to think of a prayer for Isolde and the baby, as Miss Settles said, but he didn’t know any prayers and couldn’t think of the right words. There was mama’s Bible somewhere that he might read from, but he wasn’t sure what mama had done with it before she left and he didn’t have the strength to look for it.

He cried a little and was glad nobody was there to see it. He sat in the rocker and looked at Isolde and the baby and wondered what it was like to be dead. Did you really go to a place where all your troubles were over and everything was beautiful? He tried to read in Isolde’s face what she might be experiencing at that moment, but her face was as blank as a dinner plate. Regardless of what place she had gone to, he was comforted by the knowledge that nothing else bad would ever happen to her again.

The rain picked up again in the night. He dozed in the rocker and when at last he awoke the candle had gone out and morning light was coming in at the window. Ravenously hungry, he ate the food he bought at Devine’s grocery—when was it?—only the day before. He ate unsparingly. He ate recklessly, without saving anything for later. He didn’t care if it was his last meal. If he had to die too, he wanted to go ahead with it and get it over with.

At seven o’clock, Hiram Settles came with his young graveyard assistant. As they carried the empty coffin into the house, Roland directed them to the bedroom. He looked away as they picked up the two bodies off the bed, first Isolde and then the baby, and placed them in the coffin and put the lid in place.

After Hiram Settles and his assistant extended their matter-of-fact condolences, Roland held the door for them as they carried the coffin outside and loaded it into the back of the death wagon in the rain.

He watched the wagon until it was out of sight. Before going back into the lonely house, he looked off into the distance. The sky was lightening and the rain, it seemed, was coming to an end. A hopeful sign. Mama and daddy would come home soon, he knew it. He was going to have so much to tell them.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Jesse the Bad

Posted on

Jesse the Bad ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

When Alvin Goldsmith married Alma Mound and the babies started coming, he knew life for him would always be a struggle. After the first year of marriage, they brought Earl into the world. The second year there was Peggy and ten months later, Jesse. When Jesse was barely walking, a girl came along that they named Storm. After the fourth baby in five years, Alvin said there would be no more. One more would upset the balance.

Alvin had never been blessed with intellect. After he graduated from high school, he never touched another book in his life. At eighteen, he went to work in a shoe factory operating a leather press and stayed for thirteen years. When the factory shut its doors, he painted houses, worked in a lead mine, drove a school bus, worked as a janitor in a church, clerked in a hardware store, did cleanup work in a cemetery, and even for a while worked as a trash collector.

The growing-up years of his quartet of children passed in a kind of blur to Alvin. They were starting to kindergarten and then, before he knew it, he was putting on his one blue suit that he wore to weddings and funerals and going to their high school graduations. Peggy and Storm were both out of the house and married by the time they were nineteen and started having babies of their own. Earl, never much interested in the girls, moved to Alaska with a couple of his friends and got a job there. He sent greeting cards to Alvin and Alma on Christmas and birthdays, but he would never come back home, he said, not even for a visit. He was happy in Alaska and didn’t want to be reminded of his growing-up years.

Jesse, the third child and the younger of the two boys, was always troubled. As a child, he had temper tantrums in which he held his breath and pounded his fists into the wall. If anybody ever crossed him, he picked up the nearest object and threw it. He broke windows, dishes and mirrors, not to mention all of his toys. He played cruel tricks on his sisters, putting a dead skunk in their closet or taking their clothes and books out into the back yard and setting fire to them. He called his mother vile names and painted obscenities on the wall of his room in his own blood.

His high school years were nothing less than tumultuous. He cheated on tests, stole money, engaged in fistfights, threatened to kill a teacher for correcting him in class, slashed the tires on a school bus. At night, he went out drinking, sometimes not getting home in time to go to school the next morning. He shoplifted cigarettes and small food items. He had been barred from every drug store in town because he roamed their aisles and pilfered drugs.

Finally, he graduated from high school. He had the lowest scholastic record in his class and the highest number of days missed, but still he made it through. The entire family attended his graduation and were happy for him. The next day he attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. He spent four months in the state mental hospital, after which he was said to be cured of whatever had been wrong with him and sent home.

He got a job as an apprentice meat cutter at minimum wage. In the evenings, he would come home wearing his white apron covered with blood, in which he seemed to take pride. Sometimes he brandished a meat cleaver in his mother’s or his father’s face, but they could ignore this as long as he was going to work every day and staying at home in the evenings and watching television and napping in the recliner.

He began dating a checker named Maureen in the supermarket where he worked and, in a few weeks, they announced they were to be married. Maureen was going to have a baby, but she hoped nobody would notice until after the wedding. They rented a small house a few blocks from the supermarket where they both worked and, seven months after they were married, Maureen gave birth to a son, Matthew.

In the year after Matthew’s birth, Jesse began going around with other women, sometimes women he picked up on the street. He stole money from Maureen’s purse and began staying out all night, sometimes being gone for two or three days at a time. When Maureen confronted him over the loss of the rent money, he hit her in the head with a bottle and tried to strangle her. As he held her down on the floor, she slashed him across the face with a piece of glass and got away. After that, she filed for divorce, quit her job and took Matthew and went back to her childhood home to live with her widowed mother.

Alvin was now in his sixties and, after forty-five years, he had to give up working. He had a heart murmur, a fatty liver, arthritis, asthma, and deteriorating disks in his spine. Every movement for him was painful. He and Alma, sitting at the kitchen table, figured they could get by on what little money they had, since they only had themselves to take care of and didn’t need anything in the way of luxuries.

Just when Alvin was looking forward to a serene old age, parenthood was once again thrust upon him. Jesse had lost his job, his home and his wife and had no place to lay his head. Alvin and Alma had to give him one more chance. They allowed him to move into his old room, but only if he could be the kind of responsible adult they expected him to be. If he engaged in any more of his destructive behavior, he would have to find another place to stay.

Jesse found a job as counter man in an auto parts store. He went to work every day and straight home afterwards and didn’t go out again at night. After a month of this good behavior he was stretched to the limit of his endurance and reverted to his old ways. He stole Alvin’s pain medication and took grocery money from his mother’s purse. He stayed out all night and slept all day, forfeiting his new job. He was dirty and sloppy and his mother had to pick up after him the same way she did when he was a child. When she tried to speak to him, he called her a meddling old bitch and threatened to kill her.

When he broke a glass in the kitchen and sliced Alma’s arm with it, Alvin told him he had to get out before the end of the day. His mother and father could no longer be responsible for him and he was going to have to make his own way in the world.

He got his things together, but before he left he had a few choice words to impart. They had always been against him, he said; they had hurt him and held him back by not loving him enough. They hadn’t seen the last of him, though. He’d be back and when they saw him coming they’d better say their prayers.

The next day they changed the locks on the doors and Alvin bought two handguns, one for him and one for Alma. They took lessons on gun safety and made sure they kept plenty of ammunition in the house.

Two weeks after Jesse left, Alma was alone in the house when she heard a car stop out front. When she looked out the window, she saw Jesse getting out of the car with a shotgun. She heard him try to open the door and, when he found that his old key wouldn’t work, he began shouting and swearing.

“Go on now, son!” she called to him. “We don’t want any more trouble with you!”

“Let me in!” he yelled.

“No! If you don’t go away and leave us alone, I’ll call the sheriff! I swear I will!”

He banged and kicked at the door and when she still didn’t open it, he broke the glass out with the butt of his shotgun and reached through and undid the lock.

When he came through the door, she was ready for him. She believed that when he saw her pointing a gun at him, he would desist, but still he advanced on her, pointing his gun at her middle. She would never forget the look of hatred on his face.

She believed in that moment without a doubt that he would kill her and then kill Alvin when he came into the house. Without thinking about what she was doing, almost by reflex, she blasted him in the heart. One bullet was all it took. He fell dead at her feet.

She called the police and told them calmly what happened. Ten minutes later, Alvin came home. The story was in the newspapers and on television: Rural Woman Kills Mentally Ill Son in Self-Defense. No Charges Filed.

More than two hundred people attended the funeral. Everybody heard about the killing and wanted to see the participants firsthand. No matter how many people expressed condolences and sincere regrets, Alma believed they were all thinking the same thing: How could a mother kill her own son? This is not what mothers do. She must be some kind of a monster.

After a couple of weeks, when the police had stopped asking questions and curiosity-seekers stopped driving by the house, Alvin wanted to put the whole painful episode behind him, but Alma couldn’t let it go. She believed in retrospect that she might have handled the situation in a different way.

“Maybe he didn’t really mean to shoot me,” she said. “Maybe he was just trying to scare me. I might have killed him for no reason.”

“If you hadn’t done what you did,” Alvin said, “you and I would both be dead and he’d be in prison. It was a clear-cut case of self-defense. You heard the sheriff say it.”

“I can’t stop thinking about the terrible life he lived.”

“His life would have gone on being terrible if you hadn’t ended it when you did. Who better to end it than you?”

“How can I live with this for the rest of my days?”

“You don’t have any other choice.”

“There’s nothing I can ever do to make it up to him now.”

She didn’t think she could bear to go on living, knowing what she had done. She stopped going out of the house, stopped attending church services. She didn’t want anybody to see her. Some days she stayed all day in her room with the blinds closed, refusing to get dressed, refusing to eat. Alvin tried to get her to see a doctor, but she believed you only go to the doctor when there is something wrong with the body. She was sure there wasn’t a pill in existence that was going to help her.

One night she got out of bed at three in the morning, put on some rubber boots, a hat and a jacket without thinking where she was going or what she might be doing. Without turning on any lights, she took a flashlight out of the drawer in the kitchen and went out the back door.

Walking steadily but slowly she reached the river in a half-hour or so. She thought she’d be afraid but she wasn’t. The sound of the swirling water was comforting. She switched off the flashlight and threw it on the ground and stepped close enough to the river so that the toes of her boots were in the water. How easy it would be to walk into the river, let it close over her head and take away all her sins. All it would take was a moment of courage and it would all be over so fast.

She was up to her ankles in the water, then her knees, her waist and then up to her shoulders. The next step might be the step from which there was no turning back. Something at that moment caused her to look up into the trees and past the trees at the shining stars. There she saw Jesse’s face looking down at her from heaven and she heard him whisper the words: I’m all right now, mother. I forgive you.  

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Ring the Night Bell

Posted on

Ring the Night Bell ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in the online publication Short-Story.Me under a different title.)

I knew Mrs. Beaufort on sight. She was a faded, middle-aged woman who had probably been pretty in her day, except that her day was past. I was surprised when she called me on the telephone and asked me to come out to her house. Strictly business, she said. I knew there would be money involved—quite a lot of money, I hoped—so I told her I’d be there at the time she indicated. I had experienced several reversals—failures, if you know what I mean—so I had been praying for just the kind of opportunity I hoped this would be: one that would pay me a maximum amount of money with a minimum amount of involvement and risk.

I had been doing some investigative work for years that allowed me to remain on the sidelines of the criminal underworld. I could go either way—I could tip off the police or I could perjure myself in court; I could provide a hiding place for somebody on the lam or help a murderer get across the border if there was enough in it for me. I had done some work for Mrs. Beaufort’s husband. Work he called “under the table” because it was work he didn’t want anybody to know about. That’s how Mrs. Beaufort knew about me and my reputation.

I had a feeling it would not be a good idea for people to see my car parked at Mrs. Beaufort’s house, so I took the bus out there and when I got off the bus I walked about four blocks to her place. It was raining but I was prepared for it; I was wearing a raincoat and a hat and carrying an umbrella. I looked as nondescript as I could.

The Beauforts lived in the biggest, fanciest house I had ever seen. It was like a house out of a dream, the kind of house that rich people in movies live in. There must have been thirty or forty rooms. When I rang the bell, I expected a butler to open the door, but Mrs. Beaufort opened it herself. She smiled at me and waved me in with the gracious air of a hostess. She took my coat and hat and ushered me into the most beautiful sitting room I had ever seen and pointed to a white sofa where she wanted me to sit. When I was comfortable, she offered me a glass of champagne. I had tasted champagne once or twice before in my life. She gave me the impression she had it every day of her life.

While sipping champagne—she made sure my glass stayed nearly full—we talked idly of this and that: the weather and the stock market, music and movies. I found her a smart and witty woman—a good companion on a rainy night when all you want is somebody to talk to. Pretty soon we were swapping stories of our childhoods and telling each other things we ordinarily would never tell anybody. She had been a tomboy who hated music lessons and briefly, in her youth, entertained the notion of becoming a nun. I told her the sad tale of my disadvantaged youth and how I had run away from home and lied about my age to get a job as a longshoreman. What I told her was mostly true but I wasn’t above adding a few embellishments.

After I had been sitting on the white sofa for an hour or so and the big grandfather clock chimed, reminding me of the passage of time, I suddenly remembered I was there for a reason other than reminiscing about my past. I asked Mrs. Beaufort what it was she had wanted to see me about.

She became serious and sat down beside me. She said she liked me and trusted me. She told me her husband had spoken well of me on several occasions and had found me reliable and amenable. I thanked her for the compliment and set my glass on the side table.

She and her husband had been married nearly twenty-five years, she said. They had had two daughters, one of whom died in an automobile accident at the age of seventeen. They owned six food processing plants and were about to open two more. Business had never been better. Money was pouring in every second of the day.

“That’s fine,” I said, “but what does it have to do with me?”

Her husband, she continued, had told her he wanted a divorce. He had started seeing a younger woman and had found that, even at his advanced age (he was fifty-two) he was still capable of feeling emotion.

“Isn’t that ridiculous?” Mrs. Beaufort asked, looking me steadily in the eye. “Feeling emotion? It sounds like an impressionable schoolgirl.”

“It takes all kinds,” I said.

“I don’t want to divorce my husband,” Mrs. Beaufort said. “A divorce would be ruinous to my business that I’ve built up over all these years and also ruinous to my family. I have to consider my only surviving daughter and her future happiness. I don’t want her to have the stigma of divorced parents hanging over her head.”

“Yes, I can see that,” I said.

“Since you are a reliable and a discreet man and you have a reputation for getting a job done, I was hoping you would be able to put me onto someone who could put my husband out of the way.”

“What do you mean ‘put out of the way’?”

“I mean exactly what you think I mean, Mr. Tyler.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, suddenly on my feet. “That’s way out of my line. I may be willing to bend the law one way or another to suit the situation but I don’t go in for that sort of thing. Do you think I want to spend the rest of my life in prison?”

“Of course not, Mr. Tyler. Nobody wants that. If a thing were to be done properly, there would be no fear of going to prison.”

“I really think I ought to be going,” I said. “It’s been, uh, interesting, but when you start talking about something as serious as—“

Mrs. Beaufort laughed. “You should hear yourself,” she said. “You sound like a silly naïf.”

“Like a what?”

“Here, have another glass of champagne and we’ll talk over my proposition.”

Mrs. Beaufort was willing to pay upwards of fifty thousand dollars to have her husband and his mistress killed. Ideally, she wanted it to look like a murder-suicide. The jealous older man discovers his paramour has been maintaining an open-door policy where old boyfriends are concerned. He flies into a rage and shoots said paramour in the head while she is sleeping and then turns the gun on himself—as simple as that. There would be no one to blame because both parties involved would be dead; no one snooping around asking questions.

If I could connect Mrs. Beaufort with someone who would do the job, she would pay me ten thousand dollars; forty thousand would go to the trigger man. If, on the other hand, I decided I was capable of doing the job myself, the entire fifty thousand would be mine. She hoped I would do the job myself, because, well, it just seemed better not to involve another party if we didn’t have to.

I told her I would think over the proposition. Fifty thousand was certainly an attractive sum and would give me the chance to get away and start afresh in a new locale, but I had to admit I didn’t relish the idea of killing two innocent people in cold blood.

Not innocent,” she said. “And think of it as just another job, a job for which you will be handsomely rewarded.”

After a couple more glasses of champagne, I said that, yes, of course, I would be happy to do the job myself. I didn’t see how I could turn down fifty thousand dollars.

“Oh, I’m so glad!” she said, clasping her hands together like a schoolgirl. She poured her own glass full and proposed a toast. “To the success of our little venture,” she said. We clicked glasses and laughed.

When I left Mrs. Beaufort’s house that night, we were both happy and giddy. She was about to be relieved of a philandering husband who was all too willing to wreck her business and her life—also her daughter’s life—and I was about to make the biggest score of my life. I saw dollar signs before my eyes.

She told me to do nothing until I heard from her; she would know when the time was right to proceed. I waited almost two weeks and was starting to think the deal was off when she called me up late one night and woke me out of a sound sleep. She asked me if I could meet her the next evening at the Embassy Club at eight o’clock. I told her I’d be there at whatever time she said and then I rang off and went back to sleep.

The reason we were meeting at the Embassy Club, I discovered that next night, was because that’s where Mrs. Beaufort’s husband’s paramour (or mistress, whatever you want to call her) worked as a singer. Her name was Adele Kluge. Mrs. Beaufort wanted me to get a good look at her.

At the Embassy Club we were all smiles. We sat at a cozy little booth and made small talk and drank martinis like they were going out of style. We had dinner and then the floorshow began. The small orchestra came out and warmed up with a couple of mellow numbers and then the lights went down and the featured singer came out onto the little stage and waited for her musical intro.

When the lights came up enough for me to get a good look at Adele Kluge, I had to admit that Mr. Beaufort had good taste in dames. She was smart and elegant-looking, not cheap or flashy. She was maybe thirty-eight or forty years old, a mature woman and not a flighty young girl. She had chestnut-colored hair and looked stunning in a tasteful black-and-white gown. Her voice was polished and mellow and the orchestra was good too.

During Adele’s act Mrs. Beaufort was ill at ease; she wouldn’t look directly at Adele. She stared hard at the table or looked off to the side where the waiters came and went. When Adele was finished and left the stage to politely enthusiastic applause, Mrs. Beaufort was her old smiling self again.

“She’s good,” I said. I couldn’t resist.

“Do you think you’ll know her when you see her again?” Mrs. Beaufort asked me.

“Of course,” I said.

When we left the Embassy Club, Mrs. Beaufort asked me to drive her home. I pulled into her driveway and stopped at the front door, expecting her to get out, but she put her hand on the door handle and looked over at me and smiled sweetly.

“Would you mind coming in?” she asked. “I don’t feel like being alone.”

As we went up the steps in the dark to her front door, she held on to my arm a little more than was necessary. I could tell right away that she was putting on the helpless female act. I was determined to maintain my professional demeanor. She was just a person I was doing some work for; I wasn’t interested in more than that.

Once we were cozily inside with all the lights on, Mrs. Beaufort made some coffee and showed me a picture of her daughter that had been taken two years earlier. Stephanie was a pretty girl in an ordinary way. She had dark hair and a pleasing face with a hint of sadness around the eyes that told me she was something more than just a rich man’s spoiled daughter. I could tell that all Mrs. Beaufort’s hopes were riding on Stephanie.

After that, our conversation took a more serious tone. Mrs. Beaufort had decided that a week from Friday, the twenty-first, was when she wanted the murders to take place. That was only a week and a half away. Friday night was Mr. Beaufort’s night for recreation away from business. He would play poker with his poker club until midnight or so, and then he would go to Adele Kluge’s apartment on the eighteenth floor of the Marquand apartment building.

This was the way Mrs. Beaufort had it planned: I was to go to Adele Kluge’s apartment at around eleven-thirty and shoot her in the head while she slept in her bed. Then I would wait in the dark until Mr. Beaufort arrived and when he did I would kill him before he discovered Adele’s body. The best part of the plan, according to Mrs. Beaufort, was that I would kill them both with Mr. Beaufort’s own gun, which would be certain to be covered with his own fingerprints because it was his favorite gun and he was known to carry it with him on business trips for protection. When I asked Mrs. Beaufort how I was to acquire this gun, she went into another room and came back carrying a leather holster with the gun in it. I unfastened the holster to get a look at the gun; she warned me against touching it with my bare hands.

I was starting to get a sick feeling about killing Mr. Beaufort and Adele Kluge. When Mrs. Beaufort and I had talked about it earlier, it didn’t seem real to me, but now, since we had settled on a date, it was too real for comfort and I was thinking that I was probably too squeamish to pull that kind of a job—fifty thousand dollars notwithstanding. I kept my I-don’t-think-I-can-do-it thoughts to myself, though, and after a while I was comforted by the thought of the money I was going to get.

I didn’t know how I was going to break into Adele Kluge’s apartment without being seen or heard, but Mrs. Beaufort told me not to worry; she had a key to Adele’s door. When I looked at her with wonder and asked her how she came to have a key, she just laughed and told me it was one of her secrets that she didn’t care to divulge.

I told Mrs. Beaufort I was going to need some money in advance for a job that difficult and she didn’t give me any argument. She said she would have twenty-five thousand dollars in cash delivered to me before the twenty-first, and she would pay me the rest of the money after the job was done. She didn’t say how she would have the money delivered, but she seemed to have thought of everything so I let it go at that.

That night I spent a nearly sleepless night. I kept seeing Adele Kluge on that stage singing her songs; I hated to be the one to bring down the final curtain on her act.

True to her word, Mrs. Beaufort had twenty-five thousand dollars delivered to me on Thursday the twentieth in a neatly wrapped parcel. I knew the delivery boy didn’t have any idea what was in the package. I took it from him and ran into the bedroom and closed the door, even though I was alone, and pulled down the curtain and ripped the package open. I had never seen that much green before. It was the most beautiful salad I had ever laid my eyes on. And it was only half of what I was going to get.

The next day I was calmer than I thought I would be. I slept away half the morning and when I got up I walked to a café down the street and had eggs and ham. When I left the café, I knew I would be restless if I went back home, so I went to an early matinee and sat in the balcony and completely lost myself in the picture.

After that I went to a quiet little bar and had a couple of beers. The beers made me sleepy, so I went home and went to sleep on the couch. When I woke up, it was after dark and raining again and I had the jitters. I felt the way an actor must feel before he goes on the stage for the first time. I hoped I could keep from getting rattled and remember what I was supposed to do.

About ten o’clock I started getting ready. I dressed all in black, including black sneakers. I put the gun in the holster in my pants pocket and the key to Adele’s apartment in my other pocket. I rolled my gloves together with my ski mask and put them in the pocket of my raincoat. I put on my hat and looked all around my apartment—I don’t know what I was looking for—and turned off the lights and went out the door.

I walked down the street a couple of blocks to a cab stand where I got a cab and took it to the neighborhood of the Marquand apartments. I knew better than to have the driver let me out right in front of the building, so I got off at a drugstore a couple of streets over. I cut through a connecting alley and approached the Marquand building from the rear.

I went into the lobby breezily as if I belonged there. As I walked past the sleepy night watchman sitting behind a desk, he gave me a glance but I was careful not to look directly at him. I went to the elevator and up to the eighteenth floor.

At this point I told myself I could still cancel the operation if things didn’t look good; for example, if somebody was standing waiting for the elevator and got a good look at my face. I saw no one, though, and as I padded down the carpeted hallway looking for apartment 1806, I didn’t hear a sound.

When I found the door to Adele’s apartment, I stood there for a moment breathing deeply, trying to slow down the beating of my heart. I slipped on the gloves, took off my hat and pulled the ski mask over my face, put my hat back on, and pulled the gun out of its holster. Before I put the key into the lock to open the door, I glanced at my watch—it was exactly eleven-thirty.

The door opened effortlessly and I stepped out of the half-light of the hallway into the darkness of Adele’s apartment. I closed the door silently and returned the key to my pocket before I lost track of it and dropped it. I waited a couple of minutes for my eyes to adjust before I proceeded down the hallway to the right.

I came to a door that was partway closed—obviously the bedroom where Adele lay sleeping—and pushed the door opened with my left hand, holding on to the gun in my right hand.

There was just enough light in the room for me to be able to see the bed and Adele lying in it. She lay on her back with her arms outstretched; it was so quiet in the room I could hear the sound of her breathing, almost like a dainty little snore. I approached the bed from the left. She was lying toward the right side, with her head canted slightly toward the wall. I leaned over the side of the bed and put the gun within two inches of her head and pulled the trigger; she was dead instantly as the bullet entered her brain. I knew from the expression on her face that she felt nothing and knew nothing. That knowledge would comfort me in the days to come.

As I looked around the room for a place to hide, I told myself I was halfway home and this would soon be over. I was afraid that a neighbor might have heard the gunshot and would come running or, worse, call the police, but nothing happened; everything was as quiet as before.

On the other side of the room opposite the bed I saw a door that was obviously a closet. I crossed the room and opened the door and stepped inside and pulled the door closed, but still opened enough that I could see out into the bedroom. I felt oddly secure inside the closet, as if this was all in the past and I was only remembering it.

I waited inside the closet for maybe a half-hour, with only the sound of my own breathing, when I heard the door to the apartment open and close softly. I knew it was Mr. Beaufort and he was exactly at the time I expected. When he came into the bedroom, he didn’t turn on a light—another lucky break for me—and I could tell he was trying to keep from waking Adele.

He went into the bathroom and closed the door and turned on the bathroom light. I could hear the toilet flush and water running in the sink. In a minute he came out of the bathroom and stood beside the bed looking down at Adele. I thought he must know that something was amiss with her, but he turned his back to the bed and began unbuttoning his shirt. He removed his shirt first and then his shoes and pants and then he moved to the bureau and opened the drawer and took out a pair of pajamas. He was partway bent over from the waist when I moved up behind him like a disembodied spirit and shot him in the right temple. I knew he was dead right away, probably before he hit the floor.

With Mr. Beaufort dead at my feet and Adele Kluge dead in the bed, I let out my breath, not realizing until that moment that I had been holding it in. I took off my hat just long enough to take the ski mask off, put my hat back on, rolled up the ski mask and put it in my pocket. I bent over Mr. Beaufort’s body and pressed the gun into his right hand, molding his fingers around it.

“It’s nothing personal,” I whispered into his right ear.

I took a quick look around the room to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything and then I moved through the dark apartment back to the door. I listened at the door for a moment and, hearing nothing, opened it and moved out into the hallway. As I closed the door, I made sure it locked.

Walking back up the hallway to the elevator, I took off the gloves and stuffed them into the pocket of my coat and ran my fingers through my hair. If I met anybody, I didn’t want to look disheveled. I didn’t want anybody to be taking a second look at me for any reason.

When I got off the elevator in the lobby, the night watchman was asleep in his chair and didn’t see me. I went out the door, took a deep breath of the night air, and began walking down the street. I had the sensation of being alive and that there was nothing better. I walked for several blocks through the deserted streets. I just wanted to keep moving. I didn’t feel like being still.

When I came to a phone booth at an intersection, I called Mrs. Beaufort, as we had planned. She answered the phone on the first ring.

“Hello,” she said in her quiet voice.

“The day is done,” I said.

She said nothing. All I heard was the click as she hung up the phone.

I was feeling hungry—I felt like I hadn’t eaten in days—so I stopped at a greasy-spoon diner and wolfed down a couple of hamburgers. After I left the diner, I walked and walked through unfamiliar streets until about two-thirty in the morning. When I spotted a cab, I flagged it down and went back to my apartment.

The next day I was asleep when the morning editions of the newspapers came out, but there was plenty of coverage in the afternoon editions. Millionaire businessman Everett Beaufort was found slain, along with a female companion, in a luxury apartment belonging to the female companion. There was no sign of forced entry, no sign of a struggle. Nothing was stolen from the apartment. Police were investigating the crime but so far had no leads and no suspects. One police detective at the scene, when interviewed, said it appeared the male victim had shot the female victim in the head and then killed himself. It was too early in the investigation, however, to know for sure exactly what happened.

About six in the evening when I was dressing to go out, there was a knock at my door. It was the same delivery boy as before with a parcel identical to the one he had delivered two days earlier. It was the other half of my fifty thousand dollars. I was happy to be able to mark the account “paid in full” and to be finished with Mrs. Beaufort forever.

Mrs. Beaufort wasn’t finished with me, though. She called me every day for two weeks, sometimes two or three times a day. She had taken to calling me in the middle of the night. She was distraught and said she couldn’t live with what she had done. She was going to go to the police and tell them everything. She was gong to commit suicide.

I tried to be patient with her, but I had to admit my patience was running thin. I tried to give her the old pep talk. I told her to think of her daughter’s future happiness. I told her the news reports of the incident looked good, very much in our favor, and she had nothing to worry about. And, anyway, I said, we shouldn’t be talking about this on the phone. We shouldn’t even be talking at all. We didn’t want the police to connect the two of us in any way. It was safer for both of us if we just went our separate ways.

One Sunday evening when I was planning on staying at home and going to bed early, she called me and told me she had to see me, she had to talk to me. I could tell from the sound of her voice that she had been drinking heavily. I drove out to her place and parked on the street a couple of blocks over and walked the rest of the way.

She was in a terrible state when I got there, crying and very drunk. I told her she was staying at home too much alone; she needed to get out and have some fun. She had most of the money in the world and she could do whatever she wanted, go anyplace, buy anything. She had every reason to be happy.

She said she was going to the police the next day; she planned on telling them everything. It was the only way out. They would come and pick me up unless I left town; she wanted to warn me.

I slipped a bottle of pills out of my pocket that I had brought with me. I hadn’t been sure if I was going to use them, but I brought them with me anyway. It was a powerful sedative; there was a warning on the bottle not to take them while drinking alcohol.

I gave her the bottle of pills and told her they would make her feel better, much better than alcohol. They would help her to sleep and make her forget all her troubles. She was grateful; she took two or three of the pills at first and washed them down with her vodka martini.

I stayed with her for several more hours. She talked and swilled liquor; I remained sober and listened. Occasionally she took a couple more of the pills, as if she didn’t know what she was doing or had forgotten how many she had already taken. By four in the morning she had taken almost all the pills and was unconscious. I figured that with the pills and the alcohol she would be dead by the time the sun was up.

The next day the story was all over the papers. The bereaved widow of Everett Beaufort had been found unconscious by her maid at around eight o’clock in the morning. By the time a doctor was summoned, Mrs. Beaufort was dead. All indications were that she had committed suicide. A daughter, Stephanie Beaufort, age nineteen, was the only surviving member of the Beaufort family.

I had my fifty thousand dollars and could take it easy for a while. I planned on going out West—possibly to San Francisco—and starting my own private detective agency, but I decided for the time being I would stay put. Stephanie Beaufort interested me. She was one of the richest girls in the country and was all alone. I watched the newspapers for any news of her. I had even spotted her a few times. She looked better in person than she did in her pictures. One day soon I planned on approaching her on the street and introducing myself. She would be hostile at first, thinking I was a reporter, but I would tell her I knew her parents; I would extend my condolences and offer my services. She was sure to warm up to me in time.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp