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Frozen Charlotte

Frozen Charlotte ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(This is a repost from a year ago.)

The snow has stopped falling. The temperature hovers at fifteen degrees. The wind is minimal. The air crackles with electricity. The stars twinkle like diamonds on a bed of blue-black velvet. Atmospherically it is the best Christmas Eve on record.

Roads are snow-packed and have been for weeks. The best way to get from place to place is by horse-drawn sleigh. The automobile is still not in common use, as it is 1897, but those days are coming.

Charlotte Little will be attending the party at the Whites on her own, even though she is only twelve. Vardaman will drive the sleigh. He will watch out for her and see that she returns safely.

It is to be a party for adults as well as children. There will be an orchestra, bountiful food and drink, musical acts, caroling, magic tricks, surprises and a visit from Santa. Those who attend the party will remember it all their lives into old age. They will take memories of the party to their graves.

As the best friend of Amy White, Charlotte will be an honored guest at the party. She doesn’t mind that she has to go alone but finds it rather exciting and grown-up. She has a new dress made for her by a real dressmaker. It is white bombazine with red satin trim. It reminds her of peppermint, of Christmas. She has never had a dress before of which she is so proud.

She is to leave at five o’clock. Allowing for no mishaps with the sleigh, she will arrive at the party at six o’clock. She is dressed and ready to go hours in advance. Mother tries to get her to eat before she goes, but she is too excited; there will be lots of time to eat later.

When she goes down to leave, mother and father are waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. Mother has her coat and scarf for her and father her fur hat, gloves and galoshes, but she doesn’t want to put any of them on. She has spent hours getting herself ready for the party and doesn’t want to spoil the effect. The coat will flatten the frills and puffs of her dress and the fur hat will mess up her hair. She doesn’t need the boots at all but will walk in tracks that have already been made. As a kind of concession, she puts the scarf around her shoulders and slips the gloves on her hands.

Vardaman is waiting for her in the sleigh at the front gate, whip in hand. He is so bundled up in his riding accoutrements that only his eyes can be seen. Charlotte gets into the sleigh, piling her warm winter coat and fur hat on top of the lap robes in the corner of the seat. She throws her galoshes on the floor of the sleigh and forgets about them. Who wears galoshes with a fancy Christmas dress?

Vardaman drives slowly at first and then faster. Soon he seems to be flying without leaving the ground. The trees and farmhouses whiz past in an icy blur. Charlotte breathes deeply of the icy air and looks up at the twinkling stars. Already she is having a good time, and she’s not even at the party yet. She spreads her coat over her lap, but that is the only concession she makes to the cold.

She doesn’t speak a word on the way. If she has anything to say, she would have to say it to Vardaman and she rarely speaks to Vardaman unless he speaks first. He is what they call all business.

The trip goes smoothly enough without incident. Vardaman has guided the sleigh expertly and efficiently, as he always does. He pulls up to the side of the house belonging to the Whites and gets out, throwing a blanket over the horse’s back. His back is sore and he is in a hurry to get inside and take off his coat and outer wrappings and warm his feet at the kitchen fire. In his haste, he fails to notice that Charlotte hasn’t moved from the sleigh. She still sits there, not moving, her icy blue eyes staring straight ahead.

Sometime during the trip, Charlotte’s blood freezes in her veins. Her heart stops pumping blood and turns into a useless, frozen muscle in the middle of her upper torso. Her eyes become fixed in their sockets, frozen in place, eyelids opened. How can someone so dead look so alive?

It is the easiest of deaths. She has felt nothing, not even a tingling sensation. From one second to the next, she is here and then she is gone.

The party disperses at eleven o’clock. Those who expected Charlotte to attend are disappointed, but they figure something must have come up unexpectedly at the last minute to keep her home.

Vardaman, sated with food and drink, comes out and is happy to see that Charlotte has taken her place in the sleigh and is ready to go home. He is all too eager to get home to his warm bed. He wakes up the horse and takes the blanket off his back and in thirty seconds the sleigh has taken to the road.

He turns and asks Charlotte if she had a good time at the party. He believes she answers in the affirmative but, of course, no answer is forthcoming.

When they get back home, it is near midnight on Christmas morning. Unknown to anybody, Charlotte has been sitting in the back of the sleigh on a frigid Christmas Eve for seven hours.

He stops the sleigh at the front gate. When Charlotte doesn’t get out as he expects, he turns around in the seat and looks at her, at her blue, staring eyes. Right away he knows something is wrong. He runs to the front door and bangs loudly. Mother and father, both in their night clothes, know that something is wrong and come running out.

When they see that Charlotte is frozen through and through, they take her in and set her by the fire. They try to lay her flat, but she is frozen in a sitting position. They rub her hands and wrists and pat her cheeks. They put more wood on the fire. They believe all they have to do is thaw her out and she will revive and start breathing again. Not knowing what else to do, mother sends for the doctor.

In the morning they send for the undertaker’s men. They come promptly and take Charlotte away. In the afternoon on Christmas Day, mother and father pay a call at the undertaking establishment. They choose embalming for their little girl and, after she is embalmed, they want her dressed in her fancy, red-and-white Christmas dress that she wore to the party. They pick out the finest and most expensive cast-iron coffin with a little window over the deceased’s face. Only the best will do.

Two days before the New Year, a service is held at the Methodist chapel for Charlotte Little. All the same people who were at the White party attend the service, except now they are in black and are no longer smiling. Everybody wants to know how such a thing could happen. How could a little girl go out on a freezing Christmas Eve in only a thin dress and no coat, hat, gloves or galoshes? Some of the ladies look accusingly at mother and then look away quickly when she looks back.

The ground is hard as iron. No new graves can be dug until there is an appreciable thaw. Frozen Charlotte is kept in the frigid sub-basement of the church for the duration. All through the winter, people may come and visit her and pay their respects. They line up and peer into the little window over her face and are subdued into silence by the mystery of death.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Dickie Manly

Dickie Manly ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Arlene Upjohn sat on the high porch of the old house she shared with her mother, swinging herself gently in the old-fashioned porch swing that belonged to her grandparents. She held a woman’s magazine on her knees and, turning the pages, looked at the pictures and the advertising without much interest. When someone passed on the street in front of the house, she watched them warily to see if it was anybody she knew.

In a little while a young man approached on foot. When Arlene saw him, she felt a little flush of pleasure and interest. One didn’t often see his kind on this street. He wore dark glasses and a dark suit and carried a briefcase.

Arlene watched him without letting him know she was watching him. Surprising her, he approached the porch and, looking up, spoke to her.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said. “I’m a little lost. I’m looking for the Presbyterian church.”

“The what church?”

“Presbyterian.”

“It’s not on this street,” she said. “Keep going for a couple more blocks and then turn to the right when you come to Fulton Street. That’s where the church is.”

“I’m not too far off then.”

“Are you a minister?” she asked.

“Do I look like a minister? I’m a salesman.”

“What do you sell at a church?”

“Books.”

“Books for people to sing songs out of?”

“Something like that.”

She went back to her magazine, thinking the young man would walk on, but he continued to look up at her.

“My name’s Dickie Manly,” he said.

“Well, isn’t that fine!”

“What’s your name?”

“I don’t think my name could possibly be of any concern to you.”

“Why don’t you come down off that porch and let me get a better look at you?”

“I’ll stay where I am, thank you!”

“Can I come up there and sit beside you? I’ve been on my feet all morning and I’m pretty tired.”

“No! Don’t come up! My mother’s in the house! She’s getting ready to go for her doctor’s appointment and she wants me to go with her.”

“Is she sick?”

“That’s why she’s seeing the doctor.”

“Well, could I trouble you for a glass of water? I’m very thirsty.”

“You can have a drink of water if you promise to leave before my mother sees you.”

“All right. I’ll leave.”

“I’ll go inside now and get your water.”

“Might I come inside with you?”

“No! My mother is very particular! I’ll get the water and bring it out here.”

“When you have the glass of water in your hand, will it be all right if I come up the porch steps and take it from you?”

“No, that won’t do! I’ll set the glass on the top step and after I’ve resumed my seat you can come up the steps and get it.”

“Well, if that’s the best you can do.”

“I’ll be right back in just a minute. If you go away before I come back, it’ll be altogether fine with me.”

“I won’t go away. I’ll wait right here.”

Entering the house, she went into the kitchen, filled a clean glass with cool water and took it back out to the porch. When she saw that Dickie Manly was still there, she set the glass on the top step and stepped back.

With a smile, he climbed the eight steps and picked up the glass of water and drank until it was empty.

“Thank you,” he said, setting the glass back down.

“Now, will you please go before my mother comes down from upstairs and sees you?”

“All right. I’ll go. Might I ask you a question first?”

“What is it?”

“What do people do in this town for fun?”

“Stay at home and mind their own business.”

Hah-hah! You’re really not as hard as you pretend to be! You’re lonely like everybody else. Why don’t you loosen up and have some fun?”

“Look, mister…”

“Dickie.”

“Look, Mr. Dickie, you don’t know anything about me and I’ll thank you to stop pretending you do.”

“You must be thirty years old. I would venture to guess you don’t get asked out on too many dates. You have a lot of lonely evenings at home with mama.”

“How do you know I don’t have a husband and three children?”

“I noticed right away you’re not wearing a wedding ring. That generally means a person isn’t married. I’ve trained myself to notice little details like that.”

“You might do well to mind your own business.”

“For myself, I’m twenty-six. If you’re thirty or thirty-one, I don’t mind a few years’ age difference.”

“I think I hear my mother coming.”

“Will you have dinner with me tonight at my hotel?”

“No! I can’t! You’re a stranger!”

“What’s so bad about that? We’re all strangers until we get to know each other.”

“You’re trying my patience!

“It’s the Edgewater Hotel. Meet me in the lobby at six-thirty and I’ll reserve a table in the restaurant.”

“No! Don’t expect me to be there because I won’t!”

“I’ll bet it’s been a long time since a man asked you out to dinner. Maybe never.”

“I have a boyfriend.”

“No, you don’t!”

“I’ll be spending the evening with my boyfriend, if it’s all the same to you!”

“I know when people are lying.”

“Why would I take the trouble to lie to you?”

“Edgewater Hotel, room three-twenty-six. Dickie Manly’s the name.”

“Good-bye, Mr. Manly.”

“Call me Dickie.”

“I can’t say it’s been a pleasure meeting you because it hasn’t.”

“Until this evening, then.”

“I won’t be there! Plain and simple!”

He bowed from the waist like a viscount and then he was gone.

As Arlene sat and waited in the doctor’s office waiting room for her mother that afternoon, she felt a pang of conscience that she had been so unyielding with Dickie Manly. He was probably a very decent fellow and not at all bad looking. What would be the harm in having dinner with him at his hotel? How many times was she going to be asked out before she was too old to be of interest to anybody?

She was restless all the rest of the day and her mother said she looked “peaked.” She could hardly stand her mother’s incessant chatter about trivialities. She went out into the back yard to be alone, but her mother soon came out, too, wanting polish applied to her fat fingers and toes.

“I want you to drive me to prayer meeting tonight,” her mother said. “We’ll  need to leave at about quarter to seven.”

“Sorry, mother. I have plans. You’ll have to call a cab or get Beulah to come by and pick you up.

Plans? What plans?”

“My friend Edith Farris and I are going to take in the new movie at the Odeon downtown.”

“I thought you said Edith Farris was in New York.”

“She’s back.”

“Well, isn’t that strange?”

“What’s strange about it?”

“She was on a trip to New York and now suddenly she’s back.”

“Well, you know what people are like. They change their minds pretty fast sometimes.”

“Well, all right! If seeing a movie with a high school friend is more important that doing what your mother wants, then go ahead and see the damned movie!”

“I’ll call Beulah and ask her to come by and pick you up.”

“Don’t bother! I think I can take care of it myself!”

Her mother didn’t speak to her or look at her for the rest of the day.

She changed her clothes and at six o’clock sped off in her mother’s old Chrysler that her mother was no longer able to drive. She arrived at the Edgewater Hotel at twenty minutes after six and went into the lobby and sat down in a conspicuous spot where anybody getting off the elevators would be sure and see her.

At fifteen minutes before seven Dickie Manly hadn’t appeared. She began to worry that possibly he forgot that he invited her to dinner. He had seemed so determined, though, so confident. She was certain he wouldn’t give up so easily.

At five minutes after seven she went to the hotel desk and asked the clerk to ring Dickie Manly’s room, number three-twenty-six.

“Mr. Manly checked out, ma’am,” the clerk said cheerfully.

“Checked out?”

“That’s right.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“Not to me, ma’am.”

She didn’t want to go back home so early, with nothing to show for her evening. She thought about going into the restaurant and ordering dinner alone, but she wasn’t hungry and couldn’t eat. She had to ask herself an important question: What do people do when they feel lonely, disappointed and foolish?

She went into the dark hotel cocktail lounge and took a seat at the bar. She ordered a martini and after she drank it down ordered another one. When she was on her fourth martini, a man came and sat down on the stool beside her. He smiled and offered her a cigarette which she readily accepted.

“Could I buy you a drink?” he asked.

She nodded and the drink was placed on the bar in front of her.

“My name is Cleo Hall,” the man said.

“Happy to meet you,” she said, but didn’t offer her own name.

In ten minutes Cleo Hall was nuzzling against her. He put his hand on her shoulder and when she didn’t object he put his other hand on her upper thigh.

“Would you like to go someplace more…intimate?” he breathed his hot alcohol breath into her ear.

She looked at him and nodded solemnly. Standing up from the stool, a little shakily, she waited for him to disentangle his feet and stand beside her. She took his arm then, like an old acquaintance, and together they walked out of the bar—through the hotel lobby—through the slapping revolving door—and out into the cover of night.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

Maroon and Yellow

Maroon and Yellow ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Everybody knew Miss Penny. She was the elderly widow who lived in the trim white house on the corner with green window shutters and a pear tree in the front yard. She was frequently seen tending her lawn, walking along the street carrying groceries, or soliciting donations in the neighborhood for a charitable cause or to buy flowers for someone who had died. When she saw any of her neighbors, she always called out to them cheerily and waved and smiled. Everybody loved Miss Penny.

Suffer the little children to come unto me. Miss Penny’s home was something of a haven for the better-behaved, calmer children of the neighborhood. On warm summer evenings, they liked to sit in the glider on Miss Penny’s screened-in porch, sipping Kool-Aid and eating cookies, while she sat in her old-fashioned rocking chair beside her huge fern and listened to them prattle on about school or their families. She smiled and laughed, encouraged them to be themselves, not be sullen and withdrawn. She was like the indulgent grandmother they wished they had. Sometimes she gave them small amounts of money to do little jobs for her, such as sweeping the front walk, putting birdseed out for the birds, or lifting down a box from the top shelf in the closet.

Tippy Kepke lived on the other side of the street, down the block from Miss Penny. She was fourteen years old and lived with her parents and her two manly older brothers. She thought all her teachers in school were bitches or assholes. Her parents were assholes, and she wanted, more than anything, to see her two brothers eat shit and die. She regarded Miss Penny warily and pondered why a woman that old was still allowed to live.

Tippy was unpopular in school, but she knew a way to change all that. She would try out for cheerleader, and if she was lucky enough to be chosen over the other nitwits who tried out, she would be welcomed into the world to which she so fervently aspired: the world of handsome, sleek, well-dressed boys, and pretty girls with perfect hair and skin; the world in which boys would pick her up in their very own cars for Saturday night dates; the world in which she, even she, might be homecoming queen and get her picture in the society column.

She stole a book from the library that told all about cheerleading, with cheerleader routines and yells; pictures of how cheerleaders dressed, how they deported themselves. There were drawings at the back of the book that demonstrated exercises that cheerleaders ought to undertake, because—don’t you know?—a cheerleader needs to be in tiptop physical condition and have winning muscle tone. A cheerleader is a winner and not a whiner. A cheerleader sets an example for the other students in the school, girls and boys alike. A cheerleader excels in all things, at all times. Yes, being a cheerleader is not something to be taken lightly. The cheerleader of today might be the movie star of tomorrow. Anything is possible in the world of the cheerleader.

She began to think of herself as the “cheerleader type.” She tried to do the exercises in the book but she hated any kind of physical exertion and soon became bored and achy. What she was able to do, though, was to pay closer attention to her grooming and appearance. She began washing her hair and face more often and making sure she didn’t have dirt under her fingernails.

The biggest obstacle to not becoming a cheerleader, she believed, was not having the cheerleader outfit with the school colors, maroon and yellow. The outfit consisted of short skirt, long-sleeved blouse, jumper, knee socks, and optional sweater for colder weather. The entire outfit might be purchased at Delaney’s department store for thirty-nine dollars and ninety-five cents: not a lot of money when one considered what it might mean to her future. If she had the outfit, she’d wear it to the tryouts and, surely—if there was a God in heaven—that would give her an edge over the others, even if her cheerleader moves were not all they should be.

She knew it was useless to ask her mother for the money. It would only get her started on one of her boring lectures about how hard money is to earn and to keep after it’s earned. She might steal the money if she knew who she might steal it from.

Then she thought of Miss Penny. She knew that Miss Penny sometimes paid children in the neighborhood money for doing little things for her. She would go to Miss Penny and offer her services for the paltry sum of thirty-nine and ninety-five cents, plus tax. She could work the money out somehow: cleaning house, washing dishes, doing laundry, yard work, or whatever the silly old cow needed.

It was a good plan and she congratulated herself for thinking of it.

The next morning after her mother left for work and her brothers were away doing whatever brothers do, she went to Miss Penny’s front door and knocked timidly. Not getting any answer, she walked all the way around the house a couple of times. Then she tried the back door, found it unlocked, and entered the kitchen without making a sound.

Standing for a moment just inside the door, listening, she heard nothing. Miss Penny must be gone, probably to the store or the beauty parlor, or maybe visiting a neighbor. Maybe she would only be gone for a minute or two. Whatever Tippy was going to do, she had to do it fast before Miss Penny came back and found her. If she could find some money and take it and then leave, that would be perfect. Miss Penny would never know who took it. But where would an old woman keep money in her house? That was the question.

She crept soundlessly through the kitchen and then the dining room into the front room, and there was Miss Penny, asleep on her back on the couch, her chest moving up and down with her breathing. Her right arm was up over her head and her left arm by her side. The television set, to the right of the couch, was on, but with the sound turned so low it could barely be heard.

If Miss Penny woke up at that moment and saw her in her house, she’d scream and jump up and call the police and have a great squawking fit. Tippy couldn’t let that happen. They’d come and take her away in handcuffs and lock her up and she’d never, ever, be cheerleader after a thing like that happened.

She had to act fast. A sound outside scared her. Someone was coming! She felt genuine panic rising inside her, the panic of being found out doing something horrible. She felt faint with confusion and fear. Not knowing what else to do, she ran into the kitchen and grabbed a knife from a knife rack on the counter beside the sink. Gripping the knife so hard it hurt her hand, she ran back into the front room where Miss Penny lay.

A sudden solution occurred to her, as though whispered into her ear. Stab the old bitch to death and take the money out of her purse and get out of the house as quickly as she could! Nobody would ever know she did it. She had hardly known Miss Penny and had never been in her house before. The police would think a burglar or a drifter had done it.

With the first thrust of the knife into her flesh, the old woman woke up, gasped for air, tried to sit up. She opened her eyes and when she saw Tippy and knew what was happening to her, she closed them again quickly, as if on a horrible vision. The life went out of her so fast and so easily!

The deed done, Tippy took the knife back into the kitchen, washed it off with hot water—including the handle—and put it back into its rack along with the other knives.

Miss Penny’s purse was easy to find. It sat on top of the dresser in the bedroom, plain as day. Tippy didn’t even have to look for it. She opened the purse, took out the wallet and inside found two twenties, a ten, and two ones. Fifty-two dollars! Enough to buy the cheerleader outfit and have some left over to buy something else. It had all been easier than she thought it would be.

That evening she was especially kind to her family. She smiled at her brothers and helped her mother with dinner and then, when the meal was over, cleared the table and washed the dishes while the rest of the family watched television.

The next morning she slept late, after a night of untroubled sleep. After a light breakfast, she got dressed and walked downtown to Delaney’s. The day was sunny and fresh and much cooler than it had been. There was a hint of autumn in the breeze.

Delaney’s had the cheerleader outfit in stock, in exactly the right size. Tippy’s heart sang! Finally, good things were going to happen for her. Doors would open that had previously been closed. It was the turning point she had been hoping for.

With the bulky Delaney’s bag containing its treasure gripped tightly in her fingers, she went straight home, without any dawdling. She couldn’t wait to take the bag up to her room, lock herself in, take the things out of the bag, admire them one by one and try them on in front of the mirror.

When she got home, she went into the house by the back door, as she usually did. She couldn’t have seen the police cars parked at the curb.

Her mother was standing in the living room. When she heard Tippy entering from the kitchen, she turned and looked in her direction, her face pale and stricken. She took the Delaney’s bag from Tippy’s hands as if not really seeing it and gestured to the two police officers standing a few feet away. Tippy hadn’t seen them at first. She showed by the look on her face that she knew why they were there and what it was going to mean to her future.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

Spiritus

Spiritus ~ A Ghost Story by Allen Kopp 

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

My name is Igor Dillingham. In 1893 I was twenty-one years of age. I was twenty-one then and I’m twenty-one now. Twenty-one I shall always be. Every time I look at myself in a mirror, I see my twenty-one-year-old self looking back at me. I will never be forty or sixty or eighty, but always the same as I am now, for I am dead and I dwell in the spirit world.  

A lot of years have gone by, I know, although time, the passage of years, means nothing to me. I still dwell in our old house. The house, old as it is, is also big. I forget exactly how many rooms there are in it but, since I am the only one left, all the rooms belong to me. The house, I was told, was built a long time ago by a rich man with many children. All of the original family are gone—I’ve never met any of them—and I have never encountered any of them in the spirit world. They have all moved on, as the saying goes.

Now the house is falling down in places. The paint is all gone, the wood is old, ugly and gray, the roof has holes in it; mice, bats and spiders are my eternal companions. I hear, always, the flutter of wings above my head as birds nest in the attic. Some of the windows are broken out, but it makes no difference to me because I am a spirit and spirits don’t mind the cold wind and rain.       

Sometimes I go out of the house, but the truth is I have no place to go. On occasion, just to prove to myself that I still can, I go outside and travel a mile or two in any direction. In these little forays out into the world, I never see a living person but only wild animals and birds, which is altogether fine with me. Animals, even if they can’t see me, sense that I’m there and are not afraid.

The road that leads down to our house was washed out in a flood forty years ago. Nobody bothered to build the road back. Even if people could get down here, they have no reason to do so. It is a place completely shut off from the world and forgotten. I think isolated is the word. If I saw a living person who wasn’t a spirit, like me, I wouldn’t know what to do. I suppose I’d run and hide and make sure I gave him good enough reason to want to leave.  

In my aloneness, I am sometimes reminded of the people I once knew when I was alive. I had a sister, Sobriety, and a brother, Claxon. Sobriety had an enormous head; she was what’s known as hydrocephalic. She stayed in a crib in an upstairs room most of the time, tended only by a mute servant that mother employed. I used to go into her room to visit her and try her to keep from feeling lonely, but I’m not sure if she ever knew I was even there. Mother sold her to a traveling freak show when she was about twelve years old for fifty dollars. After the freak show people took her away, I never saw her again. I don’t know what ever became of her but I hope one day I will meet her in the spirit world and rejoice to see that she is cured of her affliction.

My brother Claxon was covered with a scaly growth all over his body that made him look like a human frog. He never spoke in words but he made croaking sounds and he knew how to laugh. He was my closest friend; he and I communicated without words in the way of brothers. One day he made the mistake of defying mother in a very bad place—at the top of the stairs. She rushed him and pushed him. He fell all the way to the bottom of the stairs and broke his neck. He died later the same day. She didn’t want anybody to know what she had done, so she buried him in the hog yard out back before anybody had a chance to ask any questions. I nailed together a small cross and put it over the place where I thought he was buried, but the hogs trampled it into the mud.

Claxon wasn’t the first person mother killed, nor would he be the last. When I was six years old, she poisoned the man who was my father, or the man I believed was my father. She claimed he became sick in the night of unknown causes and was dead by the rising of the sun. She collected on his life insurance and become a modestly wealthy woman. That’s when she realized how profitable death could be for her.

She soon married another man with whom she had been communicating through a lonely hearts club. After six months of marriage, she murdered him by dropping a meat grinder on his head and claiming it was an accident. He didn’t have life insurance, but he had over a thousand dollars in a bank account and a small horde of silver coins, all of which became hers as his grieving widow.

About the time mother killed her second husband, she hired an itinerant worker to do small jobs for her. She had him tend the garden, paint the barn and mend the fence before she took him into her bed. He was her plaything for a few weeks, until he became tiresome to her and then she poisoned him—making certain first, however, that he had no relations who might come looking for him later. 

There were others after that. She placed an ad in a newspaper in the city for single gentlemen who might be interested in the pastoral life on a lush farm away from the hustle-bustle of the city. With a small investment of a thousand dollars, they might “buy into” a growing enterprise that had unlimited potential for growth and profit.

I don’t know how many “gentlemen” mother lured away from the city and killed, but I do know our hog yard out behind the barn became quite crowded with rotting corpses, while the wad of cash she kept hidden underneath the floorboards in her bedroom grew ever larger.    

I was the only living witness to mother’s depredations, but she thought I was too stupid to see anything, to know anything. From the time I was eight years old, I began writing everything down: names and ages of the people who ended up in the hog yard, where they came from, physical characteristics (bald, wears glasses, speaks with a stutter, speaks with an accent, missing fingers on right hand), how much money they brought to the “enterprise” and anything else I could see that set each one apart from the others. I also added to the record the details of how she sold Sobriety to a traveling freak show for fifty dollars and how she pushed Claxon down the stairs and broke his neck. I spared none of the distasteful details.

By the time I was a grown man, I had filled an entire notebook with these observations. If mother killed me, as I was certain she would one day, I hoped that my notebook would end up in the proper hands and justice would be served.  

She was gone for three days and didn’t tell me where she was going. When she came back, she had a new husband, a man named Jules DuFray. He was slick, well-dressed, the opposite of a farming man; he wore suits instead of overalls, even all the way out here where nobody ever saw him. I don’t know whatever possessed him to want to marry a pizzle-faced old harridan like my mother, but there you have it. She had always had a way with men. There’s no accounting for tastes, I suppose.

For several days I stayed out of mother’s way, keeping to myself in my room or in the woods. She and her new husband spent most of their time in mother’s bedroom with the door closed. When I passed by in the hallway, I could hear them grunting, breathing,  groaning. When we all sat down to dinner (cooked by a moronic “serving girl” that mother hired with one of her newspaper ads), mother was polite and subdued, almost as if she had been drugged. I knew she was putting on an act for her new husband, while all the time hatching some scheme in her head that would bring her enough money to live like the queen she imagined herself to be.

When I saw the cans of kerosene she had stored under the stairs, I knew that her plans involved burning the house—with me in it, of course—and then collecting on the insurance. She would make it look so convincingly like an accident that she would fool anybody who needed fooling.

I was afraid to go to bed and go to sleep, afraid that I would wake up and the house would be burning and it would be too late for me to get out. I sat in a chair in my room, fully clothed, dozing lightly, clutching my notebook, ready to escape the house at the first sign of smoke or fire.

Finally I could stand it no longer, this waiting for mother to kill me, waiting for the house to go up in flames. One morning I set out on the road for the nearest town, over ten miles away, to deliver my notebook to a man of the law, a person of authority who could set about bringing mother’s killing to an end.

I hitched rides part of the way, so I came to the town of Wadsworth by noontime. I asked an old man sweeping the sidewalk in front of a store where I might find the sheriff. He told me what I needed to know and in a half-hour I was sitting across a desk from an old man wearing a badge. I gave him my notebook and told him my fantastic story, or as much of it as I could get out without crying. He listened to me with unremitting seriousness and told me he would read every word of what I had written and look into my allegations as soon as time permitted. He gave me some water and some jailhouse food and, after I had rested for a while, I began the long walk back home.

Mother was waiting for me. She somehow knew where I had been and who I had been talking to. Without a word, she split my head with an ax and then hit me with a cane until I was dead as I lay on the floor. I felt my spirit leave my body and go up through the ceilings and floors of the house to the attic. It is here I have been ever since.

Mother and her new husband Jules DuFray got away before the sheriff and his men arrived. I don’t know where they went, but my mother, true to her fashion, disappeared as completely as if she had never existed. I’d like to think that she somehow, somewhere, met justice, but I’m more inclined to believe she just transferred her activities to another location.

I stood at the attic window and watched the men exhume the thirty or so bodies from the hog yard. When they were all finished collecting bodies and collecting evidence from the house, they put a heavy padlock on the front door and left. They didn’t know I was still here, and if they had known they wouldn’t have cared. I was as nothing, a tiny puff of air that disappears as soon as you see it.  

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

Don’t Wait Up

Don’t Wait Up ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

On a beautiful Friday evening in October, nobody under the age of twenty wanted to stay at home and listen to Jack Benny on the radio. Ruby Leftridge arranged to meet her friend Marcella Rogers on the corner by the cemetery. They were going to walk downtown to see the horror double feature at the Odeon Theatre.

“I don’t want you to go!” Ruby’s mother said. “There’s a crazed killer on the loose killing people! He strangles women!”

“Nobody’s going to strangle me, mother!” Ruby said. “You can’t let your life be ruled by fear. I’ll be fine. I won’t be alone. I’ll be with Marcella the whole time.”

“And what could she do for you?”

“She can scream really loud!”

“You always have to make a joke out of everything, don’t you?”

“Not always, but usually.”

“I don’t want two uniformed officers to wake me up late tonight with the sad news that my daughter has been murdered!”

“You won’t! I’ll be home about eleven. Don’t wait up!”

Ruby had known Marcella Rogers since sixth grade. She was a tall girl who sometimes seemed all knees and elbows. She saw herself as a great beauty. She had a receding chin and an unflattering mane of hair that she barely kept clean. She was twenty years old and worked as a typist in a real estate office full of men. She was always imagining the men in her office were in love with her and would leave their wives if only she gave them a little encouragement.

“Did you hear about the killer on the loose?” Marcella asked.

“Yes,” Ruby said.

“Isn’t it thrilling?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It scares all the old ladies, including my mother.”

“I think it’s tremendously exciting to have a maniac on the loose,” Marcella said.

“I hope they catch him soon,” Ruby said.

“Why? Are you afraid?”

“No. I don’t think it’s my destiny to die at the hands of a strangler.”

“Well, you never know. I wonder if he’s good-looking!”

“Who?”

“The strangler, silly!

“As long as he’s killing people, I don’t think it matters whether he’s good-looking or not. He can be an absolute perfect specimen of manhood and they’ll still fry his carcass in the electric chair. He’ll make a handsome corpse, as if anybody will be paying attention to the way he looks.”

“Oh, Ruby! You have no romance in your soul!”

“Not when it comes to cold, sadistic killers, I don’t.”

“You don’t know anything about him. Maybe he’s just misunderstood.”

“We’re all misunderstood but we don’t go around murdering people.”

“Say, I want to tell you about this new man in our office,” Marcella said. “His name is Jake something or other. I haven’t spoken one word to him yet, but I feel a sort of connection with him. I’ll be sitting at my desk working and I’ll look up and he’ll be looking at me from across the room. He can’t seem to take his eyes off me.”

“He’s probably the strangler and he’s planning on making you his next victim,” Ruby said.

“He is so good-looking and he has the most beautiful eyes! I’m hoping he’ll ask me out on a date.”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

“Oh, Ruby! I could never do anything so forward!”

“Send him a love note the way we used to do in junior high school.”

“Now you’re being silly.”

In two more blocks they came to the Odeon, its marquee of a thousand lights that welcomed all comers to step in out of the darkness and escape in a cinematographic dream.

“I wonder if I’ll see anybody here tonight I know,” Marcella said, as they took their place in line.

“You’d better not go off with one of your cute boys and leave me to walk home by myself at eleven o’clock. If you do that, our friendship is over!”

“Oh, honey, I would never do that!

After they bought their tickets, they went inside and stood in line at the refreshment stand to buy popcorn and sodas.

“It’s really crowded tonight!” Marcella said. “Hey, you! I want a large popcorn with extra butter and a large Coke!”

Most of the good seats were taken, so they sat close to the screen to get away from the rowdy high-schoolers who whistled and stamped their feet and threw popcorn.

The lights went down and the audience grew quiet. For the next three hours they would be drawn into the fabulous black-and-white fantasy world so far removed from real life. The first feature cast its spell and when it finished the second feature began after a five-minute interval.

When the show was over and Ruby and Marcella were filing out with the crowd, Marcella said, “There wasn’t a single person here I knew tonight.”

“You knew me,” Ruby said.

“Of course, dear,” Marcella said. “I wasn’t talking about you.”

“Well, after that horror extravaganza, are you ready to go home?”

“Let’s walk slow. The wind is blowing the leaves so beautifully.”

Three blocks past the movie theatre, the streetlights were farther apart; the streets were dark and deserted. They met a dark figure walking toward them, but he walked past without seeming to notice them.

“That might have been the strangler,” Marcella said.

“If it was, he wasn’t interested in us,” Ruby said.

“Don’t horror movies make you a little afraid to go upstairs by yourself with no lights on?” Marcella asked.

“Horror movies are just make-believe.”

“Well, I guess it’s kind of fun to be scared,” Marcella said, “as long as you know it’s not going to hurt you. In ninth grade, we used go into the cemetery at midnight without a flashlight and try not to scream. The first person to scream had to buy the next pack of ciggies.”

“My mother would never let me go out at midnight,” Ruby said.

“Mine, either, but I did anyway. I climbed out the window after she went to bed.”

“If my mother thought I was smoking, she would have killed me.”

“Mine too. Ever hear of Sen-Sen?”

“Yeah, it tastes worse than the cigarettes.”

“You’ve smoked?”

“Once or twice. I’d never take it up as a regular habit.”

“Well, I think it’s fun to smoke,” Marcella said. “It makes you feel sophisticated. Do you have any cigarettes on you?”

“No, do you?”

“No, I smoked my last one at the office this afternoon.”

“When did you take up smoking?”

“Oh, ages ago! I smoked all the way back in high school.”

“I never knew it.”

“Say, did you notice that boy taking the tickets when we went in tonight? He was awfully good-looking. I’ve seen him before. When I handed him my ticket, his hand touched mine and I felt an electric current pass between us.”

“He might be the strangler.”

“Oh, honey! You can’t believe that every man you see is the strangler!”

“Isn’t that what we’re supposed to think to protect ourselves?”

“The strangler is probably far away from here by now, in another state. Maybe ‘he’ is a ‘she’.”

“Did you ever hear of a woman strangling other women?”

“No, but I’ll bet it’s happened before.”

“That would really surprise people!”

“Yeah, what fun!”

They came to the corner by the cemetery.

“Well, I guess it’s time to go home,” Marcella said. “I hope my mother has gone to bed so I don’t have to listen to any more of her nagging.”

“It’s been fun,” Ruby said. “We’ll have to do it again sometime.”

“Surest thing you know!”

“Don’t let the strangler get you!”

“Not a chance!”

They parted there, Ruby going in one direction and Marcella in another.

In the three blocks she had to walk to get home, Ruby saw no one. A dog barked at her and a car passed, blinding her with its headlights, but all was quiet except for the wind in the trees.

Her mother had left a light on for her downstairs and gone to bed. She went into the kitchen and made sure the back door was locked and then she went upstairs and went to bed.

She went to sleep right away and slept soundly. She was in a deep sleep when her mother came into her bedroom and woke her up after three o’clock.

“Marcella’s mother is on the phone,” she said. “She wants to talk to you.”

The voice sounded remote and far away when it said, “Marcella didn’t come home last night.”

“Who is this?”

“It’s Eunice Rogers, Marcella’s mother. I thought maybe she decided to spend the night at your house.”

“No, she’s not here. I left her on the corner about eleven o’clock and came home. That was the last I saw of her.”

“Did she say where she was going after you left her?”

“She didn’t say, but I’m sure she meant to go home.”

“I’m worried.”

“Have you called the police?”

“No, I wanted to check with you first.”

“I’m sure she’s all right.”

“I’m not sure. This is so unlike her.”

“If I can do anything to help, let me know.”

“Thank you, dear, and if you hear from Marcella, will you call me?”

“Of course I will!”

Ruby didn’t sleep any more that night. She was sure something terrible had happened. If Marcella had been going someplace else after they parted, she would have mentioned it.

Two grim-faced police officers came in the morning and questioned Ruby in her bathrobe. She told them everything, about the two of them walking to the movies and then walking home, but she knew she wasn’t able to add anything they didn’t already know.

Marcella’s body was found in a ditch alongside the highway a mile or so out of town late the next day. She had been strangled with a two-foot length of rope. Police were investigating but had few leads.

After Marcella, everybody was waiting for the next strangulation. If it could happen to a girl like her, who would be next? People were afraid to go out at night and talked of little else. There were neighborhood watches and vigilantes roaming the streets with guns.

The strangler never struck again and was never apprehended. People speculated about what happened to him. Did he go away to continue his killing in some other location? Did he decide he had killed enough and didn’t need to do it anymore? Was he alive or was he dead? Was he somebody who people saw everyday shopping and paying his bills and going about his business in town? The possibilities were almost limitless.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

Each Dark Door

Each Dark Door ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Mrs. Jenks owned a three-story apartment building downtown. Every first of the month she visited the building and collected the rents due her. Most of the renters paid their rent on time (they were afraid not to pay, knowing she was the aunt of the deputy sheriff), but always there was somebody who didn’t have the money and would hide when she knocked or would confront her with a sad story about being sick and not being able to work or having a sick baby who needed medicine. More likely than not, those were the ones who had spent all their money on drink, lost it in an impromptu poker game, or never had any to begin with, because, well, things hadn’t been going so well lately.

A first of the month came when Mrs. Jenks was laid up in bed with her bad gallbladder and wasn’t able to leave the house. Instead of worrying herself sick about collecting the rents on time, she sent her granddaughter Virginia to do it for her. Virginia was sixteen.

Armed with the money pouch (held firmly against her body with her hand through the strap), Virginia started with the first door on the left on the first floor and worked her way down the left side, and when she was finished on the left she moved over to the right.

The hallway was musty-smelling and dark at all hours and was in no way pleasing or inviting. There were twelve closed doors with each door seeming to hold the possibility of menace. Some of these people are trash, grandma said, but if they pay their rent on time I can tolerate their trashiness as long as they don’t carry diseases or have bugs. If anybody gives you any guff or is rude, you be sure and write down their names. They might find themselves served with an eviction notice next week if they’re not careful.

Some didn’t answer their doors, as grandma had said, but were obviously there because Virginia could hear them moving around inside. Most of them were forthcoming, though, even if they were trash. They invited her inside with a smile while they counted out the money they owed or sat at the kitchen table and wrote out a check. She was offered things to eat and drink, including a vodka martini, which she politely declined.

At an apartment on the third floor, a blonde woman wearing a red-and-yellow Japanese kimono answered the door. She invited Virginia inside and asked her to sit down while she and her roommate, a dark-haired woman wearing men’s pajamas, got the rent together.

“We’ll have to pay you in small bills,” the blonde woman said. Her name was Hortense and her roommate’s name was Hazel.

“That’s all right,” Virginia said.

“We’ll need a receipt,” Hazel said. “We don’t want anybody saying we didn’t pay up on time.”

They counted out the money and when they handed it to Virginia she put it in the canvas money pouch and wrote it down in the pay book and gave them a  receipt.

“Would you like a cup of coffee or something?” Hortense asked Virginia after the transaction was completed.

“I’d like a drink of water.”

“Well, come on into the kitchen.”

On the table were remnants of breakfast, even though it was past lunch time. Hortense motioned for Virginia to sit at the table while she got a glass and filled it with water.

“The first of the month sure comes around fast,” Hortense said. “Just when you’re thinking your rent is all paid up, here it is the first of the month again and you have to fork over more dough.”

“Yeah, ain’t life a bitch, though,” Hazel said. “A bitch from beginning to end.”

“Life’s a bitch, so I became one!” Hortense said, laughing like a hyena.

Virginia didn’t get the joke, but she smiled anyway and felt uncomfortable.

“When you knocked on the door, we were just finishing breakfast. If you had knocked a half-hour earlier, we wouldn’t have heard you because we were asleep.”

“Tell her the rest,” Hazel said, “or she’ll think we sleep this late all the time because we’re lazy.”

“We work nights,” Hortense said. “We don’t get off until two or three in the morning and sometimes later than that, so that’s why we sleep so late.”

“What kind of jobs do you have?” Virginia asked.

“We’re ‘B girls’ at the Crescendo Club.”

“What does that mean?”

“We’re hostesses,” Hazel said. “We dance and drink and pretend we’re having a good time. We cozy up to the men without dates and get them to stay longer and spend their money on drinks.”

“Sometimes we go to their hotel rooms and sleep with them,” Hazel said, “if they’re not too vile and there’s enough money in it for us.”

“You shouldn’t be telling her that!” Hortense said. “She’s just an innocent young girl!”

“She has to learn some time, doesn’t she?”

“It’s all right,” Virginia said. “I’ve read Peyton Place. I know all about that stuff.”

“Your mother let you read a book like that?”

“She didn’t know I read it.”

“How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“Tenth grade?”

“Eleventh.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No. My parents don’t let me date yet.”

“You don’t know anything about men yet, do you?”

“No.”

“Well, don’t rush things.” Hortense said. “You don’t want to end up like us.”

“And why is a pretty little thing like you collecting the rent money in a hell-hole slum like this?” Hazel asked.

“I’m doing it for my grandma. She’s sick. She’s going to have her gallbladder out.”

“That old water buffalo that owns the building is your grandma?”

“That’s right.”

“You don’t look a thing like her!”

“I don’t look like anybody,” Virginia said.

“I’ll bet you have brothers and sisters, don’t you?”

“One brother. He goes to veterinarian school.”

“Is he good-looking?”

“No.”

“You’re not supposed to ask a girl a question like that about her own brother,” Hazel said.

“Well, I had a brother and I always thought he was very good-looking,” Hortense said.

“That’s because you’re twisted,” Hazel said. “Your whole family is twisted.”

“What about your mother and father?”

“What about them?”

“What do they do?”

“My father’s an accountant, I think, and my mother’s a housewife.”

“Does your pa go out drinking at night and slap your ma around when he comes home?”

“No, he mostly sleeps in the chair.”

“Is your ma pretty? Does she have lots of pretty clothes?”

“No, she’s tired all the time.”

“What do you want to be when you get through with school?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think about it. I always thought I’d like to be a writer, but I’ll probably end up being a housewife like my mother.”

“What’s your favorite subject in school?”

“I don’t know. English, I guess.”

“You don’t like math, do you?”

“How did you know?”

“You’re the artistic type, I can tell.”

“I guess so.”

“You have awfully pale skin,” Hortense said. “Have you ever thought about wearing a little lipstick?”

“My mother doesn’t let me wear makeup.”

“Would you like to try a little lipstick and see how it looks? Your mother doesn’t have to know.”

“I guess so.”

She went into the bedroom and came back with a tube of lipstick and a little mirror. She titled Virginia’s head back and slathered the blood-red stuff on her mouth. When she was finished, she told her to blot her lips and look at herself in the mirror.

“See? Doesn’t that make a difference?”

“It makes me look like somebody else,” Virginia said.

“That tube is practically new. You can have it. I have a whole drawer full.”

“Thank you.”

Hazel pulled Virginia’s hair to the back of her head. “Your hair is so lifeless,” she said. “You could use a good cut and some curl.”

“My mother cuts my hair.”

“What does she use? A steak knife?”

She twisted and pinned the hair so that it stayed up, exposing Virginia’s rather large ears.

“What do you think?” she asked, holding the mirror up so Virginia could see herself.

“I don’t know,” Virginia said doubtfully.

“She looks like a regular uptown sophisticate!” Hortense said.

“You know, I have a daughter just a little younger than you,” Hazel said, “but I haven’t seen her since she was seven. I have a son, too. He’s nine.”

“What of it?” Hortense said. “Everybody’s got kids! It’s the disease of the human race.”

“Well, if we stopped having kids, that’d be the end of the world,” Hazel said.

“An excellent idea, if you ask me!”

“Can you imagine being the last person on earth to die? There’d be nobody to come to your funeral.”

Virginia stood up. “Well, thank you for the glass of water and the lipstick and the advice about my hair, but I think I’d better be going now. Grandma will be wondering what happened to me.”

“So soon?” Hazel said. “We don’t very often have company.”

“Wait a minute,” Hortense said. She slipped a bracelet off her own wrist and put it on Virginia’s. It was a band of alternating red and yellow stones, worthy of the Queen of the Nile.

“How beautiful!” Virginia said.

“Wear it to remind yourself to come back and see us again real soon. Next time we’ll have a real party!”

When Virginia left Hortense and Hazel’s apartment, she walked down the three flights of stairs to the street, smelling the various smells of the building along the way, some good but mostly bad. She held the money pouch, much fatter than when she started, pressed tightly against her body the way grandma showed her, so nobody would come up behind her and grab it out of her hand. It would finish grandma off if anything happened to it. It would have to pay all the bills for the month.

The weather was fine and the park was close at hand. She decided to stop for a while before going on home. Grandma wouldn’t mind waiting a little longer for her money.

She sat on a bench in the sun, placing the money pouch firmly against her left hip where she could feel it without seeing it. She breathed deeply. The fresh air smelled good, of freshly cut grass and water from the fountain. Since it was Saturday, there were lots of people about: children playing games, men walking dogs, mothers airing their babies. In a little while a young man came along and sat down on the bench beside her.

“Hi there!” he said with a smile. He was older than she was, the kind of boy her mother would warn her to stay away from. “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.”

She was thinking about getting up and walking away when he surprised her by offering her a cigarette out of his pack. Without thinking, she accepted it and waited for him to light it. She had never smoked before and was a little flattered that he would think her the kind of girl who smoked. In her lipstick and with her new pinned-up hairdo, she felt sophisticated and grown-up. She could more than hold her own against any forward man in the park.

“Do you come to the park often?” he asked.

“You’re full of questions,” she said. “Don’t you know it’s not polite to ask strangers questions?”

“I didn’t mean any harm,” he said. “I’ll leave if you want me to.”

She smiled at him, liking him better than before. “It’s all right,” she said. “I don’t really mind.”

“My name’s Boyd Pitkin,” he said.

“Your name doesn’t really interest me.”

“What’s your name?”

“Rita Hayworth.”

“That’s a pretty name.”

“I think so.”

“Are those diamonds you’re wearing?” he asked, pointing at the red-and-yellow bracelet Hortense had given her.

“No, silly! Diamonds are clear and sparkly, like little pieces of ice.”

“Well, how would I know? I’m not an expert on diamonds.”

“Well, now you know.”

“Would you like to go someplace else?”

“Where?”

“I don’t know. Someplace where we can be alone.”

“Why would I want to be alone with you?”

“Can you give me one good reason why not?”

“How do I know you’re not a murderer?”

“Do I really look like a murderer?”

She turned and looked at him closely. He needed a shave, but he looked clean and healthy. He wasn’t exactly handsome but his brown eyes were appealing and he had good teeth.

“Murderers don’t always look like murderers,” she said.

“I’ve got my car parked just over the hill,” he said. “Would you like to go for a drive?”

“I don’t believe you’ve got a car.”

He took keys out of his pocket and jingled them close to her face. “I’ll take you wherever you say.”

“No, thanks. I shouldn’t be talking to a strange man in the park. I have to go home now.”

“Well, it was lovely meeting you, Rita. Maybe we’ll meet again at some time in the distant future.”

“I doubt it,” she said saucily, and it was the last thing she would say to him.

She was nearly home when she realized she didn’t have the canvas money pouch. She ran breathlessly back to the bench in the park, but, of course, the man—Boyd Pitkin, if that was really his name—was gone. Hoping against hope, she searched the ground, behind and under the bench, but the pouch was gone forever. Not knowing what else to do, she sat down, leaned forward with her nose touching her knees, and wailed like a wild animal.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

I Am Skippy Wellington

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I Am Skippy Wellington ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

I had fifteen minutes before bus time so I sat down on one of the ratty bus station seats that had part of the stuffing coming out. It was Friday night of a difficult week and I felt terrible. My toothache was killing me, I felt a cold coming on and I had heartburn from the spicy goulash I had for dinner. I took another pain pill for my tooth and was beginning to feel sleepy in the over-heated air when someone, some body, sat down beside me. I was ready to be annoyed when I turned my head and saw it was Skippy Wellington.

“How are you, Vance?” she said.

I was dumfounded, not only that she would speak to me, but that she knew my name.

“I’m fine,” I said, sounding more cheerful than I felt.

“I’m Skippy Wellington,” she said.

“I know. I’ve seen you around.”

“How are you liking school? How do you like your classes?”

“All right, I guess.”

“College is so much different from high school, isn’t it? I have a double major—English and drama—and believe me, it’s a lot of work! I was in one Drama Guild production in the fall and now I’m studying another part for a production in the spring. I hardly have time to see my fiancé. I believe you know him? Finton Beauchamp?”

“We room on the same floor.”

“Everybody tells us we need to wait to get married until after we both graduate, but that won’t be for three years and I don’t think we’re going to wait that long.”

“Well, if it was me, I think…”

“I want to ask you a personal question if you don’t mind.”

“Go ahead.”

“What’s your opinion of Finton?”

“I don’t know him very well.”

The truth was, I thought he was an abrasive, arrogant asshole, but I didn’t want to tell Skippy that.

“I mean, you see him as a boy sees him. I’d just like to know what he’s like from the perspective of a person like you, who sees him doing ordinary things like taking a shower, watching TV in his underpants, going to the toilet.”

“I don’t pay that much attention,” I said. “He’s just one of about twenty-five people on our floor.”

“I can see you don’t know what I’m talking about,” she said.

I looked at the clock on the wall and said, “It’s about time for my bus.”

“I don’t often get a chance to talk to any of his friends.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say I’m a friend.”

“I’m trying to get an idea of a side of him that I don’t ordinarily see.  Does he talk much about sex or other girls?”

“Not to me,” I said. “I don’t know him that well.”

“You see, I’m not really sure of him. I think he keeps his true self hidden, and I’m afraid I won’t find out what he’s really like until after we’re married.”

“I’m sure you’ll work it out,” I said, with what I hoped was an air of finality.

“I want to be an actress, you know! I’m talking Hollywood! I love acting. I just don’t think I could go on living if I didn’t act. Acting is my passion! It’s my life!”

“Maybe you’d better not marry Finton, then,” I said.

“That’s what I was thinking, too. I think marriage to Finton might be incompatible with a career in Hollywood.”

“You have to decide which is more important, I guess.”

“That’s exactly right! You’re so sensible!”

“Not really.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No, I-I-I just want to make it through school first before I start thinking about anything like that.”

“Well, I know at least five girls who would just love to go out with you!”

“The ugly ones?”

“Now, you know and I know there are more important things than looks! What’s on the inside counts more than what’s on the outside.”

“That’s true, I guess.”

“I feel I can confide in you, Vance,” she said.

“Thanks. I feel I can confide in you, too.”

“There are things about me that Finton doesn’t know. He’s an alpha male, a real traditionalist! If he were to know the absolute truth about me, I think he might decide he doesn’t want to marry me after all!”

“Well, maybe the things you’re talking about…”

“For one thing, I’ll never be able to have children. You’re the only person outside of my family I’ve ever told.”

“Well, maybe Finton wouldn’t want any,” I said.

“Oh, I know he wants them! He’s told me so! He wants a traditional family and a traditional wife. A wife who can’t have children isn’t traditional.”

“Maybe if you just told him.”

“Well, I’ve thought about telling him, but I’m afraid it’ll ruin everything.”

“I don’t know Finton very well, but I think…”

“He thinks I’m perfect in every way. He thinks I will be the model American wife without any defects, free from the mental illness that plagues my mother and my sister. It would never occur to him that I might have irritable bowel syndrome or genital warts or anything awful like that. He sees me as a beauty queen or a sorority debutante, a future glamorous movie star, but I’m so much more than that! I’m a real person!”

“Your mother is mentally ill?” I asked.

“Yes, and it’s hereditary. There’s a good chance I’ll end up mentally ill, too.”

“If Finton really cares about you…”

“And that’s not all!” she said. “I’m epileptic! I have seizures!”

“Don’t they have medicine for that?”

“They do and I take it, but I still have seizures. I might have a seizure at any moment of the day or night and there’s nothing I can do about it. People make cruel jokes about it all the time.”

“I’ve never heard anybody make a joke about it,” I said.

“That’s because you’re pure of heart.”

“Nobody ever said that about me before.”

Skippy laughed. “Oh, you are so funny! And cute in a little, lost puppy-dog sort of way.”

“Nobody else would agree with you,” I said, “not even my mother.”

“It’s so good to have somebody like you to talk to!” she said. “Most people are so shallow! You can’t have a serious conversation with any of them.”

“Don’t even try!”

“My phone number is in the student directory. I want you to feel free to call me any time you’d like to talk!”

“Thanks!” I said, wondering exactly how desperate I would have to be before I would call her.

“And I might call you sometime, too,” she said. “If it’s all right.”

“Sure.”

“Just don’t tell Finton.”

“Of course I won’t.”

“He’s funny about things. He’ll think I’m using you to spy on him.”

“It would never enter my mind,” I said.

She began crying. I’m always surprised at how easily women and girls can cry. I took a rumpled Kleenex from my pocket and handed it to her. She dabbed at her eyes and nose.

“You’re so good!” she said. “Any girl would be lucky to have you!”

“I don’t think any of them would agree with you.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Vance. You are a wonderful person!”

I was relieved when my bus pulled up outside.

“There’s my bus,” I said. “I have to go.”

I stood up and she stood up beside me.

“Have a wonderful weekend!” she said.

“You too.”

She surprised me by putting her arms around me and kissing me on the lips. Her mouth tasted like a cherry cough drop. I was relieved when I finally got away from her.

My bus ride was smelly and soporific. When we pulled into the bus station in my home town, my sour-faced mother was there to meet me in her ancient, tank-like Oldsmobile.

“Hello, mother,” I said.

“Don’t think I’m going to cook for you and baby you all weekend long,” she said. “I’ve got my hands full.”

“Fine by me.”

“Your sister is staying with me with both kids. She says she’s left Bobo for good this time and is ready to file for divorce.”

“You’ve heard all that before,” I said.

“I think she means it this time. She’s terribly upset and the kids are out of control. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old under foot all the time. If they were mine, I’d slap them silly.”

“Suddenly I feel sick,” I said. “I think I might have to spend the weekend in my room away from the rest of the family.”

“Nothing doing, mister! I need you to help me corral the kids. You can play Monopoly and Parcheesi with them.”

“I hate Monopoly and Parcheesi! I’d rather be sitting in my room in the men’s dormitory at school.”

“That’s very selfish of you,” she said.

“I have some news,” I said. “News of a personal nature.”

“What is it?”

“I have a girlfriend.”

“This is a joke?”

“No, it’s not a joke. Her name is Skippy Wellington.”

“What kind of a name is that?”

“I don’t know. Chinese?”

“Is she pretty?”

“She’s beautiful. She’s an actress. Destined for Hollywood stardom.”

“Sounds perfect for you.”

I didn’t say anything else because she was consumed with her own problems and frankly didn’t seem all that interested in me. She lurched the car off the highway onto the lot of a pizzeria. She had promised her grandchildren she’d bring them a pizza.

Against my will, I got out of the car and went inside and ordered a large pizza with every topping imaginable and stood at the counter like a dumbbell and waited for it until it was ready.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

This Morning It Looked Like Rain

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

It was the annual end-of-school picnic for the teachers. Another school year filed and put away. Ethel Fix, Pauline Schoonover, Grace Wolfe and Margaret Durfee sat with Mr. Goodapple, the school principal, at his table along with Mr. Goodapple’s son, Zeke. Of the four women, three were married. Only Margaret Durfee was without a husband. Knowing that Mr. Goodapple was a recent divorcee, she made no secret of the fact that she would make herself available to him if he so desired. Mr. Goodapple, for his part, wasn’t interested in Margaret Durfee or anybody else. Whenever he realized that she was looking at him with a secret and suggestive smile (suggestive of what?), the only thing he felt for her was embarrassment.

“It turned out to be a lovely day after all,” Grace Wolfe said.

“Yes, lovely,” Ethel Fix said. “It’s supposed to rain tonight, though.”

“When we’re all safely in our beds.”

“The park is lovely in the springtime,” Pauline Schoonover said.

“Summer is right around the corner,” Grace Wolfe said.

“What are you going to do this summer?” Ethel Fix said.

“My husband and I bought a camping trailer. We thought we’d take a few little trips. Fishing trips, mostly.”

“Do you fish?”

“No, mostly I swat mosquitoes.”

“I’m going to give my house a thorough cleaning during vacation. Do a little painting.”

“Oh, do you paint landscapes or portraits?”

“No. Walls.”

“I’m going to keep to town,” Margaret Durfee said. “I don’t really have any special plans, other than to relax. I’m not seeing anybody special or anything like that. I’ll be alone most of the time.”

“Goodness!” Pauline Schoonover said. “Don’t you get lonely?”

“Well, sometimes. Maybe a little.”

Young Zeke Goodapple, age thirteen, sighed loudly and yawned. All the ladies turned and looked at him.

“I think we’re boring Zeke to death with our talk,” Ethel Fix said.

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to be rude,” Mr. Goodapple said. “Did you, Zeke?”

“Huh?”

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

“No.”

“No, what?”

“No, I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“Do you have some interesting plans for the summer, Zeke?” Margaret Durfee asked.

“No.”

“That’s not true, now, is it, Zeke?” Mr. Goodapple said. “You do have some interesting plans.”

“What kind of plans?” Grace Wolfe asked.

“Tell them, Zeke,” Mr. Goodapple said. “Tell the ladies what you’re going to be doing this summer.”

“Um, I don’t remember.”

“Zeke will be taking a couple of remedial courses in summer school so he’ll be ready for junior high when school takes up again. English and math. And that’s not all, is it, Zeke?”

“What?”

“When he’s not in school, he’ll be taking swimming lessons at the YWMC.”

“Oh, won’t that be fun!” Pauline Schoonover said.

“I don’t have a suit,” Zeke said.

“A suit? Why do you need a suit?”

“A swimsuit.”

“Oh, yes! Of course!”

“I don’t really want to go into the pool,” Zeke said. “I’m afraid of the water. I have dreams where I can see myself being pulled out with hooks. Dead.”

“Oh, my!”

“The boy has a vivid imagination,” Mr. Goodapple said. “He reads horror stories every night before going to bed and I’m afraid they make him a little more morbid than he should be.”

“He probably misses his mother,” Margaret Durfee said. “He needs the steadying influence of a woman.”

“We get along fine,” Mr. Goodapple said. “We’ve adjusted quite well to the new order of things.”

“Do you like to read, Zeke?” Grace Wolfe asked.

“Sure. I like stories where all the characters get killed. I also like monster movies. I always want the monsters to win and kill all the people, but that never happens.”

“See what I mean?” Mr. Goodapple said with a laugh.

“Well, I like monster movies, too,” Margaret Durfee said, looking appreciatively at Zeke.

“Did you know my mother went off and left me?” Zeke asked.

“I don’t think we need to talk about that now,” Mr. Goodapple said.

“She married some guy I never met. He already has three kids so they didn’t have room for me.”

“We discussed it at length and decided it was best for Zeke to remain with me,” Mr. Goodapple said.

“That seems the sensible thing,” Pauline Schoonover said.

“They live in New Mexico,” Zeke said. “I don’t think I’d like living in the desert. I have sensitive skin. Mother says she’ll send me the money for a plane ticket so I can come out and visit her sometime and meet her husband and his kids. I’ve never flown in a plane.”

“That should be quite an adventure,” Grace Wolfe said.

“I’m not afraid to fly by myself. If the plane crashes, I’ll probably die quick without really knowing what happened.”

“The plane won’t crash. You’ll be fine.”

“And when you come back,” Ethel Fix said, “you can tell your friends at school all about it.”

“I don’t have many friends,” Zeke said. “I mostly just like to be alone.”

Mr. Goodapple took out a pack of cigarettes and lit up, blowing smoke over the ladies’ heads.

“I didn’t know you smoked, Mr. Goodapple!” Pauline Schoonover said.

“Never at school. Only when I’m out like this.”

“Might I have one, dear?” Margaret Durfee asked, in imitation of a screen vamp.

He handed her the pack and his lighter, avoiding her touch, and looked away as she lit her own.

“You never really know people until you have lunch with them,” Ethel Fix said.

When everybody was finished eating, the ladies started cleaning up.

“Would you like to walk down the hill to the soldiers’ memorial with me, Zeke?” Margaret Durfee asked.

“I’m kind of tired and I have a sore toe,” Zeke said, “but I guess it’ll be all right.”

“Well, let’s go, then!”

Margaret Durfee took him by the hand as if he was a small child, but when he showed her he didn’t like that, she settled with putting her hand on his shoulder.

When they were out of sight, Grace Wolfe leaned over and said confidentially to Mr. Goodapple, “I think Miss Durfee has a terrible crush on you!”

“Don’t you see what she’s doing?” Pauline Schoonover  said. “She’s trying to get to you through your son!”

“I’d watch out for her if I were you!” Ethel Fix said. “She’s one of those crazy, passionate types and you never know what they’re up to!”

He had nothing to say, but only lit another cigarette and looked at his watch. The picnic was over and, thanks be to the Lord, it was time to go home.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

Things I Must Have

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Things I Must Have ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Mrs. Koenig lay near death. Her four grown children had taken it upon themselves to gather in her house to discuss the disposition of her personal belongings.

“I want the Tiffany lamp,” Gwendolyn said.

“I already said the Tiffany lamp is mine!” Cupcake said.

“I’ve loved that lamp since I was a baby!”

“So? It’s still mine!”

“I want the dining room table and chairs,” Kent said. “Mother said I could have them.”

“Not so fast!” Gwendolyn said. “She said I could have them.”

“When did she say that?”

“I don’t know. Last Christmas, I think.”

“Well, she just told me last month that I could have them, so I guess that cancels you out.”

“I get the antique bed and dresser that were grandma’s,” Cupcake said. “Mother told me when I was fifteen that she wanted me to have them.”

“Well, isn’t that funny, Miss Cupcake!” Gwendolyn said. “I always thought I would get the antique bed and dresser.”

“I want the complete set of Dickens and the set of Britannica,” Kent said.

“You can have them!” Gwendolyn said. “Nobody cares about books.”

I care. The Dickens set is over a hundred years old. It’s valuable. I’m going to sell it and buy a car I’ve been wanting.”

“Why don’t you keep the Dickens books and pass them on to your children, chowderhead?”

“I don’t have any children. Remember?”

“Oh, that’s right! There’s something funny about you, isn’t there?”

“There’s something even funnier about you!”

“I get the set of antique china,” Cupcake said, “and I’m not going to sell it, either.”

“What are you going to do with it, dear?” Gwendolyn asked.

“I’m going to keep it. What do you think? I also want the china cabinet. What good is the china without the cabinet?”

“I want the rolltop desk,” Cupcake said. “Mother told me in high school when I made the honor roll that I could have it.”

“I think the rolltop desk should go to me!” Kent said.

“And why is that?” Cupcake asked.

“It’s a man’s desk. I’m a man. Remember?”

“Oh, yes, darling! I keep forgetting!”

“I get the piano,” Gwendolyn said. “I’m the only one who plays.”

“You haven’t played since you were twelve years old,” Kent said, “and you were horrible! You used to cry when mother made you practice, and then she cried when she heard how bad your playing was.”

“Well, maybe I’ll take it up again. I always feel there’s something lacking in my life. Maybe it’s the piano.”

“Maybe it’s good judgment and common sense!” Cupcake said.

“Oh, and I also get the antique vase from China,” Gwendolyn said. “Mother’s piano wouldn’t be mother’s piano without the vase sitting on it.”

“Wait a minute!” Cupcake said. “I’m the only one here who knows antiques. I think I should get the antique vase from China.”

“I want mother’s photo albums and the big picture in the attic of grandma and grandpa,” Kent said. “Also the hall tree, the antique sideboard, the library table and the brocade sofa.”

“You can have them!” Gwendolyn said. “I never liked them, anyway.”

“Excuse me!” Cupcake said. “The library table is mine! I’ve already decided where I’m going to put it!”

I’ll tell you where you can put it!” Kent said.

“I must have mother’s silver that she only used for special occasions,” Cupcake said. “The china is nothing without the silver to go with it.”

“I’m going to take the grandfather clock,” Kent said. “I’ve had my eye on it for  a long time. I’m sure mother wanted me to have it.”

“Then why didn’t she say so when she was in her right mind?”

“She did! She said it to me!”

“Don’t you think it’s funny she never told any of the rest of us?”

Dickie was the fourth and youngest child. He had not spoken until now. “You should hear yourselves!” he said. “Squabbling like a bunch of old hens over things! Mother’s not even dead yet! She may recover! She may come home from the hospital! She may live many more years!”

“We’re just trying to be prepared for when the time comes,” Kent said.

“These are the things we grew up with,” Gwendolyn said. “They’re meaningful to us. We want to make sure they end up in the right hands.”

“Meaning your hands,” Dickie said.

“Don’t you want to stake your claim to the things you want to keep” Cupcake asked. “To remember mother by?”

“No, I don’t want any of this stuff!”

“Why not?” Gwendolyn said.

“This stuff isn’t your stuff and it’s not my stuff!”

“What are you talking about?” Kent asked. “Of course it’s our stuff! Who else would it belong to?”

“I am in possession of some information that the rest of you sons-of-bitches don’t know!”

“What are you talking about?” Gwendolyn asked.

“Have you lost your mind?” Cupcake asked.

“No, I haven’t lost my mind. Mother’s lawyer called me yesterday. On the phone. Mother knew you would be fighting over her things, so she made a last-minute provision to her will. She wants everything in the house sold at auction and the money—all of it!—to go to charity.”

What?” Cupcake said.

“I don’t think mother would do that!” Gwendolyn said.

“I don’t believe it!” Kent said. “You’re making this up out of spite!”

“And that’s not all!” Dickie said. “She donated the house to the church.”

Church?” Cupcake said. “What church?”

“People from the church talked to her many times about giving them the house when she died. They finally broke her down and got her to sign an agreement.”

“This isn’t right!” Gwendolyn said. “Mother wasn’t right in the head! We can contest it! We can file a lawsuit! We can hold it up for years in the courts!”

“I don’t think so,” Dickie said. “It’s all legal and valid. If you don’t believe me, call mother’s lawyer. His name is Kenneth Ormiston.”

“Mother disinherited us!” Kent said, as if in a daze. “We don’t get anything!”

“Mother wouldn’t do that!” Cupcake said. “Not to me! I was always her favorite!”

“She won’t get away with this!” Gwendolyn said. “I’m going to have her buried face-down!”

“I don’t think it’ll make any difference to her,” Dickie said, “one way or another.”

“I don’t think I can walk!” Cupcake said, sobbing. “I need somebody to take me home!”

“Dickie,  you bastard!” Gwendolyn said. “Look what you did to your sister! I’m going to kill you!”

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

You Might Have Gone Far

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You Might Have Gone Far ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Freda Ball stood at the window, in the small space between the couch and the wall, and ironed the shirts of a stranger. Usually when she ironed she went into a state of near-meditation to make the work less tiring and repetitive, but today she wasn’t allowed the luxury of escape. Her mother, Viva Lake, sat a few feet away on the couch, thumbing through the latest issue of her favorite woman’s magazine and sipping Coca-Cola out of the king-size bottle through a straw.

“I had such high hopes for you when you were young,” Viva said, wiping her nose on her knuckles. “You were the only one of my children to have what I would call natural beauty. And here you are taking in other people’s laundry to make a living for yourself and your child.”

“I don’t have to do this, you know.” Freda said. “I’ve been promised a job as a stripper out at the Blue Grotto any time I want it.”

“When you were little, people were in awe of your beauty. If you had cultivated your natural talents as a young person, you might have gone far in the entertainment world.”

“Doing what, mother? Twirling a baton? I’m afraid there isn’t much call for that after the age of twelve.”

“It wasn’t just the baton. You played the clarinet and you sang and danced. In the seventh grade, you were in the school play. Everybody said you were the best one, the only one with any real talent.”

“And then I grew up and reality set in.”

“How long has it been since you had an alimony check from that no-good ex-husband of yours?”

“It’s not alimony, mother. It’s child support.”

“How long?”

“Almost three months, I guess.”

“It’s been four!”

“If you know, then why are you asking me?”

“I think you should take that bastard to court and get every penny out of him that you have coming! Have him locked up in jail until he pays what he owes.”

“Being a racecar driver isn’t what it used to be, mother. He only works part-time now.”

“He never was man enough to get a real job!”

“You’ll have to talk to him about that, mother, and leave me out of it.”

“Did you know that pretty young wife of his is going to have a baby? Can you imagine a man like that bringing more children into the world?”

“I don’t care what he does, mother. He can impregnate as many women as he wants and it’s no concern of mine.”

“And what is Ruthie supposed to think? Her own father doesn’t care enough about her to make sure she’s properly taken care of, while he’s out making more babies with women half his age, without a care in the world.”

“I’m sure he cares about her, mother. He’s just…”

“Behind in his alimony payments!”

“It’s not alimony, mother. It’s child support.”

“If he was my husband, I’d shoot the son-of-a-bitch between the legs.”

Freda laughed and set the iron down. “I’m sure you would, mother, but I don’t think you’d care to go to jail any more than I would. You can’t go around shooting people, between the legs or anyplace else.”

“No jury in the land would convict you!”

“I’m not going to try it and find out.”

“You don’t have any backbone. That’s your problem.”

Freda counted the shirts she had left. “I’ve been standing here ironing these shirts all day and I have five more to go. Mr. Bartlett sure has a lot of beautiful dress shirts. All different colors and prints.”

“Yes, he’s a successful man, the kind of man you should have married.”

“You don’t even know him!”

“I know of him. I know his cousin.”

“When he comes to pick up his shirts, I’ll tell him I’m a divorcee and I sure would like to marry him because I admire his shirts so much.”

“And why not? You have to go after what you want in life.”

“Is that what you did, mother? You were a housewife your whole life, unhappily married to a man you didn’t love. You had five children and I’m the only one of the five who still speaks to you.”

“I don’t know how you can talk to your own mother that way.”

“I’m only speaking the truth.”

“I don’t know how you sleep nights.”

The clock chimed four and, as if on cue, Ruthie arrived home from school, breathless and sweaty.

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

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

“Who was?”

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

“Do you like dancing?” Viva asked.

“I like it all right,” Ruthie said.

“When I was young, I was quite a good dancer myself. I guess you’re taking after me.”

“I didn’t know you were going to be here today, grandma,” Ruthie said.

“Aren’t you glad to see me?”

“I guess so.”

“Grandma saw the doctor today,” Freda said. “She had a biopsy and isn’t feeling well. She’s going to spend the night.”

“Does that mean I have to sleep on the couch?” Ruthie asked.

“It’s just one night.”

“I can sleep on the couch,” Viva said. “It makes all my bones ache, but I don’t mind. I won’t take Ruthie’s bed.”

“Go ahead and take it!” Ruthie said. “You’ll need to change the sheets, though.”

“How about if you change the sheets?” Freda said. “Grandma’s a guest.”

“Oh, all right!”

“Just a minute, little girl,” grandma said. “Come over here.”

Ruthie approached reluctantly and Viva took her hands in her own. Ruthie thought she was going to play pattycake, but she just swung Ruthie’s arms back and forth and pursed her lips.

“Did you know you’re going to be having a little brother or sister very soon?” she asked.

“What?”

“Yes, there’s going to be a new addition to the family very soon!”

“Mama, is this true?” Ruthie asked.

“Don’t worry,” Freda said. “It’s not me. It’s your father.”

“Daddy’s going to have a baby?”

“His new wife is.”

“I thought they just got married.”

“They did. Daddy works fast.”

“Well, now, what do you think about that?” Viva asked. “A baby brother or sister.”

“I don’t think anything,” Ruthie said.

“You’re not just a tiny bit jealous?”

“Why should I be? I don’t care what they do.”

“Well, it’s a recipe for disaster if you ask me. Your father’s a no-good son-of-a-bitch and that’s all he’ll ever be. You know that, don’t you?”

“All right, mother!” Freda said. “That’s enough of that kind of talk! Quit trying to brainwash her.”

“What’s brainwash mean?” Ruthie asked.

“It doesn’t mean anything. It means it’s time to go and put clean sheets on the bed. Grandma’s tired and wants to go to bed early.”

After the supper dishes were washed and put away, Viva put on her nightgown and her heavy quilted bathrobe and tied her hair up in her sleep bonnet. After watching her favorite situation comedy on TV, she said good-night and disappeared into Ruthie’s room.

During the nine-o’clock hour, while Freda and Ruthie were watching a frenetic crime drama, Ruthie turned to Freda and said: “I don’t like grandma very much.”

“Nobody likes her very much,” Freda said. “She’s not a very likeable person. She never was.”

“How long are we going to have to wait for her to die so we can get her money and her house?”

“Not long, baby doll. Just be patient. Good things come to those who wait.”

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp