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 She smiled and laughed, encouraged them to be themselves, not be sullen and withdrawn.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