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And That Includes Cab Fare

And That Includes Cab Fare ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Mrs. Deal was eighty-five and had more cobwebs in her head than the basement and attic combined. She could no longer be trusted to stay at home by herself. She had been known to leave the front door open all night in the winter or turn the burners on in the kitchen and let dangerous amounts of gas escape into the room before she noticed the blue flame hadn’t come on the way it was supposed to. Her daughter, Patsy Ruth, age sixty-three, left her latest husband in the city and went to live with Mrs. Deal in her old-fashioned house on a corner lot in a small provincial town a good five-hour drive away.

Patsy Ruth had smothering emphysema from a lifetime of smoking Camel cigarettes, but her more immediate problem was her fragile nerves. She took little yellow pills her doctor had prescribed, sometimes twice the number she was supposed to, but still, no matter how many pills she took, Mrs. Deal tried her nerves almost beyond endurance. Mother and daughter had never been on the best of terms anyway, going all the way back to the beginning, and it was an almost impossible situation with them both living under the same roof. Mrs. Deal was stubborn on principle; it if was mealtime, she wasn’t hungry and refused to eat. At bedtime she refused to have the light off. Patsy Ruth thought at times about taking the whole bottle of yellow pills at once and getting into her big four-poster bed and going to sleep and never waking up, or going down to the railroad trestle and jumping into the shallow, muddy water a hundred feet below.

“I’m not a well woman,” she was fond of saying to anybody that would listen. “I still have my own life to live.”

To have an occasional “day off,” Patsy Ruth had to engage the services of a “woman” who was willing to spend a day, or at least part of an afternoon, sitting with an impossible old woman and keeping her from doing any harm to herself or to the house. When Mrs. Ida Stroud answered Patsy Ruth’s newspaper ad the first day it appeared, she seemed ideal; she had sat with old people before, she said, had some nursing experience, and lived only a short distance away. Patsy Ruth would have to pay for her to take a cab, though; Mrs. Stroud was fat, had painful varicose veins, and wasn’t able to walk very far.

“I guess we can manage the cab fare,” Patsy Ruth blatted into the phone, delighted that she had found the right person so easily and on the first day.

On Saturday, Patsy Ruth was going to visit the dentist, meet a friend for lunch and see a two o’clock matinee movie. She arranged with Ida Stroud to come on that day.

Patsy Ruth was gratified that Ida Stroud arrived on time on Saturday morning but was a little dismayed to see that she had brought her thirteen-year-old daughter, Stella, along with her.

“Stella don’t cause no trouble,” Ida said. “I can’t leave her at home by herself. She gets into too much mischief.”

Stella Stroud was a pale, skeletal girl with a permanent scowl on her face and dark circles around her eyes. Refusing to say hello to Patsy Ruth or to Mrs. Deal, she slumped down on the couch, folded her arms and yawned.

“We’ll all get along just fine!” Ida gushed. “We’re going to have a fine time, aren’t we? Everything will be just fine.”

“I’ll be back around six,” Patsy Ruth said.

“Don’t give us a thought!” Ida said. “We’ll all be just fine!”

“Do you mean I have to stay in this hell hole all day until six o’clock?” Stella asked after Patsy Ruth was gone.

“Find something to do,” Ida said. “Go outside and commune with nature.”

“I don’t want to go outside!” Stella said. “I didn’t want to come here in the first place!”

“Sit there and be miserable, then! I don’t care!”

“You’re just a horrible old woman, you know that?” Stella said.

Of Ida’s eight children, Stella at thirteen was the youngest. Mr. Stroud had been dead for many years, the victim of a bad heart passed down to him through father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Ida beamed at Mrs. Deal. “You certainly are a lucky woman,” she said. “You have your daughter to look after you and you live in this fine, big house. That’s as much as any Christian woman might expect.”

“I’m a Methodist,” Mrs. Deal said.

“Where’s your husband?” Stella asked.

“He died.”

“What did he die of?”

“Shut up!” Ida said. “You’re not supposed to ask questions like that!”

“Well, I just wondered!”

 “Would you like a piece of butterscotch?” Mrs. Deal asked. “My daughter buys this butterscotch candy for me when she goes to the store.”

“No, thank you, dear,” Ida said.

“Haven’t you got any peppermint?” Stella asked. “I hate butterscotch.”

Ida gave Stella a warning look. “If you can’t be nice,” she said. “I’m going to slap you silly.”

“Well, let’s talk about something interesting,” Stella said. “I have sleep apnea. I could die in my sleep any night.”

 “Nobody wants to hear about that,” Ida said.

“Well, I don’t know why the hell not! I think it’s very interesting!”

“You think it’s interesting because it’s about you! You need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around you! And I told you not to use words like that!”

“Words like what?”

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about!”

“Well, pardon the hell out of me! I have to go to the bathroom! Where is it?”

“Ask Mrs. Deal,” Ida said. “It’s her house.”

“All right. What’s her first name?”

“You’re not supposed to use her first name, silly! Call her ‘Mrs. Deal’.”

“All right. Mrs. Deal, honey, I need to use your bathroom. Is that okay?”

“What?” Mrs. Deal said.

“She wants to know where the bathroom is,” Ida said.

“Oh. Go through the dining room into the back part of the house.”

Stella leapt to her feet. “It’s always so interesting to see other people’s bathrooms!”

“And don’t break nothing, either,” Ida said.

When Stella had gone out of the room, Ida gave Mrs. Deal a sad smile. “Kids!” she said. “This girl has given me more trouble than all my others put together. From the time she was born, she was trouble with a capital T, morning, noon and night. She would lie in her crib and scream all day long and all night. I told my husband I wasn’t having any more children because I was afraid they’d turn out like her. He didn’t care if we had another dozen because I did all the work of takin’ care of them. He made the living for the family, but that was all he ever did. At home he never lifted a finger.”

“I had three children,” Mrs. Deal said, “but only one of them is still alive.”

“All of mine are still alive!” Ida said. “I rue the day! Now, let me tell you, that Stella has had a rough time of it her whole life. When she was just a baby, she had yellow jaundice, whooping cough and I don’t know what all. You name it, she had it. And from the time she started to kindergarten, it’s been one problem right after another. She wet her pants just to defy the teacher and she refused to sit still and pay attention. Finally the school gave her a test and they said she wasn’t right in the head and they put her out! Can you imagine putting a child out of school? Then we had to send her to a special school in another town and, believe me, it cost a lot!”

“Maybe it’s just better not to have any children,” Mrs. Deal said. “I had three and both my boys are dead. One died two days after he was born.”

“Oh, isn’t that a shame! But it’s such a blessing to you that you still have your daughter. She lives with you and takes care of you.”

“She wants to put me in a nursing home so she can get married again. She’s been making a lot of calls, asking questions. She thinks I don’t know what she’s up to, but I’m not as stupid as she thinks I am.”

“I’d have you come and live with me,” Ida said, “but we live in such a small house. Not big like this one.”

“She’s still married to that last husband of hers, but here she is scouting around for the next one. She’s had I don’t know many husbands.”

“No!” Ida said. “And she seems like such a nice woman!”

“One of them she was married to twice.”

“Some people is like that. Can’t seem to find what they’re looking for.”

“My son was married two different times,” Mrs. Deal said. “He was an alcoholic and died at age thirty-five. Even younger than his father.”

“Isn’t that sad! Well, I guess we learn tribulation through our children if nothing else.”

“That’s what I mean,” Mrs. Deal said. “It’s probably better not to have any children at all.”

“Then we’d be alone, I guess, and that might be even worse.”

Stella came back from the bathroom smiling and wiping her hands on the seat of her pants.

“What were you doing in there so long?” Ida asked.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“You weren’t smoking, were you?”

“Don’t be re-dick! I don’t have any cigarettes!”

“Mrs. Deal and I were just swapping stories about our children.”

“I bet you told her how awful I am, didn’t you?” Stella said.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“I’m not ever having any kids. I don’t want the little son-of-a-bitches.”

“You shouldn’t say that,” Ida said. “You don’t know what the future holds for you. You’ll meet a wonderful man.”

Hah-hah! Where?”

“You’ll get married and live in lovely little house and you’ll realize after a while that something is missing and that something is little ones. After you’ve had one, you’ll want another and then another and then another.”

“You are so full of shit!” Stella said.

“Hey! I warned you about using that kind of language! One more word like that, and you’re going to have to wait outside on the front porch until six o’clock. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

“Oh, you know what you can do, don’t you?”

“I don’t want to hear another word out of you!”

“I just remembered,” Stella said. “Today is my birthday.”

“No, it ain’t, either,” Ida said. “Your birthday is in April. This is October.”

“I can make today my birthday if I want, can’t I? It’s such a boring, terrible day, I can say it’s my birthday just to help make it a little bit special, even if it’s not really my birthday.”

“No, you can’t, or if you do, just do it silently and don’t say anything!”

“I wonder if I’ll get any presents?”

“No, you won’t, so just forget about it!”

“When I get a little older, I’m going to run away from home!”

“Why wait?” Ida said. “Go now! Go anytime! You have my blessing!

“I’m not going to hang around this stupid, dead town and have a bunch of ugly babies and be just like everybody else. I’m going to Hollywood and I’m going to be a big movie star and when that happens, you’ll be sorry you were ever mean to me!”

“Send me a postcard!”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d like to be rid of me!”

“You try the patience of a saint!”

Stella said to Mrs. Deal, “You see what a crazy old bitch my mother is, don’t you? And she never stops being crazy! She’s crazy twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week! It’s a wonder I just don’t shoot myself!”

Ida stood up, took three elephantine steps, and in one deft motion, slapped Stella across the mouth. “I don’t want to hear another peep out of you for the rest of the day!”

Stella sobbed and rubbed her cheek and was sullen for the rest of the morning.

At noontime, Ida went into the kitchen to fix lunch, leaving Stella and Mrs. Deal alone together.

“My mother says you’re a tiresome old woman,” Stella said.

“She can leave any time,” Mrs. Deal said.

“Did you ever see anybody talk as much and not say anything at all? She’s like a big gas balloon with a leak. And did you ever see anybody so fat in all your life? Lord God! I’m embarrassed to be seen walking down the street with her.”

“Stick a pin in her,” Mrs. Deal said.

“Did you know I have a boyfriend? I’ll bet you’re kind of surprised to hear that about me, aren’t you? He’s sixteen and he has his driver’s license. He hasn’t got his own car yet, but he can borrow his brother’s car any time he wants. He’s coming to pick me up tonight. My mother doesn’t want me to go out with him, so I’ll tell her I’m going to a girlfriend’s house. She’ll never know the difference. And me and my boyfriend? We’ll drive out someplace to a secluded, romantic spot, and when we’re sure there’s nobody around we’ll get into the back seat and make love. Doesn’t that sound romantic? I’m a very romantic person, but I guess you can tell that just by looking at me.”

When lunch was ready, Ida took one of Mrs. Deal’s arms and Stella took the other arm and helped her into the kitchen.

“I’m not helpless, you know!” Mrs. Deal said.

Lunch was canned tomato soup and dainty little baloney sandwiches with the crust cut off. Ida was of the opinion that bread crust made old people choke.

“I don’t like tomato soup,” Stella said.

They ate in silence. Stella discovered she could eat the tomato soup as long as she soaked bread in it first. When Mrs. Deal was finished eating (hardly anything at all), she said she was sleepy and wanted to take her nap. Ida helped her into her bedroom, covered her up with an afghan and went back into the kitchen.

Stella was still sitting at the kitchen table, looking at something she held in the palm of her hand.

“What is that you’ve got there?” Ida asked her.

“Nothing,” Stella said.

Ida grabbed Stella by the wrist and made her drop what she was holding. It was a pair of little gold earrings.

“Where did you get those?” Ida asked.

“I found them in the bathroom.”

Stole them in the bathroom is more like it.”

“It doesn’t concern you.”

“It concerns me if that daughter knows that you’ve been stealing from them and fires me. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s all I have coming in right now.

“She’ll never know I took them.”

“Put them back right now or I’m going to shake your head so hard it’ll fall off your shoulders.”

“Not on your life! You get paid for sitting around this dump all day, while I get nothing! Isn’t my time worth something? I’ll be lucky to get five dollars for these. I’m not even sure if they’re real gold.”

“It breaks my heart to know I have an unrepentant thief for a daughter.”

“There’s worse things.”

“If Mrs. Deal and her daughter find out you do such things, they’ll think you’re just terrible!”

“They won’t find out.”

“When that daughter comes back, I want you to tell her you found those earrings on the floor and then give them back to her. Then she’ll know you’re acting in good faith.”

“Screw good faith! I’m not gonna tell her anything!”

“If you won’t tell her, I will! Do you want her to know you’re a thief?”

When Patsy Ruth returned home, she was in a happy frame of mind, with smiles all around. “I’ve had the most relaxing day,” she said. “Sometimes all a person needs is to get away from home for a few hours.”

“I know just what you mean,” Ida said. “We had a lovely visit with your dear mother and the time just flew by.”

Patsy Ruth paid Ida, plus cab fare, plus an extra five dollars since everything went so well.

“Now I can pay the light bill,” Ida said.

Ida and Stella put on their coats and made ready to leave.

“Stella has something she wants to tell you before we go,” Ida said to Patsy Ruth.

“What is it, dear?”

“Go ahead and tell her while I call the cab,” Ida said.

Stella hesitated until Ida was in the kitchen, where the phone was. “I just wanted to say…”

“Yes?” Patsy Ruth said.

“I just wanted to tell you there’s a bad smell in your bathroom. I think it might be coming from underneath the floor.”

“Oh, really? I haven’t noticed any smell.”

“Some people can smell things that other people can’t.”

In just a minute, Ida came back into the room. “The cab will be here in two shakes,” she said.

“Finally, I can go home!” Stella said.

Patsy Ruth opened the front door and gave Ida a friendly pat on the shoulder as she passed through. Stella refused to look at her or return her smile.

Patsy Ruth sat down on the couch facing Mrs. Deal and lit a cigarette. Her smile had turned into a scowl, the scowl that Stella wore as she went out the door. The happiness she felt when she came home had left her. The good day was at an end and now it was time to return to the ugly reality of living in the same house with her mother.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

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Somebody Somewhere

Somebody Somewhere ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

I was standing at the window. Inside it was still winter but outside it was spring. The sky was blue, trees and flowers were budding, the sun was shining and birds were singing. Miss Deloite, the woman with the delightful hanging mole on her upper lip, came up behind me. I heard her shoes squeaking on the floor and then smelled her particular sharp smell.

“You shouldn’t be wandering the halls,” she said.

I ignored her but as she walked away I turned and stuck out the tip of my tongue at her and she turned into a puff of blue smoke.

I went back to the room that I had come to identify as my own and lay on my back on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. I knew there was something wrong with me but I couldn’t remember what it was. I couldn’t even remember what place I was in. Oh, well. If it mattered at one time, it didn’t matter much any more.

I heard somebody coming and picked up a magazine and opened it and pretended to be reading. I wanted to look busy so nobody would ask me questions or try to engage me in conversation.

It was Theo, all dressed in white as usual. If I saw him in any other color, I wouldn’t recognize him.

“Where’s Miss Deloite?” he asked. “She said she was coming in here to help you with your bath.”

“I’m perfectly capable of taking a bath on my own without any female assistance,” I said, not looking up from the page.

I should probably have told him I just turned her into a puff of smoke but I would have to let him figure it out on his own. He should feel lucky that I didn’t do the same to him.

I crossed my ankles and wished I had a cigarette, and in came Louie from next door. He was wearing a lady’s red kimono with white dragons. I didn’t like Louie and I let him know it.

“What makes you think you can just barge into my room any time you feel like it, Louie? I’m supposed to be taking a bath.”

“I already took mine.”

“I’m so happy for you.”

“Do you have any candy?”

“If I did, I wouldn’t give it to you.”

“That’s not very nice.”

“Shouldn’t you be having your nails done or something?”

“I’m going to tell Miss Deloite you were snotty to me,” Louie said.

“You’ll be telling it to a puff of blue smoke.”

“What?”

Before Louie could annoy me any further, I raised my eyebrows and turned him into a little spider. I laughed as I watched him run on his touchingly small legs across the floor to the wall. He crawled up the wall to the ceiling and looked at me.

“You’re a medical phenomenon,” I said.

I was thinking about taking a nap, for lack of anything better to do, when Theo came back, bearing clean towels.

“Since Miss Deloite is temporarily not to be found,” he said, “I’m going to help you with your bath.”

“I already told you I don’t need help with a bath,” I said.

“Stand up now and take off your clothes, or I’ll do it for you.”

“I don’t want to take off my clothes for you any more than I do for Miss Deloite.”

“Do you want me to go get Stan and Sylvia?”

“Oh, please! Not Stan and Sylvia! I can’t tell them apart. Oh, I remember now. Sylvia’s the one with the mustache, isn’t she?”

“Cut the comedy now. Stand up.”

“Theo, I don’t like your tone of voice!” I said. “It’s not a polite way to speak to a man who isn’t well.”

He came at me with the intention of pulling me off the bed by my arm, but before he knew what was happening I raised my index finger at him and turned him into a blue jay.

Now, I had always thought the blue jay a most attractive bird, even though people said he was mean and liked to eat carrion.

Theo flapped his blue wings a couple of times and flew up to the ceiling and ate the tiny spider Louie in one gulp. Louie didn’t even have time to try to get away.

“Good bird!” I said.

He flew around the room a couple of times, bumping painfully into the walls until I stood up and opened the window for him. He didn’t have to be coaxed to fly out and then away over the treetops.

“Be well!” I called to him.

I lay down again. I did not want to take a bath and would be just as obstinate about it as I needed to be. I still believed the decision to take a bath should be mine alone. Crazy though I may be, I must have some rights left!

Before I had time to draw another breath, Nurse LaPeezy was upon me with my meds. I eyed the pills suspiciously.

“What if I don’t want to take that stuff?” I said.

“Doctor’s orders,” she said.

“So you’re saying I don’t have a choice?”

“I could call Stan and Sylvia if you like.”

“Oh, no! Not that!”

She handed me a cup of water and I pretended to take the pills. I put them in my mouth and swallowed but I held them under my tongue. When she bent over to pick something up off the floor, I spit them into my fist. The hand is quicker than the eye.

As Nurse LaPeezy was leaving I felt a strong dislike for her. I flicked the little finger on my right hand at her and she turned into a mouse. Realizing she was a mouse, she scurried across the floor the way mice do and disappeared into a conveniently placed mouse hole in the corner. I envied her because I knew she’d find her way to the kitchen where she’d have plenty to eat and find lots of other mice to keep her company. How sweet the life of a mouse must be! Much better than that of a nurse.

The next time somebody came in to help me take a bath, I was going to tell them I had already taken it while everybody was occupied elsewhere. I wanted them to know I had probably been taking a bath on my own since I was three years old and didn’t need help from anybody.

I was almost asleep when a slight change in the air currents around the bed made me open my eyes. Dr. Felix had come in silently and was standing at the foot of the bed looking at me.

“Sorry to wake you,” he said.

Dr. Felix wore glasses and looked like Franchot Tone. His hands were folded in front of him. I looked at his hairy wrists and his expensive wrist watch so I wouldn’t have to look at his face.

“If you don’t mind, doctor,” I said. “I don’t really feel like talking to you today.”

“Anything wrong in particular?” he asked.

“No. It’s just that I’m here and I don’t know where here is.”

“Here is where you need to be at the moment.”

“I must have a home somewhere, even if I can’t remember it. I want to go home.”

“Everybody feels that way sometimes.”

“That’s comforting.”

“I’m going to increase your antidepressant medication again.”

“You doctors think drugs are the answer to everything, don’t you?”

“You’re spending far too much time alone. That’s not good. I’m going to assign you to some group activities.”

I groaned and closed my eyes. “Don’t trouble yourself,” I said. “I won’t be here.”

“Are you planning on going someplace?”

“Well, you never know,” I said.

He chuckled in his knowing way and turned to go. As he started to put his hand on the door to open it, I blew out a little puff of air in his direction and turned him into a cockroach. He ran under the door and out into the hallway. One of the nurses would see him and scream and step on him and then take a Kleenex out of the pocket of her uniform and pick him up and throw him in the trash can. How fitting is that for Dr. Felix?

Before anybody else had a chance to come in and annoy me, I dressed in some clothes I had been hiding in the bottom of the closet. It was a uniform the maintenance men wore that I had stolen one day when I was exploring in the basement. In the uniform and with the brown cap pulled low over my eyes, nobody would recognize me. Also hidden away in the closet I had some ninety dollars and a pack of cigarettes, which I stuffed into the pants of the uniform.

I took a good look at myself in the mirror over the sink and went out into the hallway. Everything was quiet and nothing out of the ordinary. I made my way down the stairs to the main entrance.

The receptionist at the front desk looked up from the magazine she was reading and then looked away. I knew she didn’t know who I was. If she had known, she would have been screaming for help.

I walked out the door into the bright cool air and down the steps, wanting to run but not running because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I followed the concrete walk to the driveway and along the edge of the driveway a quarter-mile or so to the main gate. I saw nobody and nobody saw me.

I turned right at the gate out of the place, which seemed to me a better choice than going left, and began walking. I walked for many blocks and saw nothing that looked familiar. I might have been in a foreign country or on another planet, for all I knew. Still, it felt good to be free and on my own.

Checking my pocket to make sure the ninety dollars was still there, I remembered the cigarettes and how long it had been since I had one. I lit one up and as I walked I puffed out a cloud of smoke behind me.

I stopped at a bar that looked inviting and had a beer and a hamburger and after that I kept walking deep into the city. It was a big city but I didn’t know what the name of it was and I didn’t know if I had ever been there before. I saw many people but they seemed to not see me, which altogether suited me.

After what seemed like hours of walking, I felt tired but pleasantly so, and I felt good about the distance I had put between myself and the place I had left behind. When I came to a faded old hotel with a sign that said Clean Rooms and Cheap, I decided that getting a room was the most logical thing I could do.

The desk clerk signed me in without asking for identification or money in advance. He gave me a key to a room on the tenth floor and I went up in an elevator that must have been a hundred years old.

The room was clean, as advertised, and pleasant. There were two windows, a bed, desk, dresser with a large mirror, chair, closet and tiny bathroom. I liked the feeling of being up high. I opened the window a couple of inches to feel the air and to hear the traffic noises from the street, which at that distance I found soothing. After checking the door to make sure it was locked, I lay down on the bed and fell into a deep and restful sleep.

I spent two days and nights in the room, sleeping a lot during the day and walking around the city at night. Nobody ever approached me or bothered me or seemed to find my behavior in any way out of the ordinary. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so free and unencumbered.

More than anything I wanted to go home, but I knew that was never going to happen. I had developed a smoking habit and I preferred tea instead of coffee, but those were about the only things about myself that I knew for sure. My past was a slate on which nothing had been written.

Did I come from a small town or a city like this one? Did I grow up in an apartment in the city or in a house in the wide-open spaces with a big yard and a view of the mountains? Wasn’t it likely that somebody was waiting for me somewhere, wondering if I was alive or dead or if I would ever come home again? A mother? A wife? A lover? A son or daughter? Whoever he or she was, I could feel them and I knew they could feel me.

I also knew the people from the place I had left behind were going to come looking for me. I had done some bad things, including turning my doctor into a bug. I didn’t see how anybody was going to forgive a thing like that. They would take me back and probably never let me go free again.

On my third day in the room, I had the window open as high as it would go to let in the warm breezes. At any one time, there were as many as five pigeons on the ledge outside the window. They cooed and danced and seemed happy. When I got close to them, they weren’t at all afraid of me. If I had had something to feed them, they would have eaten right out of my hand.

I sat on the bed, looking at myself in the round mirror on the dresser. Wait a minute, I thought. I don’t have to go back to that place or any other place like it. I can do to myself what I did to the others.

I pointed at my reflection in the mirror and turned myself into a pigeon. I flapped my wings on the bed to try them out. From the bed I jumped to the floor and then to the window ledge. There were three pigeons already there to greet me. They knew I was somebody they had never seen before, so they were curious about where I had come from. After introductions were made, they were all eager to show me around the city. How happy I was to have made such delightful friends so fast.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

A New Ricky in Their Midst

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A New Ricky in Their Midst ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Ethel let herself in at the kitchen door and helped herself to a cup of coffee. She sat down at the table and began nibbling at the bacon that was left over from breakfast. When Lucy came in from the other room, she took one look at Ethel and began crying.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Ethel asked.

“Oh, Ethel, it’s just awful!” Lucy sobbed.

“What happened?”

“I’ve just been frantic since two this morning! I don’t know what to do!”

“You and Ricky have another fight?”

“I don’t know what’s got into him lately.”

“Well, pour yourself some coffee and sit down and tell me all about it.”

“Oh, Ethel, I hate to tell you what I’ve done!”

“It can’t be all that bad!”

“This time it is!”

“I’ll help you get it straightened out, whatever it is. What are best friends for?”

“Oh, Ethel, I don’t know how to tell you this!”

“Just say it. You’ll feel better.”

“I’ve killed Ricky!”

“What?”

“I said I’ve killed Ricky Ricardo. My husband. The famous bug-eyed Cuban bandleader known and loved by millions.”

“Oh, Lucy! You didn’t! I’m speechless!”

“I know! It’s terrible!”

“Are you sure he’s dead?”

“He’s dead, all right. He’s been dead since two this morning.”

“Well, get yourself calmed down and tell me all about it.”

“Well, he came home from the club about one-thirty and I noticed right away that he was acting sort of funny. He wouldn’t look me in the eye.”

“Oh, honey, that’s a very bad sign!” Ethel said, spraying crumbs out between her teeth.

“He took off his clothes and laid them on the chair next to the bed and went into the bathroom. I heard the water running, so I figured he was taking a bath. I gathered up his clothes for the laundry and you’ll never guess what I found!”

“What?”

“There was lipstick on the front of his shirt and, not only that, it reeked of perfume!”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, honey! How do you know he didn’t just brush up against one of the chorus girls from the club?”

“Oh, he brushed up against her all right, and did a lot more than that, too!”

“Oh, honey! Now don’t start jumping to conclusions!”

“That isn’t all. When he came out of the bathroom in his bathrobe, I asked him if he had a pleasant evening at the club and he yelled at me.”

“Yelled at you? That doesn’t sound like Ricky!”

“He called me a meddling old bitch and said he was sick and tired of my nagging at him all the time.”

“Oh, Lucy! What did you do then?”

“I asked him if he had been seeing another woman and he broke down and began crying. He said he had been seeing a chorus girl named Delores for about two years and he couldn’t go on any longer with the deception. He and Delores are in love, he said, and he wanted me to divorce him so he could marry her!”

“Oh, Lucy! I can hardly believe it! I never would have suspected it in a million years!”

“I know! He’s been very good at concealing it, hasn’t he? The louse!”

“What did you do then?”

“Well, we began arguing, saying nasty things to each other. I called him a two-timing pig and he called me a henna-haired harridan. We became more and more angry. When he twisted my arm and tried to slap me in the face, I took a knife and stabbed him in the neck. It was a clear-cut case of self-defense.”

“Oh, Lucy! The neck?”

“I severed the jugular vein in one stroke!”

“Oh, honey! Wasn’t there an awful lot of blood?”

“There was, but I got it all cleaned up.”

“And where is he now?”

“He’s on the floor next to the bed. I have him wrapped up in two leak-proof sheets. There’s not a trace of blood left.”

“Oh, Lucy! I’m afraid you’re in for a lot of trouble!”

“I know! I’ve just been frantic trying to figure out what to do!”

“I think you should call the police and turn yourself in. Tell them Ricky came at you and you were only defending yourself. With a good lawyer, you might get off with a light sentence or maybe no sentence at all.”

“Oh, Ethel! I’ve thought about it from every angle! I want to call the police but I’m afraid they’ll be mean to me. They’re all men, aren’t they? Of course, they’ll take Ricky’s side and make me out to be the villain!”

“Oh, Lucy! What will people think when Ricky doesn’t show up at the club? You’ll have to tell them something!”

“I have a plan all worked out. I think it’ll work, but I’m going to need you and Fred to help me.”

“Oh, no! You’re not getting me mixed up in this!”

“Ethel, I thought you were my best friend!”

“I am, but I’m certainly not going to spend the next thirty years of my life in Sing-Sing in the name of friendship!”

“Oh, don’t be silly! Nobody’s going to jail!”

“But it’s murder, honey! It’s serious!”

“If you and Fred will just do what I say, everything will be all right.”

“Just how far do you think Fred and I are willing to go to help you after you’ve killed your husband?”

Ethel called Fred to come up to Ricky and Lucy’s apartment and, when they had him comfortably seated on the couch with a bottle of soda in his hand, he looked suspiciously from one to the other.

“What have you two dizzy dames got cooked up?” he asked.

“Are you going to tell him, or shall I?” Ethel asked.

“There’s no easy way to say it,” Lucy said.

“For heaven’s sake, just say it!” he said.

“Ricky and I had a terrible fight last night.”

“Yeah, what of it?”

“Well, I…”

“She severed Ricky’s jugular vein with a knife and killed him!” Ethel blurted.

“She what?

“In the heat of the moment, I killed Ricky, Fred,” Lucy said. “That wasn’t really my intention, but it just happened.”

“Have you called the police?”

“Well, no, Fred. You see, I don’t think that’s necessary as long as you and Ethel help me.”

“Help you do what?”

“The furnace in the basement is really hot this time of year. I mean, there’s a big door and a big fire burning inside.”

“Oh, no! I’m not going to put Ricky’s body in the furnace!”

“With all three of us, it’ll be so easy!”

“No, I’m not getting mixed up in a crazy scheme like that! Do you think I want to spend my golden years behind bars?”

“If we do it right, Fred, nobody will ever know.”

“What do you say when people come looking for Ricky?”

“Well, I’ve thought of that, too. I’ll wait twenty-four hours and then I’ll file a missing persons report. After that it’ll be easy to make it seem that he’s run off.”

“He was cheating on her, Fred!” Ethel said.

“What?”

“Yeah, he had a girlfriend named Delores.”

“If we’re lucky,” Lucy said, “we can get the police to believe that tramp Delores had something to do with his disappearance.”

“No less than she deserves!” Ethel said.

“So Ricky was stepping out!” Fred said. “The old dog!”

“I just might kill him myself if Lucy hadn’t already done it,” Ethel said.

“Well, that sort of puts things in a different light, doesn’t it?” Fred said.

“Now are you willing to help me?” Lucy asked.

“On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“You give me one-third interest in the club.”

“Fred! I can’t give you one-third interest in the club! I don’t own the club!”

“Freddy, for once in your life do something to help somebody else without calculating what you can get out of it,” Ethel said.

“Well, it was just a thought,” he said. “You can’t blame me for trying.”

“So, you’ll help me, then?” Lucy asked.

“Looks like I don’t have much choice.”

In the middle of the night, with everybody in the building asleep, the three of them loaded Ricky’s stiff body into a large trashcan on wheels and took it down to the basement on the elevator. Fred wheeled the trashcan up to the door of the furnace; he and Ethel hefted Ricky’s body out of the can and into the furnace while Lucy stood by and chewed her nails.

“How long do you think it’ll take to burn the bones and teeth and everything?” Lucy asked.

“We’ll give it until this time tomorrow,” Fred said. “I’ll come down every couple of hours and stoke the fire.”

Lucy called the police at the appropriate time and told them Ricky had disappeared, apparently run off. He had been despondent lately over money, she said, had even mentioned suicide, and there was another woman involved. The next day, all the newspapers ran the story: Bug-Eyed Cuban Bandleader Disappears—Foul Play Not Ruled Out.

Lucy began receiving condolences from friends and business associates of Ricky’s. The phone rang day and night and Ethel stayed with Lucy to keep newspaper reporters from bothering her with silly questions. Lucy’s mother saw the news on television and called Lucy long-distance from Jamestown, New York, imploring her to “come home.”

After weeks, the case was unresolved. Police could offer no clues. They concluded that Ricky had indeed run off. There were reports of witnesses seeing him board a plane for South America on the night he disappeared. At least two people claimed to have seen him on an ocean liner bound for Greece. Others claimed to have spotted him in other locations, including a racetrack in Kansas City and a brothel in Augusta, Georgia.

The club held auditions to find a replacement band leader for Ricky. One in particular, a man named Mickey Richards, stood out because he was so much like Ricky, not only in the way he looked, but in the way he sang, talked, and walked.

Mickey Richards was hired and took over as bandleader at the Copacabana. Lucy watched him with interest and was amazed at how much like Ricky he was. The management of the club even persuaded him to change his name to Ricky Ricardo. Out in front, the theatre-type marquee proclaimed: He’s Back! He Was Never Really Gone in the First Place!”

The club was more successful than ever before, with patrons being turned away every night. People soon forgot that the real Ricky had ever left because there was a new Ricky in their midst, and this one was even better than the original.

For her part, Lucy missed Ricky terribly and was sorry she had killed him. She cried herself to sleep at night, wishing she might undo what she had done. She began making little overtures to the new Ricky, inviting him to the apartment for dinner or to a Broadway opening. A couple of times she left anonymous love notes in his dressing room at the club. She imagined that the new Ricky would fill the void left by the departure of the old Ricky and that everything would be as it was before, in the old days before he grew tired of her and fell in love with that floozy Delores.

Alas, it was not to be. The new Ricky differed from the old Ricky in one very important respect: He didn’t like bottle redheads and in fact didn’t like women at all. Lucy toyed with the idea of killing him, too, but she was afraid she wouldn’t get away with it a second time. She would talk to Fred and Ethel and ask them what they thought about it.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

What Better Night Than Christmas Eve?

What Better Night than Christmas Eve? ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in Ethereal Tales. This is a repost.)

Agnes Victoriana Wellington was, by all accounts, an incorrigible—some might even say an evil—child. As a baby, she would lie in her crib and scream hour after hour for no apparent reason until the neighbors would believe her mama was sticking pins into her flesh for amusement. At ten years old she was expelled from school because she was a perpetually disruptive influence in the classroom. Her mama and papa took her to a succession of doctors, all of whom assured them she was sound in mind and body, without any discernible physical or mental ailment that would cause her to behave in so frightful a manner. The only explanation that any of them could offer was that she might be possessed of a demon that wouldn’t desist until he had taken her back to hell with him.

Released from the imperative of attending school, Agnes was made to stay at home all the time, where she pushed her mama and papa to the limits of their endurance. She screamed and raged and fussed and threw any object that wasn’t too heavy for her to pick up. She tormented her younger brother and sister, Wallingford and Floretta, without mercy. She tied Wallingford to a tree and attempted to burn him at the stake. When Floretta was asleep in her bed, recovering from the scarlet fever, she glued her toes together and painted her lips with red ink. When her mother refused to buy her a new pair of boots, she took a kitchen knife and cut up her old ones. She called her papa an ignorant old fool. Her most hideous act of all, though, was taking all her clothes out of her closet and piling them in the middle of the floor and setting fire to them, putting herself and her family and all they possessed in grave danger.

After the fire, papa and mama were at the end of their tether. They could tolerate Agnes no longer. If they were to allow her to continue on the same path of destruction, they might very well all end up in a row of graves in the cemetery. They had little Wallingford and Floretta to think of, both of whom were blameless and deserving of a happy and peaceful life. As a final alternative and the only remaining hope, they agreed to place Agnes in the Mountainview Sanatorium for the Criminally Insane, where a certain doctor, a Doctor Pretorius, was known to have helped such patients with his progressive methods of treatment, about which nothing was known to the outside world.

Doctor Pretorius took Agnes in hand. He had her confined to a solitary room on the top floor of the Sanatorium and gave her anything she asked for and lots of good food to eat. After a lengthy period of carefully studying her and analyzing her and filling a notebook with his notes and consulting with a dozen other of his colleagues, he arrived at the conclusion that she was indeed possessed of a demon; a very unusual and rare type of demon that he had never seen before; a demon thousands of years old that was from a very deep and isolated station in hell. And, yes, it was true, as an earlier physician had suggested, the demon, for reasons known only to him, had claimed little Agnes as his own while she was still in the womb, his intention being to take her back to hell with him and make her his consort in evil. Evil was as much a part of her as her leg or her heart or her skin, which was as good an explanation as any that had ever been offered for why she was the way she was.

The question confronting Doctor Pretorius was how he was going to make Agnes the good and docile girl she should have always been and so return her to the bosom of her family to live a normal life. He tried many failed experiments with different anodynes, but nothing seemed to change Agnes for the better. One night, after a long and difficult day, he fell asleep in his study and, while asleep, he dreamed a vivid dream. In the dream, as he was walking along a lonely and deserted country road, he met a being surrounded by a kind of a glow, who told him that the only thing that was going to help poor Agnes was to eat human flesh and lots of it. Human flesh consumed daily was the only remedy that was going to keep the demon at bay and allow Agnes to live the kind of life that a child her age should be living.

Doctor Pretorius wasted no time in serving Agnes large portions of human flesh. In no time at all she began to show marked improvement. She began reading books, playing card games, working puzzles, and doing needlework like other little girls. She stopped having temper tantrums and throwing things and playing mean tricks on people. Doctor Pretorius and his staff were delighted with her progress.

Since the year was getting on to its close and the Christmas season was approaching, Agnes’s mama and papa asked Doctor Pretorius if Agnes might be allowed to return to her home and family for the blessed holiday. Doctor Pretorius harbored serious doubts about returning Agnes to the world and society just yet, but, after careful deliberation and prayer, he decided to allow her to go home for the last two weeks in December if, at the end of that time, she would return to the Sanatorium for continued rest and treatment.

Agnes’s papa, mama, brother and sister were surprised at how much she had changed in the Sanatorium (she had put on a lot of weight from her rich diet), but they were happy nonetheless to have her home again and happier still that she was docile, sweet and kind. The frightening, horrible little person that she had been was, for the moment at least, a thing of the past.

The next few days after Agnes’s return home were happy ones. She discovered she liked helping out in the kitchen and doing housework. She became reacquainted with Wallingford and Floretta, spending many happy hours talking, playing games, romping with the dogs and taking long walks around the countryside. She was never once tempted to eat them. At mealtime, she would decline the slices of roast beef or wedges of pork, saying she had become a vegetarian. She ate very modestly of vegetables and fruits, longing for the chance to leave the house to obtain the kind of sustenance she really needed.

It was after everybody had gone to their rooms and gone to sleep at night that Agnes slipped out of the house as quietly as she could to feed. On Doctor Pretorius’s advice, she walked miles away from home out into the countryside. People in the country weren’t as easy to find as in town, but the ones she found were choice, and she had the advantage of not being seen. She ate a twelve-year-old boy who was walking along the road at midnight (sweet and tender) and the next night a farmer’s wife who had insomnia (stringy but with lots of meat). There were a boy and a girl parked on lover’s lane (a rare double event), a young doctor out on a night call (muscular with a chemical taste), and a young married woman out to meet her lover in the middle of the night (a wild, gamy taste). Always she would get herself cleaned up and return home to her room before the sun came up. Nobody in her family ever knew of her nightly peregrinations.

As Christmas was fast approaching, Agnes and the other children were making excited preparations. They put up a beautiful tall tree that they cut down in the woods near their home and decorated it with as many baubles and decorations as it would hold. Their mama had instructed them to each make a list to present to Santa Claus. Whether or not Santa Claus would comply with their lists was another matter. Agnes wrote on her list that she wanted a family of dolls and a perambulator to push them around in, a miniature tea set and a wooden circus set. In her earlier life, before she went to the Sanatorium, she would have asked for a set of knives, poison darts and a blowgun to shoot them, and a prosthetic leg.

On Christmas Eve, all the presents were wrapped and under the tree. The house was gaily decorated from top to bottom; snow was whirling past the windows, adding to the feeling of Christmas. Agnes went into her room to go to bed at the same time that Wallingford and Floretta and mama and papa went into their rooms, but she was too excited to sleep, and at about a quarter to twelve she went back downstairs. She somehow had the feeling that Santa Claus would arrive at midnight and she wanted to meet him face to face and have a few words with him; it might be the only chance she would ever have to see him up close.

She sat down in papa’s big chair facing the low-burning fire and covered up with a lap robe and went fast asleep without meaning to. The clock chiming midnight woke her up. She opened her eyes and saw a man standing in the middle of the room looking at her. She knew without being told that he was the demon. He looked like an ordinary man except that he had yellow eyes. If he had horns or a tail, she couldn’t see them because he was wearing a Derby hat and a long black topcoat.

“May I extend to you all the felicitations of the season,” the demon said cordially as she pulled herself up in the chair.

“What are you doing here?” she asked. “You can’t bother me as long as I’m eating human flesh. Doctor Pretorius said so.”

“Ah, yes, Doctor Pretorius. I have to commend him for discovering my one weakness. Eating flesh is the one thing I cannot abide. It’s something I would never do.”

“Well, that’s why I doing it,” she said. “To keep you away from me. I’m not doing it because I’m a ghoul. I don’t really enjoy doing it.”

“Why aren’t you out feeding your voracious appetite? You haven’t fed since last night and you’re nearly famished.”

“If it’s any of your business, I’m waiting to meet Santa Claus and after I’ve met him I’m going out to feed.”

“Ah, yes, the Jolly Old Elf himself. I know him well.”

“So why don’t you just leave now before papa wakes up and comes after you with his shotgun? You’re not wanted here.”

“I’ve come to take you with me. What better night than Christmas Eve?”

“I’m not going anywhere!”

“Do you think you can go on killing people forever just to keep up appearances? Think how it will affect your family when they find out you kill people and eat them.”

“That isn’t any of your business!”

“When they find out what you are and what you do, it will be the end of them. Do you want that on your conscience? It’s better that you come with me now to spare them the degradation.”

“I can scream and wake everybody up if you don’t leave!”

“How foolish you are! What good do you think that will do? You would just put everyone in danger.”

Just then Floretta came down the stairs on padded feet. “I heard a noise,” she said, “and I thought maybe it was Santa Claus.” When she saw the man standing in the middle of the room talking to Agnes, she stopped in her tracks.

“Who’s he?” she asked. “If that’s Santa Claus, where’s his bag of toys?”

“It’s no one,” Agnes said. “He was just leaving.”

“This doesn’t concern you, little girl,” the demon said. “Why don’t you just run along and mind your own business?”

“Go back to bed,” Agnes said. “Santa Claus won’t come until you’re asleep. He doesn’t want you to see him.”

“I’m going to get papa,” Floretta said.

“I can take two as easily as one,” the demon said.

“What’s he talking about?” Floretta asked. “Take two where?”

“He’s just talking nonsense,” Agnes said. “He’s not right in the head. And he’s just leaving.”

“All right,” the demon said, “I’ll go.”

“Good!”

“If you won’t go with me, though, I’ll take her.” He pointed his long finger at Floretta.

“You’re not taking her or anybody!”

“All right, then. You win. But before I go I want you to show me how it’s done. With her.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You know it’s past time for you to feed, and you are ravenous with hunger. You have this delicious little creature standing right before you. Show me how you do it and I’ll go away and leave you alone. Forever.”

“What does he mean?” Floretta asked.

“He’s just making a little joke,” Agnes said.

“You have two choices,” the demon said, “and you know what they are.”

“If I go with you, you won’t hurt her?”

“On my word of honor.”

“And if I were to eat her, as you want me to do, you would go away and not bother me again?”

“Do you have any reason to doubt?”

“It’s not a difficult decision. I’ll go with you, but on one condition.”

“And what is that, dear child?”

“That you never bother her or any of my family.”

“You have my solemn oath.”

“All right, then. I’ll go with you.”

“A wise decision. Come.” He held out his hand and Agnes stood up.

“Tell mama and papa I’ll be all right where I’m going and not to worry,” Agnes said to Floretta.

Floretta opened her mouth to ask Agnes exactly where it was she was going, but a commotion coming from the direction of the fireplace silenced her. She ran and stood in the corner, where she could duck down behind the sofa if she needed to.

With a great clatter, accompanied by a huffing and groaning, Santa Claus came into the room by way of the fireplace, careful not to let the flames touch his boots. When he was all the way in the room, pulling his huge bag of toys, he stood upright and straightened his cap and brushed the soot off his sleeves. That’s when he saw the demon standing across the room looking at him with his yellow eyes.

“What are you doing here?” Santa asked, recognizing the demon on sight.

“If it’s any of your business,” the demon said, “I came to keep a rendezvous with little Agnes here.”

“Is this true?” Santa asked Agnes.

“Well, in a way I suppose it is true, but that doesn’t mean I want to go with him! I just struck a bargain that I would go live with him in hell and be his consort in exchange for his promise to leave Floretta and the rest of my family alone.”

“My, my, my!” Santa said. “You should never strike a bargain with a demon!”

“I know it was stupid but I had no other choice.”

“My dear, you always have a choice,” Santa said and laughed his characteristic laugh.

“It’s been lovely chatting like this,” the demon said, “but it’s time we were going.”

“Whatever possesses you to transact this kind of business on Christmas Eve?” Santa asked the demon. “Have you no delicacy? Have you no respect for tradition?”

“Is there any way you can help me, Santa?” Agnes asked.

“Don’t worry, child! I have a plan.”

“You should just stay out of this,” the demon said. “It’s none of your affair. Why don’t you just drop off your toys or whatever it is you do and then be on your way? I’m sure your reindeer are getting impatient.”

Santa smiled broadly at the mention of his reindeer and opened his black bag and pulled out the corpse of a recently deceased girl-child. He laid her out on the rug in front of the fireplace and gestured dramatically with both hands.

“She got in the way of my sleigh,” he said, “and my reindeer trampled her to death not ten minutes ago. I hated to leave her lying in the snow for the wolves to tear apart, so I stuffed her into my bag. I planned to take her back to the North Pole and instruct my elves to give her a decent burial.”

With a gesture from Santa, Agnes approached the tiny corpse lying on the rug and devoured it whole in the blink of an eye. She had become expert at feeding with no mess and no spilled blood.

The demon bent over double as if he had received a blow to the back of the head. He held his stomach with both hands and retched violently. When he was able to speak again, he said, through clenched teeth, “I’ll get you for this!”

“Hah!” Santa said with a hearty laugh. “You’re no match for me and you never were! Go on back to hell where you belong and don’t bother these children again!”

“All right, I’m going,” the demon said, and to Agnes he said, “You may have won this battle, but you haven’t won the war. I’ll be back. On that you may depend.” Then he disappeared as if he had been a mirage all along.

“What just happened here?” Floretta asked, speaking for the first time since Santa came into the room.

“You really are a saint,” Agnes said to Santa with tears in her eyes.

“I help wherever I can,” Santa said modestly.

“I’m afraid the demon is right, though. He will be back. Maybe not today or tomorrow but when I least expect it. He’ll have his way with me in the end.”

“Wait a minute,” Santa said. “I have something else for you.”

He reached into his bag and pulled out an old-fashioned locket on a chain and handed it to Agnes.

“It’s lovely,” Agnes said, “but what is it?”

“It’s a Holy Relic. It contains a sliver of the shin bone of St. Peter. Wear it around your neck always and I guarantee the demon won’t be able to stand to come near you again.”

“How can I ever thank you enough?” Agnes asked, putting the locket around her neck.

“Make amends with the world,” Santa said. “Make yourself worthy.”

With those words, he went about his business of placing the presents under the tree and when he was finished he climbed up the chimney as nimbly as a squirrel and was gone.

“Imagine that!” Floretta said, not being able for the moment to think of anything else to say.

Agnes wore the Holy Relic locket around her neck throughout her long life and was never bothered by the demon again. To atone for the people she had killed and eaten (never-to-be-explained disappearances), she dedicated her life to helping others. Through her charitable works and her countless good deeds, she saved many more lives than she had ever taken. Floretta, for her part, woke up in her bed on Christmas morning believing the scene she had witnessed involving Agnes, the demon, and Santa had been nothing but a dream.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

The Third Day of Winter

Christmas 24

The Third Day of Winter ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a repost. Published in Offbeat Christmas Story, an Anthology.)

They had a little party at work, complete with cake and champagne (Here’s to another successful year!), and then everybody was allowed to leave for the day. It was the day before Christmas and nobody had to be back to work for three days. What a festive mood the downtrodden workers were in! There was dancing on tabletops, furtive kissing in corners, drunken laughter.

As Vesper left the office, it was just beginning to snow so she decided she would walk home instead of taking the bus. She had always liked snow, especially at Christmastime, and had seen too little of it in recent years. She stopped on the way home at a little market and bought a dozen oranges and a small box of chocolate-covered cherries. As she was paying for her purchases, the old man behind the counter gave her a sprig of mistletoe.

When she reached her building, she felt agreeably fatigued and slightly frostbitten. As she climbed the stairs to her third-floor apartment, she couldn’t help noticing how quiet the building was. The usual loud voices, TVs, crying babies and yapping dogs were absent. She seemed to be the only tenant who hadn’t gone out of town for the holiday.

She unlocked the door, kicked off her wet shoes and hung up her coat. It was just beginning to get dark outside so she turned on all the lights. She tied a ribbon around her mistletoe and hung it in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room; plugged in the lights on her little artificial Christmas tree that was made to look real but wasn’t fooling anybody with its brown-and-green plasticity. She stood back and admired the comfort, the appeal, of her little home. It was the first home she had ever had that was hers and hers alone without belonging to somebody else.

“I’m really very lucky,” she said to herself as she stood in the middle of the room.

Already she was missing her friend Marlene at work, even though she had just left her a short time earlier. She wanted to call her and tell her about walking home in the snow and about the mistletoe. She knew that Marlene would enjoy hearing those things and would laugh at them in her usual way.

She went to the phone, not to call Marlene—she would be busy with family, now—but to call somebody else.

“Hello?” she said when she heard her mother’s voice, sounding very faint and far away.

“Who’s that?” her mother said.

“It’s Vesper.”

“Is anything wrong?”

“No. I just got home from work and I wanted to call you and wish you a merry Christmas.”

“You know I don’t go in for that stuff very much.”

“I know. Did you get the silver pin I sent you?”

“Yes, I got it.”

“I thought it would look good on your black coat.”

“Oh, I don’t have that coat anymore. It was a little too funereal for me.”

“It was a beautiful coat.”

“If I had known you liked it so much, I would have given it to you.”

“It doesn’t matter. How’s Stan?”

“We’ve separated. I haven’t seen him such summer.”

“Are you going to get a divorce?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m seeing someone else now. He’s talked about marriage but I don’t think I want to get married again.”

“Any news of Weston?”

“No, except that he’s living the bohemian life and wants nothing to do with his family.”

“When you see him, tell him ‘hello’ for me.”

“I will, dear. I really have to run now. I’m meeting some people for dinner. I have a terrible headache and don’t really feel like going out, but I said I’d go and I don’t want to break my word.”

“All right, mother. Goodbye.”

As Vesper hung up the phone she was aware of the hurtful omissions in the conversation. Her mother hadn’t bothered to ask her how she was or what plans she had for Christmas, if she had someone to spend it with or if she was going to be alone. Those things wouldn’t occur to her—she simply didn’t bother herself too much with her grown children. She had delivered them safely to adulthood and that’s all that anybody could reasonably expect.

Vesper went into the kitchen to see what she might dig up for dinner, but the prospect of having the usual everyday fare on Christmas Eve and then dozing on the couch in front of the TV until time to go to bed was suddenly dismaying to her. She didn’t have to do what she was doing but was doing it only out of habit. She could do something else if only she would. She could make the evening special somehow even if she did have to spend it by herself.

She went into the bedroom and changed her clothes quickly before she gave herself the chance to change her mind. She made herself ready to go out again (boots, scarf, gloves, coat) and turned off all the lights except for one small lamp beside the door.

She began walking, not knowing for certain where she going. The snow had accumulated to three or four inches and was still coming down, the wind blowing it along the sidewalk and causing it to drift along the building fronts.

Two blocks from her building she came upon two men, an older and a younger, standing with their hands over a barrel in which a small fire burned. Both men were looking into the barrel, but when she passed near them they turned and looked at her. The older man was the nondescript sort that one sees on the street everyday. The younger man was thin and bareheaded (in the light from the fire his hair had a reddish tint), wearing an overcoat that seemed too big for him with the collar turned up to his ears. On his cheek was a crescent-shaped scar as if once, a long time ago, he had been gouged by a shard of glass or the blade of a knife. These details about him registered in her brain as she looked away and pretended not to notice.

She came to a brightly lighted drugstore and stopped and looked through the window at the rows of displays and the people moving among them like the inhabitants of a dream. She went inside, passing a perfume display over which two women were arguing, and went to a rack of magazines against the far wall. She picked up a magazine, thumbed through it, put it back and picked up another one. After she had done this several times she happened to look up and saw in a mirror placed above the magazine rack to discourage shoplifting the reflection of someone standing behind her. It was the tall young man in the overcoat with the scar on his cheek. He was not moving but seemed to just be looking at the back of her head. She put the magazine back that she was holding and left the store.

At the corner she stopped beside a clot of people waiting for the light to turn to cross the street. She looked quickly over her shoulder; she could see all the way back to the entrance of the drugstore. She did not see the man in the overcoat. It was just a coincidence that he was in the drugstore at the same time she was, she told herself, and he was not following her.

A little restaurant with the smell of garlic and twinkling lights in the window attracted her attention. It was a place that ordinarily would have been too expensive for her, but she was tired of walking and hungry so she went inside.

The place was candlelit. About half the tables were occupied. She took off her coat and scarf and sat down at a table for two facing the front. She was the only one alone, but she didn’t mind. She liked the comfortable anonymity of the place.

The waiter recommended fried calamari and polpette di baccala. She had never had that before and wasn’t sure what it was. She didn’t want him to think she was an ignorant fool so she smiled at him and nodded her head. He also recommended a light wine to go with her meal, bringing a whole bottle to her table and setting it down for her to help herself. While she waited for her food she drank a lot of the wine and ate several of the delicious garlic-flavored breadsticks that the waiter said had just come out of the oven.

The food was very much to her liking but what she liked the most was the wine. She ended up drinking nearly the whole bottle before, during and after the meal.

When she was finished eating she felt better than she had felt all day; better, in fact, than she had felt in longer than she could remember. She felt equal to anything and was glad she had ventured out of her apartment on Christmas Eve. She gave the waiter a generous tip, more than she could afford, and ventured back out to the street, feeling lightheaded and a little wobbly on her feet.

In the next block she slipped on an icy spot on the sidewalk and fell sideways into a pile of snow, attracting some unwelcome attention. As a man and a woman were helping her to stand up again, asking her if she was all right, she saw on the fringe of her vision—or thought she saw—the young man in the overcoat. She looked away for a moment to brush the snow off her coat and when she looked again in his direction he was gone.

It was still early evening and, in spite of the snow and the cutting wind, she wasn’t ready to go home yet. She would make a night of it. When she saw Marlene and the others at work, she would have something to tell them about how she spent Christmas Eve. They wouldn’t exactly envy her, but they would admire her for having a good time on her own without having to depend on somebody else.

Four or five blocks farther on she came to a movie theatre. The show was just about to begin so she paid her admission and went inside and took a seat in the balcony among a handful of other people. She dozed during the previews of coming attractions and a featurette about a Christmas tree farm, but when the feature began she was fully awake.

A woman named Mildred was released from a mental hospital at Christmastime. She had to start over with her children because she had been away so long they almost forgot she existed. She tried to resume her role in life as wife, mother and society hostess, but she had terrible nightmares and hallucinations that showed she should never have left the mental hospital in the first place. What was even worse for her, though, was that her fifteen-year-old daughter, Veronica, was showing signs that she had inherited Mildred’s mental illness. She would put her dress on backwards without even knowing about it and stand up during mealtimes and scream that there were Martians on the roof. These were the exact things that Mildred had done that caused her to end up in the mental hospital.

When the picture was over, Vesper sighed heavily, put on her coat and went back out into the cold. She was feeling tired now and a little sad. It had been a lovely evening, though.

The way home seemed much longer. The snow had stopped but the cold was bracing, made worse by the wind. Some of the streets that were thronging with people earlier were now nearly deserted. A drunk approached her and babbled something in her face, apparently asking for money. She sidestepped him and ran for half a block to get away.

Two blocks from her building she came to the barrel that she had passed earlier in the evening—on her left before but now on her right. Two men—an older and a younger—were standing over a small fire burning in the barrel, warming their hands. They looked up at her as she approached. The older man was the nondescript sort that one sees on the street everyday. The younger man was thin and bareheaded, wearing an overcoat that seemed too big for him with the collar turned up to his ears. On his cheek was a crescent-shaped scar.

As she passed the two men, she knew without knowing that the younger man disengaged himself from the barrel and soundlessly began following her. She didn’t speed up her walk or turn around to look at him.

She came to her building and climbed the stairs to the third floor. She let herself in to her apartment and silently closed the door. Without turning on any lights, she went to the window overlooking the front of the building and looked down. Standing there, in stark relief against the snow, was the young man in the overcoat with the crescent-shaped scar on his cheek. He was looking up at her.

She scribbled on a piece of paper her apartment number and the words come up. She wadded the paper into a ball, opened the window and dropped it out. As she heard his footsteps on the stairs in the silent building, her breath quickened and the blood roared in her ears.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Christmas Shoes

Christmas Shoes ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a repost.)

On a crowded downtown sidewalk a week before Christmas, a youth pushed an old man down and ran off with the package he was carrying. The old man, whose name was Ivan Otley, hit his head, was dazed for the moment, and not able to get up right away. Nobody stopped to help him or to see how badly he was hurt but just walked around him with faces averted.

A girl named Linda Jean Pickles, standing near the bus stop, saw what happened and ran to the Mr. Otley’s aid. She helped him up and led him over against the building away from the flow of people. His head was bleeding and his trousers torn at the knee.

“Did you see what that son of a bitch did to me?” Mr. Otley gasped.

“Yes, I saw it,” Linda Jean said.

“What is the world coming to, when you’re not even safe on the street in the middle of the day?”

“Do you need a doctor?” she asked. She dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief, but he pushed her hand away.

“No, I’m all right.”

“Can I help you to your car?”

“I was waiting for my driver. When he doesn’t see me in the usual spot, he won’t know what happened. Oh, but my head hurts!”

“I think you need a doctor.”

“Just help me to the bar.”

She led him to the bar of the Prince Edward Hotel across the street. When she had him seated at a table, she was going to leave but he wanted her to stay. He really didn’t want to be alone, he said, until he felt better.

“Did you see the way those stupid people ignored me?” he said. “I might have been mortally wounded and nobody gives a damn.”

“People are afraid to get involved, I guess,” she said.

He ordered a highball for himself and a Coke for her, believing, rightly, that she was too young to drink in a hotel bar. “I bet you’ll never guess what that punk stole from me,” he said. “A pair of old man’s shoes. I hope he wears them in good health. More likely he’ll sell them and use the money to buy drugs.”

“Do you want me to call your family for you?”

“I don’t have any family,” he said. “Only servants.”

“Won’t they wonder what happened to you?”

“If I don’t come home, they’ll celebrate. They’ll have a party.”

She looked at the clock. It was ten minutes after six.

“Is someone waiting for you at home?” he asked.

“My mother.”

“Just you and your mother?”

“A sister and two brothers.”

“You were on your way home from work when you stopped to help me, weren’t you?” he asked.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“I’ve caused you to miss your bus.”

“There’ll be another one along in an hour or so.”

“I want you to have dinner with me,” he said.

“Oh, I couldn’t.”

“Over there is a phone. You can call your mother and tell her.” He pulled a coin from his pocket and placed it on the table.

“She wouldn’t believe me,” she said. “Nothing like this has ever happened before.”

“Go ahead,” he said.

When she returned to the table two minutes later, she was smiling. “I was right,” she said. “She thought I was telling a lie.”

He took her to the finest restaurant she had ever seen before, one with a maitre d’, white linen tablecloths, floral arrangements on every table, and real silver. She wasn’t dressed appropriately but it didn’t seem to matter because they sat in a darkened alcove, she with her back to the wall. She might have been wearing a sequined gown for all anybody knew.

“I always ask for this table,” he said, “because it’s private. I can’t see anybody and they can’t see me.”

“When I left work to go home,” she said, “I never expected to end up in a place like this.”

“What kind of work do you do?”

“I’m a cleaning lady. I clean offices.”

“Do you like it?”

“I don’t think much about whether I like it or not. The people I work with treat me decently, but the best thing about the job is that I don’t have to think. It’s all automatic now. I can escape in my mind and before I know it I’ve cleaned an entire office and it’s time to go home.”

“What do you escape to? In your mind, I mean.”

“Oh, movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read. Things I’ve read in the newspaper. Things I see on the street. One day I saw a man carrying a lady without any legs. He carried her as if she weighed almost nothing and they were both laughing.”

“So, you like to read books?”

“Sure, when I find the time.”

“What kind of books?”

“I like Charles Dickens. I’ve only read one of his books, Oliver Twist, but I’d like to read the others.”

“As wonderful as cleaning offices is,” he said, “wouldn’t you like more from life than that?”

“I don’t have much education. I wasn’t able to go to college. I got this job a couple of years ago and I just stay with it because, well, jobs are hard to find and I figure I’m better off to stick with what I have and not worry about getting something better.”

“If another job came along, would you take it?”

“Well, that depends. It would have to be something I liked doing. I know people who hate their jobs and I feel sorry for them. I don’t want to get caught in that kind of a trap, doing work I hate just to get by.”

“And your mother? What does she do?”

“She has a bad heart. She used to work in a factory, but she had to quit.”

“You said you have two brothers and a sister?”

“My older brother is in his last year of high school. He wants to go into the navy as soon as he graduates. My other brother is in the ninth grade. My sister is eight. She doesn’t go to school. She’s not right in the head.”

“How do you mean?”

“She isn’t able to learn anything. She was born retarded. There’s nothing anybody can do about it. We just take care of her.”

“Isn’t there some kind of special school you could send her to?”

“No money for that.”

“What about your father.”

“He left right after my sister was born. We haven’t seen him since.”

The dinner, when it came, was the best food Linda Jean had ever eaten, served with a fine wine. She couldn’t remember if she had ever tasted wine before, but if she had it was nothing like this.

When they were finished eating and the waiter was taking away the dishes, she said, “Is your head still hurting?”

“Not throbbing quite as much now,” he said. “I guess I’ll live.”

“You should see a doctor and make sure everything is okay.”

“I’ll call my physician in the morning.”

“I’ll bet you didn’t really need those shoes, did you?”

“They were a gift for my butler. Every year at Christmas I buy him a new pair of shoes. We call them his Christmas shoes. It gives us something to laugh about.”

“Can’t you go back to the store where you bought them and get another pair?”

“Of course I can, but it’s just the idea that I have to do it again because some little punk bastard wasn’t brought up to respect another person’s property. If I had been in a wheelchair, he probably would have knocked me to the ground and stolen the chair.”

“Maybe you should go to the police and tell them what happened. If they should happen to catch the person that did it, you might get your shoes back.”

“Yes, and I’ll prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. Not the theft—that’s just a misdemeanor—but the assault. It’s not a good idea to knock old people down in the street.”

“You’re not that old,” Linda Jean said.

“I’m old enough to be your grandfather and then some.”

“I’ll bet you have a pretty wife waiting for you at home.”

“I told you. No family. I’ve had two wives, if you can you believe it, but they’re both long gone.”

When they left the restaurant, she was going to catch the last bus home, but he insisted on seeing her safely home. Down the street, a half-block from the restaurant, his car and driver were waiting for him.

“How did he know where you were?” she asked.

“He’s paid to know these things.”

She gave the driver instructions on how to get to her house and, as Mr. Otley expected, it was a squalid little house in a bad neighborhood. As she got out of the car, she shook Mr. Otley’s hand.

“Thank you for a wonderful dinner,” she said.

“Thank you for picking me up off the sidewalk,” he said.

“Oh, it was nothing!”

She watched the car drive off into the December night and when she went into the house her brother Zeno, eighteen years old, was sitting on the couch watching TV.

“How did it go?” he asked.

“You just about killed him,” Linda Jean said. “You didn’t have to be so rough. He hit his head on the sidewalk. If you had killed him, you’d be in plenty of trouble!”

“Well, I didn’t. Did I?

“No, he’s still alive. No thanks to you.”

“How much money did he give you for coming to his rescue?”

“None, and if he had, I wouldn’t have taken it.”

“You didn’t get anything out of it?”

“He took me to dinner to the kind of place you’ll never see the inside of.”

“That’s all?”

“He brought me home in his chauffeur-driven limousine.”

“Oh, man! You should have taken him for some money!”

“What did you do with the shoes you stole from him? He bought them as  a gift for a friend.”

“I sold them to Hymie the Jew for five dollars.”

“Well, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

“Why? What’s the matter with you?”

She went into her room and locked herself in and went to bed. She was awake for a long time with bad feelings about what she and Zeno had done to nice old Mr. Otley. Zeno would say he deserved it.

The next afternoon a large, heavy package arrived for Linda Jean by special messenger. She thought it had to be a mistake. Nobody would be sending her anything.

She ripped the paper off, a little breathlessly, and when she did she saw it was an expensive set of books, the complete works of Charles Dickens. An attached note read, in part: Just a little something to repay you for your kindness. If you’d like a job with me, I think we could find something for you to do that doesn’t involve cleaning. Come and see me after Christmas. I hope the books give you much pleasure. Signed, Ivan Otley.

After she read the note, she began to cry.

Zeno came up behind her and, looking over her shoulder, spotted the impressive-looking books. He picked one up and opened it.

“These ought to bring at least fifty dollars!” he said.

“Nothing doing!” Linda Jean said. “You keep your filthy hands off them!”

“Hey, why so touchy?” he said. “I didn’t do anything!”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Do Your Christmas Shoplifting Early

Do Your Christmas Shoplifting Early ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

It was the Christmas season again and shoppers were packed into Rosenblatt’s Department Store. An amazing profusion of tinsel and frippery, fake poinsettias and plastic snowmen adorned every surface and hung from the ceilings. Cheerful holiday music blatted from loudspeakers. Children misbehaved, forgotten for the moment as their mothers and fathers focused their attention on the merchandise at hand. Sales clerks tried to smile but their smiles were pained and unnatural.

Out of the crowd emerged a girl named Melody Leclair. She was a girl like any other, wearing a dark wool coat and a knitted hat of red-and-green wool pulled down low on her forehead Her cheeks were red and round. Her appearance was bland, wholesome and innocent.

Melody Leclair carried a shopping bag containing some towels she bought for her mother. She casually approached a display of ladies’ gloves, tried on a pair and, deciding they didn’t fit right, tried another pair. She took the second pair off, laid them on the edge of the table and, checking to make sure nobody was watching her, pushed them off the edge of the table into her shopping bag. She then picked up the bag and moved on.

On the end of a glass counter in the jewelry department was a display of earrings. She picked out three pairs and placed them in a row on the edge of the counter and bent over and examined them closely. She flicked the pair she liked best off the counter into her shopping bag and placed the others back where they belonged.

Coming to a display of moderately priced men’s wristwatches (the more expensive ones were locked inside a glass case), she stopped and began looking at them with intense interest. She picked one up, put it back and picked up another one. When a saleslady asked if she needed any help, she just shook her head without looking up. After examining a dozen or so of the watches, she dropped the one she liked best into the shopping bag.

In the book department she found a small volume of Keats and Shelley with a rich-looking leather cover. When the male clerk moved away to assist another customer, she dropped the book onto the floor, where it conveniently landed in her bag. She smiled at how easy it all was, picked up her bag and moved on.

A set of fancy guitar picks found its way into her bag in the music department; in housewares, a small pair of salt and pepper shakers, a nutcracker and a corkscrew; in notions, some spools of thread and a fancy pair of scissors. She surveyed all nine floors of Rosenblatt’s, moving casually and without hurry among the shoppers. When she found the things she wanted (small items, of course), she dropped them into her bag, careful not to be too greedy or push her look too far. Finally, she had everything she came for and decided it was time to leave.

She made her way to the Twelfth Street exit, where people were in line to get in and to get out. She waited patiently and when her turn came she spun herself happily through the revolving doors, welcoming the cold blast of air.

She had gone no more than half a block when she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder. She turned around and saw a tall woman with bright red hair like a clown’s and a pockmarked face (a face out of a nightmare) looking sternly at her.

“I think you forgot to pay for some things, didn’t you?” the woman said.

“No, I didn’t,” Melody said.

“Yes, you did. I’m afraid you’ll have to come with me.”

The woman took her upstairs to the part of the store where the offices were and shut her up in a tiny, vault-like room with a table and two plastic chairs and nothing else. After the woman had gone away again, Melody tried to open the door but found it locked. She was a prisoner! All she could do was wait and see what was going to happen.

In a little while a man came and took her into another small room with a desk and some chairs and told her to sit down in a chair in front of the desk. He wore a dark suit, round glasses like a Chinaman and had a mustache that covered his upper lip. He gave her a pitying look and then sat down on the other side of the desk and cleared his throat.

“I’m Mr. Pfeffer,” he said. “Head of store security. And what is your name?”

“Pearl Watson,” she said.

“Well, Pearl Watson, don’t you know that shoplifting is a very serious offense?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He gave her a sad smile and lifted her shopping bag onto the desk and began taking the things out and laying them alongside the bag.

“I need to see your sales slips for these items,” he said.

“I never keep sales slips,” she said. “I always throw them away.”

“Where did you throw them?”

“In a trash can.”

“A trash can where?”

“I don’t remember. I think it was on the third or the fourth floor.”

“So you had the sales slips but threw them away?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You should always keep sales slips. You never know when you’re going to need them.”

“It’s never been a problem until now.”

“How old are you?”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“How old are you?”

“Seventeen, I think.”

“Don’t you know for sure.”

“Yes, I’m seventeen.”

“You’re a juvenile offender.”

“What?”

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to steal things that belong to other people?”

“I didn’t steal anything!”

“Then show me your sales slips!”

“I threw them away, I said!”

“So you expect me to believe that you paid for all these items in this bag?”

“I don’t care what you believe.”

“At least three people saw you stealing these things.”

“They lie.”

“Do you want to end up in jail?”

“I didn’t do anything!”

“If your mother could see you now, don’t you think she would be very ashamed of you?”

“I don’t have a mother. She’s dead.”

He stood up and went around the desk toward her. She thought for a moment he was going to slap her in the face but instead he grabbed her purse and opened it and dumped it out on the desk.

“Hey, you can’t do that!” she said.

There was a pack of gum, a comb and lipstick, some balled-up Kleenex, a tiny mirror, a pack of Lucky Strikes and a book of matches, a rabbit’s foot on a keychain with no keys, two movie-ticket stubs, and a ballpoint pen that didn’t write.

“Where’s your identification?” he said.

“I must have left it at home. Is that a crime?”

“I can’t confirm that you are who you say you are.”

“That’s your tough luck.”

“We’ll just call the police and let them deal with you.”

He went out of the room and in a few minutes another man came into the room and sat down at the desk. He was a different type of man than the first one, more the bullying type, with sparse red hair and mean eyes like a sewer animal. His voice was gruff when he spoke.

“Shoplifter, huh?” he said.

“I didn’t do anything!” she said.

“What’s your name?”

“Pearl Watson.”

“Well, Pearl Watson, if it was up to me, I would handcuff all you thieves to a post out in front of the store, no matter the weather, and put a sign on you that says: This is what will happen to you when you steal from this store!”

“I don’t think you’re allowed to treat people that way,” she said.

“Shut up! If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.”

“Can I go home now?”

“Hah! We called the police and they’re coming to pick you up. They’ll handcuff you, take you downtown, fingerprint you, book you, and throw you into a cell with a lot of dangerous criminals. It’s going to be a long time before you go home again. You’ll have to get yourself a really good lawyer. Hah-hah-hah!”

“I want to call my father!”

“You’re not calling nobody!”

She began to cry in spite of herself. It had turned out to be such a bad day.

“Of course, there might be a way out of this,” he said.

“How?”

“You could pay the fine to me, sign an agreement stating that you will never shop at Rosenblatt’s again, and we could let you go without getting the police involved.”

“How much is the fine?”

“Two hundred and fifty dollars.”

She took a billfold out of the pocket of her coat and counted out two hundred and fifty dollars.

“If I knew you had that much moolah,” he said with a laugh, “I would’ve made the fine more.”

“Can I go now?”

“First let me ask you a question. If you have that much money in your pocket, why do you come into a store and steal things?”

“I told you, I didn’t steal anything!”

“All right. Have it your way. You’ve paid the fine.”

“Can I go now?”

“You have to sign the agreement stating that you won’t grace Rosenblatt’s Department Store with your presence ever again.”

“I would never shop in this store again anyway after the way I’ve been treated!” she said.

He laughed and took a paper out of a drawer, made some scribbles on it and handed it over for her to sign. She signed the name Pearl Watson and stood up.

“Give me back my things!” she said.

“What things?”

“The stuff I had in my shopping bag!”

“Store property. Doesn’t belong to you.”

“I’m going to tell my father to sue you!” she said.

“Better tell all your little shoplifting friends to go to Grimminger’s down the street and stay away from Rosenblatt’s if they know what’s good for them. Hah-hah-hah!”

When Melody got home, she went right upstairs to her room so she wouldn’t have to face her mother just yet. She was afraid she looked guilty and her mother would be able to tell, just by looking at her, how she spent her afternoon.

At the dinner table, her mother asked her where she had been that afternoon.

“Downtown,” she said.

“Did you do any Christmas shopping?”

“Well, I was going to, but the store was so noisy and crowded I just left after a few minutes and walked along the street and did some window shopping.”

“That’s always nice,” her mother said, wishing to change the subject.

“I was thinking this afternoon,” Melody said.

“Yes?”

“I was thinking of what it would be like to be poor and not be able to shop in a store like Rosenblatt’s.”

“Rosenblatt’s is an expensive store. They have lovely things. Poor people don’t shop there. Poor people shop other places.”

“We’ve always been rich, haven’t we, mother?”

“Well, we’ve never been poor. Nobody in my family has ever been poor.”

“I have a friend who’s poor. She wants to buy nice Christmas gifts for her family, but she doesn’t have any money, so do you know what she does?”

“No.”

“She shoplifts.”

“Oh, my! Who is this friend?”

“He name is Georgette. You don’t know her.”

“Well, maybe she’s not the kind of friend you should have.”

“When I was in Rosenblatt’s, surrounded by beautiful possessions, I was just thinking about what it would be like to not have any money and not be able to buy anything.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about it, dear. You have plenty of money, and if you don’t have enough, let me know and I’ll give you more.”

“All right, mother.”

“And tell Georgette she’s going to get into a lot of trouble if she’s shoplifting things in Rosenblatt’s. She could go to prison.”

“I don’t think she’s going to do it anymore now.”

“Would you like to invite her to spend Christmas with us? Sometimes it does your heart good to invite an underprivileged person into your home and be kind to them. They’re always so grateful.”

Melody didn’t answer but kept right on eating her butterscotch pudding, looking dreamily out the window at the snow falling among the now-leafless maple trees in the side yard. She was thinking about tomorrow. She had always loved the snow. She would put on her new boots and walk downtown and do the rest of her Christmas shopping at Grimminger’s.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp