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Brother

Brother ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(This is an expanded version of a short story I posted earlier with a different title.)

Patricia Crippen, age three, stood beside the bed and looked down at her three-week-old brother. He waved his arms and legs like a bug upside down on its back. He was all pink and already beautiful, with abundant blond hair and full, rosy cheeks. He made little gurgling sounds with his mouth; his eyes were roving but expressionless.

His name was Benjamin; they would call him Ben for short. Mother chose the name out of a book. Patricia hoped to be able to persuade mother to give him back to the hospital where he came from. What did they need him for? They had her, after all, and wasn’t that enough? She absolutely did not want or need a brother, or a sister for that matter, but it’s funny how nobody asked her.

She had seen people killing other people on TV. She didn’t exactly want to kill Ben or even hurt him, but she did want him to go away, to disappear, to no longer exist. Maybe they could find a family that would take him and pretend he belonged to them from the start. Nobody would ever know. It would be as if he had never happened. Everybody would be happy, including him.

But Ben didn’t go anywhere. He stayed and stayed. By his first birthday, he was walking and even running. He spoke in complete sentences. He sang songs and recited poems. He could change channels on the TV and bathe himself. He could get the cookies out of the upper kitchen cabinet without help from anybody. He put himself to bed at night and got himself up in the morning.

And he was blond-haired, blue-eyed perfection. His body and head were perfectly proportioned. People would stop mother in the grocery store and tell her, “That is the most beautiful boy I have ever seen.” “You can have him if you want him,” mother would say, and they’d all laugh.

When he started to school, he was teacher’s favorite. He was smart and bright and no trouble at all. He took to reading and writing almost faster than anybody else and when he was in second grade he was reading at fifth-grade level. At the end of third grade, the school recommended that he skip the fourth grade and go on to fifth. He was the school’s champion speller and got his picture in the paper. He started learning the trumpet and could sight-read almost any piece of music that was put in front of him. When it came to athletics, he could score more baskets, run faster and jump higher than anybody else. And, on top of everything else, people liked him. He was polite, considerate, humble, helpful, kind, the righter of wrongs. Even the most vicious bully in school was diminished in his presence.

You might say that everybody loved Ben except his sister Patricia. She didn’t hate him but she didn’t love him, either. More than anything else she was jealous of him. He was always the favored one, always the one people noticed and admired, while she was the little brown mouse over in the corner that nobody cared about or looked at, except maybe to throw a shoe at when it suited them.

And when the gifts of beauty and intelligence were being distributed, she clearly had been left far behind Ben. Her hair, no matter what beauty treatment was applied, always managed to look lusterless and chewed-off. Pimples took up residence on her long nose and sad face when she was eleven years old and seemed reluctant to leave, despite all the most up-to-date pimple treatments.

In first and second grade, she had trouble learning to read and had to spend a whole hour several evenings a week with a tutor, a retired schoolteacher with bad breath and a wooden leg named Miss Eye. Patricia was sure that Miss Eye was a bonafide witch but was never able to prove it. Miss Eye would pinch Patricia on the arm for being lazy and not trying hard enough.

Instead of being able to skip fourth grade and move on to fifth as Ben did, Patricia failed fourth grade and had to do it all over again. So, when people always asked the inevitable question, “What grade are you in?”, she was forced to admit, two years running, that she was in the fourth grade. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” they’d asked. “I’m going to be a garbage collector,” she’d answer.

At Christmastime, half the presents under the tree were for Ben. Patricia was sure the most elaborate packages, the ones with the prettiest bows, were for Ben. His presents were taking up the space where her presents should be. If he had never been born at all, all the presents under the tree would be hers. Why did life have to be so unfair?

Patricia took Ben’s little white underpants out of the dryer and folded them with the rest of the laundry, the way mother showed her, and when she was finished and had a neat little stack of ten or twelve pairs, she took them up to Ben’s perfectly ordered bedroom and put them in his neat-as-a-pin underwear drawer. Before she left the room, she always had the impulse to mess up the books on his desk or take a few shirts out of the closet and scatter them on the floor. The only trouble with that was there was no one else she would be able to blame it on.

When Patricia’s girlfriends gushed about how gorgeous Ben was and what an interesting older boy he was sure to be, Patricia always wanted to slap them in the face and twist their arms out of their sockets. It was a sign of incivility and disloyalty for anybody to praise Ben in front of her. After all, hadn’t she been hearing it all her life and wasn’t she awfully tired of it?

So, in the fall, Ben was ten and in the sixth grade, the youngest and most precocious person of either gender in his class. Leslie was thirteen and in the seventh grade, only one grade ahead of Ben. If she wasn’t careful, she might fail another grade, and if that happened she and Ben would be in the same grade, even though she was three years older. She was sure she would never survive the humiliation if that came to pass.

On a crisp Saturday morning in October, Patricia wanted to go downtown on the bus to do some shopping. She still had some birthday money and wanted to spend it. Mother would only allow Patricia to go if Ben went along, too; it was no longer safe for children to ride the bus alone, she said. Ben was looking for new shoes and readily agreed to go along with Patricia. After breakfast the two of them set out to catch the fifteen-minute downtown bus.

Ben and Patricia had different ideas about how to have fun downtown. After Ben bought his new shoes, they couldn’t agree on where to go next, so Patricia said they should split up and meet later in a designated spot. Then they’d have a hamburger and a milkshake and go back home on the bus.

They parted on a busy street corner and agreed to meet at the same spot in an hour and a half or so. Whoever got there first would wait for the other. Ben went off to do his boy things and Patricia to do her girl things.

Fur collars were all the rage that fall. Patricia went to three different stores but wasn’t able to find one she liked. She bought herself a romance magazine (which she’d have to keep hidden), a pair of shoelaces, a half-pound of English toffee, a pair of toenail scissors, some stretchy gloves and paperback novel that she had to read for English class.

When she went back to the corner an hour-and-a half later to meet Ben, there were people everywhere. It was the busiest time of the day. She saw Ben standing near the stoplight, surrounded by other people, and then she saw he was with someone, or, rather, someone was with him. It was a grown man who had his hand on Ben’s shoulder. Patricia didn’t know who the man was but thought he might be one of one of Ben’s teachers or maybe the swimming coach from school.

She was about thirty feet away, walking toward Ben, when she saw another man. He had hold of Ben’s other arm, lightly, not forcefully, by the elbow as if he were leading him. A green car stopped at the corner and the back door opened. The first man got into the back seat of the car, followed by Ben and then by the second man. The door closed and the car sped away. It all happened in just a few seconds.

Patricia stood on the corner for a few minutes, wondering what to do. Maybe the green car just went around the block for a spin and would be back in a minute or two. Should she wait?

Wait a minute, she thought. Why should I worry about Ben? Isn’t he the smart one? Isn’t he the resourceful one? Isn’t he the problem solver? He’s gone, isn’t he? Isn’t that what I’ve wanted every day and night of my life from the moment he was born?

She waited on the corner for about fifteen more minutes but still saw no sign of Ben or the green car. She was getting cold. All she could think to do was take the bus back home, tell mother what happened, and be absolved of all responsibility. Mother would yell at her, of course, but really, how was she to be blamed if Ben wanted to leave with somebody else? She wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it.

While she was waiting for the bus, she happened to run into two friends from school, Janey Jones and Helen Whitney. They asked Patricia if she was in any hurry to get home and when she said she wasn’t, they suggested they do a little shopping and find some high school boys to stare at and giggle over.

They walked around in the stores for a while, pretending to be grownup women out on the town. They tried on some lipsticks at the cosmetics counter in Pascale’s Department Store until the woman behind the counter came and stared at them and made them feel uncomfortable, so they left. They went to the dress department, where Helen Whitney tried on clothes while Janey Jones and Patricia waited impatiently for her.

After they split a pizza three ways and after many rounds of Coca-Colas, Patricia told her friends she’d better get home, as it was getting late and mother would begin to wonder what had happened to her. The whole time she was with Janey Jones and Helen Whitney, she never once mentioned Ben’s name.

When she got home, it was nearly five o’clock. Mother was waiting at the door.

“Where’s Ben?” mother said.

“Isn’t he here?” Patricia asked.

“No, he isn’t here. Why isn’t he with you?”

“We got separated. He wanted to do some shopping on his own. I figured he came back by himself.”

“Well, he didn’t.”

“Well, isn’t that funny?”

“Yes, it’s hilarious. When did you last see him?”

“I told you we were together and then decided to split up. He went his way and I went mine. I met some friends and then I guess I just forgot about him.”

“What friends?”

“You don’t know them.”

“I think we’d better get in the car and go downtown and try to find him,” father said.

“I’m not going to bother with that,” mother said. “I’m calling the police. Do you think he could have got lost somehow?”

It was so typical of them, Patricia thought. They only thought of Ben. It was just further proof, if she needed it, that they preferred Ben over her. After they found out what they wanted to know about Ben, they left her standing in the middle of the room as if she no longer existed.

She went up to her room and locked herself in, sat down on the bed and looked at herself in the dresser mirror, not failing to notice how ugly and sad she looked, with a new pimple right on the end of her nose. It had been a good day, until she came home and there was this big uproar over Ben. His highness Ben. Everything was always about Ben.

Her feelings were terribly wounded. She could work herself up into a good cry if she let herself go. And wouldn’t it be just like them not to notice, when she sat down at the dinner table, how red her eyes were?

They were sure to find silly old Ben, with or without her help. He was probably on his way home now. Nothing bad would ever happen to precious Ben.

She had seen this awfully cute coat in Patterson’s window downtown with a real fur collar and fur trim. She had already given up on the coat because mother would say it was too expensive. And it was expensive, a hundred and forty-nine dollars and ninety-five cents, but what difference does money make when you find the coat of your dreams?

If they took her downtown and bought her that coat, right now, it might go a long way toward refreshing her memory. If they threw in the hat and gloves that went with the coat, she might even be able to remember the license number of the green car. Wouldn’t it just be too fabulous if she ended up with all three—the coat, the hat and the gloves? She’d look like a movie star. Her friends at school would simply die with jealousy!

After dawdling in her room for what seemed like an hour or so, she went back downstairs to see if there was any news of Ben. Two men from the police department were sitting with mother and father in the living room. They all turned and looked at her as she walked into the room.

“Did they find Ben?” she asked mother.

“Sit down, Patricia,” mother said.

She sat down and folded her hands in her lap.

“We were just telling these two gentlemen everything we could think of about Ben,” mother said. “I wasn’t sure if I remembered right, but I thought he was wearing his green corduroy pants and his brown coat with the hood.”

“That’s right, mother,” Patricia said.

“You were with him?” the older policeman in the suit asked.

“I had been with him, but we didn’t stay together. We had different stores we wanted to go to.”

“Did you see anything out of the ordinary?”

“Like what?”

“Did you see anybody talking to him? Did you see anybody trying to force him to do anything he didn’t want to do?”

“There were lots of people around. I can’t be sure of anything. I did see…”

They were all looking intently at her, the two policemen and mother and father. They hoped she would say something that would help them know what happened to Ben, but she developed a bad case of shyness and couldn’t go on.

She was about to make a blunder. The beautiful coat with the fur collar hung in the balance. If she said the wrong thing, they’d be mad at her and she could kiss the coat goodbye.

“I want you to tell me everything you saw,” the policeman said.

“In Patterson’s window I saw the coat I’ve always wanted. It was light brown with a fur collar and fur trim. I’m not sure what the fur was made out of it; it wasn’t mink or anything like that, but I don’t think it was dog or monkey.”

The policeman wrote down every word. When she stopped talking, they all looked at her, waiting for her to continue. The policeman held the pen in his hand, poised over the paper. She blushed to the roots of her hair and thought she was going to cry. They would think, of course, that she was crying over Ben.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Thank You for Choosing Alien Abduction

Thank You for Choosing Alien Abduction ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“I want to be cremated,” Leif Mickelson said.

“We’ll take care of it,” Lyle the guard said. “Don’t worry about a thing.”

“I’m not worried. I haven’t got a care in the world.”

“Friday’s the day. Friday the tenth.”

“I was born on a Friday. Did you know that? A very auspicious day.”

“What about family? Do you want to meet with family? Mother or father? Wife or sweetheart?”

“No, they’re all dead and it’s just as well.”

“Well, you just try to relax and clear your mind. That’s the advice I always give to the fellas.”

Yes, clearing his mind was the best parting gift he could give to himself. No more sorrow. No more self-recrimination. No more painful memories. All his misdeeds were in the past and could not, should not, be recalled. He had confessed his sins to the priest and the priest had absolved him. He was washed clean. The slate on which he had done so much writing was now blank. Everything was washed away—the good, but especially the bad. Five days left and no more sinning.

They brought him magazines but he didn’t open them. They brought him cigarettes, candy and chewing gum, but they lay untouched. They brought him writing paper to write any farewell letters, but he had none to write. They offered to bring in a TV to brighten his final hours, but a TV would only remind him of the things of the world he was trying to forget and he declined it. When asked what he wanted for his final meal, he said he wanted only the Holy Sacrament, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which the priest promised to administer in the last few minutes of his life.

He lay on his bunk and looked at the ceiling. He turned on his side and looked at the wall. He thought about his body that would soon be reduced to a pile of gray ash. He thought about the breath in his lungs and the heart that miraculously pumped blood to every part of his body, no matter how unworthy he might be. He looked at his reflection in the mirror and thought how he would soon be only a shadow, a shade, a memory to anybody who might have any reason at all to remember him. When he was gone, it would be as if he never existed at all. He would leave nothing behind.

The time he had spent waiting already seemed like a small eternity. When he craned his neck from inside his cell, he could see the clock on the wall, ticking away the seconds and the minutes. But time had no more meaning for him. He wanted there to be no more time, no more waiting. He wanted to jump ahead to midnight Friday night. He was through waiting. It seemed an unspeakable cruelty to make him wait any longer. He was ready to get what he had been asking for all his life. He was ready, he was ready, he was ready…

On Wednesday morning, two days before his scheduled execution, the guards bound his hands and feet with manacles and ushered him into a small room in a part of the prison he had never seen before. They set him down at a table with his back to the wall and left.

Four other men were in the room; they were all on the other side of the table, facing him. He knew that one was the prison warden but he didn’t know who the others were. He blinked his eyes, relaxed in the chair and took a deep breath. There was nothing more to fear.

“How are you holding up?” the warden asked.

“I’m all right.”

“Do you need anything? Is there anything we can do for you?”

“The last rites. That’s all.”

“I’ve been going over your records carefully. You’re forty-two years old, married twice but divorced both times, no children, no living family.”

“That’s right. My father killed my mother and then killed himself.”

“So, the whole thing has been a pretty sad affair for you.”

“I’m not complaining.”

The warden set aside some papers, cleared his throat, and gave a small smile. “I’m going to make you a proposition,” he said.

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“Do you believe the earth has been visited by alien beings?”

“Is this a joke?”

“No, it’s not a joke. Do I need to repeat the question?”

“No, I got it.” He laughed in spite of himself. “I’ve never really thought about it, but I suppose there’s lots of things going on out there we don’t see and don’t understand.”

“Would you believe me if I told you the United States government has been in contact with an alien intelligence for thirty years or more?”

“Yeah, I’d believe it. Sure, why not?”

“This alien intelligence wants a small number of men from earth.”

“Men from earth. What for?”

“That’s the thing. We can only speculate.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means we don’t know.”

“I honestly don’t know what you’re trying to say to me.”

The warden took a deep breath and relaxed his shoulders. “You’ve been a model prisoner in the seven years you’ve been with us.”

“How many gold stars have I earned?”

“You’re in excellent health. You score much higher than average on intelligence tests.”

“What does that get me? Are you going to take me to the front gate and let me go home?”

“No, it doesn’t mean that. It means something else, though. It means you are eligible to be one of the specimens from earth that the alien intelligence has requested.”

“Me? Why me?”

“I’ve just told you all the reasons.”

“The aliens want me?”

“They want men like you.”

“You mean I can go with them? To their planet? Into outer space?”

“We don’t know where. That’s the thing. It’s unknown. At least to us.”

“Are you saying they’ll be able to do whatever they want with me? They can make me their slave, or cut me apart to see what I look like on the inside, or lock me in a cage?”

“They promise humane treatment.”

“Well, what do you know about that?”

“It’ll be entirely your choice. Only you decide. If you decide not to accept, we’ll proceed with your execution in two days.”

“How many would there be? I mean, going along to wherever it is?”

“Just you. Others have gone before.”

“How many?”

“About three hundred, I’m told.”

“Three hundred in thirty years?”

“That’s right.”

“Would I see any of the three hundred when I get there?”

“We don’t know that.”

“What do you get out of it? I mean, what does earth get out of it?”

“It’s in the interest of science and nothing more.”

“This is not just a trick you’re playing on me, is it? Mind games? To see how gullible I am?”

“Do you really think we’d do that?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything.”

“Do you need some time to think it over?”

“This is what it comes down to, then. In two days it’s the big sleep for me or the big unknown. It’s up to me to decide. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Do you want some time to think it over?”

“No, no more time.”

“You’ll do it? You won’t do it?”

“Of course I’ll do it. In the interest of science.”

They removed him to an isolation cell so he couldn’t talk to anybody. No guards, no priest, no fellow prisoners, nothing. Complete isolation. Food and drink would be given to him through a little compartment in the door, without any human contact.

He still believed they might be playing a trick on him, but as the hours went by he began to have a different view of midnight Friday night. Instead of darkness and oblivion, he now saw something different, a tiny light at the end of a long tunnel. He wasn’t going to be fooled, though. The world had a way of dashing his brains out on the rocks below.

In the isolation cell, he could no longer see the clock, but he knew from the light coming in at the window that it was Wednesday night and then Thursday morning. His breakfast was handed in at the little opening in the door and then, hours later, lunch.

Thursday afternoon and evening seemed interminable. He lay on the bunk, paced the floor, counted the tiles in the floor, counted his breaths. When the evening meal was delivered, he called through the opening that he needed to speak to the warden, but there was no response. He wanted some questions answered before he was going to climb on any old spaceship to the stars.

Finally it was Friday morning, his last day in prison, his last day on earth. He felt brave and almost happy and then his insides quaked with terror. He had changed his mind. He didn’t want to go. What had he signed on for? He wasn’t going to be the plaything of hideous aliens on a faraway planet. There was no way of knowing what kind of tortures they might subject him to. Maybe he wouldn’t even be able to breathe when he got there. He wanted to put a stop to this thing. He wanted to die as scheduled at midnight and let that be the end of it.

He wasn’t able to touch his breakfast, but when lunch was delivered he felt calm again, his hands had stopped shaking, his heart was no longer hammering in his chest and his breaths didn’t choke him. He ate everything on his lunch tray and then he took a restful nap.

He was awakened by the opening of the door to his cell. It was the warden and two other men. The warden had some “release forms” for him to sign; he signed them without even looking at them. One of the men, the doctor, gave him some shots in both arms, checked his blood pressure and his heart.

“Just a few more hours now and you’ll be on your way,” the warden said, smiling and touching him on the upper arm. “You have my very best wishes for a safe journey.”

As soon as the warden and the others left, he received his dinner tray. It was fried chicken, potato salad, a Coke, a banana and a piece of lemon meringue pie. He ate all the food and drank the Coke. When he was finished, he lay down on his bunk with his hands behind his head to wait for what was going to happen next.

The next time the door opened, he jumped up expectantly. “Is it time?” he asked. It was two men he had never seen before. They escorted him to the shower room, told him to strip down, wash thoroughly with a special soap they gave him, take care of any personal needs he might have, and when he was finished to dress in a heavy nylon jumpsuit that encompassed his body like a cocoon.

He was then put in a “holding cell.” On his way to the cell, he caught a glimpse of a clock; it was ten minutes after eleven. He had less than an hour.

A short time later, two mysterious “attendants” with faces covered came to the holding cell and, without speaking a word, took him by elevator up to the roof of the prison.

In the middle of the roof was a domelike structure and inside the dome was a sturdily built wooden platform. The attendants laid him flat on the platform and immobilized him by securing his arms and legs. Before a helmet was put over his face, he glimpsed a round aperture in the roof of the dome. He could only assume that it was through that aperture that he would be lifted up into the sky.

He heard the attendants moving around him but they never spoke. There were other sounds, too, but he couldn’t identify what they were. In a couple of minutes, all was quiet. The attendants had done their job and departed.

He lay still and waited. Nothing happened and then everything happened. He saw lights around the edges of his peripheral vision. He was aware of the rhythm of his own heart but then the rhythm became something else, a musical sound, like a drum. First one drum and then other drums, until the drums were joined by other musical sounds and became almost deafening, but not beyond the limits of his endurance.

He felt himself being lifted up on nothing more substantial than a puff of air or a beam of light. He had a sudden feeling then of well-being, of euphoria. If he had been afraid earlier, the fear was gone. He was going home at last. It was what he had been waiting for his whole life.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Thanksgiving With Mr. Doodles and the Others

Thanksgiving With Mr. Doodles and the Others ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

It was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, that great American holiday. The residence halls had to be vacated. The heat would be shut off and the cafeteria closed. Get the hell out and don’t come back until after seven o’clock Sunday night. This means you.

I took my suitcase to my last class Wednesday afternoon so I could leave from there and not have to go back to my room again. When the class was over, I walked the two miles downtown to the bus station in the rain. I had a sore throat that was bound to turn into a chest cold if I didn’t take care of myself. I used my umbrella; I had been called unkind names for carrying an umbrella, but I didn’t care. If there were any names in the dictionary that I hadn’t been called at some time in my life, I don’t know what they were.

The bus was about one-third full of the usual derelicts and undesirables. I sat in the back, next to the window, hoping that nobody came and sat too close. I tried to doze to pass the time but every time I went to sleep the bus gave a lurch or the brakes squealed or somebody coughed or talked in a loud voice and I got woke up. The world is full of people who don’t want you to sleep.

After two-and-a-half fairly uncomfortable hours the bus pulled into my hometown. It was raining there, too, making it only slightly more bleak than usual. I didn’t think much of my hometown and wouldn’t care if I never saw it again. I comforted myself with the thought that someday I would be free of my hometown and everybody who lived in it, my family included. One day I would be the lucky fellow who got away.

My mother wasn’t happy that I called her and asked her to come and pick me at the bus station.

“I thought you weren’t coming home for Thanksgiving,” she said. I could see the menthol cigarette and the scarf tied around her just-washed hair.

“Everybody had to get out,” I said. “The residence halls are being shut down until Sunday.”

“Well, I never heard of such a thing!”

She slammed down the phone and in ten minutes her tank-like Chevrolet rolled onto the bus station lot. She glared at me while I stowed my suitcase in the back seat and got into the front.

“You don’t seem very happy to see me,” I said.

“I don’t appreciate having to come out in this rain,” she said.

“I didn’t make it rain.”

“Have you suddenly become too lazy to walk a couple of miles?”

“I have a sore throat and, besides, I’m tired.”

“Oh, listen to you! You sound just like your father every time somebody asks him to do something. He’s tired or he has this alarming pain right around the kidneys.”

My parents were divorced and my mother never passed up the chance to denigrate my father. She almost always found him horribly lacking in some way.

As for me, I’m sure my mother cared for me in her own peculiar way, but the truth is she and I were, and always had been, tuned to entirely different frequencies. I concluded in seventh grade that she and my father were both temperamentally unsuited for parenthood. Most people enter into it (parenthood) blindly, without giving much thought to what’s in store for them. I would advise them to get a kitten or a puppy. They’re a lot more fun and their poop is a lot easier to clean up.

“In a way, it’s good you decided to come home,” she said.

“I didn’t decide. It was decided for me.”

“Your father called and asked if he could come for Thanksgiving dinner. He wants to bring someone.”

“Who?”

“It seems he has a new girlfriend. Her name is Kitty Fox.”

“Is she a stripper?”

“I didn’t ask.”

“Is she going to pop out of a cake?”

“I guess we’ll find out.”

“Look,” I said. “I don’t feel very well and I’ve been really, really tired lately. I was just planning on staying in bed all day tomorrow. I was hoping you’d bring me my dinner on a tray.”

“I don’t think so, mister. You can help entertain your father and Kitty Fox.”

“I think I’ll just go to a hotel until it’s time to go back to school.”

“You have money for a hotel?”

“Not exactly. I was hoping you’d pay for it.”

“What do you think I am? A genie popping out of a bottle to grant your every wish?”

“I might have something catching.”

“It’s no use. You’re tagged for service tomorrow.”

“Just drop me off downtown. I’ll spend Thanksgiving at the homeless shelter until it’s time to catch the bus back to school.”

Grandma and her best friend Bunny arrived on Thursday morning to help with dinner before I was even out of bed. When I went into the kitchen in my bathrobe, grandma grabbed me and gave me a big kiss.

“Gilbert!” she screeched in my ear. “You’ve changed since the last time I saw you!”

“It’s only been three months,” I said.

As an extension of grandma, Bunny also gave me a kiss and a bear hug. “You’re just so good-looking!” Bunny said. “I don’t know where you get your looks from.”

“Not from his father’s side,” mother said.

Grandma and Bunny both had on their church dresses and their finest costume jewelry. Their shellacked beauty-parlor hairdos glistened in the light. They had known each other all their lives and now, in old age widowhood, were always together. Bunny sold her house after her husband died and moved in with grandma. When they died, they would be in side-by-side graves.

“How are things going up at that school of yours?” grandma asked.

“All right,” I said.

“Are you learning how not to be a loser like your father so you can make a good living?”

“Sure. That’s what I’m majoring in: how not to be a loser like my father.”

“And lots of girls, I’ll bet.”

“Girls?”

“Well, you have girlfriends, don’t you?”

“Oh, sure! Lots!”

“Be sure and marry the right one. We don’t want another failed marriage in the family.”

“I have several lined up right now,” I said. “I’ll let you know when I make my final decision.”

“Good boy!”

I fixed myself some eggs and toast and after I was finished eating mother told me she needed me go to the store to get ten or twelve last-minute items she needed for dinner.

Bunny’s Mexican Chihuahua dog Mr. Doodles was asleep on the floor beside the couch in the living room. When I passed through on my way upstairs to get dressed, he raised his head and growled at me, yawned, and then put his head back down. Bunny had had Mr. Doodles for a long time. Wherever Bunny went, Mr. Doodles went. She wasn’t about to leave him at home by himself on Thanksgiving while she went out and had a good dinner.

I had to drive to three different places to find a store that was open. I got all the stuff on the list and drove back as quick as I could. There were no other cars on the road. Anybody with any sense got themselves inside out of the icy rain.

While I was out, my sister Lindsey and her new boyfriend had arrived. Lindsey and I greeted each other tepidly as I carried the grocery bags into the kitchen and set them down on the table. There was still lots of childhood animosity between Lindsey and me, I suppose. She always pictured a rivalry between the two of us that, to me, never existed. She was jealous that I was going to college while she was stuck working in a bank with a high school diploma.

The boyfriend’s name was Chick Olmstead. He was thirty or so, a little on the short side, with thinning blond hair and stubbly cheeks. He was wearing a suit with a loud bow tie and suspenders. As I shook his hand, I could smell that he had been smoking.

“Chick’s a professional clown,” Lindsey told me.

“Well, that’s a new one!” I said. “Lindsey’s last boyfriend was an accountant.”

Mother gave me a warning looking as I steered Chick Olmstead into the living room. I wanted to hear more about being a professional clown. I knew lots of non-professional clowns and I was fascinated by the idea of one who made a living at it.

“Do you skydive?” Chick Olmstead asked me as we sat on the couch.

“Me? No, I don’t even like flying. I don’t think I’d ever be able to jump out of an airplane. I’d rather die in a crash.”

“It’s the thrill of a lifetime,” he said.

“Not for everybody, though.”

“I’ve been doing it now for about a year. I’m trying to get Lesley to try it, but I think she’s scared.”

“She’s scared of just about everything,” I said.

He laughed loudly and fidgeted with his hands. “Lesley tells me you go to state university.”

“Yeah.”

“That must be fun.”

“It’s a real blast.”

“I see you as the ironic sort,” he said.

“I don’t know. I guess irony can be a useful tool sometime.”

Chick Olmstead looked at me as if he didn’t know what I was talking about. He straightened his tie nervously and cleared his throat.

“Look,” I said, “you don’t have to be nervous around us. We’re just very casual around here. You can take off your jacket and tie. There’s no reason to put on the dog around us.”

“I think I’ll leave them on for now.”

“Would you like a beer?” I asked.

“Not just yet. Thanks.”

“How well do you know Lindsey?”

“Not very well. We’ve seen each other a few times.”

“Keep your right flank covered. She’s not what she appears to be.”

He laughed as if I was making a joke. “What do you mean?”

“She’s more trouble than you know, but you may not realize it until it’s too late.”

“Too late for what?”

“If you stick around long enough, you’ll find out.”

At looked at me with curiosity but didn’t pursue it any farther.

Mr. Doodles stood up, yawned effusively, and began washing his nether parts.

“Is that your dog?” Chick Olmstead asked.

“No, he’s Bunny’s dog. He’s her son. His name is Mr. Doodles.”

“Who’s Bunny?”

“You met her in the kitchen. She’s the old lady in the red church dress. She’s grandma’s best friend. They live together and will die together when the time comes.”

“Oh, yes. The one with orange hair.”

“Fresh from the parlor of beauty, I said.

Bunny came in from the kitchen carrying Mr. Doodles’ leash. “I want him to have a little walk before dinner,” she said. “Would you be a dear and take him out for me? As soon as he wee-wees and drops a little turd or two, you can bring him back in. He really doesn’t like being outside after he’s finished his business.”

“It would be more than an honor and a privilege,” I said.

I slipped on my jacket and as I was on my way out the door with Mr. Doodles on his leash, Chick Olmstead was right behind me. Lindsey was ignoring him; he felt awkward and wanted to get out of the house. I can’t say I blamed him.

We walked Mr. Doodles down to the corner. He scratched in the wet leaves and relieved himself by the stop sign. Chick Olmstead lit up a cigarette and offered me one, which I declined.

“So, what’s it like being a clown?” I asked.

“It’s just more rewarding than I could ever say.”

“Do you travel with a circus?”

He laughed. “Nothing like that. I do children’s parties and events at the hospital for crippled children. Occasionally I get a gig at a church or a school.”

“Is that year-round work?” I asked.

“It’s seasonal,” he said. “I don’t work all the time.”

“What do you do the rest of the time?” I asked.

“I’m writing a novel,” he said.

When we got back to the house with Mr. Doodles, Bunny was waiting at the door with a towel to dry off his feet. Then I watched in amazement as she slipped little knitted booties on all four of his feet. She ran her fingertips along his nose and head to make sure he hadn’t caught a chill.

“Mr. Doodles is lucky,” I said, “to have someone to care about him so much.”

Mr. Doodles ran through the house and began yipping and begging to be let up on the dining room table, which mother had just laid out with her best china and cutlery. He jumped up on a chair but couldn’t quite make it all the way to the table.

Bunny gave him a little boost and he spent the next few minutes walking on the table among the plates, glasses, bowls, napkins and silverware, without ever touching anything.

“He likes shiny objects,” Bunny explained. “He just wants to take a good look so he doesn’t feel left out.”

While we all admiring how well-behaved Mr. Doodles was on the table in his little booties, the doorbell rang.

“That’ll be Frank,” mother said, meaning my long-lost father.

Mother went to the door and opened it with a put-upon smile. “You’re late,” she said. “We were just about to start eating without you.”

“You said two o’clock,” he said.

“Have you forgotten how to tell time? It’s after two-thirty.”

“Tell it to the marines.”

He stepped inside with his guest. It was Kitty Fox, whose name we already knew and, no, she didn’t look like a stripper; she looked more like a librarian or a schoolteacher. The thing about her that would surprise my mother, grandma and Bunny the most was that she wasn’t the same race as my father.

“I brought a cake,” Kitty Fox said. “I knew there’d be plenty of food, but I wanted to contribute something.”

“Thank you!” mother gushed, taking the cake and handing it to Bunny. “That’s just lovely of you!”

Kitty Fox shook mother’s hand. “You must be Frank’s wife,” she said.

“Used-to-be wife,” mother said.

Kitty Fox shook hands with me, Lindsey, Chick Olmstead, grandma and Bunny.

“Your house is lovely!” Kitty Fox said, as she took off her coat and handed it to grandma.

Father had brought a bottle of champagne. He handed it to me awkwardly and told me to open it and get some glasses. I took the bottle into the kitchen, opened it with a corkscrew, and scouted around in the upper cabinets for some glasses. We didn’t have any champagne glasses, so I settled for wine glasses. I arranged eight of them on a tray with the bottle of champagne in the middle and, with the tray balanced precariously in one hand like a waiter at the Trocadero, I went back into the front room.

Father picked the bottle of champagne off the tray, along with one of the glasses, filled it to the brim and handed it to Kitty Fox.

“Before we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner,” he said, “I have an announcement I want to make.”

“Why all the formality?” grandma asked.

After we all had a glass of the bubbly stuff in our hands, father held his glass high and put his other arm around Kitty Fox.

“This is a happy day for me!” he announced like a sideshow barker. “Maybe the happiest day of my life!”

“What is it, daddy?” Lindsey asked.

He beamed at all of us and I knew from his eyes that he had already had a few, even though he was supposed to have stopped drinking. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.

“Kitty and I have just become man and wife!” he said with tears in his eyes. “And that’s not all!”

We waited breathlessly to hear the rest.

“And sometime next year! Sometime in the summer! Yes, it’s true! Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen! Sometime next summer we will welcome a new addition to our little family!”

“What?” grandma asked. “You mean she’s going to have a baby?”

He grabbed hold of Kitty and held her against this chest. She squealed like a schoolgirl and tried to push away from him.

“Congratulations,” mother said, but I knew she was anything but pleased. She set down her glass of champagne and went into the kitchen.

“Daddy!” Lindsey said. “Who would have ever thought? At your age?”

“It looks like you’re going to have a little brother,” Chick Olmstead said, shaking my hand as if I should also be congratulated.

Grandma and Bunny went into the kitchen to help mother get the dinner on the table and, finally, we were ready to sit down and eat.

Mother was quiet during dinner. She kept drinking glass after glass of wine and soon she was glassy-eyed. She passed dishes automatically but ate little herself.

Lindsey launched into an involved story about a female co-worker at her bank who embezzled money for years and was finally caught. Nobody paid much attention. Everybody seemed lost in his or her own thoughts.

Mr. Doodles ran around the table yipping, until Bunny picked him up and set him on her lap. She fed him little bites of turkey and mashed potato with the fork she had been eating with. When he was finished eating, he wanted to climb from lap to lap all the way around the table.

“Isn’t he just the most precious little angel you’ve ever seen?” Bunny cooed.

My father and Kitty Fox sat side by side, nuzzling each other and giggling. It was pretty sickening, but I was all for letting them enjoy their moment of happiness. Soon reality and drunkenness would set in.

Grandma and Bunny shot curious glances at Kitty Fox as if they had never expected to see anybody so exotic sitting at the table with them. I hoped they would at least be civil to her, if that’s all they could manage. She seemed too good for my father.

Lindsey glared across the table at me as if she wanted to plunge the carving knife into my heart. She mostly ignored Chick Olmstead during dinner. I felt sorry for him for having Lindsey as his girlfriend. I hardly knew him, but he seemed like a decent fellow and I was certain he deserved better.

Finally the ritual of Thanksgiving dinner, including five different kinds of dessert, was at an end. Mother, grandma and Bunny washed the dishes and cleaned up in the kitchen, stowing all the leftovers in the refrigerator or in the trash can.

My father and Kitty Fox put on their coats to leave. My father surprised me by giving me a bear hug and kissing me on the cheek. He asked me if everything was all right at school and I told him everything was wonderful. He said he hoped to see me at Christmastime, and then they were gone.

Grandma and Bunny didn’t like to drive after dark, so they put Mr. Doodles in his carrier and left right after my father and Kitty Fox. Lindsey wanted to go to a movie and Chick Olmstead was obliged to take her to complete his Thanksgiving obligation, so the two of them also left.

After all the guests were gone, mother sat down on the couch and had a good cry. Crying spells were common with her.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, not really wanting or expecting to hear any kind of an answer. “Feeling a little blue about father’s getting married again?”

“I don’t care what he does. I hope he rots in hell.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“That poor woman doesn’t know what she’s in for, but she’ll soon find out.”

“I was thinking the same thing.”

“And a baby? Can you believe the old bastard is about to become a father again? He’s forty-seven years old!”

“It doesn’t seem real. I’ll have to see it to believe it.”

“Mother and child both have my sympathy.”

The next day mother wanted me to help her put up the artificial Christmas tree, string it with lights and decorate it, which I did without complaint. It was a ritual with her to put the tree up on the day after Thanksgiving and not take it down again until the day after New Year’s.

The Thanksgiving weekend passed in a blur. I ate leftovers and slept at ten-hour intervals. Mother wanted me to go to church with her on Sunday morning but I had a pretty good cough by then and I said I thought I was probably contagious. She accepted that as an excuse and went without me.

On Sunday evening she drove me to the bus station to catch the bus back to school.

“Will you be home for Christmas?,” she asked as I was getting out of the car.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Hang up my stocking and make sure Santa fills it with lots of good stuff.”

She smiled and waved and I slammed the door and boarded my bus. As soon as the bus pulled off the lot and picked up speed on the highway, I was feeling lonely. I was glad it was dark because I felt like I was going to cry.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Until I Die

Until I Die ~ A Noir Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a repost, under a different title.) 

Henry Hudson was waiting at a stoplight in town the first time he saw her. She passed within two feet of his car. She was with three other young people, obviously high school students. She had hair the color of burnished copper; she was wearing green. He was sure her eyes would be green, too.

The next time he saw her was at the public library. He was sitting on a bench reading a newspaper when she came in alone and sat down at a table and opened a book. She was dressed casually but in excellent taste. No blue jeans with tears in the knees or sneakers. Everything about her was perfect. From her hair to her skin to her fingernails, from her shoes to her purse, she generated good taste. She exuded perfection.

He saw her three more times in the next two weeks. The first time she was coming out of the drugstore with a woman obviously her mother. The next time he was driving by on Main Street when he saw her walking on the sidewalk, alone, in front of city hall. The third time she was with somebody else in a red car.

Then he saw her picture in the newspaper. Her name was Colleen Cork and she was eighteen. She was the daughter of Dr. Sidney Cork, neurosurgeon. She was named Outstanding Young Citizen of the Month by the mayor’s office for her charitable work, for her high scholastic standing and for her talent as a singer and musician. When she graduated from high school next year, she planned to go to New York and become a professional musician. The world would open up at her feet.

So now she had a name. He looked up her address in the phone book and found it easily enough. With the help of a map, he found the street where she lived and then the house. It was a large, scenic, three-story brick house on a verdant lot with towering trees in the front yard. The house, the whole setting, was perfect, as he knew it would be.

He parked across the street and watched the house, imagining the perfect life she must live with her perfect family. She would have a brother or two, manly and, like her, good-looking; a handsome, heroic, distinguished father with graying temples who saved lives; an attractive, slim-hipped mother who hosted charity luncheons and boasted an ancestral lineage dating all the way back to the Pilgrims. An all-American family devoid of strife ugliness, and dysfunction.

As for his own family, they lived above the funeral home that his grandfather and then his father owned and operated. His mother had nervous breakdowns the way other people have colds. She committed suicide when he was sixteen by drinking a corrosive poison. Her death two days later in the hospital was a psychological blow from which he would never fully recover. He would carry her sadness around with him always, like a weight around the neck.

After high school, he studied embalming for a few semesters. He was all ready to take up the family business when he came to the astounding conclusion that he didn’t have the stomach for that kind of life, dealing with grieving family members and handling cadavers all the time. It wasn’t the kind of life he wanted. He told himself he was choosing life over death, but the truth was he was choosing to do nothing.

After he left school, he began drinking heavily and at twenty-five he was a full-fledged alcoholic. Doctors told him his liver was aging five times faster than normal. When he came to the realization he would die if he didn’t stop drinking, he spent several years in and out of different hospitals taking different “cures.” In time, only his willpower and determination made him stop drinking.

His father died and left him the family fortune, which was not millions but a little in excess of two hundred thousand. It wasn’t enough to live the life of an international playboy and jetsetter, but it gave him a reasonable income that he could draw on for years to come (if he didn’t live to be too old) without having to scratch for a living in the workaday world.

He lived, by himself, in the funeral home establishment outside of town. It was no longer a funeral home but his home, the only home he had ever known. It had fifteen rooms but he only ever used five. He never went down to the basement where the embalming rooms were and all the tools and equipment, including some caskets that had never been used.

He had always been a solitary person. He had never known romantic love or even real friendship. He always believed that one day he would meet his ideal. She, like his mother, would have hair the color of burnished copper and green eyes. She would be a little taller than average and have natural grace and dignity. She would speak quietly but forcefully and she would always be on the side of right. Just being in her presence would make him a better person, would rectify all his errors and false steps and make everything right in the world.

The more he saw Colleen Cork, the more he was convinced she was the one he had been fated to meet out of all the others. All he had to do now was to have her make the miraculous discovery on her own.

He began driving around the high school at times he believed he would be most likely to see her, when school was taking up in the morning and letting out in the afternoon. More often than not, he would catch a glimpse of her, always surrounded by admirers and hangers-on. He would drive on then, satisfied, until the next time.

Once when he was driving by on Fourth Street near the school, he saw her go into the bookstore. He parked the car at a meter and got out and went into the store behind her. While she was looking around in the store, he followed along, hanging back just enough so that if she turned around she wouldn’t see him. When he saw that she was standing in the cashier’s line to pay, he picked up a book to buy without even looking at the title. He stood behind her in line, as close to her as he could get without jostling her. She never once turned and looked at him or knew he was there.

Any time he saw information about her in the newspapers, he cut it out and added it to a scrapbook. She was captain of the debating team, president of the music guild, on the board of the library and children’s hospital. She was chosen to participate in a statewide music competition in the state capitol. She appeared in the high school production of a play called Street Scene and might be interested in pursuing an acting career when she finished her education, in addition to her music. Everybody who saw her performance in the play said she was a “natural.”

He had taken to driving by her house almost every night at ten o’clock. Sometimes the house would be dark and at other times there would be lights in all the windows. He imagined which upstairs room would be hers. He could picture her sitting up in bed reading a book or washing her face in the bathroom before going to bed.

One night, when driving past didn’t seem satisfying enough, he stopped on the other side of the street and parked. He had been sitting in his car for about ten minutes when a police car pulled up alongside and stopped. He smiled because he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong.

He rolled down his window and looked up into the face of a middle-aged police officer. “Good evening,” he said pleasantly.

“Would you step out of your vehicle please?” the officer said.

“Why?”

“Just do as I say and there won’t be any trouble.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“I need to see your operator’s license.”

“My what?”

“Your driver’s license.”

He took it out of his wallet and handed it to the officer, who looked at it for a long time underneath the flashlight.

“You don’t live here,” the officer said. “This is not your address.”

“That’s right.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“I wasn’t doing anything, really. Just waiting for a friend.”

“What friend?”

“I don’t know where he went. That’s why I’m waiting for him.”

“You need to go on home, now. It’s late. When people see you waiting around out here in the dark for no reason, they think you’re a prowler and they become alarmed.”

“I’m not a prowler.”

“Well, go on home, then. This is not your neighborhood.”

“Yes, sir.”

He was going to have to be more discreet. He didn’t care what people thought of him, but he didn’t want Colleen Cork to hear about him and get the idea that he meant to do her harm or that she needed to be afraid of him. He had only the kindest and most generous intentions toward her.

He was trying to think of a way that he might approach her without alarming her or making her suspicious. If he only had some pretext to talk to her, it might break down the barrier between them, but what could the pretext be? He was mulling these questions over in his mind when he heard the news.

He saw it in the morning newspaper: Country Club Trio Killed in Saturday Night Car Crash.

Colleen Cork was a member of a string trio performing at a function at the country club on Saturday night. About eleven o’clock, after the function ended, the car in which the trio were riding was struck head-on by a drunk driver going eighty-five miles an hour about five miles outside of town. Two of the young musicians were pronounced dead at the scene. The third died at the hospital before morning. The drunk driver was not injured. Charges were expected to be filed.

The world turns on such events. Everything changes in the blink of an eye.

On seeing the news, he lost consciousness. When he awoke again, he began drinking whiskey and taking pills. He intended to kill himself, but twenty-four hours later he was still alive. God had kept him alive, when a lesser man would have succumbed.

After he sobered up and thought clearly again, he knew what he was going to do.

Colleen Cork lay in state at the Vernon Vale and Sons Mortuary Chapel on Mission Street. On Tuesday morning the body would be removed to the Central Avenue Methodist Church for an eleven o’clock service. Private interment would follow at the Cemetery of the Holy Ghost.

On Tuesday morning at two o’clock, he got out of bed after several hours of sleep and dressed entirely in black. He drove his car to the Vernon Vale and Sons Mortuary Chapel on Mission Street. Using a crowbar, he easily broke the lock on a side door and made his way in the dark, with the aid of a small flashlight, to the viewing chapel where Colleen Cork’s body lay.

She lay in a white casket, dressed in a white gown, with a wreath of rosebuds in her hair. He wept with gratitude when he saw her beauty was in no way diminished from what had happened to her. Quickly, before anybody knew what he was doing, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her out of the building, barely stumbling with her in the dark as he ran back to his car. He opened the door and slid her easily enough onto the back seat and covered her with a blanket. The whole thing had taken less than ten minutes.

In the lower basement of the funeral home was a vault-like room where his grandfather and his father prepared bodies for burial. He unlocked the door with the only key in existence, turned on the lights, carried the body of Colleen Cork inside and placed it in an old steel-and-ebony casket from his grandfather’s day.

He learned from the newspaper that the purloined body of the beautiful Colleen Cork caused quite a stir in the town. Nothing like it had ever happened before. What kind of a depraved person would steal a body from a funeral home hours before the funeral? Police were investigating but so far had no leads. Everyone was wondering how the family would proceed with the funeral with the body missing.

They would be coming for him, he knew. The policeman he encountered on Colleen Cork’s street would remember him, would remember what he looked like and remember his car. It wouldn’t take long for them to figure out what he had done.

Every time he heard a car outside the house, he imagined it would be the police; they had come for him with a warrant to search the house. They would find the body of Colleen Cork, take her away, and send him to jail for the rest of his life. It wasn’t the ending he imagined for himself.

After two days of waiting, he locked himself in the vault-like room in the lower basement with the still-beautiful Colleen Cork. After what he had gone through to have her with him, he wasn’t going to give her up now. In the dim light, he looked with relief and gratitude upon the bottles of chemicals and poisons on the shelves that his father and grandfather had used in pursuit of their profession. Drink it down. Drink hearty, my man. Drink so much of the stuff that it overwhelms your body and death comes for you as quickly as it came for Colleen Cork. She’s waiting for you just on the other side. Just a little bit farther. Not very far at all.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Death and Dismemberment

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Death and Dismemberment ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Coralie Killabee, always a lady, killed her husband, Desmond Killabee, at the breakfast table on a Wednesday morning in June. She hit him in the head, hit him with a cast-iron skillet, hit him hard enough to crack his skull. He pitched forward face-down in his oatmeal and then sideways to the floor.

Seeing he wasn’t dead yet, but just making little wah-wah-wah sounds with his mouth, she held a pillow over his face, leaning on it with all her might, until she knew he was no longer breathing and his heart no longer pumping blood.

Here’s how it happened: Coralie put a plate of bacon on the breakfast table. Fabian jumped up on the table from out of nowhere the way cats do and tried to pick up a piece of the bacon in his mouth. Before Fabian had a good purchase on the bacon, Desmond smacked him with his knuckles, hard, on the side of the head. Indignant, his feelings hurt, Fabian bounded off the table and ran for cover. He had never been smacked before, by Desmond or anybody else, and didn’t know what to make of it.

If there was one thing Coralie would not tolerate in her house, it was mistreatment of any animal but especially of her beloved cats. Without even thinking about what she was doing, she picked up the cast-iron skillet and brought it and Desmond’s head together in a harmonious union.

With Desmond lying dead on the floor, the cats, sensing excitement, came from other parts of the house. First there was Button and then Chick and finally, Fabian, looking none the worse for having been smacked. They sniffed Desmond’s face and hair, danced around him and waved their tails. They had never liked Desmond anyway and were glad he was dead. Fabian seemed especially gleeful; he meowed loudly several times and scraped his paws on the floor in front of Desmond’s face as though cleaning up a malodorous accident. Coralie picked Fabian up, kissed him where Desmond had smacked him and examined him with her fingertips to make sure he wasn’t hurt.

Coralie didn’t want to leave Desmond’s body there on the kitchen floor—it seemed so untidy—so she quickly thought of a plan. She dragged him by the legs to the top of the cellar stairs, opened the door and let his body tumble down— what a wonderful thing is gravity!—the long, narrow flight of cellar stairs. Thump, thump, thump he went until he could go no farther.

In the cellar was an old chest-type freezer that had belonged to Desmond’s mother. It was only about half-full at the moment, with a two-inch coating of permafrost on its insides that made it like a tiny piece of the North Pole. Coralie hoisted Desmond to an upright position, almost standing, and let him topple headfirst into the freezer on top of the layers of frozen corn, lima beans, strawberries and cuts of meat. She arranged his arms and legs to her satisfaction and then let the lid fall with a satisfying whack.

She knew she wouldn’t be able to leave Desmond in the freezer forever, but for the time being she didn’t want to think about it. She wanted to enjoy the rare experience of having the house to herself and her cats for a while. It was like a vacation not to have to cook Desmond’s meals, remind him to take his medicine, listen to him snore, clean up after him, and listen to his complaints.

To celebrate her freedom, she went to the animal shelter and adopted three more kittens in need of a home to add to her little family. She named the new additions Felix, Tiny Tim, and Ann Darrow after the screaming girl in King Kong. With the three she already had, she now had six little ones to brighten her home, take liberties in the kitchen, wake her up before daylight, and help with the housework.

She went to the grocery store and bought luxuries that penny-pinching Desmond would never have allowed: desserts, exotic fruits and vegetables from foreign lands, fillet mignons, lobster, caviar, champagne, wine, chocolate-covered nuts, and the best and most expensive cat foods from the pet aisle.

No matter what she was doing, though, the thought of Desmond lingered in her head. The longer she left him in the freezer, the more she ran the risk of being found out. A dead man in her freezer was something for which she would not be able to offer a reasonable explanation.

After Desmond had been in the freezer for a few days, Coralie remembered an old meat saw that hung in the recesses of the cellar behind the furnace. It had been there so long she didn’t remember how it came to be there or who it belonged to. She never had any reason before to give it any thought.

Armed with a flashlight and a broom to brush away cobwebs, she retrieved the meat saw from its decades-long resting place and took it upstairs to get a better look. It was slightly rusted but not as bad as it could have been. She cleaned it, sanded the rust spots, and wiped it down with an oily rag. When she was finished, it looked serviceable and more than adequate for the job.

So, if she applied the meat saw to Desmond’s body, what would she then do with the pieces? She couldn’t exactly flush them down the toilet or put them down the garbage disposal like leftovers from dinner. She couldn’t burn them or hide them or bury them. She had to be careful—she didn’t relish the thought of spending the rest of her days in women’s prison.

An idea came to her in the night. Why couldn’t she cut off a little piece of Desmond’s body every week and conceal it inside her weekly bag of trash? In no time at all, all the pieces would have been loaded onto the trash truck and taken away to the land where the bong tree grows and nobody would ever suspect a thing.

Before she began dismantling Desmond’s body with the meat saw, she thought about what she would say when people began asking nosy questions about where he might be and what he might be doing.

She typed up a letter on Desmond’s typewriter, explaining, in Desmond’s own voice (if he still had a voice), how he had been engaged in an illicit love affair with a foreign woman for two years and was going to go live with her in her own country. He would learn to speak her language and sever all ties with his past life and the country of his birth. “Don’t try to find me,” (s)he wrote, “because it will be useless.”

She signed Desmond’s name to the typed letter with a ballpoint pen in a close approximation of his handwriting, folded it and put it in an envelope. She would have it ready when she needed it.

With all six cats at her feet, she began the distasteful job of removing Desmond from her life forever by first cutting off his left hand. She was surprised at how easy it was to cut through the frozen arm with the hefty meat saw. All the blood in his body was frozen, so there was virtually no mess.

She wrapped the hand in newspaper, before it had a chance to thaw, and then wrapped the newspaper-wrapped hand in several layers of plastic and carefully concealed it inside her weekly trash. She put the large black trash bag (containing Desmond’s hand and a week’s worth of trash) in the metal trash container outside at the curb in front of the house for the trash truck to collect.

In weeks to follow, she disposed of the right hand, the left foot and the right foot. This was followed by the legs (each one in three sections), until both legs were sheared off at the groin. Then came the arms, which were less meaty and easier to cut through than the legs. When Desmond was headless and armless, she cut off the head.

The head was heavier than she ever would have thought. She let it fall to the floor; it was ice-encrusted and solid as a cannonball. Crouching on her knees, she cut the head into four neat sections the same way she would have quartered a watermelon. It took four weeks to dispose of the head, a quarter of a head at a time.

The thick part of the body, where the stomach, intestines and other organs were, was more problematic. She wasn’t able to cut all the way through this part of the body with the saw, so she cut off small chunks of three or four pounds each. If anybody happened to see these chunks in her trash, they wouldn’t know what they were seeing

So, in this way, she disposed of Desmond in his entirety in about three months. The task was completed on the first day of autumn. She celebrated the event by burning all of Desmond’s old books and papers, donating his clothes to charity, and buying new furniture for the living room.

A few weeks later, toward the end of October, a man came to the house looking for Desmond. Coralie opened the door a few inches and as soon as she saw the man’s face she knew she was in for some trouble.

“I’m looking for Desmond Killabee,” he said, smiling.

“He’s not here.”

“Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“Never.”

“Why not?”

“Look,” she said. “I don’t have time for this. I have an appointment with my hairdresser in less than an hour. Desmond is gone. I don’t know where he is or how you can reach him. Sorry.”

“Do you think I could come in and we could have a little talk?”

“No. I’m very busy.”

She started to close the door; the man blocked it with his arm.

“I won’t take up more than a few minutes of your time, I promise.”

She reluctantly allowed him into the living room, where he took a seat on the couch.

“What is this about?” she asked.

“I’m Desmond’s brother, Moe Killabee. ”

“Your name is Moe?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Desmond never told me he had a brother.”

“No, he wouldn’t. Say, do you think I could have a drink of water? I just walked six blocks from the bus depot and I’m awful thirsty.”

She went into the kitchen and filled a glass with water and took in back into the living room and handed it to him.

“That’s awfully kind of you,” he said.

He drank the water down, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and handed her the empty glass.

“I’m sorry I can’t help you,” she said, “but if you’ll excuse me now…”

“I road all night on the bus from Memphis to get here,” he said. “The bus kind of wears my ass out. Do you think it’d be all right if I took a little nap?”

“What? No! I need for you to leave now. As I said, I’m very busy. If you’re looking for Desmond, he isn’t here and I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

He put both arms on the back of the couch and looked her up and down. “So you’re the little wife?” he said.

“I’m Desmond’s wife, yes.”

“When was the last time you saw Desmond?”

“He left in June. I haven’t seen him since.”

“Why do I have the feeling you’re not telling the truth?”

“Now, look!” she said. “I don’t have to convince you of anything! I think you’d better get out of my house before I call the police!”

“The police might be a lot more interested to hear what I have to tell them.”

“Who are you anyway?”

“I think you know perfectly well where Desmond is.”

“I can show you a letter that he wrote before he left. It should explain everything.”

“All right, then. Let me see it.”

She went to the desk and took the letter out of the drawer. When she handed it to him, she tried to conceal that her hands were shaking.

He read the letter with a smile. When he finished, he refolded it and returned it to the envelope.

“That letter doesn’t sound like Desmond at all. Where would he meet a foreign woman to fall in love with?”

“You’ll have to ask him that question.”

“I think you wrote that letter.”

“Desmond signed his name.”

“I think you signed Desmond’s name.”

“Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

“I’ll give you about ten seconds to get out of my house or I’m calling the police.”

“You won’t call the police.”

“And why not?”

“Because I won’t let you.”

“Who are you anyway and what is it you want from me?”

“We might start with some money. Let’s say ten thousand dollars?”

“Why would I give you money?”

“I don’t think you have any other choice.”

“That’s blackmail.”

“Oh, my! That’s such an ugly word, isn’t it? We’re family. I would never blackmail you. You’re my sister-in-law.”

“I don’t believe for one second that you’re Desmond’s brother. In fifteen years of marriage he never mentioned your name.”

“Now, isn’t that odd?”

“He’s always told me he didn’t have any family.”

“He isn’t much of a family man, is he? Or should I say was? He’s really rather an odd duck, isn’t he? Or he was.”

She sat down in the chair across from the couch to give herself a chance to think.

“You said your home is in Memphis?”

“No, I said Memphis is where I came from. I don’t have a home. Now that I’m here, I’m thinking about making this my home.”

“Why would you do that?”

“To be near my dear brother, my only living relative, and his lovely wife.”

“If you think you’re going to stay here, in this house, you are very sadly mistaken.”

He laughed and gave her another searching look. “You’re a fine-looking woman,” he said. “You must get pretty lonely at night with nobody around. I think you could get to like me a little if you’d only give yourself a chance.”

“I already loathe you and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

Haw-haw-haw! I remind you a little too much of Desmond, is that it?”

“I have some people coming over for dinner. I think you should leave now. I can give you money for cab fare or for a bus ticket back to Memphis or wherever you want to go.”

“This is where I want to be, sweetie,” he said. “Right here. I’ve traveled a long way. A long , weary road. Now that I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you leave right now.”

“Oh, come on, now! Don’t you think we can do better than that?”

“You’re an extortionist! I don’t believe for one second you’re Desmond’s brother.”

“Oh, gee! Don’t you think we’ve had enough of that kind of talk? I can be quite nice if you just give me a chance.”

“All right. You win. You can stay tonight in the guest room, but tomorrow you’re going to have to make other arrangements.”

“Maybe after you’ve had time to think about it you’ll change your mind about having me stay in the guest room. I can be awful good company, you know. Haw-haw-haw!”

“You must be hungry.”

“I’m so hungry I could eat the wolf at the door.”

“I can fix you something while you get yourself cleaned up. I don’t have much in the house, but I have bread and some ham and eggs in the refrigerator.”

“That sounds delightful.”

“The bathroom is right upstairs. There are towels and anything else you might need. If you need anything you don’t see, call down to me and I’ll get it for you.”

“You’re awfully kind.”

“Desmond will be glad to hear I was kind to his brother.”

“And you won’t call the police while I’m having a bath?”

“Oh, no! I don’t think there’s any reason for that now. We’ll talk more about it later.”

“See? I knew we could be friends if you’d just gave me a chance.”

She watched him go up the stairs, heard the bathroom door close and, a little while later, water running. She went into the kitchen and took some eggs out of the refrigerator and began making an omelet.

In fifteen minutes he came back down, decidedly cleaner than when he went up. He had wet his hair and slicked it back.

“Sorry I don’t have any of Desmond’s clothes you could put on,” she said. “He took everything with him when he left.”

“That’s quite all right,” he said. “All I need now is a toothbrush.”

“Sure, I have a spare one in the drawer upstairs.”

He sat down in Desmond’s chair at the table, lord of the manor. She poured him a cup of coffee and spooned hot food from the skillet onto the plate. He picked up the fork and began eating like a hungry wolf.

“This is so good!” he said.

“Eat up! There’s plenty more.”

She went to the sink and began filling it with hot water for washing the dishes. It was while he was holding the coffee cup to his mouth that she crept up behind him and cracked him in the back of the head, with all her might, with the same cast-iron skillet she had used on Desmond. He never knew what hit him. The cup flew out of his hand and broke against the wall. He pitched forward onto the table and then to the floor.

It was while he was lying on the floor, looking up at her, trying to focus his eyes, that she began kicking him.

“You lying scum!” she screamed. “What kind of a fool do you take me for? Who do you think you’re dealing with?”

She kicked him repeatedly in the head and upper body until she knew he was dead.

With the cautious delicacy that cats possess, Fabian, Button, Chick, Felix, Tiny Tim, and Ann Darrow came out of hiding and sniffed at the body of the stranger on the kitchen floor. After they had made a thorough inspection and satisfied their curiosity, they were ready for their dinner.

Coralie dragged the body to the top of the cellar stairs and let it tumble down on its own: thumpity-thumpity-thump-thump-thump. The cats stopped eating for a moment, looked over their shoulders toward the unexpected disturbance, and went right back to their food. They weren’t alarmed or even interested. They had seen dead bodies tumble down the stairs before.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

If Anybody Asks Where I’ve Gone

If Anybody Asks Where I’ve Gone ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

This morning I gave my seat on the bus to a midget without one. A seat, I mean. She was only about half as tall as anybody else and she was being jostled around by hips and knees. When I caught her attention, I pointed to my seat to let her know that since I was sitting on it I owned it for the moment and I would gladly relinquish it to her to her if she wanted it.

She squeezed past the assholes over to where I was sitting and smiled at me. She had a big oval face and a shellacked hairdo. She wore a little yellow-and-white waitress’s uniform with a nametag on her chest; her name was Lucille. After making sure she was ready to occupy the seat I was about to un-occupy, I stood up and grabbed for a pole to hang on to. I glanced over my shoulder one time from my pole to make sure she was comfortable in the seat I had given her. Her eyes were closed and she was clutching her handbag on her lap. She got off in two stops and somebody else took the seat.

As soon as I walked through the door at work, the good feeling I had from giving my seat to Lucille the midget vanished. I made my way to my desk, head down, trying not to attract anybody’s attention. I didn’t want to give anybody the bright idea that I needed some work to do. I took off my coat and hung it on the rack behind my desk, thinking about how many hours I had to get through before I could put it on again and leave.

I sat down at my desk and took out my yellow legal pad and a handful of pens and red pencils. I took out some papers and covered the desk with them to give the impression that I was working, when, in fact, I planned on doing nothing at all. I could usually go the entire day without doing anything, while giving the impression that I was deeply immersed in an important project for Mr. Junius “Groucho” Wexler, the business genius who started the company from nothing and turned it into the colossus it is today. The best thing I could say about Mr. Wexler was that I hardly ever saw him.

I picked up my pen and made a few notes on the yellow legal pad. Sometimes when I was pretending to be busy, I wrote a snatch or two of not-very-good poetry or a few lines of what would be the great novel that would bring me literary immortality along the lines of Moby Dick.

After a few minutes of this pretending to be busy, I became terrifically sleepy. I might toss and turn in my bed half the night, but as soon as I’m at work I feel like I’ve taken a powerful, sleep-inducing drug. I might try to lean my head on my hand and close my eyes and snatch a few seconds of sleep in the upright position, ever wary of approaching footsteps, but I’ve tried this and it doesn’t help. It somehow makes my craving for sleep almost impossible to bear.

Besides being sleepy, I was also hungry, having skipped breakfast altogether. I went to the break room to see if anybody had brought in any donuts. There were no donuts but there was a pack of chocolate chip cookies on the table. I ate one and when I saw it wasn’t too stale I took two others and put them in my pants pocket before anybody saw me. (I had to remember to take them out of my pocket before I sat down again.) I wasn’t a coffee drinker so I fixed myself a cup of tea and stood looking out the window while the water heated.

With my tea and cookies, I returned to my desk, prepared to stay put until lunchtime, pretending to work, while my mind, every second, was on anything other than work.

Once when I was about five years old somebody gave me a helium balloon on a string. It was a novelty for me. I had never even seen a helium balloon before, let along being lucky enough to own one. While I was outside in the yard, admiring my balloon on the string, it somehow got away from me in a gust of wind. I stood there, watching it, feeling helpless that it was gone and I couldn’t get it back, no matter what I did. I watched the balloon rise in the air until it was just a tiny speck and then could no longer be seen at all. I had a hard time holding back the tears. I still think that balloon is somewhere up there in the sky waiting for me and I might get it back one day.

My mind was aswirl with these and other memories when I heard footsteps approaching my desk. I began to write furiously on my pad, copying meaningless phrases from an open book in front of me.

It was Judith Peebles, the office manager, come to pay a call.

“What are you working on, Elliott?” she asked.

This. I’m working on this.” I leaned back so she could see the papers on my desk.

“You shouldn’t be working on that,” she said. “That was finished two weeks ago. You need to be working on something more relevant.”

She wasn’t the boss, but she thought she was. She swooped by on her broomstick several times a day to check up on all of us and report back to Mr. Wexler. She was a hatchet-faced, bitter, older woman. Nobody knew how exactly old she was but I’m sure she was over a hundred.

She gave me a sour look, the only kind of look she was capable of, and sashayed away to, I’m sure, confer with her best friend Satan.

Judith Peebles had interrupted the flow of my work, so I figured I needed a break. I stopped by the men’s room and when I left there I went on to the break room. My friend Lonnie Dove, kindred spirit, was standing at the sink washing his coffee cup.

“What day is it?” he asked. “Is it Friday yet?”

“Three days to go,” I said.

“It’s all Eve’s fault,” he said.

“Don’t I know it?”

“Do you absolutely hate this place, or what?” he asked.

“I think I probably hate it every bit as much as you do,” I said.

“Doesn’t it make you want to go up to the roof and jump off?”

“When I’m ready for that, I’ll let you know. Maybe we can go together.”

Abhorring the thought of going back to my desk and risking another encounter with Judith Peebles, I got into the elevator and rode the six floors down to the lobby. I went outside and walked down to the corner and when I got to the corner I turned around and walked all the way back to the other corner. I had the feeling that Judith Peebles was watching me out the window the whole time.

After another torturous hour-and-a-half spent at my desk pretending to be busy, it was time for lunch. I left as fast as I could before anybody spotted me. The trick was to not let anybody know what time you left, and then when you got back they wouldn’t know how long you had been gone.

I wanted something good for lunch so I walked a couple of blocks away to a little restaurant called Manny’s Fine Eats. I had been there before and I knew the food was good and the service excellent. I was gratified to see the place wasn’t crowded; I sat at a small table next to the window beside an enormous potted plant.

My waitress, I was very surprised to see, was Lucille the midget from the bus, in her little yellow uniform with the name tag. I smiled but she didn’t seem to recognize or remember me. She was businesslike and efficient. I ordered the meatloaf plate with mashed potatoes. I didn’t have long to wait and when Lucille set it down in front of me the steam off the plate rose up in my face.

The meatloaf had a slight garlicky taste and was delicious. When I finished, I was sorry there wasn’t more. I finished my iced tea and gestured for Lucille to bring me my check.

“Will there be anything else?” she asked.

When she handed me my change, she also handed me a single white carnation.

“This is for the bus this morning,” she said.

I thanked her and before I had a chance to say anything else she was gone again. It was lunchtime and she was busy.

I walked all the way back to the office carrying the carnation in front of me like a charm to ward off evil. As I went up in the elevator, I was aware that I had a bad headache coming on and a sharp pain in my abdomen.

When I got back to my desk, I put away all the papers, pencils and books on my desk and then I went and told the secretary, a Thelma Ritter lookalike, that I was sick and was going home to lie down. I didn’t know when I’d be back, I said. I might be out all the rest of the week.

She gave me a suspicious look and said she would pass the information along to Miss Peebles. Then, before the worthy Miss Peebles had a chance to come running out of her witch’s lair and cross-examine me, I was out the door as if escaping a burning building.

I got a choice seat on the bus, right behind the driver. I closed my eyes and held Lucille the midget’s carnation to my nose. The smell made me think of a garden with profusely colored flowers, buzzing bumblebees and sunshine, but mostly it reminded me that there are still a few kind people in the world and occasionally, if you are lucky, you just might meet one of them.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

You Can Leave Any Time

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You Can Leave Any Time ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Mrs. Jenks arrived for her appointment with Dr. Capers on time. She gave her name to the inscrutable Asian nurse and took a seat in the dreary waiting room where everything was gray—gray walls, gray floor, gray chairs. She hated her visits to the doctor, always made worse by having to wait. She would rather dig in the dirt with her fingernails than sit and wait her turn.

Underneath the No Smoking sign on the wall opposite, somebody had written, in large block letters, the word PUSSY. Mrs. Jenks’s eyes traveled from the obscene word to the faces of the only other two people in the room, a man and a woman, obviously a married couple. With her wide painted mouth and curly red hairdo, the woman resembled a circus clown. The man, with his bow tie, protruding ears, long neck, and wooden-like bald head with a tuft of hair on top, resembled nothing so much as a ventriloquist’s dummy.

The circus clown looked at Mrs. Jenks and smiled, showing horse-like teeth. “How you today?” she asked.

Mrs. Jenks managed a tight smile but, in an attempt to forestall any conversation, picked up a battered copy of Popular Mechanics and pretended to be engrossed in its contents.

“Who you talking to?” the ventriloquist’s dummy asked.

“We’re not alone,” the circus clown said, nudging the ventriloquist’s dummy with her elbow.

The ventriloquist’s dummy looked at Mrs. Jenks over the top of his glasses; his lips drew back in a grimace.

“Oh, hello!” he said. “I thought we were alone.”

“We’ve been here over an hour,” the circus clown said, “and in all that time there hasn’t been a single person go in or come out. You have to wonder what in the holy hell those people are doing back there.”

“Doctors are busy,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“That’s no excuse! They need to have a little more consideration for the patient.”

You’re not the patient,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “I am.”

“Oh, excuse the hell out of me! If you’re the patient, then why am I here?”

“You can leave any time.”

The circus clown looked at Mrs. Jenks and rolled her eyes. “Isn’t that just like a man?” she said. “He’s too much of a baby to go see the doctor on his own. I have to take him as if he’s a tiny child.”

“I’m a sick man,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “I need you to help me in case I falter.”

The circus clown pursed her lips and blew out a stream of air in derision. “You are so full of it!” she said. “If anybody falters, it going to be me!”

“Let’s not fight in front of this lady,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“Nobody’s fighting,” the circus clown said.

“Don’t get your panties in a bunch.”

“My panties are perfectly fine. You don’t need to worry yourself about my panties.”

The ventriloquist’s dummy made a sound with his lips like fshaw-fshaw-fshaw that Mrs. Jenks realized was laughing.

“No, honestly,” the circus clown said, “my husband isn’t right in the head at all. I guess you can tell that just by looking at him.”

“This lady doesn’t want to hear about my troubles,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“He has fits and fainting spells. Have you ever been sitting across from a person at the dinner table and have them faint on you and end up with their face in the mashed potatoes and gravy? The first time it happened I thought he was dead. Every time it happened after that I thought he was just being an ass, so I ignored him. When he came to—or pretended to come to—I told him to get up and quit acting like an infant and clean up the mess he made.”

“Nobody wants to hear all that!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“When they had him in the hospital, they did every test known to man and—do you know what?—they couldn’t find a thing wrong with him. It should be obvious to any five-year-old child that there’s something terribly wrong with this man! What is the matter with these people?”

“Doctors! the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “They only do all that shit so they can charge you a lot of money.”

“Well, anyway, getting back to my story,” the circus clown said. “When he was three years old he was kicked down an elevator shaft and landed on his head. I think that is the root of all his troubles! Those doctors don’t need to look any farther than that! He’s never been right in the head since he was three years old.”

“You didn’t even know me then,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“He can’t drive a car anymore so I have to take him to the doctor or the grocery store or anyplace else he wants to go. It’s as if I have no life of my own because I have to take care of this adult-sized baby!”

“You’re welcome to go any time,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

Mrs. Jenks sighed and stood up and went over to the little sliding window to the receptionist’s area and rattled it to get the attention of whoever might be on the other side.

“Yes?” the Asian nurse said, sliding back the glass, obviously annoyed at being bothered.

“Is Dr. Capers even in?” Mrs. Jenks asked.

“Well, of course he in,” the Asian nurse said. “What you think?”

“It’s taking him an awfully long time.”

“He in. Just take seat and wait turn. He see you shortly.”

“These people are driving me crazy,” Mrs. Jenks said in what she hoped was a soft voice so that only the Asian nurse could hear.

The Asian nurse looked over Mrs. Jenks’s shoulder disinterestedly to see who she was talking about. “Just be oh-so patient,” she said. “Take seat and wait turn.”

“What did that slanty-eyed son-of-a-bitch say?” the ventriloquist’s dummy asked Mrs. Jenks as she sat back down.

“Nothing that helps.”

“I’d like to slap her silly!”

And suddenly Mrs. Jenks had a warm feeling for the ventriloquist’s dummy because she was thinking the very same thing.

“Honestly!” the circus clown said. “I feel like sending them a bill for all my time they’ve wasted. They need to realize my time is as valuable as theirs.”

“I’m just on the verge of walking out the door and telling them to kiss my ass!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“We’ve waited this long,” the circus clown said. “We’ll give it a few more minutes.”

“Let’s set this place on fire!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“You can’t do that!” the circus clown said. “There’s nothing here that would burn.”

“Magazines!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“And how long do you think it’d be before they call the police and have you arrested for arson?”

“I’ll be gone by then.”

“See how crazy he is?” the circus clown said to Mrs. Jenks. “He thinks he can go around setting fires and everybody will think it’s all right.”

“They need to be taught a lesson,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

“You can’t do it that way!” the circus clown said. “If they take you to jail, it’ll be up to me to figure out a way to get you out! And I might just decide to leave you there!”

Ignoring the circus clown, the ventriloquist’s dummy began gathering up the old magazines and piling them on the floor in the middle of the room. Some he ripped apart and others he opened up and tossed upside down so they would burn better. When he had a knee-high pile of magazines, he took out his cigarette lighter and set fire to them.

The fire was just beginning to burn efficiently when the Asian nurse opened a door from within and stepped into the waiting room.

“No fire allow in doctor waiting room,” she said, without a change in her mask-like face.

“Oh, my!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “It’s getting out of control, isn’t it?”

He stomped out the flames with both feet and looked at the Asian nurse with a guilty smile. “Just having a little fun!” he said.

“Doctor leave, big hurry,” the Asian nurse said, ignoring the smoke from the magazines. “He go out on biiiiig emergency.”

“Is he invisible?” the circus clown asked. “We didn’t see him leave.”

“Private entrance back of building,” the Asian nurse said.

“I don’t think he was ever even here,” the ventriloquist’s dummy said. “I think they’re just screwing with us.”

“You’ll be getting a bill from me for my time that you’ve wasted today,” the circus clown said.

“Doctor say you call again next week. Have a nice day! Bye-bye!

“Well, how do you like that?” the circus clown said. “He’s wasted all our time today and we never even laid eyes on him!”

“Terrible way to treat people!” the ventriloquist’s dummy said.

Mrs. Jenks wasted no time in getting out of the building, away from the circus clown and the ventriloquist’s dummy. She was fuming because she didn’t like Dr. Capers anyway, and this was absolutely the last time she would ever go to him. Who does he think he is, anyway? He’s not the only doctor in the world!

She was just getting into her car when the circus clown ran up behind her.

“I wonder,” the circus clown said, “if you could give us a ride. You see, our car broke down and we’re just stuck here.”

“Where are you going?” Mrs. Jenks asked.

“Burkhardt.”

“I’m not going to Burkhardt,” Mrs. Jenks said. “That’s fifty miles away.”

“So much for the milk of human kindness.”

“Can’t you call a taxi?”

“Do you know how much that would cost?”

“No, and I don’t care. I’m sorry for your troubles but we all have them.”

“I’m sorry to do this to you, honey,” the circus clown said. “You seem like a nice enough woman, but we’re going to take your car.”

What?”

The ventriloquist’s dummy handed a gun to the circus clown and the circus clown pointed the gun at Mrs. Jenks.

“What is this?” Mrs. Jenks said. “Are you going to kill me?”

“Either we take your car, or I shoot you and we throw your body in the river. Nobody would ever know how it got there.”

“You must be out of your mind,” Mrs. Jenks said. “I’m not letting you take my car. You’ll have to kill me first.”

The circus clown pointed the gun at Mrs. Jenks. “You think I won’t shoot you?” she asked.

“No, I don’t think you will.”

But, instead of shooting her, the circus clown hit Mrs. Jenks with the gun, on the side of the head, just above the ear, with enough force to crack a coconut.

Mrs. Jenks was just aware of the circus clown and the ventriloquist’s dummy getting into her car and driving away with a squeal of tires. Time seemed to slow down as she fell backwards. The blow to the back of the head, coupled with the blow to the side of the head, rendered her unconscious there on the abandoned parking lot of Dr. Capers’ clinic.

When she regained consciousness, it was almost dark. She was aware of pains all through her body but especially her head. She pulled herself to a sitting position and looked around for someone who might tell her what had happened, but saw no one. She stood up then, took a few halting steps, and began walking in the direction of the most beautiful faraway lights she had ever seen.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp