RSS Feed

Tag Archives: short story

A Bird There Was

Posted on

A Bird There Was ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

She sat on a bench at the edge of the park to rest before going on home. She was old and hot and out of breath and the bag of groceries she carried made her arm ache.

A small boy went running past, first one way and then the other. On the third circuit around the bench, she motioned him to stop.

“What’s your hurry?” she asked.

“I’ve got to find my friends.”

“Where did they go to?”  

“I don’t know. They were here and now they’re gone.”  

“You’re sweating and all out of breath. Why don’t you sit down and rest for a while?”

He sat beside her on the bench and when he had his back aligned with the back of the bench, his feet were a long way from the ground.

“You’re awful young to be out here in the park by yourself,” she said.

“I wasn’t by myself until my friends ran off and left me,” he said. “I don’t know what happened to them. I think they might be playing a trick on me.”

“If they treat you that way, you’re probably better off without them.”

“I guess I should go on home now.”

“Where do you live?”

“Over there.” He pointed over his shoulder in a vague direction.

“Where’s your mother?”

“She’s at work, I guess. She’s a waitress.”

“She’s leaves you by yourself?”

“With my sister. She’s fourteen.”

“How old are you?”

“Nine. But I’ll be ten pretty soon.”

“You’re a very pretty boy, you know that?”

“Boys can’t be pretty.”

“Well, you’re handsome then. Is that better?”


“What’s your name?”


“I’ve known a lot of Bobs in my life. Tell me your last name so I’ll able to tell you from all the others.”

“My last name is White.”

“Your name is Bob White?”


“There’s a bird called Bob White.”

“There is?”

“You don’t see them in the city, but where I grew up in the country we saw them all the time.”


“They say their name.”


“Their bird call. It sounds like they’re saying bobwhite, bobwhite, bobwhite. That’s how they get their name.”

“I never heard of a bird say its own name.”

“If you’re lucky, you’ll have a chance to see one and hear its beautiful call before you die. Until that happens, you will not have lived.”

“Do you have any kids?”

“I had a daughter and a son. My daughter died. My son lives out west.”

“What does he do out there?”

“Oh, he goes to work every day. He has three kids of his own. I’ve only seen pictures of them.”

“Why don’t you go live with them?”

She laughed. “I haven’t been asked.”

They sat silently for a while and watched the cars zooming by.

“Everybody certainly is in a big hurry today,” she said.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

“Three more blocks and I’m home.”

“Do you live in a house?”

“No, it’s an apartment.”

“Do you like it?”

“I like it all right. It gets lonely at times. I used to be friendly with the neighbors but they moved away. I don’t hardly ever see the new people.”

“We live in an apartment, too. On the third floor.”

“Would you like to come home with me?” she asked. “Are you hungry?”

“I’d better not,” he said. “I’d get in trouble.”

“Well, who’s to know?”

He shrugged. “Nobody, I guess.”

“I have some nice cottage cheese and some canned pears. There’s nothing better on a hot day.”

“I haven’t ever had cottage cheese but I know what it is and I don’t think I’d like it.”

“Well, I have some baloney and cheese and I just brought some fresh bread. I could fix you a sandwich and I have some root beer.”

“Do you have mayonnaise to put on the sandwich?”

They stood up and began walking. He offered to carry her bag of groceries, but she felt restored now and wanted him to see that she could carry it on her own.

Her half-basement apartment was in an old thirteen-story apartment building that, in recent years, had fallen into disrepair. All the respectable people had left and been replaced by a different kind. She dug her key out of her purse, opened the door and stood aside to let Bob White go in before her.

“Wow, this is nice!” he said.

The front room was cool and dark. She opened the blinds and let in some cheerful slanting sunlight.

“You’ve got a piano!” he said. “Do you play songs on it?”

“I used to, but I’m out of practice now.”

He sat on the couch and bounced a few times. “Who are those people in the pictures?”

“It’s my husband and me when we were young and the other one is my mother and father and my two sisters and me.”

“Where do they live?”

“They’re all in heaven. Except for me.”

“What happened to them?”

“Oh, you know. Old age. People die. You’re too young to know about it yet.”

“Do you have a bird?” he asked, spying a bird cage sitting in the corner.

“I had a bird but he got old and died. I kept the cage because I thought I’d get another one someday.”

She went into the kitchen to put the groceries away and when she came back, Bob White was resting his head on the arm of the couch.

“It’s so quiet here,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind living here.”

“Is it noisy where you live?”

“The neighbors get into fights. One time the police came.”

“I bet the police made them quiet down, didn’t they?”

“Only for a day or two.”

“Not much you can do about it, I guess,” she said.   

“Do you ever go to the circus?”

“Once, a long time ago. I remember the elephants because I saw them up close and afterwards they gave me nightmares.”

“What kind of nightmares?”

“They were chasing me and if I stopped running they’d trample me to death.”  

“In the jungle?”

“I guess so. I don’t know where it was.”

“Did you ever go to the opera?”

“A long time ago. When I was younger.”

“What was it like?”

“I don’t seem to remember too much about it.”

“What time is it?”

“It’s two-thirty and then some.”

“I should probably go home now.”

“What about that baloney and cheese sandwich?”

“Oh, yeah. I forgot.”

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“Yeah, kind of hungry.”

She took Bob White into the kitchen and sat him down at her little white table with its red vinyl chairs.

“You have nice things,” he said.

“You like baloney?”


She made the sandwich, put it on a plate, gave him a knife and the jar of mayonnaise. While he was eating and, with her back to him, she took a bottle of root beer out of the refrigerator, poured it into a glass and set the glass in front of him.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Your mother taught you manners, I see. I like to see that in a young person.”

When he was finished with the sandwich and the root beer glass was empty, they went back into the living room.

“My friends are probably wondering what happened to me,” he said.

“They must not have been thinking of you at all if they ran off and left you.”

“Yeah. Serves them right, I guess.”

“I’m so glad I ran into you in the park today and we had a chance to get acquainted,” she said. “I don’t have many friends anymore.”

“What happened to them?”

“Oh, you know. They died or moved away. Nobody stays put for long in this world.”

“Is it all right if I lay down here?”

“Sure, if you want.”

“I feel sleepy.”

“Sure, go ahead and take yourself a little nap if you want.”

He slipped off his shoes and lay back on the couch with his head on the embroidered sofa cushion. She sat across from him in the rocking chair and rocked in time to his breathing.

When she was sure he was all the way asleep, she picked up the phone and dialed.

“Mr. Biesenbach?” she said quietly into the phone, holding the receiver in both hands. “Got one for you in the park today.”

She looked closely at Bob White to make sure he was still asleep and wasn’t hearing what she said. “No, it’s a boy this time and he’s just the prettiest little thing you ever saw. He has light-brown hair and hazel eyes and…what’s that? No, I don’t think he’s an orphan. He has a mother somewhere, but from what he said I don’t think she’s paying much attention. He didn’t say anything about a father. Father must be out of the picture. He has a sister who’s supposed to be watching him, but she’s only fourteen.”

She listened patiently to Mr. Biesenbach speak, keeping her eyes all the time on Bob White.

“No, no, no!” she said. “I don’t think anybody saw me, but you can never be too sure. People around here are nosy because they don’t have anything better to do. What’s that? No, I gave him a mild soporific in soda. It won’t last long, though, and when he wakes up he’ll want to go home. What’s that? No, he’s asleep, I said, on the couch in my apartment. What was that you said? No, you’re certainly going to want this one. He’s a real prize and you’ll see what I’m talking about the minute you lay eyes on him. He’s so cute and very, very sweet. As long as he’s treated right, he won’t give you or anybody else a bit of trouble. His kind comes along only rarely. Yes, Mr. Biesenbach. Yes, sir. And one other thing, sir, if I may take up one more minute of your time. I’m not going to let you stiff me on the price with this one. I’m taking a terrible chance every time I do this. If I’m ever caught, it’s the end for me. You only paid me two hundred for the last one. I’m going to have to have five hundred this time and when you see him you’ll know I deserve at least that much for finding him for you. Good. Good. I hope so. What’s that?  No, no, I’ll wait right here for you. All you have to do is slip in the front door and carry him out to your truck. No, I think it’ll go smoothly as long as you get here as soon as you can, before he wakes up. No, sir, I don’t think it would do to wait until after dark. I don’t want to be responsible for keeping him here that long. Less than one hour, you think? Oh, that’s fine. I’ll be waiting right here for you by the door. To anybody who might be watching, you’re picking up some clothes I’m giving away to charity. It never hurts to have a story ready. Hah-hah-hah!

She hung up the phone and sighed. Bob White stirred in his sleep but didn’t wake up. She sat watching him, barely moving, until, in no time at all, she heard the truck outside her door.

“Blessed are the pure of heart,” she said, “for they shall see God.”

She stood up and went to the door. She watched as Mr. Biesenbach backed the truck in as close to the door as he could get, cringing as his tires came near the flower bed. As he was stepping out of his truck, she turned and looked again at Bob White, still asleep on the couch, and she felt a twinge of sadness that she would never see him again in this life.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp


You Can See Them but They Can’t See You

Posted on

You Can See Them but They Can’t See You ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Erdra Jasmine Belknap awoke from what seemed a long sleep. It wasn’t morning, though, and she wasn’t in her canopied bed in her room. She stood up and looked around her. Nothing looking familiar. Nothing looked as it should. She wanted to run, out or away, to find her mother, her father or her brother, but there was no place to run to; on all sides were walls of darkness and she was afraid of them, afraid of what they might be concealing.

She heard a sound and looked sharply to her right. She was a little comforted by the sight of an old woman, and not just any old woman, either, but an old woman who contained her own glow, as if she was a lantern with a candle in her chest.

“Where am I?” she asked the old woman, on the point of crying.

The old woman held her hands out as if to comfort with them. “Remain calm, child,” she said. “What has happened to you is what must happen to all of us.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you’ve crossed over.”

“Crossed over where?”

“From the living to the dead.”

When Erdra realized what the old woman was saying, she began to panic. “No, no, no!” she said. “That can’t be true!”

The old woman laughed at the foolishness. “Oh, my goodness! Don’t get beside yourself, child!”

“Who are you, anyway?” Erdra asked.

“I’m your great-grandmother.”

“Why haven’t I ever seen you before?”

“I crossed over long before you were born.”

“Is this heaven?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why aren’t we in heaven?”

“We’re where we’re supposed to be for now. That’s all I know.”

“All right, if we’re not in heaven, where are we?”

“We’re in the family crypt. In the cemetery.”

“Oh, that can’t be!”

“Why not?

“I’ve seen the family crypt. From the outside. Father drove by it once when we were taking a Sunday drive and pointed it out to us. It looked scary to me, like a little church without a door. Once inside, you can never get out again.”

“It’s in the neo-gothic style, if that means anything to you,” great-grandmother said. “Your great-grandfather had it built and was the first to take up residence.”

“I don’t think I belong here. There’s been some mistake.”

“Everybody feels that way at first, especially the young. Give it time. You’ll get used to it, as all the rest of us have had to do.”

“But I don’t want to be here!”

“You’re going to have to disabuse yourself of that notion, child. When you are born, nobody asks you if you want to be in the world and when you die nobody asks you if you want to leave the world.”

“What year is it?”

“Oh, my goodness! What does it matter? Here there is no time. Only the living need to worry about what year it is.”

“I was born in the year nineteen hundred. The beginning of a new century. I’m twelve years old now. That means it’s the year nineteen-twelve.”

“For you it will always be nineteen-twelve, and you will always be twelve years old and not one day older.”

Erdra’s mind was running around in circles. “I was just thinking,” she said, “that when poor people die, they go into the ground, don’t they?”

“I suppose so,” great-grandmother said.

“They rot in the ground and their bodies are absorbed into the earth.”

“Not a pretty picture. The rotting part, anyway.”

“Then they go to heaven. The reason we don’t go to heaven is because our bodies are not absorbed into the ground. We’re stuck forever in this crypt.”

“You should be glad you’re in a crypt, surrounded by family, and not in the cold damp earth.”

“Maybe I’d rather be in the ground so I could go to heaven,” Erdra said.

“Your body will conceivably be preserved here for centuries,” great-grandmother said, pridefully.

“I think I’d rather be in heaven.”

“You’re not, though. You are here, and here you will remain. There’s nothing for you to do but make the best of it.”

“Where are my mother and my father?”

“Where do you think they are? They’re still alive. They’re where they’ve always been.”

“Will I ever see them again?”

“Who can say?”

“But I have cats. What will happen to my cats now that I’m no longer there to take care of them?”

“You don’t think your brother will take care of them? They’re his cats now.”

Erdra thought about it for a few seconds. “I suppose he will. I know he would hate to see them die of neglect.”

“I feel certain they’ll be in good hands.”

“When they cross over, will they come here to me?”

“I don’t think so. I think animals go someplace else.”

Erdra had herself a little cry and afterwards she slept. The next time she woke up, great-grandmother was standing over her, but there was somebody else there too.

“Time to meet the others!” she said cheerily.

There were others and they all had the same beautiful glow radiating outward from their chests that great-grandmother had. There were the twins, Parry and Lomax, who drowned when they were ten years old. They looked at Erdra with curiosity. She knew from their manner that they were shy of her and didn’t know what to say.

Then there was great-grandfather, the millionaire who paid an enormous sum of money to have the family crypt built. He was tall and broad, in a dress suit, with the elaborate mustache and side whiskers fashionable at the time he crossed over. He smiled at Erdra and patted her on the head. Then he was gone.

Uncle Evan, great-grandfather’s son, was handsome in his military uniform. He crossed over in Cuba when a bullet struck him in the neck during the Spanish-American War. He smiled at Erdra and winked and touched her on the shoulder.

Aunt Ursula was a tall, thin woman with a sad face. She carried her three-month old son, George, in her arms. George crossed over thirty years before aunt Ursula, but ever since she arrived she held him in her arms and would let none other touch him. They would be as one throughout eternity.

And then there was aunt Zel, great-grandfather’s sister. She was a large woman with elaborate coiffure and much jewelry, necklaces and rings. By her side was her husband, Little Otis. People always called him Little Otis to distinguish him from his father, Big Otis. He was a half-foot shorter than aunt Zel, with one arm missing. At age ten, he developed gangrene in the arm from the bite of a skunk and had to have it amputated.

Uncle Jordan was dressed in an expensive dress suit, with diamond stickpin and silk cravat. He kissed Erdra on each cheek clumsily, or tried to, and then he was gone. He avoided being around the other family members for too long because they didn’t like him, or he them. In life, he had enjoyed himself a little too much, spent more of the family fortune than he had a right to, and died, deeply in debt, in young middle age of alcoholism.

Cousin Phillip crossed over at age thirty-two as the result of a burst appendix. His young wife, Odette, immediately married a man she hardly knew named Milt Clausen. Odette was not in the family crypt and never would be. Cousin Phillip had renounced all women in the spirit world, bitter than his lovely young Odette had not honored his memory by staying a widow.

By this point in the introductions, Erdra was growing tired of the whole thing. There was cousin this and cousin that, aunt this and uncle that. She wasn’t paying a lot of attention until she met cousin Gilbert.

Cousin Gilbert was only fifteen when he crossed over as the result of a crushed larynx that he sustained in a game of roughhouse with some of his friends. As with Erdra, he was unbelieving when he found himself in the spirit world. He had learned to make the best of it, though, as great-grandmother told him he must.

Erdra immediately saw cousin Gilbert as a kindred spirit. He had a look in his eyes and about his mouth that told of mischief and separateness. His glow was a little brighter than anybody else’s.

“How do you like being a ghost?” he asked.

He pointed to the middle of the Erdra’s chest and when she looked down she saw she had her very own glow.

The others were gone without leaving (that’s the way things worked here), and Erdra found herself alone with cousin Gilbert.

“I can show you around, if you’d like,” he said.

She was delighted to learn she could leave the family crypt at will. Cousin Gilbert showed her how to press herself against the outer wall. Since the wall was solid and she was not, she could pass through it with the right amount of concentration, a trick of the will.

The cemetery was vast, much larger than Erdra imagined. Gilbert took her to visit some of his spirit friends, including a twenty-seven-year-old policeman in uniform, a Civil War soldier who had exchanged words with Abraham Lincoln, a victim of the Johnstown Flood (“the water came roaring down the mountain and swept all of us away”), a former governor of the state who one day hoped to be president but never was, a group of twenty girls who died in an orphanage fire (all buried in the same grave) and a twelve-year-old boy who stood just outside his vault until another spirit came along and engaged him in conversation.

“He’s lonely, you see,” Gilbert explained.

Another time when Gilbert took Erdra outside the crypt, they came upon a funeral in progress, with many people in attendance, all of them dressed up as if for their own funerals.

“This is the fun part,” Gilbert said.

He walked among the funeral attendees, pretending to kiss or touch or put his arm around certain of them. He also demonstrated the technique of coming up quickly behind them and making the more sensitive of them turn around to see who, or what, was there.

“They don’t even know I’m here,” he said, “but I am here.”

“On a different plane,” Erdra volunteered.

Gilbert made Erdra laugh when he floated over a couple of old ladies in large hats and, assuming a reclining position, pretended to pat them on the sides of their heads.

They might die if they knew there was a ghost hovering over them,” he said.

“Can I fly, too?” Erdra asked.

“We don’t really fly,” he said, “like a duck going south for the winter. What we do is float. We float because we’re lighter than air.”

“Can I try it?” Erdra asked.

“If you want to do it, you can. If you don’t want to, you can’t.”

He demonstrated his floating technique and they spent the afternoon floating all over the cemetery.

“Maybe there are some good things about being dead,” Erdra said.

“Of course, there are,” Gilbert said, “which everybody must learn on their own.”

“No more head colds,” Erdra said. “No more stomach aches. No more trips to the doctor. No more nightmares, math quizzes, boring church sermons, liver and onions or squash.”

Gilbert laughed, but then Erdra started thinking about all the things she had left behind, like her cats and her beautiful room at home, and she started to cry.

“I think it’s time to go back,” Gilbert said.

Erdra began venturing outside the family crypt often, either with Gilbert or on her own. And then, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in October, she saw them.

She recognized father’s motorcar that he was so proud of, and then she saw who was riding inside: father, mother and her brother, Reginald. She floated after the car—it wasn’t going very fast—and attached herself to the back of it.

Father pulled the motorcar into the driveway of the old house. The first thing Erdra did after she dismounted was to go around back and check on her kittens. They were all there, seemed healthy and happy, and had grown since she left them. She cried when she saw they knew she was there and looked back at her. She longed to pick them up and nuzzle them and hear their sweet purring, but she knew such a thing wasn’t possible.

Her room upstairs was the same. Everything was just as she left it, the books on her desk, the dolls and stuffed animals on the bed and the chair, the pictures on the wall, the lamp, the rocking chair, the clothes hanging neatly in the closet. Mother hadn’t changed a thing.

While mother, father and Reginald were having their Sunday dinner in the dining room, Erdra walked around the table, stopped and put her hands on the back of mother’s chair. She wished she might do something to let them know she was there, but she knew it was better if she didn’t.

It felt good to be home, but now that she was a spirit nothing could ever be the same. She could only observe life in her house from a distance without being part of it. But still, wasn’t it better than nothing?

Since she dwelt in the spirit world, time, of course, didn’t exist. All time was the same. A minute was the same as an hour, a day the same as a year. In the time that was no time, her brother grew up, got a job in another state and left home. Mother and father grew old and frail. At ninety-one years, father died in his own bed and mother was left alone.

On winter evenings, while mother sat and read or knitted, or sometimes played the piano, Erdra was nearby.

“I’m here, mother!” she said. “Don’t you see me? I want you to know you’re not alone!”

At times she was certain mother knew she was there but at other times she wasn’t so sure.

In the time that was no time, mother also died. The house was sold and all the furniture moved out. Another family took up residence, four children and two dogs. Erdra preferred cats.

She couldn’t stay in a house that was no longer hers, even if she was a spirit, so she went back to the family crypt. She wasn’t sure if she remembered how to get back, but all she had to do was “think it” and she was there.

Since time didn’t exist in the spirit world, Gilbert and great-grandmother and the others didn’t realize she had been gone, although, in the world of the living it would have been decades.

There were additions to the family crypt, of course, in all that time that was no time. Mother and father were there with their own glows and they had a surprise for her: her cats were there, too—all the cats she had ever owned. Nothing else could have made her happier. She experienced a feeling of completeness, then, of going full circle and ending up where she was supposed to be. Happy in life and now happy in death. Death, where is thy sting?

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Hazel McCreary

Posted on

Hazel McCreary ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in Dew on the Kudzu.)

We were lost again. We had a roadmap but didn’t seem to know how to use it. I had been driving earlier but now Drusus was driving. His wife, Pearline, sat between us, and I sat next to the window. Mama and Adele were in the back.

The seat wasn’t long enough for mama to stretch out all the way so when she needed to lie down she used Adele’s lap as a pillow. We were all a little worried about mama. We had to stop every now and then for her to get out and walk around. She was car sick and sometimes she vomited. I couldn’t help but notice one time that there was some blood coming up.

“Sing to me, honey,” mama said.

“Oh, mama, I’m too hot to sing,” Adele said. “And I need to rest my voice anyhow.”

“I know you’re going to win that radio contest,” Pearline said. “With your lovely voice, you just have to win.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of it,” Drusus said. “There’s hundreds of other people that think they’re going to win it too.”

“I’ll do the best I can do,” Adele said. “That’s all a person can do.”

The old woman giving Adele singing lessons had taught her some opera, a tune called “One Fine Day,” but she was best at singing popular tunes like “Makin’ Faces at the Man in the Moon” and “Love, You Funny Thing.” She could sing anything, though, even church music; that’s the kind of voice she had.

“We need to be realistic about our chances but also hopeful,” mama said. “We do our best and leave it in the hands of the Lord.”

“And I know that new specialist in the city is going to get you well again, Mrs. McCreary,” Pearline said. She and Drusus were so newly married that she still couldn’t bring herself to call her mother-in-law by her first name, which was Hazel.

“Well, we’ll see,” mama said. “There’s no guarantee that I’ll even be able to get in to see him. City doctors are not like the doctors we’re used to. They see hundreds of patients in a day.” She had a coughing fit and when she stopped coughing she said to Adele, “You still got the name and telephone number of that doctor at that clinic in the city, don’t you, honey?”

“It’s in my bag,” Adele said. “You saw me put it there.”

“Dr. Toole says he’s probably my best and only hope.”

“Don’t worry, mama,” Drusus said. “We’ll get that doctor to see you even if we have to force him at knifepoint.”

We all laughed but mama groaned.

We came to a tiny town with a cutoff to a different highway. Drusus took the cutoff going a little too fast. Mama almost fell onto the floor and let out a little yelp. Pearline fell over against me and righted herself as if I was poison to the touch.

“Be careful, honey!” Pearline said.

“Well, this is it!” Drusus said. “This is the right way now. I just know it. We are officially not lost anymore.”

Happy days are here again,” sang Adele. “The skies above are clear again. So, let us sing a song of cheer again. Happy days are here again!”

As if to confirm that we were finally going in the right direction, we passed a sign that you couldn’t miss as long as you were alive. “Only two hundred and thirty-seven more miles,” I said.

“Seems like we already came about a thousand miles,” Adele said.

“How about you, Wynn?” Drusus asked me. “Do you want to drive for a while?”

“No thanks,” I said. “You’re doing fine.”

I went to sleep with my head against the door and woke up when we had a blowout and Drusus pulled off the highway to change the tire.

We all got out of the car, including mama. She took a few steps and smoked a cigarette and said she was feeling a little better. She wanted to know what state we were in. When we told her, she laughed for some reason.

We took advantage of the unscheduled stop to have a drink of water and a bite to eat. We still had some bread left over, Vienna sausages, fruit, and other stuff. Mama didn’t want anything to eat but she drank a little bit of water and some coffee. Pearline spread a blanket on the ground for her and Adele to sit on. Mama sat for a while and then lay down and looked up into the trees.

“This is nice,” she said, “lying still on the ground and not having tires turning underneath me.”

“I think mama’s sicker than she lets on,” I said to Drusus when we were changing the tire.

“That doctor in the city will fix her up,” he said.

“She’s trying to put a good face on it for Adele’s sake. She doesn’t want to spoil her chance of singing on the radio.”

“Everything will be all right,” he said. “Don’t worry so much.”

Mama went to sleep on the blanket and we had to wake her up to get her back in the car. I took over driving from there, even though I liked it better when Drusus drove and I could just sit and think.

We were all tired and we knew we were going to have to stop someplace for the night. We hadn’t made very good time, what with our getting lost and mama being sick and all.

At dusk we stopped at an auto court where, according to their sign, they had clean cabins and cheap. I went inside and engaged the room and then we drove around to our cabin, which was cabin number twelve in the back. With the shade trees, the two rows of trim white cabins, and the azalea bushes everywhere, it was a pretty place and plenty inviting.

We tried to get mama to eat something, but she just wanted to go to bed. Pearline and Adele helped to get her out of her clothes and into bed while Drusus and I sat on the front step and smoked.

“If Adele wins that prize money,” he said, “we can pay back Uncle Beezer the money he advanced us for this trip.”

“We can’t expect her to give up the prize money for that,” I said. “If she wins, the money is hers to do with as she pleases.”

“And what would she do with it, anyhow?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe it would be her one chance to get away from home, out into the real world. She might get a real singing career going for herself.”

“Do you really think she has a chance?”

“You’ve heard her sing,” I said. “Isn’t she as good as anybody you’ve ever heard?”

“Yeah, she’s good,” he said.

“If she wins the money, it’s hers. We can’t touch it.”

“Maybe she’ll offer it. At least part of it.”

“We can’t ask her for it, though.”

After a couple of minutes in which neither of us spoke, Drusus said, “Pearline thinks she’s going to have a baby.”

“A baby!” I said. “That was fast work. You’ve only been married a month.”

“The curse of the married man,” he said.

“What do you mean? Don’t you want it?”

“We’re poor,” he said. “We don’t have anything. Even the car I’m driving belongs to somebody else.”

I laughed. “How do you think other people manage?” I asked. “How do you think mama and daddy managed? They were dirt poor and they had eight kids.”

“The poorer they are the more kids they have, and the more kids they have the poorer they are.”

“You’re not sorry you married Pearline, are you?” I asked.

“Well, no. Not exactly. I probably wouldn’t do it again, though, if I had it to do over.”

“I’ll be sure and tell Pearline you said that.”

“Don’t tell anybody any of this,” he said. “She doesn’t want anybody to know about the baby just yet, because it makes it look like we had a shotgun wedding. I swear the baby wasn’t on the way yet when we got married.”

“You don’t have to convince me of anything,” I said.

“Not a word to mama or Adele yet. Pearline wants to make sure about the baby before she tells anybody.”

“Mum’s the word,” I said.

Drusus and I had to sleep on the floor in the cabin but I didn’t mind. I was just glad to be able to stretch out and rest my weary bones. I laid down near the screen door where I could feel a cool breeze and hear the trees rustling. After being on the dusty road all day, it felt like heaven.

As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear Adele softly singing mama’s favorite song: “Deep night, stars in the sky above. Moonlight, lighting our place of love. Night winds seem to have gone to rest. Two eyes, brightly with love are gleaming. Come to my arms, my darling, my sweetheart, my own. Vow that you’ll love me always, be mine alone. Deep night, whispering trees above. Kind night, bringing you nearer, dearer and dearer. Deep night, deep in the arms of love...”

I woke up in the morning to the sound of the birds singing. I stood up to slip into my shirt and pants and that’s when I saw Adele and Pearline sitting quietly in chairs at the foot of the bed. Pearline was smoking a cigarette.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“We can’t wake mama,” Adele said.

“Is she breathing?”

“I don’t think so.”

“We’d better get a doctor,” I said.

Pearline looked at me and shook her head and that’s when I knew that mama was dead.

I shook Drusus gently by the shoulder to wake him up. When I told him what had happened, he, of course, had to see for himself. He went over to the bed and put his ear to mama’s chest. Hearing nothing but silence, he then held a mirror to her nose. He looked at the mirror and threw it down on the bed like a child with a toy that no longer works.

“What should we do?” I asked.

“I don’t want to go another mile farther from home,” Adele said.

“We’d better call somebody and tell them what happened,” Pearline said.

“No,” Drusus said. “We’re not calling anybody. They’ll ask us a lot of questions. They’ll hold us here until they know what happened. They’ll make Adele miss her chance to sing on the radio.”

“We can’t go off and leave mama here,” I said.

“Of course not,” he said. “We’re taking her with us.”

After Adele and Pearline got mama into her clothes, Drusus carried her out to the car in his arms. I opened the door for him and he slid mama into the corner of the back seat where she was propped up and her head was not lolling to the side. He then took a length of rope and tied it around mama’s chest so she would stay upright and not fall over from the movement of the car. Adele gave mama’s dark glasses to Drusus to put on her and we found a straw hat that belonged to Uncle Beezer in the trunk and put it on her head. With the hat and the glasses and in her regular clothes, she didn’t look like a dead person.

“I’m glad she died in a pretty place like this instead of on the road,” I said.

“We’ve come this far,” Drusus said. “She would want us to keep going as far as we can. She wouldn’t want Adele to miss her chance to sing on the radio because of her.”

We all got into the car and Drusus started her up. As we were pulling out of the place, the manager stopped us and leaned into the window and looked at all of us, including mama. He smiled in a friendly way and said he hoped we enjoyed our stay and God grant that we should come back that way again.

When we were on the highway again and going at full speed, Adele began singing mama’s favorite hymn: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long. Perfect submission, perfect delight, visions of rapture now burst on my sight; angels descending bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love…”

Nobody said anything for a long time after she finished singing. We all had the feeling, though, that nothing was going to stop us now. That old car of ours was sure burning up the miles.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp          

A Cross-Eyed Woman

Posted on

A Cross-Eyed Woman ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This little all-dialogue story that I wrote in 2015 is a re-post.)

“Did I tell you I’ve got a new girlfriend, grandpa?”

“Is that so? What’s her name?”

“Lucille Meisenbach.”

“How much does she weigh?”

“A hundred and thirty.”

“How old is she?”

“She’s a year younger than me, grandpa.”

“Don’t be in no hurry to marry a person with a name like Lucille Meisenbach.”

“I’m not. I only just met her.”

“Make sure you know everything about her before you marry her. Her people, too.”

“I’m not going to marry her.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Nothing, except that she’s cross-eyed.”

“You don’t want to marry no cross-eyed woman.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“Cross-eyed woman is a sign of trouble.”

“How do you know, grandpa?”

“I’m seventy-three years old. I’ve seen everything and what I haven’t seen I’ve heard about.”

“I wouldn’t want to marry her, anyway.”

“Why not?”

“She’s got six toes on one foot.”

“How many on the other?”

“Just five.”

“Eleven toes is bad luck. It’s a mark of the devil.”

“If you say so, grandpa.”

“You don’t think you’d want to marry her after you’ve known her for a while?”

“No, sir.”

“You say that now, but if she gets it into her head to marry you, she’ll find a way to ensnare you against your will.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, grandpa.”

“Why not?”

“She’s not very smart.”

“You don’t have to be smart to be evil.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say she’s evil, grandpa.”

“You probably just don’t know her well enough to see her evil side.”

“If I start to see it, I’ll dump her.”

“Maybe she won’t let you dump her.”

“If I want to dump her, she can’t stop me.”

“I see you know very little about women.”

“I know enough.”

“Just make sure you find out everything there is to know before you marry her. If she’s got them two flaws, she’s bound to have others.”

“I haven’t seen any others.”

“Well, she’ll be setting her trap to catch you.”

“I don’t think so, grandpa.”

“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“I went to dinner at her house on Sunday after church. We had fried chicken. Her mother’s name is Vera Meisenbach.”

“How old is she?”


“How much does she weigh?”

“Two hundred.”

“A big woman.”

“Yes, sir. Big and tall. Broad shoulders. A wild look in her eye. Kind of scary.”

“And that’s not all, is it?”

“No, sir. She’s got a hump on her back.”

“Uh-oh! A big woman with a hump on her back has a cross-eyed daughter with eleven toes. Freakishness runs in the family. That’s not good.”

“I can’t claim to be perfect myself.”

“You’ve got the right number of toes, you’re not cross-eyed and there’s no hump on your back.”

“That’s true.”

“Count your blessings.”

“Yes, sir. I also met Lucille’s daddy. He’s a little bitty man like a midget.”

“A pattern has been established.”

“Lucille told me he’s got a metal plate in his head that lets him pick up radio transmissions. I tried to keep from laughing.”

“How much does he weigh?”

“Ninety-four pounds.”

“His wife weighs more than twice what he weighs?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not pleasant to contemplate. How old is he?”

“He’s forty-nine years old.”

“And his name?”

“Luther Meisenbach.”

“Any other progeny besides Lucille?”

“A brother named Norland Meisenbach. He’s sixteen.”

“Is he cross-eyed?”

“Not that I noticed, but I didn’t pay that much attention.”

“How much does he weigh?”

“A hundred and ten.”

“That’s small for sixteen, isn’t it?”

“I guess so.”

“Anything freakish about him?”

“He’s got a turned-in foot and he doesn’t talk much because he’s got a stutter.”

“So there’s something wrong with every one of the Meisenbachs.”

“Yes, sir. I guess you could say that.”

“If you take my advice, sonny, you’ll get as far away from that bunch as you can. They’re not wholesome to be around.”

“Yes, sir. I don’t really care that much for Lucille, anyway. When she looks at me, it looks like she’s looking over my shoulder.”

“She’s probably looking to her master for direction.”

“You sure have opened my eyes, grandpa. I’m glad we had this little talk.”

“Not at all, sonny. I’m always glad to give you the benefit of my superior knowledge. That’s what grandpas are for.”

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

The Final Curtain Call

The Final Curtain Call ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Nine-year-old Edith Mullinex couldn’t keep her legs still and when her legs moved her arms moved and then her whole body moved. When this ceaseless movement turned to dancing, she believed herself to be one of the all-time great dancers of the world. Never mind that she didn’t know anything about the all-time great dancers of the world, but, whoever they were, she was sure she was better than any of them.

She danced her way to school in the morning and she danced her way home in the afternoon and she danced every chance she got between morning and afternoon. She danced her way to the bathroom and she danced her way to the lunchroom and after she had eaten her lump of meatloaf and her cold mashed potatoes and her two canned plums in a puddle of mauve-colored juice, she danced her way back to the fourth-grade classroom, where all of her classmates and her teacher, Miss Divine, watched in open-mouthed wonder as she danced her way to her desk at the back of the room. Stop dancing, people would say, but she just ignored them. She knew they would never be able to understand.

“We have a dancing problem with little Edith,” Miss Divine told Edith’s mother. “Don’t I know it!” Edith’s mother said. “She has somehow go it into her head that she’s a dancer.” And then Miss Divine said, “Have you considered Therapy?”

Her thirteen-year-old brother, Fairfax, taunted Edith mercilessly when she was dancing at home, but she ignored him, as she did the others. When he tripped her dancing into the kitchen when it was time to eat dinner, she made the fall part of her dance and in this way annoyed him even further. When friends of Fairfax’s visited to watch a football game with him on TV, she danced all around them and in front of them, obstructing their view, until suddenly they remembered they had a previous engagement and left. “Boy, Fairfax sure does have a screwy sister!” they said when they were out the door.

Edith was always improvising new dance steps. When the phone rang, she danced her way to answer it and when it was time to go to bed, she danced her way into her bedroom, making closing the door part of the dance. Her mother sent her to the store with a list of things to buy. She danced her way there and she danced her way up and down the aisles of the store until she had everything on the list. People looked at her with curiosity, sure she was either filming a television show or was an escapee from the mental hospital.

Edith had a cousin named Steph Mullinex. Like Edith, Steph was very thin with lank blond hair to her shoulders and stick-like arms and legs. Edith and Steph were the exact same age, born five days apart, and could have passed for twins. Steph should have been in the same fourth-grade class as Edith, but she still read at a first-grade level and was in special education.

On the playground at recess, Edith showed Steph some of her latest dance steps and soon they were dancing together. They worked up a dance routine to the song “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Edith taught Steph the words. They sang and danced every day at morning recess and, on a good day, attracted a crowd of forty of fifty other children watching them. That’s when Edith knew she loved having an audience.

The school talent contest was coming up. The whole school would be watching. First prize was five dollars. Edith proposed to Steph that they enter, and, if they won, they could split the five dollars. There wasn’t much you could do with two dollars and fifty cents, but it was more money than they were used to having at one time.

Edith chose two pop songs for her and Steph to dance to in the talent contest. First, there would be “The Shoop Shoop Song” and then “Please Love Me Forever.” “The Shoop Shoop Song” was bouncy and upbeat, while “Please Love Me Forever” was more mellow. These two songs would allow them to show their range and versatility.

They knew they couldn’t depend on their preoccupied, alcoholic mothers to help them with their costumes, but they each owned identical white dresses that would do. They each had patent leather shoes with a strap over the instep, so that is what they would wear on their dancing feet, along with white socks. To add some pizzazz, Edith bought some taps and tiny nails from a shoe repair store on Main Street and turned both pairs of shoes into tap shoes.

They rehearsed for days on a sheet of plywood in an old wasp-infested shed behind Steph’s house and, when it was time for the talent contest, they were both ready. To offset the white of the dresses, they each wore a red ribbon in their hair. Edith was able to confiscate from her older sister some face powder, lipstick and rouge that they would use to keep their faces from looking so pale.

Edith knew about the other acts and she considered them stupid. There was a girl twirling two hula-hoops, a boy playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on his banjo, a boy acting like Curly from the Three Stooges, a girl moving her lips to a Connie Francis record, another boy playing spoons to the tune of “Swanee River” and other assorted acts. She knew that she and Steph were better than all the rest of them put together and were almost certain to win first prize, unless something bad happened, like freezing up in front of an audience of two hundred people and not being able to dance at all. She was sure nothing like that was going to happen.

They didn’t go on until about an hour into the show. During that hour, they stood on the sideline just behind the curtain watching the contestants go on and come off. The audience applauded after each act—and there were always a few cheers—but Edith knew they were just being polite. People didn’t go to a show like this and just sit on their hands.

Finally, it was their turn. They started out behind a screen with a big light shining on it from behind so that, to the audience, they were only silhouettes. They danced behind the screen and after a minute or so they came out, Edith on the left and Steph on the right. After that they owned the talent contest. They tapped and jiggled and turned and swooped. Edith twirled Steph and then Steph twirled Edith. They joined hands and jitter-bugged, they waltzed and did some tango steps. They were a two-person conga line and then they drew laughs when they acted like chickens pecking and scratching at the ground. Steph remembered all the steps Edith taught her and even improvised some of her own.

When the music stopped and Edith and Steph finished with a flourish in which they both went down on one knee with their arms extended, the crowd went wild with clapping, cheering and whistling. Edith and Steph had to give a couple of curtain calls before the show could go on.

There were still more acts waiting in the wings, but Edith knew it was all but over.

The show finally ended and then all that was left was for the judges to make their decision. The judges were all teachers and as Edith looked out at them from backstage, she saw they had their heads down and were talking among themselves.

The deliberations among the judges took about five minutes. When they were ready, Miss Mish, the music teacher who was also one of the judges, took to the stage to announce the winners.

Miss Mish wheezed into the microphone, “No matter who wins, there’s one thing on which we can all agree. Everybody on this stage tonight is a winner!”

The audience clapped and cheered and Miss Mish held up her hands to get them to shut up. “Our third-place winner,” she said, “is none other than Marvin Hittler and his banjo!”

Cheers and huzzahs for Marvin Hittler.

“Our second-place winner is Leeman LaFarge for his remarkable impression of Curly Howard of the Three Stooges. Come on out, Leeman, and take a bow.”

Leeman came out from backstage and, to anybody who had ever seen the Three Stooges, he was a pint-sized version of Curly. He gave the audience a few Curley mannerisms and then he pretended to be shy and had to retreat behind the curtain.

Miss Mish clapped and laughed like a donkey into the microphone. When the laughter and cheering died down, she intoned: “And now the moment for which we have all been waiting! The first-place winner of this year’s school talent contest is…Edith Mullinex and Steph Mullinex for their sparkling dance routine!”

Edith wasn’t even very surprised. She took Steph’s hand and they both bowed graciously again and again before the audience. After they left the stage, the audience was still applauding, so they gave a curtain call and then another and another. After a few minutes, Miss Mish took to the microphone again and told everybody to shut up and go home. The show was over.

As the crowd dispersed, everybody wanted to congratulate Edith and Steph, but especially Edith because they knew the whole thing was her idea.

Edith’s mother, who had been sitting in the audience, was going to give Edith and Steph a ride home, but Edith insisted on walking. She was too excited to ride in the car. She was a bundle of energy and she needed to dance her way home.

She said her goodbyes and danced down the street away from the school. It felt good to be alone and to breathe in the cool night air. In her head she still heard the music and the applause. She was happy and distracted, still reliving the moment, her moment, that her name was announced as the first-place winner and the crowd went wild.

As she danced off the sidewalk into an intersection, she didn’t think to look for any cars. She didn’t see the speeding car that hit her and sent her flying twelve feet into the air.

Traffic stopped, a crowd gathered, and an ambulance was summoned. They picked Edith up off the pavement and took her to the hospital, but it was already too late. She had died instantly of internal injuries.

School closed at noon the day of the funeral so everybody could attend. Her entire fourth-grade class was there and all the teachers. She was buried in a white casket with a spray of red roses that her classmates had taken up a collection to buy for her. And, on her headstone, beneath her name, was etched one word: DANCER.

After Steph got over the shock of Edith’s death, she assumed the dancing mantle for herself. She danced her way to school in the morning and she danced her way home in the afternoon. She danced before, during and after. She danced her way to the bathroom and she danced her way to the lunchroom to each lunch. The special education teacher, Miss Cornapple, called Steph’s mother and said, “I’m afraid we have a dancing problem with Steph.” Steph’s mother told her to mind her own business and hung up the phone.

As Steph’s dancing skills improved, so did her reading skills. Soon she was allowed to move out of special education and take her place in the fourth-grade class. She danced and danced and danced, and she looked so much like Edith, and acted so much like her, that soon people began calling her Edith instead of Steph and she never bothered to correct them. It seemed that Edith was back or had never left in the first place.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Cadillac Mother

Cadillac Mother ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He heard her voice downstairs and recognized her tread across the floor. She’d be up but it would take a while, she had grown so fat. He smelled her awful perfume already–it smelled like trouble. He heard her pulling herself up by the banister, heard her huffing and grunting. He pretended to be asleep but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Before he was ready, she burst into the room like a bull out of a chute.

“Can’t you knock?” he said, raising his head from the bed.

“Family don’t have to knock!” she screamed.

She approached the bed and gave him a kiss on the forehead. Thank goodness she wasn’t a mouth kisser!

“Uncle Pell!” she said. “How in the heck are you?”

He managed a weak smile. “How do you think? Now that you’re here, I’m worse than ever. I think I might die.”

“Hah-hah-hah! Always the joker! You’ll be cracking jokes right up until the very end, won’t you?”

“What can I do for you today, Thelma?” he asked. “You must want something or you wouldn’t be here.”

“Well, can’t a gal pay her old uncle a visit?”

She plopped herself down in the bedside chair and placed her patent leather pocketbook over her broad thighs.

“I swear!” Pell said, looking down at her feet. “You just get fatter all the time. You must have put on fifty pounds since the last time I saw you. Your ankles are as thick as logs.”

“It’s just the age I am,” she said. “I’m at the age where my body retains fluids. My ankles is swollen.”

“If you’d lose some weight, maybe they wouldn’t swell so bad.”

“I didn’t come here to talk about my weight, uncle.”

“What did you come here to talk about?”

“How in the world have you been?”

“I already told you. I’m terrible and worse now that you’re here.”

“I’m worried, uncle Pell,” Thelma said.

“What about?”

“I’m worried that you’re not taking good enough care of yourself. There’s a lovely new nursing home out by the park. I heard almost all the beds is taken already. One phone call and we could get your name on the list and you’d be all set.”

“I’ve told you a million times already. I will not go into a nursing home. I will take my revolver and blow my head off first.”

“You will go into the nursing home, you old coot, when you don’t have no other choice.”

“I bet I’ll outlast you, you old harridan, with your fat legs.”

Thelma laughed but it was a pretend laugh. “Let’s not quarrel,” she said. “That’s not what family ought to be doing.”

“You keep throwing that word up in my face. Family. You’re here for a reason and I know it!”

“My goodness! You are a grumpy old bear today, aren’t you?”

“Where’s Alveda? I want her in the room.”


“Because if she’s in the room, plopping up the pillows and taking my temperature every few minutes, you won’t be inclined to stay so long.”

“I left her downstairs,” Thelma said. “I told her she didn’t need to show me up.”

“Well, I want her here, or you’re going to have to leave.”


“I want my nurse with me, that’s why.”

“She ain’t a nurse, uncle Pell. She’s nobody.”

“Get her.”

She heaved herself up from the chair and went to the top of the steps and screamed down: “Alveda! Come right up here this minute! This old bastard wants you in the room with him, like you was a teddy bear or somethin’.”

“A voice like that ought to win first place in a hog-callin’ contest,” Pell said.

“You told me to call her and I did. You don’t think I’m going to haul ass all the way back down those stairs, do you?”

Alveda came into the room. “Did you want something, Mr. Pell?” she asked.

“I just want you to be here so I have a witness in case I happen to murder my niece.”

Eyes averted, Alveda went about straightening the room, putting some clean laundry in the dresser drawers.

Thelma sighed. “Good help is certainly hard to find nowadays.”

“Which brings me back to the original question,” Pell said. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, to put it bluntly, we need your help.”

“If you say ‘family’ again, I’m going to throw my bedpan at you.”

“David’s in trouble again. We need to get him a lawyer.”

“What is it this time?”

“Well, the kids was drinkin’ and havin’ a barbecue at the river. There was five or six boys and one girl. The boys took turns takin’ the girl into the woods. The girl was willing—she was whoopin’ it up and drinkin’ same as everybody else—but after she got back to town she wasn’t so willing no more. She went straight to the sheriff’s office and said these fellas raped her against her will.”

“And David is innocent, I suppose?”

“He says he didn’t do nothing. He was there and he saw it, he said, but he thought it was just all in fun.”

“Of course, that’s the story he would tell everybody to try to keep himself out of jail.”

“I believe him, uncle Pell. We need to get him a good lawyer and no mistake. No mother wants to see her child in prison. That’s why my ankles is swollen. I need eighteen thousand dollars and I need it bad.”

“Good God! Is that how much it takes to retain a lawyer these days?”

“It’s not just for a lawyer. I have other expenses, too.”

“What other expenses?”

“I have doctor bills.”

“You’ve seen a doctor?”

The tears started flowing; she dabbed at each eye with her handkerchief. “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I’m dying.”

“What is it this time?”

“I have a terribly weak heart.”

“Too many cigarettes.”

“I gave up smoking long ago.”

“If you’d lose a couple hundred pounds of blubber,” he said, “your heart would be able to function normally.”

“Please stop joking for one moment and listen to me,” she said. “The doctor has given me no more than six months to live.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“It’s not so much myself that I care about. It’s David. I’m all he has in the world. I’m afraid I’ll die while he’s in this rape mess and there won’t be nobody to help him through it.”

“How old is David now?”

“You know how old. He’s thirty-nine.”

“Most men of thirty-nine years no longer rely on their mothers to pull them along through life.”

“David isn’t like the others,” she said. “He weighed less than four pounds when he was born and he came out yellow. Can you imagine? He was always so sickly. The doctors thought he’d die right away but he didn’t and I think the only reason he survived was because he had me for a mother.”

“And he’s been nothing but trouble ever since.”

“Having children is a gamble. You take the bad with the good.”

“In David’s case, it’s been all bad.”

“You think so because you’ve never had a chance to know him. He has a very sweet nature. There’s a lot in him that’s good.”

“I know him well enough. He tormented the cats and he tormented the chickens and he tormented his cousins and in school he tormented the teachers and the other kids. He probably should have been locked up from the time he was seven years old.”

“I know,” Thelma said, sniffling. “He was always a little off somehow. What was I gonna do? A mother can only do so much.”

“Very sad, I’m sure,” Pell said, “but I’m not going to give you eighteen thousand dollars.”

“Oh, my god!” she cried, bringing her handkerchief to her eyes. “Oh, my god! Oh, my god! Oh, my god! What am I going to do? What’s going to become of my David?”

“Forget the expensive lawyer,” Pell said. “If David is innocent, a court-appointed attorney will be good enough.”

“I’m afraid that’s too risky! I abhor the thought of dying with my son in the penitentiary and not even being able to stand beside my grave as they lower my body into the cold ground.”

“Find out who the girl is,” Pell said. “The girl who said she was, uh, violated.”

“I already know who she is. Her name is Willie Walls.”

“A trashy girl, I imagine.”

“You would think that, wouldn’t you?” Thelma said. “At a wild drinkin’ party at the river with five or six men. The only girl there.”

“Offer her a thousand dollars to drop the case. I’ll bet that’s more money than she ever dreamed of owning in her life.”

“Drop the case? Why would she do that?”

“If it goes to trial, her character will be impugned. They’ll dig up all the dirt on her they can find; every low character she’s ever associated herself with. She’ll be humiliated and made to look like a fool. She’ll lose the case and end up with nothing. A sure thousand dollars would spare her all that.”

“I don’t know if I would want to try that or not,” Thelma said.

“So you want to throw away thousands of my money on a lawyer when you don’t have to?”

“I just don’t know what’s best! I’m at the end of my tether!”

“I’ve given you what I consider sound advice. That’s the best I can do.”

“I didn’t come here for advice, uncle.”

“I know. You came here for money.”

“You’ll the only family that David and I have left.”

“That’s not true.”

“Isn’t it only natural that families help each other out in time of need? I know you can afford it. I don’t know what all you have because you’re so secretive about money, but I’ll bet this big house is worth plenty. You could sell it and we could get you moved into the nursing home out by the park and you’d be so happy and you’d have all your needs taken care of.”

“Thelma, I’m just a hair’s breadth away from ordering you out of my house.”

“If you were to die tomorrow, what would happen to this house? Who would get it?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Are you planning on takin’ it with you when you die?”

“Maybe. If I can figure out a way.”

“Are you sayin’ that David and I mean nothing to you?”

“Thelma, I’m saying that you’ve given me a terrible headache and if you don’t leave now, I’m going to get out of this bed and drag you by the hair of your head down the stairs and out the front door.”

“I don’t know how you dare talk to me that way! After all I’ve done for you!”

Hah-hah! What have you ever done for me?”

“I’ve helped you out in a number of unseen ways!”

“Alveda, show my niece to the door. And make sure she doesn’t steal anything on her way out.”

“Don’t bother yourself! I think I can manage to get myself out the damned door, thank you!” She pulled herself out of the chair and stood unsteadily, grabbing the bedpost for support.

“Good bye, dear!” Pell said. “Drive carefully on your way home. Make sure your heart doesn’t fail you while you’re driving in traffic.”

“You know what, you old son of a bitch? I can have you declared incompetent and get control of your assets as your next of kin. How would you like that? And don’t think I’ll put you in the new nursing home out by the park, neither. I’ll find one that’s a regular shithole where they tie you to the bed and let you lay in your own filth all day!”

“Oh, my goodness! That does sound dreadful, doesn’t it?”

Thelma went out of the room like a charging rhinoceros and down the stairs. When she slammed the front door, it sounded a like a gunshot.

“Alveda, go to the window and watch her,” Pell said. “Make sure she gets into her car and drives away.”

Alveda went and stood at the window and looked down into the street.

“Tell me what she’s doing,” Pell said.

“She’s going down the walk. She’s stopping and looking back at the house. She’s taking a cigarette out of her purse and lighting it.”

“Gave up smoking! Bah!”

“Now she’s opening the door of her car.”

“What kind of car is it?”

“It’s a big shiny car. It looks new. I think it’s a Cadillac.”

“Does that sound like a woman desperately in need of money to you?”

“She’s not getting in yet, though. She’s just standing there, smoking her cigarette, looking up at the house.”

“Probably plotting her next move.”

“She’s dropping her cigarette to the ground and reaching into the car for something.”

“Probably a gun.”

“No, it’s a jacket. She’s putting it on. Looks like fur, maybe mink. That woman has got herself a new mink fur jacket. She’s getting in now, slamming the door and starting the engine. She’s looking at herself in the mirror and now she’s putting the car in gear and now she’s driving off.”

“Out of my life forever,” he said.

“Do you want some aspirin for your headache?”

“Not now. I’m going to get up and get dressed and after lunch I want you to take me downtown to see my lawyer.”

“Are you sure you’re up to it?”

“Yes, I’m up to it. I have no familial relations now, so I’m going to change my will. Can you see yourself living in this house with your family after I’m dead?”

“Your niece would kill me before she’d let that happen.”

“There’s nothing she can do about it.”

Alveda went downstairs to fix lunch and the old man got out of bed and began pulling the clothes out of the closet that he planned on wearing for his afternoon outing. He’d wear a sports jacket and his green-and-yellow tie—nothing like bright colors. He would show people he was still in the game and wasn’t ready to leave the sad old world behind. Not just yet. Maybe never.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Tractor Pulls and Wrestle Mania

Tractor Pulls and Wrestle Mania ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

My mother-in-law’s name is Elna Olmstead. She has pink hair and looks like Edward G. Robinson. Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, Little Caesar (not the pizza but the Prohibition-era movie gangster) wearing a cotton-candy wig, a mass of pink curlicues and ringlets, encasing his melon-shaped head. Whenever I see Elna, I expect her to be wearing a double-breasted suit with a machine gun as a fashion accessory, but instead she’s wearing a horned helmet and an iron breastplate, like a tiny Brunehilde (complete with the German accent). Yes, she’s very small but don’t be fooled by her size. She would cut off your head with her battle-axe and serve it to the neighborhood dogs and then, without missing a beat, go inside and watch today’s episode of General Hospital.

Elna doesn’t have very high regard for men. She has had four husbands. Two of them died and the other two escaped. Of the two that died, one of them, Julius, had his heart burst (or, as Elna likes to say, his heart “busted”), and the other one, Hec, committed suicide by hanging himself from a rafter in the attic. Elna was very put out with Hec because he hadn’t finished his housework. When he was laid out at the funeral home (with a smile on his face), she was there with a big bag of pork rinds in one hand and a pint of malt liquor in the other. When she lit a cigarillo over Hec’s casket with a lighter like a torch, it activated the very sensitive fire sprinklers, and water came pouring down on her and poor dead Hec. She threatened to sue the funeral home because she had spent four hours that day at Mitzie’s House of Beauty getting her hair re-pinked.

Elna’s best friend is a former lady boxer named Doris Grotnick. Elna brought Doris along one Thanksgiving to our house for dinner. Doris proudly raised her sleeve and showed us the tattoo of the grim reaper on her upper arm and then she informed us that “Grim Reaper” was her professional name when she was in wrestling. After dinner, Elna and Doris sat at the kitchen table arm-wrestling and drinking margaritas, while the rest of us ate pumpkin pie and watched Miracle on 34th Street on television.

More than anything else, Elna and Doris love sports, but especially wrestling. They go to all the matches and have their favorite wrestlers. Elna calls them “my boys.” She got arrested at one of the wrestling matches because she had too much to drink and wouldn’t sit down and shut up. When security guards came and tried to make her leave, she hit him one of them in the face and broke his nose. When we went to bail her out of jail the next day, she had the man’s blood all over her clothes and underneath her fingernails.

Next to wrestling, these two paragons of refinement (Elna and Doris, in case you’re not paying attention), love tractor pulls. They watch tractor pulls on TV and get so excited they pull down the curtains and bust up the furniture. Elna screams at the tractor she hopes will win, jumps up and down and flails her fists. One time she accidentally hit Doris in the side of the head and knocked her out. She waited until the tractor pull was over (her tractor won) and then called for an ambulance. Doris was taken to the hospital and spent two weeks recovering from a concussion.

We found out later that Doris Grotnick was a Satan worshipper and that she persuaded Elna to join her “church” (or “anti-church” if you prefer). They both dressed in black and went arm-in-arm to all the services. Elna told us that making Satan her master was the best thing she had ever done and that it had “set her free.” She tried to get the rest of us interested in Satanism. She gave us pamphlets to read, extolling the value of Satan worship, but I refused to look at them and threw them in the trash.

Elna and Doris became minor celebrities for a time when they appeared on a TV talk show in white makeup as witches and practitioners of black magic. They moaned, frothed at the mouth and rolled around on the floor to invoke the spirit of Satan for the studio audience. My wife was embarrassed and refused to leave the house for a few days. She realized, finally, that her mother was insane. I had known it all along.

For Christmas Elna bought three cemetery plots for herself, my wife and me. I was to be on one side of her and my wife on the other side. We were her children. Children of Satan. That’s when I decided I was going to be cremated.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp