RSS Feed

Tag Archives: short story

The War is Over

Posted on

The War is Over image 3

The War is Over ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Most of the people I used to know have gone away; where they have gone I don’t know. I’d like to think that some of them have found the paradise they were looking for. I stay in my little flat, even though the building is all but deserted. I have to walk up and down the six flights every time I go out or come back since the elevators have long ago stopped working. I guess the bright side, if there is one, is I don’t have to pay rent anymore because there’s nobody to collect it and money doesn’t mean anything anyway.

I lie on my bed at night and, though the building is eerily quiet, I hear sounds from far off: screams, gunshots and a wailing that might be human or maybe animal. Sometimes when I go to the window and look off into the distance, I see fires burning. Roving gangs set fires because they can and there’s nobody to stop them and nobody to put the fires out. There isn’t anything about this world that isn’t frightening. That’s why I’ll be glad to be out of it soon.

My little stores of food and water are dwindling. I take only a sip of water now and then when I can’t go without it any longer. And when it comes to food, you can get by on a surprisingly small amount when you have to. I seem to have lost any hunger, which is altogether a good thing. I have dizzy spells and blackouts, which I figure must be from poor nutrition, but it isn’t so bad. I know I’ve lost a lot of weight, but I have no way of knowing how much. Of the many ways in which I might die when my time comes, death by starvation and thirst hold no appeal for me because they are too slow. I can always jump out the window into the courtyard; a quick way, if not very aesthetic.

And then there’s my Cure for All Ills. These little capsules, one per person, were handed out to anybody who wanted them as soon as the war was lost (and lost by all sides). You just put the capsule in the back of your mouth and bite down. Death is supposed to be painless and instantaneous. This is a little trick, I’ve been told, we learned from the Nazis. I’ll take the Cure for All Ills only when the end is upon me and I fully recognize it as the end, after I’ve exhausted all the avenues for living one more hour or one more minute. Though I long for the comfort of death, I believe that I owe it to myself to stay alive as long as I can. Who knows what the next minute—or the minute after that—will bring. It doesn’t hurt to believe that something still might happen.

At night when I can’t sleep and feel sick, I entertain myself with thoughts of taking the Cure for All Ills on my bed and being transported to heaven or to a beautiful place that seems like heaven but might also be hell. I know as soon as I pass over into this place that it is where I have always longed to be. As far as my body is concerned, I can see it, in thirty years or fifty, a pile of corruption and bones among the bedclothes. It will lie undisturbed for centuries until the building crumbles to dust. And then, in three thousand years, or ten thousand, a future race of archaeologists will discover my remains and speculate about how I met my end. I’ll be put on display in a museum as an example of a lost and mysterious race of men about whom nothing is known except that they all seemed to have died about the same time.

Early in the morning there’s a knock at my door that startles me awake. I sit up in bed and don’t make a sound. There’s a second knock and I know that somebody is standing there in the hallway, listening and waiting. I want to know who it is, but I don’t dare open the door. They will kill me for the little bit of food and water I have left. Maybe kill me for nothing other than the pleasure of killing me. That’s the way the world is now. You don’t open the door unless you’re ready to defend what you have.

Whoever is doing the knocking soon leaves. I gasp with relief as I hear the receding footsteps and then the squeak of the door leading to the stairs. After a minute I feel close to tears with disappointment because now I’ll never know who it was or what they would have said to me if I had opened the door. It might have been good news; not very likely but still possible. I’m thinking it might have been my brother or my sister or somebody in my family until I remember that they all died in the war.

For the rest of the day I’m sick. After I take a sip of water, I vomit it up. I think the end can’t be too far away and I’m glad. I check and make sure my Cure for All Ills is safe in its little box in the drawer beside the bed. I’m comforted to know it’s still there, but I might not need it after all.

I sleep and wake and then sleep again. I can’t tell the waking from the sleeping. I think I hear voices and that somebody is standing beside my bed. I have to struggle to get up to make sure the door is still bolted. More than once I think my mother is here, trying to wake me up to give me some bad news, but she is no more real than the music I hear or the people I see off in the distance.

In the evening I feel better. I sit up in bed and eat a little and then I sleep peacefully for the rest of the night without any disturbing dreams.

The next day and the day after that it rains. I collect as much water as I can in pans on my little balcony. There’s nothing better than water coming down when you believe you’re about to die of thirst. I drink my fill of the metallic-tasting rain water and then, wrapped in a blanket, I sit in the window and watch the rain come down, remembering the warm fires at home and the hot food my mother prepared for me every day of my life.

When the rain stops the sun is shining. I realize I haven’t been out of my flat or seen another person in about six weeks, so I venture down the stairs and out into the courtyard. I find a place to sit in the sun and lean back and close my eyes. In a few minutes, a man I knew before the war named Jess Guttmann comes quietly from out of nowhere and sits beside me.

“You still here?” he asks.

“No place to go,” I say. “No family.”

“You look terrible.”

“Thank you,” I say. “So do you.”

“You just going to wait here for the end?” he asks.

“It can’t be too far off, now.”

“They say the cloud is closer than we think.”

“They’ve been saying that for months now.”

“My daughter died last week,” Jess Guttmann says. “She was twelve.”

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“She’s one of the lucky ones. She’s out of it now.”

“Soon the rest of your family can join her,” I say.

“I have my Cure for All Ills,” he says, “but I’ve just been putting off taking it. I’m not going to be able to put it off much longer, though. It’s October now and winter will be here soon. I’m not going to wait around for that.”

“Same here. I might go tonight. Or tomorrow. Who knows?”

“Do you think the Cure for All Ills works?” he asks.

“I haven’t heard anybody say it doesn’t.”

“We keep hearing rumors about some caves a hundred miles west of here that people are going to to escape the cloud,” he says.

“How many people do you think have heard that rumor? There’s going to be a lot of disappointed people.”

“You never know,” he says. “There might be a chance.”

“I don’t think so,” I say, and when I look at his face I know it isn’t what he wants to hear.

We wish each other luck and shake hands. He disappears around the corner, and I know he’s the last person I will ever see.

Two nights later I’m asleep when the building begins to shake, gently at first and then violently. Pieces of the ceiling begin to rain down on my head. I leap out of bed and fumble for my shoes but I can’t find them in the dark. My one thought is to get out of the building as fast as I can before I’m buried alive. I can’t imagine anything worse.

I grope my way in the dark to the stairs, in my bare feet, and down the six flights. The stairs are bucking and crumbling as I step on them so that I have to hang onto the rail to keep from falling. Finally I come to the door on the ground floor that will take me outside.

I think the building is surely going to come down, so I run as fast as I can to put distance between it and myself. I get maybe thirty yards away when something strikes me from behind. I don’t feel pain, but the breath is knocked out of my body and I fall forward.

There’s a tremendous roar that deafens me and then gradually subsides. Lying facedown on the ground, I have the sensation of being pulled to my feet and then lifted gently upward into the sky. Up, up, upward until I become a part of something that’s there but I don’t know yet what it is. I don’t understand what’s happening to me, but I’m no longer afraid. The one thing I do know is that, at last, my time has come. No more war for me.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Open All Nite

Posted on

Open All Nite image

Open All Nite ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“You’re probably not going to leave your wife for me, are you?” the waitress asked as she came toward him with a pot of coffee.

“I don’t have a wife,” he said, as if anticipating the question.

“That makes it easier, then, doesn’t it?”

“Not for me.”

She started to pour him a cup.

“I don’t want any of that,” he said.

“What?”

“I said I don’t want any coffee.”

She looked at him in disbelief. “Well, now, you really are unique, aren’t you? Ninety-nine men out of a hundred want coffee when they come in here.”

“I’m that very rare one percent who doesn’t,” he said.

“What are you having tonight?” She set the pot down and took a pad out of her apron.

“How about some hot water, a tea bag and some lemon?”

“So, what you want is a cup of tea?”

“You’re very perceptive.”

“Why don’t you want coffee?” she asked.

“It makes me vomit.”

“Well, we can’t have that, can we? That’s very discouraging to the patrons who come in here to eat.”

He looked over each shoulder and back at her. “You don’t have any patrons.”

“Well, that’s because it’s two in the morning and all decent people are at home in bed.”

“Does that mean I’m not decent?” he asked.

“You tell me. Does it?”

“I’m sure I’m just as decent as you are. Maybe more so.”

She brought a little pot of hot water, a cup, a tea bag and two slices of lemon.

“What do you have that’s good to eat?” he asked.

“Well, let me see,” she said. “We’ve got some Hungarian goulash, some chicken fricassee and some salmon croquettes.”

“Bring me a ham and cheese on rye and some cottage cheese.”

“I’m not sure about the cottage cheese, but I’ll check.”

She found some in the back of the refrigerator on the point of turning and, arranging it artfully in a small bowl on a lettuce leaf with a maraschino cherry on top, took it to him.

“You’re not the usual run of truck drivers and traveling men we get in here at night,” she said.

“No?” He looked at her without expression until she had to look away.

“Where you coming from?”

“East,” he said.

“Where you heading?”

“West.”

“It’s always lovely there this time of year, I hear.”

A few minutes later she brought him the ham and cheese on rye on a large plate with a profusion of lettuce. She set the plate down and said, “Will there be anything else, sir?”

He shook his head, his eyes on the sandwich.

When he was finished eating, he motioned to her and she gave him the check.

“Was everything all right, sir?” she asked.

“I was never here,” he said.

“What?”

“You never saw me.” He took a gun out of his pocket and laid it on the counter beside the plate.

“There’s about twenty-one dollars in the cash drawer,” she said. “Take it.”

He smiled for the first time. “I don’t want your twenty-one dollars.”

“What’s the gun for? You don’t need to be flashing that in here.”

“You’re here all alone, aren’t you?”

“The cook’s in the back. He’s deaf and dumb. Never says a word to anybody.”

“So, just you and the cook at almost two-thirty in the morning.”

“That’s right, but business is about to pick up, I’m sure.”

“You’ve never seen me.”

“All right. I got that.”

“I’m not even here.”

“Fine by me.”

“I’ll be back this way and I’ll know if you told anybody you saw me.”

“Nobody here,” she said. “Slow night. Just me and the cook in the back and he never says a word to anybody.”

“It seems we understand each other.”

He stood up, took a bill out of his wallet and slapped it on the counter. “I’ll be seeing you again,” he said, and then he was gone.

Business began to pick up about four-thirty, early risers on their way to their important destinations. She was taking an order from a couple of old people when two police officers came in and sat down at the counter.

“What can I get you this morning?” she asked the officers as she poured their coffee.

“Been here all right?” the younger of the two asked her.

“Since about ten,” she said.

“Have you seen this man?”

He thrust a picture at her; she took it from him and held it close to her face. It was without any doubt the man who had had the ham and cheese on rye and the cottage cheese with the maraschino cherry on top.

“He has beautiful eyes,” she said, handing the picture back. “You just don’t forget those eyes.”

“Have you seen him?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Keep the picture and if you see him in here, give us a call.”

“What did he do?”

“Murdered his wife.”

“I’ll bet she had it coming.”

“Why would you say that?”

“I don’t know. Just a thought.”

“You shouldn’t romanticize crime,” he said, lighting a filterless cigarette and blowing a purple cloud into the air above his head.

She waited for them to leave and after they were gone she folded the picture and slipped it into her pocket before anybody else had a chance to see it. She would keep it for private viewing later.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Albinos and Holy Rollers

Posted on

Albinos and Holy Rollers image 1

Albinos and Holy Rollers ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“They have albinos at the Penny Cost church,” Ruthie says.

“What’s Penny Cost mean?” Phillip asks.

“It’s a kind of religion, dumbbell,” she says. “You know. Methodists, Baptists, and Penny Costs.”

“Oh. What’s albinos?”

“It’s people that are all white, even their eyes and hair.”

“I don’t believe you,” he says.

“They’re just like anybody else, only they don’t have any color. Anywhere. Everything is all white.”

She was eleven and he was nine, just at the age when he was starting to doubt things people told him.

“I’m white and you’re white,” he says.

“We belong to the white race,” she says, “but we’re not albinos. Your hair is blond and mine is brown. You have blue eyes and I have brown ones. If we were albinos, our hair and eyes would be white, just like our skin.”

“Do albinos have white blood?”

“I guess they do.”

“You’re making that up. I don’t believe you.”

“I’ll prove it to you,” she says.

She goes to the other room and gets the dictionary and when she comes back she opens it on the table and begins flipping the pages.

A-l-b-i-n-o,” she says. “Here it is. Now, listen to this:  A person or animal having a congenital absence of pigment, causing the hair and skin to be white and the eyes typically pink.”

“Hah-hah!” he says. “You said they have white eyes!”

“Well, isn’t pink even better?”

“I’d have to see it to believe it,” he says.

“Just ask grandma.”

They find grandma lying on the couch with a cloth over her head, having one of her headaches.

“Grandma!” Ruthie says.

“Don’t bother me unless it’s an emergency,” grandma says. She slurs her words, meaning that she has probably been taking nips of whiskey in the pantry.

“We want to ask you a question.”

“What is it?”

“Have you ever seen an albino?”

“Not that I recall.”

“But you’ve heard of them.”

“Everybody has heard of them.”

“Am I an albino?” Phillip asks.

Grandma removes the cloth from her eyes and looks at him. “Have you been teasing him, Ruthie?” she asks.

“No, I have not!” Ruthie says.

“If the two of you don’t have enough to do, I can give you some chores.”

“We want to go to the Penny Cost church to see the albinos with pink eyes!” Phillips says.

“No! You stay right here where I can keep an eye on you.”

“But you’re not!” Ruthie says.

“Not what?”

“Not keeping an eye on us. You’re napping.”

“Don’t get technical on me, dear. Even if I am napping, I’m still keeping my eye on you.”

“Marilyn says they have albinos at the Penny Cost church.”

“You know as well as I do that Marilyn is full of crap.”

“But she’s in high school!”

“It doesn’t make any difference. She’s still full of crap.”

“We want to go to the Penny Cost church and see the albinos with pink eyes!” Phillip says.

“What do you think it is? A circus?”

“How should I know?”

“You stay away from those old Penny Cost people. You’re likely to see more than you bargained for.”

“Like what?” Ruthie asks.

“They’re holy rollers at that church.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means stay away.”

“No, really. What does it mean?” Ruthie asks. “I’ve heard that before but I never knew what it meant.”

“It means they roll on the floor and scream.”

“Are they afraid?” Phillip asks.

“No, they’re happy.”

“Why are they happy?”

“They think they see Jesus.”

“Do they see Jesus?”

“I guess they think they do.”

“That’s it!” Ruthie says. “We’re going. I wish I had a camera so I could take some pictures.”

“Last time I checked I’m still the boss around here,” grandma says. “I think that means whenever I tell you to stay at home, you’d better do it.”

“We’ll wait until you go back to sleep and then we’ll go, anyway,” Ruthie says. “We’re not prisoners.”

“No, you’re not prisoners, but you’re little children and in this family little children do as they are told.”

“Please!”

“No!”

“I want to see the albinos!” Phillip says. “I want to see their pink eyes!”

“Albinos nothing,” Ruthie says. “It would be a lot more fun to see the holy rollers.”

“I’ll tell you what!” grandma says. “The next time the circus comes to town I’ll take you to see the freak show. There’s sure to be at least one albino.”

“That doesn’t do us any good,” Ruthie says. “We want to see them now!”

“I’ll drive you over in the car. For a minute or two! And when we come back I want absolute peace and quiet from both of you.”

“Well, all right,” Ruthie says. “If that’s the only way we get to go.”

“Oh, goody!” Phillips jumps up and down. “Grandma’s going to take us to the Penny Cost church!”

The church was on the edge of town, at least a mile away, in what grandma considered an unsavory neighborhood. When she pulled onto the parking lot of the church, nobody was there.

“Where are all the albinos?” Ruthie asks.

“They must be inside,” Phillip says.

“The church is closed now,” grandma says. “Can’t you see that all the lights are off and the parking lot is empty?”

“I bet they’re all inside,” Phillip says. “Having punch and cookies.”

“You see that sign over there? It says the next revival meeting is Saturday night at seven o’clock.”

“Oh, can we come back then?” Ruthie asks.

“You want to attend the revival meeting?”

“Yes.”

“Just so you can gawk and stare?”

“Yes.”

“You know, don’t you, that they’ll make you join the church?”

“No, they won’t.”

“Yes, they will. They’ll make you get up and come down to the front of the church and they’ll say some magic words over you and then you’ll be a holy roller, too.”

“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do!”

“If you want to see the albinos and the holy rollers, that’s the price you have to pay.”

“I don’t think so!”

“You don’t want to be a holy roller?”

“Not really.”

“You’d be the only one in fourth grade. People would come from miles around just to see you. They’d stare and gawk and want to take your picture.”

“Maybe we’d just better forget the whole thing,” Ruthie says. “I’ve got better things to do with my time.”

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

The Spiders’ Rendezvous

Posted on

The Spiders' Rendezvous image x

The Spiders’ Rendezvous ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The fans close to the ceiling whir lazily, shifting the warm air from one place to another. He pulls back the fly-specked curtain and looks down into the street. Two cars and an old truck are parked at the curb. A fat woman in a flowered dress leads two children who don’t want to be led. An old man in overalls totters on the sidewalk, nearly falls, rights himself and spits. A dog trots across the street and urinates against a tree on the other aside. Everything here has gone to hell, he tells himself, and lets the curtain fall back into place.

He calls down to room service. “Send up a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice,” he says.

“Who is this?” a voice asks, and he recognizes it as the ignorant desk clerk.

“Mr. Gilchrist in room four twenty-five.”

“We don’t have no champagne, sir,” the clerk says.

“Well, what do you have?”

“Hold on a minute.”

He hears the low murmur of voices as the clerk confers with others and in a minute he comes back on the line.

“Is beer okay?”

“As long as it’s cold.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Send up six bottles. And I don’t want it unless it’s cold.”

“Yes, sir.”

He opens the suitcase on the bed and a couple of minutes later is annoyed by a knock at the door.

“Who is it?” he says loudly.

Room service.”

When he opens the door he sees standing there a woman past the first blush of youth but still not old. She brings the tray bearing six bottles of beer into the room and sets it on the desk.

“Will there be anything else?” she asks in a half-hearted, disinterested way.

He looks closely at her and smiles. “You’re much prettier than the usual bellboy,” he says.

“We don’t have no bellboy anymore,” she says. “He quit.”

“What is your function in the establishment, then, if I may be so bold?”

“What?”

“If you’re not the usual bellboy, what do you do?”

“Well, I mostly help in the kitchen. Some days I clean rooms and sometimes I have to take things to people because there’s nobody else to do it.”

“Like now.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, I can’t tip you because I don’t have any money but I’ll take care of you before I check out.”

“Oh, that’s all right, sir. Nobody ever tips me.”

“What’s your name?”

“Stella Penny.”

“That’s a euphonious name. It trips lightly off the tongue.”

“What?”

“Never mind. Won’t you stay and have a drink with me?”

“Oh, no, sir. I can’t. I’m expected back in the kitchen.”

“They don’t let you take rest breaks in the kitchen?”

“Well, I guess it’ll be all right for a minute or two.”

She comes inside. He closes the door, uncaps one of the beers and hands it to her.

“I shouldn’t drink while I’m working,” she says.

“I won’t tell anybody if you don’t,” he says.

She sits on the settee and he takes one of the beers for himself and sits down beside her. She looks warily at him and takes a drink of the beer.

“You’re not trying to get me drunk, are you?” she asks.

“No, I’m not trying to get you drunk, Stella. It would avail me nothing if I did.”

“I don’t understand half of what you say,” she says and shakes her head.

“How old are you, Stella?”

“I’m twenty-five.”

“I think you’re at least ten years older than that, but we won’t quibble.”

She giggles and blushes. “What does it matter? It’s just a number, anyway.”

“How old do you think I am?” he asks.

“I don’t know. About forty, I guess.”

“Not even close,” he says, “but thank you for lying.”

“The beer sure tastes good,” she says. “I haven’t had a beer in a long time.”

“It seems that beer is all they have in this establishment. It used to be that they would have anything you would ever ask for, and if they didn’t have it, they’d get it.”

“When was that?”

“A long time ago, probably before you were even born. I had the best time I ever had in my life right here in this hotel.”

“You spent your honeymoon here with your wife?”

“No. That was in Niagara. I had a far better time right here, though.”

“Where is your wife now?”

“Long ago departed.”

“What do you mean? Did she die?”

“As far as I’m concerned she did.”

“But she’s still alive somewhere?”

“I guess so. I haven’t thought to inquire.”

“So the fun you had here was not with your wife?”

“No. My wife and I never had any fun.”

“What did you do here that was so much fun?”

“A long time ago, right after I graduated from college, a group of my friends and I spent a part of every summer here.”

“Oh.” She seems disappointed.

“It was a very fine hotel then. The service was impeccable. The food was the best anywhere. They had a beer garden and a dance floor out back.”

“There’s nothing back there now.”

“Yes, there was a flood and the river swept all that away and after it was gone nobody bothered to bring it back.”

“I don’t remember a flood like that,” she said.

“There were five and sometimes six or more of us,” he says. “There were no better or closer friends in the world. We swam and hiked during the day and rode horses. At night we caroused and played cards and drank until two in the morning or sometimes later. Then we didn’t get up until noon the next day and when we did we had a huge meal and rested up for that night.”

“You didn’t have to work?”

“Not a care in the world.”

“And what happened to your friends?”

“They’re all dead now. One of them’s in jail.”

“And you’re the only one left?”

“Gone to seed, just like the hotel.”

She finishes her beer and hands him the bottle. “I have to get back to work,” she says. “They’ll come looking for me.”

“I wish you could stay and have another one,” he says.

“I guess it doesn’t make much difference,” she says. “I’m going to be out of a job soon, anyway.”

“Why is that?”

“They’re shutting down the hotel. Nobody wants to come here anymore.”

“You probably can’t believe it now,” he says, “but it used to be a very fine hotel.”

He hands her another beer and she drinks half of it in one gulp as if she has a tremendous thirst. “What do you suppose happened?” she asks, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth.

“Time,” he says. “Time is what happened.”

She rests her head on his shoulder and belches. “I should probably get back downstairs,” she says.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

The Man with Six Kids Whose Wife Ran Off and Left Him

Posted on

The Man With Six Kids Whose Wife Ran Off and Left Him image x

The Man with Six Kids Whose Wife Ran Off and Left Him ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

They go to the shops on Saturday afternoon and usually end up in a bar somewhere Saturday night. Leona at one time had a husband but he left her so long ago she barely remembers. Val never married but lives with her mother, whom she loves and despises at the same time. She’s thirty-seven years old but still cherishes the illusion that someday a man will come along and want to marry her.

It’s a hot Saturday in July. Leona and Val sweat as they walk along the sidewalk, avoiding brushing shoulders with any of the other sweating strangers. A small child, three or four years old, squeals and gets a pounding from his mother, which makes him squeal even louder.

“Lord, they sure can make a big noise to be so little,” Leona laughs.

“Little son of a bitch!” Val says. “My mother would have ripped my head off if I had screamed that way in public.”

“They’re not taught to behave, the way we were.”

They stop off at the drug store to pick up Val’s mother’s pills and Leona lingers over the cosmetics counter, looking for a color of lipstick that she thinks will look good with her complexion. The salesgirl comes out from the back and watches them, so they leave the cave-like coolness of the store and go back out into the bright light.

A little farther down the street they find themselves standing in front of a movie theater. A double feature is playing tonight, but it doesn’t begin for two hours. They think they might come back and see both shows, but Leona says she can’t sit still that long on such a hot night and anyway she just isn’t in the mood for cinematic entertainment.

They go into a place called Glad Rags, a store where everything has been owned by somebody else. Leona is looking for a couple of “nice dresses,” as she says, to wear out on dates, and she doesn’t have much money. She goes to the racks of ladies’ dresses, extending all the way to the back of the store, and Val follows along behind her.

“Can I help you find something, honey?” a fat saleslady asks.

“Just looking today, honey,” Leona says.

Val smiles at the saleslady but she ignores her.

Leona picks a red cocktail dress off the rack with a glittery bodice and holds it up. “What do you think about this one, honey?” she asks Val.

“You probably shouldn’t wear that one to church, honey.” Val says.

She picks a blue chiffon and twirls around with it.

“That would have been perfect for you twenty-five years ago!” Val says.

A yellow one with puffy sleeves.

“That one looks like the bathroom curtains.”

A blue one, very immodest.

“Part of that one is missing.”

Finally she finds two that she liked: a sedate black for funerals and a medium-green for happier occasions.

She finds the fat saleslady again and says, “Where can I try these on, honey?”

“There’s a screen back there by the wall, honey. You can go behind there.”

Val sits in the chair for weary husbands and Leona takes the two dresses behind the screen. Val hears grunting and sighing and in a few minutes Leona emerges.

“I guess I’ve put on a little more weight than I thought,” she says. “Neither one of them fits.”

“How can you ever expect to find a man?” Val asks.

“Don’t worry about me, honey! A little face powder does the trick every time.”

“It’s the face powder that catches ‘em and the baking powder that keeps ‘em at home,” Val says.

Come again, honey!” the saleslady calls to them as they go out the door.

“Where to now?” Val asks.

“There’s that man I told you about,” Leona says, pointing with her nose.

“What man?”

“The one in the green pickup truck that just pulled into the parking space.”

“What about him?”

“His wife just left him and he’s got six kids.”

“Where’d she go?”

“I don’t know. Ran out on him. And now he’s got six kids to take care of on his own.”

“Too bad.”

“If it wasn’t for all those kids, I think I’d make a play for him. He’s kind of handsome, don’t you think?”

“Maybe he can get rid of the kids and clear the way for you,” Val said.

“What’s he going to do? Take ‘em out back and strangle ‘em one by one?”

“Well, no. Not that exactly. He could put them in an orphanage.”

“It doesn’t work that way, honey,” Leona said. “Once you bring ‘em into the world, they’re yours to take care of as long as you’re still aboveground.”

“Sounds awful, doesn’t it, honey?”

“Yeah, life’s a bitch.”

“The important thing is not to have ‘em in the first place and then the person you’re married to can’t run out on you and leave you holding the bag.”

“Truer words were never spoken.”

They have a sandwich and a soda at the diner and by the time they are finished the long summer twilight has begun.

They go down the stairs that connect the lower street to the upper and there come to a place called Louie’s Hot Spot. Val has never been there but Leona says it’s a lot of fun, so they go inside and sit down at a table for two.

After a couple of drinks, Val is ready to leave but Leona is obviously enjoying herself. She sways in time to the music and looks appreciatively at the men around her; if they ignore her, she doesn’t seem to mind.

Somewhere about the third drink, Leona sticks her fingernails into Val’s wrist and says, “Guess who just came in?”

“The pope?” Val asks.

“No, silly! It’s him!

“Who?”

“The man with six kids whose wife ran off and left him.”

“Well, everybody has to be someplace.”

“He just sat down at the bar. After he gets his drink, I know he’ll turn around and look to see if there’s anybody here he knows.”

“So what?”

“He’ll see me sitting here.”

“Do you owe him money?”

“No, silly! I’m going to make myself look available so he’ll ask me to dance.”

“Do you want me to leave?”

“Not unless you’re about to have a seizure.”

Within five minutes, the man with six kids whose wife ran off and left him approaches the table coolly and leans down and whispers in Leona’s ear.

“Why, I’d love to!” she says, standing up.

She gives Val a secret little smile and moves to the dance floor with him.

Val moves around to the other side of the table so she can  watch. They look rather silly together, he so skinny as to hardly have any shape at all, with Leona’s belly obtruding between them. They move awkwardly in time to the music like a couple of self-conscious teens at their first dance.

“Not a pretty sight,” Val says, but not loud enough to be heard.

When the song ends, Leona glides over to the table as though she is still dancing and says to Val, “He’s asked me to go for a ride with him. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No. I don’t mind.”

“You can make it home by yourself all right?”

“I think I’ll find the way.”

“His name is Virgil Miller,” Leona says “He’s just the sweetest thing. And I think he’s kind of lonely.”

“What about the six kids?”

“They’re spending time with grandma.”

“How lucky for you!”

“Isn’t it, though?”

“If you end up murdered, we’ll know who did it. I even have his name now.”

After Leona leaves, Val finishes her drink so as not to appear rushed. If any of the men in the place take any notice of her at all, she sees no outward sign of it.

When Val gets home, her mother is wrapped up in her pink chenille bathrobe watching Have Gun, Will Travel on television. She insists that Paladin is somebody she knew during the war. Earlier in the evening she would have watched The Jackie Gleason Show and Oh! Susanna. In the morning at the breakfast table she’ll have to tell Val all about them. On Sunday she’ll be excited about The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour and The Ed Sullivan Show, not understanding why Val doesn’t want to watch with her.

“Did you get my pills?” she asks, not taking her eyes off Paladin’s face.

“Yes, mama, I got your pills,” Val says, not realizing until that moment how tired she is.

“Put them on the table where I’ll be able to see them.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

“Did you have a good time tonight?”

“Yes, mama. I met a handsome millionaire.”

“As handsome as Cary Grant?”

“Oh, much better looking than that!”

“Did he ask you to marry him?”

“Well, not exactly. He asked me to go to the Riviera with him, but I told him I wouldn’t be able to get away right now.”

“Too bad.”

“He had tears in his eyes. I hated to hurt him that way, but I believe in time he’ll understand.”

“They usually do.”

On the swell of dramatic music from the TV, Val goes into her bedroom and shuts the door. She changes into her pajamas, gets into bed and turns off the light. She can still hear the drone of the TV and some traffic sounds, but more than that. When she listens closely, she knows that what she hears is the sound of life passing her by.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

A Man is Only as Good as His Word

Posted on

A Man is Only as Good As His Word image x

A Man is Only as Good as His Word ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Tierney stood in the corner of the yard, his work finished for the day. When he saw Wolfram come out of the house, he motioned him over and held out both fists.

“Guess which one,” he said.

Wolfram smiled, something he hadn’t done all day. “That one,” he said, pointing to the right fist.

Tierney unclenched both fists and in his right palm was a dull cold coin.

“What is it?” Wolfram asked.

“It’s an old Roman coin. It’s yours if you want it.”

Wolfram picked the coin up from Tierney’s palm and held it close to his eyes to get a better look. “Thank you,” he said.

“It’s not for spending,” Tierney said. “It’s just a keepsake.”

“I know.”

“Don’t tell the others.”

“I won’t.”

Tierney had given Wolfram other small gifts before: an insect trapped in amber that he said was millions of years old; a shark’s tooth, a monkey’s paw that was supposed to be good luck. Wolfram didn’t question the giving of the gifts but was only glad to get them.

He left Tierney and went in to dinner, the Roman coin in his pocket. He wanted to take it out and look at it again, but he knew that everybody would want to know where he got it.

“I saw Wolfram out the window talking to Tierney,” Eden said, about ten minutes into the meal.

“What were you talking about, Wolf?” mother asked.

“Nothing,” Wolfram said.

“If you were talking, you must have been talking about something.”

“We were just exchanging pleasantries,” Wolfram said. “I’m the only one in the family that ever talks to him.”

“Well, I talk to him!” mother said. “I have to tell him what I want done, don’t I?”

“I think you should discharge him,” Eden said. “He gives me the creeps.”

“Why?” mother asked.

“He’s always looking at me and when I look back at him, he looks away. All innocent like.”

“Has he ever said anything indecent to you?” mother asked.

“Well, no, but he just has this look about him.”

“Who would want to look at you, you silly old thing?” Wolfram said. “If he’s looking at you, he’s probably only trying to figure out what kind of a freak you are.”

“That’s enough of that kind of talk at the table!” mother said. “Nobody is going to discharge Tierney until and unless there’s a good reason.”

“The lawn and garden have never looked better,” father said, obviously bored with the conversation. “Tierney does a very commendable job and we pay him very little money. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

“So Tierney stays,” Wolfram said, giving Eden a victorious look.

Eden was seventeen, three years older than Wolfram, and he despised her. She was always sticking her nose into his business. He had even caught her going through his closet and the drawers of his dresser when she thought he was out of the house. She had made herself the family detective. Wolfram wished Eden would choke on a peach pit and die.

“He does seem like a rather mysterious character,” Isabel said.  “Nobody knows where he lives or what he does after he leaves here.”

Isabel was Wolfram’s other sister. She was twenty-one and engaged to be married to a man named George Jasper. Because she was in love, she always appeared to be partly absent, present in body but someplace else in spirit.

“Well, he’s discreet,” father said. “What’s wrong with that? If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s somebody always coming up with personal excuses for not doing the work they’ve been hired to do.”

“I like Tierney,” Wolfram ventured to say.

“You would!” Eden said. “You’re a junior version of him. When you get older, no girls will want to have anything to do with you because they’ll be afraid of you.”

“I don’t care how much you insult me,” Wolfram said. “And if all the girls are like you, why would I want to have anything to do with them, anyway?”

He was secretly flattered that Eden had compared him to Tierney.

That night he slept with the Roman coin in his fist. When he awoke in the morning, the coin was gone but he found it again underneath the quilt by his side.

During the next week, Wolfram had some troubles at school. He said he was too sick to do calisthenics and, when he was excused and told to go to the nurse’s office, he was found a short time later smoking a cigarette behind the building. Then there was a heated argument with a teacher that ended with him calling the teacher an idiot and being forcibly ejected from the classroom. The next week he was accused of cheating on a geometry test (looking up the answers from the textbook while the teacher was out of the room), a charge he vehemently denied.

The school principal called Wolfram’s father and told him they were going to have to take disciplinary action, which might include suspension.

“Don’t worry,” Wolfram’s father had said firmly. “He’ll be disciplined from this end. I assure you there will be no further problems.”

That evening there was a big row between Wolfram and his mother and father. His mother cried and said she was afraid he was going to end up in the penitentiary, while his father paced the floor, trying, as he said, to figure out where he “had gone wrong.”

“It’s nothing,” Wolfram said, trying to keep a straight face. “They blow everything up out of all proportion. I didn’t do anything that everybody else doesn’t do all the time.”

“Yes, but you were the one that got caught!” his father exclaimed. “How could you be so stupid?”

“How could you be so careless?” his mother sobbed.

Eden lurked around the corner in the next room, taking in every word, delighted in every fiber of her body.

“One more stunt from you,” his father said, “and it’s off to military school! If I can’t instill discipline in you, we’ll see if they can!”

“I have no intention of going to military school,” Wolfram said calmly. “I’ll kill myself first.”

As much as Wolfram tried to appear unmoved by his conversation with his parents, he was visibly shaken when he sought out Tierney in the barn as Tierney was leaving for the day.

“I have to get out of here,” Wolfram said.

“What happened?” Tierney asked.

“Oh, trouble at school. My parents are threatening to send me to military school.”

“And you don’t want to go to military school.”

“No.”

“If you have to get away, maybe military school is where you need to be.”

“My father has some idea it would straighten out all my problems, but I told him I’d kill myself first.”

“He knows you don’t mean it.”

“But I do mean it!”

Tierney put his hand on Wolfram’s shoulder, close to his neck, and squeezed reassuringly. “I have to get a move on now,” he said. “We’ll talk more later.”

When Wolfram went back into the house, his mother was waiting for him. She said, “I absolutely forbid you to have anything more to do with that man!”

“What man?” Wolfram asked.

“You know what man I mean. Don’t act innocent with me. I believe he’s a corrupting influence on you. I believe your downfall began when you started spending so much time with him.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, mother.”

“I want to know what he says to you.”

“He doesn’t say anything that would be of interest to you or father.”

“Does he show you pictures of naked women?”

“Mother, how can you be so oblivious to everything that’s going on around you?”

Wolfram still managed to speak to Tierney at least once every day he was there, but he no longer sought him out for long talks. He was told to come straight home from school and begin his homework. Then there was dinner and then more homework and then lights out. On weekends he was made to do yard work and housecleaning. He never made a move that wasn’t observed, noted and passed on. When his grades slipped even further from where they had been, his father hired a former elementary school teacher, a Miss Dahrenheim, to come in two evenings a week and tutor him in the library. Miss Dahrenheim was under strict orders to report any signs of insolence, laziness or insubordination in her young pupil. Always the threat of military school, tantamount to a prison sentence, was held over his head.

One day in early autumn, Tierney waylaid Wolfram as he was coming home from school. “I need to have a word with you,” he said.

“What is it?” Wolfram asked, heart thumping.

“I’m locked out of my room and I don’t have anyplace to stay tonight. I thought I’d bed down in the barn after everybody has retired.”

“It’s cold in the barn.”

“I don’t mind the cold.”

“Mother would let you stay in the guest room.”

“I would never ask. I think it’s best not to involve them in this, don’t you?”

“You can stay in my room.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

Wolfram laughed. “More trouble than I’m already in?”

“It’s off to the military academy with you,” Tierney said, making a slicing motion across his throat with his index finger.

“Look, I want you to stay in my room,” Wolfram said. “Please. Nobody has to know anything about it. They’ll all be asleep by ten o’clock and they won’t know a thing.”

“Yes, if your father finds me creeping up the stairs after hours, he’ll shoot me and the world will applaud him for it.”

“No, you can climb up to the flat part of the roof and over to my window. There’s a ladder there all the time. It’s easy.”

“Well, if you think it’s all right.”

“I know it is. Just don’t make any noise. Mother has ears like a cat’s.”

“Well, we’ll see how it goes then.”

“After ten o’clock,” Wolfram said.

“Maybe I will and maybe I won’t.”

That night it was raining. At nine-thirty, Wolfram finished his homework, unlatched the window and got into bed. The small light he left burning would tell Tierney he was expecting him.

A few minutes after ten, he heard a slight rustling and then the sound of the window being inched up slowly. Tierney squeezed himself in through the small opening and reclosed the window as quietly and as deftly as he had opened it.

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Tierney said. “I feel like I’m breaking in.”

“Nobody ever comes in here,” Wolfram said. “They’re all asleep, anyway.”

Tierney removed his coat, cap and shoes.

“You can take my bed,” Wolfram said. “I’ll sleep in the chair.”

“No, the floor is fine for me,” Tierney said. “I won’t take your bed.”

“It’s all right. I don’t care to sleep in the chair.”

“The rug beside your bed will do well for me. That way, if I hear anybody coming, I can skedaddle out the window.”

“Nobody ever comes in here,” Wolfram said.

“I’m just glad to get in out of the rain, where it’s warm.”

Wolfram gave him the other pillow off his bed and a spare blanket, said good night and turned off the light.

After Tierney had settled down on the rug between the bed and window, he said, “I’m going to be moving on from here soon. I haven’t told anybody yet.”

“Where to?” Wolfram asked.

“I don’t know yet. Maybe Chicago.”

“I’m coming with you.”

Tierney laughed. “I don’t think I’d get very far,” he said. “Child abductors aren’t very popular in this state. I don’t think I would care to spend the next thirty years behind bars.”

“I could say I wanted to come.”

“You’re a minor. You don’t have anything to say about anything until you’re at least eighteen.”

“You could say I’m your son.”

“Go to sleep. You’re a child. You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I know if I stay here I’m going to end up in military school or dead.”

“You’ll be fine, even in military school.”

“Would you want to go?”

“No, but that’s not the issue here.”

“I’m not like other people.”

“I know.”

“When I’m old enough, I’ll come to wherever you are, whether it’s Chicago or some other place.”

“Now, why would you want to do that? You live in this beautiful house and you have a fine life here. Your parents care for you and that means a lot. It’s something a lot of people don’t have.”

“I’m coming with you.”

“No, you’re not. Do you want to get me in a lot of trouble?”

“Of course not.”

“Maybe when you’re old enough, if you’re still interested, we can talk about it then.”

“When I’m sixteen?”

“No, that’s too young. You need to be at least eighteen. You’ll want to finish high school. If you don’t finish, you’ll never forgive yourself.”

“Did you finish high school?”

“Yes, a long time ago. In another life, it seems.”

“So, when I’m eighteen, then?”

“You’re young. You’ll forget all about it.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Four years is a long time when you’re as young as you are. You’ll change completely in the next four years. You’ll find a pretty girl and you’ll want to marry her.”

“No, I won’t.”

“You’ll forget, in the next year or so, that this conversation ever took place.”

“No, I won’t.”

“You’ll forget about me.”

“I won’t.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t say. I can’t put it into words.”

“I’m keeping you awake.”

“No, you’re not. I’ll finish high school in four years. I’ll stay here until then.”

“Do you promise?”

“Yes.”

“In four years I’ll send you a letter telling you where I am. If I’m still alive, that is. You can say then whether or not you’re still interested. You don’t even have to send me an answer if you’re not.”

“You’ll really write to me?”

“Yes.”

“In four years.”

“Yes, but I would bet a million dollars you’ll have other things on your mind by then. That’s the way it is when you’re young. Four years is a long time.”

“Four years, four years, four years,” Wolfram said, and then he drifted off to sleep.

When he awoke in the morning at the usual time, the rain had stopped and Tierney was gone. He had folded the blanket and arranged it neatly on the chair with the pillow. He left a note on Wolfram’s desk that said, simply, I was never here.

The four years progressed slowly and uneventfully. Wolfram was kept busy all the time with chores and school work. He attended summer school for two years running to make up for classes he had failed.

In the spring of 1914, right before he graduated from high school, Wolfram received a letter with a Denver postmark. He never doubted for a minute that it would come. He sent back a reply the same day.

He pawned the Roman coin, swearing to the pawnbroker that he was over twenty-one, even though the old man knew it was a lie. It brought him enough money to buy his train ticket West, with enough left over to buy some new clothes and some boots. When he boarded the train for Denver, it was to begin a new life completely removed from the old one.

Tierney met him at the train in Denver. He still looked the same, but Wolfram had changed a lot. He was no longer a boy but a man. He and Tierney spent the next sixty years together until they were parted by death. When one of them died, they both died.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

The End is Not as Good as the Beginning

Posted on

The End image

The End is Not as Good as the Beginning ~ A Short Story
by Allen Kopp

“It’s a beautiful day,” Harmon Bracegirdle said as he approached Chaz Spurlock. He put his arm over Chaz’s shoulders and pulled him closer. “Thank you so much for meeting me here today!”

“Not at all,” Chaz said. “I’m free this afternoon.”

“I love the park, don’t you?” Harmon said.

“Indeed, I do!” Chaz said.

“I asked you here today, not so we could take in the scenery, but to have a little talk, just the two of us. A little private talk. There are so many interruptions at the studio, people coming in and out all the time.”

“I understand how it is, Mr. Bracegirdle, sir!”

“Please, Chaz! Call me Harmon!”

“All right, sir! Harmon!

They walked a little way and sat down on a bench at the edge of a scenic pond, home to a flock of geese and ducks.

“They’re so beautiful!” Harmon said. “Nature is so beautiful!”

“I quite agree, sir,” Chaz said.

“Whenever you begin to feel dehumanized by what you do for a living, just come here and forget your troubles and in a little while you’ll begin to feel inner peace.”

“Inner peace, sir. Yes, sir!”

“But I digress. I didn’t come here to discuss nature.”

“I didn’t think you did, sir.”

“The picture business is a cruel business,” Harmon said, looking over his shoulder up the hill to his car, where his two associates and his driver were waiting. “It’s 1935 and there have been so many changes.”

“Don’t I know it, sir!”

“First sound and then color, and God only knows what’ll be next.”

“You roll with the punches, sir. It’s all you can do.”

“It isn’t easy being head of the largest picture studio in the country.”

“I don’t imagine for a second that it is, sir.”

“I’m responsible for hundreds of jobs. My decisions affect hundreds of workers and their families. If I don’t make the right decisions, a lot of people will suffer.”

“I wouldn’t want that much responsibility on my shoulders, sir.”

“The studio isn’t as profitable as it once was. Competition is fierce!

“Terrible, sir! I’m sure it’s just terrible!”

“You were one of our most bankable stars for five or six years, Chaz, but your last three pictures have lost money.”

“Not my fault, sir! Those pictures just weren’t right for me.”

“I know. Each person has his own version of where things went wrong.”

“The studio is picking the wrong properties for me.”

“Do you think you could do better choosing your own scripts?”

“I’m sure I could, sir!”

“Well, that isn’t the way our system works. When you’re a contract player in a large studio, those decisions, whether right or wrong, are made for you.”

“I have high hopes, though, for my next picture.”

“The one based on the Russian novel?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Literary adaptations haven’t done well for us in the past, I’m afraid.”

“We have a couple of top-notch directors interested in the project and I’m pretty sure we can get Lola Lola to play the female lead.”

“Lola Lola won’t be available to appear in that picture.”

“I just spoke to her yesterday. She said…”

“She has commitments abroad.”

“Oh? She didn’t mention…”

“In fact, we won’t be making that picture at all, Chaz. I’m sorry.”

“Why not?”

“We just received word this morning that another studio has started production on that same story, using a different title.”

“Oh.”

“I know you’re disappointed, Chaz, but that’s the way things are in the picture business. As I said. Cruel.”

“There’ll be something else come along. What about that Western that everybody’s talking about?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I know I can be on top again with my next picture if I’m given the chance. I know I can!”

Harmon put his hand on Chaz’s leg and squeezed his inner thigh. “I’m afraid you’ve come to the end of your run, buddy. I’m sorry.”

“What are you saying? I’ve been with the studio twelve years! I have two years left on my contract!”

“We’re going to buy out your contract. Our lawyers are working on it now.”

“What if I say no?”

“The decision has already been made. I wanted to give you the news myself before you heard it from somebody else.”

“This is so unfair! My pictures have made a lot of money for the studio.”

“You’ve had three flops in a row. Last year alone, Intemperate Stranger and Rascal at Arms were our biggest box office flops. You’re only as good as your last picture.”

“I hope you’ll reconsider.”

“I’m afraid not. The die has already been cast.”

“Just one more picture. One more chance.”

“You have the very best wishes of all of us at the studio.”

“I’m just stunned. I don’t know what to say.”

Harmon gestured to his two associates up the hill, who were at that moment standing beside the front fender of the car smoking cigarettes. They came down in a wide arc so Chaz wouldn’t see them from where he was sitting.

“It’s going to be all right, buddy,” Harmon Bracegirdle said. “Just drink in the splendor of nature arrayed before you.”

“I think you’re making a big mistake,” Chaz said.

“That’s the nature of my job, kiddo. I have to make these hurtful decisions.”

Like children playing a game, the larger of the two men went up behind Chaz so as not to be detected. He waited for a signal from the other man, indicating that no one was watching, and when he received the signal he crept up behind Chaz, took a gun from inside his coat and shot him in the back of the head. One shot and Chaz lurched forward, dead before he hit the ground.

“Get his wallet and his wrist watch,” Harmon Bracegirdle said, standing up quickly. “That’ll satisfy the press.”

The news spread all over the world: Movie Star Shot Dead in Park. Robbery Suspected Motive.”

The funeral was well attended. Leading the pack of motion picture luminaries was studio head Harmon Bracegirdle, in dark glasses and tailor-made suit. On his arm was the great star Lola Lola, looking stunning as she wept behind her lace handkerchief. The picture of her placing one lily on the casket made all the pictures the next day.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 326 other followers