RSS Feed

Tag Archives: short story

Every Little Breeze Seems to Whisper Louise

Every Little Breeze Seems to Whisper Louise ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Already a little seasick, Heaton declined to eat or drink on the first day out. Instead he stayed in his stateroom until he thought most of the other passengers would be occupied with dinner and cocktails and then he put on his coat and hat and went up onto the deck, like a thief in the night, without making a sound. He was pleased that he met no one, and, when he was standing at the railing in the cold night, alone, he looked down at the roiling water and tried to dispel the wave of nausea that crept over him. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply of the ocean air and, when he was certain the sickness was dissipating, he withdrew from his coat a small canvas bag.

The bag contained the ashes of one recently deceased. Looking over his shoulder to make sure he was not being observed, he dumped the ashes into the sea, element to element. He watched the ashes until they dispersed into the air and water and then, as an afterthought, dropped the canvas bag over the side, too. With one stroke, it was all over, so simple and clean. The last earthly vestiges of a life, gone in an instant. He hadn’t realized until that moment how satisfying it would be.

He was about to return to his stateroom when someone came and stood beside him at the railing.

Bon voyage!” a man’s voice said.

“What?” Heaton asked, a little irritated at having his privacy intruded upon.

“I said those words today for the first time in my life.”

“Oh. Yes. We’re on a big boat, aren’t we? I suppose the right word is ship. And we’re on our way to an exotic foreign destination.”

“Care for a smoke?” the man asked.

Although Heaton had never smoked in his life, he reached for the cigarette as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to do. He put it in his mouth and the man lit it expertly with a shiny lighter and then lit his own.

“I just said goodbye to my mother,” Heaton said.

“Push her overboard?”

“In a way, I suppose I did. I just dumped her ashes.”

“According to her wishes?”

“No. She had no wishes regarding her ashes. I don’t think she would have cared what I did with them. She never saw the sea or was anywhere near it, so in a way it’s a new experience for her.”

“Release her to the elements?”

“Exactly what I was thinking,” Heaton said. He took a puff on the cigarette and looked at the end of it curiously.

“Are you traveling alone?” the man asked and Heaton turned and looked at him in the dim light. He wasn’t young but not exactly old, either. He wore an expensive-looking wool coat and a brown hat that perfectly matched his physiognomy.  Everything about him seemed in perfect harmony: the placement of his nose in the middle of his face and his perfectly arched lips.

“Yes, alone,” Heaton said, resenting only slightly the forwardness of the question.

“First time at sea?”

“Oh, yes! I’ve never been anywhere or done anything in my life.”

“So now that your mother is gone you’re striking out on your own.”

“Something like that.”

“Good for you!”

Heaton was a little surprised at himself that he was opening up to a stranger on such short acquaintance, but that didn’t stop him.

“My mother was a very strong and forthright woman,” he said. “Even as an adult, I always found myself bending to her will.”

“And now that she’s gone and you’re on your own, it’s a little frightening?”

“I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but I suppose it is.”

The man threw away his cigarette and right away lit another one. Heaton found himself looking at the side of the man’s face and at the little wrinkles that radiated outward from his eyes.

“I’m traveling with my sister, you know,” the man said.

“Your sister?” Heaton asked, finding the idea rather appalling.

“Yes. Her name is Louise.”

“Well, that’s funny!” Heaton said. “That was my mother’s name.”

“Well, maybe that’s some kind of omen.”

“I don’t believe in omens.”

“Louise is unattached and you’re unattached. I think she would be awfully interested in meeting a nice fellow like you.”

“I’m not a nice fellow. I don’t know why I’m even standing here talking to you. Nobody likes me. I’m a terrible person. My mother would tell you so if she was here.”

The man laughed and slapped Heaton on the back. “Is that what you call ‘self-deprecating humor’? My sister would love you for it!”

“I really hadn’t planned on meeting anybody this trip. It’s been a long time since I’ve been truly alone, and I’m just looking forward to some solitude.”

“I would guess you haven’t had much romance in your life,” the man said.

“I’ve always been very busy with my work. I never had much time for that sort of thing.”

“I hope you’ll at least have a drink with us. Louise and me.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think so.”

“Well, I’ll see you again,” the man said. “If you change your mind, let me know.”

After he was gone, Heaton spit over the railing. He found it hard to believe that anybody would like the taste of cigarettes.

When he got back to his stateroom and turned on the light, he wasn’t surprised to see his mother sitting there in the dark.

“Go away, mother!” he said. “You’re dead!”

“You make me sick!” she said.

“So you’ve told me many times.”

“I heard every word that man said to you, and you’re too naïve to see what his game is.”

“I thought he was very nice to talk to me. I wasn’t aware that he had a game.”

“He knows you’ve got money!”

“Now how could he know that?”

“You’re traveling first-class on a luxury liner. Take a survey and see how many of the people in first-class are millionaires.”

“I’m not going to take any surveys, mother.”

“A funny little man traveling by himself in first-class. They smell you from a mile off. They smell money.”

“I wasn’t aware that money had a smell, mother.”

“They know you’re lonely and shallow and naïve and know nothing of the world.”

“People can tell all that just from looking at me?”

“They know you’d be vulnerable to the charms of a woman because no woman has ever paid any attention to you.”

He couldn’t keep from laughing. “I think you’d better go now, mother. Satan is probably wondering where you are.”

“You think you’re rid of me, don’t you?”

“I just poured your ashes into the sea, mother.”

“Why didn’t you just flush me down the toilet?”

“I thought of that, but I thought dumping you overboard into the sea from a moving sea-going vessel was more dignified and more final.”

“And now that you’re on your own, what do you think you’re going to do with yourself?”

“Did I tell you I quit my job the day after you died? I’m not going to work anymore. I’m going to take a vacation now, a real rest.”

“On my money?”

“It’s not your money anymore, mother. It’s my money. You’re dead. Dead people don’t have money.”

“If I had it to do over again, I would sign all my assets over to charity.”

“Hah-hah! Too late now!”

“You’re in the middle of the ocean. If you had any sense at all, you’d jump in.”

“Why would I do that?”

“You know you can’t get along without your mother.”

“I’m going to have such fun spending the money that used to be yours but is now mine! I’m going to see all the sights and experience all the things I’ve missed out on in forty-four years on this earth, and you can’t stop me. That’s why you’re so sore at me.”

“You’ll end up squandering all of my money!”

“You don’t need to worry about it, mother. You’ll never know. You’re dead.”

“You will never be rid of me!”

“Oh, no?”

He kicked the chair she was sitting in with such force that it turned over backwards against the wall.

“You stupid ass!” she said. “Are you trying to kill me?”

“You’ll never call me ‘stupid’ again or anything else!”

When he saw her struggling to get up off the floor, he laughed and, like a child playing a game, ran into the bathroom, closed and locked the door and turned on the water. When he came out a few minutes later, she was gone. Gone forever this time, he was sure.

Now that he had her taken care of, he was going to put on his pajamas and get into bed and read for a while, but that’s what the old Heaton would have done. The new Heaton would get out and overcome his squeamishness and his seasickness, mix with people and have some fun.

He checked himself in the mirror and went out of his room again and went to the cocktail lounge. He took a seat at the bar and ordered a pack of cigarettes and a drink. When he told the bartender what he wanted, he didn’t even stammer or hesitate. It was as though he had been ordering drinks his whole life.

“First time across?” the bartender asked as he lit his cigarette for him.

“Yes, and I’m celebrating my freedom,” Heaton said.

“Divorce?” the bartender asked.

“Oh, no! I’ve never been married. It’s a different kind of freedom.”

The bartender smiled at him and he drank his drink in one gulp and ordered another one. Over to his right, someone was looking at him and when he turned his head slightly, he saw it was a woman with breasts  exposed in a plunging neckline. She smiled at him and lifted her glass and he looked away quickly and took a nervous puff on his cigarette. He didn’t know how interested he was going to be or if he was going to be interested at all, but nobody had ever looked at him before and he found that he liked it more than he ever thought he would.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Advertisements

You’re Going on a Trip

Posted on


You’re Going on a Trip ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a repost.)

The bus station was noisy and crowded. Leona stopped just inside the door with Mrs. Esplen, looking for a place to go. On the far side of the room against the wall, a man and a woman were just vacating chairs. Leona pulled Mrs. Esplen by the arm, quickly, to get to the chairs before somebody else got them.

Leona backed Mrs. Esplen up to the empty chair and then, taking both her hands, gave her a little push to get her to sit. Once in the chair, Mrs. Esplen turned her head from side to side confusedly. “What is this place?” she asked. “Are we here to see the doctor?”

“We’re in the bus station, mother!” Leona shouted, sitting down beside her.

“Are we going on a trip?”

You’re going on a trip. I’m staying home.”

“I don’t want to go. I get sick on the bus.”

“I gave you Dramamine so you won’t get sick this time. Don’t you remember?”

“You gave me something but I didn’t know what it was.”

“The Dramamine will make you drowsy. After you take your seat on the bus, you can take a little nap and in a couple of hours you’ll be there and Warren and Minnie will take you off the bus.”

“What if I don’t want to go?”

“You don’t want to disappoint Warren and Minnie, do you? They’re expecting you.”

“Call them and tell them I won’t be there.”

“Now, you just sit right here and don’t get up. I’ll go and buy your ticket.”

With Leona gone, Mrs. Esplen began to enjoy herself a little. She always did like sitting back in a detached sort of way and watching people from afar. All too soon, though, Leona was back, punishing her ear drums with her squawking voice.

“Here’s your ticket, mother!” she said. “Give it to the driver when you get on the bus.”

“Can you please tell me where I’m supposed to be going?”

“You’re going to visit your nephew Warren and his wife Minnie. Don’t you remember them? They live on a farm with all the cows and chickens? You’re going to have a lovely visit!”

“I don’t want to go. I’m going to be sick.”

“Now, you’re holding your ticket in your right hand. Your suitcase is on the floor beside your feet. Don’t let the ticket or the suitcase out of your sight. If you need to go to the toilet, take them with you. Don’t leave them here. Somebody will steal them.”

“Don’t you think I know that?”

“Listen to the voice on the loudspeaker. When your bus is announced, you get up and go through those doors over there where all those people are. Your destination is printed at the top of your ticket. If you get confused, just show somebody your ticket and they’ll tell you where to go. Do you understand?”

“Of course, I understand. What do you take me for?”

“Good. Well, then, I guess that’s everything. I know you’re going to have a  wonderful time!”

Mrs. Esplen watched Leona until she was out of sight. When she realized she was alone in a crowded, strange place, she began to feel a little frightened. What was it she was supposed to be doing, now? Going on a trip? She was supposed to get on a bus? Yes, but how would she know which bus? With Leona, nothing was ever clear. She always had a way of making things more complicated than they needed to be.

While she was waiting, she couldn’t remember if she’d had anything to eat or not. She wanted an ice cream cone. Looking around from her sitting position over the heads of all the people, she saw nothing that looked like a place to get an ice cream cone. If she wanted it badly enough, she’d have to get up and go outside to find the right kind of place and she wasn’t supposed to do that. What was it she was supposed to be doing? She was supposed to wait in her seat until something. Until what? Oh, yes. Wait for her bus to be announced.

She forgot for the moment about the ice cream cone. A fat man walked in front of her, moving ponderously like an elephant making its way through the underbrush in the jungle. She was moved by the sight of the fat man because she was sure she had never seen anyone so fat before. He wore a black, fat-man’s suit that was all rumpled as if he had slept in it. He sat down on a bench—she was sure it creaked but she was too far away to hear—and, with a sad look on his face, took a hanky out of his pocket and wiped his face, starting at the topping and working his way down to his bulbous chin.

The loudspeaker rumbled and crackled announcing arrivals and departures. Mrs. Esplen wasn’t able to understand a word of it. It sounded like German or one of those guttural foreign languages. She looked around for somebody who might help her, but nobody was paying any attention. She might as well have been invisible.

A small girl screamed and her mother jerked her by the arm, knocking her off her feet, where she dangled in a horizontal position just inches from the floor. When her crying became louder, the mother pulled her upright and clapped her soundly on the side of the head. The crying became gasping shrieks.

A pair of nuns came into view and Mrs. Esplen couldn’t take her eyes off them. The skirts of their black gowns swept the filthy floor. They were talking animatedly, maybe arguing, their mouths moving together as if they were singing a song. When they sat down, one of them stopped talking long enough to light a cigarette and blow out a big cloud of smoke.

Just then, a couple of midgets came by and attracted Mrs. Esplen’s attention away from the nuns. Oh, but she loved midgets! These two were obviously husband and wife, child-sized but dressed in adult clothes. The wife’s face was pleasant but freakish and mask-like because of the disproportionate size of her head. The man had the appearance of a tiny businessman; he wore a dark suit and a fedora and smoked a cigar. The lady midget lost her balance and nearly fell when a man carrying suitcases ran into her. The husband laughed and grabbed ahold to keep her from falling. Mrs. Esplen watched them with fascination until they were out of sight. She could watch them all day.

Finally she grew restless with the waiting and began wondering if it wasn’t about time for her to get on the bus. The voice on the loudspeaker came again, but not a word of it could she understand.

She was on the verge of getting up, when a fat woman with a broad face like an owl and a girl of about twelve approached her. The woman sat in the chair to her left and the girl to her right. Mrs. Esplen looked from one to the other.

“Anything the matter, honey?” the fat woman asked. “We ain’t lost, are we?”

Mrs. Esplen felt so grateful for a kind word from a stranger she could have wept. She handed the fat woman her ticket. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do!” she said.

The fat woman looked at the ticket and then at the clock. “You got about seven minutes before your bus leaves,” she said.

“Seven minutes! That’s not much time!”

“You need to take it slow and easy, though, honey. Take your time. We don’t want to fall down, now, do we?”

“Can you show me where I’m supposed to go?”

“Of course I can!” the fat woman said.

She helped Mrs. Esplen up; they took a few steps before Mrs. Esplen remembered her suitcase. She started to go back and get it, but the young girl picked it up for her with a smile.

“Now, which way do we go?” she asked.

“The busses are over there, honey,” the fat woman said. “Where all those doors are.”

“I need my suitcase!”

“Tiny’s got it, honey. She’s right behind us.”

“It’s got my money in it and all my valuables. My medicine, too.”

As they passed the restrooms, Mrs. Esplen stopped and pointed toward the door, as if waiting for the fat woman to tell her what to do.

“You got to go, honey?” the fat woman asked her.

“I haven’t gone all day.”

“Okay, but you’ll have to be quick. Your bus is about to leave.”

“Won’t be a minute.”

“Me and Tiny’ll wait right here for you. Right outside the door with your suitcase.”

Mrs. Esplen went inside the ladies’ restroom, did what she had to do as fast as she could, washed her hands thoroughly to kill any germs she might have picked up, and went out again. When she saw that the fat woman and the girl weren’t waiting by the door as they said, she looked one way and then the other way but didn’t see them.

She continued to stand by the door for a few minutes longer and then she knew what they had done. They robbed her of her money, her clothes, her bus ticket, her precious Bible. Everything!

When she approached the man who swept the floor and emptied the trashcans and told him what had happened, he told her she needed to report it to the office.

“I don’t know where the office is,” she said tearfully, but the man had moved on with his broom and didn’t hear her.

Not knowing what else to do, she found the door that she and Leona had come through all those hours ago and went out onto the sidewalk. It was the middle of the afternoon and glaringly hot. Since one way looked the same as the other, she began walking in the direction away from the sun.

There were only low brick buildings along the street, some of them boarded up. She passed a liquor store, a used-car lot, a coin laundry, a dry cleaner and a place that sold plumbing supplies. A man in a filthy coat stepped out of an alleyway, startling her, and asked her for a dollar.

“No!” she snapped. “I don’t have a dollar. I don’t even have the money to buy myself an ice cream cone!”

She kept walking. When she came to a hotel with a smudged plate glass window, she went into a lobby that, though squalid, was much cooler than the street.

“I’m looking for someone,” she said to the desk clerk. “A fat woman with a big face like an owl and a girl of about twelve or so.”

The clerk himself was fat. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and a porkpie hat perched on the back of his enormous head. “That would be Peachy Kane and Tiny,” he said.

“She didn’t tell me her name, but Tiny is the name she called the girl. I’m sure those are the same ones.”

“You met them at the bus station, I’ll bet, didn’t you?”

“How did you know?”

“They work as a team at the bus station.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“That girl that you think is about twelve years old? That girl called Tiny?”

“Yes?”

“She’s really thirty-seven. There’s something wrong with her that makes her look so young.”

“Well, I…”

He laughed. “Suppose you just tell me what happened at the bus station.”

“We started talking and when I excused myself to go to the ladies’ restroom, they stole my suitcase with all my money and belongings in it.”

“That is a shame, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know what to do now. My daughter left me and I was supposed to get on the bus to go visit my nephew and now I’ve missed my bus and I just don’t know what to do.”

“Well, I think I might be able to help you,” the clerk said.

“You can!”

“Just hold on a minute.”

He smiled and picked up a phone and spoke loudly into it as though it were an overseas connection.

“Hello, is this the fabulous Miss Peachy? There’s a lady in the lobby wants to speak to you. She’s pretty upset. She says you took her suitcase at the bus station. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think so. If you don’t give it back, and pronto, she’s going to call the police. She’s willing to pay a twenty-five-dollar reward, though, if you return her property without further delay.”

He hung up the phone and looked at Mrs. Esplen.

“Peachy is indisposed at the moment,” he said. “If you’ll give me the fifty dollars now, I’ll go up and get your suitcase for you and you can be on your way.”

“You said twenty-five.”

“Well, I have to make a little something on the deal, don’t I?”

Mrs. Esplen began to cry, feeling utterly defeated. “I don’t have any money,” she sobbed. “My money was in the suitcase that was stolen.”

“Don’t you have anything in your pockets?”

“Only a handkerchief.”

“Are you wearing a watch, a ring or a bracelet?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“In that case, I’m afraid we can’t help you.”

“Is that woman who stole my suitcase in this hotel? Maybe if I talk to her and tell her my situation, she’ll give me back my property.”

“I may as well tell you, lady, in case you don’t already know, thieves aren’t moved by sympathy. It doesn’t matter what you say to them, all they care about is what they can get out of you.”

“If you would just tell me what room she’s in?”

“No! Now, look! I’ve already said I can’t help you! You need to be on your way because we’re awfully busy here.”

She went back outside then and kept walking, not knowing what else to do. A couple of blocks past the hotel, she heard a wailing siren and turned and saw an ambulance barreling toward her. She began waving her handkerchief at the ambulance, but it kept on going past her. She heard someone laugh then and, turning, saw the man in the dirty coat who had earlier asked her for a dollar.

“Did you see a big fat woman with a girl who looks about twelve but is really thirty-seven?” she asked. “The fat woman would be carrying a suitcase. The suitcase belongs to me.”

“I don’t speak no English,” the bum said.

“I’ll bet you speak English when it suits you,” she said.

She turned around and started walking back the way she had come, toward the bus station. She knew somebody was following closely behind her and, turning, she saw the dirty coat. She started walking a little faster but knew she wouldn’t be able to get away with the little strength she had left.

“I said I don’t have any money!” she said.

The man laughed again and came around beside her and began walking in step with her. She wouldn’t look at him, but when she started to flag and sink toward the sidewalk, he took hold of her arm and steadied her.

“Take you any place you want to go,” he said. “Only five dollar.”

“I’ve already told you I don’t have any money!”

“Take you any place you want to go.”

She stopped and looked around and he stopped, too. “Where’s your car?” she asked. “I don’t see any car.”

“Car?”

“Yes. Don’t you have a car?”

“Hell, no! Ain’t got no car!”

“Well, then, how…”

She saw then that it wasn’t any use. He wasn’t much but he was all she had at the moment. She leaned more heavily on him and looked at his face, trying to find something about him that she might like.

“I’ve had a terrible day,” she said. “I should have stayed in bed this morning.”

“Take you any place you want to go.”

“Yes,” she said. “Very comforting, I’m sure.”

“Only five dollar.”

He gripped her arm to keep her from falling and they kept walking. Soon she was leaning her head on his shoulder, not minding the smell so much.

“If I could only sit down for a while,” she said. “Rest my feet.”

“I know good place,” he said. “For rest. Not too much farther. Just a little bit more. Almost there.”

“You’re so kind,” she said. “I wish we had met sooner.” 

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

It’s You I Adore

It’s You I Adore ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

In a row of two-story houses all very much alike, Cedric Choke lives in the house on the end with his mother. He is forty-two years old and has never bothered to get married. Every morning at seven-thirty he leaves the house to go to work and when he gets home at four in the afternoon, he doesn’t go out again. On weekends he takes his mother grocery shopping and to church service on Sunday morning. His nearest neighbors don’t know his name and have never even heard the sound of his voice.

Lynette Giles lives next door to Cedric Choke and his mother. She also lives with her mother. She is forty years old, or close to it, and has been married and divorced two times. After her second divorce, she moved “back home,” as the saying goes, “to get her life in order.” She and her mother get along fine together as long as they are careful about which topics they discuss.

Lynette  watches Cedric through binoculars out the upstairs window as he cuts the grass in his back yard. He wears a sleeveless undershirt, khaki pants and tennis shoes. She likes the play of his bicep as he pushes and then pulls the mower. On his face is a look of concentration. She likes the neat, straight rows of his cutting. A man who cuts that precisely and evenly must have a lot of good qualities. He would hang up his own clothes and rinse his own dishes and not leave it for somebody else.

He shuts off the mower and sits in a lawn chair and picks up a newspaper and opens it. He likes to read (she surmises) and is a man who wants to know what’s going on in his world. He’s not the kind who would lay on the couch in front of the TV all the time. His mother comes out of the house and brings him a bottle of beer. She is a troll-like woman, about seventy, with stooped shoulders and hair dyed an awful red that hangs down to her shoulders. He takes the beer from his mother without looking at her, takes a drink and holds the bottle between his thighs so his hands are free to turn the pages of the paper.

Cedric is so quiet Lynette hardly knows he’s there. In the year-and-a-half that she’s lived in the house next door to him, she has never heard him utter a single word. The only things she knows about him—and that isn’t much—is what she has seen with her own eyes. He cuts the grass and sweeps the glass clippings off the sidewalks. In the winter he shovels snow. As soon as he finishes these little outdoor jobs, he goes back into the house. Lynette has thought on occasion that she would go over and introduce herself, but somehow she just doesn’t have the nerve. Maybe he doesn’t speak, or maybe there’s something wrong with him, like mental retardation, and she would only embarrass him and herself, too.

When a letter is misdelivered to her mailbox, a letter that belongs to him, she sees it as her chance to engage him in conversation. She takes the letter and knocks on his door assertively, but he doesn’t answer—nobody answers, not even his troll-like mother—so she drops it through the mail slot in the door and leaves. She is certain he is at home since his car in the driveway and believes he might have come to the door if he had wanted to.

At night she lies in her upstairs bedroom and thinks about him and imagines him lying in his own bed in the room just across the yard from hers behind the heavily curtained window. When his light is off, she’s sure he must be asleep. He’s the type who would wear pajamas. His mother would take them out of the clothes dryer and fold them neatly and put them in his dresser drawer for him. He’d wear them for a few nights and then take them off and put them in the laundry and get out a clean pair.

One Saturday night she is watching TV with her mother when she hears a car stop out front and the honk of a horn. Too curious to remain sitting, she goes to the front window and pulls back the curtain a little and peeks out. The car is stopped at the curb in front of the house next door, his house. The car is idling, its taillights gleaming in the darkness. The horn honks again and in a minute Cedric comes running out of his house and gets into the car and it speeds off.

Where is he going on a Saturday night and who is he going with? With this question burning in her mind, she can no longer concentrate on TV. Here she sits with her mother, while she should be the one going out having a good time on Saturday night. She feels lonely and left out, maybe even a little jealous.

“Aren’t you feeling well?” her mother asks.

“I feel all right,” Lynette says. “It must be something I ate.”

“Want me to fix you an Alka-Seltzer?”

“No, I’m going to bed.”

“Don’t you want to watch the late movie? It’s Joan Crawford.”

Lying in her bed in the dark, she realizes she must be in love with Cedric Choke to feel so miserable just because she saw him leaving in a car with another person. Yes, she loves him. Absolutely she loves him, in ways she didn’t love either of her husbands. She believes he would feel the same way about her, if only given the chance. They are just so right for each other!

The next morning is Sunday. She sleeps late and when she wakes up she begins drinking vodka martinis instead of eating breakfast. While she’s enjoying the lightheaded feeling alcohol always gives her, she goes into the kitchen and sets about making oatmeal raisin cookies. While waiting for them to bake, she cleans herself up and puts on clean clothes and a little lipstick and rouge to make herself look more alive than dead.

When the cookies are done baking and have cooled long enough, she puts three dozen in a tin box in a nest of wax paper and closes the lid. After a couple more quick drinks, she makes her drunken way out the door with the tin of cookies and over to Cedric’s house and knocks on his door.

She is certain he’ll answer this time but it’s the mother. Well, never mind! She goes ahead with the words she had planned to say if he had answered the door.

“G-Good morning! I live next door. I just made some oatmeal raisin cookies. I have more than my mother and I can eat, so I wanted to know if you’d like to have some of them.”

“Who? What?” the old woman asks, squinting at her in the bright light.

“I’m your next-door-neighbor!”

“The what? What is it you’re selling?”

“I’m—I’m not selling anything. I’m giving you some freshly baked cookies I just made.”

“Why are you giving me cookies?”

“Just feeling neighborly, I guess.”

“Well, I can’t eat cookies. I have the diabetes.”

“Oh! Well, is your son at home? Maybe he’d like to have them.”

“You know my son?”

“No, I don’t know him. I’ve seen him around.”

The old woman takes the tin of cookies and looks at it curiously. “How much are they?” she asks.

“I’m not selling them,” Lynette says. “I’ve giving them to you.”

“I could give you a couple dollars.”

“No, that’s all right. I don’t want your money. Is your son at home?”

“You know my son?”

“We haven’t been properly introduced.”

“He’s busy right now and can’t come to the door.”

“He’s here, isn’t he?”

She peers around the old woman into the interior of the house. When she hears a man’s voice coming from another room, she pushes past the old woman.

“I want to see him!” she says.

“Wait a minute!” the old woman says. “You can’t just go…”

She continues toward the back of the house until she lurches into the kitchen. Cedric is sitting at the table. He stands up and looks at her, a startled expression on his face. He is wearing a green robe and his legs are bare.

“What is this?” he says.

Lynette runs to him, enfolds him in her arms and puts the side of her face against his chest. “I’ve wanted to meet you for so long!” she says.

“Who is this?” he asks his mother, standing in the doorway.

“I don’t know,” she says. “She said something about cookies. She’s crazy, if you ask me!”

“I’m not crazy,” Lynette says. “I haven’t eaten all day and I’ve had a little too much to drink is all.”

She wraps her arms around his head and kisses him passionately on the mouth. He tries to step back, takes hold of her wrists and pulls away from her grasp.

“Hey!” he says. “Stop that! What in the hell do you think you’re doing?”

With those stinging words, he gives her a look of contempt and goes out of the room.

“I didn’t think you knew him!” the mother says.

“I’ve made a complete fool of myself, haven’t I?”

“If you don’t get out of my house in about two seconds, I’m going to call the police!” the mother says.

“All right. I’m going.”

She takes a step toward the doorway and her legs buckle under her. On her hands and knees, she vomits violently all over the black-and-white tile floor.

“Now look what you’ve done!” the mother says. “Now I’ve got a mess to clean up!”

“I’ll clean it up for you.”

“No! I want you to go now!”

She starts to stand up and slides in her vomit. Her face hits the floor.

“I want you to know I don’t ordi-ordinarily behave in this manner,” she says shakily. “I haven’t quite been myself lately.”

The mother reaches down to help her to stand up, but she waves her away. As she is pulling herself to a standing position on her own power, she feels a wetness down her front and she realizes she has inflicted upon herself the ultimate indignity.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Blood of the Lamb

Blood of the Lamb ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

The funeral was on Saturday. Vincent spoke to no one for several days, but on Wednesday afternoon the telephone rang.

“Hello,” he said sleepily.

“Is that Vincent Spearman?” a deep voice asked.

“Yes,” Vincent said. “Who is this?”

“Vincent, this is Timothy Nestlerode. I’m the pastor at your mother’s church.”

“Yes?”

“I just wanted to call and see how you’re getting along since your mother’s funeral and to ask if there’s anything I might do for you.”

“I’m fine,” Vincent said. “I don’t need a thing.”

“It’s hard to lose a loved one, I know.”

“Yeah.”

“Your mother was a highly regarded member of our congregation. She will be sorely missed.”

“Thanks for calling.”

“Well, Vincent, I’m going to be in your area later this afternoon and I was wondering if I might drop in and have a few words with you.”

“What about?”

“I promise I’ll only take a few minutes of your time.”

“Well, I’m pretty busy today.”

“Would tomorrow be better?”

“No, we’d better get it over with today. I might be going out of town.”

“Fine! I’ll be there in about an hour.”

After he hung up the phone, Vincent brushed his teeth and put on his shoes and sat nervously in his mother’s wingback chair waiting for what’s-his-name to get there. He couldn’t think of any reason why this man who preached his mother’s funeral would want to talk to him. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good. He would hurry it along as much as possible. Why did people always want to  bother him?

Thirty-eight minutes after the phone call, there was a loud knock at the front door. He opened the door as far as the chain would allow and peered out, seeing part of the big face of the reverend Timothy Nestlerode, Doctor of Divinity.

“Vincent?” the reverend Nestlerode shouted. “Is that you?”

Vincent undid the chain, opened the door all the way and allowed the big man to come into the house.

“My goodness!” the reverend Nestlerode said. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Vincent said.

“Might we sit?”

Vincent led the reverend Nestlerode into the living room and watched as he placed himself in the middle of the couch. Vincent himself sat in a chair across the room in front of the window and placed his ankle across his knee.

“What was it you wanted to talk to me about?” he asked.

“I want you to know that we offer grief counseling at the church,” the reverend Nestlerode said. “Open to the public and free of charge.”

“Grief counseling?”

“Yes, if you want to talk about your feelings of grief in a group setting.”

“Group?”

“Yes, people who are experiencing the same kind of loss as you are.”

“Oh.”

“The group meets twice a month, on alternating Fridays. I believe this coming Friday, day after tomorrow, is their night to meet.”

“Oh.”

“Please feel free to attend if you’re up to it. The meeting begins at seven o’clock.”

“I don’t really like meetings,” Vincent said. “I don’t have anything to say.”

“Well, I’m sure the group will put you at your ease. They’re very nice people.”

“Okay.

The reverend Nestlerode leaned forward and locked his fingers together contemplatively. “You mother spoke of you on several occasions,” he said.

“Why would she do that?” Vincent asked.

“She was worried about you.”

“Worried?

“You’re about forty, aren’t you?”

“What does my age have to do with it?”

“She was concerned that, after her passing, you’d be all alone.”

“Oh?”

“Isn’t that right? You have no other family?”

“I have some cousins living in Minnesota. Or maybe it’s Montana. I get those two mixed up.”

“But no family nearby.”

“That’s right.”

“You see, most men your age have a family of their own, a wife and children.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You made it all the way through high school?”

“Sure.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Vincent. I’m not trying to pry. I just wanted to let you know that we have many lovely single ladies in our congregation who would be happy to get to know you.”

“Why would they be happy to get to know me?”

“It would be so easy for you to meet them. All you have to do is come to our next social mixer. We have one for the middle-aged—widows and divorcees and people like that—and also one for younger adults—people in their twenties and thirties who may have made a poor choice the first time around and are looking for another chance.”

“Another chance to do what?”

“What I’m saying is it’s no good being alone, Vincent.”

“Not everybody is the same.”

“I’m sure that’s true, Vincent, but I hope you will at least think about what I’m saying.”

“Okay.”

“The message is this: you are not alone.”

“Got it.”

“What are your plans now that your mother is gone and you live in this big house all alone?”

“Plans?”

“Yes, what are you planning on doing now?”

“I’ll do what I’ve always done, I guess.”

“Are you able to take care of the housework on your own? The cooking and shopping and laundry?”

“Sure, I’ve done those things all my life.”

“I just want you to know that if you need help we have ladies in the church, volunteers, who will come in a morning or two a week a help out with laundry or household chores.”

“Ladies?”

“Yes, they’re older women, retired, with plenty of time on their hands. They like to help out bachelors and widowers. People like yourself.”

“Do they get paid by the hour?”

“They don’t get paid at all. They’re Christian ladies. They like to help out where help is needed.”

“Like Superman?”

“Well, not quite like Superman. Superman’s a fictional character. These are real people.”

“Okay.”

“So, shall I send someone out for you?”

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t really need any help like that.”

“Well, I’m happy that you are getting along so well,” the reverend Nestlerode said.

“Yeah, thanks for stopping by.”

“We’re having a special prayer meeting on Saturday evening for people like you.”

“People like me?”

“Yes, the theme is going to be ‘succor for the lonely’.”

“Sucker?”

“Yes, ‘succor for the lonely’. The meeting starts at seven o’clock. We’d be happy to have you join us. Dress is casual.”

“Okay.”

“So you’ll come then? To the prayer meeting on Saturday evening?”

“I don’t think so,” Vincent said. “I’m planning on being out of town on Saturday.”

“All right. Well, if you should happen to change your mind, please feel free to come anyway. I think you’ll find it very enjoyable.”

“Okay, but I won’t be there.”

“There are times in life where it’s a good to keep an open mind.”

“I know that.”

“You seem to be opposed to everything I’ve said.”

“Maybe I just don’t like your church.”

“I find that difficult to fathom with your mother being the devout church member she was.”

“She only got that way after she got old. She was afraid of dying and going to hell. When she was young, she was pretty wild.”

“Well, she was washed in the blood of the lamb. All her transgressions were forgiven.”

“Maybe so.”

“That’s the message: no matter what you’ve done, you have only to ask for forgiveness and forgiveness will be granted.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“Was that all you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Just one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Your house?”

“My house?”

“Yes, your house has many rooms.”

“Fifteen,” Vincent said. “I used to go through and count them every day when I was little, as if the number might change.”

“Does a young man living alone really need fifteen rooms?” the reverend Nestlerode asked.

Vincent shrugged and wished the man would go away and leave him alone.

“This house would be ideal as a halfway house for young runaways or recovering drug addicts.”

“Halfway house?”

“Yes, a place for people to stay a few weeks or a few months while they’re trying to get their lives in order.”

“I wouldn’t want that in my house,” Vincent said.

The reverend Nestlerode threw his head back and laughed uproariously. “No, you don’t understand. You wouldn’t still live here.”

“Where would I live?”

“We’d acquire the property from you and in return we’d swap you for a smaller house, more suitable to your needs, or a nice apartment in town.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, it’s something to for you to think about, anyway.”

“Okay.”

The reverend Nestlerode stood up from the couch. “Well, I must be running along,” he said. “I have other calls to make. I’m so glad we had this little chat today and I hope I’ve given you something interesting to think about.”

Vincent also stood up. “Thanks for coming,” he said.

“Would you like to pray with me before I go?”

“No.”

“Well, here’s my card. If you ever want to call me for any reason, day or night, don’t hesitate to do so. And I hope you’ll think about coming to Sunday service or any of our activities during the week. I know it would have made your mother very happy for you to become active in the church.”

Vincent took the card and put it in his pocket. “You think you knew my mother but you didn’t,” he said. “She wasn’t what you think.”

“All right! Well, so great seeing you again!”

After the reverend Nestlerode was gone, Vincent triple-locked the door, turned out the lights and went upstairs. He went into his bedroom, locked the door and pulled the curtains closed.

In his dresser drawer he kept a small gun that fit snugly into the palm of his hand. He picked the gun up and looked closely at it as if seeing it for the first time. He hadn’t fired the gun in a long time but he knew it was loaded because it was always loaded.

He stood in front of the mirror and watched himself as he pointed the gun at the side of his head. Then he lowered the gun and inserted the barrel into his mouth. When he saw how silly he looked, he took the gun out of his mouth and turned from the mirror.

“Such a cliché,” he said.

Standing halfway between the bed and the dresser, his back to the mirror, he pointed the gun at his chest where his heart was beating and pulled the trigger. Feeling surprise more than pain, he fell to the floor on his back. When he looked down and saw the blood that was pouring out of him, he said, to anybody who might be listening: At last, I am washed in the blood of the lamb.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

I Already Hear the Calliope Music

I Already Hear the Calliope Music ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“I hate my name,” Ruth Ellen said. “It sounds like a farm girl. I’m going to change it.”

Mother turned from the stove, spoon in hand. “Change it to what?” she asked.

“I haven’t decided yet. I’m thinking of either Viva or Lucky. Maybe Roxanne. Something with pizzazz.”

“There isn’t anything wrong with the name you have,” mother said. “We’ll stick with that for the time being. When you get out into the world on your own and are making your own living, you can call yourself whatever you want.”

“I can think of lots of good names for her,” Clive said, trailing the tines of his fork through the egg yolk on his plate.

“There’s a girl at school named Cha-Cha and another one named Jeepers,” Ruth Ellen said. “Those are names with pizzazz.”

“Surely those aren’t real names,” mother said. “Who would name a child Cha-Cha?”

“I’ve seen Cha-Cha,” Clive said. “She has a harelip and she’s in special education.”

“She is not!” Ruth Ellen said. “You couldn’t possibly know anything about her.”

“She wears a black leather jacket with a swastika on the back and she carries a switchblade in her purse. She was voted most likely to end up in the electric chair.” He held out his arms and shook all over to simulate being electrocuted.

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

“She belongs to an all-girl gang of juvenile delinquents. They shoplift and smoke dope.”

“If anybody ends up in the electric chair, it’ll be you,” Ruth Ellen said. “And I hope I’ll be there to see it.”

“I think that’s enough talk about electric chairs,” mother said.

“I was asked to join a gang,” Clive said. “I said I’d think about it.”

“Would that be a gang of ugly losers?” Ruth Ellen asked.

“I think I’ll join. It’ll add to my prestige.”

“What prestige?”

“Who asked you to join a gang?” mother asked.

“Just some boys at school. I don’t know their names.”

“He’s just making that up,” Ruth Ellen said. “Nobody would ever want him to join anything. If they wanted him, it would just be so they would have somebody to slap around. ”

“Everybody’s got to start somewhere.”

“As long as you’re living under my roof, you will not join a gang.” mother said. “That kind of talk makes it sound as if you weren’t brought up right.”

“I wasn’t!”

“This is what happens when children have to grow up without a father.”

“He’s only been gone six months,” Ruth Ellen said.

“I don’t know that we really needed him in the first place,” Clive said. “I don’t miss him at all.”

“That’s a terrible thing to say about your father,” mother said.

“Let’s face it. Even when he was here, he really wasn’t. Some people just aren’t cut out to be parents.”

“He went off and left us without a penny,” mother said. “We’d be destitute if it wasn’t for the money my mother left me.”

“Destitute is a relative term,” Clive said. “You’d say you were destitute if you had to buy a cheaper brand of face powder.”

“He knew he wasn’t really needed,” Ruth Ellen said. “That made it easy for him to leave. When his business failed, he had no reason to stay.”

“Other men would think their family was reason enough to stay,” mother said.

“Well, I guess he wasn’t one of those,” Ruth Ellen said.

“He always wanted more than anything to be a clown.”

“You mean like in a circus?”

“Yes. He was always fascinated by clowns. He dreamed of chucking everything and going off and joining the circus and becoming a famous clown.”

“I can easily picture him as a clown,” Clive said.

“Every day I expect to hear from him,” mother said.

“To give us some money?” Ruth Ellen asked.

“No, to ask me for a divorce so he can become a clown without any encumbrances.”

“Are you going to give him a divorce?”

“I don’t think I will. I believe that when you marry, it’s for life. Marriage isn’t something you shrug off whenever you feel like it.”

“That’s so old-fashioned,” Ruth Ellen said.

“You may call it whatever you like. It’s just the way I am. Marriage is an eternal bond.”

“Maybe he’ll want to marry somebody else,” Clive said. “A lady clown.”

“As long as he’s married to me, he won’t marry anybody else unless he wants to go to jail for bigamy.”

“I don’t see him doing that,” Ruth Ellen said.

“What if you died?” Clive asked. “He could marry somebody else then, couldn’t he?”

“When I was eight years old,” mother said, “my parents divorced.”

“Oh, no!” Clive said. “I knew it was coming!”

“My father committed suicide a few years later and my mother was married many times. Can you imagine how confusing it is for a child to have one stepfather after another? After a while, you can’t keep them straight anymore.”

Ruth Ellen made snoring sounds but mother ignored her.

“My brother left home at an early age and ended up a drunkard, in trouble all the time, in and out of prison. I’ll always believe he had a wasted life because he was from a broken home.”

“How is Uncle Stanley these days?” Clive asked.

“My sister ran off with a married man who abandoned her in a cheap hotel room in a faraway city. She called and begged us to send her money so she could come home. She was broken and humiliated. She was never the same after that. Because of all this chaos in our lives, I swore that if I ever got married it would be one time and one time only. The last thing I want is to be like my mother.”

“She left you money, though,” Clive said.

“I’m going to make sure we all stay together as a family. Even if your father is far away and we never see him, there’s an invisible bond connecting the four of us together as a unit. The only thing that will break that unit is death.”

She went down to the basement to put a load of clothes in the washer, leaving Ruth Ellen and Clive alone in the kitchen.

“She gets crazier all the time,” Ruth Ellen said.

“I know something you don’t know,” Clive said.

“I doubt that.”

“No, really, I do. I. Know. Something. You. Don’t. Know.”

“Are you going to force me to make you tell me what it is?”

“I got a letter yesterday. In the mail.”

“Who from?”

“Who have we been talking about, dumbbell?”

“What did he say?”

“He sent me ten dollars and he said he hoped we’re all well.”

“Is that all he said?”

“No. He’s been to clown school. Graduated with top honors and he’s joined the circus.”

“As a clown?”

“He said it’s what he’s always wanted and he’s never been happier.”

“Why didn’t you tell mother?”

“I was waiting to surprise her.”

“I don’t think she’ll see it as a happy surprise.”

“The circus is coming to town this week. He sent me three tickets for the matinee on Saturday. One for me, one for mother and one for you.”

“Do you want to go?”

“Of course I want to go,” Clive said. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

“Does the circus have a freak show?”

“I don’t know. He didn’t say.”

“Do you think mother will go?”

“We’ll have to persuade her,” Clive said. “He wants us to come backstage after the performance.”

“Do you think he’ll ask mother if he can come back home and pick up where he left off?”

“He doesn’t want to come back home. He wants a clown divorce. He says a clown has no business being married.”

“I suppose he should know.”

“I’m excited about seeing him perform as a clown in the circus,” Clive said. “I think mother will be excited about it too.”

“It might just be the thing that finishes her off,” Ruth Ellen said. “The ultimate indignity: Her husband ran off and left her—not for another woman—but to join the circus and become a clown.”

“You don’t think she’ll take it well?”

“She’ll make it into the most tragic event of her life. Everything else that’s ever happened to her will pale in comparison.”

“Are you going to tell her or shall I?”

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Night Train

Posted on

Night Train ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in a slightly different form in Bartleby-Snopes.) 

Martin Haythorne disliked riding trains at night. They moved too slow and made too many stops. At one of the stops a woman boarded the train carrying a sleeping child. Martin was facing the door and as he saw her coming toward him, he hoped she wouldn’t sit in the seat facing him, but she did. He uncrossed his legs and sighed and pulled himself up straighter, thinking it’s going to be a long night.

The woman fussed with getting the child fixed just right in her lap and, after she was settled in the seat across from him, she looked searchingly at Martin until he looked back and gave her a wan smile.

“It’s so crowded tonight,” she said.

He could see all the way down to the other end of the coach and it was more than half empty.

“I think traveling at night is so lonely,” she said. “I like to find somebody I can talk to. It helps to pass the time.”

He looked away and picked up and began reading a newspaper that somebody had left behind, but that didn’t deter the woman.

“This is my little girl,” she said, looking down at the child draped across her lap. “She’s three. Her name is Ivette. She always gets sick to her stomach on a train, so before we left home I gave her a little pill to make her got to sleep. She doesn’t have any idea she’s on the train just now. Don’t you think that was the smart thing for me to do?”

He shook his head and looked at the child, who barely seemed to be breathing. She was tiny and pale, with scraggly blond hair and a throbbing blue vein in her temple. She was wearing a cowboy shirt with a horse embroidered on the yoke, blue jeans and cowboy boots.

“What about you?” the woman asked him. “You have any children?”

“Not me,” Martin said. “I don’t have time.”

“I always thought I would have three or four children, but Ivette is my only one so far. I guess there’s always a chance for more.”

Martin looked longingly at the empty seats, wanting to move but not wanting to appear overly rude. Instead he picked up the newspaper again, turned the pages and, not finding anything of interest, began studying a sofa ad.

“You’re probably wondering where my husband is,” the woman said. “You’re probably asking yourself  why I’m traveling at night by myself with a small child.”

“You need a book or a magazine,” Martin said. “Reading is what really helps to pass the time at night.”

“Oh, I don’t read much and, anyway, reading on a moving train would only make me sick to my stomach.”

He kept looking at the sofa ad with feigned interest, wondering how he might make the woman stop talking. After a while he refolded the paper and set it on the seat beside him. Remembering the pack of cigarettes he had in his pocket, he took one out, lit it and blew out a big cloud of smoke. That would surely make the woman want to take the child and move to a different seat.

She didn’t seem to notice. She moved the child off her lap onto the seat beside her until the child’s head was resting against her thigh and the cowboy books were sticking out in the aisle.

“Aren’t children just the most precious things?” she said. “God’s greatest gift.” She smoothed the child’s hair back from its face.

“Look,” he said, “if you don’t mind, it’s late and I would really like to just sit quietly. When I’m riding on a train at night, I like to just sit and think about things.”

“Oh, no!” she said. “I don’t want to bother you. Just pretend as if I wasn’t even here.”

He leaned his head back, turned his face toward the window and closed his eyes. He could go to sleep if only he was alone.

“You know,” the woman said, “when I’m riding on a train I love to watch the scenery, but at night all you can see is the darkness, unless you pass through a little town where there are lights. The towns always seem kind of lonely and sad, somehow, at night, don’t you think?”

He reopened his eyes and sighed. He was ready to move now to another seat, no matter how rude it seemed. When he started to stand up he saw the woman was crying.

She saw he was looking at her and said, “Oh, don’t mind me! I try not to cry in public but sometimes I just can’t help it.”

She took a handkerchief out of her purse and wiped her eyes.

“Are you sick or something?” he asked. “Do you need to get off the train?”

“No. Why would I want to get off the train all the way out here?”

“I just thought…”

“Look, would you mind getting me a cup of water? I need to take some pills.”

He went to the men’s restroom and filled a tiny, cone-shaped paper cup with water at the wash basin and took it back to her.

“Thanks,” she said. “I sometimes get hysterical, but I have these little pills that help.”

“Look, I’ll move to another seat and you can put your baby here and I’ll just get out of your way.”

“Oh, no, no, no! I want you to stay with me!”

“But I thought…”

“No, I feel better if you’re here.”

He looked at his watch, calculating how much longer the trip would take, and sat back down. The woman put the handkerchief over her face and let loose with a torrent of sobs, causing a throbbing in his head. A crying woman always brought unwelcome associations; his mother used to cry for no reason at all.

When he saw the conductor standing at the front of the car, he stood up and approached him. “I’d like to move to another car,” he said. “There’s a woman who keeps saying things.”

“What kind of things?” the conductor asked. “Indecent things?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that.”

“Well, what is she saying?”

“She’s just bothering me. I want to rest.”

“Well, you can’t move to another car because this is the only car carrying passengers tonight.”

“I see.”

“Why don’t you just move to another seat?”

“I think she would move, too.”

“Well, tell her to stop annoying you. Tell her to shut up. Sometimes that’s what it takes.”

“I will. Thanks.”

He went back to his seat and sat back down. If only he could sleep the rest of the way, blot everything out, he’d feel much better. The time would go by so fast that before he knew it the trip would be over. He wasn’t going to let the woman bother him anymore.

He tried closing his eyes again, leaning his head against the window and folding his arms across his chest. He could feel himself starting to drift off when another train passed by going in the other direction, letting  off a shrill blast.

The blond-haired girl woke up and began screaming. The woman picked her up and set her across her lap.

“My goodness!” she said. “That frightened little baby, didn’t it? Bad old train woke little girl up!”

She jiggled her up and down, but the girl kept screaming. After a while, the screams tapered away to subdued sobbing. “We make quite a pair, don’t we?” the woman said with a laugh. “I don’t know what they’re going to do with us, I swear I don’t!”

When the girl continued crying, the woman took a candy bar out of her purse, unwrapped it and gave it to her. She instantly settled down, making little cooing noises as she ate the candy, looking at the ceiling.

“Sometimes with children things are so simple,” the woman said.

“Look,” he said, “I’ve tried to be patient with you, but you don’t seem to be getting the message. I want to just sit quietly and not be bothered and not talk! Is that so hard to understand?”

“We’ve just been so upset because my husband ran off and left us.”

“I can’t say I blame him.”

“Of course, Ivette is too young to understand, but children know things instinctively.”

“Okay, I’m going to move to another seat now.”

“I wish you wouldn’t. I like talking to you.”

“Well, I don’t like talking to you!”

“He has a kind of recurring amnesia, my husband does. He’s fine for a while and then he has these spells come over him where he forgets things. He forgets he has a wife and a child, and he goes away on the train or the bus, and I have to go get him and bring him back home. He seems to have it in his head that he’s escaping from something.”

“I think I know what he’s escaping.”

“The doctor believes he has a kind of a growth thing on the brain that makes him act the way he does. If we could just get him to agree to have an operation, that might make him just as normal as anybody.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be normal.”

“Of course he does. Everybody wants to be normal and live a normal life.”

I don’t!”

“I love my husband very much and little Ivette loves him too, and I believe that in his own peculiar way he loves us just as much. I’ll go to the ends of the earth to bring him back home as many times as it takes.”

“You don’t seem to be getting the message, lady, so I’ll put it to you in very plain language: I don’t care about your troubles and I don’t want to hear about them!

He stood up, picked up his coat, hat and suitcase and moved all the way to the front of the car next to the window. He was so relieved to get away from the woman and the little girl that he felt close to tears and his hands were shaking. He put his suitcase on the seat beside him so she wouldn’t get it into her head to come and sit there.

Sleep at last came to him and he awoke to the sounds of the train pulling into the station. The sun was just coming up. The interminable night was over.

He got off the train as quickly as he could to avoid another encounter, but he didn’t see the woman and the little girl again. He took a cab to the hotel, checked into his room, changed his clothes and went downstairs in the elevator.

The hotel restaurant was crowded, but he didn’t mind it because he got a little table at a remove from the others. After placing his order for breakfast, he lit a cigarette and closed his eyes, feeling pleasantly fatigued. He was looking forward to a day of solitude and relaxation—visiting a museum or two and possibly seeing a movie, and then returning to his hotel room for a nap before dinner.

While eating his ham and eggs, he noticed a woman come into the restaurant. He wouldn’t have noticed her at all if she hadn’t been carrying a small, blond-haired child. She sat down facing him at a table about thirty feet away. She held the child on her lap for a while and then pulled a chair up close on her right side and set the child on the chair.

The woman looked closely at him and when he looked back she smiled at him and he saw then that it was the woman from the train, although she looked much different, dressed in finer clothes and wearing a hat. She reached over and said something to the child and then she pointed her finger at him to indicate to the child that he was there. He wanted to move around to the other side of the table facing away from her, but he knew it was no use. There would be no getting away from her.

I’ve seen her before, he thought, and not just on the train. I’ve seen her many times in many places. I forget about her, and then I see her again, in the least-expected places at the least-expected times. She is everything to me that I abhor in the world, everything I hate and fear, and she will not relent until she has overpowered me and forced me to her will.

He closed his eyes and wished the woman and the blond-haired child gone. He would kill them if he had to, to save himself. He’d buy a small gun that he could conceal easily in his pocket and lure them away from the hotel and kill them. Nobody would ever know, as long as he planned things out carefully. Yes, he could kill a child because this child wasn’t just any child—it was her child.

When he opened his eyes again, the woman and child, to his great relief, were gone. He finished his breakfast, paid for it, and went up to his room on the tenth floor of the hotel and locked himself in. He didn’t want to be disturbed.

The room was quiet and cool. The faraway sounds of the traffic on the street below were comforting. He kicked off his shoes and lay on the bed and put his arm over his eyes.

He fell into a deep sleep, losing track of the passage of time. He woke to the sound of a faint stirring, as of someone in the room with him. He opened his eyes and when he saw the woman from the train standing beside the bed, he jerked himself to a sitting position.

“What the…what the hell is this?” he said, not sure of what he was seeing.

“We’re here,” she said. “We’re both here.”

She touched the head of the blond child standing beside her and then reached down and picked her up in her arms. The child, seeing him lying on the bed, stuck her finger in her mouth and then pointed it at him and leaned far over toward him from her mother’s arms.

“She certainly has missed her daddy!” the woman said.

She placed the child on the bed beside him in a sitting position. It was the same cowboy shirt with a horse embroidered on the yoke, the same blue jeans and cowboy boots.

“Who is this?” he said to the woman.

The child looked at him knowingly. She had the same face, the same upturned nose, the same washed-out blue eyes. When she opened her dribbling mouth and smiled at him, he could see her tiny, animal-like teeth. He was sure he had never seen a more despicable child. He wanted nothing more than to put his hands around her throat and strangle the life out of her and then do the same to the mother.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

The Passionate Orphan

Posted on


The Passionate Orphan ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Miss Wagstaff belched quietly into her handkerchief; the Swiss steak she had for lunch didn’t quite agree with her. With the handkerchief over her mouth, she looked out over the thirty-two living souls that were in her care until five minutes to the hour. They were all fifteen years old and most of them she’d gladly strangle if she could. She didn’t understand children of that age and she was so old she couldn’t quite remember ever being that young.

Since it was Friday afternoon and everybody was waiting for the final bell that would unleash them on the world, this group of ninth graders was engaged in “silent reading.” Everybody must know that silent reading was serious business. You couldn’t write or giggle or daydream or think about what you were going to do when you got home or work on your algebra problems (it wasn’t study hall) or pass notes or whisper or gaze out the window or thumb through a magazine. You had to read a “good” book, preferably one from the reading list or one that Miss Wagstaff herself had approved. You had to put the fifty-five minutes to good use, reading every word on every page, and absorbing what you read as if you would be tested on it.

Halfway through the hour, Miss Wagstaff launched a surprise attack, suddenly standing up from her desk and walking the aisles between the desks, down one aisle and up another. If anybody was doing anything they weren’t supposed to be doing—reading a comic book or concealing a paperback of some kind behind a library book—she would catch them before they had a chance to hide it.

Wardell Freiholtz was an odd boy from an odd family. He was a quiet, aloof boy, dreamy in a way. He seemed to always be in a world of his own making. His clothes, though clean, were always too big for him and looked as if they had been handed down to him by an older person. He didn’t have a father; his mother worked as a prison matron to support herself and her three children, of which Wardell was the oldest.

Wardell was sitting in the row of chairs against the wall. Miss Wagstaff came upon him from behind, from the left, and her eyes fell upon the book he was reading, an oversized paperback with a pink cover.

“What is that you’re reading?” she asked.

He closed the book so she could see the front cover. The title of the book was The Passionate Orphan.

“Where did you get that book?”

He shrugged his shoulders and looked innocent.

“May I see it?” she asked.

He handed her the book and she flipped through the pages and read several passages, standing there in the aisle between desks.

“You’re reading this book?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Wardell said.

“It’s ‘yes, ma’am’.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“How far along are you in the book?”

“Almost to the end.”

“Do you know what this book is about?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

What is it about?”

By now everybody in class was looking at Wardell, listening to every word.

“I’d rather not say,” Wardell said.

“Don’t you know that this book is not appropriate reading material for ninth grade English?”

He shook his head and looked down.

“Who gave you this book?”

“I don’t remember.”

“You don’t know where you got it?”

“No.”

“Did you steal it?”

“No.”

“Did a grown man give it to you? Maybe a friend of your mother’s?”

“No. Nobody gave it to me.”

“A boy in high school didn’t give it to you?”

“No.”

“Do you know the meaning of the word ‘pornography’?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s what this book is. It’s pornography and if an older person gave it to you, a boy in high school, or a person out of school, that’s a crime. It’s called ‘contributing to the delinquency of a minor’. Do you know what I’m saying?”

“No.”

“We’re not getting anywhere, are we?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, we’ll go downstairs and have a little talk with Mr. Gribble. See if he can make any sense out of this.”

She put the class in charge of Maris Holland, a notorious snitch. The corners of her mouth twitching, she directed with her forefinger that Wardell Freiholtz was to stand up and proceed her out the door of the classroom and down the three flights of stairs to the principal’s office.

Principal Gribble was talking to his wife on the phone, so Miss Wagstaff and Wardell had to stand and wait for about five minutes until he was free. When at last they were ushered into the carpeted, wood-paneled office, Mr. Gribble took one look at Wardell and asked, “Has this boy been misbehaving in your classroom, Miss Wagstaff?”

“Well, you decide for yourself!” Miss Wagstaff said with satisfaction.

She handed the book to Mr. Gribble and he sat down at his desk and examined it, front and back.

“And just what is this?” he asked.

“Well, just take a look at the title and open the book and read a few sentences randomly and I think you’ll see right away what it is.”

The Passionate Orphan,” he read slowly, as if the words for difficult to him.

He opened the book and turned several pages, looking dumbfounded.

“It’s pornography!” Miss Wagstaff said helpfully.

“But it has no pictures!” he said.

“The pornography is in the words!”

“Oh, dear me!” he said. “Yes. Yes. Yes, I see what you mean. Where did you get this book, young man?”

“I don’t remember,” Wardell said.

“Did somebody give it to you?”

“No.”

“You can tell me the truth. Where did you get it? Did you buy it at a secondhand bookshop?”

“No.”

“Do you know what this book is about? Do you understand it?”

“Yes, I understand it.”

“Don’t you know that this is not an appropriate book to have at school where others might see it?”

“I didn’t think about it. I’ve been carrying it around with me all week and nobody noticed it until today.”

“Does your mother know you have this book in your possession?”

“I don’t think so. She never comes into my room except to clean.”

“I’m going to have to call her.”

“I’d rather you didn’t.”

“It’s important for you to know that we don’t allow books like this in our school.”

“I didn’t know there was anything wrong with it.”

“Do you have any other books of this nature?”

“No.”

“If a book like this—pornography, I mean—should come into your hands again, throw it away, but, more importantly, don’t bring it with you to school.”

“Okay.”

“Okay what?”

“I won’t bring it to school.”

“I’ll let you off this time, but if you bring another book of this nature to school, you’re in for a three-day suspension. A three-day suspension can affect your scholastic standing for the entire school year. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So, go to the school library and check out The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. It’s a good book but, more to the point, it’s an appropriate book.”

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s on the reading list,” Miss Wagstaff said.

“You may go now. First to the library to pick up The Old Man and the Sea and then back to class.”

Wardell Freiholtz stood up from the chair he had been sitting in and scratched his head. “Can I have my book back? Please?”

“I think I’ll keep it for now,” Mr. Gribble said. “I want to take a closer look.”

After Wardell left the office, Miss Wagstaff clucked her tongue at Mr. Gribble. “I’m afraid that’s not enough,” she said. “I think a more severe punishment was in order.”

“Well, he’s a fairly good student,” Mr. Gribble said. “I don’t want to be too hard on him. He’s never been in any kind of trouble before.”

“Too lenient,” she said.

“I think the matter has been settled to our satisfaction.”

She huffed her way back up the stairs to her classroom. She burst through the door to catch everybody unawares and was gratified to see that Wardell Freiholtz had The Old Man and the Sea propped up in front of him on his desk and appeared to be absorbed in it.

As for Mr. Gribble, he began reading The Passionate Orphan in the privacy of his study as soon as he got home. It stirred something in him that he thought was nearly dead. At bedtime, his mousey, middle-aged wife was surprised by his ardor.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp