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It’s Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me

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It’s Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

They sat on the front porch to catch the cooling breezes. Mrs. Llewellyn fanned herself with a cardboard fan courtesy of Benoist Funeral Home and took pulls on a bottle of “medicinal” whiskey she kept in her apron pocket. Miss Clemson, the nearest neighbor, sat on the steps close to Mrs. Llewellyn, holding her hands demurely around her ankles to keep her skirt in place.

“Gets mighty lonely over at my place sometimes,” Miss Clemson said. “Especially of an evening.”

“You should have found yourself a man to marry,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.

“I still might.”

“At your age?”

“I’m only fifty-four,” Miss Clemson said. “And, anyway, the world don’t revolve around no man. I know plenty of women manage just fine without a man orderin’ ‘em about the place.”

“Well, I’ve had four husbands and I can’t say I’d recommend it,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.

“There’s a rumor going around that you just received a proposal of marriage from a Mr. Chin. Is that right?”

“Yes, a Mr. Chin asked me to marry him,” Mrs. Llewellyn said, “but I turned him down.”

“Is he a Chinaman?”

“No, why would he be a Chinaman?”

“Well, that’s what the name sounds like.”

“No, he ain’t a Chinaman.”

“Well, what then?”

“I don’t know what he is, but he ain’t no Chinaman.”

“Why don’t you marry him if he wants to marry you?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s covered with scales.”

“You mean like a snake?”

“Exactly like a snake.”

“I guess a woman could get used to a few snake scales if the man was a good man,” Miss Clemson said.

“I don’t think I ever could. I’d have to turn away when he was gettin’ dressed, or at least turn the light off.”

“Maybe he’ll just shed them scales in the woods during moltin’ season and not have them anymore.”

“Why are you so interested in Mr. Chin’s scales?”

“Well, if he’s marriage-minded, maybe the two of us ought to meet. We might strike up a real lively friendship.”

“The next time I see him I’ll send him over your way,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.

“Will you really?”

“When you see them scales, you might change your mind.”

“Well, I really don’t think I’d mind the scales all that much as long as he keeps them hidden during the daytime when he’s dressed. The scales are not on his face, are they?”

“Not yet.”

“As long as they’re not on his face, I think we’d be all right, then.”

“The scales is not the only reason I don’t want to marry Mr. Chin,” Mrs. Llewellyn confided.

“What, then?”

“I don’t want him moonin’ around over my granddaughter Laura Louise all the time.”

“Oh, yes. I almost forgot about Laura Louise.”

“She lives with me, you know. I’m all the family she’s got left since her maw killed herself in the river.”

“Do you think Mr. Chin might be particularly drawn to her?”

“I think he’d never stop starin’ at her.”

“Well, if staring’s all he done, that wouldn’t be so bad.”

“Yeah, but the starin’ would lead to pawin’ and the pawin’ would lead to other things.”

“I think I see what you mean. She has turned into a right pretty little thing.”

“She’s got her womanly wiles. It’ll just take the right man to bring it out in her.”

“Do you think Mr. Chin might be the one to do that?”

“I think any man might do it, even one covered in scales.”

“Does she still go swimmin’ naked in the river?”

“I don’t think she swims naked no more, no. Not since she accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as her personal savior.”

“The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.”

“Don’t He, though?”

“There for a while she seemed headed down the road to damnation.”

“Most of that was rumor. You know what nasty tongues people have.”

“They said she was havin’ an affair with I-don’t-know-who-all, even Dr. Birke in town.”

“She went to him for a bladder infection. He treated her and she came home and that’s all there was to it.”

“That’s not what people says.”

“Do you think I care what people says?”

“No, I know you don’t care.”

“But, I’ll tell you on the other hand. I didn’t definitely turn Mr. Chin down.”

“What? You think you still might marry him?”

“If that’s the way the chips fall.”

“What do you mean? What chips?”

“Well, since Laura Louise has got herself so keen on religion, she thinks she might want to dedicate her life to the spreading of the Gospel.”

“You mean as a lady preacher?”

“Well, something like that. She’s got it into her head that she wants to go to Darkest Africa and become a missionary.”

“Darkest Africa? What would she do there?”

“She’d teach them headhunters to put down their spears and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior, same as she done.”

“Lord, I wouldn’t want to go to Darkest Africa!” Miss Clemson said. “I’d be scared out of my wits every minute!”

“That’s because you’re an ignorant woman. Them missionaries get training before they go. They learn how to deal with them natives and make their sit down and read the Bible and listen to hymns.”

“Well, it might be right for some people, but I don’t think I would ever choose that kind of life for myself.”

“Laura Louise is all the family I got left. All my children and grandchildren has died or run off and left me. Laura Louise is the only one left to sweep out the house and fetch me what I need and cook me a little supper of an evening. She’s the only one left to keep me company in my old age. And she’s the only one to see that I’m put into the ground proper when my time comes.”

“Oh, I think I see what you’re sayin’,” Miss Clemson said. “If Laura Louise goes off to Darkest Africa, you could still marry Mr. Chin and he could do all them things for you that Laura Louise does now.”

“You catch on quick.”

“But you’d only marry Mr. Chin if you don’t still have Laura Louise at home?”

“That’s right.”

“I’m sure the Lord will work it all out for you. He’ll come up with the solution that’s right for all parties concerned.”

“I guess so,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.

“I think I see somebody comin’ up the road now,” Miss Clemson said.

“That’ll be Laura Louise, come from service.”

“Good evening, Laura Louise, dear!” Miss Clemson said in a loud voice. “How are you? There’s going to be a lovely full moon tonight, did you know that? It kind of puts you in mind of romance, don’t it?”

“Hello,” Laura Louise said.

“Them services are gettin’ longer and longer, ain’t they?” Mrs. Llewellyn said. “I’ve been waitin’ for my supper.”

“Your supper will just have to wait, gran,” Laura Louise said. “I just got some good news at the end of service and I’ve just got to tell you what it is!”

“Whatever could it be?” Miss Clemson asked.

“I’ve been accepted in missionary school in Memphis, Tennessee! School starts in two weeks. It’ll last for two months and after that I’ll go over to Darkest Africa to do the Lord’s work!”

“My goodness!” Miss Clemson said. “That is excitin’ news, ain’t it?”

“How long will you be gone?” Mrs. Llewellyn asked.

“Oh, I don’t know! Years and years, I guess! Isn’t it wonderful? Brother Rabbit arranged the whole thing over the telephone. He told the people in Memphis what a good worker I am and how dedicated I am to the Lord. They told him to send me on up. They can’t wait for me to get started.”

“That’s fine,” Mrs. Llewellyn said, “but who’s goin’ to do your work around here while you’re gone?”

“What work?” Laura Louise asked.

“You would say that, wouldn’t you? That’s because you’re so selfish! What work do you suppose? Cleanin’ and cookin’ and washin’ and all the rest of the housework waitin’ to be done, that’s what work!”

“Why, I don’t know, gran. I guess you’ll have to get yourself a hired girl to help out, won’t you?”

“And just where am I goin’ to get the money for that?”

“The Lord will provide.”

“I think it’s just wonderful!” Miss Clemson said. “You were turnin’ out to be such a tramp around these parts, takin’ up with any man that would give you the time of day—including Dr. Birke in town—and now just look at you! The Lord has taken a-holt of you and turned you around into the kind of girl He always wanted you to be! Praise the Lord!”

“I’m just so excited about it I’m about to burst! I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep a wink tonight!”

“Well, just go on in now and get started on my supper now,” Mrs. Llewellyn said. “There’ll be plenty of time later to be excited.”

“Do you want to stay and eat supper with us, Miss Clemson?” Laura Louise asked.

“I don’t think so, honey, but thanks for askin’. I need to get myself on home.”

After Laura Louise went into the house to start cooking supper, Miss Clemson turned to Mrs. Llewellyn and said, “I think I hear wedding bells!”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Well, now that Laura Louise is goin’ off to Darkest Africa to be a missionary, you’ll want to marry Mr. Chin as fast as you can so he can do all your work for you, won’t you?”

“Not so fast! She thinks right now that she’s goin’ to Darkest Africa to be a missionary, but what if I say she’s not?”

“You mean you gonna try to stop her?”

“I think I’m goin’ to pay a call on Brother Rabbit at the church tomorrow and tell him to stop meddlin’ in my affairs. Laura Louise ain’t nothin’ but a child and she’s almost feeble-minded to boot. She needs her grandma, her only living family, to look after her and keep her safe. She can’t be goin’ off on her own to no Darkest Africa to be no missionary. She’d be a babe in the woods. Why, they’d eat her alive!”

“Well, I don’t know,” Miss Clemson said. “It certainly seems the Lord is pointin’ her in that direction and if He’s decided it’s the right thing for her to do, then He’ll make it happen, no matter what.”

“Well, we’ll see about that.”

“Are you really goin’ to see Brother Rabbit tomorrow at the church?”

“I said I am, didn’t I?”

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“No, I’d rather go alone.”

“Well, good luck, but I don’t think you should go pokin’ your nose in. Laura Louise is a grown woman and if she’s decided she wants to go to Darkest Africa to be missionary, then I think you should just let it alone.”

“Do you have a granddaughter?”

“You know I ain’t. I ain’t ever even been married.”

“Well, until you have your own granddaughter, you can’t know what it’s like to have her leave you and go off to Darkest Africa to be a missionary.”

“Well, all right, then, honey. I won’t say another word about it.”

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my supper is about ready and I’m hungry. I don’t like to be kept waitin’.”

“All right, honey. I’ll go on home now and eat my own lonely supper. And after I’m finished and all the dishes are washed up and put away, I’ll get into bed and look out the window at the big old sad yellow moon. It’ll remind me of all the things that might have been and never were.”

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

A Bee’s Life

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A Bee’s Life ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Queen Lucretia XXV, the Queen of all the Bees, came into the hive dragging her enormous egg sac, a cigarette dangling from her lips.

“Where the hell is everybody?” she said with a sneer. When she spoke, her ill-fitting dentures made a whistling sound, sending a chill down the spine of all the worker bees. Her harlequin glasses were crooked from when she sat on them on the bed with her full weight. If anybody felt like laughing, they didn’t.

When she saw one of the worker bees—her own offspring—working a crossword puzzle, she bit his head off and ate it without a moment’s hesitation. Before she went into her office and slammed the door, she turned to the room at large and said, “Now let that be a lesson to everybody!

“My goodness, she certainly is in a foul mood today!” Wallace said to Marge, the worker bee closest to him.

“She always gets that way right before she lays her eggs.”

“I’m not scared of her,” Vivian said. “She’s full of turkey doodle. Somebody’s going to drive a stake through her heart one of these days, and a lot of bees are going to be very happy.”

“And I suppose you’ll be the one driving the stake,” Wallace said.

“I’ve imagined it many times.”

“And then who will be our queen?” Carpathia asked.

“I’d make a better queen than her any day!” Vivian said. She stood up and sashayed up and down the aisle, trying her best to be queen-like. “My first official act would be to have her thrown out of the hive!”

“Be realistic,” Wallace said. “She’d raise an army and come back and re-take the hive.”

“That’s right,” Carpathia said. “Just ejecting her from the hive wouldn’t do any good. You’d also have to kill her.”

“I can’t do it alone,” Vivian said. “I’m going to need some help.”

“We’ll all help, Carpathia said.

“If she ever tries to eat my head,” Sherwood said tearfully. “I’m not going to just stand there like a statue and let her do it. I’ll put up a fight.”

Sherwood was still a little shaken over seeing the queen eat a worker bee’s head. He knew it happened all the time but had never seen it before.

“Oh, and just what do you think you’re going to do about it?” Wallace asked, turning around and facing Sherwood. “You know you’re powerless against the queen.”

“I’ll punch her in her egg sac and then when she doubles over I’ll stick a knife in her eye. When she’s howling in pain, I’ll leave the hive. I’ll fly so far away nobody will ever find me. I’ll fly to Tanzania.”

“You know that would never work,” Wallace said. “The drones would catch you, no matter where you are, and bring you back. She’d eat your head anyway and she wouldn’t do it quick either. It wouldn’t be pretty.”

“He’s right,” Carpathia said. “The queen always wins. The rest of us are puny nothings compared to her.”

“Be careful what you say,” Wallace whispered to the others. “I think Georgie is listening.”

They all turned and looked at Georgie. He seemed to be engrossed in his work but they knew he was listening to every word and would repeat it all to the queen the first chance he got. He was her pet worker bee. There were even rumors that she took him to bed with her sometimes.

“I say we kill him, too,” Sherwood said. “If we kill her, we’ll have to kill others.”

“We’re bees!” Wallace said. “Bees don’t kill other bees!”

“They do when they have to,” Sherwood said.

“Oh, he’s not going to kill anybody,” Vivian said. “He wouldn’t have the nerve to kill a maggot!”

“You think so, do you?” Sherwood said. “Maybe I’ll surprise you one day. Maybe this will be the day.”

The door to the queen’s office opened; she stepped out and stood at the front of the room, hands on hips. Everybody suddenly became very busy.

“There seems to be a lot of non-work going on here!” she screamed. “You jerk-offs need to realize I’m not blind and I’m not deaf. Just because I’m not in the room doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on!”

All the bees kept their eyes on their work and pretended the queen wasn’t yelling at them. Georgie was the only one who looked at her, and that was with adoration.

“Georgie!” the queen said, bringing him out of his reverie. “I want to see you in my office! Right now!”

“Yes, your majesty,” Georgie said.

He stood up, almost falling over his own wings, and ran into the queen’s office and slammed the door.

“He has always been such a toady!” Wallace said.

“She needs him to wipe her ass and she knows he’s the only one that will do it without complaining,” Sherwood said.

“Well, I’m relieved he’s out of the room,” Carpathia said. “I think I’m going to take a break and go to the little girls’ room. Want to come along, Vivian?”

“No thanks,” Vivian said. “My boyfriend’s going to call. I don’t want to be out of the room when the call comes through.”

A few minutes later Carpathia had returned from the little girls’ room and was freshening her makeup at her desk. Vivian was blatting into the phone to her boyfriend about where they were going to have dinner. Wallace was balancing his checkbook, trying to figure out exactly where he had made his latest mistake. Sherwood had taken off his shoe and sock and was picking at a scab on his foot while he whistled a happy tune. Suddenly the door to the queen’s office opened with a suck of air, and once again she was upon the worker bees like a Kansas cyclone.

“You should see yourselves!” she bellowed. “You all look like you think you’re vacationing on the Riviera. Well, I’m got a news flash for you! You’re not vacationing—but you are all really close to being on permanent vacation, if you get my drift!”

“Call you later!” Vivian said into the phone and hung up, hoping the queen hadn’t noticed she was on a personal call.

“Is there something we can do for you, Your Majesty?” Carpathia asked sweetly.

“I want all you lazy slugs to get your worthless asses into my office right now! And that means this minute! Pronto! Post-haste! Chop, chop!

The worker bees filed into the queen’s office with a sense of foreboding. They knew something unusual had occurred. Wallace had a lump of dread in his stomach. Carpathia had gone pale and her lipstick was smeared because the queen startled her when she was putting it on.

When they were all seated around the table, the queen closed the door loudly and regarded everybody with disgust.

“Is anything wrong, Your Majesty?” Wallace asked with a nervous smile.

“Wrong? I’ll say there’s something wrong! I’ve just been going over the figures from the last month. Honey production is down twenty-five percent! This is unacceptable! I feel like firing the whole lot of you!”

“Then who would make the honey?” Sherwood asked.

“I’ve just been discussing this problem with my lieutenant, Georgie. He suggests we work longer hours with fewer days off until honey production is what it should be.”

They all looked turned their heads and looked at Georgie. He was smirking with superiority. Wallace, remembering the remark he had made earlier about bees not killing other bees, wanted to kill him.

“Now, after today I’m going to be on maternity leave,” the queen said, “for I don’t know how long. Georgie will be in command while I’m gone. He will be my eyes and ears. He has assured me he knows how to increase honey production, so I’m going to turn everything over to him. We’ll see what stuff he’s made of. If production hasn’t increased by the time I get back, there’ll be some heads eaten, of that you can be sure!”

After the meeting, the calm after the storm, the worker bees were silent and worked very diligently. Georgie was working on a new work schedule whereby days-off and vacations were to be canceled. All worker bees were going to have to come in an hour earlier in the morning and stay an hour later in the evening until honey production was up.

When the queen left for the day, the worker bees still had hours to go before their day was over. They were tired and didn’t know if they were going to be able to keep up the pace, but they knew that Georgie was watching them and would report everything to the queen, so they at least tried to give the appearance of being productive.

“Killing the queen never seemed like a better idea,” Vivian whispered to Sherwood when Georgie had stepped out for a moment.

“You can’t kill the queen,” Wallace said. “It just isn’t done.”

“Wouldn’t you kill her if you had the chance?”

“You have to be realistic. Even if we could get rid of her, we might get stuck with a queen ten times worse. I know it’s hard to imagine anybody being worse than her, but, believe me, it’s a real possibility.”

“I don’t think we should even be talking about it,” Carpathia said. “The walls have ears, you know, even with Georgie out of the room.”

“Maybe there’s another way,” Sherwood said.

“What do you mean?” Wallace asked.

“I’m going to keep wishing for her to die, praying for her to die. She deserves to die. If there’s any justice in the world, she will die. I’ve willed bees dead before!”

“Just a coincidence,” Wallace said. “They would have died anyway.”

Die, queen! Die, queen! Die, queen! Die, queen! Die, queen!” he chanted.

“I don’t think it’ll work,” Carpathia said.

“I can certainly try,” Sherwood said. “Would anybody like to place a bet?”

Georgie took over the queen’s office, making it his own during her absence, but he kept the door open at all times so he could keep an eye on the worker bees. He was going to enjoy being boss and he hoped the queen might have some complications with laying her eggs so she’d take a much longer-than-expected maternity leave.

The afternoon progressed slowly. While the worker bees gave the impression of being immersed in their work, they all had their minds on other things. Wallace was trying to keep from watching the clock; it was only two minutes later than the last time he looked. Vivian was considering how familiar she was going to let her boyfriend, Alphonse, get on their date that night. Carpathia was thinking about her children at home by themselves; she longed to get home and make sure they were all right. Sherwood was thinking about the movies he had seen in the last few months and was arranging in his head a list of the ones he liked best.

Once, when Wallace raised his head from his work and looked at the ceiling to relieve his stiff neck, he saw two drones, looking very business-like, go into the queen’s office and close the door. In a little while, everybody in the hive heard Georgie wailing, as if in great pain.

“What the hell is going on?” Vivian asked.

“Maybe they’re arresting Georgie,” Sherwood said with a hopeful smile.

In a little while Georgie and the two drones came out of the queen’s office. The drones left and Georgie stood at the front of the room and solemnly raised his arms for quiet. When he had everybody’s attention, he began, with difficulty, to speak.

“It is my painful duty to inform all the worker bees: we have confirmed reports that the queen has died.”

There was an intake of breath as everybody absorbed the momentous news.

“It worked! It worked!” Sherwood said, but only loud enough so those closest to him could hear what he said.

“What happened to her?” Carpathia asked.

“Not long after she left the hive this afternoon,” Georgie said, “she stopped on a tree branch to rest and have a sup of water.” He stopped and lowered his head and dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief.

“Yes?” Wallace said. “Go on.”

“A crow came along from out of nowhere and, seeing her majesty sitting on the branch, swooped in and ate her in one gobble and then flew off. There were two worker bees there who saw the whole thing. They’re being questioned by the bee police this very minute.”

“Are you sure this is not a trick?” Vivian said.

“That crow must be dead or really sick by now,” Sherwood said.

“Out of respect for our beloved queen, “Georgie said, “I’m going to shut down the hive for the rest of the day. You are all free to go, but remember to be back here tomorrow morning bright and early. We’re all going to have to work extra hard now to honor her memory.”

After Georgie had left, bent over with his grief, all the worker bees who had heard Sherwood’s boast turned and looked at him.

“Do you have some kind of magical powers?” Carpathia asked him. She had started to cry in spite of herself.

“I don’t know what you would call it,” Sherwood said, “but I definitely have something.”

“We’d better all try to stay on Sherwood’s good side,” Vivian said.

“Hey, didn’t you bees hear what the man said?” Wallace said. “We are free to go home now! Tomorrow is another day.”

“I wonder what we’ll do now for a queen?” Carpathia said.

“They’ll probably bring one in from outside,” Sherwood said. “I think that’s what usually happens in these cases.”

“They don’t need to bring anybody in,” Vivian said. “I am fully positioned to assume the throne.”

“I think you have to be born to it,” Wallace said, trying to keep from laughing.

“I have a feeling Georgie is going to initiate a coup to make himself the new queen,” Carpathia said.

“Aren’t you forgetting one little detail?” Wallace asked. “Georgie is a male bee. A male bee can’t be queen.”

“Well, anything is possible.”

“Maybe Georgie really is a woman,” Sherwood said. “I’ve always had my suspicions about him.”

When they were all outside, ready to leave the hive together, Sherwood said, “Now that the queen is dead, I’m going to take a few days off from the hive. I want to find that crow and tell him what a hero he is to all of us, even if he doesn’t know it.”

“Make sure he doesn’t eat you, too,” Wallace said.

“Not a chance,” Sherwood said and buzzed off happily.

“The queen is dead!” Vivian said, waving her handkerchief in the air as she flew away. “Long live the queen!”

All the worker bees, as they left the hive that day, felt hopeful and happy. They were sure the good feeling was going to last forever.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

The Spring He Built the Garage

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The Spring He Built the Garage ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Richard Eddington served in the navy in World War II. When the war ended and he received his discharge in 1945, he didn’t have much reason for wanting to go home. His mother and brother were both dead. His father moved to Texas to marry a woman he hardly knew. There was no other family.

He had been a radio man in the navy. Radios were the big thing after the war. There was at least one radio in every home and the damn things were always breaking. People would pay good money to a repairman who could keep them in working order.

While readjusting to civilian life, Richard rented a room in a boarding house and landed a job in a shoe-company warehouse. It wasn’t much of a job, but it would keep him afloat while he took night classes in radio repair.

After a year of classes, he received his diploma. It meant more to him than his high school diploma because he put a lot more effort into it. When he went for his first job interview in a radio-repair shop, the old man who owned the place gave him a broken radio and told him to do what he could with it. He fixed the radio in just a few minutes and the old man offered him a job as counter man, meaning he had to wait on customers in addition to the repairs he did.

Business picked up at the radio shop. The old man increased Richard’s pay two times in a year. When the old man broke his hip and could no longer work and had to give up the business, he offered to sell the shop to Richard for three thousand dollars. Richard went to the bank and, because of his steady employment record and his honorable service in the navy, got a loan for enough money to buy the shop and also to buy a small, five-room, frame house on a pleasant street in town. He bought a used car with money from the nickel-and-dime bank account he had had since he was twelve years old, and soon he was a regular tax-paying, going-to-work-every-day, small-business-owner living in his own home.

He modernized the business, buying new fixtures, painting the walls and adding a line of big and small radios for sale. Business doubled and then tripled. Richard hired a full-time salesman, another repairman, and a girl to do the books and handle invoices. For the first time in his life he was “somebody” instead of “nobody.”

The girl was one Delores O’Dare. She smoked a lot of cigarettes and was quietly efficient, keeping to her work until time to go home. When any of the fellows around the shop tried to flirt with her, she gave them the brush-off.

Richard was shy and had never been much of a ladies’ man. He had a girlfriend or two in high school but could never be serious about them. They only wanted to get married and have babies, and that kind of responsibility scared him off. When he asked Delores O’Dare out to have a hamburger with him after work, he was surprised when she not only accepted but seemed pleased to be asked.

He told her about his time in the war, his family and his plans for the radio shop. She listened politely to everything he said without seeming bored or impatient. He found himself opening up to her in a way he had never done before with another person. Before he knew it, three hours had gone by. When it was time to leave, he offered to take her home, but she said she was fine on her own.

Richard and Delores began seeing each other regularly. She told him her secrets just as he had told her his. She was married at seventeen and divorced at eighteen. Her two brothers were both killed in the war; the younger brother was still missing in action and presumed dead. She lived with her parents to keep from living alone, but it wasn’t a happy situation. Her mother wasn’t right in the head and never had been. Her father was disabled and never stopped complaining because that’s about all he felt like doing. When Delores saved a little money, she planned on getting herself a little apartment and getting off by herself where she could have some peace and quiet.

After three months, Richard asked Delores to marry him and she surprised him by accepting. They obtained their license and were married by a justice of the peace a hundred miles away from home and spent a three-day honeymoon in a cabin at a lake resort. Neither of them fished or swam, so after they admired the scenery they were ready to go back home.

Delores brought with her to the little five-room house a double-bed, a dresser, a couch and a kitchen table and chairs. She hung curtains in every room, including the bathroom, and in a little while it seemed like a real home. Richard expected they would wait a few months and have a baby, but Delores told him she had had an infection when she was younger and was unable to bear children. He was a little disappointed that he would never be a father, but he thought they might consider adoption a little later on when they were more settled.

Richard and Delores went to work together every day and were together all day long in the shop. They went home together, ate dinner and slept together in the same bed. They were together every minute of every day and night. Richard accepted this as the natural order of things, but after a year Delores began to show signs of restlessness and moodiness. She began drinking to excess; she told Richard she didn’t like working in the shop anymore and wanted to quit. He’d need to hire himself another girl to keep the books.

He thought it best to indulge her, at least for the short term. Every morning when he left for work, she was still sleeping, having stayed up half the night sitting at the kitchen table, reading magazines, smoking cigarettes and listening to the radio. He would give her a month or so of doing what she wanted at home and then he was sure she would want to return to the shop.

The drinking became worse. On Saturday when they went to the store to buy food for the week, she loaded up the cart with beer, wine and whiskey. When he asked her why she drank so much, she said drinking was the only thing that calmed her nerves and made her feel like getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other.

“A person who drinks every day is an alcoholic,” he said.

“What of it?” she said. “I come from a long line of them.”

“I want you to see the doctor and tell him what’s going on with you.”

“I don’t need a doctor. I’m not sick. Maybe you’re the one that needs the doctor.”

“I didn’t know I was marrying a drunk.”

“There’s nothing wrong with drinking. If you weren’t such an old stick, you’d drink too. To keep me company.”

She began going out at night. After a hurried supper, she’d go into the bedroom and put on one of her best dresses, spend an hour or so in front of the mirror doing up her face and hair, and leave without a word. He never knew if she’d be back by morning. Some nights he had the feeling he’d never seen her again.

During one of her sober periods, he talked to her about adopting a baby, or maybe two, but she laughed and said it was the worst idea she ever heard. The last thing in the world she wanted was to raise somebody else’s brats.

He stopped sharing the bed with her and started sleeping in the back bedroom. He moved his clothes out of the closet and the drawers and lived as separate from her as he could in such a small house. He tried not to notice her comings and goings. When he heard her come in in the middle of the night or toward morning, he would refuse to look at the clock. He didn’t want to know what time it was. He told himself he didn’t care.

He thought about seeing a lawyer to file for divorce, but he could see she was on a downward spiral to her own destruction and he knew that he was the only person in the world who might help her, if only he knew how.

One Sunday morning after a late Saturday night, she cooked breakfast for him and sat down opposite him at the table while he ate it. The kitchen was full of her cigarette smoke and he could smell what she had been drinking the night before.

“I’m in love with someone else,” she said. “I want a divorce.”

“I don’t even know you,” he said.

“We need money so we can go away together.”

“If you leave, I want you to promise me you’ll never come back,” he said.

He gave her seventeen hundred dollars, which was all the money he had on hand. “That’s the last you’ll ever get from me,” he said.

He expected every day that she would leave, and would have been glad to see her go, but she didn’t go. Two weeks later she was still sleeping all day and staying away all night. One day when he came home from work in the middle of the afternoon, he heard her crying behind the closed bedroom door. He pushed open the door without knocking.

She was lying on the bed on her back in her slip. There was blood all over the bed and the floor.

“What’s this?” he said. “What’s happened?”

“Sit down,” she said.

“I don’t want to sit down! I want to know why you’re covered in blood!”

“I had an abortion.”

“You had a…”

“Something went wrong.”

“You’re bleeding to death! I’m calling an ambulance!”

“No! I don’t want anybody to know what I did!”

“I can’t just let you lie there and bleed to death!”

“No, it’s what I want. It’s what I’ve wanted for a long time.”

“To bleed to death?”

“Just sit and hold my hand.”

He sat down on the bed; she took his hand in hers and wouldn’t let go.

“I know I’ve been a terrible wife to you,” she said. “I’ve been so awful. So mean and unfair. I hope someday you’ll forgive me.”

“I don’t care about that,” he said. “I’m going to get some help.”

“No! I don’t want you to leave me!”

She drifted in and out of consciousness. Her breathing slowed and then stopped altogether. She died at ten o’clock that night in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Richard called the radio shop the next morning and told Vic, the salesman, that he was going to take the rest of the week off and they would have to manage the best they could without him.

“Everything here under control,” Vic said.

Richard wrapped Delores’s body in sheets and canvas and put it, temporarily, underneath the stairs in the cellar. The official story, if anybody asked, was that she went away to pursue a different kind of life. He didn’t know where she went or how to reach her. She didn’t want to be reached but wanted only to be left alone.

He called the police and filed a missing person’s report. A couple of officers came to the house and asked some questions. Was it a happy marriage? Did the wife show signs of discontent? Had she ever talked about leaving? Was there any reason to suspect foul play? The officers seemed satisfied with the answers they received and went on their way.

Richard had always wanted to build a garage in back of his house and now was the time. He went to city hall and got the building permit and then ordered the materials, which were promptly delivered. Doing all the work himself, he built a handsome brick garage with a thick concrete floor in about six weeks.

More than sixty years later, the little five-room house where Richard lived was torn down, as were all the surrounding houses, to make way for a new highway extension. While Richard’s garage was being dismantled, the skeletal remains of a female were found interred in the concrete floor. The police, naturally, wanted to know who the female was and how she came to be there. As the property owner, Richard would, of course, have been the person to answer these questions, but he had moved on to a happier existence and was no longer available for comment.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

Freya Badgett

Freya Badgett ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Her name was Mrs. Hoffenecker, first name Alma. She told people she was a widow, but the truth was she was a divorcee, which she didn’t like to admit. Her husband left her for another woman when she turned a bitter forty, but that’s another story. She got as much money as she could out of him in the divorce settlement and was able to live comfortably on her own. Luckily, there were no children.

At age sixty-two, she saw she was living too much on her own. She wasn’t lonely or lacking, exactly, but the years were passing her by at an alarming rate and she saw herself dying in twenty or twenty-five years without ever having made a mark on another person’s life. There would be no one to mourn her or even to remember her after she was gone. She might enrich someone else’s life, and they hers, if given the chance.

She had always liked children or at least she thought she did. She was a college graduate and very well-read. She saw herself as a reading tutor to disturbed, underachieving high school students—nothing was more important than being able to read well—but the words disturbed and high school in the same sentence bothered her. People had changed so much since she was in school. She didn’t want to get herself into a situation where she felt threatened by hulking teenage boys.

Younger children seemed to be the thing. Over five years, but younger, say, than fifteen. She placed an ad in the local newspaper: Dependable widow with lovely home and plenty of love to give will babysit older children at agreed-upon hourly rate. Days or nights, weekdays or weekends.

The first call she received was from a Mrs. Badgett. She had to go out of town on a business trip, Mrs. Badgett did, and had no one to leave her thirteen-year-old daughter with. The daughter’s name was Freya and she was really no trouble at all. Just a quiet, clean, orderly and well-mannered girl.

Mrs. Hoffenecker asked Mrs. Badgett to bring Freya around at five o’clock so they could all meet. If they all liked each other, Mrs. Hoffenecker saw no reason why they couldn’t make a go of it.

After ten minutes of strained, getting-to-know-you conversation, Mrs. Badgett laughed nervously and jangled her bracelets.

“I don’t really like leaving my daughter with strangers,” she said, “but I don’t have much choice. We’ve been her less than a month and we don’t know hardly nobody at all.”

“No family?” Mrs. Hoffenecker asked sympathetically.

“No, we don’t know nobody worth knowing.”

“You’re a business executive?”

“Yes, I travel frequently with my job.”

“That must be interesting.”

“Not so wonderful when you have children to take care of. You can’t take them with you and you can’t go off and leave them by themselves.”

“I understand.”

“What do you think, Freya?” Mrs. Badgett asked. “Do you want to stay with this nice lady for two days while I’m gone?”

Freya had been sitting on the couch the whole time, looking straight ahead, hugging her arms. At the sound of her mother’s voice, she raised her eyebrows, puffed out her lips and shrugged her shoulders.

“Good!” Mrs. Badgett said. “Then it’s settled! I’ll drop her off Friday afternoon after school.”

“I’m looking forward to it!” Mrs. Hoffenecker said, but what she was really feeling was nausea at the thought of a stranger, a surly teenager, living in her house for two days.

On Friday morning she cleaned the guest bedroom, even though it wasn’t dirty, and changed the towels in the guest bathroom, even though they hadn’t been used. She went to the store and bought food she wouldn’t ordinarily buy, such as frozen pizzas, chocolate ice cream and soda.

At the appointed time on Friday afternoon, Mrs. Badgett let Freya out in front of the house and drove off. Freya knocked timidly and Mrs. Hoffenecker opened the door with a bright smile. She couldn’t keep from noticing that Freya looked unhappy. She didn’t particularly like—and who would?—being dropped off at the house of a stranger for a weekend.

“Welcome to my home!” Mrs. Hoffenecker said.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” Freya said expressionlessly.

Mrs. Hoffenecker took Freya upstairs and showed her the room where she would be staying. Freya threw her suitcase on the bed and went into the bathroom and relieved herself without even bothering to close the door.

“There’s clean towels in there for you if you want to wash up,” Mrs. Hoffenecker.

She waited until Freya was finished and then took her back downstairs.

“What would you like to eat?” she asked.

“I’m not hungry,” Freya said.

“You don’t want any dinner?”

“Naw.”

“I think it’s customary to say no thank you.”

Freya looked closely at Mrs. Hoffenecker as though seeing her for the first time. “I don’t really have time to eat now anyway,” she said. “I have friends waiting. I’ll grab something later, when I get back. ”

“What? You mean you’re going out?”

“You don’t think I’m going to sit around this dump for two days, do you?”

“I’m supposed to be in charge of you and I don’t think your mother would like it if…”

“My mother doesn’t give a shit what I do as long as I don’t end up in jail or on a slab in the morgue.”

“Are you wearing eyeliner? At your age?”

“I know my mother told you I’m thirteen, but she’s full of shit, as usual, which you’ll find out as you get to know her. I’m sixteen and I’m not a virgin, either.”

“I don’t think I care to hear about that!”

“She’s not supposed to leave me unattended. I’ve been in trouble before.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“You name it. Say, do you think you could lend me twenty dollars? Ordinarily I’d ask for fifty but on such short acquaintance I’ll make it twenty.”

“I’m not giving you any money.”

“Just add it to your babysitting fee when we tally up. My mother won’t even think to question it.”

“I’d feel better if I talked to your mother first about this.”

“Yeah, but that’s just the thing, isn’t it? She’s gone off for two days and nobody knows where she is. She does that on purpose, you know? She’s the world’s worst mother. She doesn’t want you calling her or anybody else. She’s gone off on a wild weekend with her latest boyfriend. She doesn’t want to be reached, believe me!”

“I don’t believe it. She’s on a business trip. Why would she lie to me about such a thing?”

“Because she’s a damn liar, that’s why! She never tells the truth. She doesn’t even know how!”

“She brought you into my home under false pretenses!”

“Whatever you say, lady! I don’t have time to stand here and gab all night. If you could just give me that twenty, I’ll be on my way. On second thought, could you make it thirty?”

“I’ll make it fifty if you promise not to come back.”

What? I have to have some place to sleep tonight, don’t I?”

“That’s no concern of mine.”

“Just make it thirty and I’ll be back by about midnight.”

“If you were my daughter…”

“Say, do you have an extra door key you could let me use?”

“I’m not giving you the key to my house!”

“Suit yourself. I’ll have to ring the doorbell and wake you up. It might not be until two or three in the morning.”

“You said midnight!”

“Well, you can never be too sure about those things, can you?”

“Just where is it you’re going?”

“I don’t think it’s any concern of yours. I told you I’m meeting friends. We’re going to a party.”

“Your mother expects you to stay here.”

“You really are naïve, aren’t you?”

She gave Freya three ten-dollar bills and spent the evening watching banal TV fare. At bedtime she triple-locked the doors and turned off all the lights and went upstairs to her bedroom.

She took three sleeping tablets instead of the usual two and went to bed and slept soundly, except for disturbing dreams toward morning in which she thought enormous rabbits with knife-like teeth were trying to get into the house. God told her to get out of bed and stand against the wall in a certain place to protect herself from the rabbits, but she didn’t seem to be able to move her limbs.

At seven-thirty she woke to birds twittering outside her window. She arose with an anxious feeling, forgetting at first what it was she had to be anxious about, and then remembering Freya. She went down to the hallway to the guest bedroom and listened at the closed door. Hearing nothing, she quietly opened the door. Freya’s suitcase was still on the bed, but except for that nothing was any different. She took the suitcase downstairs and put it in the coat closet until someone came and picked it up.

At nine o’clock she was in the kitchen eating her breakfast when the front doorbell rang. She was going to ignore it, until it rang a second and then a third time. When she went and opened the door, there stood Freya.

“Jesus, lady!” Freya said. “What the hell’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you let me in last night? I rang and rang!”

Mrs. Hoffenecker was speechless as Freya barged into the house as if she belonged there.

“That’s a kind of child abuse, you know that? I could call the cops and have you arrested!”

“I didn’t hear the doorbell,” Mrs. Hoffenecker said lamely.

“I had to spend the night in your garage, sleeping on the cold concrete floor. I might have given myself TB or something.”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t come back.”

“I told you I’d be back! What kind of a monster are you? My mother would just shit if she knew the way you had treated me!”

“I was hoping I’d seen the last of you.”

“I’m hungry! Could I have some breakfast?”

“You might try saying ‘please’.”

“Might I please have some breakfast?”

“If you promise to leave after you eat it.”

They went into the kitchen and Mrs. Hoffenecker cracked some eggs into a skillet. Freya sat down at the table. “I don’t eat bacon,” she said.

“Good, because I don’t have any.”

“I’ve invited some people over. I didn’t think you’d mind. They’re on their way out west and they need a place to stay tonight. They can sleep on the floor or anywhere. They won’t be a bit of trouble, I promise.”

“No, they won’t be any trouble because they’re not coming here.”

“What?”

“They’re not coming here and if they do, you won’t be here.”

“What are you saying?”

“After you’ve had breakfast, you’re clearing out.”

“You can’t do that! You agreed with my mother to keep me until ten o’clock Sunday night.”

“That was before I knew what an inconsiderate pig you are. I thought I was getting an innocent thirteen-year-old girl and what I got was you!

“You can’t talk to me that way! You can’t call me names like pig.”

She set a plate of eggs and toast on the table and said, “You have about thirty minutes to eat your breakfast and then you’re leaving.”

“And where am I supposed to stay tonight?”

“You might try the park.”

“I’m not leaving. You can’t make me leave.”

“I have a gun in my desk drawer. It’s always loaded. While I probably won’t kill you, I will shatter your ankle bone. I’m sure that’s bad enough. And, just so you know, I’m a terrible aim. I might try for your ankle bone and hit something more vital.”

“You’d shoot me?”

“Do you want to stick around and find out?”

“My friends will be furious when I tell them the way you treated me! They’ll come here and hurt you! They’ll do some damage to your house!

“Yes, I would expect you to have friends like that.”

“How much is it worth to you for me to leave and never come back?”

“Do you think I’m going to pay you and your friends to leave me alone?”

“How much is it worth to you?”

“Twenty-five dollars.”

“Oh, come now! I think we can do better than that! You offered me fifty last night to get rid of me.”

They settled on two hundred dollars. Freya seemed quite content with that amount.

“That’s the most money I’ve ever had at one time before,” she said, eyes sparkling.

“I knew you could be bought,” Mrs. Hoffenecker said.

While Freya sopped up the last of the egg yolk with the last of the toast, Mrs. Hoffenecker stood by patiently and watched her. When she was finally finished, she belched contentedly and wiped her mouth with the paper napkin.

“Do you have any donuts?” she asked. “I like some dessert after I’ve had breakfast.”

“No,” Mrs. Hoffenecker said. “I think you’ve had enough. It’s time for you to go.”

She escorted Freya to the door and held it open for her. “Do you have everything you came with?” she asked. “Bag? Jacket? I could search your bag to make sure you didn’t steal anything, you know.”

“Hey, man!” Freya said. “That’s an insult! I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a thief.”

“May I look inside your bag?”

“No!”

“What are you hiding?”

“Okay, I took a bottle of sleeping pills out of your bathroom. That’s all, I swear!”

Mrs. Hoffenecker held out her hand and Freya rummaged in her bag and produced the bottle and placed it in her hand. Before any more words could be exchanged, Freya turned and ran out the door, as though afraid that Mrs. Hoffenecker might strike her. Mrs. Hoffenecker watched her all the way down the street until she could no longer see her. Thus ended Mrs. Hoffenecker’s experiment with reaching out to other people.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

His Butterfly

His Butterfly ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton of the United States Navy had seen the world and known many woman. In 1902, while stationed in Nagasaki, Japan, he took unto himself a Japanese wife. She went by the name of Butterfly and she was young, innocent, untried and untested. Any objective observer might have said the marriage between Lieutenant Pierce and his Butterfly was a misalliance and doomed to failure.

Butterfly believed that Lieutenant Pinkerton would take her back to America with him—what American husband wouldn’t?—and she would be happy for the rest of her days. Happy knowing she was the perfect wife for her perfect American husband.

Forward-looking—and impelled by her desire to be a good American wife—Butterfly abandoned the religion of her Nipponese ancestors and converted to Christianity. Her family, never too keen on her marriage to an American in the first place, disowned and abandoned her. She believed, however, that her all-consuming love for Lieutenant Pinkerton would see her though any of life’s tribulations.

Lieutenant Pinkerton rented a pretty little house with sliding doors on a hillside in Nagasaki. He and Butterfly were blissfully happy for a few days, but then he was called away again. Such is the life of the navy man. Not to worry, though. He would be back and get his Butterfly and take her back to America with him and all would be well.

Butterfly waited. Days became weeks and weeks months. Every day she went to the top of the hill overlooking Nagasaki harbor and watched for signs of the return of Lieutenant Pinkerton’s ship, the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. Every day she returned to the little house with the sliding doors with a lump of disappointment in her throat, but with the belief and the hope that the next day would be the day of his glorious return.

Suzuki, Butterfly’s faithful servant, wanted to write to Lieutenant Pinkerton, wherever he was, and tell him he had a son, but Butterfly wouldn’t let her; she would tell him herself, whenever the time was right, and that would be upon his return to Nagasaki. (The boy, conceived on the wedding night, was called Sorrow. When his papa returned to claim him, he would be called Joy.)

Time passed, more time than Butterfly ever imagined, and still the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln did not reappear in Nagasaki harbor. A wealthy man of Butterfly’s own race, having heard the talk of her erstwhile American husband, proposed marriage to her, but she turned him down. She already had a husband, she said, and she didn’t want another.

And then the day came, as Butterfly knew it would!

The American consul sent word that Lieutenant Pinkerton was back in Nagasaki! Her joy knew no limits. When she thought about the moment when she would lay eyes on him again, she felt that she would not be able to continue breathing. Her chest would not contain her wildly beating heart. She would die of happiness.

With Suzuki’s help and the help of her tiny son, Butterfly gathered flowers to adorn the house. The three of them put flowers everywhere, making the indoors seem like an extension of the garden.

Finally, after these hurried preparations, the moment arrived. Pinkerton was on his way up the hill. When she saw him far away out the window, she drew in her breath and covered her mouth with her hand. She asked the Christian God to give her strength.

When the knock came, Suzuki opened the door. There stood Lieutenant Pinkerton, much the same as the last time she saw him, his face a little thinner and graying at the temples.

He took a few steps inside the door, smiling and uncertain. Butterfly wanted to run to him, but that was not the way of her people. As she watched him remove his hat and walk nearer, her face clouded when she saw he was not alone. Coming through the door behind him was a stylish American lady in a beautiful white dress. In about three beats of her heart, Butterfly understood all.

“Everything looks lovely,” Lieutenant Pinkerton said, seeing the flowers. “This is the most beautiful place on earth.”

He was going to take Butterfly’s hands in his, but she bowed in front of him.

“I am honored,” she said.

“I want you to meet someone,” Lieutenant Pinkerton said. “This is Laura. My wife.”

The stylish American lady in the white dress stepped forward smiling. “How do you do?” she said. “I’m so happy to meet you!”

“I am honored,” Butterfly said, bowing again.

“I hope you have been well,” Lieutenant Pinkerton said formally.

“Yes. Well,” Butterfly said.

“I wasn’t sure if you would remember me after all this time.”

Butterfly turned away and Suzuki helped her out of the room.

When Suzuki came back a few minutes later, alone, Lieutenant Pinkerton was waiting.

“Butterfly asks to be excused at this time,” Suzuki said. “She extends every apology.”

“I’ve come for the child,” Lieutenant Pinkerton said.

“Child?”

“Yes, my son. I mean to take him back to America and give him the upbringing he deserves.”

“You don’t think he belongs with his mother?”

“He will have a mother. My wife.”

“Butterfly begs your forgiveness. She asks that you return tomorrow at this time, when she will be better able to converse with you.”

“Well, all right,” Lieutenant Pinkerton said. “I guess I can do that. But tell her I won’t tolerate any monkey business of any kind from her or any of her family. I’ll come back tomorrow at the same time to collect the child. Tell her to say her goodbyes and have his suitcase all packed. I won’t brook any further delay.”

After Lieutenant Pinkerton left, Suzuki went to the room at the back of the house where Butterfly was. She was standing at the window looking out at the trees.

“Japanese wife is a not real wife for American husband,” Butterfly said.

“He will come back tomorrow at the same time to take the boy,” Suzuki said.

“He will not take my son from me.”

“What will you do?”

“I know I can’t beat him in a court of law, so I will beat him another way.”

“What way?”

“After we dine, you will take the boy into the hills to the home of your mother and father. Don’t tell anybody where you are going. Stay there until I send word that it is safe to come back.”

“My family will be happy for me to pay visit with delightful boy,” Suzuki said.

During the unhurried meal that they took on the terrace, Butterfly informed the boy that he was going away for a few days to the country with Suzuki.

“Aren’t you coming, too?” he asked.

“Not this time,” Butterfly said. “I have to stay home and tend the flowers.”

“After we get to the river, we’ll take the boat the rest of the way,” Suzuki said. “You’ll like the boat.”

Suzuki put the things she would need and the things the boy would need into a bag, changed her shoes, and she was ready to go. Butterfly walked to the road with them, carrying the boy. At the point of departure, Butterfly handed him over to Suzuki.

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!” Butterfly said. She kissed the boy on his forehead and on each cheek and he began to cry.

“Soon you will be back home again,” she said. “You will not be lonely.”

“Don’t worry about us,” Suzuki said. “There is a full moon tonight and we have friends all along the way.”

When Lieutenant Pinkerton returned the next day with his American wife and the American consul, Sharpless, Butterfly greeted them graciously, as she would any old friend. She served them tea and poppyseed cakes and asked them questions about America and about their sea voyage. After an hour or so of small talk, Lieutenant Pinkerton, who had been squirming impatiently the whole time, asked where his son was.

Butterfly looked at him and smiled her sweet smile. “He is not here,” she said.

Not here?” Lieutenant Pinkerton said. “Didn’t you hear what I said yesterday? I mean to take the boy with me and our boat leaves at four o’clock.”

“He is not here,” Butterfly said.

“Where is he?”

“He is not here and the time of his return has not been decided.”

Lieutenant Pinkerton stood up abruptly and glared at Butterfly. “I don’t know what you are playing at here, but whatever it is it’s not going to work. If you think you can defy me, you will feel the full force of American jurisprudence.”

“Have another cup of tea,” Butterfly said.

Lieutenant Pinkerton was not accustomed to having his desires thwarted, as Butterfly well knew. He would threaten or intimidate as he saw fit. She would stand against him like a small boat in a big storm. The Christian God stood beside her.

“If you stand in the way of my taking my son with me today,” he said. “I want you to know I will be back with a team of American lawyers trained in Japanese law. We Americans are very determined in all things.”

“I hope you have a most safe and pleasant journey back to America. I will tell my son upon his return that his father paid us a visit and inquired after his health.”

Sharpless and Lieutenant Pinkerton’s wife gave Butterfly sympathetic smiles. The wife approached Butterfly and wanted to shake her hand but Butterfly retreated to the far side of the room with downcast eyes.

Butterfly expected more raging from Lieutenant Pinkerton that day or the next, but she heard nothing. When she went to the top of the hill overlooking Nagasaki harbor, she was relieved to see the American ship had departed.

Suzuki and the boy returned home after four days in the country and it was a most joyous reunion. The boy had many stories to relate to his mother about boats on the river and about the farm animals he had seen.

He grew up to be a decent young man with the beauty of two races. Butterfly gave him the name Benjamin Pink, so he would never forget his American father. He got a job at the American hospital as an orderly and hoped to train as a doctor’s assistant. He married a comely Nagasaki girl and within five years they had three children, two boys and a girl. No matter how large the family became, he would always insist that Butterfly live with them. He couldn’t envision them ever living apart.

Butterfly heard many years later that Lieutenant Pinkerton was dead. She wrote his American wife, whose kind face she remembered, a letter of condolence. A month later she received a reply, telling her that Lieutenant Pinkerton had never stopped thinking about his little Japanese Butterfly and the little son he never laid eyes on. He hoped they might all of them meet together in heaven one day so he could beg their forgiveness.

After reading the letter, Butterfly wiped away her tears, the last she would ever shed for Lieutenant Pinkerton, and put the letter in a drawer where it wouldn’t be disturbed. Someday, when the time was right, she would get the letter out again and, as they all sat around the table, she would tell them what a fine American man he was and how lucky she was to have known him.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

Strange Innertube

Strange Innertube ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Like the four points of a compass, they sat evenly spaced around the table. Miss St. Clare and Miss Wheaton were north and south; Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Dade east and west. When addressing each other, they never used first names, but were always Mr. and Miss.

No one had spoken for several minutes. Miss St. Clare made little clicking sounds with her knife and fork as she attempted to cut her meat. She lost control of her knife and dropped it. Mr. Faulkner had been nearly asleep but the sound of the knife hitting the floor brought him back.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Just somebody being clumsy,” Miss Wheaton said.

Mr. Dade laughed and stuck his fingers in his mouth to straighten his dentures.

“You know, this spring weather makes me want to go on a cruise,” Miss St. Clare said.

“Yes, let’s all go on a cruise,” Miss Wheaton said.

“Where shall we go?”

“I hear Havana is nice.”

“Farther than that. How about Rio?”

“Yes, I think Rio would be perfect.”

“I can’t go,” Mr. Dade said. “I get seasick.”

“Well, you fly down, then, and we’ll meet you there.”

“I’ve been to Rio,” Mr. Faulkner said. “If I was going on a cruise, it wouldn’t be South America.”

“Where, then?”

“I don’t know. Up the west coast to Alaska or up the east coast from Florida to New England.”

“A domestic cruise,” Miss Wheaton said.

“Oh, that sounds lovely,” Miss St. Clare said.

“None of us are going anywhere,” Mr. Dade said.

“What?”

“I said none of us are going anywhere.”

“That’s true,” Miss St. Clare said, “but it never hurts to indulge in a little fantasy.”

“To help get us through,” Miss Wheaton said.

“What is this meat?” Miss St. Clare asked.

“I think it’s veal,” Mr. Faulkner said.

“It doesn’t look like anything I ever saw before,” Mr. Dade said.

“I think it’s made from old innertubes.”

“It’s funny you should mention innertubes,” Mr. Faulkner said. “When I was three years old my grandfather took us swimming to a river in Ohio. I remember floating on an innertube. I thought it was the most fun in the world. And not only an innertube, but I was wearing water wings. When was the last time you saw water wings? Last night it all came back to me in a dream. I could see myself. I was three years old again.”

“I hate it when people talk about their dreams,” Mr. Dade said.

“He died not long after that,” Mr. Faulkner said. “My grandfather, I mean. He was only in his fifties. He was an alcoholic. We went out for his funeral. I was a little thing.”

“I don’t think young people even know what innertubes are anymore,” Miss St. Clare said. “You have to be our age.”

“What do you mean ‘our’ age?” Mr. Dade said. “You’re four years older than I am.”

“I think people make too much of age,” Miss Wheaton said. “It’s only a number. I think of myself as still young.”

“When was the last time you looked in the mirror?” Mr. Dade said.

“I avoid mirrors. They have no meaning for me. What matters is not on the outside but on the inside.”

“You know, I’ve had four husbands,” Miss St. Clare said, “but I think I’d get married again if I had the chance. I find Dr. Wolfe awfully attractive. He’s like a combination of Cary Grant and Burl Ives.”

“You’ll have to hit him over the head and drug him,” Mr. Dade said.

“Which one is Dr. Wolfe?” Miss Wheaton asked.

“He’s very distinguished, rather heavyset with graying temples and a big mole the size of a grape on his cheek. He’s about fifty, I think.”

“Oh, that one!” Mr. Dade said. “Haven’t you heard? There’s a rumor going around that he’s gay.”

“He is not!” Miss St. Clare said. “You’re just jealous because I said I find him attractive.”

“Have it your own way, lady,” Mr. Dade said. “Whatever makes you happy.”

“I’ve had two husbands,” Miss Wheaton said, “and two were enough for me. I wouldn’t get married again if Gary Cooper walked in here and got down on one knee and proposed to me.”

“Gary Cooper’s dead, but even if he wasn’t I don’t think he’d want to marry you.”

“You know what I mean! You don’t have to be so cynical all the time.”

“I was a newspaper reporter for thirty years. If that doesn’t make you cynical, nothing will.”

“What about you, Mr. Faulkner?” Miss St. Clare said. “What did you do in the world?”

“I was head of my own company. At one time, I employed as many as a hundred people.”

“What kind of company was it?”

“Wealth management. Securities, stocks and bonds.”

“Ever do any embezzling?” Mr. Dade asked.

“No, I never went in much for embezzling.”

“I hear embezzling’s the thing if you don’t get caught.”

“I knew some Faulkners once a long time ago,” Miss St. Clare said. Wasn’t your wife’s name Catherine or Margaret or something like that?”

“I never had a wife,” Mr. Faulkner said.

“What? You were never married?”

“Nope.”

“Didn’t you get awfully lonely, being alone?”

“I didn’t say I was alone. I said I wasn’t married.”

“You had a girlfriend?”

“No.”

“No wife and no girlfriend and you weren’t alone?”

“That’s what I said.”

“You must tell us all your secrets, Mr. Faulkner,” Miss Wheaton said. “We’ve told you ours.”

“I don’t think it’s any of your business, but if you must know, my partner in life was a man.”

“A man!” Miss St. Clare said.

“Well, I might have known!” Mr. Dade said. “I never would have guessed it, but I might have known.”

“Where is he now?” Miss Wheaton asked. “Is he still alive?”

“No, he died a number of years ago. His name was Patrick White. He and I had twenty-three wonderful years together. When I die…”

“Which might be any minute now,” Mr. Dade said.

“When I die, I’ll be buried right beside him.”

“That’s very sweet,” Miss Wheaton said.

“It’s kind of creepy if you ask me,” Mr. Dade said.

“Nobody did.”

“Well, we’ve learned a lot about you today, Mr. Faulkner,” Miss Wheaton said.

I had a wife,” Mr. Dade said, “and—believe me—she was a pain in my ass. She drank herself to death.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Miss St. Clare said.

“We had two daughters and—wouldn’t you know it?—they were both just like their mother.”

“Where are they now?”

“I don’t know. They never come and see me. When they found out I wasn’t leaving them any money, they dropped me like I had the plague. Family!

“We’re your family now, Mr. Dade,” Miss Wheaton said.

“All four of us sitting at this table,” Mr. Faulkner said. “We have nothing to live for. We have no one. There is absolutely no reason to go on another minute.”

“You never know what the day will bring,” Miss St. Clare said.

“Old reruns of Bonanza, unidentifiable food, enemas, bad days and worse nights.”

“When we’re finished with dinner, let’s play some cards,” Miss Wheaton said. “I think that will cheer us all up a little.”

“No! I hate cards!” Mr. Faulkner said. “I hate all the stupid games that people play!”

“Would you rather play charades?”

There was a flash of lightning, a rumble of thunder, and everybody looked toward the window.

“I think it’s going to rain,” Miss St. Clare said.

“Brilliant deduction,” Mr. Dade said.

“I like rain,” Miss Wheaton said. “I like to be inside when it’s raining and look out.”

“It got dark so quick,” Miss Wheaton said.

“That’s the way it is in the spring.”

“I like spring.”

“What month is it?” Mr. Dade asked.

“It’s April, I think. Or May.”

“No, I mean what time is it?”

“I don’t know. It was six o’clock about an hour ago.”

“What difference does it make what time it is?” Mr. Faulkner said. “We eat dinner, we sit around and watch some stupid shit on TV, and then we wait around until it’s time to go to bed. It’s the same thing every day. Every day. Every day until we die.”

The rain began to pummel the glass and Miss St. Clare got up from the table and ran to the window like a child.

“Oh, just look at it come down!” she said.

“I like storms,” Miss Wheaton said.

The next flash of lightning caused Miss St. Clare to suck in her breath and jump back from the window.

“That was close!” she said.

“That’d be a good way to die,” Mr. Faulkner said. “A bolt of lightning from the sky. Quick and painless.”

“How do you know it’s painless?” Mr. Dade asked.

“It would overpower you. You’d be dead before you feel anything.”

“You always get around to the subject of death, don’t you?” Miss St. Clare said.

“Do you know anything better to talk about?”

The storm gathered intensity. Lightning flashed. Thunder peeled. Wind howled. Rain fell in sheets. Windowpanes shook as though under siege. The storm seemed centered directly in the sky above their heads.

When the lights flickered and went out, Miss St. Clare screamed and grabbed her throat. Miss Wheaton patted her hand to comfort her.

Miss Wheaton stood up from the table. Seemingly able to see in the dark, she went to the sideboard and retrieved two candles in holders, lit them and set them in the middle of the table.

“Candlelight is so romantic,” Miss St. Clare said, having recovered her nerves.

“It transforms the room,” Miss Wheaton said. “Suddenly it’s 1816 and we’re in a medieval castle.”

“You’re a little off with your dates,” Mr. Dade said. “Eighteen-sixteen isn’t medieval.”

Miss St. Clare leaned back in her chair and cocked her head to the side. “Oh, listen!” she said. “Somebody’s playing the piano. Isn’t it lovely?”

“It’s Clair de Lune,” Mr. Faulkner said. “My brother and I used to play it for violin and piano when we were in high school.”

Miss Wheaton and Miss St. Clare stood up and began dancing together to the music. They danced around the table and then they moved farther away, to the middle of the room, where candlelight met shadows.

Mr. Dade leaned back in his chair and lit his after-dinner cigar. Mr. Faulkner fanned his hand in front of his face to keep the smoke away.

“Look at those two old dames,” Mr. Dade said. “The candlelight makes them look young again.”

“No reruns of Gunsmoke tonight if the power doesn’t come back on,” Mr. Faulkner said. “The only thing to do is to go bed and listen to the rain.”

“You know,” Mr. Dade said. “I think I’m going to make love to both of them tonight in my room. First one and then the other.”

“Who?”

“Miss Wheaton and Miss St. Clare.”

Mr. Faulkner laughed. “I don’t see that happening.”

The storm continued unabated. Rain lashed the windows. Lightning purpled the air. Thunder shook the trees to their roots. It was a ferocious display of nature, a little bit like the end of the world.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

I Want People to See Us Together

Posted on

I Want People to See Us Together ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(I posted this short story previously in a different version.) 

Carl Piccarelli was forty-eight years old. He thought he still looked young until he looked in the mirror and saw the gray pallor of his skin, the dark circles around his eyes and a hairline that receded more with every passing year. Young was not the word for the way he looked. Ghoulish was more like it. Better to stay away from mirrors.

It was now thirty years since high school. He lived in the same house and thought the same thoughts as he did then. He slept in the same bed, with the same mattress and box springs, and wore the same clothes and shoes. The bathroom was the same and the kitchen. The pictures on the wall in his room were the same, as were the dresser and chest of drawers. The closet door, badly in need of painting, still had the same crack. The carpet, still the same ugly green, had the same unidentifiable stains. When he chose to be honest with himself, he saw that his life was badly in need of change, of forward movement.

His father had died, his sister and his brother. He was the last male heir in a line that went back to the stone age. When he died, without issue, the line was finished. He sensed the disapproval of all the male progenitors, including the two that he knew, and it put a smile on his face. He welcomed extinction.

His mother was over eighty, still much the same as when he was a small child. The skin sagged more, the shoulders drooped, the hair silvered, but she was still as indomitable as ever. She would live to be a hundred at least. She might be the first woman in history to not die at all.

Night after night he sat and watched TV with her in the darkened living room. She liked the westerns and the love stories, the game shows and the musical variety. Anything light and wholesome, life-affirming. She didn’t like movies—they were mostly too long for her—or anything with smart-mouthed children, sexual innuendo or off-color jokes. Dancing was all right, as long as it was the wholesome kind, like the dancing cowboys in Oklahoma.

Whenever Carl suggested watching a program that interested him, something other than the usual fare, she agreed, but when he saw after a few minutes that she was bored and unhappy, he turned back to what he knew she would like. He could have gone on to bed or gone into another room and read a book, but she didn’t like watching TV by herself. What’s the use of having a family, she would say, if I have to sit here all by myself in the dark?

She had given up driving, so he had to take her wherever she wanted to go, whether it was to the cemetery to visit the graves of loved ones or to the beauty parlor to get her hair re-crimped and re-tinted. He usually waited in the car at the beauty parlor, no matter how long it took, no matter how hot or cold the weather. He absolutely refused to wait inside and have all the ladies looking at him, thinking what a mama’s boy he was.

His mother was at the age where a lot of her friends and distant relatives were dying. Trips to funeral homes or to various unfamiliar churches became commonplace. He sat through services honoring people he never saw or heard of before. These affairs were always accompanied by introductions and hand-shaking with people whose hands he would have preferred not to touch.

On Saturday morning, he did the grocery shopping, but his mother always accompanied him to make sure he got the most for his money. Don’t get that one, she’d say. Get this one. It’s twenty-nine cents less. If he wanted to buy a cake with white fluffy icing, she told him the sugar would make him jittery and would only add to his waistline. When you get older, she said, you gain weight easier and you can no longer eat the way you used to.

“Of course, mother,” he’d say. “I know you’re right. You’re always right.”

On Sunday, there was always church. He preferred to just drive her there and go back and pick her up an hour-and-a-half later, but she wouldn’t allow it. “I want you to go with me,” she’d say. “I don’t want to sit there by myself. Church is for families. I want people to see us together.”

So, he’d get up on Sunday morning, dress in either of his outdated suits, put on a dress shirt that was frayed at the collar and a clip-on tie that was thirty years old, and suffer through a long service that meant little to him. He tried to feel elevated or enlightened by what he heard and saw in church, but for him it just wasn’t there.

And then, when the service was concluded, he stood by and wore a tight smile as his mother greeted her old-lady friends. This is my wonderful son, she’d say. He’s the light of my life.

She thought she knew him so well, but there was, by necessity, a part of himself that he kept hidden.

It started in high school. There was a boy named Evan Alexander. He was one year older than Carl but seemed much older. He talked of improbable sexual experiences he had had with married women. Not only that, he openly experimented with drinking and drugs and didn’t seem to worry about the consequences. He was so handsome, so daring and different that Carl felt important, for the first time in his life, just having Evan as a friend.

One weekend Evan’s parents were out of town and Evan had the house to himself. He called Carl and asked if he’d like to come over. Carl couldn’t get there fast enough, telling his mother he was going to an impromptu boy-girl party. She didn’t approve, but she didn’t try to keep him from going.

Evan was drinking beer and smoking pot. Carl accepted a beer, but he was reluctant to smoke pot. Evan seemed like an expert. He showed Carl how to draw the smoke into his lungs. Carl choked and Evan laughed. Carl hated smoking pot but he pretended to like it because he didn’t want Evan to stop being his friend.

After two more beers, Carl’s inhibitions began to melt away. They went into Evan’s bedroom and closed the door. They smoked another joint and Evan took his pornography collection out of the closet and showed it to Carl. Carl had never seen pornography before. He was embarrassed, but not to the point where he wanted to leave.

Evan asked Carl if he had ever thought about doing the things shown in the pictures. Carl had heard about boys doing things with each other, but he never expected to be offered the opportunity to do them himself. He ended up staying the whole night.

When he got home in the morning, his mother was distraught because he had been gone all night and hadn’t bothered to phone. She was just on the point of calling the hospitals, she said. He told her an improbable story about having to stay the night with a friend who was sick and afraid to be alone. She knew he was lying. She barely spoke to him for two weeks and turned her back on him whenever he came into the room.

He went to Evan’s house several more times when Evan’s parents were away. He thought about Evan all the time. When the phone rang, his heart skipped a beat. He was grateful to Evan above all things for letting him discover his own true nature. He knew now what had been bothering him through all his growing-up years. When people found out the kind of person he was, they would call him names and think ill of him, but he didn’t care. His mother, if she knew, would go to bed and die. He didn’t care about that, either.

Then graduation came and Evan was finished with high school. He landed a job in California and went away, vowing never to return. Carl didn’t want to believe that he would never see Evan again. He wrote chatty, confiding letters, even going so far as suggest that he himself come to California so the two of them could continue their friendship, but Evan wasn’t receptive to the idea.

There were others after Evan, all of them easily forgotten. None of them meant to Carl what Evan had meant. In his mid-twenties, Carl decided from that moment on that he would live the life of a celibate. He didn’t want to go through life looking for another Evan and never finding him.

All the dull years went by and Carl found himself getting perilously to fifty. He didn’t want to be fifty any more than he had wanted to be forty. He had nothing to show for all the years he had lived. He had to do something, he believed, or his life was over.

He bought himself a computer and taught himself how to use it. It would help relieve the tedium of television and of being alone all the time with his mother. She didn’t approve of his having a computer because it kept him occupied in another room away from her, but she managed to keep her complaining on the subject to a minimum. After a while, he joined, anonymously, an online club for like-minded men. His mother never went near the computer, so he felt safe in indulging in these, for him, secret activities.

He began corresponding with a man in Russia named, appropriately, Sergei. Sergei told Carl all about his life in Russia. He was thirty-six years old and had never married. His mother and father were dead. He had learned English as a child in a private school run by English nuns. He lived in a house with two older brothers and one sister. He was lonely and still hoped to find the one person on earth who was right for him. The picture he sent showed a smiling, handsome, dark-haired, young man standing in front of a falling-down house.

Carl located the one picture of himself that he thought was flattering and sent it to Sergei. As soon as Sergei saw the picture, he said, he felt an instant connection.

Carl told Sergei the truth about himself, no matter how distasteful. He didn’t want any secrets between them. All his family was dead and he had always lived alone with his mother, who would probably never die. He told him his true age and that he only had a high school education. He read books and liked foreign films but he didn’t consider himself very smart. And, yes, he also hoped to find the one person in life who would make his heart sing.

Sergei wanted to come to America and become a citizen. He was proud to know a man like Carl, he said; it made him want to make his home in America that much more. Carl wrote that if he wanted it badly enough, he would make it happen.

Carl and Sergei corresponded for several months. Carl looked forward to Sergei’s messages. If a day passed without a message from Sergei, he felt downhearted and irritable; he had to restrain himself to keep from snapping at his mother whenever she asked him pointless questions.

Then Sergei sent a message saying he had lost his job in the car manufacturing plant where he worked. His brothers told him he couldn’t go on living in the house with them unless he paid his share of the rent and paid for the food he ate. It’s a cruel world, he said. I wish I was dead.

The time was perfect for him to come to America. It was the one thing he had always wanted to do. He believed it was his destiny. There was just one thing standing in his way. He didn’t have enough money for the plane fare to cross the vast ocean; he needed about twenty-two hundred dollars. If Carl could lend him that much money, Sergei would come to him and they would be together. Of course, he would pay back the money just as soon as he could. He heard that good-paying jobs were easy to come by in America, that everything was better in America.

Carl had three thousand dollars in the bank, all the money he had in the world. If he sent twenty-two hundred to Sergei, he would have eight hundred left. It would be enough for them to go away together. They would both get jobs.

They’d go out West somewhere. They would drive day and night, eating in roadside diners and spending the night in small, out-of-the-way motels. Sergei would be seeing America for the first time. It would be the best time that either one of them ever had. He’d send his mother a postcard to let her know he was fine but was never coming back. She’d be hurt at first but would come to accept that it as the natural order of things for an almost-fifty-year-old son to leave his mother.

He went to the bank and transferred twenty-two hundred dollars to the place in Russia that Sergei had designated. He felt a thrill when the woman at the bank told him the transaction went through successfully.

He went right home right away, his heart singing, and sent Sergei a message telling him the money was on its way. Please let me know when you have it, he said, and on what day you plan to come. I will pick you up at the airport. Even though I feel we already know each other so well, I can’t wait for the moment when we finally meet in person.

At the supper table Carl’s mother complained of a pain in her back. She was afraid she had kidney stones. She was going to go to bed right after supper. Carl was uncharacteristically happy and smiled at everything she said. She didn’t notice anything different about him.

After his mother went to bed, Carl began putting things in his battered old suitcase. Just the necessary items: clean socks and underwear, two new toothbrushes and toothpaste. Of course, if Sergei needed anything, he’d be more than welcome to use what was Carl’s. Better not to take too much, though. Travel light.

The next day he didn’t hear from Sergei or the day after that. On the third day, he sent Sergei another message asking him if he received the money. By nightfall he was dismayed but not alarmed that Sergei didn’t write back.

On the fifth day he was worried that something might have happened to Sergei. Maybe he was sick or hurt and there was nobody to let him know. He tried to be patient but it wasn’t easy. He expected things to happen quickly after he sent the money. What could be causing the delay?

After one week, he awoke with the bitter realization of what had happened to his twenty-two hundred dollars. Sergei didn’t exist. The whole thing had been a ploy to steal money from him, and he fell into the trap like a know-nothing fool. There were, of course, people who made their living that way, swindling money out of unsuspecting Americans. Once they have your money you never hear from them again.

For several days, he stayed in his room with the door locked. He turned the computer off and wouldn’t turn it back on. He didn’t bathe or brush his teeth. He knew his mother was mad at him and he didn’t want to be in the same room with her; he didn’t want to hear the claptrap coming from her TV. Late at night after she had gone to bed, he crept into the kitchen without turning on any lights and got himself a sandwich or a piece of fruit. He felt like nothing—less than nothing. He felt like a ghost.

He began vomiting blood. He was dying, he knew, and he didn’t much care. He was amused by the thought of his mother having a yard sale after he was dead to sell his clothes, books and all his possessions. Nobody would want anything that had ever belonged to him. He didn’t want it himself. It was all worthless junk.

He had a disturbing dream in which he shared the same casket with the rotting corpse of his father, dead fifteen years. He screamed and clawed at the sides and ceiling of the casket for somebody to come and let him out, but he knew it was no use. Nobody would hear him and if they did they wouldn’t care.

After he made up his mind to kill himself, he began to feel better. He got out of bed, took a shower and put on clean clothes. He left the house at seven in the morning, before his mother was even out of bed. Realizing he was hungry for the first time in days, he stopped at a pancake house and ate a huge, calorie-laden breakfast.

He drove all over town, to the places he knew as a child. The school where he had attended grade school was still there and didn’t look much different; the same swings, sliding board and merry-go-round, the same blacktop and chain-link fence. He drove to the house his family had lived in up until his fifteenth year, when they were all still alive, and stopped and parked on the street and just looked at the house until an old woman walking a dog began giving him the evil eye.

He spent some time in the park, sitting on a quiet bench in the sun. He regretted all over the loss of his money and how guilelessly he had parted with it. There had always been people like him in the world on which others—Sergei, if such a person even existed—had profited. But the good thing was that he had learned his lesson. He would never be a victim again. Of anyone.

In the attic was a network of cross beams and also old ropes hanging down, left over from the previous owners. It would be so easy for him to put one of the ropes around his neck and jump off a chair into the oblivion that he desired. His mother would be the one to find him, of course, but it would take her a while because she never had any reason to go to the attic. The smell of his rotting body would probably be the thing that would give him away.

There were many ways that a person might commit suicide. Jumping from a tall building? No, too gruesome and too public. Gunshot to the head? No, too bloody, and what if you don’t die right away? Pills? How many and what kind? Getting into a bathtub full of water and slashing the wrists? Well, that’s a possibility but it would hurt terribly. He wanted something clean, painless and aesthetic.

He had read in the newspaper about the son of a successful novelist who bought a length of rubber hose from a hardware store and drove far out into the country away from his home and connected the rubber hose from the exhaust pipe into the car’s interior through an almost-closed window. Breathing in the car’s exhaust through the rubber hose killed the novelist’s son, and it must have been quick, too.

On his way home, Carl stopped and bought a thirty-foot length of rubber hose. When he went to pay for it, the old man running the store asked him what he intended to use it for, but he said he was buying it for somebody else and didn’t know its intended use.

With the rubber hose in the trunk of his car where his mother would never see it, ready to be used whenever he wanted it, he felt calm and almost happy. He wasn’t just going to let the years roll over him anymore and not fight back. He had a plan and he was going to put that plan into action. He had even thought of where he would go to do it, a forgotten place far out of town on a country road, on a river, where they used to go on picnics when he was little. People went there long ago, but nobody went there now.

Now that he had decided on the place, he had only to decide on the day and time.

When he got home after being gone all day, the house was quiet and dark. His mother was in her room with the door closed. When he went into his own bedroom, he noticed right away that something was different. The computer was turned on; he hadn’t had it on for about ten days. The chair of his desk was pulled out and his papers were rifled.

He was putting things back in order when his mother appeared in the doorway. Her hair was disheveled and her pale face tear-stained.

“I want you out of this house,” she said.

“What?”

“I said I want you to get out of my house.”

“Is something wrong?”

“I know what you are and I know what you’ve been doing behind my back.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re not the only one who can use a computer, you know.”

“You’ve been spying on me?”

“You’re a filthy abomination.”

“You had no right to spy on me.”

“I have every right to know what’s going on in my house.”

“I believe it’s my house, too,” he said.

“I’m glad your father is dead. It would have broken his heart to know what his son had become.”

“I’m not going to fight with you, mother.”

She went toward him with her fists doubled up. She was going to strike him in the face but instead broke down in wailing sobs. “How could you do such a thing to your mother?”

“Whatever I did, mother, it was none of your business, and it had nothing to do with you.”

“I want you out of this house. Tonight!”

“I’m not going anywhere, mother!” he shouted as she turned and went back to her bedroom and slammed the door.

His hands were shaking and his mouth dry. He hated ugly scenes. He was reminded of the terrible fights she used to have with his mild-mannered father. He always believed that his father went to his grave before his time because of her.

Not knowing what else to do, wanting to get his thoughts in order and wanting to be out of the house, he drove to a seedy bar on the other side of the park, sat at the bar and drank three beers in quick succession. The noise in the bar, the smoke and the music were somehow comforting to him.

He went back home at nine o’clock, expecting that she might have the door barred to him in some way, but he let himself in with his key and saw to his relief that nothing had changed. No lights were on. She was still in her room with the door closed.

He locked himself in his room and went to bed as if nothing had happened. He slept soundly and awoke to the sunlight streaming in and the birds singing. He put his bathrobe on over his pajamas and went into the kitchen and cooked bacon, eggs and French toast, enough for two.

By nine o’clock, his mother still wasn’t up. He didn’t hear her moving around in her room; he didn’t hear the toilet flush. He went to the door of her room and knocked gently.

“Mother, I’ve cooked breakfast!” he said.

Finding the door unlocked, he opened it and went in. The room was dark and smelled faintly of something foul. She was lying on the floor at the foot of the bed.

At first he thought she was dead but when he saw her still breathing, he laid her out flat, put a pillow under her head and covered her with her favorite yellow blanket. He went into the kitchen and called an ambulance.

He followed the ambulance to the hospital in his car and sat in a room of chairs until the middle of the afternoon before a doctor came out to tell him what was wrong.

“She’s had a massive stroke,” the doctor said. “It’s bad.”

“Will she recover?” Carl asked.

“I don’t think so. I don’t think she’ll last more than a few days.”

She died three days later. The funeral was well-attended by all the sobbing old ladies, bosom friends of his mother, that Carl had met, either at church or at the funerals of others. They all expressed their tearful condolences; a couple of them kissed him on the cheek. Some of them had spinster daughters or granddaughters they wanted him to meet.

The money from the sale of the house and all its furnishings, combined with Carl’s mother’s estate, brought him enough money to live comfortably without having to work for a paycheck ever again. He donated his clothes, shoes, coats, hats, suits, socks, underwear—even his pajamas—to charity and bought everything new. Out with the old. In with the new.

He bought an extravagant red car with a powerful engine his mother would have hated. He bought an expensive set of suitcases and filled them with books, childhood mementoes, pictures and other things from the house he wanted to keep.

He loaded the suitcases into the back of his car, all of his past life fit snugly between the front and back seats. As he drove away, he took one last look at the house he had lived in all his life. He could see his mother standing on the front lawn clutching her chest, looking at him with everlasting disapproval.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp