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One of My Own

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One of My Own ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

When Alvin Goldsmith married Alma Mound and the babies started coming, he knew life for him would always be a struggle. After the first year of marriage, they brought Earl into the world. Then there was Peggy, then Damon, and then a girl they named Storm. After the fourth baby in five years, Alvin said there would be no more. One more would upset the balance.

Alvin had never been smart. He graduated from high school, but just barely. His last two years he was so lax and so lazy that, when he was allowed to graduate with his class, it was an act of generosity. Two weeks after graduation, he went to work in a shoe factory operating a leather press and stayed for thirteen years until the factory shut its doors. After that he painted houses, worked in a lead mine, drove a school bus, worked as a janitor in a church, clerked in a hardware store, did cleanup work in a cemetery, and even for a while worked as a trash collector.

The growing-up years of his quartette of children passed in a kind of blur to Alvin. They were starting to kindergarten and, then, before Alvin knew it, he was putting on his one blue suit that he wore to weddings and funerals and going to their high school graduations. Peggy and Storm were both married by the time they were nineteen and started having babies of their own. Earl, never much interested in the girls, moved to Alaska with a couple of his male friends and got a job there. He sent greeting cards to Alvin and Alma on Christmas and birthdays, but he would never come back home, he said, not even for a visit. He was happy in Alaska and didn’t want to be reminded of his growing-up years.

The only one of the four children that had ever caused Alvin and Alma any trouble was Damon, the third child and the younger of the two boys. As a child, he had temper tantrums in which he pounded his head against the wall. If anybody ever crossed him or kept him from doing what he wanted to do, he went into the kitchen and began taking dishes out of the cabinet and throwing them against the wall and breaking them. He played cruel tricks on his sisters, one time putting a decaying skunk in their bedroom, another time taking some of their clothes and books out into the front yard and setting fire to them. He called his mother vile names and painted obscenities on the wall of his room in his own blood. Alvin and Alma were intent on getting him through high school, after which they considered their duty to him was finished and the boy was on his own.

Damon’s high school years were fraught with trouble and heartache. He was always in trouble at school. He cheated on tests, stole money from girls’ purses, engaged in fistfights on little provocation, threatened to kill a teacher for touching him on the arm. At night, he went out and drank, sometimes not getting home in time to go to school the next morning. He shoplifted cigarettes and small food items. He had been barred from every pharmacy in town because he roamed their aisles and pilfered drugs.  Alvin prayed, though he knew he was wrong in doing so, that Damon would take the combination of drugs that would end his own life and in doing so, bring the family tragedy to an end.

Finally, through the grace of God, Damon graduated from high school. He had the lowest grade point average in his class the highest number of days missed, but still he made it through. The entire family attended his graduation and were happy for him. The next day he attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. He spent six months in the state mental hospital, after which he was said to be cured of whatever had been wrong with him and sent home.

He got a job as an apprentice meat cutter for minimum wage. In the evenings, he would come home wearing his white apron covered with blood, in which he seemed to take pride. Sometimes he brandished a meat cleaver in his mother’s or his father’s face, but they could ignore this as long as he was going to work every day and staying at home in the evenings and watching television and napping in the recliner.

He began dating a checker named Joanne in the supermarket where he worked and, in a few weeks, they announced they were to be married. Joanne was going to have a baby, but she hoped nobody would notice until after the wedding. They rented a small house a few blocks from the supermarket where they both worked and, seven months after they were married, Joanne gave birth to a son, Matthew.

In the year after Matthew’s birth, Damon began going around with other women, barflies and other low types. He stole money from Joanne’s purse, just as he had stolen money from girl’s purses in high school, and he began staying out all night, sometimes being gone for two or three days at a time. When Joanne confronted him over the loss of the rent money, he hit her in the head with a bottle and tried to strangle her. As he held her down on the floor, she slashed him across the face with a steak knife and got away. After that, she quit her job as a checker and took Matthew and went back to her childhood home to live with her widowed mother.

By now, Alvin was sixty-three and, after forty-five years, he had to give up working. He had a heart murmur, a fatty liver, arthritis, asthma, and deteriorating disks in his spine. Every movement for him was painful. He and Alma, sitting at the kitchen table, figured they could get by on what little money they had, since they only had themselves to take care of and didn’t need anything in the way of luxuries.

Just when Alvin was looking forward to not having to go to work every day anymore, his son Damon was once more thrust upon him. Damon had lost his job, his home and his wife. He had no place to lay his head. Alvin and Alma had to take him in. He needed them. They didn’t have any other choice. What parent can turn away a child, no matter how old the child is? They allowed him to move into his old room, telling him they were no longer going to play any more of his old games. He either had to get himself straightened up, or he had to get out.

He did all right for a couple of months but after he started feeling better he was up to his old tricks. He stole his father’s pain medication. He took grocery money from his mother’s purse and used it to buy whiskey. He stayed out all night and slept all day. He was dirty and sloppy and his mother had to pick up after him the same way she had done when he was five years old. Anytime she tried to speak to him in a sensible way to get him to try harder and do better, he called her a meddling old bitch and demanded that she leave him alone so he might live his life the way he saw fit.

When Damon pushed Alma against the refrigerator, causing her to fall and sprain her wrist, Alvin told him he had to get out before the day was through. He would have to make his own way in the world. His parents were no longer responsible for him. He got his things together and left, damning his parents to hell and telling them he’d come back and, when he did, they’d better start saying their prayers.

“Have somebody come and change the locks on the doors tomorrow,” Alvin said to Alma.

Without telling Alvin, Alma took a few lessons on gun safety and how to shoot and, after that, bought a small handgun at a gun shop twenty miles out on the highway. She learned how to load and how to shoot at a moment’s notice. She wouldn’t let Alvin know she had the gun but if he happened to see it, he would know she was only doing what she had to do to protect their lives, which was all they had in the world worth protecting.

Two weeks after Damon left, Alma heard a car door slam out in front of the house just as she was finishing up with the supper dishes. Alvin had gone out to the garage and wouldn’t have heard the door. When she went to the window, she saw Damon coming toward the house carrying a shotgun. She heard him try to open the door and, when his old key wouldn’t work, he began shouting and swearing.

“Go on, now, son!” she called to him. “We’ve already made it clear we don’t want any more trouble with you!”

“Let me in!” he bellowed like a bull.

“No!” she said. “I’m not going to let you in! If you don’t go away and leave us alone, I’ll call the sheriff! I swear I will!”

He banged on the door with his fists and, when she still didn’t open the door, he blasted the lock with his shotgun. It fell away like a cheap plastic toy.

Not knowing what else to do, she ran into the bedroom and got her gun that she kept on the top shelf in her closet, in a place where Alvin would never see it. She ran holding the gun out in front of her and into the front room, where Damon was just coming through the door. When he saw her, he leveled his shotgun at her.

She believed in her heart that he was going to kill her in the next few seconds and after he killed her he’d kill Alvin too. To keep that from happening, she fired one shot at Damon and that’s all it took. The bullet from her gun hit him squarely where his heart was, as if she had been shooting at targets her whole life. He sucked in his breath, fell to the floor and was dead.

The story was in the newspapers and on television. Rural Woman Kills Schizophrenic Son in Self-Defense. No Charges to be Filed.

There were more than two hundred people at the funeral. Everybody heard about the killing and wanted to be part of the excitement. No matter how many people expressed condolences and sincere regrets, Alma was sure that many of them looked upon her with disgust and believed she was a monster for killing her own son. It’s easy to judge people when you don’t know all there is to know.

Alvin wanted to put it all behind him, to live the rest of his life in peace, but Alma couldn’t let it go.

“I would rather have cut off my hand than to lift it against one of my own,” she said.

“No, old girl,” Alvin said. “You did absolutely the right thing. Nobody blames you. If you hadn’t done what you did, you and I would be in our graves right now.”

“When I think about my poor boy and his miserable life, I don’t know if I can stand it,”

“You’ve got to! There’s no other choice.”

“There’s nothing I can ever do to make it up to him now.”

The river ran about a mile behind Alvin and Alma’s house. After three days of rain, she heard talk about how it might flood. She thought about the swirling waters and what a comfort it would be to have them rise over your head and take away all your troubles and all your sins. Like being baptized in the River Jordan.

Not being able to sleep, she got out of bed at three in the morning and slipped a jacket on over her pajamas and stepped into some old boots she kept for rainy weather. She tied a headscarf around her head and got a flashlight out of the kitchen drawer and walked down to the river in the dark and silence, being observed only by an owl or two or a possum.

When she came to the river, she thought she’d be afraid but she wasn’t. Without hesitating, she stepped into the water as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. She kept walking without stopping and when the water was up to her chin and there was only one more step to take, she stopped and looked up into the trees and, just past the trees, at the shining stars. She saw Damon looking down at her from heaven and she heard him whisper the words: Mama, I forgive you.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

I Want People to See Us Together

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

(Note: This is a re-post of a story I posted just one month ago, slightly revised.)

Leigh Abbott 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 still lived in the same house and thought the same thoughts as he did then. He slept in the same bed 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 he was in a state of stasis, rather than one of flux.

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 Leigh suggested watching a program that interested him, something other than the usual fare, she agreed, but when he saw after ten minutes or so 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 no longer drove, 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 and wondering, maybe even laughing at him and tittering behind their hands.

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. There 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. I bow to your superior judgment.

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 Eliot Ellsworth. He was one year older than Leigh. He was sexually precocious; he talked about improbable experiences that he had with older women. Not only that, but he experimented with drinking and drugs. He carried a switchblade knife in his book bag. He said he would stab to death anybody who insulted him. Leigh was scandalized but entranced. Eliot was so different from anybody else. Leigh felt important, for the first time in his life, when he was with Eliot.

One weekend Eliot’s parents were out of town and Eliot had the house to himself. He called Leigh and asked if he’d like to come over. Leigh 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.

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

After two more beers, Leigh’s inhibitions began to melt away. They went into Eliot’s bedroom and closed the door, even though there was nobody else in the house. They smoked another joint and Eliot took his pornography collection out of a drawer and showed it to Leigh. Leigh had never seen pornography before. He was embarrassed, but he wouldn’t have gone home at that moment for anything in the world.

Eliot asked Leigh if he had ever thought about doing the things shown in the pictures with another boy. Eliot ended up staying the whole night.

When he got home in the morning, his mother was in tears. He told her an improbable story about having to stay the night with a friend who was sick. 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 met with Eliot several more times when Eliot’s parents were away. He thought about Eliot all the time. When the phone rang, his heart skipped a beat. He was grateful above all to Eliot for showing him his true nature. He knew then, for the first time in his life, that when people come into our lives, it’s for a reason.

Then graduation came and Eliot was finished with high school. He landed a job in another state and went away. Leigh never saw him again. Leigh wrote him several letters, hoping they might get together again, but Eliot never wrote back.

There were a few others after Eliot, all of them easily forgotten. None of them meant to Leigh what Eliot had meant. In his mid-twenties, Leigh decided from that moment on that he would live the life of a celibate. There would be only one Eliot in his life.

All the dull years went by and Leigh found himself perilously close to fifty. He still felt, on the inside, like a high school boy. He bought a computer to help relieve the tedium of television and of being alone all the time with his mother. She didn’t approve of computers because it kept Leigh occupied in another room away from her, but she indulged him in his little hobby. He joined, anonymously, an online club for like-minded men. His mother would never know.

He began corresponding with a man in Russia named Sergei. (How Russian can you get?) Sergei told Leigh all about his life in Russia. He was thirty-two years old and had never married. His mother and father were dead. He had learned English as a child in a missionary school. He lived in a house with his 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 pictures that he sent of himself showed a smiling, handsome, dark-haired, trim young man in front of a dilapidated house.

Leigh 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.

Leigh told Sergei the truth about himself, no matter how distasteful. 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 too still 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 Leigh, he said; it made him want to make his home in America that much more. Leigh wrote that if he wanted it badly enough, he would make it happen.

They corresponded, via the Internet, for close to a year. Leigh 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 Leigh 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. Much better than Russia.

Leigh 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 together somewhere. They’d drive day and night. They would eat in roadside diners and spend the night in small, out-of-the-way motels. They’d have the best time they ever had in their lives. He’d send his mother a postcard to let her know he was fine but never coming back. She’d be hurt at first but would come to accept it. There comes a time when every boy has to leave his mother. My time is long-past due, don’t you think?

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 the money, 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 Leigh’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. Leigh was uncharacteristically happy and smiled at everything she said. She didn’t notice anything different about him.

After she went to bed, Leigh 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 like that, he’d be more than welcome to use what was Leigh’s. Better not take too much. Travel light or don’t travel at all.

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 after he sent the money, he was concerned that maybe something had happened to Sergei. Maybe he was sick or hurt. Of course, there was nobody to let him know if anything had happened. He needed to be patient but it wasn’t easy. After he sent the money, he expected things to happen quickly. What could be the reason for the delay?

One week after sending the money, Leigh awoke in the morning with the realization that he had been played for a sucker. The whole thing with Sergei had been perpetrated to swindle him out of money. Maybe Sergei didn’t even exist.

He imagined a group of people sitting around a table in Russia, scheming to snare unsuspecting fools in America. This looks like a good one, they’d say. Play on his loneliness and vulnerability. Send him a picture of an attractive man. Get him to share confidences. Make him feel a connection that, of course, doesn’t exist. Go in for the kill. I think we can get at least two thousand out of this one. Damn, if this isn’t a sweet way to make money without having to work for it!

He continued sending messages every day to Sergei. Of course, they were unanswered. Sergei, he knew now, didn’t exist.

For several days, Leigh didn’t have the will to get out of bed in the morning. His life was nothing and it was going to stay that way until he died and they put him in the ground alongside his father. When his mother came in at ten o’clock in the morning to see if he was all right, he told her didn’t feel well and wanted only to rest. He would stay in bed until the time that he felt like getting up. He had nothing to get up for. You need to see the doctor, she said. Do you need me to call him for you? I need only for you to go away and leave me alone, he said.

On his third day in bed, he began vomiting blood. He was dying, he knew, and he didn’t much care. His pictured his mother having a yard sale after he was gone, selling his clothes and shoes and things. Nobody would want anything that he had ever owned. He didn’t even want it himself.

He had a disturbing dream in which he and his father were buried in the same coffin, except that he wasn’t quite dead yet. His father, who had been dead for fifteen years, had worms and maggots crawling out of his eye sockets. Leigh couldn’t get away from him. All he could do was scream and flail his arms and legs. When he woke up, he realized he had been sleeping too much. He was about to sleep himself to death.

He got out of bed and took a shower and after he was dressed in clean clothes he got into his car and drove away without a word to his mother. On his way to wherever he was going, he stopped at a restaurant he had never noticed before and had a chicken dinner.

After he left the restaurant, he drove out of town on a road that he hadn’t been on since he was a child. As he remembered the road, he remembered also a high bluff overlooking a river. It used to be a picnic spot. He had been there a couple of times with his parents when he was in fourth or fifth grade. Now, if only he thought about it hard enough, he could remember how to get there.

He came to a turn-off and a voice in his head told him to take it. He made a left-hand turn and after a while found himself going up a hill. Yes, he recognized the hill. He saw himself in the back seat of his father’s old black Mercury and his mother and father in front, arguing about some little thing, as usual. He remembered the same huge tree beside a ditch with some of its roots exposed and a field with some cows standing behind a wire fence.

He took another turn and, after an ascendant half-mile, he was at the place he remembered. The picnic tables had been removed and the road was partly washed away, but it was the same place. He parked the car and got out.

About fifty yards from where the picnic tables used to be was the bluff. It was a drop of a hundred feet or so, equivalent to the height of a ten-story building. At the bottom of the bluff were rocks and small trees. When the river was at its highest peak, it came right up to the foot of the bluff. A fall or a jump from the bluff would certainly kill a man instantly.

His mind went blank as he stood two feet from the edge of the bluff and looked down, feeling the wind on his face and smelling the river. Here was the resolution of his unhappy life. It could all be over in less than a minute if he only had the courage to step forward.

He was thinking these bitter thoughts when he heard a slight sound to his right and slightly behind him. He turned and saw a dark-haired man standing there looking at him. His first thought was of Sergei, but he knew, of course, that that was ridiculous.

 “Thinking about jumping?” the man said.

Leigh managed a tight little smile, put his hands in his jacket pockets, and turned and headed for the car.

“Wait a minute!” the man said. “Stay and talk for a while!”

“I came up here to be alone,” Leigh said. “Now that I’m not alone anymore, I’d rather be someplace else.”

“Hey, man! Isn’t that a rather cutting thing to say to somebody you just met?”

“How is it that you just happened to come along while I was here? The odds are about a million to one that we would both be in the same place at the same time.”

“That’s how fate works, I guess, man.”

“Don’t call me ‘man’. It sounds supercilious.”

“Super what?”

“Did my mother send you to spy on me? How much is she paying you? I can just hear her: My boy has been acting a little strangely lately and I want to know what he’s doing when he’s away from home.”

“Mother problems? I know what that’s like, except my mother is dead.”

“Well, I’m going now,” Leigh said. “It’s been lovely talking to you.”

“I know you!” the man said.

“What?”

“Even if we’ve never met before, I know you! You’re a universal type. A middle-aged man living with his mother, pretending to be something he’s not. She browbeats you, doesn’t she? She still treats you like a child. She doesn’t acknowledge that you’re not the same person you were when you were eight years old.”

“Are you a psychiatrist?” Leigh asked.

“No, I’m not a psychiatrist, but do you know what I’d like right now?”

“No, and I don’t care.”

“I’d like a shrimp salad and a bottle of imported beer.”

“Sea food makes me vomit and I don’t drink beer,” Leigh said.

“I have a room at the General Sherman Motel,” the man said. “You’d love it! It looks just like the motel in Psycho. I haven’t seen Norman Bates yet, but I’ll bet he’s around somewhere.”

“I’m leaving now,” Leigh said.

“How about if you take me by my motel to get cleaned up and then we’ll go on and get something to eat?”

“I have exactly two dollars,” Leigh said. “I just gave all my money away to a person I didn’t know. You’re looking at the stupidest person alive.”

“Hey, we’ve all been that, man!”

Leigh stepped around him and got into his car, put the key into the ignition and turned it. As he was putting the car in gear, the man jumped in on the passenger side.

“You know, you’re very annoying,” Leigh said. “If I find my mother sent you, I’m going to kill you, you know.”

“Forget about mother for a while. She’s not here”

“How do I know you’re not a serial killer? How do I know you won’t lure me into your room at the General Sherman Motel and hack me to pieces with a big knife?”

“That’s just a chance you’ll have to take, man!”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

By Appointment or By Chance

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By Appointment or By Chance ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

It was 1899. The old century was in its death spiral and a new century was about to be born. At this auspicious time of new beginning, I opened a business on the main street of the town of Bended Knee.

I had worked as a teacher, a journalist and a clerk in a department store in the city, but I dreamed of a profession where I was in sole command. I hated having to be accountable to anybody for anything. I wanted to be accountable only to myself.

I went to a demonstration of photography in a college lecture hall and, after sitting through a lecture and a practical demonstration of portrait photography, I was certain it was something at which I could make a living. I bought a couple of books and studied them, front to back, with interest. I took my savings and bought a camera and all the necessary equipment. In Bended Knee, I rented a commercial space in the heart of the business district. I employed a carpenter to construct a wall, so that the front part of the space would be public and the back part private. A professional sign painter painted my name across the window and the words Portrait Photographer underneath and, underneath that, By Appointment or By Chance.

Photography had been around since the days of Andrew Jackson or before, but to most people it was still a novelty. If you lived in a small town, it was all the rage to put on your glad rags and go and sit for your portrait, especially if you were beautiful. Then, no matter how poorly time treated you, no matter how ugly and corpulent you became, you would always have the photographic image of yourself to remind the world of your former glory. Your descendants would still have it in a quaint little frame decades after your death and one day they would sit around and say to each other, “Now, just who was he?” or, “Didn’t she die of diphtheria when she was only about twenty-three?”

Families wanted their portraits taken as a group and then separately. Some families had as many as eight or ten children. Mothers wanted their children to sit for a portrait every year, traditionally on their birthdays. Mantelpieces and chairside tables abounded with portraits in frames. People gave them to relatives as gifts at Christmas. Photography as a business was a modest gold mine for the right sort of fellow.

And then, of course, there was death photography. People wanted portraits of their deceased family members, in a coffin or on a bed, sometimes posed with the living members of the family or with the family dog, sometimes sitting propped up as though still alive. Some photographers painted eyes or rosy cheeks on the finished portraits, but I never employed that vulgar technique. I figured that once a person was dead, it was pointless to try to make him or her seem alive again.

While business was booming in my studio in town, I was willing, more often than not, to go out of town to take portraits of the deceased, since the deceased were not able to come into the studio and sit for their portraits. I could usually charge any amount for this service and people would pay it because the resultant photo was a blessed remembrance of the departed loved one and money was, where the death sentiment was concerned, no object. This is not to say I cheated people; I charged them what I thought they could pay. If someone lived in a fine house with many rooms and beautiful furnishings, I had no qualms about charging top prices. If, however, they dressed in rags and lived in a falling-down shack, I did the work for practically nothing.

At the time of which I speak, I was still about twelve years away from owning my first automobile, so I traveled by horse-drawn wagon. I had a specially-made enclosed wagon to keep my equipment dry if it should happen to rain, and it rained more than it didn’t, at any season of the year. So, I found myself slogging over unfamiliar country roads, looking for a place I wasn’t sure existed. Sometimes it took me all day to get to where I needed to go and I would end up staying the night. I wasn’t above bedding down inside my wagon if there was no other choice. I kept telling myself that next year, or maybe the year after, I’d hire an assistant to do the driving, carry the equipment and perform other trivial tasks. I might even train him to go on the out-of-town forays on his own.

Children died more often than adults. There was always a fever or an infection or pneumonia or something to carry them off. If you thought about it at all, you knew that a competent doctor might have fixed them up with a pill, a bottle of medicine, or just a word of advice, if only a doctor had been around when needed. I photographed dead babies in sateen-covered boxes in the family parlor, surrounded by sprays of forget-me-nots; babies in their mother’s arms, with a brood of older children looking on; babies just ready to go into their graves with smiles on their faces and a stuffed toy in their arms; twin babies in one tiny coffin with their arms entwined. Once I photographed a baby and a little brown-and-white dog side by side in a wooden box, ready to embark together on their journey through eternity.

Then there were the older children: the tiny six-year-old girl whose father accidentally shot her through the heart; the boy, eight years old, who didn’t get out of the way of the train fast enough; the girl, age ten, who died of heart failure when her mother locked her in a mausoleum at the cemetery to teach her a lesson. Most parents were good parents, though, and wanted a photographic remembrance of their child. I gave them what they wanted and needed. For a price.

I was on my way back to town after one of these missions to photograph a dead boy (he fell on a pitchfork in the barn, punctured his stomach, and bled to death before the doctor arrived; his mother pretended he wouldn’t be quite so dead as long as she had a photograph of him laid out in a little flower-bedecked coffin in the family dining room), when I saw a woman dressed in black standing beside the road underneath a big tree waving a white handkerchief to attract my attention. I stopped the wagon and looked at the woman with a distinct lack of friendliness.

“Are you the man what takes photographs of the dead?” she asked.

“That’s what it says on the side of the wagon,” I said.

“I’m Mrs. Wallace Worth,” she said. “I live in that house over there.” She pointed and I looked. It was a large brick house set back about two hundred feet from the road.

“I’m just coming off a case,” I said. “I’m headed back to town.”

“Well, you might come back tomorrow if you’re agreeable.”

“I don’t think I can do that,” I said. “Just what is it you need?”

She looked at the ground and put her hand to her forehead and said, “Death has paid a call at my house.”

“You want a photograph of the deceased?”

“Yes, but it’s more than that.”

“What, then?”

“You look like a strong man,” she said, “and quite young.”

I thought for a moment that she was making advances at me. I gave her a sour look to let her know I was not at home for that kind of nonsense.

“My husband, Wallace Worth Senior, is lying in his coffin in the bay window between the parlor and the dining room. The sun shines on him most of the day. He hasn’t been embalmed and it’s been three days now.”

“Why don’t you go ahead and bury him?”

“Tomorrow, April twenty-third, would have been his fifty-seventh birthday. When he knew he was dying, he made me promise that I wouldn’t have him buried until that day. He was very superstitious. He studied numerology and he believed that nothing would ever go right for him in the afterlife or for his kinfolk still living on the earth if he did not go into the ground on the day he was born.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that superstition,” I said.

“So, if you could consent to take my dear husband’s photograph before he at last goes into the ground on his birthday, I will make it worth your while.”

“I won’t do it for less than fifty dollars,” I said, believing she would balk at the price and I could be on my way.

“All right, but we’ll negotiate terms later on. You see, there’s more to my request than I’ve stated.”

“I haven’t eaten since early this morning,” I said.

“I believe we might deign to find you a crust of bread somewhere in the house for you, sir,” she said.

She instructed me to pull my wagon around to the side of the house where she was waiting for me. When she took me inside, there was the unmistakable stench of death.

“I know,” she said. “He’s starting to smell. Nature takes its course.”

I took my handkerchief out of my pocket and held it over my mouth and nose. It was probably a good thing I hadn’t eaten.

“Just show me where the deceased is,” I said, “and we’ll get this thing over with.”

He was lying in a mahogany casket, very expensive looking, suffused with milky light from a bay window. Enormous potted ferns lay at the head and foot of the casket. Smaller containers of flowers were ranged on the floor along the front.

“He loved the sunlight,” Mrs. Worth said. “I just couldn’t see blocking out the light with heavy curtains. It’ll be the last earthly light he’ll ever see.”

“All right,” I said. “I’ll bring in my equipment from the wagon and we’ll have this done in no time at all.”

While I got the camera set up and everything ready to take the picture, Mrs. Worth and the housemaid, Nola, hovered in the background. I got the feeling that Mrs. Worth thought I needed to be watched lest I steal something valuable.

I took two photographs of the deceased from different angles and then Mrs. Worth wanted one where she was standing next to the casket looking down into her husband’s face. When I was finished, I said, “That’ll be fifty dollars, ma’am, if you please. When your photographs are ready, I’ll send you a postcard and you can pick them up in town at your convenience.”

I made ready to leave and Mrs. Worth just stood there looking at me with Nola hovering behind her shoulder.

“I believe I mentioned there was something else,” Mrs. Worth said.

“Yes?”

“My son, Wallace Worth Junior, died a day and a half after his father. He is upstairs in his room, lying on his bed. He has been bathed and dressed for burial.”

“You want a photograph of him, too?” I asked.

“Yes, I do and then…”

“Then what, ma’am?”

“Nola and I are here alone. Neither one of us are very strong. After you take Junior’s picture, I would like to prevail upon you to pick him up and carry him downstairs and place him in the coffin with his father and then close the lid. The boys will be here early in the morning—on my husband’s fifty-seventh birthday, I believe I mentioned—to perform the burial.”

“Did your son die of anything contagious? Anything I need to know about?”

“Oh, no, sir! He had heart trouble. Nothing catching, I can assure you.”

“How old is the boy?”

“He’s fifteen years old, sir, and not very big. I don’t think he would weigh more than about ninety pounds. I’ll pay you twenty extra dollars to carry him downstairs and place him in the coffin with his father and close the lid.”

“So, that’ll be fifty to photograph your husband, thirty to photograph your son, and twenty to carry the boy downstairs. That’s a hundred all together.”

“That seems fair, sir. I have the cash in the wall safe in my bedroom.”

“All right, let’s photograph the boy, then.”

Mrs. Worth took me up a broad carpeted staircase, up one flight and then up another. We went down a hallway to a closed door, first Mrs. Worth, then me, and then silent Nola. Mrs. Worth turned to look at me before she opened the door.

“In the midst of life we are in death,” she said.

She opened the door and I saw the boy, Wallace Worth Junior, lying on his back on the bed. I walked over to the bed and studied the photographic subject for a minute or two, trying to decide the best angle from which to photograph him.

He was dressed in a fine-looking dark suit with knickers, gray stockings and expensive-looking, high-top leather shoes. He wore a high collar with a cravat, just as a grown man would, and in the cravat a diamond stickpin.

“He looks very natural,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

I heard Mrs. Worth sob behind me and Nola followed suit. “Maybe it would best if you just leave me to my work,” I said.

Mrs. Worth and Nola went out of the room and I carried my camera up the many steps to the little bedroom on the top floor where the boy lay. I got set up to take the picture and, as usual, I photographed the deceased from a couple different angles. When I was finished, I carried my camera back down and loaded them into my wagon, so I would be ready to leave as soon as I did the rest of what I had promised to do.

When I went back inside, Mrs. Worth and Nola were waiting at the foot of the stairs for me. Without a word, the three of us went up silently up the stairs again to the boy’s bedroom.

I could have picked him up and thrown him over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes, but I didn’t think that was appropriate under the circumstances. Looking at his face, I bent over him and slipped my right arm underneath the upper part of his back and my left hand underneath the crook in his knees. I hefted him off the bed and when I did I had the surprise of my life.

The boy sputtered and let out an exhalation of air. I continued to hold him, not knowing what else to do, and his entire body bucked as if he had just sat on hot ashes. I eased him back down on the bed and took a step back.

“This boy’s not dead!” I said.

He gasped for air and continued sputtering and making guttural sounds. When I could take my eyes off him, I looked to Mrs. Worth and I saw that she had collapsed on the floor. Thinking she had just fainted from the shock of seeing her boy come alive when she thought he was dead, I leaned over and hefted her onto the bed. While I was doing this, the boy swung his legs over the side of the bed and leaned forward so that his face was parallel to the floor.

“Get a wet cloth!” I said to Nola.

Nola was standing in the doorway sobbing, but she went out of the room at my command and when she returned with the wet cloth I could see that Mrs. Worth wasn’t breathing. Not being a doctor, I didn’t know what to do for her, so I began rubbing and patting the backs of her hands while Nola dabbed at her head with the wet cloth.

After about five minutes of these ministrations, I leaned over to Mrs. Worth and put my ear against her chest. I heard nothing.

“I’m afraid she’s dead,” I said. “The shock was too much for her.”

At this news, Nola shrieked and ran from the room. I heard her shoes clomping all the way down the stairs. What she did then I had no way of knowing.

I turned to the boy, Wallace Worth Junior, sitting propped up against the headboard of his bed, feet on the floor. “Are you all right?” I asked him.

“Um, no,” he said. “Who are you?”

“I’m a photographer. Your mother asked me to come up here and take your picture.”

“Why would she do that? Have I been asleep?”

“I’m afraid your mother and your father are both dead.”

“He looked at the still form of his mother and all he said was, “Oh.”

“Where is the nearest doctor?” I asked him.

“Um, I’m not sure there is one out here. My father wanted to live in the country. He hated the town.”

“You know, don’t you, that your father is laid out in his coffin in the parlor downstairs?”

“Yes, I know that,” he said. “We were going to have a funeral.”

“Do you know where that girl lives? That Nola? It seems that she’s the only person here now to do anything for you.”

“She’s ignorant,” he said. “She can’t do anything without mother telling her what to do.”

“Would she be able to go and find a doctor?”

“She wouldn’t be able to find her own bunghole with both hands.”

“Well, I’m going back to town now,” I said. “When I get there, I’ll go to the sheriff and tell him what happened out here. He’ll send somebody out to see to things. Do you want to stay here with your mother, or do you want to come with me?”

“No, I’ll go,” he said. “She wasn’t really my mother, anyway.”

“If you want to take some things, pack a bag or anything, I’ll wait,” I said.

“You can wait here for me,” he said. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”

To keep from being in the small bedroom where I would have to look at a dead woman, I went out of the room, back along the hallway, and sat on the top step and leaned my head against the wall. In fifteen minutes, Wallace Worth Junior appeared, carrying a small valise. He went to the kitchen and got himself a drink of water and then he was ready to go.

It was late afternoon with a sky that threatened rain. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to make it back to town before the rain started. After a couple of miles, I turned and looked at Wallace Worth Junior, expecting him to show signs of mortal illness. I wasn’t sure what to say to him. His parents were dead but he was alive. It was a dilemma any way you looked at it.

“Do you have any family in town?” I asked

“No, I don’t think so,” he said.

“You’ll have to have somebody to stay with,” I said.

“If they’ll get the dead bodies out of my house, I can stay there.”

“No, I don’t think they’ll let you stay way out here by yourself in that big house.”

“Who’s going to stop me?”

“Well, you’re a minor.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means you won’t be legally recognized as an adult until you’re at least eighteen years of age.”

“The house is mine now. I know father would have wanted me to have it, now that she’s dead.”

“Your mother thought you were dead.”

“She wasn’t my mother, I told you. She was my stepmother.”

“Well, whatever she was, she thought you were dead.”

“I was dead.”

“And you came back to life?”

“It’s happened before. I don’t know why.”

“You’re a miracle of medical science, then,” I said.

“I saw God,” he said. “I spoke to Him.”

“What did he say?”

“I would expect you to ask a question like that.”

Silly as it was, my feelings were hurt. “You don’t know anything about me,” I said. “I’m doing you a favor by giving you a ride to town.”

“Don’t you think I could find my own way to town if I needed to?” he said.

“You can get out and walk to town for all I care!”

“God is a slight man with thin lips. People think of him as having a long white beard, but he’s clean-shaven.”

“That’s a fascinating piece of useless information,” I said.

“He wears a black dress suit with a gray cravat and a ruby stickpin. He wears a monocle in his right eye.”

“Don’t tell me God has an eye deficiency!” I said.

“Go ahead and make fun of me. I don’t care.”

“Did God have any special message for you?”

“He told me to await further instructions.”

I laughed and had a little coughing spell. That was enough God talk. When I was through coughing and could speak again, I said, “You must be hungry.”

“Why must I be hungry?” he asked.

“Your step-momma said you had been dead for a day and a half.”

“I was dead.”

“All right. I believe you.”

“Yes, I’m hungry,” he said. “I could eat.”

“When we get to town, then, we’ll get you a good meal.”

“In the morning I’ll see my father’s lawyer and tell him they’re dead. He’ll advise me what to do.”

“You’ll need a place to stay tonight,” I said.

“I can manage,” he said.

“We’ll get you a room in the hotel for tonight. I’ll pay for it, but you’ll need to pay me back as soon as you can.”

“Most people are evil,” he said. “I see the evil, the vileness, hanging over them like a cloud. I don’t see it in you, though.”

“Is that your way of thanking me?” I asked.

“Not at all.”

“You do flatter me.”

When we got back to town, I headed straight for the hotel. I had my horse stabled there and locked my wagon so nobody would become curious about what might be inside worth stealing. These trivial matters tended to, Wallace Worth Junior and I went into the hotel restaurant and sat at a round table. After we placed our order, I noticed the other people in the restaurant looking at us, before I realized they were looking at him.

“You see the way they’re looking at me?” he said.

“They’re not used to seeing a young fellow all dressed up in formal attire. There aren’t any opera houses or ballrooms in this town.”

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

He had a pointed way about him, old beyond his years. I could almost believe I was conversing with a grown man rather than a boy in his teens.

“They know I’ve seen God and will see Him again.”

“They don’t know any such thing,” I said.

The food came, huge amounts of beefsteak, boiled potatoes, carrots and green beans. The boy ate as much food as I’ve ever seen any one person eat at one time, and then he said he was tired and wanted to go to bed. I figured he must be upset at the strange turn of events his life had taken that day, but he seemed perfectly calm and unemotional.

After I paid the tab for our meal, we went into the hotel, where I engaged a room for him to stay for the night. I asked him if he was afraid to stay by himself in a strange hotel room and he laughed at me. “I’ve been by myself since the day I was born,” he said.

“You are an odd one,” I said.

He signed his name in the hotel register and the clerk handed him the key. Before he went upstairs to his room, I put my hand on his shoulder and told him I’d come by in the morning at eight-thirty to take him to his father’s lawyer and for him to meet me in the lobby at that time. He nodded his head and turned and went up the stairs.

When I got home, I took a hot bath and fell into bed and slept soundly until thunder woke me up at seven in the morning. I dressed and consumed a light breakfast and then I set out for the hotel. I was sitting in the lobby reading a newspaper at twenty minutes after eight. I expected Wallace Worth Junior to come down the stairs at any moment.

At eight forty-five he still hadn’t made an appearance and at nine o’clock I was still sitting there holding the newspaper in both hands. At ten minutes after nine, I went over to the desk and asked the clerk if he could check on the boy in room three-twelve for me. He had been supposed to meet me and he never appeared.

The clerk checked his book and looked up at me and said, “A boy, you say?”

“Yes, a boy,” I said.

“A small boy?”

“No, a big boy. Almost an adult.”

The clerk looked down and then looked back at me and sighed. “Room three-twelve has not been occupied for several days,” he said.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I was with the boy last night. I engaged the room for him to spend the night in and he was supposed to meet me here, in the lobby, this morning at eight-thirty.”

“Are you sure it was this hotel?” the clerk asked.

“Will you let me take the key and go up to room three-twelve and check for myself?”

“That would be against regulations, sir.”

“Then open the door yourself to make sure the boy is all right.”

The clerk went with me up to the third floor. We walked to the door of room three-twelve and he inserted the key into the lock and pushed the door open for me to enter. The bed was neatly made up. The window shades were drawn. It was clear the room had not been occupied the night before.

“He signed the register last night,” I said to the clerk. “I was with him. His name, Wallace Worth Junior, will be there if you only bother yourself to look.”

We went back down to the lobby and the clerk checked the register from the night before. “No such name here,” he said.

“Can I look?”

He turned the register around and I read over the four or five names from the night before. The name Wallace Worth Junior was not there.

I thanked the clerk and went back out into the rain. I went to my photography studio and opened for business. Because of the rain, it was a slow morning. I had a chance to develop the plates from the day before. First I did the boy who died from the pitchfork wound through the stomach and then Wallace Worth Senior. Those photographs turned out beautifully.

The two plates I had taken of Wallace Worth Junior baffled me. There was no boy there, no Wallace Worth Junior—only a neatly made-up bed with an attractive embroidered coverlet. Why would I have taken photographs of an empty bed? I had no explanation.

By afternoon I was starting to feel sick. I ached in every joint and was having trouble swallowing. I couldn’t keep anything on my stomach, even a sip of water. I knew I had a fever.

That night I was so sick I was sure I was dying. My mind was still clear enough for me to know I had failed to ask one very important question when I was in the Worth house: exactly what did Wallace Worth Senior die of? I had spent more than two hours inside a pest house filled with disease germs. I was so disgusted with myself for not being more careful that I thought I deserved to die.

I didn’t want to die alone and have my disgusted, bloated body found only after the neighbors noticed a terrible odor, so I checked myself into the nearest hospital. The doctor took one look at me and put me in the isolation ward. I was sure I was going to die, if not that night then very soon.

For two days and nights I was in and out of consciousness. I was barely aware of anything but I knew that nurses and doctors fussed around my bed at all hours of the day and night.

On the third day I woke up and was surprised to find I was still alive. A nurse with a big mole on her cheek was standing beside my bed looking down at me.

“I saw God,” I said to the nurse. “I spoke to Him.”

“What did he say?” she asked.

“I would expect you to ask a silly question like that.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“God is a slight man with thin lips. People think of him as having a long white beard, but he’s clean-shaven.”

“I don’t think I would have recognized him,” the nurse said.

“He wears a black dress suit with a gray cravat and a ruby stickpin. He wears a monocle in his right eye. He spoke to me.”

“What did he say?”

“He told me to stand by for further instructions.”

The nurse was gone and there was somebody else standing beside my bed. The hours passed. The window in my room went from light to dark. I heard it raining outside and thundering and those were sounds I had always liked.

Once when I woke up from one of my naps, Wallace Worth Junior was standing at the foot of my bed, smiling at me.

“I wondered what happened to you!” I said. “I’m happy to know you made it all right.”

Then I realized that somebody else was standing there to the side of Wallace Worth Junior. He was a slight man with thin lips, only a little taller than Wallace Worth Junior. He wore a black dress suit with a gray cravat and a ruby stickpin. In his right eye was a monocle.

“Who are you?” I asked.

The slight man with thin lips smiled at Wallace Worth Junior and then they both smiled at me. They were there to convey to me, I knew, with no words being spoken, that I was going to live.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Mouse in the House

H MOUSE

Mouse in the House ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(A slightly expanded version of a story I posted in December.)

“How’s the room?” Clarice Herron asked, and as soon as the words were out of her mouth she knew she had asked the same question almost every day for the last three weeks.

“It’s fine,” Evan Rawley said, as he had said all the other times she asked him. “I’ve seen a mouse a couple of times but he doesn’t bother me.”

“Did you know we have a mouse in the house, Marvin?” she asked her husband.

“A what?”

“I asked you if you knew we have a mouse in the house?”

“What am I supposed to do about it? Drive off a cliff?”

“I’ll buy some traps,” she said.

“Don’t do it on my account,” Evan asked. “The mouse doesn’t bother me and I think traps are cruel.”

Marvin Herron put the folded-up newspaper aside and regarded Evan Rawley closely as if he were some kind of specimen he had found on the back steps. “You’ve been here how long now?” he asked.

“Three weeks yesterday,” Evan said.

“And how do you like it so far?”

“This is my first time away from home. I’m still finding my way around.”

“Are you homesick?” Clarice asked.

“A little, I suppose. I’ll have to get used to it, though.”

“How old are you, now?” Marvin asked.

“I’m twenty-three, sir.”

“Oh, yeah. I think you told me that before. And you don’t have to call me ‘sir’. I was twenty-three myself not so very long ago. Seems like yesterday.”

“Oh, brother!” Clarice said.

“Did you say something?” Marvin asked her.

“I said supper is on the table.”

She dumped the vegetables into a bowl and put the meat on a platter and carried them to the table.

As they ate, Marvin seemed more inclined than usual to draw Evan Rawley out. “If you decide you like it here and you want to stay for the term, we can give you a good monthly rate.”

“Yes, sir,” Evan said. “I appreciate that.”

“Now, what is it exactly you do at the university?”

“I’m an assistant professor in the English department. I hope to get a full professorship, but they tell me I have to do this first for at least two years.”

“When you’re young, two years seems like a long time, but it goes by fast,” Marvin said.

“The voice of the sage!” Clarice said and gave Marvin a wry smile.

“Do you have a girlfriend back home?” Marvin asked.

“Oh, no, sir!” Evan said. “I never seem to find the time for that.”

Marvin began talking about “when he was young,” and how different things were then. His first love occurred at only sixteen years. He thought he wanted to get married but soon discovered what a mistake it would have been at that age.

“When he starts talking about himself that way,” Clarice said, “he could go on all night.”

At nearly two o’clock in the morning, Clarice couldn’t sleep. She hadn’t done anything during the day to tire her out. She tried reading a novel and, while it bored her, it didn’t make her want to sleep.

Turning out the light, she pulled the blanket up to her chin and listened to the faraway sounds: a tractor-trailer truck out on the highway, a jet taking off (or was it landing?), a dog barking in somebody’s back yard. Everything so banal.

She couldn’t sleep and the reason was because she couldn’t stop thinking about Evan Rawley. He was so young and his skin so pale and unblemished. She couldn’t help noticing his muscular thighs and buttocks through his dressy pants, and whenever he flexed his arm, his bicep underneath the sleeve of his button-down oxford dress shirt was as big as a melon. His smile was sweet and shy and the way the hair grew on the back of his neck right down into the collar of his shirt was nothing short of fetching. She was a middle-aged woman, married for over twenty years, but her appetite for certain things had not diminished.

She got out of bed and, without putting on the light, slipped a bathrobe over her pajamas and crept up the stairs to the door of Evan’s room. She leaned her ear against the door and listened for any sounds. Figuring he had to be asleep at that hour, she put her hand on the knob, turned it, and went inside.

There was just enough light from the window to see Evan in the bed, sleeping sweetly on his back with his hands over his stomach. He looked just like a young prince. She approached the bed and stood there without making a sound. When he didn’t move, she touched his light-brown hair with her right hand and then, not being able to resist, began stroking it. So soft and tactile, just the way she knew it would be. She continued touching his hair and rubbing her fingers along the stubble on his cheek until he jerked awake, making a little gasping sound.

What?” he said. “What’s the matter?”

He jumped out of bed and turned on the light. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Is anything wrong?”

She gave him a reassuring smile and shook her head.

“I was having a dream,” he said, “and I thought you were part of the dream.”

“I’ve been dreaming about you, too,” she said.

“What’s the matter? What time is it?” He looked at the clock and when he saw what time it was he groaned.

“I have felt a very deep attraction to you ever since the first time I laid eyes on you,” Clarice said.

What?

“You are a most attractive young man.”

“You woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that?”

“And not only that, but I’ve seen the way you look at me,” she said.

What? No, ma’am! I haven’t!”

“I want you to know that it’s all right.”

“I haven’t!”

“Haven’t what, dear?”

“I haven’t looked at you!”

“I wanted to tell you this: if you’d like to get better acquainted, I’d like it too. My husband is away from home a lot. I have plenty of time to myself.”

“No, ma’am! You’ve made a mistake! I’ve never had any thought like that about you!”

“You don’t have to be shy with me, dear,” she said. “I know these things are not always easy.”

“I don’t know what to say!”

“You don’t have to say anything now. Just go back to sleep. But in your waking hours think about what I’ve said.”

At breakfast, Marvin read the morning paper, as was his custom. Clarice filled his coffee cup and set a plate of food on the table in front of him. He set the newspaper aside, only because he couldn’t do two things at once. He was halfway finished eating when he looked at his wife and spoke.

“Where’s what’s-his-name?” he asked. “Our boarder?”

Clarice shrugged her shoulders and said, “He’s gone.”

“What? Gone already?”

“I went up to tell him his breakfast is ready. I thought maybe he overslept. When I opened the door, I saw he had left and taken everything with him.”

“Did he owe us money?”

“He was paid up through the end of next week.”

“I thought he liked it here!”

“I thought so, too.”

“What is the matter with people? He’s the third boarder that’s left in the middle of the night without saying anything.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “You just can’t figure people sometimes.”

“Maybe we’d better just forget about renting that room,” Marvin said. “It must be the mouse.”

“I don’t think the mouse has anything to do with it,” she said. “I’ll run the ad again and maybe next time we’ll find a young man who isn’t so skittish.”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

Birth of the Dodo

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Birth of the Dodo ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(This short story is a continuation of “I Have Never Known the River Ishcabob to Flood.”

The sky was overcast. No sunshine for days. I was sitting on the couch with my feet propped up, reading an article entitled “How to Take the Rigor Out of Rigor Mortis,” when Mrs. Goldoni came into the room. I heard her insect feet clicking long before she appeared.

I looked up from my magazine and said, “Why are you still here?” There was just a touch of malice in my voice, but nothing I said ever seemed to bother her.

“I’m staying on as housekeeper,” she said. “At least for a little while.”

“Did I say I need a housekeeper?”

“No, sir,” she smiled, “but I’ve lived in this house for many years, and I think it’s only fair that I stay on and help you until you’ve had a chance to get used to the place.”

“I can get used to the place on my own,” I said, “without any help from you or anybody else.”

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“And while we’re on the subject of ‘this place’,” I said, “yesterday I was downstairs and I noticed some rooms I hadn’t seen before. When I tried to go into them, I discovered to my disappointment that they were locked.”

“Yes, sir,” Mrs. Goldoni said.

“Isn’t this my house?”

“That cannot be disputed, sir.”

“I bought it, paid for it with every cent I had. You signed the papers transferring ownership to me.”

“That’s right, sir.”

“Rooms in my house belong to me, then, don’t they? I should be able to go into them whenever I want.”

“That’s true, sir, but this is not like any other house,” she said.

“In what way is it not like any other house?”

“You’re finding out, sir, as you go along.”

“As I go along,” I said.

“That’s the thing we all have to do. Learn as we go.”

“I tell you I don’t need a housekeeper!”

“I think you do, sir,” she said.

“Wouldn’t you say that I’m the boss and you’re the employee?”

I would expect these words to hurt Mrs. Goldoni’s feelings, but they seemed to have no visible effect on her.

“I’ll leave, sir, whenever you say.”

“What I want you to do,” I said, “is get the keys to the rooms that are locked so I can open the doors and see what’s inside the rooms.”

“That might not be so easy, sir,” she said.

“Why not?”

“As I’ve said before, it’s an old house and a different sort of a house.”

“Different, yes. I turned a corner yesterday and saw a strange woman walking toward me. She was holding her arms out stiffly at her sides and taking skating steps as though she walked on invisible skis. She was wearing a billowing white robe that went from her neck down to her feet. I just caught a glimpse of her face, but she had, I’m sure, the face of Miss Kay Francis.”

Who, sir?”

“Miss Kay Francis, the nineteen-thirties movie star. Long dead and mostly forgotten.”

“I don’t keep up with the movies,” Mrs. Goldoni said. “Did the lady speak to you?”

“No, Mrs. Goldoni, she didn’t. I wanted to ask her what she was doing in my house, but she was gone before I had a chance to say anything.”

Mrs. Goldoni laughed. “That’s the way things happen here.”

“How many times do I have to tell you I don’t want people in my house?”

“Is anybody bothering you, sir?”

I thought for a moment. “Well, no,” I said. “Not exactly.”

“If anybody bothers you, sir, you be sure and let me know and I’ll tell them to stop.”

“Yes, but who are they?”

She laughed and straightened the dust bonnet on her head, apparently casting about in her head for the right words. “So many people have lived in the world and have died. You are now in the place where you can see some of them.”

“I can hardly accept that as an answer,” I said with what I hoped was a measure of sternness.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

She gave me a wan little smile and maneuvered her legs about to leave the room.

“How’s the arthritis?” I asked.

“Oh, we manage!” she said cheerily.

“Sometime we’ll have a long talk over a cup of tea,” I said, “and you can explain to me how arthritis turns you into an insect.”

She was gone, though, so I was sure she didn’t hear me. Like a mother, she had the facility of not hearing what she didn’t want to hear, but always hearing what you wish she hadn’t.

Two days later, I was walking along an unexplored corridor on one of the lower floors in my house, when I turned a corner and saw several people, mostly women, crowded around the doorway of a room I had not had the pleasure of visiting.

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

Some of them turned and looked at me and, I swear, they dissolved into the air as soon as they saw me. There were still four or five people remaining, though, blocking my way and keeping me from going into the room.

“It’s all right,” I heard Mrs. Goldoni say. “Let him come in.”

The room was small with a bed; four women, including Mrs. Goldoni, were standing around the bed. There was a person in the bed and a sort of tent over the person made of bedsheets. The only parts of the person that weren’t underneath the tent were head and shoulders.

“What’s all this?” I asked.

“This is Lulu, your wife,” Mrs. Goldoni said. “She’s giving birth.”

As astonished as I was at that statement, I was more astonished at Lulu in the bed. She was a human-sized doll with a painted face and a lacy Jane Austen cap on her head. Her lips were drawn on in the shape of a cupid’s bow and her cheeks were red. Her eyes were small and sparkling, with lashes like spiders’ legs.

“Very funny,” I said. “You know I don’t have a wife.”

“Well, if didn’t have a wife before, you have one now!” Mrs. Goldoni said.

“So, that’s the way marriage happens here?” I asked. “You’re not married and then you are married before you even know it?”

“Well, yes, if sometimes happens that way here.”

A woman standing at the foot of the bed was holding a stopwatch. “The pains are closer together now,” she said anxiously to Mrs. Goldoni.

Mrs. Goldoni said to me, “You can either go back upstairs where you’re comfortable, or you can stay here and witness the birth of the dodo bird.”

“’The birth of the dodo bird’,” I said. “I believe the dodo is extinct.”

“You’re about to find out!” Mrs. Goldoni said. “Here comes the head!”

Lulu the doll didn’t make a sound, but the women standing around the bed made encouraging little clucks with their tongues. I stood there watching, not sure what I was about to see. In about two minutes, Mrs. Goldoni pulled from underneath the sheet-tent a fully formed dodo bird. She held it up so I and the others could get a look at it.

“Is that really a dodo bird?” I asked in amazement.

“What do your eyes tell you?” Mrs. Goldoni said.

“Wait a minute!” I said. “A dodo is a bird and birds are hatched from eggs.”

“Not always!” Mrs. Goldoni said.

“Nobody has seen a dodo bird for hundreds of years,” I said with real and not fabricated wonder.

The dodo bird made pitiful little squeaks with its mouth. Mrs. Goldoni handed it off to one of the women and bent over Lulu with her ear to Lulu’s mouth. I didn’t hear a sound but I knew that Lulu was whispering into Mrs. Goldoni’s ear.

“She wants to know if the baby is all right,” Mrs. Goldoni said. “Yes, dear, the baby is a fine male dodo bird, exactly as you expected.”

I looked at Lulu’s face but saw no change in her expression because she was a doll and doll’s expressions remained the same, no matter if a dodo bird has just come out of their bodies.

“She’s wants to name him Sheridan,” Mrs. Goldoni said.

The women clapped their hands and gave little expressions of approval and Mrs. Goldoni turned to me.

“The baby needs to be fed and changed and I think it’s time for the poppa to go back upstairs.”

“I’m not really the father of a dodo bird,” I said. “I think you’re playing a joke on me.”

“You’ll have plenty of time to sort this all out before you’re through,” Mrs. Goldoni said.

“Through with what?” I asked, but she took hold of my elbow and ushered me out of the room and closed the door firmly.

I went back upstairs, excited at the prospect of being the father of a dodo bird. Nobody else I knew could claim the distinction. I wanted to take a picture of the dodo, my son Sheridan, because I was sure my friends were not going to believe me. (I was forgetting for the moment, I suppose, that I didn’t have any friends and wasn’t likely to make any new ones.)

I began looking through my things for the camera that I once owned, but had no luck finding it. I needed to buy myself a new one. It’s so seldom that you become a father, especially the father of a male dodo bird named Sheridan, that you must have pictorial documentation so that people may know you’re not going insane or are already there.

Out the windows on the upper floor of my house, I could see the scenic little town of New Garland nestled among the hills. Somebody had told me when I first came to the house that New Garland was a mile-and-a-half away. Since shank’s mare was my only means of getting anywhere, I would walk there tomorrow and find a shop that sells cameras and buy one.

In the morning after breakfast, I went to my room and dressed in outdoorwear, cap, jacket and hiking shoes. When I went back to the kitchen to tell Mrs. Goldoni I was going to be gone for at least a couple of hours, she was sitting at the table with Mrs. Woolwine, the smashed-flat woman who ran the bed and breakfast next door. They liked to have confabs a couple of times a week in which they exchanged gossip and talked about their various ailments.

“How are you, Mrs. Woolwine?” I asked.

“Feeling a little flat these days,” she said.

“How’s business?”

“We’re full up,” she said. “We’re always full up. People love to stay here on their way to some other place.”

“Wonderful!” I said.

“Are you going somewhere?” Mrs. Goldoni asked me.

“Yes, I’m going to walk to New Garland. I’m in the market for a camera. I want to take some pictures of Sheridan so people will believe that I really have a dodo bird in my house.”

“The proud poppa!” Mrs. Woolwine said with her flat smile.

“No, it’s not so much pride as it is amazement. You know and I know and everybody else knows that I can’t be the father of a dodo bird, except in the sense that I would be the father of a kitten that I found on the street and took home to raise into a cat.”

“I wouldn’t talk that way around Lulu if I were you,” Mrs. Goldoni said. “She’ll think you don’t love her anymore.”

“I don’t love her and never have loved her. She’s a doll. You know she’s a doll, I know it, and I’m sure Lulu knows it. Dolls don’t give birth to anything, but especially they don’t give birth to dodo birds.”

“Sometimes they do,” Mrs. Goldoni said.

“I might eat lunch in town,” I said, “so If I’m not back by lunchtime, go ahead without me.”

“New Garland is a long way to walk,” Mrs. Goldoni said. “Watch out for the Followers.”

“The Followers? The Followers of what?”

“The Followers of the Father of All Lies.”

“He’s also called by a lot of other names,” Mrs. Woolwine said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

“They want your soul,” Mrs. Goldoni said. “They’ll take it, too, if you let them. You’ll be safe as long as you ignore them and don’t engage with them. They can’t take your soul without touching you, and they can’t touch you unless you allow it.”

“They try to seduce you,” Mrs. Woolwine said.

“It sounds like a story to scare children,” I said with a laugh. “Believe me, I’ll be fine.”

So, I set out in a northerly direction alongside the River Ishcabob toward the town of New Garland. After a half-hour or so of walking, I heard screaming and looked to the source of the screaming out in the middle of the river. It was a woman flailing about in the water, apparently drowning.

“Help me!” she screamed. “Save me! I’m drowning! Oh, I’m drowning!”

I stood on the banks of the River Ishcabob watching the drowning woman. I didn’t for one second consider trying to save her. My shoes were new and I didn’t know how to swim, anyway. I had had a scratchy throat for the last couple of days and I knew that getting myself all wet wouldn’t help it any.

The woman stopped screaming, stopped waving her arms, and went under for the last time.

“You’ll have to do better than that,” I said, hoping that if there were any Followers around they would hear me.

The town of New Garland was old and quaint. There were a few people on the streets, but they moved quickly and didn’t look at me. As I looked at the little shops on the main thoroughfare, I doubted that I would be able to buy a camera in this place.

After I walked a couple of blocks, I saw a place of business with a shining glass window on which was painted the legend Witherspoon’s Photography Studio, and underneath that, Photographs of the Deceased. I went inside and was greeted by a tall man with a drooping mustache and a high collar.

“What might I do for you today, sir?” he asked with a friendly smile.

“I’m looking to buy a camera,” I said.

“A camera?” he asked. “You want to buy your own camera?”

“Yes. I had a camera before but I can’t seem to find it anymore.”

“They’re very expensive, I’m afraid, sir,” he said.

“What year are we in here?” I asked.

“Would you like to sit for your portrait?” he asked. “It only takes a few minutes.”

“Well, no, I wasn’t wanting a picture of myself. I have plenty of pictures of myself and I keep them hidden away. I have a dodo bird in my house and I want a picture of my dodo bird before it gets away or before something happens to it.”

“Do you have your dodo bird with you?” he asked, looking down at my feet.

“No, no!” I said, running out of patience. “I want to buy a camera so I can take my own picture of my dodo bird.”

“You can’t buy a camera here, I’m afraid, sir.”

“Well, where, then?”

“You could try the town of Gladstone.”

“And where is that?”

“It’s about twenty miles that way,” he said, thrusting his chin toward the street.

“I’m walking,” I said. “I obviously won’t be walking twenty miles to buy myself a camera.”

“Well, sir, since you’re here, would you like to sit for your photograph today?”

He took me into another room and I sat on a small dais that resembled the throne of an emperor. After the man and another man fussed with my hair and clothing, I was aware of a bright flash and then it was all over.

“Call for your picture in a week,” the man said. “You don’t have to pay until then.”

After I left the photography studio, I was hungry and thirsty. I spotted a place across the street with a sign that said Fine Eats, so I crossed over and went inside.

There was nobody else inside Fine Eats, so I sat down at a table next to a window overlooking the street. A very small woman came out from the back and set a glass of water down by my elbow and handed me a menu.

“Fried catfish today’s specialty,” she said. “Served with slaw and fried potatoes.”

I looked at the menu, but I couldn’t keep from looking at the tiny woman over the top of the menu. She had red wooly hair piled high on top of her head. Her ears stuck out very far on each side of her head and her eyes were blank but bright like the eyes of a doll. On the backs of her hands were what appeared to be the kind of spikes you would find on the back of a Gila monster in the Mohave Desert. I couldn’t help but believe that she had an affliction similar to the one that was causing Mrs. Goldoni to turn into an insect.

I glanced over the menu and said, “The fried catfish will do.”

She brought me a beer in a large glass container to keep me occupied until the fried catfish was ready.

The food was excellent, I had to admit. I couldn’t remember when I had food that tasted so good. I couldn’t, in fact, ever remember eating any food of any kind before, although I had a vague recollection of eating breakfast that morning. Something was happening to me and I didn’t know what it was. I was experiencing many things I had never experienced, including an uncharacteristic loss of memory. Maybe I too was turning into something other than what I started out to be.

The tiny woman waitress didn’t come back, so I paid for my lunch with Roman coins and left Fine Eats and went back out onto the street.

The clouds had dissipated and the sun was shining. The birds were singing. It was a spring day that reminded me of spring days when I was in school in the lower grades. I took a deep breath and started for home. I wasn’t anticipating meeting any Followers, but if I did I was sure I’d know what to do. And when I got home, Mrs. Goldoni my housekeeper who was turning into an insect, Lulu the human-sized doll, and Sheridan my dodo bird son would be waiting for me in my own four-story house on the banks of the River Ishcabob. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

(To be continued.)

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

His Name, He Said

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His Name, He Said ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Velma Durfee had, at one time, a husband, but he was long gone. The only thing she had to remember him by was a son, Chester, and a daughter, Camille. Chester was seven and Camille nine. The three of them—Velma, Chester and Camille—lived in a small frame house between the railroad tracks and the sewage treatment plant. Velma was employed as office assistant to an osteopathic doctor with a large walk-in practice in town, in the upper floor of an old building across from the county courthouse.

As a single mother, Velma did her best but she sometimes felt that she wasn’t equal to the task. She didn’t much like the kind of life she was living. She was lonely and she didn’t have enough money to live the way she wanted to live. To keep from being depressed, she took tranquilizer pills that her employer doctor provided to her without a prescription. And, whenever the opportunity presented itself, she complemented the tranquilizer pills with beer, wine, and sometimes whiskey straight out of the bottle in copious proportions.

One day she met a man. He was muscular, tall and good-looking, with red-brown hair and perfect teeth. He was, she believed, the man she had been waiting for all her life. His name was Charles Leland Jaffe—always Charles, never Charlie or Chuck. He asked her out on a date and, when that date went so well, he asked her out again and again.

All at once she developed a new outlook on life. She woke up in the morning with a smile on her face and she kept the smile throughout most of the day, even through the most difficult days of car trouble, payments in arrears, and three-day measles. The number-one thought on her mind was when she was going to see Charles Leland Jaffe again.

He had a room in a hotel, causing Velma to think that he was very likely not going to be around for very long. When she asked him where he had been and where he was going, he told her the place he had come from became irrelevant as soon as he left it and the place he was going to was never known. He had a way with words that she had never before known in a man.

And he was always a gentleman. All the other men she had ever gone out with were only counting the minutes until they could take advantage of her, but Charles Leland Jaffe was different. He was polite and respectful and never, ever put his hands on her in an inappropriate way. Even when they were dancing, he always behaved with impeccable propriety.

Velma was in love. She believed that marriage was imminent, and it had all happened so fast, in a matter of two weeks or less. She figured that Charles Leland Jaffe was waiting for the right time to ask her to marry him. He would take her away from the town she had lived in all her life, and she would escape her dreary life and it was all going to be so wonderful. Chester and Camille would at last have the father they deserved and would have advantages in life that Velma alone would never have been able to give them.

On a Friday afternoon, Charles Leland Jaffe picked Velma up from the doctor’s office where she worked. It had been raining all day and had turned much colder. Velma wasn’t feeling well; she had developed a cough and a headache. She had had a run-in with a patient that day and the patient reported her to the doctor for being rude and unprofessional. The doctor, usually so kind and genial, had taken the patient’s side and had given Velma a dressing-down that had left her shaken and angry.

In his intuitive way, Charles Leland Jaffe knew that Velma was in a low state and on the verge of being ill. He kept a small brown bag in the back of his car. In the bag, he said, he had something that would make Velma feel much better in a very short time.

As she watched him prepare the injection, she rolled up her sleeve and allowed him to apply the tourniquet to her upper arm, there in the front seat of his car parked on busy Main Street. She felt the needle going into her arm and it was a delicious kind of hurt. Within minutes, she felt wonderful; energy and goodwill were coursing throughout her body and all the bad feelings had dissipated.

He took her to a wonderful restaurant and they had a lovely meal. The food tasted better than any food Velma had ever eaten. Charles Leland Jaffe ordered a bottle of good wine and the two of them drank the entire bottle. When they left the restaurant, he took her to his hotel room, where they spent the night in his bed, and the experience was wonderful beyond words. This is what my life will be like from now on, Velma told herself.

Velma continued to see Charles Leland Jaffe on a regular basis. They had happy times together. He introduced her to good music, foreign films and abstract art. Anytime Velma was not feeling as well as she might, Charles Leland Jaffe gave her one of his injections. When she asked him what the injections were, he told her it was a combination of life-giving drugs and would never harm her in any way. She told him she didn’t want to get addicted to anything that came out of a needle and he laughed at her. Nothing to worry about, he said. Everybody needs something now and then to help them grapple with life.

Still Charles Leland Jaffe said nothing about marriage, but Velma wasn’t worried. She didn’t want to rush things; above all, she didn’t want to scare him off. Now that she had found him, she wasn’t going to let him go. She was so happy and she knew that nothing but good times awaited her. She drank almost all the time when she was alone, and when she was with Charles Leland Jaffe she insisted he give her one of his life-giving injections. She shunted the care of her children off on neighbors and an old aunt or two who knew something was wrong with didn’t know what to do about it.

On a Friday evening in late October, Velma went out on the town with Charles Leland Jaffe. They had a steak dinner in a candlelit restaurant and then went to a nightclub where they listened to music and danced. Velma knew she was drinking too much for her own good, but everything felt so good, she just wasn’t going to impose any restrictions on herself. For his part, Charles Leland Jaffe had only a drink or two and didn’t overdrink.

About eleven o’clock, Charles Leland Jaffe told Velma he wanted to see the doctor’s office where she worked. There’s nobody there, she said. That’s all right, he said. We can make love on the examining table in the examining room. Nobody will ever know, but every time you look at it you’ll remember what we did and feel good about it.

Velma couldn’t bring herself to say no to anything Charles Leland Jaffe wanted to do. She got in the car with him and he drove to the building on Main Street where she worked and he parked the car on the street right in front of the office. Since it was after eleven o’clock on Friday night, the only people around were high school kids in cars wanting to be seen by other high school kids in cars.

She took the keys out of her purse and unlocked the downstairs door and they went up the stairs in the dark, holding hands. Better not to turn on too many lights, she said. Somebody might notice and suspect we’re burglars. Walking through the dark quiet building with nobody there only added to the excitement and feeling of adventure.

There were two more doors to unlock before they were in the doctor’s office proper. The first thing they saw were rows of empty seats in the waiting room. This is it, she said. It’s not very exciting, I’m afraid.

He wanted to see the rooms where the doctor saw patients. There were two examining rooms at either end of the office. They were small and full of chairs, low white cabinets, and medical equipment. On the walls were medical charts. Charles Leland Jaffe appeared to be impressed. I want to see where the drugs are kept, he said.

Velma found the keys on the key ring that opened the big drug closet that was always kept locked, even during business hours. When she opened the door, Charles Leland Jaffe whistled through his teeth, a sound she had never heard him make before. That is a lot of drugs, he said. About three quarters of a million dollars’ worth, she said. Osteopathic doctors always dispense drugs from their offices. Patients love them for it.

They heard a sound out in the hallway that was probably the night watchman. I don’t want him to see me here, Velma said. He’ll tell the doctor and I’m in enough hot water as it is.

So, Velma and Charles Leland Jaffe left the doctor’s office. Velma relocked the doors and after she checked and rechecked them to make sure they were locked, they got back into Charles Leland Jaffe’s car and he drove to his hotel. In his room, they talked for a while and then Charles Leland Jaffe produced his little brown bag. He prepared an injection and Velma bared her arm without a word. After the injection was delivered, they both undressed and got into the big bed.

In the morning when she woke up she knew that something wasn’t as it should be. She looked at the clock and saw it was after nine o’clock. She got out of the bed, surprised to find herself naked, and when she looked around the room from a standing position she knew the room wasn’t the same as it had been when she went to sleep. She had the unsettling feeling that she was in a different room altogether.

After a minute of trying to clear her head and remember what had happened, Velma realized that the thing about the room that was different was that all of Charles Leland Jaffe’s clothes and personal effects were gone, his suitcases, his shoes and his shaving articles from the bathroom. Also gone were her clothes that she had draped over a bedside chair when she took them off, and her purse.

She called down to the front desk. I’m looking for Mr. Charles Leland Jaffe, she said to the desk clerk. Mr. Jaffe checked out about two this morning, the clerk said. Did he leave a message or say where he was going? People checking out never tell us where they’re going.

She wrapped herself in bedsheets and, barefooted, went downstairs in the elevator and got herself a cab to go home. People stared at her, but she barely noticed and didn’t care.

When the osteopathic doctor opened his office on Monday morning, he saw that the drug closet had been cleared out, about three-quarters of a million dollars’ worth of drugs. When Velma didn’t show up for work, the doctor called her at home and received no answer. The next call he made was to the police. I know what she did, he said, and I never would have believed her capable of such a thing.

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp

What That Poor Woman Must Be Going Through

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What That Poor Woman Must Be Going Through ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Marcelle was all about beauty. She owned Marcelle’s Salon of Beauty on Second Street, between Fife’s Package Liquors and Bold’s Auto Garage. She was so good at the art and science of dispensing beauty that all her customers had standing appointments. Friday was her busiest day. All the ladies in their golden years wanted to look good for the weekend, but especially for church services on Sunday.

Carmen Gance was the last to arrive. Her appointment wasn’t until eleven, but she always came early. She helped herself to a cup of tea and sat down to wait her turn.

“How’s the arthritis?” Otha Talley asked her.

Carmen knew that Otha only asked about one’s ailments so she could talk about her own.

“All cleared up,” Carmen said.

“How did you manage it?” Leona Woolrich asked.

“Easy,” Carmen said. “As soon as I stopped complaining about it, it went away.”

“We should all try that,” Marcelle said.

“I don’t have arthritis,” Doris Fingers said.

“Well, if it works for arthritis, it should work for anything,” Marcelle said.

“I have pain in every inch of my body,” Otha said. “Can you imagine that? Absolutely everything hurts.”

“Even your female parts?” Leona asked.

Especially my female parts!”

“Drink a bottle of whiskey every night before you go to sleep and that should help,” Arlene Braithwaite said.

“Thanks, dear,” Otha said. “I’ll give it a try.”

“Did I tell you the latest about my nephew, Charlie, and that crazy wife of his?” Leona asked.

“Now, who did Charlie marry?” Doris asked.

“You know, dear!” Leona said. “He went over to China and put down ten thousand cold, hard ones to get himself a Chinese wife.”

“Why did he do that? Couldn’t he get himself an American wife?”

“Well, you know some men like the Orientals. American men believe that an Oriental wife will be submissive in all ways.”

“It doesn’t quite work out that way, though, does it?” Carmen said.

“No, honey, it doesn’t,” Leona said. “At least not in this case. They were only married two years and she decided to call it quits. You know how they talk. She said, ‘You tebble husband! You asshole! Me go back China! You kiss China girl yellow ass!’”

“My goodness!” Doris said. “That’s a remarkable interpretation! You should go on the stage!”

“Well, anyway,” Leona said. “She left him and now he has to scrape the money together for the divorce.”

“The world’s all screwed up,” Arlene said. “We already know that.”

“Speaking of ‘screwed up’,” Carmen said. “I heard that Midge Mulvehill’s son Todd came out as gay.”

“I’m so happy for him!” Doris said.

“Isn’t he only about thirteen?” Otha Talley asked.

“He’s twenty-seven,” Carmen said. “He was thirteen fourteen years ago.”

“Oh.”

“Yes. Oh. And that’s not all. He’s dating a doctor.”

“A male doctor?”

“Well, if he’s gay, he wouldn’t be dating a female doctor, now, would he, dear?”

“I’m sure I know nothing about it.”

“That poor woman!” Leona said.

“Who?” Doris asked.

“Midge Mulvehill. What that poor woman must be going through!”

“Why?”

“Having a gay son.”

“Would it be better if he was a serial killer?”

“Yes, I think it would. At least a serial killer is normal.”

They all laughed and Leona looked embarrassed. “I guess I didn’t mean it quite the way it sounded,” she said.

“Maybe you’d better just keep still on that particular subject, dear,” Doris  offered.

“Well, anyway, to each his own!” Arlene said. “Live and let live!” She raised her can of Coke all around as though delivering a toast.

“You always were so good at clichés, dear,” Carmen said.

“Time for your wash, Leona,” Marcelle said.

“Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone,” Leona said, standing up and going into the next room with Vivian, the little shampoo girl.

“She’s aged so much in the last year or so,” Doris said.

“I think her mind is really slipping,” Otha said.

“She’s putting on weight like crazy,” Carmen said.

“Speaking of putting on weight,” Arlene said, “have any of you seen Richard Helm lately? He was always so good-looking and now he’s an absolute blimp since his mother died.”

“Poor thing,” Doris said. “I heard he’s absolutely eating himself into oblivion with grief.”

“Of course, one wonders why he never got married,” Carmen said. “He was always so manly. When I was young, I was absolutely crazy about him. All the girls were.”

“There are rumors about him, I’m afraid,” Otha said.

“What kind of rumors?” Arlene asked.

“He goes on these mysterious trips three or four times a year and nobody knows where he goes.”

“Maybe he’s a secret agent,” Doris said.

“I don’t quite see him as the secret agent type,” Otha said.

“What then?”

“I think he’s leading a double life.”

“Now that his mother is dead,” Carmen said. “He can do whatever he wants. He got plenty of money from her estate.”

“Somebody needs to make it their business,” Arlene said, “to find out where in the hell he’s going and what in the hell he’s doing.”

“You do that little thing, Arlene, dear,” Doris said. “You make it your business.”

“Why should I give a shit what he does?” Arlene said.

“That’s the first sensible thing I’ve heard you say in a long time,” Otha said.

Leona came back into the room with her hair dripping, a towel around her shoulders. “I heard every word you bitches said about me,” she said. “Just because I’m in the next room doesn’t mean my hearing is defective.”

“Uh-oh!” Carmen said. “We’re caught! And are we ever embarrassed!”

“You all are a bunch of swine!”

“Truer words were never spoken,” Doris said.

“You’re just a hypocrite, Leona,” Otha said, “among all the other things you are. Do you expect us to believe that you don’t talk about us the minute our backs are turned?”

“Of course not!” Leona said. “Some of us have honor if others of us do not!”

They all laughed loud and long. Leona looked at them, stone-faced, and then she too laughed. “Give me a damned cigarette,” she said finally to Marcelle.

“I didn’t know you smoked, dear!” Carmen said.

“I didn’t until this moment, dear,” Leona said. “Now, tell me, which of you assholes have seriously been considering gender reassignment surgery?”

“What kind of a question is that?” Arlene asked.

“My mind is slipping. Remember? There’s no telling what I’ll say next.”

Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp