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After

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After ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a re-post.) 

Upon awaking and finding herself in an unfamiliar place, Ottilie Oglesby sat up and looked around in alarm. It was a confining place and she could barely see anything at all because it was so dark. She called out “Hello! Hello!” but nobody answered. “Hello! Hello!” she said again, this time a little more frantic. It was a lonely, very quiet place, in addition to everything else it was.

An old woman appeared, seemingly out of the wall. Ottilie had never seen her before but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that the old woman carried a small glow in her chest. Ottilie realized at that moment, to her astonishment, that she also carried a glow radiating from her own middle.

Questions came out of her in a torrent: “Why am I glowing? What is this place? Who are you? Where is my mother?”

“You are a busybody, aren’t you?” the old woman said.

“Can you tell me how to get out of this place, whatever it is, so I can go home?”

“Please! Lower your voice! You’ll wake the others!”

“What others?”

“All your questions will be answered in time!”

“Is this a dream?”

“Not the kind of dream you’re used to.”

“Is this a cave of some sort?”

“Goodness, no!” the old woman said with a laugh

“Have I been kidnapped? I want to go home right now! My mother and father must be looking for me!”

“No, they’re not. They know where you are.”

How do they know? Where are they? Are they here?”

“Why would they be here?”

“Well, where are they?”

“They’re at home. Where do you think?”

“Can you please get word to my mother that I’m all right?”

“She knows you’re all right.”

“Who are you, anyway?”

“I’m here to try to help you, if I can. If you’ll let me.”

“So far you haven’t told me anything!”

“I know it’s difficult for you. It’s difficult for everybody, especially the young. The younger you are, the more difficult it is.”

“Could you please tell me what you’re talking about?”

“It’s very simple, my dear. You’ve done what every living soul does, except that you’ve done it earlier than expected.”

What have I done?”

“You’ve passed from one plane of existence to another.”

“What does ‘plane of existence’ mean?”

“You’re no longer in the physical world. Now you occupy the spiritual.”

“Physical and spiritual,” Ottilie said dreamily. “Do you mean like in church?”

“That’s it!”

“So is this heaven? Am I in heaven?”

“We’re not even sure what heaven is. We’re not even sure if there is a place beyond this one. Heaven is an abstract idea.”

“So, who are you? An angel?”

“Far from it, I’m afraid!”

“Well, who are you, then?”

“I’m someone you might have known if you had been given the chance.”

“What does that mean?”

“I was already here when you were born.”

“Where is here?”

“Didn’t your father and mother ever take you to the big cemetery outside the city and show you the family crypt?”

“I suppose so. What does that have to do with it?”

“Well, that’s where we are now. We’re in the family crypt.”

“Isn’t that where they put dead people?”

“That’s right!”

“Are you saying I’m…”

“I know it’s a shock, young as you are.”

“So, I’m dead,” Ottilie said matter-of-factly, as if saying I’m tired or I’m ready for dinner.

“Well, we don’t use the word dead here. As you see, dying just means going from one place to another.”

“Is it the same with everybody?”

“I suppose so, although I really can’t say for sure. I don’t know why it wouldn’t be, unless you’ve been very wicked.”

“I don’t think I’ve been wicked, have I?”

“It’s not for me to say.”

“I don’t remember dying. I didn’t feel anything.”

“No, you wouldn’t remember.”

“Was I sick?”

“All I know is that it happened fast.”

“Do my mother and father know what happened to me?”

“Of course they know!”

“Will I see them again?”

“Do you want to?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Then you will.”

“Are you telling me I have to stay here forever?”

“It’s where you belong now.”

“Can’t I go back home, just for a little while? I didn’t get a chance to tell everybody goodbye.”

“Everybody who knew you wished you a fond farewell. You just didn’t know about it at the time.”

Ottilie began to cry, despite her resolve not to. “I don’t like it here,” she said. “I want to go back home.”

“It won’t seem so bad after a while, I assure you, after you get used to the way we do things here.”

“I’m worried about my cats. If I’m not there to look after them, they’ll die.”

“No, they won’t. Don’t you think your brother Boyd will take care of them? They’re his cats now.”

“Will they come to me here when they die? My cats, I mean?”

“It doesn’t hurt to hope, does it?”

“I don’t know about all this,” Ottilie sobbed. “I think my poor old heart is going to break in two!”

“We all go through a period of adjustment,” the old woman said. “You’ll be fine after a while, as we all are.”

“I don’t think so! I find my own death very, very sad, indeed!”

“Later you’ll meet the others and then you’ll feel better.”

What others?”

“You didn’t think you and I were the only ones in the family crypt, did you?” the old woman asked.

“I didn’t think at all! I’m not able to think! Whenever I think, I think my head will burst right open!”

“Time now to rest,” the old woman said, and then she was gone as effortlessly as she had arrived.

There was a lapse then, a cessation, as of a heavy curtain being drawn. When this nothingness ended (and who knows how long it lasted because in this place there is no time?) the same old woman was leading Ottilie by the hand to meet the rest of the family.

She felt shy when she saw a group of strangers looking at her. Not surprisingly, they all carried the glow inside them. (Without the glow, she wouldn’t have known they were there.)

Cousins Parry and Lomax, twins, were ten at the time they entered the spirit world. (They went over a waterfall in a rowboat and drowned on a flawless June day.) They looked at Ottilie with wide-eyed wonder and then ran off as if they had important business to attend to.

Great-grandfather was tall and broad, wearing a dress suit, sporting the elaborate mustache and side whiskers for which he was known. (He had a lot of money when he was alive. It was he who built the family crypt in the first place so he could have all his family together.) He smiled at Ottilie and patted her on the head and then his interest seemed to drift elsewhere.

The old woman who had first met Ottilie was great-grandmother, wife of great-grandfather. She was first in the family crypt and since then had acted as hostess to all the others. She took Ottilie by the hand and twirled her around as at a dance so everybody could get a look at her.

Uncle Evan, great-grandfather’s son, was handsome in his military uniform. (He came to the spirit world in Cuba when a bullet struck him in the neck during the Spanish-American War. He carried himself stiffly because he was a little vain of his wound.) He smiled at Ottilie and shook her hand politely and then receded into the background.

Aunt Katherine was a sad-faced woman carrying her baby, Augustus. He had been in the spirit world for three decades when aunt Katherine arrived. Since being reunited, aunt Katherine held Augustus in her arms and refused to part with him. Now the two of them would be together forever without end.

A formidable woman was Aunt Zel, great-grandfather’s sister. She had an elaborate coiffure piled high and a stunning array of jewelry on neck, fingers, ears and wrists. By her side always was her husband, Little Louie. (People called him Little Louie to distinguish him from his father, Big Louie.) He was eight inches shorter than aunt Zel, with only his right arm. (His left arm had been lost not on the field of battle but from the bite of a skunk.)

Uncle Jordan wore a dress suit with a diamond stickpin and silk cravat. He kissed Ottilie on each cheek and then he was gone. He avoided being around the other family members for very long because none of them approved of him. In life, he had enjoyed himself a little too much, spent money freely that wasn’t his, and died, deeply in debt, in young middle age of alcoholism.

Cousin Phillip’s appendix burst when he was only thirty-two. Immediately after he entered the spirit world, his young wife, Odette, married a man she hardly knew by the name of Milt Clausen. Odette was not in the family crypt and never would be. Cousin Phillip had renounced all women, bitter that his lovely young Odette had not honored his memory by staying a widow.

Cousin Gilbert was sixteen when he entered the spirit world as the result of a crushed larynx that he sustained in an impromptu game of keep-it-away with some of his friends. Ottilie immediately saw cousin Gilbert as a kindred spirit. The glow in his chest was a little brighter than anybody else’s. When he touched her hand, she felt a connection she hadn’t felt with any of the others.

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

She shook her head and looked down, not knowing what to say.

“It was the same for me when I first came here,” he said. “I didn’t know why God would have me die so young. We learn not to ask why but just to accept things as they are.”

“I don’t like it here,” she said with tears starting again, but she wasn’t sure if cousin Gilbert heard her.

Before moving on, he leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I can show you around if you like. There’s a lot more than just this.” He held out his arms to take in the whole family crypt.

“If you find you have the time,” she managed to say, “I think that would be quite lovely.”

There were others after cousin Gilbert, but the truth was Odette was getting tired and wasn’t able to remember them all, as they all blended together into a blur.

Then the curtain of darkness fell again and there was profound rest and peace, which is what the afterlife is all about.

When next she saw cousin Gilbert, he showed her, much to her delight, that she could leave the family crypt at will (hers and not somebody else’s). All she had to do was press her body against the outer wall. Since the wall was solid and she was not, she could pass through it. He tried to explain the laws of physics involved, but she didn’t understand what he was talking about.

The cemetery was much larger than Ottilie imagined. Gilbert took her to visit some of his spirit friends: a tall, handsome policeman with a handlebar mustache who loved to tell stories about apprehending desperate criminals; a Civil War soldier who shook hands with Abraham Lincoln and spent ten minutes engaged in conversation with him; a victim of the Johnstown Flood (“the water came roaring down the mountain and swept away everything in its path”); a governor of the state who aspired to be president but never was; a group of twenty girls who died in an orphanage fire (all buried in the same grave); a twelve-year-old boy named Jesse who stood just outside his vault until another spirit came along and engaged him in conversation.

“He loves to have somebody to talk to,” cousin Gilbert explained.

On one of their forays outside the crypt, they came upon a funeral on a hillside that resembled, with all the attendees dressed in black, an aggregation of crows.

“This is the fun part,” Gilbert said with a chortle.

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

“They sense I’m there but when they turn around they’re not so sure.”

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

“I, for one, love being a ghost!” he said.

“Can I fly, too?” Ottilie asked.

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

“Can I try it?” Ottilie asked.

“You can do it if you want,” he said.

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

“Maybe there are some good things about being a spirit,” Ottilie said.

“Of course there are!”

“No more head colds, sore throats or stomach cramps. No more trips to the doctor or dentist. No more nightmares or math quizzes. No more being made to play badminton with my little cousins. No more boring church sermons that make everybody cranky, and no more liver and onions or squash ever again!”

Cousin Gilbert laughed, but then Ottilie started thinking about all the good things she had left behind, such as her cats and her beautiful room at home and her mother and father and brother and all her friends, and she started to cry.

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

Ottilie began venturing outside the family crypt often, either with cousin Gilbert or on her own. And then, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in October, she was very lucky and saw them.

She recognized father’s automobile of which he was so proud (he was the first on his street to own one), and then she saw who was riding inside: father, mother and her brother Boyd. She floated after the car—it wasn’t going very fast—and attached herself to the back of it as it turned out of the cemetery and into traffic.

She held on until father pulled the automobile into the driveway of the old house. She was happy to see that everything looked exactly the same. The first thing she did was to go around back and check on her kittens. They were all there and seemed healthy and happy, halfway on their way to being grown. She cried when she realized they recognized her. She longed to pick them up and nuzzle them against her face and hear their sweet purring.

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

While mother, father and Boyd were having dinner in the dining room, Ottilie walked around the table, stopping and putting her hands on the back of each chair, experiencing the odd sensation of being in the same room with those closest to her in life and their not knowing it.

It felt good to be home, but she knew things could never be the same again. She could only observe life going on around her and not be a part of it. But still, wasn’t it better than nothing?

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

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

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

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

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

Ottilie couldn’t stay in a house that was no longer hers, even if she was just a spirit, so she went back to the family crypt and was glad for it. Great-grandmother was right: it was where she now belonged.

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

There were additions to the family crypt, of course, in all the time that was no time. Great-grandmother had a surprise for Ottilie: Mother and father were there with their own glows, and the best part of it was that they were all on the same side of the divide between life and death now, and there would be no more leaving-taking for any of them.

After Ottilie greeted mother and father with many tears, profuse outpourings of affection and much joy, they revealed that they had yet another surprise for her: all her cats, every one she had ever owned in her life, were there for her to pet and play with and snuggle any time she felt like it. She had never believed that such happiness existed!

Now that Ottilie had everything she wanted, she could settle down to a life of eternity in the family crypt with her loved ones. Maybe some day they would all move on to heaven, with its floating clouds, celestial music and occasional glimpses of the saints, but for now they would just have to do without those things. 

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp 

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State Line

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State Line ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This is a re-post.)

My name is Charles A. Rilke. Some people call me Charlie but mostly I’m known as just plain Charles. I had been married for twelve years and had two children. We lived the American dream in a mortgaged-to-the-hilt ranch house in the suburbs. I had a job I didn’t like very much as an editor at a publishing firm. I had been with the company for seven years and had been passed over for promotion in favor of younger, less-experienced people. I hated every minute I spent in the corporate world. I wanted to throw everything down and become a writer. Not practical, you say? You’re probably right.

Every morning I got into my aging Pontiac and drove the twelve miles to work. The morning drive could be fraught with drama, depending on the weather, time of year and traffic conditions. A sudden thunder storm, a little bit of rain or unexpected snow flurries? A cardboard box fell off the back of a truck onto the highway? Any ugly and unexpected occurrence on the highway might make me up to an hour late for work. Late again? Don’t worry about it. Just make up the time at the end of the day.

My gas tank was nearly empty, so on Monday morning on my way to work I stopped at Gus Gray’s to fill up. Right away I saw there was a new attendant manning the pumps. He smiled at me as I pulled up and rolled down my window. His name, stitched on the pocket of his shirt, was Trevor.

“Fill it up?” he asked as I rolled down my window.

“Why not?” I said, devil may care.

After he pumped the gas, he cleaned my windshield.

“New here?” I asked.

“I started last week.”

“You like it?”

“Who likes pumping gas?”

“Probably nobody,” I said.

I didn’t think about Trevor again until the next time I needed gas and stopped in at Gus Gray’s. He was standing beside the pumps as if I was the only customer all day. He put the gas in my car and cleaned my windshield and before I left I asked him to check the oil.

As he raised the hood, I got out of the car and stood beside him. I watched him as he bent over under the hood. He checked the oil and said it was okay and closed the hood.

“You’re not like the others,” I said, saying what I was thinking without considering whether it was appropriate or not.

“How’s that?” he said.

“Well, for one thing, you look clean.”

He laughed. “Nobody notices.”

I notice.”

“People just want their gas. They don’t care if the person who pumps it is clean or not.”

He was about thirty or thirty-two. He had brown hair, what little I could see of it under his cap. His face was covered with brown-blond stubble, just enough to look good on him. He was trim-waisted, shirt tucked neatly into his pants. He wore new-looking work boots.

“Gus Gray knows who to put out front to attract the customers.”

“Are you flirting with me?” he asked.

“Of course not!” I said. “What do you think I am?”

The next time I went into Gus Gray’s, it was for an oil change. I hoped Trevor would be there. It was raining, so he was inside at the cash register. I gave him the keys to my car and sat down inside while he went to move my car. When he came back in, he seemed to have forgotten I was there. I got up and bought a soda out of the vending machine.

“Slow day?” I asked.

“What?” he said.

“I said it’s a slow day because of the rain.”

“Oh, yeah. People don’t get out if they don’t have to.”

“Then why am I here?” I said.

He smiled and shrugged and I felt like a babbling fool for trying to be clever.

I sat back down with my soda and, after I had drunk about half of it, he said, “Gus is off today so I have to take care of any customers.”

“It’s always nice when the boss is gone, isn’t it?” I said.

“Yeah. Gus is all right but he runs a tight ship.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

“You know what they say, though. It’s a job.”

“I don’t like my job very much, either,” I said.

“What do you do?”

“I work for Ellis and Peacock downtown.”

“What’s Ellis and Peacock?”

“Publishing house.”

“You’re a publisher?”

“I’m an editor.”

“What does an editor do?”

“I make sure copy is ready for publication.”

“What’s ‘copy’?”

“Stuff that other people write.”

“If you don’t like it, why don’t you quit?”

“I have a mortgage and two kids.”

“And a wife?”

“Yeah, a wife, too.”

“Most people have at least one wife running around,” he said.

“How about you?” I asked. “Do you have a wife?”

“No, not me,” he said.

“Smart man.”

Over the next three months or so I saw Trevor every time I stopped in for gas. We usually exchanged a few words of no importance that I remembered days later. He knew me from other customers and recognized me (at least my car) when I drove in, but other than that I had no way of knowing if he had ever given me a thought.

Foolishly (or not), I began thinking a lot about Trevor and even dreaming about him. When I turned off the light at night I saw his beard-stubbled face above his crisp work shirt, his clean fingernails and his one chipped tooth when he smiled. I wanted to know him better. I wanted to speak to him away from the station. Would he think I was a lunatic if I asked him to meet me in a public place somewhere? Would he tell Gus Gray and have me banned from the station? Would they call the police and have me arrested?

Why Trevor, you might ask, out of all the others? Well, I didn’t have an answer for that. I think, from the first moment I saw him, I saw past the shiny surface to what was underneath and recognized him for a fellow lost traveler.

On a Friday morning, looking forward to two days at home doing as I pleased, I stopped in for gas. I had finally decided to ask Trevor to have lunch with me one day or to meet me after work for a drink.

He wasn’t waiting at the pump as usual and he didn’t come bounding out of the station. The weasel they called Johnny Walker Red was there instead. He had long red hair that made him look like Rita Hayworth. I was sickened at the thought of having anybody but Trevor pump my gas.

“Where’s Trevor?” I asked Johnny Walker Red.

“Who?”

“Trevor.”

“Don’t know no Trevor.”

“He works here.”

“Oh, yeah! I forgot his name. I think Gus said he’s sick or something. In the hospital.”

“What’s the matter with him?”

“I dunno.”

“When’s he coming back?”

“I dunno. I ain’t his keeper.”

I paid for my gas and went on to work. I felt low and unhappy all day long. I only wanted people to leave me alone. I couldn’t wait to get back home in the evening so I could be alone with my thoughts.

I waited a few days and went back to the station, hoping Trevor would have returned. This time Gus Gray waited on me.

“Where’s Trevor?” I asked him.

“He called and asked for a few days off. I think he’s been in the hospital.”

“Do you know what’s wrong with him?”

“Nope.”

“Is he coming back?”

“I guess so. He didn’t say.”

It was about this time that I started having trouble at work, which involved enforced overtime. We had missed a couple of deadlines recently and the boss was ready to bring out the guillotine, set it up in the lobby, and start using it. We were all going to have to knuckle down and work extra hours every day just to get caught up. It moved me one step closer to quitting but not without punching a few people in the nose first.

The next time I stopped in to fill up at Gus Gray’s, Trevor was standing at the pump. I was so happy to see him I could have jumped out of the car and embraced him.

“May I help you, sir,” he asked, as I rolled down my window.

“You’ve been gone,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“I missed you.”

“I also missed seeing you,” he said.

“Fill it up,” I said.

When he brought me the change from the twenty-dollar bill I used to pay for my gas, he gave me one of Gus Gray’s business cards. He had crossed through the print on the front and written his name and phone number on the back.

“In case you ever want to talk,” he said.

I drove on to work, happier than I had been for long time. The good feeling lasted through the entire day. I was kind to my co-workers and felt calm and relaxed. I took an extra long lunch, by myself, and walked three blocks away from the office and had a good fish dinner at a better place than I usually go.

That evening, while my wife and kids were watching TV, I went to the phone with the card in my hand. Heart pounding, I picked up the receiver and then put it back again. I hadn’t planned on calling him at that moment; it was only a dry run to show myself I could do it if I wanted to.

On top of all the overtime at work, I began having trouble at home. My wife and I began arguing about small things. She had a biting tongue and so did I. A lot of the self-restraint I prided myself on had left me. I hated arguing and bickering but I couldn’t seem to help myself. My parents had had a miserable marriage and I seemed to be following their example.

The fight of all fights came on a Sunday. I had been hoping to have a peaceful day at home, resting up for the upcoming week of hell at work, but my wife and I started arguing at the breakfast table. After several hours of anger and tension, I packed a bag and went to a motel so I could be alone.

After I checked into the motel, I had a nap and then a quiet meal in the motel restaurant. After dinner, I sat down on the bed and called Trevor’s number. He answered on the third ring.

He knew from the first word who I was. I didn’t have to explain myself. He said he was expecting me to call any time.

“Gus fired me,” he said.

“Why?”

“I’m too slow. I spend too long with each customer, while other customers are waiting, and I’m not assertive enough. He wanted me to push products to customers. Spark plugs, fan belts, wiper blades, motor oil, and all that kind of stuff. I told him I’m not a salesman, so he fired me.”

“I’m going away and I want you to go with me,” I said.

“What?”

“I’m going to quit my job in the morning. I hate it and I’m tired of being unhappy. I’ll pick you up wherever you say at nine o’clock, so pack a bag.”

“That’s a little impulsive, isn’t it?” he said.

“Probably, but I don’t care.”

“Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”

“How long will we be gone?”

“I don’t know.”

In the morning I was up at six o’clock. After breakfast, I called my place of employment and instructed the secretary to tell the boss I was quitting. I’d never have to see or speak to that evil son of a bitch again. I’d mail them a letter of resignation later if they had to have it in writing.

I put my stuff in the car and checked out of the motel. I stopped at the bank and withdrew eight hundred dollars in cash from my savings account and arrived at the address Trevor had given me at ten minutes to nine. He was waiting outside with a small suitcase. I asked him how he was, but he didn’t seem to want to talk so that was altogether fine with me. I didn’t feel much like talking in the morning either.

I didn’t know where I was going. I went out through town to the highway and headed west.

At lunchtime I had driven a hundred and twenty miles. I stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the highway at the edge of a small town. We sat across from each other in a sunny booth.

He told me a little bit about himself. His parents, both dead, had been alcoholics. His mother kicked him out of the house as soon as he graduated from high school. He had had an older brother who died from a drug overdose. He had been married briefly at twenty-one to a girl he hardly knew. The marriage lasted less than a year. For the last ten years or so he had gone from job to job, looking for something, he wasn’t sure what.

“A life of failure and unhappiness,” he said.

“So is everybody else’s,” I said.

I asked him why he had been in the hospital and reluctantly he told me. When he was three years old, he had rheumatic fever and it left him with rheumatic heart disease, from which he would probably die by the age of forty. He made it clear he didn’t want sympathy or pity.

“When it comes, I’ll be ready for it,” he said.

I drove all day in a westerly direction, stopping only at mealtimes and to fill my car up with gas. Neither one of us talked about where we were going or what we’d do when we got there.

At eleven o’clock that night, after driving for fourteen hours, I had to stop. We found a quiet, inviting-looking motel with red-and-green neon signs just off the highway and I engaged a room.

We talked for a while and watched an old black-and-white movie on TV. When the movie was over, he said he wanted to take a shower. When he came out of the bathroom, he got into bed naked. I kissed him and he let me. Finally I had the thing I had dreamed about.

After a long silence, he asked, “What state are we in?”

“Does it matter?” I said.

“Not as long as I’m with you.”

“Do you want to go back?” I asked.

“Nothing to go back for. No family, no home to speak of, no job.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll find another job.”

“I don’t want another job. I’ve had plenty of jobs. I’ve reached the end. Of something.”

“What are you saying?”

“Ever thought about suicide?” he asked.

“I’ve thought about a lot of things.”

“I read a story once about a suicide pact between two men.”

“A suicide pact?”

“Yeah. It seemed like a good idea.”

“Why?”

I knew what he meant. I wanted to see what he’d say.

“Think how lonely it is if you do it by yourself,” he said. “If you do it with somebody you care about, it’s not so lonely.”

I showed him the gun I had in my suitcase.

“I have two bullets,” I said.

He smiled as if he thought I was making a joke and then he knew I wasn’t.

“It’s all right with me,” he said.

“Are you sure it’s what you want?”

“I’ve wanted it for a long time. Make sure the bullet does its job.”

“At point-blank range? How could I miss?”

“Wait until I’m asleep.”

“In the back of the head,” I said. “You won’t feel a thing.”

I sat there in the chair beside the bed with the gun in my right hand. He turned over in the bed away from me and pulled the blanket up under his chin and went to sleep.

There was just enough light coming in from the window that I could see him. I watched him all night, listening to him breathe and sigh, and I knew he was the only person in the world I had ever loved.

He slept through the night and when he woke up a little after daylight he turned and looked at me.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“It’s time to get up and get dressed,” I said.

We were on our way again in a half-hour. We crossed one state line and then another and then another. I would keep driving until I came to the end of the North American continent and when that happened I’d know what came next.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

There Has Been Another Accident

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There Has Been Another Accident ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Mother worked as a nurse’s aide in a rest home for old people. She didn’t like her job, having to take orders from people she despised, but she kept her mouth shut and refrained from telling any of them what she really thought of them because she had a nine-year-old son named Devin she had to take care of on her own. She had been a widow since Devin was three, when her husband, Devin’s father, was killed when a scaffolding he was working on, forty feet high, collapsed and sent him and two other workers to their deaths.

When she wasn’t working, she liked to get dressed up and go out and have a good time. She smoked a lot of cigarettes and sometimes she drank enough beer that she was sick all the next day, but she was an attentive mother to Devin and rarely punished him for not eating his vegetables or making a mess in his room or getting into trouble at school for knocking somebody down.

Usually on the weekend she engaged an old lady from the neighborhood or a high-school girl to sit with Devin, watch TV with him (no monster movies), give him pizza or a sandwich for dinner, and then make sure he brushed his teeth and went to bed at a reasonable hour. Sometimes she would not come home until the next morning. More than once, the old woman staying with Devin got tired of waiting and took him home with her and put him to bed on her couch, leaving a note for mother to let her know where they were.

Mother had lots of different boyfriends; she seemed to attract them effortlessly. She said that low-life, no-account, good-for-nothing-other-than-a-few-laughs men were her specialty. She could never be serious about any of them, she said; that is, until she met a man named Kelly Pogue. He had been to college and had been in the marines. He had a flat-top haircut and he wore form-fitting shirts that showed off his muscles as he moved. He had been married to a couple of different ladies (not at the same time), but he found out after he married them that he didn’t like them as much as he thought and divorced both of them.

Mother had Kelly over for spaghetti so he and Devin could meet and get acquainted. From the beginning, they didn’t have much to say to each other, but they shook hands politely at the front door and smiled. Mother and Kelly hardly looked Devin’s way or spoke to him during dinner. Mother spoke quietly into Kelly’s ear as if she didn’t want Devin to hear what she said. Her eyes shone and she giggled a lot; she could hardly keep her hands off Kelly. Devin had never seen her act so silly. When dinner was over, they sat on the couch and watched TV, holding hands, while Devin went to his room and closed the door.

Devin wanted to tell mother he didn’t like Kelly, that just the look of him gave him a bad feeling, but he said nothing because she seemed happy and he didn’t want to give her anything to feel bad about.

A few days after the spaghetti dinner, mother told Devin that she and Kelly were going to be married and there were going to be some big changes in their lives. Finally she could quit her job at the rest home and stay at home and be a real wife and mother. They were going to live in Kelly’s house, with a big yard, a garage, and a basement; Devin would, of course, have his own room. He was lucky because he could keep going to his old school, although he would have to walk a lot farther.

Mother and Kelly were married by a justice of the peace (how romantic!) and were gone for two nights, during which time Devin stayed with a neighbor lady and her yapping miniature schnauzers. He couldn’t wait for mother to get back home so he could feel normal again, but the only problem was that when she came back Kelly was with her.

Within a week they had left their small apartment and moved into Kelly’s house. Devin had bad dreams at first because his room was upstairs and he was lonely and the stairs creaked on their own as if a ghost was walking up and down them. If he called out to mother, she didn’t come to him the way she used to because her bedroom was downstairs and Devin couldn’t sleep with her whenever he was scared and couldn’t go barging into her room any time he felt like it because it was Kelly’s room too and mother said they needed their privacy, as all newlyweds do.

She didn’t quit her job right away as she thought she would, because, as it turned out, she had some old debts to satisfy and she didn’t want to have to burden Kelly with them. It meant that Devin, with mother at work all day, was left alone in the house with Kelly.

Devin still didn’t like Kelly very much but he would try for mother’s sake. He’d be civil if nothing else. He’d stay out of Kelly’s way as much as he could, watch TV, stay in his room reading his comic books, or occupy himself with something in the yard.

Kelly had other ideas, though, about the way Devin should spend his time. He believed in military-style discipline. To begin with, the TV would not be turned on during the day. It sucked up too much electricity and it was a bad influence on kids; it made them soft and unrealistic and made them want things they couldn’t have.

“Your mother indulges you too much,” Kelly said.

“What does that mean?” Devin asked.

“She lets you have your way all the time. She spoils you. I won’t do that.”

“That’s all right. I like to be left alone.”

“Yeah? Well, those days are over.”

After the “honeymoon” was over and mother had returned to her job at the rest home, Kelly gave Devin a broom and a dustpan and put him to work cleaning his room, pulling all the furniture way from the wall and cleaning behind it. When that was finished, he gave him a scrub brush and a can of cleanser and made him get down in the bathtub and clean the tile.

“That isn’t fair,” Devin said. “All this dirt was here before I came here. This is somebody else’s dirt.”

“Yeah? Well, tell me about fair,” Kelly said. “Life isn’t fair, is it? The sooner you learn it, the better.”

How Kelly loved his little book of rules!

You will take baths regularly, of course, if not daily. (He came into the bathroom while Devin was in the tub to make sure he wasn’t wasting water.) After the bath, clean the tub thoroughly, tidy the bathroom, and hang all towels neatly on their racks. We don’t live on Park Avenue and we don’t have a maid. You will be your own maid, which includes hanging up your clothes and putting your dirty socks and underwear in the laundry basket at the bottom of the basement stairs to be sorted later.

We observe nine o’clock bedtime every night of the week, even on weekends. (No more late movies on TV.) Going to bed early and getting up early is a healthy habit and it instills discipline.

Every morning, you will make your own bed before breakfast and before getting dressed. Change the sheets at least once a week and take the dirty sheets down to the basement and put them in the washer.

You will only have one light on at a time and that’s the light you’re using. When you go out of a room, turn off any lights that are on. When you open the refrigerator door, get out everything you need at once. Opening the refrigerator door repeatedly wastes electricity.

Mow the lawn at least once a week. Keep the rows straight and even. Rake up the cut grass and put it in bags made especially for that purpose. After the grass is mowed, pull the weeds growing in the flower bed. Repeat in one week.

At first Devin enjoyed the novelty of pushing the powerful mower, but the sun was hot, his arms ached and he hated having Kelly finding fault with everything he did.

“Go over that row again,” Kelly barked. “You missed some sprouts growing there.”

Mother came out of the house to observe. “That mower is too heavy for him,” she said. “You have to remember he doesn’t have the strength of a grown man.”

“He’s never too young to learn to do things right,” Kelly said.

“Watch him and make sure he doesn’t lose any fingers or toes,” she said.

He had a temper and he liked to pout, mother said. She didn’t want to cross him or do anything to make him mad.

“I hate him,” Devin one evening when he was drying dishes after supper.

“He’s trying to be a good father to you,” mother said.

“He’s not my father. I hate him.”

“You have to give him a chance. This is all new for him.”

“Can’t we go back home and forget about him?” Devin asked.

Mother laughed. “This is home now,” she said.

And then there was the attic and after the attic the basement. They hadn’t been cleaned out in years, Kelly said, and it was high time.

The attic was full of dust and cobwebs. There was old furniture and stuff his mother and father used and, even before them, his grandparents. Kelly wanted everything straightened up, righted, and dusted off. That meant lugging the vacuum cleaner up the steps and plugging it into the one bulb that hung from the ceiling and sucking up all the spiders and cobwebs and the years’ accumulation of dust. Then there was the nightmare of bundling up all the things to throw away, according to Kelly’s exact specifications, and setting it out for the trash collectors to pick up.

The basement was dark and dank. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling all the way to the floor, turning it into a Dracula’s castle. He saw his first rat when he was moving some boxes and ran out into the yard, shivering with revulsion.

“I’m not a fucking slave!” he said. “I want my mother!”

Summer vacation was over and he started fourth grade. It was the first time in his life that he was glad to return to school. He had to walk a mile each way, but he didn’t mind it so much, even when it was raining. He liked the rainy days best because on those days there was no yard work to be done.

Mother was tired and nervous when she got home from work. She cooked the supper that they ate in silence. Devin saw that she had changed since she married Kelly. She had dark circles under her eyes and she didn’t laugh anymore. He wished that things could be the way they used to be.

On some days Kelly told mother to leave the supper dishes for Devin to do on his own. He would take her into the living room and get her to lie across his knees while he rubbed her shoulders and whispered in her ear. Mother seemed to like that kind of treatment, but Devin hated Kelly for it. He hated to see them together. Sometimes they went into their bedroom and closed the door early in the evening, before dark, and Devin wouldn’t see them again until the next morning.

It was well into fall and the big trees in the yard were shedding their leaves; so many leaves that Devin could hardly keep up with them, even if he raked every day after school. They used to be able to burn the leaves but now they had to bag them up in yard-waste bags. Devin didn’t know which was harder: raking up the leaves or getting them into the upright bags. Kelly wasn’t much help—though always present—because he had a couple of slipped discs in his back and couldn’t bend over and couldn’t lift.

On a Sunday afternoon toward the end of October, Devin was in the side yard working on the leaves. He had a sore throat, didn’t feel well, and wanted to go to his room and spend the afternoon doing what he wanted to do. The leaves were never-ending.

Kelly, for once, was occupied elsewhere. He had bought a vintage 1956 Cadillac and was restoring it. The Cadillac was in the driveway, near the house, and Kelly was underneath it with only his big feet sticking out. The tires had been removed and the front end of the car was jacked up; only a thin arm of metal kept the car suspended in the air.

Devin found a formidable-looking slingshot by the back fence. He didn’t know who it belonged to, but since he found it in his yard he would assume it belonged to him. He picked it up and pulled back on the rubber sling to test its resiliency. It begged to be tried out. Since Kelly wasn’t paying at attention at the moment, there was nothing to keep him from firing a few missiles into the air.

In the back yard was a walnut tree. The branches were heavy with walnuts but a lot of them had fallen to the ground and lay scattered about. (Yes, Devin would have to bag them up, too, when the time came.) He picked one up and felt its hardness and solidity. He shot one up into the walnut tree, scaring a squirrel and causing some birds to take to the air.

He fired one over the house and watched the satisfying arc it described in the air. He kept firing them in all directions, realizing it was the most fun he had had for a while. He didn’t care if Kelly saw that he was playing instead of working. He’d like to shoot one squarely between his eyes.

One of the walnuts went wildly astray. He saw too late that it was headed toward the Cadillac. If it hit the Cadillac of anywhere near it, Kelly would be out from under the car and all over him in a matter of seconds.

The walnut hit the jack holding up the car. It made a ping! sound and bounced off. The jack held for a couple of seconds and then shimmied and collapsed as if it had been torpedoed. The Cadillac came crashing down on Kelly. He let out one short, sharp scream and his legs twitched.

Devin dropped the slingshot and ran for the back door. Mother was standing in the kitchen. She already knew something was wrong. She took one look at Devin and followed him out the door. She ran to the Cadillac to help Kelly, but of course there was nothing she could do.

The neighbor next door called an ambulance. The ambulance people came with their emergency equipment and lifted up the Cadillac high enough to pull Kelly out. They rushed him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Lots of people came to the funeral home on the night of Kelly’s visitation. All the people mother knew from work were there, even the ones she didn’t like. Relatives she hadn’t seen for years heard about the accident from the TV news and came to pay their condolences.

Mother was standing in front of Kelly’s casket in her black dress. Devin went and stood beside her.

“Do you think it hurt when the car fell on him?” he asked.

“I think he went quick,” she said. “That’s what they said.”

“I’ve never seen a dead person before.”

She put her arm around his shoulder and pulled him in close and then she started crying again.

“I’m thirty-three years old,” she said. “I’ve had two husbands and they both died in accidents. I think I’m cursed. Nobody will ever want to marry me again.”

Somebody will!” Devin said.

Some new people came in and mother went to greet them, leaving Devin alone. He looked at the side of the Kelly’s face, thinking how different he was now, lying on his bed of peach-colored satin; no longer the big, blustering, commanding presence.

Devin heard someone behind him mention his name. People were looking at him, or it seemed they were, saying things about him. He went and found a chair where nobody could see him, flattened his hands under his thighs, took a deep breath and let it out a little shakily. He was a little sorry for what had happened but not much.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

By Appointment or By Chance

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

(Published in The Literary Hatchet Issue 21.) 

The year 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 Main Street in the town of Echo Bend.

I had worked as a teacher, editor at a small newspaper and clerk in a department store, 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, I was certain portrait photography 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 Echo Bend, I rented commercial space in the heart of the business district. I engaged 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 underneath my name these words: Portrait Photographer, By Appointment or By Chance.

Photography had been around for a long time but to most people it was still a novelty. If you had the money to spend, it was all the rage to put on your glad rags and go and sit for your portrait. 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 you of what you once looked like, when you were at your best. Your descendants would still have your photographic image 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 sitting in a chair, oftentimes posed with the living members of the family or with the family dog. 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 town, I was willing, more often than not, to go out of town to take portraits of the deceased, since the deceased were by necessity bound to one spot. I could usually charge any amount for this service and people would pay it willingly 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 this time I was still traveling 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 most days at certain times of the year. Often 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 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 toy animal 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 while cleaning a gun; 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 basement with rats to punish her. Most parents were good parents, though, and brokenhearted at the loss of a child. I provided them with the photographic remembrance that helped to ease their pain and made the child seem forever close and not so far away after all.

I was on my way back to town after one of these missions to photograph a ten-year-old boy who had fallen on a pitchfork when I saw a woman standing beside the road waving a handkerchief at me. I pulled up with impatience and stopped, ready to growl at her like an old bear.

“You’re the photography man?” she asked.

“I am,” I said. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m Mrs. Trenton Fairman. I live in that house over there.” She pointed and I looked at 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 in the morning, if you’re agreeable.”

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

She sighed and wiped tears from her cheeks. “Death has paid a call at my house.”

“You want a photograph of the deceased?”

“Yes, but it’s more than that.”

“What, may I ask?”

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

“Yes?”

“My husband, Trenton Fairman 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 goes at last into the ground on his birthday, I will make it worth your while.”

“I couldn’t do it for less than fifty dollars,” I said, believing she would balk at the price and that would end the matter.

“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 something suitable in the house for you to eat, sir.”

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.

She instructed the housemaid, a large, ungainly girl named Myrtle, to fix me a sandwich but I said, “Never mind. A drink of water will do. Just show me where the deceased is 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. Fairman said. “I just couldn’t see blocking out the light with heavy curtains. It’ll be the last earthly light that will ever shine on him.”

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

While I got the camera set up and everything ready to take the picture, Mrs. Fairman and the housemaid, Myrtle, hovered in the background, watching my every move. I would have preferred that they go about their business, but they had never seen picture-taking before and were interested in how it worked.

I took two photographs of the deceased from different angles and then Mrs. Fairman wanted one with her 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 believe I mentioned there was something else,” Mrs. Fairman said.

“Yes?”

“My son, Trenton Fairman 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?”

“Myrtle 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.”

“How old is the boy?”

“He’s fifteen years old, sir, and not very big. I think he could not weigh more than a hundred pounds. I’ll pay you an extra twenty dollars to carry him downstairs and place him in the coffin beside his father and close the lid.”

“Are you sure they’ll both fit in the same coffin?”

“Oh, yes, sir! Comfortably, I think.”

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

“Why does God punish us so?” she said.

She opened the door and I saw the boy, Trenton Fairman Junior, lying on his back on the bed. He was a fine-looking boy, nothing like his hatchet-faced father, dressed in a 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, with a diamond stickpin.

“He looks to be asleep,” I said.

Mrs. Fairman and Myrtle sobbed behind me.

“Maybe it would best if you leave me to my work,” I said.

They went out of the room and I went back downstairs to the parlor where the father lay and got my photographic equipment and carried it back up. I set up to take the picture and, as usual, I photographed the deceased from three different angles.

When I was finished, I carried my equipment back down, out the door, and loaded it into my wagon so I would be ready to leave as soon as Mrs. Fairman paid me the money she owed me.

Mrs. Fairman and Myrtle were waiting for me when I went back inside. Now it was time to carry the boy downstairs. The three of us went silently back up the stairs.

With Mrs. Fairman and Myrtle standing in the doorway, I approached the bed. Cautiously, I slipped my right arm under the boy’s back and my left arm under his knees. As I hefted him off the bed, I got the surprise of my life. His body went rigid, he opened his eyes and looked at me and gasped for air as if he had been under water.

“He’s not dead!” I said, laying him back down.

“Oh, oh, oh!” Mrs. Fairman said and Myrtle screamed.

“What made you think he was dead?” I said.

He continued to revive, moving his arms and legs, pulling at his clothes, as if he had suddenly become animated by the throwing of a switch. When I looked away from him over to Mrs. Fairman, I saw that she had collapsed on the floor. She convulsed violently and then stopped moving.

“Has she also been sick?” I asked Myrtle.

I approached the recumbent woman and took her hand in mine and began patting it because I didn’t know what else to do. I administered these little slaps to her hands and face and after a while I could see she wasn’t breathing. I put my ear to her chest and heard nothing.

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

Myrtle gasped and ran from the room. I heard her shoes clomping all the way down the stairs.

I turned to the boy, Trenton Fairman Junior, sitting on the bed, feet on the floor. “Are you all right?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Who are you?”

“I photograph the dead. Your mother asked me to come up here and take your picture.”

“Why would she do that?”

“She believed you to be dead for the last day and half.”

“Oh, yes. That’s right.”

“You know your father is dead, lying downstairs in the parlor?”

“Yes, we were going to have a funeral.”

“I’m afraid your mother is dead, too.”

He looked over at her lying on the floor and shook his head.

“Where is the nearest doctor?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I’m not sure there is one.”

“What about that girl? Myrtle? Does she live in the house with the family?”

“I don’t know where she lives.”

“She’s the only one left.”

“She’s ignorant,” he said.

“Would she be able find a doctor?”

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

“I’m going back to town now,” I said. “I’ll go to the sheriff and tell him what happened. Do you want to stay here do you want to go with me?”

“I’ll go.”

“You don’t want to stay here with your mother?”

“She wasn’t my mother. She was only play-acting.”

He asked me to wait while he changed his clothes and got a drink of water. I went outside and leaned against a tree in the front yard. In five minutes he came out of the house wearing a dress suit, carrying a small valise. He locked the door and we departed in my carriage.

It was late afternoon and the sky was threatening rain. I didn’t like the way the day had turned out. On top of everything else, I hadn’t collected the hundred dollars that was owed me and there would be no way to get it now.

For the first couple of miles, Trenton Fairman Junior said nothing, so after a while I turned to him to see how he was faring. With both of his parents dead, I expected him at least to need a reassuring adult to speak to.

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

“I don’t think so,” he said.

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

“After the dead bodies are removed from my house, I can stay there. The house belongs to me now.”

“I don’t think they’ll let you stay in that big house all by yourself without an adult present.”

“Why not?”

“You’re a minor.”

“What does that mean?”

“You’re underage. Still a child.”

“I’ll bet I’m more grown up than you.”

“It’s not a subject for argument. I’m just telling you the law won’t let you live in the house alone until you’re old enough.”

“I’d like to see them try and stop me.”

“Didn’t your father have a lawyer who handled his estate?”

“Yes, I think so. A lawyer in town. I think him name was Henry something.”

“Well, that’s a start. There can’t be that many lawyers in Echo Bend with Henry for a first name.”

He was silent then. He looked straight ahead as if I wasn’t even there.

“Your mother thought you were dead,” I said. “How’s that for irony?”

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

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

“I was dead.”

“As you stated earlier. You were dead and then what happened? You just came back to life?”

“I don’t have any explanation for it, but that’s what happened. Not everything is explainable.”

“What happened while you were dead? Do you remember anything?”

“I saw God. He spoke to me.”

“What did he say?”

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

“Don’t you think anybody would want to know what God says when he speaks.”

“God is a compact man with thin lips and a small mustache, almost as if it had been drawn on. People think of him as being big and old and having a long white beard, but he isn’t any of those things.”

“I don’t think I would have known him,” I said.

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

“Don’t tell me God has an eye deficiency! Or is the monocle just more of an affectation?”

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

“All right. What did God say to you?”

“He said the Saints are with him in heaven.”

“Is that all?”

“He told me to await further instructions.”

“What did He mean by that?”

“You tell me.”

I sighed. I was starting to get bored with the conversation. “You must be hungry,” I said for a change of subject.

“Why must I be hungry?” he asked.

“You were dead for a day and a half. Dead people don’t eat.”

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

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

“In the morning I’ll go see Henry what’s-his-name and tell him my stepmother decided to die along with my father. He’ll advise me what to do.”

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

“I can manage.”

“We’ll get you a room in the hotel for tonight.”

“I don’t have any money. I know that she had money in the safe, my father’s money, but she never told me the combination.”

“I’ll advance you the money.”

“Forget it. I’ll just walk around until morning. I’ve done it before.”

“That doesn’t seem the right thing to do,” I said.

When we got back to town, I went straight to the sheriff’s office, went inside and told him what had happened at the Fairman place, that there were two dead bodies there and nobody to tend to them. He asked me a dozen questions, where I might be reached for further questioning, and then he told me I could go. I went back out to my carriage and drove to the hotel. I stabled my horse and locked my wagon so nobody would become curious about what might be inside worth stealing. These trivial matters tended to, Trenton Fairman Junior and I went into the crowded hotel dining room and sat at a round table in the middle of the room. After we placed our order, I noticed the people in the restaurant looking at us and then 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 a dress suit. Not in this town. You look like you just got here from someplace else.”

“It isn’t what I’m wearing.”

“What is it then?”

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

“They don’t know any such thing.”

The food came, huge amounts of beefsteak, fried potatoes, carrots and green beans. After we ate, the boy 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 for our meal, we went into the hotel, where I engaged a room for him for the night. I asked him if he was afraid to stay by himself in a strange hotel room and he laughed. “You can’t be serious,” he said. “I’ve always been by myself. Since the day I was born.”

He had such a grownup way about him that I sometimes forgot I was dealing with a child.

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. He nodded 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 Trenton Fairman 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 my foolish 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, Trenton Fairman 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 Trenton Fairman Junior was indeed not there.

So much for Trenton Fairman Junior. I had no explanation for why his name wasn’t in the hotel register, but I figured he didn’t need or want my help any more and had gone to find his father’s lawyer on his own.

I thanked the clerk and went back out into the rain. I went to my photography studio and opened for business. It was a slow morning, so I had a chance to process my plates from the day before: two shots from different angles of the boy who died of the pitchfork wound through the stomach, two of Trenton Fairman Senior lying in his coffin, one of Mrs. Fairman standing next to her husband’s coffin. They all turned out beautifully.

When I processed the plates I had taken of Trenton Fairman Junior lying dead on his bed, I saw only a dim outline of a bed and that’s all. No Trenton Fairman Junior. Why would I have taken photographs of just a bed? I tried to recall the events of the day before to make some sense of it. I began to think I had experienced a kind of lapse while I was in the Fairman house. Had Trenton Fairman Junior even existed outside of my own mind? Was he a ghost? I couldn’t be sure. Not all things, as had recently been pointed out to me, are explainable.

After that I didn’t do any more work. I was beginning to feel tired and lightheaded so I closed the shop for the rest of the day and went home.

That night I was sick and was sure I was dying. I ached in every joint and was having trouble swallowing. I couldn’t keep anything on my stomach, not even a sip of water. I knew I had a fever.

When I was trying to think what might be the matter with me, the truth came to me as if spoken by a voice inside my head. I had failed to ask the reason for Trenton Fairman Senior’s death. He had obviously died of something catching and I had caught it. I had spent two hours at least inside a house breathing in disease germs and death.

I didn’t want to die alone and have my bloated body found only after the neighbors noticed the smell, so I checked myself into the nearest hospital. The doctor examined me briefly 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 passed in and out of consciousness. I was barely aware of anything but I knew there were other people moving at all hours around the bed on which I lay. I didn’t know who they were, or care: I only wanted them to go away and let me die in peace.

Hours passed, maybe days, but I had no real sense of time. The light at my window went from light to dark and back to light. I was aware of the sounds of rain and thunder, the perfect accompaniment, I thought, to dying.

Once when I woke up from one of my naps, Trenton Fairman 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 beside Trenton Fairman Junior. He was a compact man with thin lips and a small mustache, almost as if it had been drawn on. He had a Continental air about him, rather than an American one.

“Who are you?” I asked.

He smiled and said, “It’s time for me to ask you a question.”

“What is it?”

“Do you want to go or do you want to stay?”

“What? Go where?”

“I asked you if you want to go or if you want to stay?”

“I think I’d like to stay if it’s all the same to you,” I said.

I must have drifted off to sleep after that because when I came to myself again, Trenton Fairman Junior and the man with the monocle were gone.

I was several more days in the hospital and then they said I was well enough to go home. As I was getting dressed to leave, one of the nurses told me how lucky I was to be alive because I had come so close to dying.

“I saw God,” I said. “He spoke to me.”

“What did he say?”

“He asked me if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay.”

“What did you say?”

I thought it an unnecessary question, but I answered all the same.

“I said I wanted to stay.”

“You’re not usually given a choice, I believe,” she said.

After a few days at home by myself I felt almost well again. On Sunday morning I rode out to the Fairman place, for what reason I don’t know. It looked abandoned. Grass and weeds had grown up in the yard. The windows were shuttered. A large for-sale sign was placed so that people would see it coming from either direction on the road. Just being near the house made me start to feel ill again, so I left.

In a month or so I moved to the city. I borrowed some money from a bank and set up a photography studio in a fashionable location (fashionable meaning people with money). I did well and moved into expensive lodgings with maid service. I bought myself a motor car, something every man of means was doing. I paid back the money I borrowed and was as happy as I ever expected to be.

My photographic subjects now were all living. I wanted nothing more to do with death. My own would be coming for me soon enough.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Welcome to the Neighborhood

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Welcome to the Neighborhood ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

A moving van pulled up at the house across the street and three bear-like men got out and began unloading furniture. A late-model red car pulled into the driveway from which four people emerged: a gangly boy wearing a backwards baseball cap and an older man from the front and a girl and a middle-aged woman from the back. The man had white hair and walked with a limp. The girl looked like a younger version of the woman, obviously mother and daughter.

“Looks like a girl about my age,” Carmen said. “She’s fat and ugly but I’ll bet she has her driver’s license. Probably even her own car.”

“You’d better quit spying on the neighbors,” Zane said from his spot on the couch, where he was reading a story in True Romance magazine about a woman with four husbands at the same time. “They’re going to see you and know what a crazy person you are.”

“You ought to see this old couch they’ve got. It looks like it’s about a hundred years old. If it was mine, I’d set it out in the yard and douse it with kerosene and set fire to it.”

“Maybe they’re just waiting for the right moment to do that very thing.”

“And there’s a big glass thing that looks like a fish tank. I always wanted a fish tank.”

“Why don’t you go over there and ask them if they’ll give it to you?”

“If they can afford a fish tank, that must mean they have lots of money and that girl must have her own car. I wonder what her name is. I’m sure she’ll have an ugly-girl name like Mabel or Bertha.”

“When she sees you, she’ll think the same thing about you.”

“Hey, look at this! They’ve got a big thing that looks like a sun lamp and a huge dining room table and one, two, three, four, five, six chairs that go with it. They must have a lot of people over for dinner if they need six dining room chairs.”

“Who cares?”

“Now here comes a dresser with a big round mirror and a bed and some mattresses and a chest of drawers and—wait a minute!—here’s another bed and some more mattresses. The mattresses look brand new. They haven’t been peed on yet. Now they’re bringing out a couple of big upholstered chairs and some more boxes and—oh, my gosh!—here’s another bed and another set of mattresses. How many beds do they have, anyway?”

“Your interest in their beds is a little disturbing.”

“Now, what do you suppose that thing is? It looks like a big square washing machine.”

“Why do you care what it is?”

“I have natural curiosity. I want to know what’s going on around me. Oh, wait a minute! The girl is standing on the sidewalk looking up at the roof with her hands on her hips. She just pulled her underpants out of her crack. That’s the kind of thing people do when they think nobody’s looking at them. Come and take a look!”

“I don’t want to see any ugly girl messing with her crack or anybody else’s,” Zane said, but he put the magazine aside and stood up from the sofa and went over to the window. He took the binoculars from Carmen and adjusted them to his own eyes.

“She’s ugly all right,” he said. “Her hair looks like a fright wig you’d wear on Halloween.”

“What did I tell you? Wait until she turns around and you get a look at her face.”

“She’s turning around now and she’s saying something to one of the moving men. She’s telling him where to take some boxes. I can almost read her lips because her mouth is so big.”

“What are you talking about?” Carmen said. She snatched the binoculars back from him. “That’s not the girl, you goof! That’s the mother! Oh, wait a minute! Here’s the girl now, just coming out of the house.”

“Oh,” he said. “The mother and the daughter look just alike. They’re both horribly freakish.”

“Well, the mother is middle-aged and has on a ton of makeup and the girl is about my age. That’s how you tell them apart.”

“What do I care how to tell them apart? Maybe I just want to ignore them and mind my own business.”

“I think we should go over there and welcome them to the neighborhood. That’s what you’re supposed to do when somebody new moves in.”

“Not me!”

“You won’t go with me?”

“No.”

“I might just have to tell mother about the collection of questionable magazines hidden in your room.”

“I don’t have any magazines in my room.”

“Don’t you know there isn’t anything that goes on in this house that I don’t know about?”

“I think you should mind your own damn business and stop snooping around!”

“So you will admit that you have magazines hidden in your room?”

“I admit nothing.”

“Just the suggestion of those magazines in the house would probably kill mother. You know she’s not a well woman.”

“Could we please talk about something else, or not talk at all?”

“Then you’ll go with me?”

“I’ll go because you’re a sick person who needs help, not because I have any magazines in my room.”

Carmen put on grandma’s widow’s hat with black feathers. The almost-opaque veil resembled a mosquito net that hung down past her chin. She got her baton out of the closet and held it in the crook of her arm, ready to twirl. Zane put on his steampunk goggles and his Trader Horn pith helmet. Arm in arm, they went out to the front yard.

The woman and the girl were taking boxes out of the back of the red car and didn’t look up when Carmen and Zane appeared. The moving men were moving something heavy out of the back of the van, keeping up a steady patter of invective.

“They look busy,” Zane said. “Maybe we’d better wait and go over later when they’re finished moving.”

“I know how to get them to notice me,” Carmen said. She began marching up and down in front of the house like a soldier on sentry duty with the baton as her gun. She marched until she was out of breath.

When they still didn’t pay any attention to her, she went into her drum majorette routine. She had auditioned for drum majorette two years earlier and, even though she hadn’t been chosen, she still knew all the moves. She kicked her left leg as high as her head, and then her right leg. She threw the twirling baton six feet into the air and caught it with the tips of her fingers.

“I saw a woman doing this on TV with both ends of the baton flaming,” she said. “She was blindfolded, but she never burned her hands. I’d like to try that sometime.”

While Carmen was twirling frenetically, Zane began doing experimental cartwheels on the grass. His pith helmet fell off every time, so he began doing them much faster. When he was able to do a cartwheel and not have the helmet fall off, he congratulated himself effusively.

The baton twirling and the cartwheels still garnered no attention from the new people, as they continued to be absorbed in the business of moving furniture, boxes and barrel-like cartons into the house.

“Am I going to set off an explosion to get them to notice me?” Carmen said. She threw the baton down and began walking on her hands on the sidewalk and then up the steps of the porch and down again, all the time maintaining her superb balance.

Zane left off doing cartwheels and began walking on his hands too, but he wasn’t as accomplished a hand-walker as Carmen. When he tried going up the steps to the porch, his arms weakened and he fell on his head.

“You’ll never be able to do that,” Carmen said. “There are some things I’m just naturally better at than you.”

“I could do it with more practice,” he said.

“This isn’t working,” Carmen said. “They haven’t looked over here a single time. I think I should sing a showtune.”

“Please don’t do that!”

“How about ‘Seventy-Six Trombones’?”

“No, I hate that song!”

“I know! I’m going to get grandpa’s wheelchair out of the basement.”

It was in a corner underneath some old clothes and a box of fur pieces and hats. Carmen brushed away the cobwebs and rolled the chair to the door and out into the yard.

They took turns riding the wheelchair down the slope of the yard toward the street, stopping just short of the sidewalk. The chair didn’t move very well on the grass, so Carmen sat in the chair and Zane got behind and pushed.

On one run, he pushed a little too hard and the chair didn’t stop at the sidewalk but kept on going and jumped the curb and went out into the street, out of Carmen’s control. She put her hands on the wheels to try to stop them but she was going too fast.

Up the hill, half a block away, Milton Sills the midget was working on his classic Cadillac-with-no-engine in front of his house. He was lying on his back and, as he was coming out from underneath, he accidentally kicked the jack loose that was holding up the front end of the car. It began rolling backwards down the hill at about fifteen miles an hour.

Carmen was on a collision course with the Cadillac but she couldn’t stop the chair. She tried dragging her feet but it didn’t help; she was going too fast. She screamed and closed her eyes and threw her arms up over her head.

The wheelchair grazed off the rear bumper of the Cadillac and turned over. The Cadillac continued down the hill until it came to rest against a tree in the yard of an old woman who wore a white pageboy wig named Mrs. Franchetti.

Carmen was half in and half out of the wheelchair. She had hit her head on the pavement and was dizzy. She was bleeding from her the bump on her head and skinned places on her arm and leg. She was certain the people across the street would have seen what happened to her, but they had all gone inside and hadn’t seen a thing.

She spent five hours in the emergency room at the hospital waiting to get fixed up. When the doctor finally saw her, he had her admitted to a semi-private room overnight, where she had to listen to the all-night moaning and gurgling of an elderly roommate. In addition to contusions and bruises, she had a mild concussion and a fractured wrist. The doctor asked her why she was playing around with old an old wheelchair. She was lucky she wasn’t killed.

When mother found out, she called Carmen a dangerous fool. She ought to be ashamed of herself for dishonoring grandpa’s memory by using his wheelchair as a toy. She was confined to the house for the rest of the summer. It was a setback to her mad desire to get her driver’s license before school started. Since she was twelve, she had dreamed of having her own car to drive to school and anyplace else she wanted to go.

After a few days, the headaches lessened and she was able to come out of her room. She sat in the living room with the TV on, looking out the window, when Zane came in, looking pleased with himself.

“Leave me alone,” Carmen said, before he had said a word.

“I heard some news that might be of interest to you,” he said.

“What is it?”

“No, if you don’t want to be bothered, I’ll just keep it to myself.”

“You’d better tell me and tell me quick.”

“I’ve been over at Kent Collier’s house all morning.”

“How could that possibly interest me? Kent Collier is a weasel.”

“His mother knows those people.”

“What people?”

“Don’t be coy.”

“You know that old thing about appearance versus reality?”

“I don’t think I’ve heard that one.”

“To bring it down to your level: appearances can be deceiving.”

“What are you talking about?”

“That ugly girl’s name is Gwennie Bell.”

“So?”

“You won’t be going to school with her and you won’t have to suck up to her so she’ll take you places in her car.”

“Why not?”

“Every morning she’ll be walking the three blocks down the hill to catch the retarded bus to take her to retarded school.”

“Oh, my gosh! She’s retarded?”

“You catch on fast.”

Mother came in from the kitchen and stood in the doorway so she could hear every word. Carmen and Zane knew she was there but pretended she wasn’t.

“And that’s not all,” Zane said. “That skinny ‘boy’ in the backward baseball cap is really a woman, thirty-three years old.”

“Are you making this up?” Carmen said.

“She’s a lesbian.”

“A what?”

“It gets better. That middle-aged woman that you thought was the mother of the ugly girl is really her sister and she’s also a lesbian. She and the ‘boy’ in the backward baseball cap are lesbian lovers.”

“Hey!” mother said. “We don’t use that kind of language in this house!”

“Who is the old man?” Carmen asked, continuing to ignore mother. “Are you going to tell me he’s really a woman, too?”

“No, he’s the father of the middle-aged woman and retarded Gwennie. So, you have an old man, two lesbian lovers and a retarded girl living in the house, making up the family. It’s a story of sexual deviancy and mental retardation.”

“You’d better not be spreading gossip,” mother said, “or you’re going to be confined to the house for the rest of the summer like your sister.”

“If you don’t believe me, call Kent Collier’s mother and ask her.”

When Carmen and Zane were out of hearing, she called the Collier home, spoke to Kent’s mother, an old friend from her school years, and confirmed all that Zane had said.

As part of Carmen’s punishment for the wheelchair, mother had the “really good idea” of making Carmen take a small gift to retarded Gwennie across the street, introducing herself and asking her to go with her to the outdoor concert in the park on Friday night. It was a lesson that would help teach Carmen humility and having respect for other people’s feelings.

“I’d rather die that be seen out in public with her!” Carmen moaned.

“That’s all the more reason for you to do it, then,” mother said.

The next day, Carmen, holding a potted philodendron as a gift, went and knocked on the door of the house across the street. The old man, the father, came to the door and when he saw Carmen he frowned and the corners of his mouth turned down.

“Is Gwennie at home?” Carmen asked, swallowing hard.

“Who are you?” the old man asked.

“I live across the street.”

“Just a minute. I’ll see if she’s busy.”

The old man went away and in less than a minute, Gwennie appeared in his place. When Gwennie saw Carmen, she had an I-don’t-know-you look on her face but then she managed a small smile. Carmen held out the potted plant; Gwennie took it from her and invited her in.

“She’s in!” Zane said, watching from the window across the street. “I just know they’re going to be the best of friends!”

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Washed in the Blood

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Washed in the Blood ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

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

“Hello,” he said sleepily.

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

“Yes,” Vincent said. “Who is this?”

“Vincent, this is Timothy Nesselrode. I’m the pastor at your mother’s church. I wanted to call you and see how you’re getting along since your mother’s funeral and ask if there’s anything I might do for you.”

“I’m fine,” Vincent said. “There’s nothing you can do. I don’t need a thing.”

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

“Yeah.”

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

“Thanks for calling.”

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

“What about?”

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

“Well, I’m pretty busy today.”

“Would tomorrow be better?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My goodness!” the reverend Nesselrode said, taking Vincent’s hand in both of his own. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Vincent said.

“May we sit?”

Vincent led the reverend Nesselrode into the living room and watched as he placed himself in the middle of the couch. Vincent himself sat in the chair across the room in front of the window, crossed his legs and aligned the index finger of his right hand alongside his temple.

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

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

“Grief counseling?”

“Yes, if you want to talk about your feelings of grief in a group setting with people who are experiencing the same kind of loss you are.”

“I don’t think…”

“The group meets twice a month, on alternating Fridays. I believe this coming Friday, the day after tomorrow, is their night to meet. Please feel free to attend if you’re up to it. The meeting begins at seven o’clock.”

“Well, I don’t really like groups,” Vincent said, “and I’ve always hated meetings where you sit and listen to somebody talk. That’s not for me.”

“Well, the people in the group are lovely people. I’m sure you’d find it a rewarding experience.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think so.”

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

“Why would she do that?”

“She was worried about you. You’re about forty, aren’t you?”

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

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

“Why is that?”

“You have no other family, I understand?”

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

“But no family nearby.”

“That’s right.”

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

“Not all do.”

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

“Sure.”

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

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

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

“Another chance to do what?”

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

“It is for some people.”

“What?”

“Being alone is good for some people.”

“I’m sure that’s true, Vincent, but I hope you will at least think about what I’m saying. The message to you is this: you are not alone.”

“Got it.”

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

“Plans?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ladies?”

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

“Do they get paid by the hour?”

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

“Like Superman?”

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

“Okay.”

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

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

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

“Yeah, thanks for stopping by.”

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

“People like me?”

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

“Sucker?”

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

“Okay.”

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

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

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

“Okay, but I won’t be there.”

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

“I know that.”

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

“Maybe I just don’t like your church. It’s not the idea of religion. It’s just the church.”

“They’re the same.”

“No, they’re not.”

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

“She only got that way after she got old. She was afraid of dying and going to hell. When she was young, she did some pretty bad things, from what I understand. She liked no-account men. She had some abortions.”

“Well, she was washed in the Blood of the Lamb. The Lord Jesus Christ has forgiven all her transgressions.”

“I hope so.”

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

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

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

“Just one more thing. Your house.”

“What about my house?”

“Your house has many rooms.”

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

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

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

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

“Halfway house! What’s that?”

“It’s a place for troubled young people to stay for a period of time, a few weeks or longer, while they’re getting their lives in order.”

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

The reverend Nesselrode laughed. “No, you don’t understand,” he said. “You wouldn’t still live here.”

“Where would I live?”

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

“So, you want me to give you my house?”

“Well, that’s not quite the way I’d…”

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

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

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

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

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t want to be a walking cliché,” he said.

Standing halfway between the bed and the dresser, his back to the mirror, he pointed the gun at his chest where his heart was beating and pulled the trigger. The force of the blow knocked him off his feet and the gun clattered to the floor beside him. Still, seconds passed before he felt any pain and when the pain came it was with the release of much blood.

He put his hands to his chest, covering the place where the blood was issuing forth. He was surprised at how much blood his body had in it and how warm it felt. It pumped out of him, soaking his clothes, pooling on the floor around him.

He had the feeling someone was in the room with him but he couldn’t be sure. He lifted his head from the floor and looked over at the bed and at the locked door but saw no one. Through clenched teeth, in gasping breaths, he spoke: “I am. Washed. In the. Blood of the Lamb.

Finding comfort in the words, he wanted to say them again and then again, but all the breath left his body and the light, whatever there was, went out of him.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

A Visit to Miss Goodapple’s

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A Visit to Miss Goodapple’s ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

He sat on a hard-backed chair and wished he was someplace else. His name was Cleland Camden and he was eight years old. It was his day to stay with grandma and it was grandma’s day to visit friends. He had to go along with her whether he wanted to or not.

They were in Miss Goodapple’s home, in her comfortable living room. The chairs were arranged in a circle. Miss Goodapple sat in an upholstered chair next to the fireless fireplace. Then there was Gertrude Padovesi, Audrey Stoller, grandma, and of course, Cleland, who was there because grandma was. All the women were widows, except Miss Stoller, who never married. She was an old-maid schoolteacher, or had been, until she turned seventy years old and they told her she had to retire.

They had all lived a long time and had lots of memories to talk over. They liked to talk about things that happened to them when they were young. And, of course, there were always current things to talk about concerning people they knew: who had died or was about to die, who was in the hospital for an operation, who had a baby, who was stepping out on her husband, who came home drunk the other night and was dumped on the front porch, who smashed up her car, who was a slut, a whore, or a tramp, who was never any good to begin with, who was a shifty-eyed bastard or a known child molester, who had a nervous breakdown, who came into some money, or any number of things. The list went on and on.

“I had a conversation yesterday in the grocery story over the frozen foods with Ruby Zaza,” Miss Goodapple said.

“How is Ruby these days?”

“She’s put on a lot of weight and she stopped dyeing her hair, so now it’s an ugly salt-and-pepper.”

“It’s so sad when you think about what a beautiful girl she was in high school.”

“A bit of a tramp, too.”

“She knew how to have a good time.”

“One time she was arrested for dancing naked on the bandstand in the park. It was two o’clock in the morning and nobody was around but suddenly the police just appeared. Somebody must have tipped them off.”

“That story has been told about Ruby a million times.”

“Well, it’s true.”

“Were you there?”

“No, I wasn’t.”

“How do you know it happened, then?”

“Everybody said it happened.”

“That doesn’t mean it did.”

“We should invite Ruby for lunch one of these days. We could talk over old times. We could ask her if it was true about dancing naked in the park. ”

“Well, if I may change the subject,” Gertrude Padovesi said. “My niece Gloria finally found somebody who wants to marry her.”

“Isn’t she only about thirteen or fourteen?” Miss Goodapple asked.

“She’s thirty-two.”

“Who is she marrying?”

“He’s some kind of a doctor, I think, but it might just be an animal doctor. Maybe a brain specialist. I’m not sure.”

“I remember her,” Audrey Stoller said. “She was the one with the cleft palate, wasn’t she? She always looked like a scared little rabbit.”

“That’s why they call it a harelip, honey! A rabbit is a hare!”

“Don’t you think I know that?”

“Well, now she’s all grown up and no more ugly mouth.”

“What do you mean?”

“She got the thing fixed. After all these years!”

“And now she’s gorgeous?”

“Well, she won’t win any beauty contests but I guess she looks good enough for an animal doctor to want to marry her.”

“Isn’t that wonderful? Who paid for the operation?”

The operation? There were about four.”

“Well, who paid for it?”

“Her mother. Who do you think paid for it? She would have spent her last dime to make her little girl happy.”

“Well, I hope Gloria appreciates it,” Miss Goodapple said. “There’s nothing worse than an unappreciative child.”

“When I got my children raised to adulthood,” grandma said, “I figured my duty to them was over. They were on their own after that.”

“Some never grow up,” Gertrude Padovesi said. “They’ll keep on suckin’ at the tit as long as you let ‘em.”

“You don’t have to be crude,” Audrey Stoller said. “Especially with a child sitting here listening to every word.”

All the women turned and looked at Cleland. He hadn’t been paying much attention to what they were saying but instead had been looking at his intertwined fingers.

“How are you doing there, honey?” Gertrude Padovesi said. “He’s a manly little fellow, isn’t he?”

“That’s my grandson, Cleland,” grandma said. “You’ve all met him before. I had him with me at the Royal Neighbors’ dinner at the Baptist Church last summer.”

“Yes, I remember him,” Audrey Stoller said. “He wanted the neck off the turkey.”

“I like the neck,” he said.

“Well, of course, you do, buddy! It’s good munching, especially if you’ve got a meager appetite.”

“Now, is he Kenny’s boy or Andy’s?” Miss Goodapple asked.

“Andy’s,” grandma said.

“And his mother is who?”

“Janice.”

“Of course! I remember her. Awful pretty girl.”

“She’s got the lupus now.”

“Oh, isn’t that too bad!”

“I had a little brother,” Cleland said, “but he died. His name was Christopher. He was only six weeks old. He was in a little white casket with red roses all around.”

“Yes,” Miss Goodapple said. “We were all there and saw him.”

“There’s nothing worse than losing a child,” Gertrude Padovesi said.

“Your heart aches,” Audrey Stoller said.

“I think about him sometimes at night when I’m in bed and the lights are off,” Cleland said. “Sometimes it scares me and I have to cover up my head.”

“You need to think about happy things and then you won’t be scared anymore.”

“Andy and Janice are still young,” Audrey Stoller said. “They ought to have more children.”

“Janice can’t have any more,” grandma said. “And now she’s sick with the lupus.”

Tsk-tsk-tsk! What a shame!”

“What’s the long-term outlook for the lupus?” Audrey Stoller asked.

“Not good,” grandma said, “but we hope for the best.”

“That’s all you can do, honey.”

“What grade are you in, cupcake?” Miss Goodapple asked.

“Third,” Cleland said.

“You learn all about geography in school?” Audrey Stoller asked. “About where Canada is and Mexico and the Rio Grande River and the Gulf of Mexico?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you know I used to be a school teacher? I taught little boys and girls just like you for about forty-five years until they told me I was too old to do it anymore.”

“They told you it was time to go home?” Cleland asked.

“That’s right.”

He stood up and laid across the chair he had been sitting on. He spied, from upside down, a picture in a frame on the mantel of a gray-haired man in a dark suit.

“Who’s that man?” he asked

“That’s my husband,” Miss Goodapple said.

“Is he in the other room taking a nap?”

“No.”

“Is he at work?”

“No, he died.”

“What was the matter with him?”

“He had a pain in his head and he died.”

“What did he do before he died?”

“He was a businessman.”

“A businessman?”

“Yes, he owned a store downtown.”

“What kind of store?”

“A clothing store. Goodapple Fine Apparel. It was at the Corner of Main and Twelfth.”

“With suits and dresses and underwear and things like that?”

“That’s right. That was before your time.”

“What does ‘before my time’ mean?”

“It means it’s time for you to stop asking so many questions,” grandma said. “He sits there and doesn’t say a word and once you get him started talking, he doesn’t stop.”

All the women laughed and Cleland didn’t know exactly what they were laughing about, but it didn’t matter.

“Well, he’s a fine little fellow,” Miss Goodapple said, “and he’ll grow up to be a good-looking man with those dark eyes.”

“You got a girlfriend, honey?” Gertrude Padovesi asked.

“No. I don’t want one.”

All the women laughed again and Cleland, who enjoyed attention as much as the next fellow, wished they’d stop talking about him. What he wished more than anything was that it was time for him and grandma to leave.

“Grandchildren are the joy of your old age,” Miss Goodapple said.

“I don’t know,” Gertrude Padovesi said. “Out of my six, I’d gladly return two of them if I could.”

“Are you still having trouble with Diffie?” grandma asked.

“Yes, every time the phone rings I’m afraid it’s going to be her asking me for more money. I know that son-of-a-bitch Bean is standing right beside her telling her every word to say.”

“Who’s Bean?”

“Oh, he’s that silly thing she’s married to. The only way Diffie’s ever going to get her life straightened out if she gets away from him. One of these days he’s going to meet with a crowbar to the head, if there’s any justice at all in the world.”

“Invite him over and feed him some rat poison, honey,” Audrey Stoller said.
“I don’t think I’d care to spend my declining years in jail, honey.”

“If you do it right, you’ll never get caught.”

“I suppose you’re the voice of authority when it comes to poisoning people.”

“Sure, I’ve done it a few times.”

“The mention of rat poison reminds me,” Miss Goodapple said, “I’ve got mice in my basement. I hope it’s only mice and not rats. Mice are bad enough but I’m deathly afraid of rats! I don’t want to kill them. I don’t want to hurt them. I just don’t want them in my house.”

“Get yourself a cat. It’ll scare the living daylights out of any mouse or rat.”

“Hey! Have any of you heard that Una Fairdale is getting married again?” Gertrude Padovesi said. “I heard it yesterday when I got my hair done.”

“No!” Audrey Stoller said. “Who would want to marry her?”

“He’s a younger fellow. They say he’s really good looking. Looks like Robert Taylor.”

“He must be blind in one eye and can’t see out the other if he wants to marry Una.”

“No, they say she’s very attractive now. She got herself a facelift and looks twenty years younger.”

“A facelift? How could she afford that?”

“Haven’t you heard? She got a ton of money from her husband’s life insurance settlement.”

“That explains why a younger, good-looking man would want to marry her. As soon as they’re married, he’ll poison her, and all her money will go to him. Then he can live the rest of his life in luxury without having to listen to Una’s squawking mouth.”

“That’s the second time this afternoon you’ve mentioning poisoning someone, honey! What are you trying to tell us?”

“Anyway,” Grace Padovesi said. “If anybody wants to buy a beauty salon, I know where you can get one cheap. My hairdresser—her name is Ruthie Twitchell—is selling out and moving out to North Dakota to live with her daughter.”

“She’ll hate North Dakota,” Miss Goodapple said. “She’ll freeze her buns off out there. She’ll want to move back here as soon as she lives through a North Dakota winter.”

“I hate to see her go. She’s been fixing my hair for twenty years and she knows just how I like it. These younger ones coming up don’t know anything.”

“They don’t know shit!” Audrey Stoller said.

“Now who’s being crude in front of a child?” Gertrude Padovesi said.

“I heard that Miss Lewis had to put her brother in a ‘place,” grandma said.

“Poor old soul!”

“He’s been off his rocker for years.”

“What exactly is the matter with him?”

“Who knows? I think it’s heredity insanity.”

“Oh! Tsk-tsk-tsk!

“She kept him at home with her for as long as she could until he got to be too much for her.”

“Isn’t that sad!”

“Miss Lewis is a saint. Anybody else would have put him in a ‘place’ a long time ago.”

“Maybe now she’ll find herself a husband.”

“At her age?”

“Believe it or not, dear, not every woman is desperate for a husband,” Audrey Stoller said.

“Well, most are. I guess you were the exception, dear!”

“Yes, I was the exception. I chose a career instead.”

“Lots of women have both, you know!”

“Let’s not get started on that!”

“Well, when you die, you’ll die alone.”

“So will you!”

“I’ll be surrounded by loved ones.”

“That is, if they’re not too busy to come to wherever you are and watch you die, unless you’re leaving them some money and then they’ll be there to make sure they get their share.”

“That’s very cynical.”

“And true.”

“The thing to do is live for the moment and not think about dying,” Miss Goodapple said. “We’ll all die soon enough, but what good does it to do worry about it? The thing to do is live for the moment.”

“You can at least prepare yourself for it,” grandma said. “I went to Easley’s funeral home and bought myself a pre-paid funeral plan. I know exactly what casket I’ll be buried in, satin lining and all.”

“Didn’t that depress the hell out of you?”

“No. Why should it?”

“It’s cremation for me!” Gertrude Padovesi said. “It’s clean and quick and you don’t have to wait decades to turn to dust. It eliminates the part about your body turning to corruption.”

“And then you’re a pile of gray ash. Lovely!”

“Have you ever seen a rotting corpse, dear?”

“Not recently.”

“There’s nothing more grotesque.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“They do this thing now where they’ll turn your remains into a precious stone and your loved one can wear it around her neck, like a diamond necklace. How precious is that?”

“What if the loved one is a man?”

“He can have it made into cufflinks or a tie pin if he wants, I guess.”

“Or a stud for his ear.”

It was time to serve refreshments. Miss Goodapple went into the kitchen and came back a few minutes later pushing a little cart containing a pot of boiling tea and some cups, a plate of cookies, a bottle of wine and little glasses. She poured a cup of tea for everybody, without asking first if they wanted it, and then passed around the plate of cookies.

Cleland drank his tea, slowly at first and then faster. It was slightly bitter with a little tang of lemon and a little sugar, just the way he liked it. With his cup in his right hand, he took a cookie in his left hand and bit into it. Nobody admonished him about dropping crumbs on Miss Goodapple’s rug or spilling any of the tea. He was very neat for his age.

The cookies were lemon and delicious. He ate three of them and drank two cups of tea. The refreshments were always the best thing about the visits at Miss Goodapple’s.

When he was finished, he wasn’t shy about announcing that he needed to use the bathroom. Everybody stopped what they were doing and looked at him.

“Up the stairs,” Miss Goodapple said. “Down the hallway. The bathroom is on the left.”

He planned on taking his time because he was plenty tired of old-lady talk and wanted to go home. They wouldn’t notice he was gone. He enjoyed being in a strange house and he wanted to look at things.

He went up the stairs slowly, planting his feet firmly on the carpeted stairs and holding on to the mahogany banister. Halfway up the stairs, on a landing, was Miss Goodapple’s antique grandfather clock. It was old-looking and mysterious with its ponderous pendulum going back and forth, back and forth, counting out the endless minutes.

The bathroom was where Miss Goodapple said it would be. It was old-fashioned, all porcelain and white tile. He did what he had to do and, after he spent a long time washing and drying his hands, he opened the medicine cabinet over the sink and looked at the bottles, jars and little boxes sitting there. It was all stuff an old lady would use. Suppositories, seasick pills, denture cream and face cream. Nothing very interesting.

In the hallway across from the bathroom was a bedroom. It was cool and dark, with shades pulled down to the sills of the two windows and a high ceiling. He walked around the big bed to the other side, where there was a door. He opened the door and found it was a huge walk-in closet. Densely packed clothes hung on each side, high up over his head. He took a few steps inside the closet and saw something that startled him and almost made him turn around and run.

Standing at the back of the closet was a tall man in tuxedo and top hat. His head was turned slightly to the right and his arms extended at the elbow as if in supplication. Through smiling, red lips his teeth glistened like pearls.

“Hello,” Cleland said but the man said nothing and didn’t move an inch, so he said hello again. That’s when he realized the man was stuffed like people sometimes stuff wild animals they’ve killed. It must be the husband Miss Goodapple mentioned who died long ago, the one who owned the clothing store downtown. When he died, she had him stuffed and set him up at the back of her big closet so she could keep him near her without anybody knowing about it. It seemed like a good idea but also something that most people would never do. He wondered if grandma knew Miss Goodapple’s secret.

He walked closer to the man and reached out and touched the tips of his long, shiny fingers. He had never seen a dead body up close before and he was naturally fascinated. He would have something to tell the kids at school but, of course, without telling anybody in whose house he saw it.

A creak in some other part of the house made him think somebody was coming, so he started to leave the closet and go back downstairs when he saw a gray object at the feet of the man in the tuxedo. On closer inspection, it proved to be the body of a rat, dead for some time. Its eyes were fixed and staring, just like the eyes of the man in the tuxedo, and its little paws were outstretched, as if it had been in the act of running when it died. When Cleland saw how the whiskers had grown quite long and curved downward, he began to feel sorry for it and believed it deserved something better than being dead at the food of a stuffed man. He picked it up, stiff and dried-out as it was, and looked around for a more fitting place to put it.

On the dresser in Miss Goodapple’s bedroom was a jewelry box. He opened the box and saw it contained many precious jewels—diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. It was nearly full with the stuff, but there was still room in it for a good-sized dead rat.

From the top drawer of Miss Goodapple’s dresser he took two embroidered hankies. He refolded one of them length-wise, laid it on top of the precious jewels and placed the rat carefully on top of it. Then he covered up the rat with the other hankie and closed the box. He was sure the rat, if it could have known where it was, would like being in the box amid the splendor of precious jewels. It seemed a fitting place for a rat that had undoubtedly lived a good life.

When he went back downstairs, nobody remarked at how long he had been gone; nobody even seemed aware of it. He sat back down in in the chair he had been sitting in before and smiled.

The tea was all gone and now the women were drinking the wine. There was one glass still left on the little cart.

“Can I have some wine?” he interrupted the ongoing conversation to asked.

“Just a sip!” grandma said.

With his back to grandma so she wouldn’t see what he was doing, he filled the glass to the brim with the dark, rich-looking stuff and swallowed it down. It was bitter and sour and he hated it, but he said afterwards that he liked it.

Finally it was time for Cleland and grandma to go home. They put on their coats and hats and said their goodbyes. Audrey Stoller gave Cleland a wet kiss on the cheek. He turned away to hide his distaste and wiped his cheek with the back of his hand.

Going home, grandma had to walk slow because she was old and her legs hurt. She didn’t have much to say much because she wanted to get home and sit in her comfortable chair and rest for a while before time to start supper. Cleland wanted to tell her about the extraordinary thing he had seen in Miss Goodapple’s closet upstairs but he knew, even at his young age, that some things are better left unsaid.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp