Husband and Father, Deceased

Husband and Father, Deceased
Husband and Father, Deceased
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Finis Satterfield and Cora Tutwiler were married by the Methodist minister on the first day of June in the year of our Lord 1900. He was twenty-nine and she was twenty-three. Ten months later, in April of 1901, their first child was born, a girl named Grace. When Grace was three years old, a boy named Christian was born. Christian, however, was not long for this world. He died of a hemorrhage when he was five days old and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Methodist cemetery. (His grave was unmarked because his father didn’t have the money to pay for a gravestone.) In 1907, three years after Christian, Frank was born, named after an uncle of Cora’s who died of malarial fever contracted in the Spanish-American War. There would be no more children after Frank.

Finis wasn’t stupid, but he hadn’t prepared in his early years for taking care of a family. He discovered right away how much more difficult his life was than it would have been if he hadn’t married. He worked as a sales clerk and suit-fitter in the only clothing store in town but, with the country awash in hard times, the store closed down and its five employees were let go. He then worked in a shoe factory, a hardware store and a grocery, but none of these jobs lasted. They just didn’t seem suited, somehow, to his talents. Cora’s family, seeing his difficulty in keeping a job, were confirmed in their suspicions that he had never quite grown up and wasn’t a suitable husband.

From the beginning, Finis found married life dull and predictable. He liked Cora well enough, but she was uninspiring and didn’t compare well with other women he had known. She had been brought up in a strict Methodist home and she was always moralizing about what was “right” and what was “wrong.” She believed it was wrong for a married man to socialize with his friends during the evening hours while his family waited for him at home. She believed a man should not enjoy himself when he had children depending on him for their welfare. She read her Bible every evening after the children were in bed because she had no other interests and nothing else to do. The church never opened its door that she wasn’t there to take part. Her objective in life was to enter into Heaven when her time on earth was over. Whether Finis joined her there was entirely up to him.

Through an acquaintance Finis learned that the lead mines were hiring miners with no experience required. With little enthusiasm, he went to the lead company offices and applied for a position. He filled out a paper, spoke to the hiring agent, and in less than a week was notified that he might start to work right away.

He didn’t want to be a miner, but the pay was more than for a factory worker or  a store clerk. It was the only job offered and he believed he had no other choice. The thought of working in a pit in the ground, cut off from sunlight and fresh air, made him physically ill, but he couldn’t let his wife ask her parents for a loan to buy food for his children.

The work in the mine was even more difficult than Finis imagined it would be. He wasn’t used to hard physical labor, his muscles cried out, his stomach churned and his head pounded. He began to lose weight and was plagued with nightmares of being suffocated in the dark or crushed by falling rock. Every day before starting his shift in the mine, he vomited with fear and dread.

After four months, he collapsed while walking home in the early evening. Some people who knew him picked him up and took him home. He was barely conscious and Cora thought he was dying. She called the doctor, even though they didn’t have the money to pay him. After the doctor examined him, he said he had pneumonia and an erratic heart rate. The working conditions in the mine were killing him. He would have to give up the job, or he would be dead by the end of the year.

Secretly he was relieved he couldn’t go back to the mine. He lay in bed and let the life of his wife and children go on around him. As he read novels, dozed, and looked out the window into the back yard, he was happy and contented for the moment. He knew his wife got money from her parents so they could all eat, but what did he care? Everybody needs help at some time or other in their lives. The best thing about it was that everybody left him alone. His wife didn’t nag him as long as she thought he was sick.

After a few weeks he was feeling stronger. He slept sometimes for ten or twelve hours at a time and took all the medicine the doctor gave him. He knew he couldn’t go too much longer without work and so began scanning the helped-wanted ads in the newspapers.

Most of the jobs advertised didn’t interest him, but finally he saw something that caught his eye. The George Hotel in the town of Gerome (fifty miles by rail) was looking for a young man to work as a house detective. No experience was required because the successful candidate would be working with an experienced, licensed detective to learn all he needed to know.

With Cora and the children off to visit relatives, Finis sat down and wrote a detailed letter about himself to the George Hotel in Gerome. He made sure the letter was without mistakes, in his best penmanship, and when he was finished he walked downtown to the post office to mail it. He didn’t want Cora to know about it yet, afraid that talking about it would somehow jinx it. He fervently hoped to get a favorable response.

He heard nothing back for a whole month and had almost stopped thinking about it, when one day, unexpectedly, he received a letter with a Gerome postmark. The letter was from the manager of the George Hotel. He asked Finis to come to Gerome for a tour of the hotel and to see if the two of them might come to a mutually satisfactory agreement regarding employment. The date of his appointment at the hotel was the fourth day of March. He took it as a very good sign because it was his birthday.

On the third of March Finis told Cora he would be traveling to Gerome the next day to see about employment there. He packed a small bag because he planned on staying overnight. He expected her to grumble about the cost of the train ticket, but she said very little. She was probably glad for a chance to get him out of the house for a change.

The next morning he was up before daylight. He shaved himself, put on his best suit and had a light breakfast. He walked downtown to the train depot before anybody was stirring. He felt cheerful and hopeful that at last he was going to make a success of a business enterprise that would change his life.

The train trip down was pleasant enough. He enjoyed the solitude of the car and the wintry scenery through the mountainous foothills. Once in Gerome, he found the George Hotel easily enough, near the train station. He wasn’t nervous at all, but confident. If he didn’t get this job, there would be others. He felt luck turning in his favor. Illness and hard times were behind him.

The men he spoke with were cordial and welcoming. First there was the owner of the hotel, then the manager, and finally the current hotel detective, who wanted to retire before another year was out. They asked him simple questions; his answers were direct and confident. He didn’t tell them he had a wife and two living children at home. They didn’t ask.

The four of them enjoyed a congenial lunch in the hotel restaurant. When lunch was finished, the men asked Finis to take a walk around town while they talked things over. He felt certain they were not going to turn him down.

He explored the town square, looking in store windows, thinking about things he’d buy for his family when the money started coming in, familiarizing himself with the town that he believed would be his new home. He was already making plans in his mind. He’d stay in a room in the hotel for a few weeks or so, and when he had some money saved, he’d move them, Cora and the two little ones, down with him. They would buy a little house a block or two over from the square.

When the courthouse clock struck three, he went back to the hotel and received the good news. The three men wanted him to become their new apprentice hotel detective, to begin as soon as he saw fit. The salary was generous and the outlook very bright. Gerome was growing, already with twenty thousand people. The potential for growth was unlimited.

He spent a restful night in a room on the fifth floor of the hotel, overlooking the town square. Early the next morning he boarded the train that would take him home.

He was sure Cora would be pleased with his news, but the truth was she had little to say.

“What about us?” she said after a while. “Did you forget you have a wife and two children? Did you think to just go off and leave us here and forget about us?”

“Of course not!” he said. “After a while we can all move down there.”

“I don’t want to live in Gerome!”

“Why not?”

“My parents are old. I don’t want to leave them. I want to stay here.”

“Suit yourself. I’m going to take this job. I can’t pass it up!”

“You’ll have to send money home to me!” she whined. “I can’t raise two children with no money!”

With little further discourse with Cora, Finis quietly packed his bags. He left three dollars on the kitchen table and kissed Grace and Frank goodbye and told them he’d see them again soon.

He had two free days before beginning his new job. He took the same room on the fifth floor of the hotel that he had before. With money he had held back from Cora, he bought some suits, shirts, neckties, shoes and an overcoat. With a job in a fine hotel, he couldn’t go around looking like a small-town jakey.

The job was all he hoped it would be. The atmosphere of the hotel was stimulating. The people who frequented the place were a different kind from what he was used to. He began getting frequent shaves and haircuts from a barber down the street. He believed it was important in the world of business to look his best.

Any time he received his pay, he sent money to Cora. He wrote that he missed her and the children and was looking forward to the time when they could all be together again. She didn’t write back, but he was sure she was receiving the money because he heard no complaints.

The job was much more dignified than other jobs he had had and much less of a strain on his back. He mostly followed the detective around and did what the detective told him to do. In this way he would learn to handle the job on his own eventually.

He found that the job of detective involved a lot of watching and observing. There were dozens of people coming and going at the hotel all the time. Most of them were harmless, but a few were engaged in some kind of criminal behavior that had to be investigated for the good of the hotel and the paying public.

After he had worked at the hotel for three months, he received a terse letter from Cora. They were all fine, she said, but her father was in his dotage and his health was failing. She decided it was best for all concerned to take the children and go back home and live with her parents so she could help take care of her father and relieve some of the burden on her mother. This meant that Finis no longer had a home to go to that was his own. The hotel was his only home now.

He wrote to Cora less frequently now, but he continued to send money. In his free time at the hotel, rather than staying alone in his room, he began going out in the evening. He had never been much of a drinking man, but he developed a modest drinking habit. He was a social drinker only, he told himself, and didn’t really like the taste of the stuff. He made some congenial friends and spent hours with them swapping stories and playing poker. He didn’t ever mention to any of them that he had a wife and two children at home.

Cora’s next letter surprised him. She heard somehow that he was living the raucous life of a single gentleman and she wanted him to quit the job at the hotel and return home and live the life the Lord intended him to live, as a decent Christian husband and father. At first he laughed at the letter, but after he thought about it for a while he wondered who could be spreading tales about him—somebody who obviously didn’t have enough to do to occupy their time. If it wasn’t for Grace and little Frank, he would see a lawyer and put an end to his marriage with Cora. He always thought it was a mistake to marry, anyway. The worst mistake of his life.

Summer came and he heard nothing else from Cora, but kept sending her money. The hotel was busier than at any other time; there was always some important matter to keep him occupied. When he could arrange a few days, he wanted to go back on the train and see his children and see just how angry Cora was.

Toward the end of summer he became ill again with his lungs. The chambermaid at the hotel found him unconscious in his room and called for help. The hotel doctor examined him and sent him to the hospital. The doctors at the hospital gave him the name of a lung specialist in the city.

He wouldn’t be able to take up his job again for a while. He needed rest and recuperation. The manager at the hotel promised to keep his job open until he was fully recovered.

He began writing to Cora every day, emotional letters, telling her he was sick again and he needed her help. He needed to come home to convalesce and get his strength back, even if “home” meant the home of Cora’s parents. His home, he said, was wherever Cora and his children were. She didn’t respond, except to complain when he stopped sending money.

When Finis was released from the hospital to go home to recuperate, he had no home to go to. He contacted his brother, Charles, his only living relative. Charles wasn’t married and had only a small house on the edge of town behind the railroad tracks, but he was more than willing to take his brother in. Charles had had some medical training in the army and believed he might be of help in his brother’s recovery.

In the home of his brother, with a young doctor to tend to him every day, his health continued to deteriorate. He died on a sweltering day in September. He was thirty-eight years old. The year was 1909.

Grace and Frank saw their father for the last time on earth, lying in his casket at Berryman and Sons Funeral Parlor on Vincennes Street. Grace was eight, old enough to know what death meant. Frank was only two and wondered why his father was lying so quietly in a long black box. He would have cried, if Grace hadn’t been squeezing his hand and pressing down on his shoulder.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

The Last of Our Money

The Last of Our Money image 4
The Last of Our Money
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Vance Rutherford was a reckless driver, especially when he was mad or upset. He ran through a red light and barely missed hitting a car going in the other direction. A little farther along, he made a right turn so fast that Rachelle hit her head on the side window.

“Slow down, Vance!” she said. “You’re gonna get a ticket!”

“I don’t care! If they try to stop me, I’ll outrun them!”

Rachelle groaned and rubbed her head. “You don’t want them to start shooting at you, do you?”

“I can always shoot back.”

“How are you going to do that if you don’t have a gun?”

“Who says I don’t have a gun? I have a gun in the inside pocket of my coat.”

“You do not! You are such a liar!”

“I know. I’m a fool, too, and lots of other things.”

“Don’t I know it!”

“Are you sorry you married me?” Vance asked.

“Every day of my life.”

“You can always divorce me, you know.”

“You’re forgetting that little bundle of pink flesh we have waiting for us at home.”

“Oh, yeah. Arlene. I almost forgot about her.”

“She’s the only reason I stay married to you.”

“One day you might decide she’s better off without her daddy.”

“And when that day comes I’ll let you know.”

“I’m a loser, Rachelle. I need money. Bad.

“How much this time?”

“Four hundred.”

“I don’t have four hundred dollars, Vance.”

“I know you don’t. If you did, all my problems would be solved.”

“For the moment. Tomorrow you’d be in trouble again.”

“Are you sorry you married me?”

“Never more than at this moment.”

“Have you talked to your grandma this week?”

“No, I haven’t. And I’m not going to ask her for any more money.”

“You know she’s got it, Rachelle. She’s got whole boxfuls of cash stashed away in that house.”

“That’s just what you believe!”

“You’re her favorite grandchild, Rachelle. You know she would never say no to you.”

“I’m not going to ask her for four hundred dollars, so you can just forget about it.”

“Not even if it would save my skin?”

“It might save your skin today, but tomorrow it’ll be something else. Some other trouble. Some other desperate need for money.”

“No, you’re wrong. I’ve grown up a lot in the last year or so. I’m changing, Rachelle. Really I am.”

“Somehow I just don’t see it.”

“No, I promise. If I can just get my hands on four hundred dollars right now, I’ll be all squared away.”

“For how long, Vance?”

“How long what?”

“How long will you be squared away?”

“You’re not very encouraging, you know that?”

“Let’s go home. I can fix us something to eat.”

“How about if I swing by your grandma’s house and you go inside and ask her for a little loan?”

“You know it’s not a loan, Vance. You don’t ever have any intention of paying it back. A loan is something you pay back.”

“She’ll be sitting in her chair watching TV. She’ll be glad to see you.”


“It’s the only way, Rachelle.”

“You’ll have to think of some other way. I’m not going to ask my grandma for more money. She needs her money.”

“For what?”

“She’s old, Vance! Old people like to hang onto their money.”

“So the answer is no?”

“Yes, the answer is definitely no!”

“Just tell her we don’t have any food in the house. The rent is past due and you need your asthma medication. She won’t be able to turn you down if you put it in those terms.”

“I’m not going to lie to her on top of everything else, Vance!”

“It’s not a lie!

“I thought you paid the rent!”

“I was going to but I had to use the money for something else.”

“What did you use it for?”

“I don’t remember now. It was something important.”

“Oh, Vance! You’ll never grow up, will you?”

“I’m as grown up as you.”

“Let’s go home and I’ll cook some spaghetti.”

“No. Grandma’s first.”

Rachelle knew it was useless to object further. In ten minutes, Vance pulled up in front of Rachelle’s grandma’s house.

“I don’t think she’s home,” Rachelle said. “It’s her night for church.”

“All the lights are on, as you can plainly see.”

“Oh, Vance! I don’t want to do this!”

“She’ll be glad to see you. Try to get five hundred.”

“You said four hundred!”

“Well, five hundred would be even better!”

“Oh, Vance, you’re hopeless!”

“I’ll wait right here. Take your time.”

He cracked the window and lit a cigarette and turned on the car radio. He had smoked two cigarettes and was on his third one when Rachelle came back.

“Well, how much did she give you?” he asked impatiently before she was all the way in the car.

“She only had fifty dollars on hand. I think it was her grocery money.”

“Fifty dollars! That’s all she gave you?”

“It’s all she had.”

 “She would let you starve to death? Her favorite grandchild?”

“I’m not going to starve to death, Vance. We can use the fifty dollars to get some groceries.”

“Yeah, but it’s not enough! I feel like going in there and talking to her myself! Fifty dollars! The very idea!”

“Leave her alone, Vance. She has a cold and she’s not feeling well.”

“Well, isn’t that just too bad? I’m not feeling very well, either.”

“Let it go, Vance! We’ll use the fifty dollars to buy some groceries. We can get quite a lot with that.”

“I don’t want any of that stuff. I’m hungry. I want a steak. Let’s go to Roland’s and get a steak. I think that’s the best idea I’ve had all day.”

“That’ll take all the fifty dollars!”

“So what?”

“You would use the last of our money for a steak dinner?”

“Sure. Wouldn’t you? That’s how hungry I am.”

“I told grandma we were going to use it to buy food.”

“We are going to use it to buy food.”

“You’re a pig, Vance.”

“No more of a pig than you are.”

They had to wait for a table at Roland’s. Eating there always made Vance feel like an important person. He always hoped he’d see somebody he knew.

Finally they were seated at a small booth in the back of the room. Vance ordered an expensive bottle of wine. While waiting for their food to arrive, Vance sipped the wine and gave Rachelle a sly grin across the table.

“I have a secret concealed somewhere on my person,” he said.

“How nice for you,” she said.

“Don’t you want to know what it is?”

“Not especially.”

He seemed pleased with himself as he opened his jacket and showed her the gun he had hidden there.

“You’re a lunatic!” she said. “What do you think you’re going to do with that?”

“Well, grandma didn’t come through for us. Now things are getting pretty desperate.”

“What are you going to do? Hold up a liquor store?”

“Not a liquor store, but I do have a plan.”

“What plan?”

“Well, since you are my wife, I’ll tell you. I’m going to drive twenty or thirty miles outside of town where nobody knows me and hold up an all-night gas station.”

“That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard!”

“I won’t really shoot anybody. I’ll just use the gun to scare them.”

“Don’t think I’ll come and visit you behind bars.”

“You don’t like my idea? Do you have a better one?”

“Why not just rob the bank downtown? I’m sure they’d have a lot more money than an all-night gas station.”

“That’s my alternate plan in case the all-night liquor store doesn’t work out.”

They finished eating and the waiter brought the check. Vance stood up to go to the men’s room, taking off his jacket and laying it carefully across the chair.

Rachelle was sure he wouldn’t be back for at least ten minutes. He’d take his time going to the toilet and when he was finished he’d wash his hands thoroughly and comb his hair in the mirror. She reached around the table where he had been sitting and with one deft movement took the gun out of the pocket of his jacket and hid it in her purse. He had drunk too much wine; he wouldn’t notice for a long time that the gun wasn’t where he thought it was.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

You May Know Him as a Ghoul

You May Know Him as a Ghoul image 2
You May Know Him as a Ghoul
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This short story is a repost. It has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)

Blaise DeBeulah awoke to the rising of the sun and switched on the radio beside his bed. “Dark Eyes” by the Vincent Lopez Orchestra was playing. The beautiful melody brought a smile to his face, making him forget for the moment that had to get out of bed, get dressed, and face another distasteful day. He was just drifting off to a warm, intoxicating dreamland awash in saxophones and violins, when Bertha DeBeulah came bursting into the room.

“Get out of that bed, you lazy slug!” she commanded. “Do you think the world owes you a life of comfort and ease?”

“No, mother. The world doesn’t owe me anything. I’m getting up now.”

“Your brothers and sisters are hungry! They want fresh meat! Now!

“I’m doing the best I can, mother. I’m not feeling very well.”

“Well, isn’t that just too bad?

“I was out last night until dawn. Fresh meat isn’t so easy to come by anymore.”

“I don’t want to hear any of your feeble excuses! And when I say fresh meat, I mean fresh! The longer a body has been buried, the worse it tastes! After a body has been dead three or four days, the embalming fluid ruins the taste! The ones you’ve been dragging home have been anything but fresh!”

“I know mother. I’m doing the best I can. I hang around the cemetery all day long, waiting for a funeral, but they have been few and far between.”

“I told you I don’t want to hear any lame excuses! If there haven’t been any funerals, you have to do the killing yourself! How about some nice, juicy, muscular gravediggers?”

“Would those be for you to eat, or for the brothers and sisters, mother?”

“Don’t you get fresh with me! I’ll tell your papa, Benedictus DeBeulah, you smarted out to me and he’ll knock your block off!”

“Yes, I know, mother. I know. He has knocked my block off so many times that my head no longer sits straight on my shoulders.”

“Well, it serves you right! And if you don’t bring home some fresh meat—and I mean fresh—I’ll let the brothers and sisters eat you!”

“I’m not exactly fresh, mother. I’m two hundred and thirty-seven years old.”

“You don’t have to tell me how old you are, Mr. Smarty Britches! I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it any time I choose!”

“Yes, mother, I know. You’d be doing me a blessing.”

“What was that?”

“I said I’ll be on my way as soon as I find my shoes.”

Though he was two hundred and thirty-seven years old, Blaise DeBeulah could pass for nineteen whenever he wanted to. He wrapped himself in a long trench coat and a scarf that, thanks to the icy wind, allowed him to cover the lower part of his face. He topped off the invisible man look with a broad-brimmed hat worn low over the eyes. Dressed in this way, he could pass for anybody, anywhere, without attracting any particular kind of attention.

To get to the cemetery, he had to pass through downtown. Since it was a college town, there were always lots of interesting people around his own age (not two hundred and thirty-seven, but nineteen), and he enjoyed seeing them and walking among them. He might even pass for one of them: a tall, well-dressed, rather stately young man, dignified and poised, aloof and intriguing.

He liked to linger outside a malt shop where people his age gathered. It had a red-and-white awning and exuded attractive smells such as cinnamon, chocolate and peppermint. The thing that attracted him most, though, was the music that was piped out to the sidewalk: the romantic dance bands and orchestras, the velvet-voiced crooners, the bouncy girl singers, the snappy dance numbers. It was like nothing he had heard before in his two hundred and thirty-seven years of a ghoul’s life.

He longed to go inside the malt shop, to sit at the counter and order a drink, maybe strike up a conversation with someone and end up slow-dancing on the dance floor with everyone watching. It was not going to happen, though. He had a ghoul’s hands and a ghoul’s legs. When people saw his face, they would know it was a ghoul’s face and they would run screaming from the place in terror. He would be more embarrassed than he could possibly imagine. Somebody would call the police and they would come and take him away and lock him up. He couldn’t let that happen.

With a lump of regret in his throat, he passed on to the cemetery, the music sounding in his head long after he could still hear it.

One small, poor-looking funeral was in progress on a hillside. A dozen or so black-garbed mourners gathered around an open grave. A priest said a prayer and when he was finished the mourners dispersed and a man standing by with a shovel began filling in the grave.

Blaise moved on. He wasn’t going to dig in the dirt with his hands just to get a freshly buried body. It would taste like embalming fluid, anyway, he was sure, and the brothers and sisters would gag. They could always tell a body that had been embalmed from one that hadn’t. He’d have to look elsewhere.

He knew that if he didn’t find a really fresh corpse he’d have to kill a man or a woman, or maybe a child, on his own. He hated the killing; he didn’t even like killing animals. He’d almost rather die himself.

He came to another funeral, a much larger one this time. A prominent man, a person of some fame, had died. There were maybe two hundred mourners on their feet around a dark-wood casket that gleamed in the sun. Some of the mourners cried and some smiled and laughed as if they were at a cocktail party. A holy man gestured over the casket with his arms and when the service was finished the people let out a gasp of relief like children released from school. They moved away quickly, some of them lighting cigarettes, toward cars dispersed along a scenic hillside.

Blaise stood behind a tree and watched. After a few minutes, all the mourners were gone and the casket was left unattended in the sun. The gravediggers hadn’t appeared yet to finish their job. The funeral director was nowhere to be seen; he was off someplace, probably having a cigarette or a nip from a bottle.

Without thinking what he was doing, Blaise approached the casket and lifted the lid. The deceased was an old man with a mottled face and a bald head. He appeared to have been ninety years old or older.

He scooped the old man up in his arms and, balancing the body against his right shoulder, managed to reclose the lid with his left hand. If all went well, the gravediggers would come and bury the empty casket, never suspecting that the body inside had been purloined.

He couldn’t exactly walk back through the streets of the town carrying a dead body, so he took it to the designated hiding place, a scooped-out trench along the north wall, hidden behind some bushes. He covered the body with dead leaves as an extra precaution and when he was finished he left the cemetery.

From a payphone downtown he called Daedalus, Bertha DeBeulah’s factotum, with his usual message in code: Some lovely peaches are to be had at the north wall. Daedalus would go and collect the body as soon as it was safe, take it back to the house and drop it down the meat chute in the kitchen wall, to the brothers and sisters who dwelt below.

Blaise walked the rest of the way home, then, relieved that he had delivered a body without having to kill it on his own and relieved, also, that he wouldn’t have another confrontation with Bertha DeBeulah at least for a day or two. Maybe something cataclysmic would happen in the meantime, such as a meteor colliding with earth.

He spent the rest of the day locked in his room, catching up on his sleep and dreaming about what his life might have been like if he had been born into a real family instead of a family of ghouls. He might have been one of those sleek college boys popping up soda pop rickeys to his heart’s delight. He might have driven a car and carried books under his arm.

About nine o’clock that night, he was listening to music on the radio when he heard a terrible commotion downstairs. He went to the top of the banister and looked down. Bertha DeBeulah and Benedictus DeBeulah were fighting, yelling at each other, throwing objects across the room. It was nothing new. He went back to his room and shut the door.

The fighting was not to be ignored, though. Bertha DeBeulah and Benedictus DeBeulah were engaged in all-out war, causing the old house to quake on its foundations. Blaise went downstairs, thinking to separate them and get them to stop fighting, but he could see it was no use. They were mad with rage. When he tried to get between them to pull them apart, Benedictus DeBeulah pushed him so hard against the wall that he went through to the next room.

“Stop it!” Blaise cried. “If you don’t stop it, I’m going to call the people from the insane asylum to come and get you and lock you up, where you belong! Then where would the brothers and sisters be?”

“I’m sick and tired of her!” Benedictus DeBeulah roared. “I’m going to kill the evil old bitch once and for all! Satan will be happy when she finally arrives in hell!”

“Kill me?” Bertha DeBeulah screeched. “I don’t think so! Not if I kill you first!”

Blaise could see they meant to do each other seriously bodily harm. He was going to run to the neighbors for help, but then he remembered they lived in a swamp and there weren’t any neighbors for miles.

Bertha DeBeulah and Benedictus DeBeulah had each other around the neck. There is nothing on earth like two old ghouls fighting to the death. They may destroy the earth, but one of them will live and the other one die.

Benedictus DeBeulah’s strength proved superior in the end, however. He pried Bertha DeBeulah’s fingers from around his neck and reared back and knocked her block off with so much force that her head flew off her shoulders and hit the wall like a bloody cabbage.

Bertha DeBeulah wasn’t finished yet, though. Her headless body rose up from the floor and produced from the air a ball of flame, a gift from her beloved Satan. She directed the ball squarely at the midsection of Benedictus DeBeulah and he became the ball of flame. He ran through the house, arms flailing, but he wasn’t able to extinguish the flames that engulfed him. He grabbed the dining room curtains and pulled them down on top of him. The curtains helped to extinguish the flames and keep the rest of the house from catching on fire, but they were of no use to Benedictus DeBeulah. He was not only clearly dead, but really most sincerely dead.

When it was all over, Blaise gathered up the charred remains of Benedictus DeBeulah and the headless remains of Bertha DeBeulah and dragged them into the kitchen and threw them down the meat chute. The brothers and sisters wouldn’t know that they were eating their own mother and father, but if they did know they wouldn’t care. Fresh meat is fresh meat.

After Blaise rested and had a cooling drink of water and some onions and herbs (he was trying to take up a vegetarian diet), he became fully aware of his good fortune. For the first time in his life, he was free of family exigencies, free to do as he pleased rather than as he was told.

He would buy a phonograph and all the latest recordings. He would buy a car and learn to drive and find the best tailor in town and have some stylish suits made to order. He would get to know some of those young college students and invite them to parties. He would tell them of his experiences in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. They would love him. They would find him fascinating.

Just as he was contemplating his life to be, he heard the brothers and sisters howling below-stairs like the wild animals they were. They were well-fed, so what was wrong with them now? He would just ignore them and tomorrow, or maybe the next day, he would have a special treat for them.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween 2021 3

All Hallow’s Eve
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~ 

(This is a repost.)

Mother stood over him while he ate his dinner of liver and onions. When she decided he had eaten enough, she told him he could go. He ran up the stairs to his room and put on his Halloween costume. A ghost this year, same as last year. Next year he was going to have to be something different. Wearing the same costume more than two years in a row was terrible.

His false face still had dried spit around the mouth, but it was his own spit so he didn’t care. He put it on and checked the entire effect in the mirror, costume, mask and all. Something was missing. Oh, yes, the old derby hat. It was the one thing that made his costume look just a little bit creepy and scary. Without the hat, the costume was just a cheap little-kid’s getup.

Mother was in the living room when he came down the stairs. “Come here, Buster, and let me take a look at your outfit,” she said.

“It’s a costume,” Buster said.

“Oh, don’t you look cute!”

“I’m supposed to look scary!”

“So, where are you going tonight? What are you plans?”

“I’m going tricking-or-treating, mother, the same as every Halloween.”

“Who are you going with?”

“I don’t know. Some of the kids from my class, I guess.”

“What are their names?”

“You want the names of all the kids in my class?”

“Of course I don’t. You’ll be careful, now, won’t you?”

“Yeah, I’ll be careful.”

“Make sure you’re not alone. Wherever you go, go in a group.”

“I don’t care.”


“I said okay, I’ll go in a group.”

“Be home by ten o’clock.”

“Mother! It’s Halloween and tomorrow is Saturday!”

“All right, then. Eleven.”

When he finally got out the door, he broke into a run. The evening air felt good after the stuffy house and smelled good, like leaves and burning candle wax. It wasn’t all the way dark yet, but trick-or-treaters were everywhere, mostly little kids accompanied by their mothers.

He met his friends at the corner by the park. Eric was a skeleton, Stan a hobo, and Squeamy the Lone Ranger. Squeamy’s sister, Oda May, stood apart from the others, smoking a cigarette and looked bored. She carried a rubber-and-fur gorilla mask loosely in her hand like a rag.

“What’s Oda May doing here?” Buster asked.

“My mother wouldn’t let me go out without an adult,” Squeamy said.

“She’s fifteen!”

“I guess that’s enough of an adult.”

“Let’s get going, you losers,” Stan said, “before all the good candy is gone!”

Oda May flipped away her cigarette and put on the gorilla mask and they headed for the neighborhood on the other side of the park where all the best houses were.

It was a lucrative neighborhood. Three-quarters of the houses had their porch lights on. When people took one look at adult-sized Oda May in her gorilla mask, their smiles usually faded.

The treats were good, Hershey bars and popcorn balls instead of stale jelly beans. After three blocks, their bags were starting to get heavy. They sat down on the curb to rest for a while.

“That’s how it’s done,” Oda May said, hefting the bag of candy appreciatively between her legs. “If they’re just a little bit scared of you, they’ll fork over the candy quick enough so they can get rid of you.” She lit a cigarette without taking off the gorilla mask.

“Where to now?” Buster asked.

“I don’t know about you little turds,” Oda May said, “but I’m going to go meet my boyfriend.”

“What about us?” Stan asked.

“You’re on your own. I’ve played nursemaid long enough.”

“It’s all right,” Squeamy said. “We don’t need her.”

“And don’t follow me,” she said, “or somebody’s gonna lose some teeth!”

“Leave the mask on!” Squeamy called after her. “Your boyfriend might like you better that way!”

“What will she do with all that candy?” Buster asked.

“Probably give it to her boyfriend.”

“Who is this boyfriend, anyway?” Eric asked. “Why don’t we get to meet him?”

“He’s a criminal, I think,” Squeamy said. “She doesn’t want me to see him because she’s afraid I’ll tell on her. He’s twenty-three years old. I’ll bet he’s really terrible looking, like a convict.”

“I’d like to see him,” Stan said.

“Hey, I stole some of her cigarettes when she wasn’t looking,” Squeamy said, passing them around and lighting them.

“Boy, I like smoking!” Eric said. “I inhale the smoke deep down into my lungs and let it stay there.”

“Me too,” Stan said. “I’m always going to smoke for as long as I live.”

“My mother told me if she ever caught me smoking a cigarette she’d knock it down my throat,” Squeamy said.

“Doesn’t she smoke?” Eric asked.

“Of course she does. They all smoke.”

“Then why does she care?”

“Because I’m in fifth grade.”

“She’s a hypocrite,” Stan said.

Buster had never smoked before except for a quick puff off his mother’s cigarette when she wasn’t looking. He didn’t like the taste of it, but he wasn’t going to be the only one not to smoke.

Several times, he took the smoke into his mouth and quickly blew it out again. He wanted to have the others see him with smoke coming out his nose like a dragon, but he wasn’t sure how to do it without inhaling.

“Don’t you like smoking, Buster?” Squeamy asked.

“Yeah, I like it all right. I smoke all the time when my mother isn’t looking.”

“Well, finish your cigarettes, ladies,” Eric said. “We’ve still got a lot of territory to cover.”

They went over a couple of blocks to another neighborhood where the treats were bound to be good. They covered several blocks, both sides of the street, in just under an hour.

“My bag is getting really heavy,” Squeamy said. “I think I’d probably better go on home now.”

“Somebody gave me a guitar pick as a treat. Isn’t that weird?”

“Hey, it looks like it’s going to rain! If our bags get wet, they’ll bust through on the bottom and all our candy will spill out!”

“What time is it?”

“I think it’s about a quarter to ten.”

“I think we should call it a night.”

Some older kids, sixteen and seventeen, came up behind them with the intention of stealing their candy, so they began running furiously into the dark to get away from them. Stan knew the neighborhood better than the others, so they all followed him.

He led them around in a circuitous loop over to Main Street, where there were lots of lots of lights, people and cars.

“I think we outran them!” he said.

“Can you imagine the nerve?” Eric said. “We’ve been out all night trick-or-treating for our candy, and somebody thinks they can just come along and take it from us? What is the world coming to?”

Some of the businesses on Main Street were giving out treats. A lady at a bakery gave them day-old pumpkin cookies, which they devoured like hungry wolves.

A man standing in front of a tavern was giving out treats from a large plastic pumpkin. “You kids need to be home in bed,” he said.

“If we come inside, will you give us a beer?” Stan asked.

“Come back in ten years,” the man said.

There was a big crowd at the Regal Theatre, a long line of people waiting to buy tickets to the Halloween double feature: Bride of the Gorilla and The Terror of Tiny Town. Anybody in costume could get in for half-price.

“If we had enough money, we could go,” Stan said.

“Aw, I can’t stay out that late,” Buster said. “My mother would come looking for me.”

They were about to walk past the theatre, but Squeamy spotted Oda May in the ticket line in the gorilla mask and stopped. She wasn’t alone, either.

“She’s with a little kid and he’s a cowboy!” Squeamy said. “Her boyfriend is a child and a cowboy! That’s why she didn’t want us to meet him!”

From where they were standing, they all had a good look at the little cowboy. When he turned around to look at the line behind him, Buster saw his face. “That’s no little kid,” he said. “That’s a midget!”

“A what?”

“Oda May’s boyfriend is a midget and his face is all wrinkled! He must be thirty years old!”

“Oh, boy!” Squeamy said. “I’m really going to tell on her now!”

“I think we should go over and say ‘hi’ to her,” Eric said.

“No!” Squeamy said. “She’ll think we’ve been following her!”

They stood and watched Oda May and the midget cowboy move up in the line. When it was their turn, Oda May moved around behind the midget, put her hands on his waist and lifted him up so he could buy the tickets and then set him down again. Several people in line behind them laughed, but they seemed not to notice.

“Now I’m seen everything!” Squeamy said. “Can you imagine what their children will be like? I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Let’s go,” Stan said. “It’s ten o’clock and it’s starting to rain again.”

They decided to walk home with Stan, since he lived the closest. The interesting thing about Stan was that his father was an undertaker and the family lived above the funeral parlor. It was a subject of endless fascination to Stan’s friends.

“I think I’m going to call it a night,” Stan said when they were at the corner near his house. “Thanks for walking me home.”

“Do you mean you’re not going to ask us in after we’ve come all this way?” Squeamy said.

“Do you have a body in a casket we can look at?” Eric asked.

“Stan’s right,” Buster said. “I should be getting home, too.”

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Squeamy said. “I don’t think I can wait until I get home.”

“Oh, all right!” Stan said. “You can come in but you have to wipe your feet first.”

Stan’s parents were out for the evening, so they had the place to themselves. Stan took them down to the basement to show them around but made them promise not to touch anything. First he showed them the room where the embalming was done with its white cabinets full of jars and bottles and then a separate room where bodies were dressed and prepared for burial. The most impressive part of the tour was the casket room, where more than fifty caskets were opened up so people could see inside them. Eric, Buster and Squeamy took turns taking off their shoes and getting into a casket to see what it felt like, while Stan closed the lid on each of them for a few seconds and then made them get out.

“My dad wouldn’t like it if he knew we were down here,” he said.

“Let us know when there’s a body so we can come back and see it,” Eric said.

“I’ve seen plenty of dead bodies. It’s people you don’t know. You don’t feel anything looking at them.”

“You are so lucky! I’ve never seen a dead body!”

“I need to get home,” Buster said. “It’s getting late.”

Buster walked part of the way home with Squeamy and Eric, but they left him at the corner by the church and he had to walk the last four blocks alone. He held his bag of candy in his arms because it was heavy and soggy and he didn’t want the bottom breaking through. He didn’t see a single other person on his way home. Everybody was finished for the night. Halloween was over for another year.

Mother was sitting on the couch in her bathrobe and slippers watching a Charlie Chan movie on TV. “Did you have a nice time?” she asked.

“Yeah, it was okay.”

“I’m glad you’re home.”


“I always worry about you when you’re out by yourself.”

“I wasn’t by myself.”

“There’s an escapee on the loose killing people. I just heard it on TV.”

“We just missed him.”

“Now don’t eat all that candy at once. You’ll make yourself sick. You still have to eat your fruits and vegetables.”

“I know. I want to go to bed now. I’m tired.”

She was saying something else as he went up the stairs, but he didn’t hear what it was.

He weighed himself on the bathroom scale, first without the bag and then with it. He weighed eighty-four pounds without the bag and ninety-five pounds with it. Eleven pounds of candy. One pound for every year of his life.

He undressed and put on his pajamas and set the bag of candy on top of the chest of drawers where he could see it from the bed. He got into bed, took one last look at it, turned off the light. Before he could have counted to ten, he was asleep.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

It’s Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me

It's Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me image 2
It’s Not the Pale Moon That Excites Me
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This is a repost. It has been published in The Literary Hatchet.)

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

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

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

“I still might.”

“At your age?”

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

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

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

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

“Is he a Chinaman?”

“No, why would he be a Chinaman?”

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

“No, he ain’t a Chinaman.”

“Well, what then?”

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

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

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

“You mean like a snake?”

“Exactly like a snake.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will you really?”

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

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

“Not yet.”

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

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

“What, then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t He, though?”

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

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

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

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

“That’s not what people says.”

“Do you think I care what people says?”

“No, I know you don’t care.”

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

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

“If that’s the way the chips fall.”

“What do you mean? What chips?”

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

“You mean as a lady preacher?”

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

“Darkest Africa? What would she do there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You catch on quick.”

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

“That’s right.”

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

“I guess so,” Mrs. Llewellyn said.

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

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

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

“Hello,” Laura Louise said.

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

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

“Whatever could it be?” Miss Clemson asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“What work?” Laura Louise asked.

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

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

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

“The Lord will provide.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whatever do you mean?”

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

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

“You mean you gonna try to stop her?”

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

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

“Well, we’ll see about that.”

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

“I said I am, didn’t I?”

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“No, I’d rather go alone.”

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

“Do you have a granddaughter?”

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Gender Ambiguity

Rita Hayworth
Gender Ambiguity
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

They sat in a semicircle in front of the television. Old black-and-white movies, they agreed, were the best thing to watch on TV. Not only were they clean, but they brought back memories of happier times.

“Rita Hayworth is certainly a lovely woman,” Ivy said.

Woman!” Jane said. “Don’t you know she’s really a man?”

“Rita Hayworth is a man? I don’t think so!”

“Hell yes, she’s a man! Everybody knows she’s a man!”

“That must have come as a surprise to Mr. Orson Welles,” Vernon said.

“He knew she was a man before he married her.”

“How do you know so much about it?” Ivy asked.

“I read those newspapers they sell at the supermarket checkout,” Jane said.

“Of course, that makes you an authority,” George said.

“I know what I see. If I see it in print, I believe it.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of being skeptical?”

“What’s that?”

Myrtle sat forward in her chair and pretended to burp her baby, a lifelike doll made of rubber. Everybody turned and looked at her.

“How is Baby Doe, Myrtle?” Ivy asked.

“He’s the best baby in the world,” Myrtle said.

“That’s because he’s not a real boy,” George said.

“Is he eating his carrots?”

“Oh, yes! He eats everything I give him!”

“We believe what we want to believe,” Vernon said with a roll of the eyes.

“Do you know today is my birthday?” Ivy asked.

“I don’t think so, dear,” Jane said. “I think your birthday is in December, isn’t it? Right before Christmas?”

“If I want today to be my birthday, then it’s my birthday.”

“How old are you?” George asked.

“You should never ask a lady her age,” Jane said.

“I’m as old as I want to be,” Ivy said. “If I want to be twenty-one today, then I’m twenty-one.”

“There you go!” Vernon said.

“I wouldn’t want to be twenty-one again and have to go through all that shit again,” George said. “When I was twenty-one, I was in jail.”

“What for?”

“They got me on a robbery charge but I was innocent. I was in the slammer for two and a half years.”

“I’m surprised they let you out,” Ivy said.

“I paid my debt.”

“I thought you said you were innocent.”

“I was.”

“Then why did you owe a debt?”

“Twenty-one was so long ago that I can’t even remember back that far,” Jane said.

“Wasn’t that about the time Lee surrendered to Grant?” George asked.

“It’s time for me to put Baby Doe down for his nap,” Myrtle said. She threw the baby by the arm behind the couch, hitting the wall with a thud. “He’ll be fine until his two o’clock feeding.”

“Whatever happened to your husband?” Ivy asked.

“He’s still in the war,” Myrtle said.

“What war is that?”

“Isn’t there always a war going on someplace?”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“I don’t know. I think it’s been about fifty-seven years.”

“But what about Baby Doe? Are you saying that somebody besides your husband is Baby Doe’s father?”

“Of course, not! What kind of a tramp do you think I am?”

“She creates her own reality,” Vernon said, “which is not altogether a bad thing when you think about it.”

“And when my husband sees Baby Doe, he is going to be so happy!” Myrtle said, tears in her eyes.

“What is your husband’s name?” Jane said. “I haven’t ever met him.”

“His name is Percival, I think. Unless he’s changed it.”

“Why would he change it?”

“He’s impulsive that way.”

“Fifty-seven years is a long time for your man to be away at war.”

“Don’t I know it? I get so lonely for him sometimes I think I’m going to go mad! I don’t know what I’d do without my little Baby Doe.”

“My own children were never much of a comfort to me,” Jane said. “They never liked me very much.”

“That’s because they had a witch for a mother,” George said.

“And if you want to know the truth, I never liked them all that much, either.”

“How many children did you have, dear?” Myrtle asked.


“That’s a lot for somebody who doesn’t like kids!” Vernon said.

“Where are they now?”

“I don’t know. Some are dead, I think. Some are in prison.”

“Hey!” Ivy said. “The movie with Rita Hayworth is over and another one is beginning.”

“Which movie is it?”

“This one stars Bette Davis.”

“Oh, I like her!”

“It’s the one where she steals Olivia de Havilland’s husband and drives her car through a fence and breaks her neck when the police are after her.”

In This Our Life,” Vernon said.

“What a memory you have for an old bastard!”

“We just watched it last week. Don’t you remember?”

“Is Bette Davis really a man?” Ivy asked.

“No, I believe she’s really a woman,” Jane said. “I’m not too sure about Olivia de Havilland, though.”

“I think Olivia is definitely a woman,” George said.

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that.”

“What is that movie where Lana Turner and John Garfield kill her husband?” Ivy asked.

The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

“Yes, that’s it. I’d like to see that one again.”

“Is Lana Turner really a man?”

“She started out as a man,” Jane said, “but she had a sex-change operation. Now she’s a woman.”

“Maybe she’ll go back to being a man again,” Vernon said.

“Anything goes with those motion picture people.”

“They get sick and die just like the rest of us,” Jane said. “Beauty fades and then what do you have?”


As if on cue, Nurse Tillinghast came into the room, rolling the medicine cart.

“Time for your meds, people,” she said in her voice that was like fingernails on a blackboard.

You take it,” George said. “I don’t want any.”

“Just what the doctor ordered,” Nurse Tillinghast said. “Take your meds and then you can get back to your movie.”

“We were just discussing whether Lana Turner is really a man,” George said. “We’re about evenly divided.”

“A lot of those movie actresses are really men, or so we’ve been told,” Ivy said.

“Everything is all illusion, you see,” Vernon said.

“I wish I had nothing better to do,” Nurse Tillinghast said, “than sit around all day and talk about which women might really be men.”

“Are you really a man? George asked.

“That’s for me to know and you to find out!” Nurse Tillinghast said. “To you, I’m just a sexless dispenser of meds. Now take your meds and let me get on with my rounds.”

The meds were handed out and swallowed and Nurse Tillinghast pushed the cart out of the room.

“What is that movie about a women’s prison where they have a cruel matron who shaves somebody’s head?” Jane asked.

Caged,” Vernon said.

“That’s it! Tillinghast looks just like the cruel matron in Caged.”

“The matron’s name is Evelyn.”

“That’s right. How do you remember all that stuff?”

“I’m having a really lucid day today. Tomorrow I might not remember a thing.”

“Come to think of it, I think Nurse Tillinghast really is a man,” George said. “She has a big nose and big hands.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Ivy said. “I think we should accept at face value all we see. That’s what God wants us to do.”

“How do you know what God wants?”

“I talk to Him all the time!”

“It’s all illusion,” Vernon said. “We create our own illusion. If you want to believe you’re talking to God, then you’re talking to God. If you want to believe that Bette Davis is really a man, then she’s a man.”

“Yes, isn’t it wonderful?”

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

A Thousand Others

A Thousand Others image 1
A Thousand Others
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

In September 1921, Mr. Fatty motored the three hundred miles—in his custom-made, $20,000 automobile—from his home in Hollywood, California, northward to San Francisco, for a much-needed hiatus from the arduous pursuit of making motion pictures. Mr. Fatty was, you see, the biggest star in Hollywood. People adored him. His pictures raked in prodigious amounts of cash.

If you ever saw Mr. Fatty act on the screen, you knew why he was so popular. He was funny. He was charismatic. He was charming. He was talented. He was Good with a capital G. He deserved the million dollars a year, tax-free, that he raked in. He deserved all the love, all the fame and popularity, that the world had to offer. He deserved it all, except, perhaps, the fate that awaited him in San Francisco.

On arriving in that picturesque, seaside city, Mr. Fatty checked himself and his entourage into his luxurious suite on the twelfth floor of the finest hotel. He refreshed himself with a bath and a brief nap. After taking some pills to pep himself up, he ate a steak sandwich and then began drinking prodigious amounts of alcohol.

The party guests began arriving before the sun went down. They were picture people, directors, producers, writers, and other actors; acquaintances, friends and friends of friends; flappers and party girls and party-girl flappers; would-be actresses, girls who would do anything with anybody to get their big break in motion pictures. Some were no more than fifteen, fresh off the farm. They took pills to crank themselves up, to make themselves happy, to make themselves lose whatever inhibitions they might still have.

And they were loud. They were raucous. They were crude. They were unleashed. They consumed bootleg hooch by the barrelful. They danced, some of them alone and some together. They removed part of their clothing and then all their clothing. They sang, they brayed like animals, they screamed, they whooped. They tore down the curtains and busted up the furniture. They coupled, on the couch, on the floor, in the bathroom, the kitchen, standing up, lying down, wherever they happened to be.

Any number of the unattached girls made a play for Mr. Fatty because they knew he was a major player in motion pictures. One kind word from him could get them in to see Hollywood’s top producers and directors. Making Mr. Fatty feel especially good, even for just a few minutes, might be the one little thing that could launch a motion picture career.

Some of the girls, of course, already had a few screen credits. They had played waitresses, maids, or “extras” in crowd scenes. They all hoped to be able to stand out from the others, to be noticed and get a chance to play the really substantial parts opposite the handsome, sleek-haired leading men who set their hearts aflutter.

May Beasley had appeared in twelve different motion pictures, but in most of them she didn’t get a screen credit because the part she played wasn’t big enough. She could play any kind of part—she could even sing and dance—but she thought of herself first and foremost as a comedic actress. She just hadn’t had the chance yet to prove to any influential person just how good she was. She could change all that if Mr. Fatty would just notice how pretty she was and how eager to make good.

Mr. Fatty noticed May, all right. He kept his eye on her as she moved like a cat around the room with a drink in her hand, flirting first with one man and then with another. Sometimes she danced her way from one person to the next, in time to the syncopated jazz music. He found her quite fetching. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her gyrating buttocks; he was sure she wasn’t wearing any underwear.

May also kept her eye on Mr. Fatty until he sat down on a French divan, where she went and sat beside him and put her arm around him, giving him a closeup view of her breasts. She whispered in his ear and nuzzled on his earlobe in the way she knew that drove men wild. He was so drunk and so high at that moment that he would have liked anything she did.

They kissed—a long, lingering kiss. He could have taken possession of her right there, but he was still a little conventional and didn’t like doing the things in public that he loved doing in private. He took her by the hand and led her into the bedroom, discreetly closing the door.

Mr. Fatty and May Beasley were in the bedroom for hours. The more playful of the party guests listened at the door, but heard nothing. They could only imagine the scene that was playing out, knowing as they did what a prodigious lover Mr. Fatty was.

The hour grew late and the party guests began to drift away. Mr. Fatty emerged from the bedroom, disheveled and sweating. The remaining guests cheered him, whistled and hooted. He smiled, wiped his brow, and bowed dramatically.

“You must have worn poor old May down to a nub,” someone said.

“She’s sleeping it off,” Mr. Fatty replied. “She’s feeling no pain.”

Mr. Fatty went downstairs for a bite to eat, telling everybody the party was over until next time. He hoped all his dear friends had a lovely time. He wanted everybody to have left by the time he came back upstairs to his suite because he needed to rest before driving back home. Au revoir, my dears! Until we meet again!

Late the next day, back home in Hollywood, Mr. Fatty received an urgent telephone call from his lawyer. Word was about that May Beasley was seriously injured from the treatment she received at the party in San Francisco. She had a ruptured bladder and was bleeding internally.

“What did you do to that poor girl?” the lawyer asked.

“Nothing that I haven’t done to a thousand others,” Mr. Fatty said.

“They’re saying you sexually assaulted her. If she dies, I’m afraid there’s going to be big trouble.”

“Should I go back up to San Francisco and see about her?”

“No, just go about your business. Go back to work at the studio. I’ll call you when I know more.”

Mr. Fatty went to work and for two days heard nothing. He was sure May Beasley was going to be all right. On the third day, he received another urgent call from his lawyer. May had developed peritonitis and was gravely ill.

“You weigh three hundred pounds,” the lawyer said. “May Beasley weighs a hundred and eight. People are saying you ravished her, crushed her.”

“I’m sure I didn’t do anything to her that hundreds of others haven’t done,” Mr. Fatty said. “She loved every minute of it.”

“She didn’t show any signs of being injured when you were with her?”

“None at all. She’s an actress. She’s just trying to get attention.”

“I hope that’s all it is.”

One week after the party, May Beasley died. The press ripped Mr. Fatty apart. They were calling him an animal, a cad, a monster, a ghoul, a fiend. Suddenly he was made to represent all the excesses of Hollywood and picture people: the heavy drinking and the use of narcotics and reefers; free love and out-of-wedlock birth; sexual perversion and the switching of the genders—feminine men and masculine women. In short, the casting aside of decency and the Christian values that made this country great.

To show his heart was in the right place, Mr. Fatty offered to pay all of May Beasley’s hospital and doctor bills. While his friends saw it as a magnanimous gesture, others saw it as tantamount to an admission of guilt.

He believed he should attend May Beasley’s funeral, but his lawyers and the studio bosses advised him to stay away. The last thing he needed, they said, was to show his face at her funeral and be inextricably linked to the tragedy of her death. He needed to begin thinking how he might extricate himself from the scandal and limit the damage done to his career and his public persona.

Mr. Fatty felt so sad about what happened to May Beasley, but the biggest blow of all came when his lawyer told him he was being charged with first-degree murder and must surrender himself to authorities in San Francisco.

He knew the world and he knew people. He had a few friends and admirers who would always believe in him, but the majority of people chose to believe he was a monster, a defiler and murderer of innocent young women. They were the ones, he knew, who would not rest until they had flailed all the flesh from his bones.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Entre Nous

Entre Nous image 2
Entre Nous
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

She spotted him in the park. He was a man of indeterminate age, dressed in a tattered green overcoat, badly in need of a haircut and shave. When he knew she was following him, he stopped and looked at her. She smiled. She had so many things she wanted to say to him.

“How are you?” she asked.

He shook his head and started to walk away.

“I saw you and I wanted to speak to you.”

“If you’re from the mission…”

“No. I’m not,” she said. “I was wondering if we might sit and talk a while.”


She took hold of his arm, gently. He let her pull him to a bench. She sat on the bench and he had no other choice but to sit beside her. He looked at her apprehensively.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m not the police or anything, and I’m not from the mission.”

Now that she saw him up close, she saw he was younger than she at first thought. His eyes were a startling blue. He had tiny lines around them, but except for that his face was unlined. His hair was prematurely gray, in need of a trim. He smelled of tobacco and alcohol.

“Just on my way,” he said.


He gestured with his thumb over his shoulder.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said. “I only want to talk to you.”


She laughed and put her hands between her knees and looked up into the trees. “I guess you could say I’m a student of human nature.”

He shook his head and looked at his hands.

“What’s your name?” she asked.


“Is that your first name or your last name?”

“Just Knox.”

“All right. My name is Susan Morehouse. I believe in laying all my cards on the table. I’m forty-seven years old and not the least bit sensitive about my age. I live with my mother on Independence Avenue. My mother was over forty years old when she had me, so you can imagine how old she is now. It’s just my mother and me. My father died at age sixty of cirrhosis of the liver.”

He started to stand. She put her hand on his arm. He remained.

“Do you have family?” she asked.

He shook his head, which she took to mean no.

“Are you a mental patient?”

He smiled, for the first time, and shook his head.

Are you a drug addict?”

A shake of the head.


Another shake of the head.

“I won’t ask how you come to be an aimless bum in the park. We’ll save that one for another time.”

“I have to go,” he said, gesturing with his thumb over his shoulder.

“Go where?”

He shrugged, meaning anywhere and nowhere.

“The truth is, I don’t think you have any place to go.”

“I don’t see it’s any of your business,” he said.

“Would you like to come home with me?”


“I know it sounds terribly forward, but I don’t have a lot of time to waste on amenities.”


“I wouldn’t expect anything of you. You wouldn’t have to do anything. You wouldn’t be bothered. Only my mother is there. She’s a very old lady, nearly ninety years old. You can stay as long as you want and leave whenever you say.”

“I can’t,” he said. “I’m not well.”

“Do you have anything contagious?”

He shrugged and looked up at the sound of a dog thrashing through the leaves, chasing another dog.

“I’ve never done this before, you know,” she said. “You’re the first man I’ve ever approached like this.”

“I don’t think so,” he said, but she could see he was softening.

“Nobody has to ever know about it. It’s just between you and me. Entre nous, as the saying goes.”

“No, I don’t want to go with you.”

“My car is just over the hill.”

He looked up the hill as if imagining the car on the other side.

“All you have to do is get in the car. I’ll drive. It’s just a few miles.”

“I’m not going with you,” he said.

He stood up when she did, though, and walked over the hill with her. She touched him on the arm and looked at him every few feet to encourage him. When they came to her car, she motioned for him to get into the passenger-side seat, reassuring him, once again, that she meant him no harm.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp  

Do You Take This Clown?

Do You Take This Clown image 5

Do You Take This Clown?
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This short story is a re-post. It has been published in the Australian literary journal, Skive.)

Mercy Buckets felt pains in her midsection. She knew there was something inside her that needed to come out. She checked herself into Clown General Hospital, believing she was dying. After a clown doctor did a perfunctory examination, he knew right away what was wrong with her. She was about to have a clown baby and, being the silly goose she was, didn’t even know it.

Almost at once she went into clown labor. When she was being wheeled into the clown delivery room, she didn’t know what was happening and became distraught.

“Somebody help me!” she screamed, her round red nose quivering with emotion. “They’ve taken my clothes! They’re holding me prisoner and they’re going to do awful things to me! Somebody call the clown authorities before it’s too late!” 

Nobody called the authorities, of course, or anybody else. A clown nurse clonked her on the head with a frying pan and after that she was quite manageable. She wasn’t able to help in the birth of her child, being unconscious as she was, but Dr. Stitches managed just fine, with the help of several clown nurses, and delivered her of a perfect baby boy.

When she woke up, she was in a bed in a little room all to herself where everything was so white and shiny she thought for a moment she might be in heaven. She heard sounds from behind the closed door but they seemed remote and far away and comforting in a way. She felt funny as if all her bodily parts had been stretched and then allowed to snap back into place. She still didn’t know what had happened to her.

In a little while a smiling clown nurse came into her room to check on her. “Are we feeling better now?” she asked. She had an upturned nose that resembled a sweet potato and a huge head with great waves of flame-red hair.

“Who are you?” Mercy Buckets asked.

“I’m Nurse Precious,” she said. “I’m here to take care of you.”

“But where am I?”

“You are on the third floor of Clown General Hospital.”

“Have I been in an accident or something?”

Nurse Precious laughed. “We do have a wry sense of humor, don’t we?”

“I want to go home.”

“Of course we do, but we’re not ready yet. If you and your baby get along well, you should be able to leave by Tuesday.”

“Me and my what?”

Nurse Precious looked at Mercy and wrinkled her brow. “You don’t remember why you came to hospital?”

“I don’t remember anything.”

Nurse Precious looked at Mercy’s medical chart. “Oh, I see,” she said. “They had to put you out, over, and under during the birth. You haven’t even seen your baby yet.”

“If you don’t tell me what you’re talking about right now,” Mercy said, “I’m going to walk out of here and take a jitney home, even though I am wearing a bed sheet with nothing on underneath.”

As if on cue, the door opened with a suck of air and Nurse Nimbus came into the room with what looked like a bundle of dirty laundry in her arms. “Here we are!” she said cheerily. She laid the bundle on the bed beside Mercy Buckets and pulled back a flap to reveal the face of a small animal.

“Ugh!” Mercy said. “That is the ugliest thing I ever saw.”

“You be sure and think of a good name for him now,” Nurse Precious said.

The two nurses linked arms and twirled around in a little jig as if that were part of the ritual that Mercy was unable to understand.

“But what is this thing?” Mercy asked. “It doesn’t even look like a clown. It looks like an ape. It’s all covered with hair.”

“Why, it’s your baby, dear,” Nurse Nimbus said. “What else would it be?”

“Are you telling me that thing came out of my body?”

“Well, the stork didn’t deliver it, if that’s what you mean,” Nurse Precious said, laughing at her own cleverness.

“Take it away!”

“Oh, you have to feed it, dear! The little fellow is hungry.”

“And just what do you have in mind that I feed it?”

Nurse Precious and Nurse Nimbus exchanged a significant look and then Nurse Nimbus discreetly exited while Nurse Precious showed Mercy what was to be done.

Later in the day, after the baby had been fed and taken away again, Mercy was dozing when Dr. Stitches dropped by her little room to see how she was doing. He was wearing a long white doctor’s gown and a rubber chicken on each shoulder like epaulettes. On his old head was a powdered wig like George Washington, only pink.

“Well, well, well,” he said. “That was quite a harrowing scene we had in the delivery room this morning, wasn’t it?”

“Who the hell are you?” Mercy asked, irritated at being awakened.

“I’m only the old fellow who saved your life and the life of your baby,” he said.

“I want to go home. My clown mother and clown father must be worried about me.”

“All in due time, my dear.”

“And when I leave, I’m not taking that thing with me.”

“What thing are we talking about, dear?”

“The little animal that they say came out of my body.”

“I take it you are referring to your son?”

“I go. It stays.”

Dr. Stitches made a note on his clipboard and looked at Mercy over the tops of his Ben Franklin glasses. “You wish to give the baby up for adoption?” he asked.

“I don’t care what you do with it. We’re not even the same species.”

“Hmm,” he said. “Mother exhibits marked ambivalence toward baby,” he said aloud as he wrote.

“My clown mother and clown father are going to die when they find out about this. They don’t know I was ever even with a man. Hell, I don’t even know it myself!”

“So, you have no knowledge or recollection of the act that brought your baby into being?”

“I don’t know anything except that I want to go home and forget that any of this ever happened.”

“You’ve had a shock,” Dr. Stitches said, patting her on the shoulder. “You just rest now and don’t worry about a thing.”

He left and in a few moments Nurse Precious came in and gave Mercy another clonk on the head to calm her down.

When she awoke she was confused. She had been dreaming that a giant chicken was holding her down, trying to put its beak into her mouth. She sputtered and picked some imaginary feathers from between her teeth. She realized then that someone was standing beside her bed and that someone was her own clown mother, Clarabelle Patootie, and her clown father, Petey Patootie. They had both been clown headliners in the biggest show in clowndom but were now retired from the show business.

“My dear!” her mother said, realizing at once that Mercy was awake. “Your clown father and I have been frantic with clown worry.”

“It’s not what you think!” Mercy said, trying to sit up. “I swear I don’t know where that thing came from!”

“Now, now, now,” her mother said. “We’re not judging you. We’ve just had a long talk with Dr. Stitches. He told us the whole story.”

“I’d like to hear that story myself,” Mercy said.

“It’s going to take some time to sort this all out.”

“Have you seen that thing?”

“Yes, we saw him. Our grandson. He’s a fine little fellow.”

“Yes, but he’s some kind of a gorilla or something. I never saw anything like it before in my life!

“You just rest now, dear. You’ve been through a terrible ordeal. We’ll talk it all out later.”

Petey Patootie never had much to say. He always let his clown wife do the talking. He patted Mercy on the hand and looked into her eyes. “You hang in there, old girl,” he said. “We’ll be here if you need us.”

She dozed off again and didn’t know when her clown mother and clown father left. The next time she opened her eyes, she saw a huge clown face looming over her. As she screamed and sat up in the bed, the clown face withdrew to a safe distance.

“Who the hell are you!” she said. “Why are you standing over me like a spook?”

“It’s Mr. Ticklefeather,” a voice said. “I was leaning close to see if you were asleep or only faking it.”

It took her a moment to see the clown from whence the voice came. “You act like a crazy person,” she said. “You scared me nearly half to death.”

“Well, I am sorry, I’m sure,” Mr. Ticklefeather said, putting his hand over his mouth.

“What are you doing here?”

“I came as soon as I heard.”

“Heard what?”

“You know. About the b-a-b-y.”

“Why would that concern you?”

“Well, I’m assuming I’m the f-a-t-h-e-r since we went out together that one time.”

“Stop that spelling! We went rowing on the lake. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t result in a baby of any species.”

“Don’t you remember when we kissed?”

“That doesn’t do it, either.”

“You finished a hot dog that I started and we drank out of the same cup.”

“Mr. Ticklefeather!” she said. “Don’t you know anything about the birds and the bees? You are not the father!”

“Who is, then?”

“That’s just it. I don’t know!”

“Oh, my!” Mr. Ticklefeather said.

“No, no, no! It’s not like that, Mr. Ticklefeather! I don’t know who the father is because there is no father!”

“What do you mean?”

“We’ll save that one for another time.”

Mr. Ticklefeather had only a moment to look perplexed because the door opened and Nurse Precious came into the room bearing the bundle of dirty laundry again.

“Time for the little chappie to feed again,” she said in her sing-song, setting the bundle beside Mercy on the bed as Nurse Nimbus had done earlier and pulling back the face flap.

“Oh, no!” Mercy said. “How many times a day does this happen?”

“It never ends,” Nurse Precious said.

“I want a bottle! Bring me a bottle with milk in it, or whatever it is they drink! I’m not doing that other thing again!”

“I’ll leave,” Mr. Ticklefeather said.

“No!” Mercy said. “I want you to see this odd little baby, even though you are not the father.”

“It’s better if you feed it the old-fashioned way,” Nurse Precious said.

“It won’t matter with this one because I’m not going to keep it anyway,” Mercy said.

Nurse Precious produced a bottle from the folds of her uniform and handed it to Mercy. As Mercy held the baby in the crook of her arm and held the nipple of the bottle to its baby snout, Mr. Ticklefeather leaned in to get a better look.

“He looks a little like me, doesn’t he?” he said.

“He doesn’t look a thing like you!” Mercy said. “You have nothing to do with him at all!”

“He looks like a Percy to me,” Mr. Ticklefeather said. “I’ve always liked the name Percy. How about if we name him Percy? Percy Ticklefeather. I like the way that sounds.”

“You can name him Boll Weevil, for all I care,” Mercy said.

“I know this is going to sound funny to you,” Mr. Ticklefeather said. “I know I’m not really his father, but I wish I was. Since he doesn’t have a father, or at least doesn’t have one that we know about, I’d like to take him and raise him as if I really were his father.”

“I don’t care what you do with him.”

“Since you are the mother and, to the world at least, I’m the presumed father, how would it be if we get married and bring the little fellow up properly, in a home with a mother and a father?”

Mercy looked at him with disbelief. “Why would I want to marry you?” she asked. “I don’t love you. I hardly even know you, even though we went rowing on the lake that one time.”

“We can get married and figure out together who the father really is and what really happened and when it happened. All will be revealed in time.”

“No,” Mercy said. “I suppose I should thank you for the offer, but I won’t ever marry you or anybody else. Not if having peculiar babies is the result.”

The baby drank the entire contents of the bottle, belched and went to sleep. By and by, Nurse Precious came back to collect the baby to take him back to the nursery.

“I’m going to take him,” Mr. Ticklefeather said to Nurse Precious. “Mercy Buckets wants nothing to do with him.”

“Are you his father?” Nurse Precious asked.

“In the absence of the truth,” Mr. Ticklefeather said, “let us say yes. I am the baby’s father.”

“Very well,” Nurse Precious said, slinging the baby onto her shoulder. “Come with me. You’ll have to sign some papers saying you assume full responsibility for his upbringing.”

Mr. Ticklefeather beamed with satisfaction and pride. He followed Nurse Precious and the baby out of the room without saying goodbye to Mercy Buckets.

Mercy got out of the bed and walked slowly to the window. She opened the blind and, looking out at the sky, saw the full yellow moon beaming down on the tired old world, exactly the way it had done on the night she and Mr. Ticklefeather went rowing on the lake. She felt tears welling up in her eyes. Agreeing to give up the baby to Mr. Ticklefeather, who wasn’t really the father, made her feel sad and lonely and a little bit sorry for herself. 

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Porch Light


Summer Evening by Edward Hopper

Porch Light  
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~ 

(Note: This is a re-post. It has been published in Dew on the Kudzu, a Journal of Southern Writing.)

Nola was reading a book sitting beside an open window in the quiet house when she heard a soft knock on the door. It was eleven o’clock at night and she wasn’t wearing very much, but she went to the door and opened it anyway. She was feeling lonely, and a little blue, and was glad for the chance to talk to someone.

“Oh, hello,” she said, when she saw Roy standing there. She was neither happy nor unhappy to see him.

“Is she asleep?” he asked.

“For hours.”

“Why don’t you come out and talk to me. I’m not in any hurry to get home just yet.”

“Oh, all right. I suppose I could for a little while.”

She turned on the porch light and stepped out the door.

“What is that you’re wearing?” he asked. “Is that what you sleep in?”

“Of course not! After I took off my uniform, I put this on to try to keep cool. I wasn’t expecting any callers.”

“It looks like your brassiere and your step-ins. And pink, at that!”

“Well, you shouldn’t be looking. If your delicate sensibilities are offended, I’ll go put on a robe.”

“No, no, no, I don’t care what you have on. It’s your porch and you’re a grown-up person and it’s too hot to wear a robe.”

“It was over a hundred degrees today and will be again tomorrow.”

“It’s hotter here than the Sahara Desert in Africa. Did you know?”

“We’ve still got two more months of summer,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m going to last. I just wish it would rain.”

He looked up at the clear, star-laden sky and held out his hand. “Not a chance,” he said.  He sat on the porch railing and she leaned her backside against it beside him. A moth fluttered crazily around the light.

“Do you want a cigarette?” he asked.

“I’ll just take a puff or two off yours.”

He lit up and handed the burning cigarette to her.

“I might call Nellie in the morning,” she said, “and tell her I’m sick and can’t make it in. It won’t be too much of a lie.”

“I thought you were going to quit that job.”

“I can’t quit until I have another job lined up.”

“Let’s go to the park,” he said. “It’s too hot to go home. We can spend the night under the stars.”

“I can’t. I have to get up in about six hours and go to work.”

“I thought you were going to call in sick.”

“Well, I haven’t definitely made up my mind about that yet.”

“I’ll have you back in time to go to work.”

“I can’t stay awake all night and work all day.”

“You won’t sleep anyway in this heat.”

“I’m usually able to forget how hot it is and go to sleep about two o’clock.”

“And then you have to get up at five.”

“And the whole rotten routine starts over again. What a life.”

“Let’s run away together.”

She laughed and blew out a spluttering stream of smoke. “Where to?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We could hop a freight train somewhere.”

“Oh, sure! That sounds worse than what I have now. As lousy as my life is, I at least have a bed to sleep in and food to eat.”

“If you ran away, you’d be free of everything here. You could start over somewhere else.”

“What would I do about my mother?”

“Send her a postcard.”

“You’re not being very practical.”

“That doesn’t get you anywhere.”

A police car drove past, slowed almost to a stop, sped away again.

“Must be looking for somebody,” she said.

“I didn’t do anything,” he said.

“Are you still looking for a job?”

“Off and on. I could maybe go to work for my uncle if I wanted to, but I don’t want to.”

“Doing what?”

“Moving furniture.”

“That doesn’t sound very promising.”

“I applied for a job as an usher at a movie theatre downtown, but I probably won’t get it.”

“Why not?”

“Don’t want it.”

She watched the fireflies in the yard and didn’t say anything for a while. “Can you see us going on this way for the next forty or fifty years?” she asked. “Until we die?”

“I don’t think about it much,” he said.

“I think there has to be more to life.”

“Maybe tomorrow will be better. That’s what you have to hope for.”

“I might get married to somebody someday,” she said, “but it’s going to have to be to somebody who can take me away from all this.”

“You wouldn’t marry me?” he asked. She knew he was joking.

“No,” she said. “You’re a bum like everybody else I know.”

“Well, that can always change. I haven’t completely given up on life.”

“Go to school and become a doctor or a lawyer,” she said. “Then I’ll consider marrying you.”

“I’m lacking some necessary ingredients for that,” he said. “Namely, money and ambition.”

“You can’t be a bum all your life.”

“Who says? My father has been a bum all his life and his father before him.”

“Maybe you’re better than that.”

“My mother wants me to join the army. She’s threatened to throw me out of the house if I don’t do something.”

“Maybe that’s what you need.”

“If she tosses me out, can I come and live with you?”

“No. You and my mother wouldn’t get along.”

“You see how it is? If it’s not my mother giving me grief, it’s somebody else’s.”

“What a life,” she said.

“Are you sure you won’t go to the park with me?”

“It’s late. I need to try to go to sleep so I can get up and go to work in the morning.”

“What a life,” he said. “My room is so hot I can’t stand to lie on the bed. I put a quilt on the floor underneath the window and sleep on it naked until the sun comes up.”

“I really should be going in now.”

“Will you go to the park with me tomorrow night?”


“Something good is going to happen tomorrow,” he said. “I just know it. Maybe a thunderstorm.”

“Good night,” she said.

“Good night.”

She knew he would leave whenever she told him to. He wouldn’t try to kiss her or touch her, the way some would. He never did that; he wasn’t that kind of a boy. She had known him so long. He was more like the brother she never had.

She went back inside and turned off the porch light, locked the door. She went to the door of her mother’s room to make sure she was still sleeping and then she walked through the dark house she knew so well and got into her bed. Far off in the distance she heard the low rumble of thunder that could only mean one thing. If she stayed awake long enough, she might see lightning and hear some rain on the roof.   

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp