Excerpts from The Casket

 
 
 

The Casket by KEN KLOPPER

Set in the period before WW II, certain trends of that time are featured in the book. These are some excerpts as well as references to some well-known personalities.

 

From Liam’s Lust

 

The Wireless

My father carefully placed it on the mantelpiece above the fireplace and turned one of the dials. There were odd crackling and hissing sounds while he continued to turn the little dial slowly and systematically. Then indistinct at first and with increasing volume, a voice emerged from the little brown and beige box. I don’t recall what it said, but we listened attentively without moving or saying anything for what seemed like a very long time.

“It’s called a wireless,” my father remarked.

“How did they get the man into the box?” I asked.

He laughed loudly. “He’s not in the box. He speaks into a receiver and his voice is carried over the airwaves.” With his limited knowledge gleaned from the local newspaper, he tried to explain how the concept worked, and despite the fact that I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, I listened spellbound—only remembering the name of one of the pioneers, Marconi.

“They also read stories and play music,” he added, “and we can stay up to date with the latest news.”

My mother appeared even more interested. “Music?”

 

 

Mah-Jongg

We would often stay home and listen to jazz on the phonograph that her mother had bought her, or play Mah-jongg on the porch. She was always amused when she beat me and I got upset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crossword puzzles

My father was smoking his pipe and was hiding behind the pages of his newspaper when he suddenly put it down and shook his head.

“There’s this bloody new game in the paper they call a crossword puzzle, but I’m damned if I can get it right.”

“A game—what game?” my mother asked.

“It works with letters,” my father explained. “Road passenger transport—three letters.”

“Bus,” my mother answered without even looking up.

 

 

 

The automobile

“And she is so light on fuel. I only have to fill her up twice a day,” my father said.

“It’s a beautiful automobile, Dad,” I replied, “Maybe I’ll be able to afford one . . . someday.”

 

 

 

 

 

A Rocking Horse

I spent hours making wooden toys for Emma Mae and I was really proud at the completion of the glossy white rocking horse with its flaming red mane and bright blue saddle.

“She’s just a tiny baby, Liam,” Lilly remarked.

“I know—I know, but she’ll grow quickly and then everything will be ready,” I explained.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Gershwin

My mother’s face seemed to light up like a lighthouse on a dark desolate coastline when the music played. When she looked up from her sewing or knitting, I noticed the hint of a smile on a face that only reflected solemnity most of the time.  Somehow—somewhere—music had played an important role in her life. She had lost that link over the years and now it seemed to have revived itself. Her favorite was George Gershwin who even achieved the impossible—causing her to sway and hum to the music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adolf Hitler

The increasing talk of a war on the radio and in the newspapers perturbed me. It appeared that Adolf Hitler had decided to attack and persecute the Jews in Germany and Austria, and that the rest of the world was just waiting with bated breath for the next incident. How could I leave now that Lilly was content and no longer blue, and my darling child was growing more beautiful with each passing day? Surely, the government would realize that my duty was with my wife and child and not that of a soldier holed up in some damp, stinking trench dug into foreign soil.

 

 

 

 

Sigmund Freud

Removing his glasses slowly, he blinked a couple of times and then looked at me. “She’s been through a tough time with the loss of  . . . eh . . . the child and she is unfortunately . . . the sensitive type.  Although I’m not one for usually believing in this psychoanalysis nonsense, I do believe that she is in a state of severe mourning.”

“Severe mourning?” I said, exhibiting some disbelief. “But she’s been like this for ages.”

“Quite!  Yes, I kind of like the theory of a fellow called . . . um . . . Freud . . .  on what he calls severe melancholia. This document is a paper he delivered on the subject called . . . eh . . . ‘Mourning and Melancholia.’ He describes a situation where identification with a loss such as the death of a child manifests itself by . . . eh . . . let me see . . . ‘an unconscious, narcissistic process called the libidinal cathexis of the ego.’ In layman’s terms . . . um . . . she is still going through a process of intense loss.”

 

 

Greta Garbo

“The physique of a natural child bearer,” the company physician called it—“wide hips and ample breasts.” I found it difficult to believe that Greta Garbo would have taken to such a label lightly, but I respected his diagnosis and superior knowledge. My opinion was only based on my vision of Lilly, and on what I had seen in moving pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Gavin’s Greed

Al Capone

The talk of organized crime was fascinating and they bounced some names off each other that I could not remember, except for one that I had heard somewhere before. They spoke of someone called Capone like he was some god.

In the short time that I was in juvenile camp, the system that was supposed to rehabilitate me, taught me more about crime than I could ever learn on the streets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Steamer

Catching a ride down to Siren’s Cove on a truck carrying barley, I bought a ticket on a steamer headed for the bright lights of Cape Novella. For the first time in a long while, I felt alive—a pleasing cocktail of apprehension and excitement pulsing through my veins—as The Ragtime steamed towards its destination.  

 

 

 

 

The Milkman

Sitting in the car, I observed my surroundings. The area was quiet except for the occasional movement from someone busy with service delivery. A mailman on a thick-wheeled, black bicycle, a van from Dairy Belle delivering fresh milk to the front door, Peppi’s Dry Cleaning Service returning with the freshly starched clothing, Weedie’s Gardening Service and Paul, the Pool Man were all part of the line-up.  

The men were mostly at work and I wondered what the wives did before the kids came home. With their nails painted before nine in the color of the day, and their hair appointments scheduled for the afternoon, it was small wonder that there were rumors that the mailman knocked more than once and that the milkman collected his coupons from under the sheets. This was the heart of fast and efficient service delivery.

 

 

 

A Tommy gun

 

There were two colleagues that I worked with closely and trusted enough to discuss sensitive issues with, but I knew that if their loyalty was ever tested, they would sacrifice me like they were blowing their noses. They were keen to offer advice and even assistance.

“I don’t mind helping with a drive-by,” Jack Cummings said, “but you’ll need a Tommy gun.”

“No, that won’t work. It’s too risky and I was instructed to do it alone,” I explained.

 

 

 

A soda fountain

 

There was a natural attraction between us and over the next few months our relationship strengthened to the point where Pamela moved in with me. She was not only a natural beauty but like the colorful fizzy beverages served at the soda fountain—amusing, mysterious, and wonderfully refreshing. She was all the things I was not and could never be without her, and by loosening my tight collar, she taught me to breathe properly for the first time in my life.

 

 

 

A Slot machine

The high rollers played the tables while we hooked their wives and partners with our latest attraction—700 spanking new slot machines with brightly colored lights that offered double and even triple jackpots. It worked like a charm because as long as the one-half wanted to play, the high rollers remained on the tables where the odds were always stacked against them. We let some of them strike it big and we made a big fuss over them—champagne, girls in shiny skimpy outfits, a brass band, and loud announcements—but for the most part, they felt the threadbare linings of their pockets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A telegram

My strained eyes scanned the contents of the telegram.

. . . Dad took ill and passed away suddenly. Please come home . . .

I lay back on the bed, numbed by too many shocks within a short space of time and with no strength for any more. Maybe I was receiving my just desserts for my wicked ways, but then again I was still alive. It was only misfortune when you had no hand in it and I had both hands in it up to my shoulders.

 

 

 

The Venus de Milo

“Keep up!” Vincenzo snapped.

With only a passing glance at the pale, marble figure of a tall woman with small boobs and no arms, I tried to catch up to Vincenzo. That’s sick, I thought. Why the hell bother to show your boobs when you have no arms? At least they had the sense to wrap something around her—

“Moss!” Vincenzo shouted. “Stop wasting time. The Godfather is waiting. The Venus de Milo is not interested in a scrawny, little shit like you.”

Well, thank you very much, I thought, because I certainly wasn’t interested in some broad with no arms and f. . . ing small tits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Owen’s Obsession

A leg brace

Wearing the leg brace should help to strengthen the leg, they said, as they peered over their horn-rimmed glasses and straightened the creases in their white starched coats, but they had no idea what it was like to wear shackles all the time and were clearly guessing about the benefits. I could feel my leg growing weaker because the brace limited the use of my muscles, even the healthy ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter

I wrote a letter to my parents and one to Rhonda telling them that I had finally qualified for the trials for the National team and that I was on my way to making it onto the Olympic team. The local evening paper printed a small article that mentioned my name in the list of those selected for the team and I included the cutting in the letter to my parents. I told Rhonda that I missed her and looked forward to seeing her on my next visit and that because I was going into an intensive training program, it would be difficult to get time off to come and visit.

 

 

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