|Written by:||Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
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|Written by:||Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
Crime and Punishment
Nancy Julien Kopp
A six foot plastic chicken dominated Harry’s front porch. The things he dragged home
became weirder and weirder. The one thing all the neighbors wondered is where he’d
scrounged these unusual decorations. More than once I’ve ambled down my driveway to
pick up the morning paper and been stopped in my tracks by some new offering. And
today was no different.
I clutched the newspaper to my breast and backed all the way to my bungalow. I
couldn’t take my eyes off that damn chicken. Besides being as tall as a man, the
chicken’s eyes were crossed and a silly grin spread across its face. In one wing, raised
high, she held a wooden spoon. Maybe it was Harry’s idea of a guard dog. Hadn’t he
once placed a cardboard cat bearing a sign that said “Attack Cat” on his porch? The
strange things never stayed around very long. Usually long enough to cause a stir
amongst the neighbors, until suddenly they’d disappear.
The phone’s ring greeted me when I stepped inside my front door. “Hello Glenna, it’s
Dottie. What’s with the big chicken across the street? How can I sell my house with
weird stuff like that in the neighborhood? You’ve got to go talk to Harry.”
“Oh no, you don’t. Everyone in the neighborhood picks me to confront Harry
whenever they’ve got a gripe. Uh-uh. No way. I’m done.” I turned off the phone and
slammed it back in the cradle.
I poured a cup of coffee and grabbed the front section of the paper before the expected
knock sounded on the door. Dottie burst in before I could answer, dressed in a purple
plaid robe with pink-flowered pajamas peeking out the bottom. Her uncombed gray curls
pointed in several directions. “I mean it, Glenna. You go talk to that man. You’re the only
one he’ll listen to.”
“Look Dottie, you want to sell your house. You go pound on his door. Or are you
afraid of the big, bad chicken?”
Dottie grabbed a cup from the drainer in the sink and splashed coffee into it. She
parked herself in the chair across from me and leaned close. “The man’s been in love
with you for years. He’d do anything for you. He’s got a lot of endearing qualities. You
should give him a chance.”
“Name one. Go ahead. Let’s hear it.” I knew she’d never deliver on this one. I lifted
my cup and savored the aroma while I waited for her answer.
A frown accentuated the wrinkles on Dottie’s face, and she drummed her fingers on
the table. Finally, in a tiny little voice she said, “He’s never been in jail.”
“Ha! That’s what you think.” The retort blasted forth before I knew what I’d said. This
conversation needed to end. Now! “Dottie, I’m going to be late for work. Off you go.” I
snatched her cup from her hand and gave her a firm push in the small of her back.
Dottie shuffled the length of the driveway, her mouth moving faster than her slipper-
shod feet. I didn’t listen, didn’t need to. It would be the same inane demand that I talk to
Harry for her.
Business proved to be brisk at the bookstore, thanks to a new ad in yesterday’s paper.
I’d put Harry and his chicken on a back burner in my mind until Harry himself walked in
the door five minutes before closing time.
His clothes were rumpled and out of style. They’d have fit fine twenty pounds ago, but
now they hung on his lean frame. His shoes hadn’t seen a shine in years. Silver hair
curled over his shirt collar, and he clutched a knob-headed cane in one hand. Harry’s best
years were behind him. But his green eyes sparkled, and he marched in with a spring in
his step. His inner years belied the outer. I sighed audibly as I reached his side.
“Hello Harry. What brings you here?” I wanted to ask if he was looking for a book
about chickens, but I clamped my mouth shut and folded my arms.
“Glenna, I’ve a favor to ask. I need help with the new chicken.” He crossed his eyes
and grinned. If he’d had a wooden spoon in his hand, I’d have sworn he looked like the
“Don’t make faces at me, Harry. And don’t think I’m falling into your trap either. I
don’t care what you do with that chicken. Dottie’s the one who wants it gone.” Rats! I’d
done exactly what I’d told Dottie I wouldn’t do. If I wasn’t careful, the next thing seen
would be a sixty year old, five-foot tall woman dragging a six foot plastic chicken down
Harry’s long face fell, stretching it even farther.. “Dear girl, I wouldn’t ask if I could
handle the chicken on my own, but I can’t do it. Might have twenty years ago but not
Now I had him. “Explain to me, Harry, how you managed to put the chicken on your
porch? It certainly didn’t fly there. Did it?”
“Glenna, plastic chickens do not fly. Have you been nipping in the afternoon?” Harry
stepped closer to me, close enough that I could smell the peppermints he habitually
sucked on. “Angels put that chicken on the porch. They are constantly leaving things for
me.” He tapped his cane on the tile floor for emphasis, and a flush rose in his normally
I wilted like a three day old flower. “Harry, what are you going to do with that
chicken? For that matter, what do you do with all those strange objects that show up off
nd on at your house?”
Harry lowered his voice to a stage whisper. “Do you remember the time I appeared
before Judge Goodland after I’d been in a little trouble? She made me promise that I
would help my fellow man for the rest of my life. She said I could make up for the little
mistake I’d made. And I’ve done that all these years. I take all those gifts the angels bring
me to the kids down at the crisis center. They find all sorts of things to use them for.”
“Little mistake! Harry, you attempted to rob my store! You tried to steal from your
own neighbor. Me! It was a first offense so you ended up on probation. I’m the one
who’s been punished all these years. You’ve been a thorn in my side ever since. And
don’t give me that angel story again. You stole those things, didn’t you?” My tirade
started out strong but ended on a shaky note.
Harry grinned again. “Thorn in your side ever since? That’s good, Glenna. You could
have moved away, but you didn’t. You could have told all the other neighbors what
happened, but you didn’t. I never ended up on probation. You dropped the charges, so I
spent exactly two days in the county jail waiting to appear before the judge. I’ve always
wanted to ask why you didn’t press the charges.” He ran his hand through his hair and
wiped a drop of saliva off his chin. “Could it be that you were a little sweet on Harry?”
He cackled, reminding me again of that stupid chicken.
Dottie’s words from this morning popped into my head. “The man’s been in love with
you for years.” Did he think I felt the same?
“You mistake kindness for love, Harry. I made a similar promise to Judge Goodland
long before you did. I had my own ‘little mistake’ in my teen years, and I’ve been
practicing kindness ever since in an attempt to make up for my criminal actions. I swiped
$20 from the cash drawer at the drugstore when I clerked there. No sentence, no
probation. Judge Goodland stared me in the eye and ordered me to be kind to others
Harry began to shake, and it was a moment or so before his laughter bubbled up and
out. My initial fear that he might be having a stroke changed to amusement bringing forth
my own laughter.
Harry wiped his eyes and smiled at me, a genuine smile, not that chicken grin. “That
was one smart judge, I’d say. The two of us have been doing good works all these years.
Think what we might have done together. Two lonely people doing kindness for their
fellow man could have had a whale of a good time. Too late for that now, though.”
“Is it too late, Harry? Why don’t we start with that abominable chicken. I’ll help you
cart it down to the crisis center late tonight if you promise me you won’t take any other
weird stuff for those kids. No more playing Robin Hood.” I rearranged the papers on my
desk, moved three pencils to the other side, buying time before I said, “I’ll make us
coffee when we return. Maybe kindness should start at home.”