Willie Smith


                In a constant state of becoming the Great Poet enters the kitchen: “There’s a meteor shower tonight – I am penning to it a sonnet!”
                “The Quadrantids,” Beth doesn’t look up from ironing the yoke of one of Dad’s white shirts. “Named after Quadrans Muralis, which constellation became defunct….”
                She falls silent. Flips the shirt over. The Great Poet frowns, annoyed the subject might be changing. Beth finesses the left cuff. Starts in on the sleeve: “…about the time Napoleon shipped out for Saint Helena.”
                “The comet,” Dad mumbles, slouched drunk in the breakfast nook. “Symbol of,” he hiccups, “Napoleon.”
                “Comets aren’t meteors,” Beth corrects, pressing the Sunbeam over the right cuff. “Comets move gradually. Last for weeks. Sometimes months. Hang in the same spot in the sky day after day. Meteors streak across the night. Vanish in a splitsecond.”
                “That commonly held misapprehension,” the Great Poet nods, “will appear in the sestet.”
                In the distance an alarm erupts. Inside my head or out, I can’t at first tell. Look up from the form I’m completing, seated at the table opposite Dad.
                “Incoming comet?”
                He heard it, too. What species… car alarm out front? Burglar alarm down the block? Smoke alarm inside the house? Alarm inside our heads – Dad too much booze, me too much Dad?
                Beth continues ironing. The Great Poet hunches over the sink, contemplating the drain, apparently uninterrupted in his quest for inspiration.
                “Does anybody hear that?” I ask the wall above Dad’s head.
                “Silence!” the Great Poet booms down into the sink. “I’m getting an idea!”
                Beth stands the iron on end. Raises the shirt off the board. Skewers the sleeves with a hanger. Walks tight-lipped through the archway to tuck the Arrow into a closet upstairs, accustomed to life with three nuts: step-brother-cum-stepson, unemployed poet, alkie stepfather-cum-husband.
                Me the son of Dad’s first exwife, Beth the daughter who came with Dad’s second exwife, Beth marrying Dad to inherit the house, but Dad, just before going nuts from organic brain damage, not only inviting him to live here but drawing up a will leaving everything to…
                Hoping to relegate the alarm to the background, I tick off nuts’s cousin meanings: peanuts, balls, paranoid schizophrenics, walnuts, bipolars, almonds, what McAuliffe replied to the Nazis; balls; what screws onto bolts; balls; from nuts to soup, from balls to the walls. But still the balls of the alarm bang together inside my skull – banging about where bangs might hang did I not affect a crewcut…
                “Christ!” I shout. “You couldn’t write a poem to save your soul!”
                “Don’t yell,” Dad enunciates, “with your head full,” slumping facefirst onto the formica with a fleshy WHUMP!
                “Christ?” The Great Poet whirls around, leans back against the countertop, rolls his eyes ceilingward, spreads wide his arms. “My Muse – why hast Thou forsaken me?”
                Our tall, dark and plain parasite often describes writing poetry as “Remembering the future – astounding mental feat, requiring well-developed feet.”
                Beth re-enters with an egg and a pair of argyles to darn.
                “Not a bad idea,” the Great Poet muses to the ceiling. “Work in Her meteoric visitation, and why can She not shower upon me…”
                “Bill – would you mind lifting Dad’s head up off the table? You’re sitting right there. When he collapses like that the blood floods to his brain. Makes me think a vessel’s going to pop.”
                I lean over the formica. Grasp Dad’s fat nut in both hands. Tilt him up till his shoulders lean against the chairback, and his occiput thumps softly against the nook’s north wall.
                As suddenly as it started, the alarm…
                “Dammit – lost the train! Maybe if you people could just sit still for one nano-sec this poem wouldn’t be such a hard nut to crack!”
                Beth sits at the third and final straightback on the east end of the table. Lays out the egg, the socks. Retrieves the needle from her housecoat pocket, asking if the Great Poet would mind stepping out of her light?
                “I am,” the Great Poet stomps out of the room, “crucified!” Bellows from the parlor, beginning to mount the stairs, “O thief, O falling star – tonight in heaven shall we not meet?”
                She stuffs the egg inside a sock. Bends to threading the needle: “Did you finish that application for a discount on the electric bill?”
                Electric bill, duck bill, hat bill, billboard, bill-now-pay-later… duck my head at the half-completed form. Mumble in the negative.
                “We aren’t,” she pushes the tongue-wetted thread through the eye, “going to make our nut this month, if we don’t get that app in on time. You said,” she knots the thread, “you could fill out a form. Am I going to need…”
                Mumble, I’ll sign – if she’ll just finish what I started.
                “Bill,” she draws the thread through one edge of the heel hole, “your name isn’t even on the bill. Dad’s the only signer. Nobody else legally lives here.”
                Dad resists all efforts to enter anyone else’s name on the deed. Just as he insists his wife lay out ironed clean clothes for him to wear to the office; despite his having been retired on mental disability some years ago…
                I offer to help guide his hand.
                She sighs. Bites off the thread to complete the repair. “You lose concentration halfway through. Let him skid off the page. Last time you helped him sign the bank wouldn’t accept the check. I had to drag Dad down there drunk and screaming to get him to re-endorse in person.” She looks up, snares my eyes with hers: “Are you out of your meds?”
                “No,” I grin sheepishly, under the table grabbing my nuts like a goat, barely restraining the hyena impulse to stuff the balled-up form past her tonsils. “My meds are out of me. They’re still upstairs in the vial. I felt too vile this morning to take any. Maybe they stop the echoes, kill the alarms, keep the horses in the barn – but they make me feel like roadkill; flatten, you know, the affect. Sometimes they even make my nuts itch.”
                “You’re making that last part up.” She starts to work on the other sock. Which, turns out, once she stuffs the egg in, sports a toe tear.
                “Partly,” I admit. “I don’t remember too well when I’m off the meds. Don’t think I remember much of anything anyway. How did you know about the Quads?”
                “Before you went off your nut,” she wets the thread, “you stargazed. Compulsively sneaked out of the house at all hours of the night to crook your head at the heavens. Stayed up for each annual shower. You favored the Perseids, the Leonids, the Taurids. But you raved on and on every January Third about the Quadrantids. Impressed they all arrive on the same day, whereas the other showers are spread out over several days to a week. Am I the sole resident of this house possessed of a memory?”
                “Ninth Day of Xmas,” Dad gurgles at the popcorn ceiling. “Truelove gave to me: Nine comets in a hair tree.”
                “Meteors, honey.” Her teeth snip thread. “Go take your meds, Bill.”
                Beth – second letter of the alphaBET. Hebrew for HOUSE. This cage I inhabit. Meteors tonight tinkle the roof. My step-sister, Dad’s third wife, the Great Poet’s Muse – or Beth a brew of all three?
                Skid the chair back. Stand. Stretch. Yawn. Wander off through a forest of echoes for the vial in the cabinet in the bathroom upstairs. Alarms – smoke, car, burglar, clockradio – haunt my exit.


                Valium Val and Diazepam Pam went down to the store. Val had a gun. Pam needed more.
                They made the pharmacist get down. He soft-shoed out from behind the register; limbo-ed over the counter; alligatored onto the floor. Using the butt, then the barrel, they bopped the baldy out. Locked the door. Pulled the shades. Closed the shop.
                Pam occupied a stool at the fountain. Got fixed on potato chips, Darvon, Dexedrine, cherry Coke. Val crammed her purse with barbs, canaries, roofies, alligators, tofranil, talwin – enough tranqs to dope a hippo till the Second Coming of Perry Como.
                About to leave, they decided to pants the pharmacist. Lifted, as an afterthought, his wallet. Gutted the pigskin of ID, cash, credit cards, love notes between him and the goof who drove the drug truck. They shoved pictures of his Seconal wife and ecstasy kids between his dentures. Wrapped a truss around his pate.
                Pam drew a curler from her beehive. Inserted the beauty aid into the professional suppository-wise. Val poured turpenhydrate and paregoric down the throat of the curler. In case he was still alive, she didn’t want the dealer to catch cold or get the shits.
                Valium Val and Diazepam Pam hit the streets. Now they could return to the dryer, the ironingboard, the air purifier, the tv – and not in a month of Sundays ever get bored. Thanks to their sweets.
                The husbands bugged them not. Athletes on gameshows failed to tempt. The kids didn’t seem so bonkers. Val and Pam behaved in style – a little crazy, a little dingy; bit like they had lots of money. Which they didn’t. But could they hallucinate! Giggling at wheels of Lucy spinning a dizzy fortune.
                The pharmacist lived. On a machine; like a carrot. The cops had no leads, although they crucified a couple teenagers; held a bum till his corpus expired. Important people the world over continued making a killing off drugs, chips, Coke.
                The druggist’s wife, her supply cut off, withdrew; then started going over to play cards with Val and Pam. Who tootsweet dealt Viv the love notes.
                Next spree, Viagra Viv made it three.

Willie Smith videos can be found at YouTube
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