Yellow Mama Archives

Willie Smith
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Art by Steve Cartwright


No Effect on Me


by Willie Smith


     In the early sixties my fave actor is Rip Torn. I can barely bring his face to mind. Know almost nothing about him. Just seen him on TV. But I love the name: Rip Torn – a toughie who suffers; whose soul the world has shredded to bits, and still he perseveres – acting in drama after drama.

     I especially like Torn in that THRILLER episode where he slurs at the top of his lungs – thrashing in a canopied bed in an upstairs chamber of the haunted house – “Barbiturates have no effect on me!” before the drug finally overwhelms him and he later awakens only to be literally scared to death.

     I’m thinking of Torn this afternoon, shortly after my parents have gone for a Sunday drive, leaving me alone, and I am ripping off my clothes in preparation for strutting around the house nude. A guaranteed three hours of unmolested perversion.

     I leave the clothes in a heap. Pants on top of shoes and socks. Underwear and shirt piled over pants. Step around into the bathroom. Stand on the toilet seat. Lean over into the medicine-chest mirror above the sink. Admire in-the-flesh me.

     Adequate body – slim, trim, at fifteen still maybe another inch to grow; penis almond-tan, gray-pink tipped and healthy. Hop down. Parade into the living room, bare feet luxuriating in buff wall-to-wall shag.

     Climb onto the couch. Gaze out the picture window down at the sidewalk looped around our suburban hillside court.  

     There she is. Every Sunday afternoon about this time. Don’t know her name, about my age, brunette, nice-enough looking. They just moved in last month. She doesn’t see me up here. Holds her head down trudging uphill. The part in her page-boy white as the dotted line on a box of chocolates saying “open here.”

     I wobble off the couch. Pad over the shag past the bookcase, sparsely populated with The World Book Encyclopedia, boxed National Geo’s and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Pivot left. Hustle down the stairs, through the entrance foyer, into the rec room.

     Draw up in front of the draped window. Count to, breathing heavily, catching my breath, five. Yank open drapes.  

     The motion catches her eye. A single pane of glass plus fifteen feet of sunshine separate my greedy pupils from the surprise in her own.

     This is a play. We are young adults. Innocent, curious, intelligent. Not far removed from either child or adult. Inhabiting a warp in between, where a certain magic holds sway, driving reality down the road with a well-tuned dream engine.  

     Play like I don’t see her. It’s a lovely day, I’m perfectly relaxed, quietly savoring the moment. I often walk around nude. Easier way to live life. Clothing such an unnecessary encumbrance, especially in such nice weather. No skin off my ass if other people want to try it, too. Say, for instance, if the girl next door were nonchalantly to disrobe, invite herself in; I’d be delighted to show her how cool it is to walk around the house not wearing a stitch.

     All houses on the court, in the whole development, in fact, have the same floor plan. Ambling around my house nude just the same as ambling around her house nude. This all perfectly natural. Maybe once we start talking we’ll find we have a lot in common. Maybe she… slowly I start touching myself… not looking down… not even really thinking about it… maybe she too, on these boring Sunday afternoons, occasionally is not entirely averse to touching whatever it is…

     She breaks off eye contact. Her face, naturally pale, turns death white, creases with a frown. She hurries off.

     Craning my head around to the left I glimpse her run up to her front door. Give one last grimace back at my sun-spanked window. Disappear inside.

     This is not good. A tiny voice argues everything is OK. She just stepped inside to leave her pocketbook on her own rec room hide-a-bed. She’ll be right back out, maybe already without her shoes and socks, knocking on my door and I may as well go over there and get ready to welcome her in. But… I, no…, KNOW this is BAD.

     I’m moving toward the foyer, getting ready not to open the door, but to climb the stairs back to the safety of my bedroom, when I spot her father – a burly day-sleeper who is rumored to drive truck for Coca-Cola – emerge from her house. Head up the sidewalk toward our rec room window, his daughter not two steps behind, she scowling, he disturbed, waking up…

     I dash upstairs. Leap back into my clothes. Forget the socks, the underpants. Toss the rumpled socks in the closet. Hide the fruit-of-the-loom’s… where?... wadded under a pillow.

     The dream machine burns oil. Belches black suicide clouds. Bucks. Stalls. Self-jumpstarts.

     I hustle through the living room – keeping my head down – as if anyone could see me up here on the second floor of our splitlevel. Turn through the dining area. Burst into the kitchen. Yank out a drawer. Fumble through utensils till I snatch a steak knife. Point the four-inch serrated blade at my navel.

     I’ll jab right through the shirt and undershirt. They’ll find me fully clothed. The slut imagined I was naked. She made the whole thing up. I was in my room reading a book completely clothed, when I heard a commotion out front and when I looked down and saw everybody glaring up hatefully, I decided to kill myself. It’s all that slut’s fault. If it weren’t for her overactive adolescent imagination… hormones driving her insane…

     Remember I’m not wearing underpants. No socks, not so bad. But if they discover no underpants on the suicide…

     Hunch over. Hustle back to my bedroom. Start to remember where I stashed the fruit-of-the-loom’s, then realize knife still in fist. Drop knife. Slap myself in the face – stupid!

     Crawl back out to the couch. Worm up onto a cushion. Peek over the sill down at Mr. Teamster and his daughter, both with arms folded over stomachs, she in disgust, he skeptically. All four eyes riveted on the window below. Not a thought of glancing up at the living room window.

     I wait them out. Terrified any minute Mom and Dad will pull up. Or her dad will dash inside to call the cops. I pray to Rip Torn some force of nature will shred me to pieces, remove my existence from the universe.

     What was I doing? What made me think my stringy nude body topped with plain face would enchant? What black magic made me act as if my vile flesh could cause such white magic as…

     Mr. T. shrugs. Looks around at our front lawn, at the street, down below at the busy street perpendicular to the bottom of the court. Says something to his daughter. Wanders back toward their house, head down. She sneers one last time at the window downstairs. Follows him with obvious disappointment back to the identical house next door.

     Rip Torn, horrified in the haunted house, has just died of a heart attack. I’m still alive, heart pounding in ears, cold blood squirting through garbed body. I myself, when the cocky little voice inside finally disintegrates, am horrified (unfortunately not dead) to understand that I ALONE am the slut. The deviate, the pervert, the sex killer.

     Crawl back to the bedroom. Pick up the knife. Return, still crawling, the blade to the kitchen drawer.

     When Mom and Dad, about an hour later, pull up in the drive, come inside, turn on the TV downstairs, I’m on the bed in my room consumed with algebra. I’m the best math student in the whole class. I’m memorizing, for extra credit, each and every step of the derivation of the quadratic equation.

     Rip Torn’s corpse giggles every ten seconds or so. All else inside the mind dead quiet.

     For days, weeks, maybe a couple months, I live in fear Mr. Coca Cola will after all demand to talk to my parents, or the police. Or Miss Offended will confront me (she attends Catholic School, our paths rarely cross (she and her family move less than a year later to an undisclosed locale (we never talked to them, they never talked to any neighbors), another year after that and I leave home for college on the other end of the continental United States, where I settle down to live)). Every one of those days, weeks, months, now it’s been years, Rip giggles without warning, sometimes more than once a day. He’d like to remind me never again to dance naked before an unwilling, uninvited, utterly UNINTERESTED audience.

     But since he’s a corpse, all he can do is giggle. All I can do is hope and pray that, once I myself become a corpse, the giggling stops.            

Art by Steve Cartwright 2015


By Willie Smith



     Early one Saturday afternoon in the early sixties, when I am eleven and Kennedy is turning out to be a pretty good President after all, I sprawl on my bed reading a book about Mars. I am trying to form an opinion as to whether the canals are real or just hallucinations; first seen almost a hundred years ago by Schiaparelli, an uncle of the famous dress designer, whom I never heard of, but that’s what the book says.

     Some subsequent observers reported seeing canals, some didn’t; all admitted whatever they were, they lay at the extreme limit of even the world’s largest telescopes. At that, the canal network can be glimpsed only by trained professionals on nights of superb viewing.

     Dad, preceded by an invisible cloud of booze-breath, staggers into the room. Demands to know what I am doing.

     “Reading a book,” I say, not looking up.

      He slurs he can see that. Orders me to put the book down, come downstairs with him and have a look at what I did.

     Mom is gone for the weekend – up in Philly visiting Aunt Frances. Meaning Dad can drink more, earlier and less secretly than otherwise. This can be good, because, under such circumstances, he notices much less. This can be bad, because when he DOES notice something…

     I swing off the bed. Follow him out of the room, across the hall, through the door to the basement. He nearly falls twice, each time at the last moment catching himself with both hands on the bannister. He leads me over to the far end of his workbench, where I keep my chemistry set.

     “Look at that!”

     I kneel where he points. A mess of broken glass. Several large shards, two dozen smaller ones; maybe a few specks of glass powder. My eyes are still accustoming to the dim light in the spacious basement of the new construction Dad’s government functionary salary bought the mortgage on and moved the family into less than a year ago…

     “Look what you did – clean that up!”

     Mechanically I pick a large shard, then another, then a third off the cement floor. Pile them – not knowing where else to put them – in my left palm. On the fourth shard cut my finger, while thinking, “Why can’t I remember breaking this… must be the beaker… Dad calls it a beaker… it’s actually an Erlenmeyer flask… WAS an Erlenmeyer…”

     “You’ll never be a chemist – you’re too SLOPPY! Here…” He hands me an empty bag that still holds the shape of a bottle… “Put the glass in this…. You’ll NEVER be a chemist.”

     He’s right. I’m sloppy. Kind of on the lazy side, too. But did I break…?

     No, upstairs all day cruising delicious facts about the red planet. Nobody draws the canals exactly the same way twice, although Percival Lowell convinced himself of the location of a few that he showed more or less consistently on several of his done-at-the-eyepiece drawings.

     I dump the shards into the bag. I could still be a THEORETICAL chemist…

     Look around for something to scoop up the finer breakage. Up on the workbench spot a dustpan…

     “YOU didn’t do this!” He is chuckling. “You know who broke the beaker?”

     Oh. Of course. I drop the bag. Stand up, sticking my only-slightly-cut finger in my pocket – to get it out of sight. The fewer further topics of conversation the better.

     “I broke it!” He belches, rocks on his heels, staggers, nearly falls over backwards. “Now why don’t you… don’t you stick… stick your nose back in that book!”

     Hurry upstairs to my room. Crawl back onto the bed. Pick up the facedown hardback.

     I likely won’t be an astronomer, either. Just want to collect the facts. Marvel over their implications. Keep up with developments. Learn the names of all the stars.

     I remember the hand still cramped in the pocket of my jeans. Pull it out. Hold the finger up to my face.

     Bleeding stopped. Just a couple drops, really. I pat it dry on my T-shirt, gliding eyes back into the argument as to whether anybody has ever REALLY seen any canals crisscrossing the fourth rock from the sun. People so often so easily convince themselves of something that just isn’t there.




By Willie Smith


     I’m down in the basement playing imaginary baseball. Dick Donovan  coaxes Roy Sievers into grounding back to the mound. This should end the game.

     Donovan fields the yellow ball bounced off the cinderblock wall. Turns to throw to the first baseman stood beside the staircase.

     My knee fails to follow Donovan’s pivot. Since sliding into home last week, in a losing effort against Hybla Valley Drugs, it’s been swollen.

     The leg hangs limp. Cap floated over to one side.

     I drop the tennis ball, drop the glove. Stumble over to the stairs, right hand holding the cap so it won’t float anywhere else. Pull myself up the stairs, yelling for Mom to call the doctor, I think my leg or something broke.

     The doctor says to bring me in right away. Mom calls Dad. Twenty minutes later Dad speeds home from work, drives us to the clinic.

     The doctor shoves the cap more or less back into place. Explains, wrapping on a wet cast, the patella is a sesamoid. Meaning it is not attached to any other bone. Just held in place by ligaments. Water on the knee and sudden pressure in the wrong direction can cause the patella to dislocate – slide over onto one side of where the femur and the tibia join. Felt like my whole leg was coming apart at the seams, didn’t it?

     Wincing, unsure if the physical pain of the pop-back-into-place is easier than the anguish of imagining all this inner slipping around, I nod, mumble, “Seems like it’ll squirt right back out!”

     “Don’t worry, son,” he pats the finished cast. “This comes off in three weeks and you’ll be back in the lineup good as new. Meantime keep ice on the plaster; that’ll reduce the swelling and dull whatever pain – pain all in your mind anyway; the fluid prevented bruising; cap slipped back in slick as poop through a tin horn.” Doc Harrelson was a Navy surgeon in Korea and is known for his colorful language.

     I load myself into the backseat. My left foot, just as Dad slams the passenger-side door, finds the floorboards. Head cramped against armrest. Cast stretched out to opposite armrest. Tires whine as we spiral up from the underground lot at twice the recommended speed of 10 mph.

     Under his sunglasses, under his sweaty nose, Dad sits tightlipped concentrating on the wheel, on paying the one-buck parking fee, on darting into traffic at the first opening.

     The Buick is kicking itself into power-shift, merging us neatly, if somewhat precariously, into the pre-rushhour scramble, when I detect alcohol stink. He probably sneaked a nip from the glove on the way to pick us up, another while he lagged behind to lock up while Mom hurried me, as best I could hurry, on into the clinic.

     Under better circumstances this would signify a state of awareness making Dad a better driver. Just one nip shy, however, of brazening out of the trenches and into the direct fire of alcoholic lunacy.

     Sober, Dad is just another guy. One or two drinks, he is Everyman at Everyman’s best; above three, he warps into a fiend with the mind of a bug, the heart of a sociopath, the soul of an ice-cube pitched into a blast furnace.

     These are not better circumstances. Some other scent, that, like the liquor-breath, the now-lit Chesterfield strives but fails to mask. An ozone-whiff of anxiety. I know it is coming off the parents up front; but feel nonetheless responsible as backseat paranoid; the observer skewing the experiment in a direction his own anxiety is probably creating. I feel guilty, stupid, scared, bored; already beneath the cast the skin itches.    

     Spend the evening in bed worrying about the icepack sliding off and soaking the sheets. Mom worries about not putting enough cubes in the pack. I am further worrying about how can I get to sleep in a cold wet bed and how will I know if the cap pops out again, and if it does, does that mean the cap – jammed under the cast – will stick to one side and I’ll never be able to walk again?

     I’m worrying about what it means to my fantasy baseball that Donovan never throws the ball to first and so while everyone is worried about the position of Dick Donovan’s patella, does Roy Sievers simply circle the bases and now the Senator’s will need to go into extra innings tied at two-all?

     “SON OF A BITCH!”

     “Bill – keep your voice down!” Mom hisses in the dark.

     “I’ll keep my VOICE down when you LISTEN!”

     From the deep space of sleep, I am sucked into the airlock of hearing words I understand but not understanding where I am. The airlock opens and I glide motionlessly into on-my-back-in-bed. I blink at the pitch black ceiling I know is there but can’t see.


     Mom hisses something unintelligible.


     “You won’t even give your own son a ride when his leg is broken…”

     “THAT’S NOT IT!” A wall gets punched. My closed bedroom door jiggles in the frame. “JUST WATER ON THE KNEE! You keep taking me away from work for emergencies that don’t exist… you know I hate my boss… don’t have a high school diploma for a job that requires college and that sonofabitch is looking for any excuse… YOU WON’T GET A DIME! GODDAMNIT, NOT ONE DIME!”

     Mom mumbles a sentence containing OFFICE. That word designating the building where money is gathered, where total attention is required, where souls are burned like sparklers made of dried shit. Where a sort of high school from hell plays out forever and for keeps.

     “Of course I don’t drink at the office. Nobody drinks there. We have one to help us work and then there’s lunch and we often have a few to keep it… nobody is going to listen to your BULLSHIT about my… your imagining about my… NOT ONE DIME!”

     A chair gets kicked. He has apparently wandered out into the dining room. I picture Mom following, wringing her veiny hands, her five-foot, 98-pound frame already hunched at barely forty-five; she doesn’t have a high school diploma, either; or a job; or a drinking or a smoking habit; all she does is clean, cook, worry, worry about worrying and worry about not cleaning enough or cooking incorrectly.  

     “SON OF A BITCH!” Glass breaks. Maybe a drinking glass thrown across the room into the kitchen sink.

     Perfectly still I lie. Dad, and other adult males, call me “son.” Am I the Son of a Bitch? Is all this my fault? Is Dad going to bust in and kick my ass, dislocate my other knee, jump up and down on my balls? Is he leaving Mom because I am… I do… don’t do…?

     If I persist in not moving a muscle they will ignore me, forget about me, and if the thought of me in here in the dark does cross a parental mind, they will dismiss the boy as sound asleep, hardly worth an ass-kick, a patella dislocation, a scrotum smash.

     Stiller than still I lie. Maybe they found out about the jerking off. Baseball isn’t the only imaginary game I play.

     Couple months ago they screamed and hissed all night, Mom insisting I go to the doctor for a “problem” that sounded like maybe, from what intent listening in the dark could gather, was the fluid I was leaving behind in my underpants and on the sheets.

     “SON OF A BITCH!” Dad screamed that night, breaking something ceramic. “I work all day in a goddamn office and come home to this BULLSHIT?”

     That was a good twenty-five drunken nights ago. Not a mention of my “problem” since; but, although time heals all wounds, time never heals a single crime.

     “NOT ONE MORE DROP OF ALCOHOL IN THIS HOUSE!” Gee… Mom is yelling. This is unheard of…

     A shuddering CRASH! resounds from out in the living room. Silence follows. Good. Dad has collapsed. His drunker nights often end this way. Dick Donovan and I call it: Sudden Death Drunk-off.

     Rustling sounds of Mom removing linen from the hall closet, then covering the already-snoring remains of Dad likely in his usual Sudden Death slot between the cocktail table and the sofa. Sometimes before dawn he’ll manage to crawl up onto the sofa proper.

     Only when the springs in the master bedroom finally squeak, signifying Mom has also retired, do I breathe easy, permit myself the luxury of carefully turning over onto one side. 

     The dog emerges from her hiding place under the kitchen table. Click-click-click, her toenails enter the dining room, feeling in the night for her spot on the throw-rug in front of the china closet.

     Despite itches lighting campfires inside the cast, I soon join Mom, Dad and the dog in slumber.

     Three weeks later the cast comes off. I’m back in time to play the last two innings of our final game against Johnson’s Hardware (we lose three to two; but I don’t get to bat, so no blame there).

     Knee good as new. Mom and Dad hitched as ever. No further doctoring for me – the possible Son of a Bitch. Because, although it likely is all my fault, I’m not yet caught; because I continue as ever to lie in the dark perfectly still.

Art by Steve Cartwright 2017



By Willie Smith



     I crashed open the door. Hustled through the empty locker room. Banged into the head. Flushed a wall of urinals – skush! skush! – one after the other. Then turned and foot-flushed the crappers.

     I spun around. Stormed through the swing door into the smaller, inner locker room.

     Found my locker. Kicked it five times with my street shoes. Spat on it. Twirled the combination.

     Yanked it open. Grabbed jock, shorts, shirt, shoes. Threw them out on the bench. Changed up.

     “French America!” I huffed, tying laces. “God French America!”

     I punched shut the locker. Left the lock on the bench. Belted my way through the head, through the underclassmen locker room, out into the hall.

     Passed Coach’s office. Thought about spitting on his window. Thought better. Not because I loved Coach more, but because my mouth was parched.

     I was late for practice. Indoors today, because – although you’d never know it from the gym – a torrent raged outside.

     I jogged up the ramp to the classroom section of the south wing. Loped the linoleum till I came to the shop. Angled north past home ec. Gathered speed along restrooms, school store, janitorial supply, till I reached the cafeteria.

     Without breaking stride, I shoved open the bar-handled door.

     Bright lights, noise and stale air re-awoke my headache.

     I squinted. The door slammed. I jogged in place.

     Coach – arms folded – stood beside the serving line. On the opposite end, closer to me, ran the pack.

     Benzil, team captain, in front. John, Cliff, Tom – knotted behind. Alex, Phil, Greg, Marc – stretched back two or three tables. S.H. straggled – rounding the row over by the serving line.

     “Let’s go!” Coach yelled. “C’mon Alex, Phil – you can catch Cliff, Tom! Let’s go, John!”

     As he strode by, I joined Benzil.

     “This is our fifth lap,” he growled, hammering a step ahead of me. “Ten to go. C’mon, fall in, keep the pace.”

     My head pulsed. My ears whined. Breath seared my lungs. My eyes shut. Bodies elbowed past.

     I forced my eyes open. Focused on Marc’s butt. Marc had never beaten me. In disgust, I tried to step it up. Coughed. Straightened, hands on hips, pain in side.

     “Let’s go, Woodrow!” Coach hollered, spotting me, falling back fast. “Where you been, son? Gimme five extra laps, Woodrow!”

     My stomach puzzled gas. My pace dwindled further. Paralysis of the breadbasket. I fought collapse.

     S.H. wheezed at my back. If he passed – mere froth on the tsunami of disgrace. No… S.H. stood for Shit Head. He had a real name… No. Johnson would never pass. Cold mercury burbled in my stomach.

     “You doin’ OK, Woody?” Shit Head Johnson gasped at my side.

     “Got a hangover.”

     “You drink?”

     “First time,” I confessed. Unthinkingly. Couldn’t think. Guts syrup, chest styrofoam, legs rubber.

     We reached the end of a row, puffed around the edge of a table that seated eight. But now its chairs were like all the other chairs – upside down on their tables.

     Skimmed my fingers along the veneer, as we stumbled, changing direction, S.H. leading me by a toe.

     Johnson’s being the slowest on the team wasn’t half the problem. The crux of his being team butt was how he acted.

     He was a nerd. When you asked him how his day was going, he said, “Fine, yeah.” If somebody told a joke, Johnson didn’t get it. If it was recently out of style, Johnson wore it. If you turned around too fast, Johnson was in your face with a question.

     He didn’t talk too much, but he had a flair for interruption. He never knew what you were talking about. His favorite topic was how he worried you didn’t understand what he was saying.

     S.H. was the kind of guy, if he was a chicken, he would’ve been pecked to death seventeen years ago.

     “Excuse me,” he gasped. “Hope you don’t mind my asking… Hear tell you and Colleen are not… getting along?”

     “Broke up.”

     I fisted my way even with his frame, as our narrow-heeled shoes thudded fluorescent-lit linoleum, and rain exploded outside.

     “Why you got drunk?”

     “Maybe.” I hawked. Came up empty – save wooden scotch taste.

     “She dump ya?”

     S.H. had zero luck with girls. He and they were like putty versus a magnet. Nil reaction. Even his female teachers awarded C-minuses. Men instructors gave Johnson B-minus. He had no strong suit. He was mediocrely not stupid at everything. Track was his only sport. In three years he had never beaten anybody.

     I thought deliberately of lemon, grapefruit, green blackberry…

     “Know I got no business asking… wondered if what I heard is…”

     Saliva welled under my tongue. I spat on a table, grunted, pulled away from S.H. Fixed my eyes on Marc’s blue shorts. Pumped, pistoning ache into my gut. Eating throb for thrust.

     I was even with Cliff, when Coach yanked me out. I huffed, puffed, coughed, weaved in place. “Yeah, Coach?”

     He had seen me spit on that table. What was wrong with me? I arrived fifteen minutes late for practice. I was looking the most sorry-assed of the bunch. Now I had gone and drooled on school property!

     The pack was coming around again. Benzil was four tables ahead of the tangle of John, Cliff, Tom. Coach pulled him out. Benzil leaned over, touched his toes, breathing hard, but in control.

     “Yeah, Coach?”

     “Woodrow here thinks he’s a rich-boy. Don’t hafta work. Take him upstairs and run his ass ragged.”

     Benzil huffed: “Run the halls, third floor?”

     Coach patted him on the butt, muttered yep, gazing at the far corner of the cafeteria, yelling: “C’mon Cliff – you got Tom beat! C’mon Tom, let’s haul butt!”

     The third floor was usually janitor-free this early in the late afternoon. It had been a stormy spring. This was our fourth practice indoors. We thought we knew the maintenance schedule.

     But today we jogged up the cement stairs, banged open the bar-handled door – to find two hillbillies waxing linoleum with machines like squat garbage cans.

     “Keep to the inside,” Benzil muttered, jogging close to the lockers.

     He set a canter. I ran at his left hip. My stomach had tired of nagging, I was breathing OK, the legs weren’t giving it much thought.

     “You aren’t often late – how come?”

     “Oh… I dunno.”

     “You and that Colleen French still steadies?”

     We passed the janitors intent on their waxing. The machines keened, groaned, thrashed.

     “She dump ya?”

     I saw he was smiling. Tight mouth in a taut face. Benzil was half Indian. His dad had been a Philadelphia Italian in the Air Force, lost over Korea.

     When I failed to answer either question, he huffed, he didn’t see why Coach made us run indoors on account of a little water. Running in the rain would make us run better in the sun. We’d sweat. Rain slake it off. Harden our muscles. Secret of good track.

     Then Coach made us circle the cafeteria, switched on the lights. Didn’t want us to hit tables. Coach had no guts – c’mon, would I race him around the rectangle… maybe two hundred yards of hall?

     We lengthened stride, neither committed to a race. But mutually picking up the pace every fourth or fifth step.

     Last night burst in my mind like a firework.

     Colleen met the new boyfriend in a coffee shop in McLean. He’s nineteen. Going to college somewhere, she won’t say. I drove her home from debate.

     We are parked in her driveway. She is saying it’s over. No need to pick her up again after class.

     I want to puke – nauseated by rejection. I rev the engine. Ask her to get out, ask what for me is next?

     “I dunno,” she shuts the door. “I’m not sorry we met, it’s just…”

     “Yeh.” I drove off.

     Can’t even find this guy, much less slug him. No name, no address. She has fallen in love with the unknown. This is my first dumping.

     I bought a fifth of scotch, faking my age on sheer depression. Parked on the Potomac south of Mount Vernon. Consumed most of fifth in less than half hour. Drove away randomly.

     Crossed a bridge. Wondered why not dive into the river. Made it somehow home.

     Mom holding my face in her chilly hands: where had I been? what had I had?

     Mumbled about a hamburger. Off to bed.

     Math class flashed past. Caught a glimpse of an inequality still on the blackboard. I had been doing well in math. Till meeting Colleen four months back – trading academic interest for a feel, a taste, a tease.

     Benzil said, “Guess you got your finger in. She let you do that?”

     “Nah…” we slipped around a corner where I knew his mechanical drawing class met… “yeah.”

     “Smell bad?”

     I suddenly smelled my own sweat. Acrid, sweet. Like a rotted flower. Was I OK? I kept mum, double-timed to match his pace.

     “You know…” he responded to my doggedness by striding faster… “my dad, before he died, told Larry, my older brother, he should – out on a date – keep his pecker…” he really turned it on… “in his pants.”

     Common knowledge Benzil never got any. He was brown, short, stringy, wide-nosed. I was a medium, unremarkable Anglo – once got good grades.

     I sprinted after his butt.

     I never got any either. Colleen, a year ahead, the first. She seduced me. Her tongue parted my lips, her hand found the zipper; although I remained technically virgin.

     Caught Benzil and we tore together around a corner, nearly bowling over Stobbs – the head janitor.

     “You boys can’t run up here today!” he screamed, but we were full tilt gone around the next corner before we heard a thing.

     Besides, we weren’t listening. We weren’t talking. We were breathing, our hearts beating, arms pumping, torsos slogging, legs flying, feet airborne. We were running.

     Side by side we whizzed past 305 – Spanish class.

     “Let’s go another lap,” he gritted.

     “Make it two.”

     “OK.” He wasted energy, shooting me a half-grin. “Sure you’re up for it?”

     In answer – I moved a pace ahead. He responded immediately. We flew neck and neck around the math class corner. Sideswiped a floor waxer.

     One of the newer janitors yelped. The other one kept pushing the waxer, hovering bristles over linoleum.

     I was leading by a ball hair when we rounded the mechanical drawing corner and smashed into Stobbs. Couldn’t be helped. We clobbered him. Knocked him on his can, trampled his shins and shoulders. Inadvertently dislodged his dentures.

     We stopped. We had to.

     Blood flooded our stalled limbs. We panted like women giving birth. We turned around, hands on hips, gasping, pained.

     “You fuckers tried to kill me!” he was screaming.

     I fell to my knees. Gagged. Vomited bile, snot, trachea grease. I had nothing else to give. Hadn’t eaten since the scotch.

     Guess I passed out. Never quite collapsed. Events blur. Stobbs screaming. Benzil huffing he thought it was OK, we could run up here…

     Things get fresher in the gang shower. Warm water hydroplaning tiles. Steam, soaked chaos, jets of hot – as if hell had gone to heaven.

     I was OK. My head didn’t throb. I was no more nauseated than usual. Remembered, a little, refusing to let Benzil help me down the stairs. I felt tired, hungry, but safe.

     Cliff materialized out of the steam. “Coach wants ya,” he said. “In his office. Soon as you dress.”


     Once again in street clothes, I stood before Coach’s desk. He held a large chaw of Beechnut in his left cheek. His sweats drooped over his blubber. He wore his navy fatigue cap. He leaned back in his swivel chair. Crossed his short, thick legs. Placed his dirty Converse in the middle of the cluttered desk. Pulled up his sweatshirt, scratched hairy flab. Said, “Woodrow, I owe you an apology.”

     When I showed incomprehension, Coach cleared his throat, tongued his chaw, spat into the waste can next to his swivel chair. He explained he didn’t know I had been sick all day, absent from school with an illness. Didn’t realize I had stayed home, rested up, all so I could make practice that afternoon. Sorry he chewed me out for being late.

     I nodded. I was exhausted. I felt the birth of another headache.

     “Say, Woody,” he spat carefully into the can. “Word is you barfed up there. That right – you toss your biscuits?”

     I nodded. Sure. Yeah. I had done that.

     Coach chuckled, rolled his chaw to the opposite cheek. “Yeah, that Stobbs is awful pissed off somebody puked his precious fresh wax. Guess he’s gonna take it to Administration.”

     I muttered, noticing tobacco saliva at the corner of his mouth, “Sorry.”

     He grinned, spat without looking, hit the can. “I could give a chicken crap about that scrawny asshole’s wax. Tell him next time I ordered you run up there. This here team’s got priorities – ain’t that right?”

     “Sure.” I wondered if he knew the meaning of the word. If I knew the meaning.

     “So you th’ew up.” He grinned, winking chaw. “I like that. Proves you with the program. I gotta admire fella gives his all. To me, Woodrow, if a man don’t chuck after a race, he didn’t run that race. You hear me, son? It’s not for nothin’ they call it guts. It’s born inside.”

     Now that he mentioned it, my stomach churned.

     A moment passed. I stood in limbo – like a bad dream remembered inside a nightmare. My fingers trembled. Cold sweat bathed my chest. I forgot English. I forgot where. I forgot what. I stood rooted to the floor.

     Coach frowned. Swung down his feet. Hunched forward in the chair. “What was your sickness, Woodrow?”

     My eyes found the battleship gray. “I, uh, ate a bad burger. Out driving around went to Acey last night. Must’ve, I dunno…”

     “Bad hamburger, huh?” His face wrinkled, he appeared to swallow a squirt. “You still chasin’ that split tail?”

     I raised my eyes from the linoleum. Said, no, that was gossip. She and I were through.

     He grinned, stood. “That a fact? Yeah, there’ll be others. Never get split tail outta yer life totally. I’m sorry you had to bump into Stobbs like that. He’s nasty when he gets a burr up his butt. Don’t pay his bullshit no mind. Go home, meat and potatoes, get to bed early. Food poisonin’ ain’t no picnic. Believe me, had it enough myself in the Service.”

     Colleen French’s panties engulfed my mind. I had never seen them. Only felt parting elastic and rayon under skirt. My first, my very first.

     Yes, there was scent that lingered. Drove me to gnaw my finger. God knows I licked ample electric odor off knuckles. Whispering her name, closing eyes, sampling the remnant on my own flesh.

     Now gone. Now nothing.

     He came around from behind the desk. Clapped my butt. Told me go go home forget that split tail. Don’t let Stobbs bother me neither. He wanted me in shape for the County relays coming up at the end of March.


     But Stobbs got his way. Three days later, Administration prohibited indoor practice. It had been brought to their attention the interior of the building was not insured against accidents caused by running.

     The rest of that spring, when it hurricaned, practice was called. If we really wanted, we could run a few laps in the weather. Everybody went home.

     Except Benzil. The second time practice got rained out, I joined him on a five mile slosh over the cinders.

     When I jogged out to him on the track, he yelled through the downpour, “Gonna keep up with me this time?”


     “Gonna warm up?”

     “I’m warm, I jogged out from the locker room.”

     “OK – twenty laps… let’s go!”

     We clammed up for about two minutes. Down the first straightaway of the second lap, Benzil finally cut the riot of the rain with, “You won’t find Coach’s lard ass out here!”

     I was hurting from fresh blisters. My spikes were new. The rain was shrinking them up weird. I didn’t feel like talking. Going into the bend to begin the fifth lap, I said, “Nice day, think it’ll rain?”

     Toward the end of the thirty-minute five miles of striding, he gasped, “I’m gonna fart!”

     He did. The rain ate whatever stench. As if I could smell or take time to smell – catching a cold, concentrating on keeping up with Benzil.

     Turned out he was dead wrong about running in the rain improving your ability to run in the sun. I just got more colds, uglier blisters and strange muscle spasms.

     But I kept running with him on rainouts. The opportunity for pain attracted me. I still possessed a male hymen, though it hung by a thread. Didn’t seem likely, with Colleen out of my life, I’d lose it soon. But by tugging, scratching and digging in other directions, I hoped magically to rip it free. 

Art by K.J. Hannah Greenburg 2018



by Willie Smith



     In the last weeks of the summer of 1930, when my father was fifteen and just starting the 10th Grade, his father made him drop out of school to sell apples on the streets of Philadelphia. Grandpa was an unemployed printer, working casually as a chauffeur. Grandpa was also an alcoholic and a ladies’ man. He liked to play the mandolin, sang well, moved easily in his lean body and was not unhandsome.

     Since my father was a good student who came from a poor family, the City of Philadelphia offered him a stipend to stay in school: enough to buy books, lunches, pencils, paper.

     Grandpa forced my father to turn down the stipend. “You are the eldest,” he said to my stunned father. “You are almost a man and must now in these hard times help support the family.”

     I saw my paternal grandfather once. At my paternal grandmother’s funeral. July of 1960. I was ten. Who is this tall ancient with my face? I wondered, as he strolled over smiling to shake my hand, not having seen me since I was a baby. I gladhanded him back, our smiles competing in broadness. Then my father stepped in. Bent down, told me to go play with my cousins out in the atrium.

     The next closest encounter I had with Grandpa was one muggy Saturday afternoon in 1964 when the phone rang. Dad picked up. Said a few words. Slammed down the receiver. Stomped into the basement to emerge thirty minutes later drunk on the quart of vodka that lived in the toolbox under his workbench.   

     A memorable – commenced a few hours earlier than usual – Saturday drunken rampage ensued. The bathroom door got broken. The dog kicked. The rec room light fixture destroyed. A hole punched in the diningroom wall. The air filled with thunderous obscenities and spouted threats to the tune of “I’m leaving you all!” “None of you will ever get a dime!” “I’ll kill that goddamn dog if she gets in my way again!” Until he collapsed naked at the foot of the livingroom couch a few hours after midnight.

     Next morning, with Dad in the bedroom snoring it off, Mom took me aside to explain that Grandpa had called from a rented room in downtown Philly. He had said hi, then announced he was putting on his bride, and for Dad to say hi to his new mom. Mom (my mom) liked to provide reasons – other than alcohol – for Dad’s rages. Often they were vague: “Your father had a headache last night;” or, “Your father was awake last night worrying about work.” She seemed confident and even oddly pleased to be able to offer such a specific excuse for that Saturday’s rather extraordinary display of mayhem, cursing, insanity and wanton cruelty to animals, children and spouse.    

     I don’t know much about my family. Hardly anything, in fact. But I seem to come from a long line of failed fathers. At the age of five I swore to myself I would never have a child. The failure stops here; precisely where the abyss begins.

     The last I heard of Grandpa was three years later, in mid-1967, when Dad took me aside early one Sunday afternoon, when he was still Dr. Jekyll sober, and said, “I guess you heard your paternal grandfather died last week.” No, I hadn’t; but I’d learned early in life always to present a pokerface and never to admit to anything when dealing with those two thinly-disguised maniacs called Mom and Dad. “Just wanted to let you know it’s true, he’s dead. Died without a cent. Buried at the expense of the City. He died of cirrhosis. I guess you know what that means.”

     I was seventeen. I knew what cirrhosis meant. I made a silent wish Dad himself would immediately drop dead from cirrhosis of the anus. When my blank face said nothing, Dad frowned, muttered, “I was too busy at the office to fly up to Philly for the funeral.”

     He turned on his heels. Creeped downstairs into the basement. Ostensibly to tinker with a bookshelf he had hopes of someday building, using drawings from a POPULAR MECHANICS. But, of course actually to suck on the bottle; although that day not nearly so hard and fast as during the say-hi-to-your-new-mom phone call aftermath. Meaning he didn’t come up swearing and screaming till nearly nine that night, and gave it up for sleep a mere three or four hours later. No holes punched, nothing broken; the dog and Mom threatened, but no contact worthy of report.

     Not till I was fifty, in the year 2000, six years after the death of my father, did Mom reveal to me that the identity of her mother was unknown, both to herself and to the rest of the surviving world. The shriveled old thing in a nursing home I foggily recall meeting once at the age of three, was Mom’s stepmother. Shortly thereafter that old thing died, and I have no memory of the funeral. Did we go?

     The stepmother was a polio victim, bedridden most of her life. Soon after she married my maternal grandfather, he announced it was time to make a baby. The stepmother informed Gramps (Mom taught me to call her father “Gramps,” to distinguish him from Dad’s father “Grandpa”) she was too disabled to bear a child. Gramps, of Pennsylvania Dutch stock, who had ended his formal education in the 4th Grade, when he ran away from the farm to seek his fortune down in Philly in the early 1890s, quietly went out and got somebody else pregnant.

     Toward the end of November,1915, one of Gramps’ female cousins knocked on the door. Stepgramma answered, and into Stepgramma’s arms baby-Mom the cousin thrust, saying, as she beat the retreat, “This belongs to Fred.”

     Well, it seems Fred (Gramps’ real name) and Stepgramma then quickly got down to the business of making my half-aunt, born about a year later. They told Mom she, Mom, was an orphan. Mom had no problem accepting the bitter, demanding cripple as her stepmother; but she waited even at Gramps’ deathbed for him to confess that he was her biological father, she always having been Fred’s little girl: helping him work on his car, toil in his greenhouse, dropping out of middle school to slave as a retail clerk to help Fred carry the family through the Depression.

     But Fred (Gramps) never confessed. It was cleaner that way. Better an orphan than a whore-child; better the adopter of an orphan than the supporter of a bastard. Germans are funny folk, even when they grow up in Pennsylvania. That same perverse blood runs in my unprocreating veins and I grew up in Virginia, where Germans are no less sparkling clean and riddled with silent prevarication. See if you can figure out what is not true here; after a lifetime of pokerfacing, bluffing and double-bluffing, I’m not sure I can be of much help.    

     I was fond of my paternal grandmother. In the late fifties she took the bus down to live with us for a few weeks each summer. She rented a room in a sooty Philly neighborhood. We never went there. Sometimes Grandpa lived with her, sometimes not. Grandpa was never really relevant to any conversation whatsoever.

     Nanna Shelton (Dad’s mom, married to Dad’s father, that alcoholic skirtchaser “Grandpa”) was short and stocky with a pug nose, small twinkling gray eyes and a face round and wrinkled as the moon. A sparse mop of gray hair clung to her scalp. She laughed a lot, smiled most of the time. Mom told me that was how come the wrinkles; Mom was twenty years younger, frowned all the time, and also sported wrinkles; but I of course never pointed this out. When Dad was drunk, driving us somewhere and repeatedly swerving off the road – I wouldn’t point that out either.    

     Before I turned two, my maternal grandfather “Gramps” died. I don’t remember the funeral, or, for that matter, anything firsthand about Gramps. Just pieced together what here and there I was told or managed to overhear. He stood under five feet tall. Weighed 200 pounds, most of it muscle. He worked in a congoleum factory and it was his brag, up to a few months before his death from colon cancer, that no one could shove him out of position once he took up a stance, stubby feet spread, hawserlike arms crossed over his broad, stubborn Pennsylvania Dutch chest.

     At the funeral in late 1951, when Mom’s step-sister came forward to claim all of the inheritance, one of Gramps’ brothers stepped up to verify that Gramps was indeed the father of my mother, therefore the inheritance should be split between the two surviving children of his blood. Not that there was all that much to divvy up. The step-sister’s comment, confronted with this revelation: “And I thought my father was a DECENT man!”

     So, I come from a long line of bastards, philanderers, drunkards, liars and loafers. I have no idea who was my maternal grandmother; but it seems reasonable she was a prostitute. Why not? Surrogate mothers were not professionally available in 1915; not likely in Philadelphia, at least. But could not one pay a whore to bear a child?

     A pretty sum would doubtless be required; but Gramps Rotblut (Rotblut Mom’s maiden name) was the best off of all of my impoverished forebears. He didn’t drink; or, rather, he religiously drank exactly one beer at the end of each day (a German without a beer is like a wheel without a hub). He put in eighteen-hour days, working after the factory whistle in his self-built greenhouse, where he grew plants he sold to the neighbors and at local markets.  

     Is it too great a leap of faith to add to my list of titles and attributes that of Grandson of a Whore?

     The slut skipped a generation in my mother. Mom hated sex. Her greatest fear was that her youngest born, her precious son, this asshole right here, would one day discover lust. She wanted me to grow up to marry an obedient sex-loathing handmaiden who would bear her grandchildren. But she feared I might discover sex too early; or – television and magazines forbid – come to LIKE sex.

     Being the grandson of a whore on one side, and on the other the grandson of a womanizer, sex for me was ever a downhill battle. I recall having my first orgasm when not yet four years old. While shinnying up a silver maple sapling in our front yard. I wasn’t trying to do anything in particular, just reach the top of the tree. Then, as I humped up the trunk – swaying in an April zephyr – panties bloomed behind my eyes, girl tongues invaded my ears. I didn’t need a parent to abuse me sexually. I achieved the miracle all by myself.

     Less than two years later, already a practicing and accomplished masturbationist, I discovered voyeurism. I became expert at talking the neighborhood girls into hanging upside down from swingsets and dangling over benches and picnic tables the better to study their panties. They thought they were just accepting a silly dare; not a one of these four- and five-year-old victims ever suspected they were fueling a furnace of illicit nighttime lust, when I lay awake in bed exploring new ways to apply pressure to my groin so as to electrify the spine with sufficient amperage to make my mind roar into an ecstasy of filth.

      Here’s my keenest memory of Nanna Shelton, the only grandparent I ever got to know as a live human being: It was the summer of 1959, the year before she died in her sleep of a heart attack, in a rented room up in Philly. She was staying in my sister’s bedroom. I peeked in to make sure she was awake, because it was always fun to have Nanna and her laughter and her offcolor jokes at the breakfast table.

     She stood with her back to me, wearing only wrinkled pink satin panties. Like an oversized flabby fireplug with a faded flag draped around its middle. Still, they were panties – HUGE panties. And, although she was the oldest living specimen I knew, also the widest and the fattest, she was nonetheless a female.

     I stood staring, till she started to turn to grab her dress where she had it laid out on the bed, and I vanished back into the hall, drawing the door silently to, taking along another clip to file away for later use, although I was not sure at the time and am to this day not exactly sure, how to ignite this granny fuel. Many more volatile images were to come: PLAYBOY, PENTHOUSE, HUSTLER, internet porn. But that gray oldlady bowl-cut head, thick short neck, broad shoulders, stout back, short legs, wrinkled panties… they never vanish, never tarnish, never seem to evoke anything, turn me on only to the vision itself.

      The only thing my father ever told me that his father told him, my intellectual inheritance, as it were: Never carry a lazy man’s load. Meaning never carry more than you comfortably can: you’ll make more trips to move the load, but you will feel better at the end of the day and the load will have been more efficiently moved.

     I took this to heart. I have traveled light: No family, never procreated, rarely, after leaving home at the age of eighteen, saw my parents or any of my ghostly, tightlipped relatives again.

     In never carrying a lazy man’s load, I have become a most industrious ghost: someone dead most of his life, desperately striving to report back with the utmost clarity. Can I help it if my dispatches so often resemble lies, contradiction, untruth? Well, if I COULD help it, still I would not. Because I will always be that little boy masturbating in the dark, titillating to orgasm in mandatory silence, while Dad rages drunk through the house and the boy knows that the least rustle could draw Dad to throw open the door, flood the small bed with light and…

     All my life the sudden wide effulgence has been my greatest fear, my fondest passion. 

Art by Sean O'Keefe 2019


by Willie Smith


     I have this friend Spiral Face. He and I walk in the woods together. We also whisper conversations inside closets. Spiral Face is a wererat. Every new moon he grows scaly hair and a slinky tail shoots out of his butt. I don’t see any more of Spiral Face for the next three days. He’s too busy, during those days, eating the dead.

     He comes home when the moon barely makes a smile-face. On such occasions I at once make him brush his teeth, floss brutally and drink a cup of Listerine. I don’t want to kiss goodnight any pieces of dead people. Plus, before all the tooth-scrubbing and mouthwash-wolfing, the wererat’s breath is puke-poop soup. 

     One smile-face night he wanders back with a nylon. Where the devil did he get one of Mom’s stockings? Nylon is a miracle fabric. The wererat is a sort of miracle. Maybe opposite miracles attract?

     Stuff my head inside the stocking. Tight stretch. Rip a seam. Sit still. Wait for a miracle. Well… maybe too early in the day. 

     I aim to get the wererat to fetch another stocking – even if he hasta chew the garment off a corpse. That’s cowboy talk: aim. They’re always aiming to kill somebody at high noon. A cowboy’s tongue never strays from his gun. They kiss their guns goodnight, after first cleaning the barrels with long spindly cowboy tongues.

     I need that second nylon so I can dress up believably. Whoever heard of a chorus girl with just one stocking? That’s what I wanna be for Halloween: a chorus girl. On television, chorus girls kick their legs high. They boast full moon smiles above highly intriguing rears. I’ll hafta play like my rear swollen. But with the nylon I was halfway there. 

     Starts with a red dot – like an angry boil – on the tip of his nose. Curves out over his left eye, down over his right cheek, across his upper lip, up his left cheek. Coils around twice more before sinking into his chin. Spiral Face useta look normal. But he fell in love with an electric range. Jammed his face on a burner, smooching the glowing orange element. They had to pull him off.

     No girl would ever marry Spiral Face, because he was born without pain. He often smashes his fingers in doorframes. Never notices, unless one finally falls off. Who wants a husband too stupid to feel pain? Girls demand boys FEEL.

     The wererat curse arrived the day they buried Granny. He was feeling sorry for himself for being painless and having a face so hard to look at, and while Granny inside her gray, silver-banded casket was being lowered on those brown belts, he and I both swore we spotted a rat peeking out of the mud on one side of the grave. The rat was smiling, rubbing pink paws together, happy about his fridge getting stocked with a brand new dead person. Granny touched the bottom, the electric motor died and after the first few shovelfuls bumped down, a cloud burst.

     Everybody dispersed to the parking lot. But Spiral Face failed to feel the rain. He anyway too busy feeling sorry for himself; which wasn’t proper, since he should have been feeling sorry for Granny; when lightning forked his skull. Zapped from his toes straight down into the brain of that salivating rat. Ever since, every new moon, SF grows a tail, gets hairy, goes down on all fours and pigs out for three days at the boneyard.

     Most of the above agrees with science. The lightning boiled Spiral Face’s blood, causing his genes to harmonize with the rat, whose blood likewise electrically bubbled. The new moon causes the tides in SF’s veins to recreate the electric rat-human. His body utterly apes that state. Naturally he goes off looking for dinner.

     But how he worms inside the earth, not to mention inside the caskets, remains a mystery. My job, as a budding scientist: Find the bottom of all this. The head scientist gives me a secret identity. I go under the covers that night and become Spiral Face’s buddy. We trade secrets. I show him how I can make my crotch do that thing. He’s amazed. Promises to take me along next wererat switch.

     He explains, as SF, he has no idea what the wererat does. Although he doesn’t either like how, when he wakes up from one of those three-day picnics, his breath stinks.

     Next new moon, following the suspect’s instructions, I grab SF’s weenie. Cool, metallic; like a teeny slinky. I toy with the slinky, while the change finishes happening. Then I mount piggyback and the wererat sneaks out of the bedroom into the hallway down to Mom and Dad’s bedroom.

     Dad is at work – some place you need a car for. Mom is two doors down the hall on her knees scrubbing the bathroom tiles.

     The wererat’s naked paws move quieter than a killed TV. We enter the gloomy room. Tip-paw past the king-size smelling cigarettes, soap, breath mints, other parent odors. Head for, beside the shadowy dresser, the master bedroom closet.

     Once inside the closet, the wererat reveals a secret trapdoor. We climb down in the dark. Spiral, footsteps echoing, a staircase from here to the moon. Wind up in a casket for a little girl about my size.

     The wererat explains, last new moon, he ate the entire girl. But he didn’t touch her duds. He’s allergic to clothing. So I’m the one hasta lie facedown in the dead girl’s panties. The wererat squats on my back. First makes me strip and spiral my clothes up the stairs toward the inside of the trapdoor. So he won’t start sneezing.

     I scrabble around for underwear. Sort through panties, slips, other slinky inexplicables. Brush against something – sifting blindly – suspicious. Pull material up to my nose. Feel stuff stretch. Smells smooth, girly. Rainbow-in-the-gutter mysterious. Hysterically dirty.

     I start to giggle. Funny being in a casket, cramped in the dark, feeling up a thin high sock. To give myself something to laugh about, once I untangle the whole stocking out of the panties and such, knot the nylon around my neck. Maybe for Halloween go as a HANGED chorus girl… 

     Mom’s footsteps. Out in the bedroom. Muffled, but undeniably her house slippers trudging over floorboards. Clap a hand over the wererat’s snout. To keep him from giggling. Stupidly, he keeps right on giggling, no matter how tight I pull the nylon. My head feels hot, red, tight. I start spluttering, choking. Lungs sting like matches struck inside.

     Mom throws open the trapdoor. I catch a glimpse of her worried face framed upside-down. Then I hear Mom thud back against the inside of the closet door, yelping,

     “What are you doing in my hamper?”

     I consider babbling – just rummaging around for a Halloween costume. Or blurt the truth – the wererat forced me to climb in here. Had to tie the nylon around my neck to save me from his claws. But am too shocked to activate either plan.

     Mom reappears, framed again in the trapdoor. “You scared me – c’mon, get up out of there!”

    Mom’s gnarled, Pinesol-scented hands grab me out of the casket. Trembling, set me on the floor outside the closet. Morning cloud-glare stabs through the blinds Mom has opened. By then, working fast, I have untied the nylon from around my neck. Hand the miracle back up to Mom,

     “I think this belongs in there.”

     Keep the voice small, so as not to blow my cover, covering the wererat’s escape through the bottom of the casket into the underside of the graveyard.

     “It’s DIRTY in there!” Mom glares down at my wide-eyed, upturned face.

     “Took my clothes off,” I hear myself mumble, “to add to the dirties. Guess I fell in – don’t remember too good.”

     It’s better to say “well.” But in this fix I’d best play dumb. Dad’s the one angers when I talk wrong. Mom hardly notices. She doesn’t read books, doesn’t even shuffle papers in an office. Still, saying good instead of well makes me sound more innocent.

     “Go to your room – jump into clean clothes. I’m doing laundry this afternoon anyway. I know you’re only trying to help, honey. Next time wait till I ASK for your clothes. And stay away from anything DIRTY. Now hurry up, get a wiggle on – I can see your bare moon!”

     Hits, at last, I don’t have anything ON. Trot, hands covering crotch, to my room. Throw on underpants, T-shirt, shorts. Whew – how painful, being naked!

     I’m still ignorant how the wererat slips under the graves. Although now, at least, I know where to find a costume. If worth the danger of one more time getting popped. I’ll discuss the risk, when he reappears, with Spiral Face.

     Bearing in mind SF’s advice suspect, sometimes spiraling into filth. Must be all the dirt, pus, rot – from chewing the dead. Swells his brain like an about-to-pop pimple. No wonder corpses are scary.

     Still you hafta wonder, maybe if you TASTED one. Take a bite out of the crotch. Nobody ever know, buried way down there, no way to see, not even a moon.  

Willie Smith is deeply ashamed of being human. His work celebrates this horror. 

In Association with Fossil Publications