What Willum Did
by Sandi LeFaucheur
Pussycat Willum is old—far too old for
this. He should be retired by now, and should spend his days lying
gracefully on Mariette’s bed. After all, Muff the Bunny nestles snugly
amongst the silk pillows, and she looks nearly as scruffy as he does.
Not to mention, she’s a full five years younger than Willum.
Willum bumps along the upstairs hallway
behind Jessie, his latest little girl. He’s had three children over
the past half century, all girls. First, Mariette. He’d been a fine
pussycat when Mariette had been a baby. His velvet ears had been a
delicate rose pink and he’d had proper eyes, which had been replaced
with old coat buttons after his original eyes had fallen off following
a visit to the twin-tub washer and spin dryer. The buttons had once
been orange, but had faded and worn to the colour of peach yoghurt.
And now one of his coat-button eyes hangs by a thread, giving Willum
the advantage of being able to see in two directions at once.
Thumping against the balustrade, Willum
casts his dangly eye down to the sitting room where his second little
girl—Mariette’s daughter, Hannah—plays the piano. By the time Hannah
had belonged to him, the squeaker in his chest had squeaked its last,
and his once-snowy fur had been caressed and kissed away from his sawdust-filled
head. And then Hannah had grown up and given him Jessie.
Jessie cries more than Hannah or Mariette
had. When Mariette had cried, she’d given great, gulping sobs, and
Hannah had wailed like a police siren starting up. Jessie never makes
a sound when she cries; in fact, Jessie has made no sound at all since
That Night. But a day doesn’t pass without her salty tears soaking
into Willum’s threadbare face as she rocks back and forth, back and
forth, sucking on his tatty ears or fraying nose. She isn’t crying
now, but Willum knows that tears aren’t far away.
A door slams downstairs. Hannah’s hands
quieten on the piano keys. In the chrome and leather prison of her
wheelchair, Mariette swishes softly across her room and out to the landing.
Tears well up in Jessie’s eyes as she clutches Willum tightly to her
chest and shoves his ear in her mouth.
“Where’s my dinner?” The voice is cool
“I’m sorry; I wasn’t expecting you so
early.” Hannah had never sounded taut, nervous, when she’d been a child.
She’d always laughed. She never laughs now.
Mariette’s bloodless fingers grip the
arms of the wheelchair, the heavy fog of hatred shrouding her long-ago
The sounds of evening drift up the stairs.
The tinkle of ice in the lead crystal tumbler. The faint scrape of
metal on glass as the whisky bottle is opened. One glug—two glugs—three—of
whisky splashing against the ice cubes. A pause. More whisky in the
glass. And again.
“I’d like my dinner now.” Daddy’s voice—controlled
as always—is cold, hard steel.
Jessie’s pudgy fingers dig into Willum’s
body as her silent tears rain down on his head, her heart thud-thudding
against Willum’s back.
“Now, I said!”
The whisky glass shatters against the
Hannah strikes the keys with an uncharacteristically
cacophonous chord. She yelps with pain as Daddy crashes the piano lid
on her fingers and drags her to her feet. The ebony bench topples behind
her, its stash of sheet music skidding across the polished floor.
“Is it too much to ask to have my dinner
ready when I get home from the hospital? Is it?” Daddy’s words begin
to slur. “I save lives all day long and what life do I have? I come
home to a frigid wife, a crippled mother-in-law and that—that demented
“What life do you have? You? Spare a
thought for your frigid wife, your crippled mother-in-law and your demented
child. We are what you have made us. You, the good miracle-working
doctor, destroyed us.”
Mariette’s head jerks up. Hannah has
never spoken back to Daddy before. She reaches out one skeletal hand
and gently strokes Jessie’s curls.
Hannah’s voice continues, loud and shrill.
“How would it be if I told all your precious patients that their saintly
doctor had been driving when he could hardly stand up for the whisky
inside him, and when he crashed his car, he left his wife and his daughter
and his mother-in-law to die, while he ran off? How would it be if
they found out that before you left, you dragged me into the driver’s
seat so it would look like I had been driving? How would it be if they
knew that after you perform so-called miracles on people all day long,
you come home and make our lives a living hell with your drink and your
fists, and that their fine doctor is no better than the drunken sot
his father was?”
Her limp left leg lagging behind her,
Hannah drags herself around the grand piano away from Daddy. With the
roar of a caged beast, he lunges at her.
Pulling herself up on the balustrade,
Mariette levers herself out of her wheelchair. She tugs Willum from
Jessie’s grasp and hurls him with all her might at Daddy. His feet
tangling in the upturned legs of the bench, he lurches backwards and
crashes to the ground, his head ringing a perfect, melodious E as it
strikes the heavy brass coalscuttle. Willum plops beside him, his loose
eye flying off and tinkling to the hearth.
A sticky, crimson pool spreads out from
Daddy’s ear and soaks into Willum’s tear-stained head. With his one
eye, Willum sees Mariette and Jessie glide down the staircase on Mariette’s
wheelchair lift. Hannah bends down and picks Willum up.
“Never mind,” says Mariette. “Ice water
will get that blood stain out.”
“Willum’s eye.” Jessie holds up the peach
yoghurt button. “Willum’s eye.”
Hannah smiles. “Yes, Jessie; Willum’s
eye. I think he deserves some brand new eyes, don’t you? For look
what Willum’s done.”