THE CURSE OF A NE’ER-DO-WELL by Peter Nolan Smith

Back in 1974 I was going out with a blonde high school student from Brookline. Hilde’s father was separated from her mother. Ann was a loving mother of six troubled by demons, but capable of living a normal existence most of the time.

Her new husband believed in New Age cures, but one winter night Ann got hold of a bottle of vodka. The drink reincarnated her devils and she ran out of the house naked into blizzard, shouting, “I’m the queen of the snowflakes.”

Spindrifts of snow howled down the street, as the temperature was neared zero.

“Get her,” Hilde pleaded with urgency.

“I will.”

“I’ll come along, said my best friend AK was dating Hilde’s sister and the two of us hunted for Ann

We found her hugging a tree in the neighbor’s backyard.

“Ann, you have to come back to the house.” I took off my jacket and covered her shivering nakedness.

“Leave me alone.”

“You’ll die out here. Come with me.”

“You dare tell me what to do?” Her mad eyes grasped my face.

“I’m not telling you what to do, but Hilde is worried about you.”

“My daughter is sixteen and you’re twenty-two.”


“Sorry for what? You’re just a taxi driver,” Ann spoke with the voices of MacBeth’s three witches and added, “You are the ne’er-do well. You’ll never amount anything.”

“Probably not.”

“Ne’er-do-well.” She repeated the phrase all the way to her house. Each time with weakening force, but the words bit into me like snake fangs. By the time we entered the house Ann was silent. She said nothing to anyone and her husband brought her upstairs to warm her in a hot bath.

Upon reaching the second floor Ann turned and mouthed ‘ne’er-do-well’.

“Don’t listen to her.” AK and I sat by the fire.

“About what?”

“About being a ne’er-do-well. No one is a ne’er-do-well anymore.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

Down in the kitchen we smoked a joint and Hilde made us a cup of tea. Her sister was working in the Combat Zone. Strippers didn’t have snow days.

Hilde and I broke up that Spring and I left Boston for New York.

Ann’s curse was on money.

I never could hold onto anything valuable, then again possession is 9/10ths of meaninglessness and while I might be ne’er-do-well, I’m the best of the ne’er-do wells and in these days when life has little meaning being a ne’er-do-well is a blessing, because we know how to live with nothing.

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