Nellie is checking her larder.  In Nellie's larder are procurements both spotted and looked over.  In the larder are comestibles not so long ago rich, now canned in essences derived from their own latent astringency: beef and barley soup; evaporated milk; peeled tomatoes otherwise left whole.  Twinned textures: burnt cheddar and the threadbare former napkin on which it is crusted.  A box of Cream of Wheat, steaming only in illustration.  Here is mildew from unburied corners bristling against Nellie's untrimmed and upturned toes.  Here are queer and even misshapen jars gooey with undated molasses and irregular stripes of jaundiced glue where a paper label used to be attached.  Here are jade cigarettes of dried basil leaves; they have curled in upon themselves and squeezed out their vague mint aroma which, confined behind the larder door, is turning into camphor.  Here is a string of finger-long cayennes vined in the beige haziness (scrunched into semi-opacity here and there) of half of a run-down nylon.  The ampleness of the green peppers now darkening to red narrows, and soon they will quicken themselves—all without the aid of friction—until their outer skins are paraffin crinkles and points.  When Nellie is ready to gut the chilis and snap their spines of clustering seeds, she is extremely observant.  Nellie remembers Poppy grinding fresh cayenne into his shoulders when his rheumatism thought it was going to get the best of him.  After breaking the peppers, Nellie counts how many times she rubs her hands with Lava soap.  Yet, somehow and usually, a speck of essential spice will lodge under the buffed crescent of a nail, in the whorl of a fingerprint, and hours later Nellie will absently nudge the outside of a nostril, tap a front tooth as she is remembering where she has laid some useful article.  The sting then spreads and, contrary to any scientific axiom, crackles even hotter as she exhales to blow it out.  The inner fold of Nellie's bottom lip will feel the most of that zest too intense to possess any flavor.  And she will wash her hands again and chew on a heel of brown bread.  Here, snug in burlap, are long roots that resemble extracted teeth or little blonde railroad spikes.  Look, there's also a samovar and bags of tea next door to a shovel-headed, slotted spoon.  And tacked up there near the light and hung obliquely from the lip of an otherwise inaccessible shelf are coupons.  Some have been creased several times and torn free, some are still raggedly attached to their circulars.  The ones on the top of this stack have yet to be redeemed with The Mme. C. J. Walker Mfg. Co. Inc., Walker Bldg., Indianapolis, Ind., and for the following sundries and discounts:  3 Full-Size Boxes Superfine Face Powder {Egyptian Brown}, @ 40 cents less manufacturer's suggested retail price; 1 Box Tan-Off @ 8 cents less manufacturer's suggested retail price; 1 jar Witch Hazel Jelly @ 12 cents less manufacturer's suggested retail price; 2 tins Tetter Salve @ a full 10 cents less manufacturer's suggested retail price; 1 jar Vegetable Shampoo, 24 cents less manufacturer's suggested retail price; 1 sample tin of Temple Grower free with the purchase of $4.00 or more.  Behind these savings, on a scrap of otherwise pristine blue flannel, is the image, stamped in mimeograph-purple ink, of a dove carrying an olive branch in its beak.  Here—below this shopworn Paracelte—are elliptically nested measuring cups caked still with a bistre of cornstarch and cream of tartar.  Here is an eggbeater: a bulbous green handle, a crooked shaft which, from one angle, might still seem to be deviating, a wheel of spurs that have lost some of their likeness to the fires of corrosion.  A tube of graphite powder (long and skinny, but also, in comparison, short and fat) bears the nail polished initials J.C. or J.G.  And there is the reliable dasher from Sissy's ice cream churner.  Strewn here and there behind these things are sausage casings forfeiting their elasticity in a round string; a box of Borax with a dented corner and a tin of Bon Ami as tall as a barman's most healthy and most kindly pour; a jar in which the peanut butter has separated out into its honeyed tallow and bittersweet cement; "instant lemonade mix" advertising its own saturation; a diminutive brown bottle, stoppered with an eyedropper and labeled "Balm Of Gilead Cough Mixture"; a whetstone, foreign to this city, that appears as if it has been pulled from a creek bed but rests in the palm, resigned to the portabilities of its usefulness, as though, with some mineral intelligence, it accepts that it will never again plop back into the waters that separated it from its sameness; two teacups, unmatched save for their cracked handles, both sealed with waxed paper and twine, one containing a shallow pool of lavender oil, the other an unknown quantity (Nellie has not measured in a good while; at last check, the lemon-colored liquid came up over the first knuckle on her pinky finger) of rose absolute; cubes of bouillon; the barely contained elements—broad, pithy—of a primeval vanilla extract.  Here, in a pyramid of spoonfuls, are almond-shaped pearls of flax seeds.  Here is a hair from Nellie's head.  Prominently here, displayed (you could say), is an old crochet hook in a corrugated can, planted where it crushes up spent coffee grounds and eggshells to feed Mrs. Clark's Boston ferns and saintpaulias.  Ready clothespins here dangle from a high and irregularly stiff wire strung between the grease-spotted doorpost and the back wall.  A cracker-box zoo of pipe cleaners here on a low shelf are twined and entwined just for the Clark children.  To keep that Clark boy mainly from pulling at Nellie's skirts when she's dusting or crouched to peek in at what the oven is roasting, broiling, baking.  He pinches her ankles through the stockings.  Or he sneaks to undo her apron strings and snatch the whole garment away.  Before Nellie can catch him, that rascal has tied the floured cloth around his neck as a Superman cape.  He runs wild in a determined jetting, kicking the Crayola-colored blocks across the nap of the living room carpet, booting a spinning top down the hall and into a sample, albeit groggy, of its melody.  The bratty head is down and it's the potty mouth that is giving the impetus to his take-off.

— Zzzzmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Nellie has to scoot after that boy, lasso him before he flies to the terrace.  If he's not sitting too close to the television, he's firing his cap guns from an O.K. Corral he's fashioned from overturning the ottoman he's been told a thousand times he's not to lay a finger on.  And at lunch she has to cut the corn off the cob for him, or he will cry and flail his white bucks (the kind of shoes Nellie and her Sissy only ever wore at Easter) at the table's fluted legs, jostling the milk out of his sister's glass and onto her grapes and melba toast.  Which only means a round of sniffles and yowling for everyone.  So Nellie has her pipe cleaner bestiary, and the creatures each have their own little travails in the wilderness of that boy's imagination.   More often than not Nellie has got to pull herself from whatever other duty to which she's tending—kneading, or helping to leapfrog decimal places on the little Clark girl's Big Chief tablet with the little Clark girl's Ticonderoga pencil, or wringing, or, always and evermore or—and tell that Clark boy which animals this batch here is making, which of her characters is populating the stories he is helping to make up but cannot, not by himself, resolve.  Now, nobody said a zebra can't be blue and white.  And not all lions have manes.  What do you think Mr. Elephant packed in his trunk?  And where will he go now?  Who is he going to visit?  Hey, hey now— are you a troll?  Are you?  Why do you have to pet them so gruff?  Don't go twisting and jerking my Papa Bear all over creation like that, now, have some care now!

Joe Milazzo is the author Crepuscule W/ Nellie (Jaded Ibis) and The Habiliments (Apostrophe Books). He co-edits the online interdisciplinary arts journal [out of nothing] and is also the proprietor of Imipolex Press. Joe lives and works in Dallas, TX, and his virtual location is