Thursday, November 10, 2022

“A Terrible Beauty”

Shirley exhaled, slowly, through her luscious red lips, and the smoke rose up into the harsh light of the naked electric bulb above them.

“Well, that hit the spot,” she said. “You want another hit before we go back in, Milfie?”

Milfie! She called him Milfie. Nobody had ever called him Milfie before.

“Milfie?” she said again.

“Yes, Miss De LaSalle?”

Shirley, Milfie, for the umpteenth time.”

“Shirley, yes, Shirley!”

“I said you want another hit?”

“A hit?”

“Of the muggles, daddy-o. You want another toke?”


“Okay, wow, you are really high, my man.” She took another but smaller drag from the ever-diminishing reefer, and exhaled again. “Tell me something, Milfie – oh, do you mind me calling you Milfie?”

“Not at all Miss De-, I mean, Shirley, no, not at all, in fact I am honored by your calling me a, a, what is the word, a sobriquet?”

“Nickname, Milfie, it’s called a nickname.”

“I am honored that you have bestowed a nickname on me!”

“Okay, then, Milfie, so, as I was saying, is this the first time you’ve smoked the crazy weed?”

“You mean marijuana?”


“Yes! It is my first time! And to think of all the hours I wasted drinking alcoholic beverages, when instead I could have been smoking crazy weed!”

“Yeah, it’s better,” said Shirley, and she held what was left of the reefer out to him. “Here, finish it off, buddy.”

Obediently Milford took the reefer, and sucked deeply on it.

This, this was ecstasy.

Who would have thought that ecstasy would be found finally here, in the service entrance of this old hotel, with the cold rain spattering down on the cobblestones, and with those ghostly human beings behind the clouded plate glass of the automat across the alleyway, drinking their coffee, eating their apple pie, smoking their cigarettes.

Milford exhaled.

“Now,” he said, “now at last I understand.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Shirley.

“All those years, all those hours and minutes – wasted!”

“No kidding?’

“No kidding! I only drank because I wanted to be like Dylan Thomas. But I was kidding myself. Now I realize.”

“Realize what, Milfie?”

“I realize, I realize – I’m not quite sure what I realize, but now, if I may borrow a phrase from Yeats, I am changed, changed utterly.”

“Just from smoking that reefer?”

“Well, partially I suppose,” said Milford, and he took another drag from what little was left of the reefer. He exhaled, and then said, “But mostly it is because of you, Miss De La-, I mean Shirley.”

“Little old me?” said Shirley.

“Yes,” said Milford. “I have seen a terrible beauty born, and that beauty is you.”

“Wow, that’s quite a compliment.”

“Will you have lunch with me tomorrow?”


“Yes, or coffee, or dinner –”

“I gotta sing tomorrow night, and I never eat dinner before I sing.”

“Lunch then!”

“Tell ya what, Milfie. I usually get up around noon, then I head over to the automat here and have a little breakfast, so if you want I’ll meet you there tomorrow.”

“Oh, thank you!”

“Hey, you haven’t seen me when I’ve just woken up, so don’t thank me yet, pal.”

“I will meet you there at noon!”

“Make it more like half-noon, quarter of one.”

“I shall be there at quarter past noon, just to make sure we get a good table!”

“Swell, I like a window table looking out on Bedford Street. I like to watch the passing parade of humanity.”

“Me too!” said Milford, even though it had never occurred to him to watch the passing parade of humanity, but he was sure he could change.

“Just sit there and eat my corn muffin, drink my coffee, smoke a gasper, watch the people go by.”

“Yes, it’s wonderful,” said Milford.

“Maybe have some of that warm huckleberry pie they got there, and the dames behind the windows even give me a scoop of vanilla ice cream on it when I ask them.”

“They do?”

“Yeah, it’s like the brotherhood of dames,” said Shirley. “They know I’m just a working gal like them, and God knows I might be working behind those windows myself someday.”

“Never!” said Milford.

“Oh, yeah? You think I’m that good a singer, Milfie?”

“Yes, you are! And anyway, I would see to it that you would never have to work at the automat!”

“Oh, you would, huh? Would you support me, Daddy Warbucks?”

“Of course I would, Miss De LaS-, I mean, Shirley, but of course I would! I have an income of five hundred a month, and if my mother ever dies I’ll have much more than that!”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yes!” said Milford.

The stub of reefer had gone out in Milford’s fingers. Shirley opened her sparkly purse, took out a Bayer aspirin tin, clicked it open, and Milford saw that instead of aspirin it contained a half-dozen butts of reefers. Shirley took the reefer stub from Milford’s fingers and dropped it into the tin, clicked it shut, dropped the tin into her purse, and then clicked the purse shut.

“Okay, pal,” said Shirley, “I gotta go on again soon, so let’s head back in.”

“And we really can have lunch tomorrow?”

“Sure,” said Shirley.

What the hell, lunch with this madman wasn’t gonna kill her, and he was kind of amusing in his way. And he had five yards a month income. So at least she probably wouldn’t have to pick up the tab like with all the musicians and actors and out-of-work hoofers and two-bit grifters and chancers and cross-eyed ham-and-eggers she usually went out with…

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, liberally illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

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