Thursday, February 23, 2023

“The Dawn of a Fawn”

Olaf opened the door for her and Shirley looked out on cold Bedford Street.

“Jeeze, another crappy day.”

“I find these wintry days bracing, miss.”

“Yeah, I guess where you come from this is like a balmy day in May.”

“Where I come from the days of May are as pure and fresh as the winter days are cold and icy and pure.”

“You kill me, Olaf.”

“I aim to give pleasure, miss.”

“Too bad you’re not about thirty years younger.”

“You are too kind.”

“Catch you later, big man,” said Shirley, and she went down the steps and then turned left. She had a lunch date with Milford at the automat across the alley from the hotel.

She saw him through the steamy plate glass, sitting at the little table he usually tried to get by the window. The poor sap. With his newsboy’s cap and his pea coat. And his white muffler with the blue trim.

Shirley went in and he stood up as she approached the table.

“Hello, Shirley. May I get you a cup of coffee?”

“I think I’ll take a hot cocoa today, Milfie.”

“Right away! Some cheesecake?”

“Yeah, sure, thanks, buddy.”

“May I help you with your coat?”

“I’ll keep it on till I warm up.”

“Yes, of course. It’s frightfully chilly out, isn’t it?”

It was when Milford said that kind of thing that Shirley realized they might as well be living on two different planets.

“Yeah,” she said, “it’s a cold one all right.”

He was standing there with his hands on the back of the chair, preparatory to drawing it back and shoving it forward as she tried to sit down in it. This guy was like having your own private head waiter, except he usually managed to bang the chair into the back of her knees.

“I want to show you something, Shirley,” he said a few minutes later, after she had eaten half the cheesecake and he had lighted up her first cigarette for her. “It’s this.”

He had a black leather folder on the table, and he opened it, turned it around and shoved it over to Shirley’s side. Inside the folder was a sheaf of typescript.

“A poem?”

“Yes,” said Milford. “I wonder if you would like to read it?”

Oh, Christ, thought Shirley, but she lifted up the first sheet of paper and read:

The Dawn of a Fawn

(for S.D.LaS.)

Through winter snow and April shower
have I waited for this hour.

This is the true morn –
now I am finally born!

Thrust squealing from the womb
that was like unto a tomb,
now at last I am something other
than a brat clinging to his mother.

Now in fine I can say,
“Hey, pal, get out of my way!”
For, yes, now I am a full grown man,
a man with a destiny, and a plan…

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Shirley, and she looked down at the stack of papers beneath the one she had picked up. “Is this all one poem?”

“Yes, or at least the beginnings of a poem.”

“How many pages are there?”

“Thirty-seven, so far. As I say, this is just the beginning. The introductory canto of what I envisage as a work of at least two hundred pages.”


Shirley put the sheet of typescript down.

“Milford, no offense, but I just woke up. I really can’t read all this right now.”

“But I wrote it for you.”

“Yeah, I figured that.”

“Because of the dedication?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“But what did you think of what you read?”

Shirley sighed.

“Look, Milfie, I don’t know from poetry.”

“You didn’t like it?”

The poor sap.

“Listen, Milford, I have to tell you something.”

“You didn’t like my poem? I can rework it!”

“No, it’s not your poem, Milfie. It’s –”

“Shirley, before you say another word, I have something else to show you.”

Now what?

Milford reached into his pea coat’s pocket and brought out a little purple velvet box, pushed it across the table toward Shirley.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“Open it and see.”

So this was it. The guy was actually proposing to her.

She opened the box and sure enough it was a ring, with a big fat rock of a diamond sparkling in the bright electric light of the automat.

“Wow,” she said.

“I would get on my knees,” said Milford, “but I don’t want to draw undue attention to myself.”

“Yeah, don’t get on your knees, Milfie.”

“So will you marry me, Shirley?”

The poor guy. But then he did have five hundred a month. And maybe his maniac of a mother would give him some dough after all. The broad talked a good game, but when push came to shove, maybe she’d be glad to get him out of the house, and married to an actual female. Maybe Shirley wouldn’t have to worry about her future, when she didn’t have her looks to fall back on.


“Okay,” she found herself saying, and she didn’t even know what she was going to say until she said it, “here’s the thing, Milfie. You know what a lesbian is?”

“Of course. I have read The Well of Loneliness.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a novel by Radclyffe Hall, on the theme of lesbianism.”

“Oh, okay, so you know about it then.”

“Yes, I find the concept of sapphic love to be quite intriguing, simply because I could never see what women see in men.”

“Yeah, well, okay, here’s the scoop, Milfie. You’re looking at a lesbo.”


“I’m a dyke.”

“I find that hard to believe.”


“You’re so beautiful.”

“What, lesbians can’t be good-looking?”

“Well, yes, I suppose so, but, gee.”

“Anyway, there you go, Milford. I’m sorry, but I can’t accept your proposal. Because I like girls.”

“But –”

“But what?”

“But – but nothing.”

Shirley closed the velvet box and slid it back across the table. Then she closed the leather folder and slid it over to Milford’s side.

“I hope you kept the receipt for the ring, Milfie.”

“Well, I didn’t buy it, actually.”


“I found it in a drawer. I think it was my grandmother’s.”

“Oh, well, you better put it back in the drawer then.”

“Yes, my mother would have a fit.”

Milford just sat there, staring at the table, at the velvet box, at the leather folder.

“I think my poem is going to turn out much differently than I had anticipated,” he said.

“I hope you’re not too upset, Milfie.”

Now it was Milford’s time to sigh.

“I had – hoped,” he said.

“You’ll find a nice girl someday,” said Shirley.

“I did find a nice girl,” he said.

“It’s nice of you to say so, Milfie.”

“I shall use this,” he said, after a short pause.

“What’s that?” said Shirley.

“I shall use this disappointment, for my art.”

“That’s a swell idea, Milfie.”

“All the great poets have forged their art in the crucible of sorrow. And so shall I.”

“There you go.”

“But will you perhaps meet me now and then, Shirley, for a cup of coffee or cocoa?”

“Yeah, sure, Milfie.”

“A slice of cheesecake?”
“Cheesecake is good, Milfie.”

Milford took a Woodbine from the pack on the table in front of him, put the cigarette between his lips, but he didn’t light it. He just sat there, staring down at the table.

Shirley reached across the table, picked up his lighter and gave him a light. 
“Thank you,” said Milford.

Perhaps after all this was for the best. Milford had been terrified at the prospect of trying to have sexual relations with Shirley. What if he had been unable to perform? How could he even use that humiliation in a poem? How potentially devastating! But now the question of sexual proficiency was moot. He could relax, and concentrate on his art, his poetry.

Yes, he would never say so to dear Shirley, but perhaps this was for the best.

“Try not to be too disappointed, Milfie,” said Shirley.

“Yes, I shall try,” said Milford, and he sighed again, as if bravely.

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

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