Thursday, April 27, 2023

“Journey Into Destiny”

Polly Powell gasped as the brown liquid scorched its way down her throat, and then she exhaled with long breaths through her mouth, feeling this strange admixture of pain and pleasure, of excitement and confusion. What an evening this was turning out to be! She had never had more than one cocktail of an evening in her life, and never had drunk a straight shot of liquor, ever! But this must be the bohemian life of which she had read. Almost five years in the city, and now was she finally making friends, finally experiencing life?

She looked at the sheets of typescript on the bar before her, the thirteen-page poem that Milford had written for her, of which she had still read only the first few lines. Was he in love with her? He really must be if he had written a poem for her, about her, dedicated to her. And yet now he wasn’t even looking at her. He was standing over there on the other side of Addison, gazing at that magnificent woman Bubbles, and who could blame him? Bubbles, with her red coat and imperious demeanor, perched regally on her barstool.

Polly knew now that she would put all of them into her novel! Clever Addison, awkward Milford, beautiful Bubbles – of course she would have to change their names, just as she had changed her own semi-autobiographical protagonist’s name, to “Holly McDowell”…

But could she write a proper Bildungsroman, a proper epic of the bohemian life, if her protagonist were to remain virginal? Where was the drama, the romance, the tragedy in that? Too bad that Milford seemed more interested in Bubbles now, but, really, who could blame him!

But, wait, what about Addison?

“Tell me, Mr. Addison –” she forced the words to leave her mouth and enter the outside world.

“Oh, please, just call me Addison, and I beg you to dispense with any formal terms of address!” he said.

“Very well, ‘Addison’,” said Polly.

“And may I call you Molly?” he said.

“You may, if you wish, but actually my name is Polly.”

“Polly it shall be then!”

“Tell me, Addison –”


She suddenly realized she had forgotten what she wanted to ask him. Did it matter? She said the first thing that came to her mind:

“Is Miss Bubbles your inamorata?”

“In a sense, yes,” he said, after a short but thoughtful-seeming pause.

“May I ask in what sense?” pursued Polly.

Because of all the ambient noise of the bar, the laughing and shouting and the jukebox music, they were able to discuss Bubbles freely, even though she sat in the next stool to Polly’s right, with Addison and Milford standing squeezed in between the two young ladies, and in fact Polly and Addison were practically shouting just to hear each other.

“May I speak frankly?” said Addison, after another pause during which he had forgotten what Polly’s last question was, but then suddenly remembered it.

“Please do!” said Polly.

“The divine Bubbles is indeed my ‘inamorata’, in the sense that I worship her,” he said, “but I fear she only tolerates me, and barely.”

“Oh, how sad!”

“Oh, but I am not sad,” said Addison. “Gladly I accept the few crumbs she tosses me! You see, Molly –”

“Polly –”

“You see, Polly, you might not think it to look at me, but mine has been a lonely, and, yes, a celibate life.”


“Oh, yes, indeed. I’m not quite sure why, but I seem not to be extremely attractive to members of your gender.”

“I don’t believe it!”

“Oh, but it’s true. Why, even Bubbles, whom I adore, has been known to doze off in the midst of one of my monologues.”

“Perhaps she is only overworked, in her profession as an entertainer?”

“Yes, I suppose that’s possible –”

“Since we are being frightfully honest,” said Polly, “I shall tell you, Addison, that my life also has been a celibate one.”

Addison was hardly surprised, but, a gentleman even if he was now almost but not quite three sheets to the wind, he said, “Oh, but I can’t believe that!”

“No, it’s true. And I don’t know why, really. No, I know why, it’s because I am bookish and shy, what one might fairly call an introvert.”


“Yes. But now, now that I have had a scotch-and-soda and that one shot of whatever it was –”

“I believe it was Christian Brothers brandy.”

“Christian Brothers brandy, yes, now I feel, how shall I put it – expansive!”

“Scotch and brandy do have that effect.”

And suddenly Addison felt a wave of attraction towards this young woman who up until a minute ago had seemed to him rather a plain Jane. If she just dressed up a bit, applied a dash of make-up, put on something more flattering to her figure, might she perhaps be transformed into something as ravishing, almost, even as Bubbles?

The twenty-dollar bill Milford had arbitrarily given him, expressly for the purpose of purchasing a “throw” from Bubbles, which would still have left him ten dollars to spend how he wished – might he not after all keep in reserve all of that unexpected boon and pursue instead the virginal favors of Polly? Since she had no experience herself, perhaps she would not judge him harshly, as inexperienced as he was himself? He glanced to his right, and Milford appeared to be deeply in conversation with Bubbles, as one-sided as that conversation doubtless was, Milford gesticulating with his smoking Woodbine as Bubbles occasionally and half-heartedly stifled a yawn.

Addison turned again to Polly, who was still looking at him, and not yawning. True, she was not as beautiful as Bubbles, and not nearly as shapely, but then, if she did grant him her favor, most likely she would not charge him ten dollars, perhaps she would grant those favors freely and without any monetary charge, thus leaving Addison with Milford’s twenty-dollar bill to spend or not to spend on whatever – perhaps he would even (and this might make a good impression) buy a round, something he had never done in his life, but, as with losing one’s virginity, there must be a first time for every great milestone in one’s journey into destiny…

“Tell me, Polly –” he said, as simultaneously Polly said, “Tell me, Addison –” and they both laughed and begged the other to go first.

{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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