Thursday, October 5, 2023

“And Now What?”

The waiter brought the cheesecakes, and the expressos.

“Oh, lovely!” said Polly, expanding her arms and her open hands, and then closing her fingers into fists, and shaking them. “This is going to be so good!”

Milford sighed. And then he picked up his fork. He must get a grip on himself. He must eat cheesecake, with cherry sauce, like a normal person, and this he attempted to do.

“Oh, my goodness!” said Polly, swallowing, “Isn’t it delicious?”

Milford in his turn swallowed.

“Yes,” he said, and, yes, it was, but did it matter?

“Try the expresso now!” instructed Polly.

Obediently Milford lifted the tiny cup and took a sip.

“It’s the almost viscous bitterness and richness of the expresso immediately following that oh so exquisite sweetness of the cheesecake and cherries,” said Polly. “It’s heaven, don’t you think?”

Milford wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but he thought it best not to contradict Polly, and so he said anyway, “Oh, yes.”

“It’s these little things,” said Polly, lifting another forkful, “that give life meaning, don’t you think?”

She was still speaking in that odd voice, the Tallulah Bankhead, Katharine Cornell, Hyacinth Wilde voice. Could it possibly be her real voice? And what did Milford sound like? Did he sound like Alfred Lunt?

“Or do you disagree?” she said.

“Oh, no, I agree,” he said, taking another bite of cheesecake.

“These moments,” she said. “Brief, transitory moments. And then? Then what?”

“Then comes the night, lying in one’s bed, staring at the ceiling, and into the abyss,” said Milford. “Into the void of the universe. That nothingness from which we came and to which we will return.”

“Yes, there is that,” said Polly.

Soon enough, perhaps too soon, the cheesecake was all eaten, the expresso drunk. And now what?

Polly picked up the folded papers containing Milford’s poem.

“So you really don’t want me to read your poem?”

“Only if you want to read the drivelings of an untalented fool.”

“Is it really that bad?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Very well, then, I shan’t read it! Such a pity though. At last a chap writes a poem for me, and it turns out to be a bad poem! Here, do you want it back?”

“No,” said Milford.

“May I keep it then, if only for a keepsake?”

“I don’t mind,” said Milford.

“I shall then!”

Rather unceremoniously she stuffed the pages back into her purse, and clicked it shut.

“And now comes the moment of truth,” she said. “When we must decide the next move in our little mating dance. Should we go to my place?”

“Well, uh –”

“Or would you prefer yours?”

“I live with my mother.”

“Oh, that might be awkward then, mightn’t it?”

“I’m sure it would be,” said Milford. “But only if you consider an encounter with a certifiable madwoman to be potentially awkward.”

“My place it is then! I live quite nearby, actually. I must say I am rather excited. Are you?”

“I wouldn’t say excited,” said Milford.

“What would you say?”



“Maybe terrified is the better word.”

“Oh, don’t be terrified! It will be fun!”

“Somehow I doubt that, Polly.”

“Oh, Mr. Gloom and Doom! Milford, we are young, and alive!”

Milford sighed, again.

“You do sigh a lot, don’t you?” said Polly.

“Yes, quite frequently,” said Milford.

“You’re a gloom-laden poet, that’s what you are!”

“Well, I’m gloom-laden, but I’m not so sure about being a poet.”

“Oh, but you simply must be a poet!” said Polly.

“No,” said Milford. “I don’t think I must be anything, except perhaps a failed poet.”

“But you won’t know for sure unless you try! You do want to be a poet, don’t you?”

“Yes,” admitted Milford.

“Just as I want to be a novelist! We must stick to our guns, dear Milford, and not be discouraged.”

“I am incapable of not being discouraged, Polly. I was born discouraged.”

“See, there you are! Spoken like a true poet!”

It occurred to Milford that Polly used lots of exclamation points in her speech. She was enthusiastic. The opposite of him.

He sighed, for the twelfth thousandth time that day.

“Promise me you won’t give up!” exclaimed Polly.

“All right,” he said. “I promise.”

“You must write your poetry. Keep at it, and, just you wait, someday you will write something good.” Milford began to sigh again, but Polly said, “And please don’t sigh!”

“Sorry,” he said.

“So, do we go to my place now?”

With a great effort Milford stifled another sigh.

“All right,” he said.

“Oh, splendid!” she said, with an exclamation point. 


{Kindly go here to read the unexpurgated "adult comix" version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq...} 

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