Thursday, January 4, 2024

"A Man of Constant Sorrow”

Milford continued down the corridor with the tiny man on his shoulders. The dimness gradually grew less dim as they came to a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, and in the yellow light Milford saw that the walls were made of old-looking bare brick, apparently white-washed at some time or times in the past, but the wash had faded, revealing the brown of the brickwork and the grey of the mortar. The floor was made of soft dark wood, and the air was still and stale. Beyond lay only a deepening darkness.

Milford stopped. 

“I don’t see where this corridor is going,” he said.

“Just keep going, pal.”

“But it’s dark down there.”

“Yeah, it’s dark, but after a while you get to another door.”

“Look, sir –”

“Do I look like Sir Walter Scott? Call me Shorty.”

“Okay, look, Shorty, maybe it’s those mushrooms I ate, and also the marijuana and hashish I smoked, but I’m getting really scared, and I want to go back.”

“Don’t be a pussy, Quilford.”

“My name isn’t Quilford. It’s Milford. I know it doesn’t matter but my name is Milford.”

It seemed so odd to be talking to a midget he was carrying on his shoulders. He almost wished he could see the little man’s face, but then he was also glad that he couldn’t see his face.

The tiny man blew a cloud of smoke past Milford’s face.

“You got any more marijuana or hashish?”

“What? No.”

“What about them mushrooms? I wouldn’t mind some mushrooms.”

“No, I don’t have any more mushrooms, and you’re avoiding the subject.”

“Which was?”

“That I’m afraid and I want to go back.”

“Oh, right, you were being a pussy.”

“Oh, Christ, look – Shorty, right?”

“That’s what they call me.”

“Shorty, I’m going to lift you down, okay? And then you can go your way, and I’ll –”

“What a pussy. You must be a poet, right?”

“That’s neither here nor there. Now look, I’m going to lift you off –”

“Why are poets always such pussies? Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“I have never had a sense of adventure.”

“Pathetic. Look, just keep walking, will you?”

“How much farther is it?”

“Not far.”

Shorty tossed his stub of a cigarette to the floor. The butt was still burning, so Milford ground it out with his shoe.

“I really just want to go home,” he said.

“What about your date with Lou Alcott?”

“Oh, I forgot. Well, I’ll go back and meet her for a drink, just because I said I would, but then I just want to go home.”


“Only if you promise me it’s not far.”

“It’s not far, now walk.”

And Milford resumed walking with the child-sized man on his shoulders. Now he knew what drug addicts were talking about when they referred to monkeys on their backs.

The corridor grew dimmer and then dark as he walked farther away from that one bare bulb. They came to a corner, just a barely visible dark line against a darker darkness.

“Turn right here,” said Shorty.

There wasn’t much choice except to turn right, unless he turned back, and so Milford turned the corner, and the corridor continued on from darkness to utter and complete blackness.

Milford stopped again.

“I’m not going down there, I’m sorry. It’s totally black down there.”

“Yeah, the light bulb went out and nobody changed it yet. It’s okay, just keep walking straight ahead, but watch your step.”

“What do you mean, watch my step?”

“I mean just be careful, don’t trip over your own feet and send me crashing to the floor.”

“I don’t like walking in the dark.”

“Oh, my fucking God what a cooze. Lookit, you got a match or a lighter?”

“Oh, yes! I do!”

“Then take it out and light it for Christ’s sake, you’re gonna be such a scaredy cat.”

Milford reached into the pocket of his dungarees, and thank God, it was still there, his faithful Ronson which his Aunt Bertie had given him for his graduation from Andover. He clicked it, and after only a few tries it lit up.

“Swell,” said Shorty. “You feel better now?”

“Slightly, yes.”

“Then mush.”

Milford continued into the thick blackness, holding the lighter and its precious flame out before him. After only another minute, although it felt like an hour, the lighter’s glow revealed another door.

“Okay, this is it,” said Shorty. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“It was pretty bad,” said Milford.

“Oh, my God in heaven, plus Jesus, Mary and St. Jude. Just open the door, okay? Turn the doorknob, it ain’t locked.”

Milford turned the knob and opened the door, revealing what seemed to be an anteroom, but at least there was a light in the ceiling.

“Go ahead, go in,” said Shorty.

Milford stepped in, and the door closed behind him.

About six feet ahead was yet another door with a hand-painted sign on it.

“The Man of Constant Sorrow”

Fine Food and Drinks

Try Our House Ale

Reasonable Prices and a Friendly Atmosphere

Live Entertainment

Ask About Our Vegetarian Options

We Never Close

Milford could hear the muffled sounds of music and the babble of voices.

“This is it?” said Milford.

“Yeah. You can put away your lighter now, you’re wasting the fuel.”

“Oh, okay.”

Milford obediently clicked off the flame and put the warm lighter back in his dungarees.

“Now go ahead,” said Shorty. “Just go right in.”

“Why do they call it The Man of Constant Sorrow?”

“Look, Guilford, it’s just a name, it don’t mean nothing, now go over and open the fucking door.”

“I’m an alcoholic, I’m not even supposed to go into bars.”

“Go over and open that door, for Christ’s sake and all the saints and angels in heaven.”

“I should go back.”

“Oh, okay, and who helped you get rid of that raging boner you had by getting you to think about your mother?”

Milford sighed, for the twelve-thousandth and eighteenth time that day.

“You did,” he said.

“Damn right I did. Now do me the favor, nay, the honor, and go over and open that goddam fucking door before I lose my patience and box your ears, and don’t think I won’t.”

Milford was afraid that the tiny fellow really would box his ears, and this fear outweighed his fear of the door and what lay behind it, and so he stepped forward, put his hand on the doorknob, turned it and opened the door.

Revealing yet another barroom, smoky, dim, filled with shouting and laughing people, or what might be people, they could be demons for all Milford knew, or the damned, or living ghosts.

“Nice place, huh?” said Shorty into Milford’s ear.

“It’s okay,” said Milford. 

What could you say, it was a bar, and all bars were the same, places where people went to escape the daily and nightly horror of their lives.

“Come on, cowboy,” said Shorty. “Giddy up. Head straight on to the bar there, and I hope you like a good India Pale Ale, ‘cause that’s what you’re gonna get here.”

Milford was beyond the point of saying he didn’t drink. It didn’t matter anymore. Not tonight. He would have one ale with the midget, and then he would escape.

Or he would try to escape.

“Famous last words.”

“What?” said Milford.

“I didn’t say nothing,” said Shorty.

So, thought Milford, it had come to this. He was walking into an unknown bar with a dwarf on his shoulders, and now he was hearing voices.

“Yes, it has come to this, now get over yourself, and walk over to the bar like a man.”

Milford sighed, for the twelve-thousandth and nineteenth time that day and night, and then forged forth into the crowd of laughing and shouting people.

Someone was singing. Suitably the singer sang:

I am a man of constant sorrow
I’ve seen trouble all my days…

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

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