Thursday, February 8, 2024

"A Man Called Stoney"

Milford wandered down the dim corridor and after a minute he came to the corner he had passed before. He turned left and continued, and after two minutes he came to the door on the right that led into the barroom known apparently as The Man of Constant Sorrow. He heard the muffled clamor of shouting and laughing voices, and of a man singing to the accompaniment of a banjo. 

Milford stood and listened.

Jump to the sound of the doom of the young,

leap to the music of the farmyard dung,

sing a song of the free and the brave,

but try for once if you can to behave…

Straight ahead the narrow corridor continued, on into darkness, and opposite the door was another dim narrow corridor, also extending into darkness. 

Which way to go?

“It doesn’t matter,” said that voice in his head.

“But it must matter,” said Milford, realizing he was speaking aloud.

“Who says it must matter?” said the voice, also now speaking aloud.

“But all our choices must matter,” said Milford.

“Poppycock,” said the voice, which seemed to come from behind him. 

Milford turned around, and there he saw what looked like himself, a slight young fellow in a peacoat and newsboy’s cap, with thick round glasses, and smoking a cigarette.

“Oh, no,” said Milford.

“Oh, yes,” said his double.

“Who are you?” asked Milford.

“I am the other you, the you that you would be were you not a simpleton.”

“Oh,” said Milford. 

“I am the you that you would be were you not to waste your whole pathetic life, past, present, and future.”

“I see.”

“In short I am the you that you will never be.”

Milford sighed, and looked away, but when he finished sighing and looked again, the confident-looking young fellow was still standing there, smoking his cigarette.

“What is your name?” asked Milford.

“Same as yours, of course, but my nickname, the name all my friends call me, is Stoney.”

“Stoney,” said Milford.

“Yes, I derived it from our middle name of Crackstone.”

“I wish I had thought of that.”

“You must admit it’s better than our given name of Marion.”

“Yes, much better.”

“And it doesn’t sound so, you should pardon the expression, ‘gay’, as calling yourself, tout simplement, ‘Milford’.”

“No one can ever remember my name anyway,” said Milford. “They always call me Mumford, or Milvoin, or Melville, or Melvin –”

“And do you know why that is?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Tell me.”

“Because I am so unmemorable and insignificant?”

“Bingo,” said the young man called Stoney. “But I am here to tell you something.”


“Yes. I am here to tell you that you don’t have to be a pathetic twerp your whole life.”


“Yes. There’s hope for you yet.”

“Oh, thank God.”

“You don’t believe in God.”

“Oh, right. Well, thank whomever.”

“There’s no one to thank, except me.”

“Thank you.”

“Which is you.”

“So thank me?”

“Now you’re getting somewhere,” said Stoney.

“So now what do I do?”

“Don’t ask me. I can’t tell you what to do. It’s your life. Do what you want to do with it. But do you want my advice?”

“Yes, please.”

“Try to live your life in such a way that when you’re lying on your deathbed dying painfully of cancer that you won’t regret living your whole life like a fucking idiot and a fool.”


“That’s a start.”

“Yes, it’s a start.”

The young man called Stoney dropped what was left of his cigarette to the floor, and ground it out with the sole of his workman’s brogan.

“All right, buddy, I could say a lot more, and maybe in the future I will, but I’m going to take off now.”



And just like that Milford’s double Stoney disappeared, and the only sign that remained of his presence was the crushed cigarette butt on the floor.

That was weird, thought Milford. But now I am still left with the question, which way to go?

What had Stoney said?

“It doesn’t matter,” said the voice in his head, which he now recognized as Stoney’s voice.

And so he set forth down the dim corridor opposite the door from behind which came that muffled drunken clamor of laughing and shouting and the man’s voice singing along to a banjo.

Shake it up, shake it up, 

and kick up your heels,

sing a merry song 

about the way that you feels

The shouting and the laughing and the singing faded away as Milford walked along the dim corridor, and after a while there was only the sound of his heavy workman’s brogans on the floor.

The corridor came to an end at another dim corridor going to the left and to the right, and this time Milford turned right, without hesitation and without thinking about it. This corridor ended at yet another dim corridor going left and right, and this time he headed left.

After another minute, maybe two, although it felt longer, he came to a door, another door, under a light fixture in a wire cage. There was no sign on the door. 

Milford put his hand on the doorknob, and turned it, and the door opened inward.

Inside was another barroom, smoky and dim, and although Milford was young, this was nevertheless the ten-thousandth time he had entered a barroom in his life, each time hoping that this time it would be somehow less unpleasant than all the times before. 

Booths and tables filled with people, a jukebox playing, and to the right a bar filled with more people. 

The place smelled like all bars, of smoke and whiskey and beer, but behind it all was yet another almost palpable odor, a thick still musk like that of a church or a funeral parlour. 

Milford saw Louisa May Alcott sitting on a stool near the front of the bar, and, after only a moment’s pause, he headed on over.

{Please 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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