Thursday, February 29, 2024

"This Living Hand"


"Miss Alcott?" said Milford.

She turned around on her barstool, a cigarette in her hand. Somewhere a jukebox was playing a gentle song.

"Oh, hello, Milford," she said.

"Thank you," he said.

"For what?"

"For remembering my name."

"Don't people normally remember your name?"

"No, they don't. They always call me Mugsford, or Billford, or Billfold, or –"

"And why do you think that is?"

"I suspect it has something to do with the amorphous nature of my personality."

"I saved you a seat."

She pointed with her cigarette at the unoccupied barstool on her right.

"Oh, thank you very much."

"Why don't you sit in it?"

"Oh, yes, of course."

And Milford managed to seat himself on the stool.

"I want to apologize for taking so long."

"And do you in fact apologize, or do you merely want to?"

"I do apologize. For, uh, taking so long."

"You weren't gone that long."

"I wasn't?"

"Five minutes perhaps."

"It felt like at least a half hour. No, it felt like a week. No, it felt like –"

"Well, Milford," said Miss Alcott, "I am far from being an expert in these matters, but perhaps the alcohol and marijuana and hashish and the Native Americans’ sacred mushrooms you have consumed this evening have affected your perceptions of time and that which we call, for want of a better word, reality."

"Oh," said Milford, "yes, I suppose that's possible, but, you see, I swear I had all these – these adventures just now."

"Pray expand."

"They all started with that men's room I went into –"

"The 'Pointers'?"

"Yes, exactly –"

"Which you entered so suddenly."

"Um, uh –"

"Because of, dare I venture, the protuberance in your inguinal area –" she glanced down at that sector of Milford's corporeal host –"a protuberance which I now see has subsided – or, should I rather say, because of your sense of discomfiture at the persistence of said protuberance?"

"Yes, I fully admit that the latter was the case."

"I suspected so. And upon further consideration I suspect that you went into the "Pointers" to relieve yourself of your shall we say engorgement?"

Milford sighed, sighing for the twelve-thousandth and twenty-second time since he had awoken, sighing, that morning in his bed, some fourteen hours previously, although it felt like fourteen months.

"I probably had that intention somewhere on my mind, yes," he admitted, "or in the muddled depths of my mind, although, actually –"

Milford paused. How much more humiliation could he stand? And a familiar voice in his head, said, "More, much more, infinitely more."

"Actually what," said Miss Alcott.

"Actually, I had nothing on my mind or in my mind at all, except for the insuperable desire to escape at once the embarrassment of hobbling miserably along beside you, with that, that –"

"Erection I believe is the least impolite term."

"Yes, it was just too, too –" humiliating prompted the voice in his skull, and so Milford said, "it was just too humiliating for me."

"I find that somehow touching," said Miss Alcott.

And she lifted her hand and touched his face.

"Please," said Milford, "I must ask you not to do that."

"Don't you like your face to be touched?"

"I like it very much, but, you see, it was your touching my face earlier that caused me to suffer that, that –"


"Yes, and I'm afraid that if you continue to do so then the erection – pardon me – will return."

"Oh, very well, I'll stop then," she said, and she drew her hand away."

"Thank you," said Milford.

She had withdrawn her delicate hand none too soon, because he felt the blood beginning to course into his organ of supposed masculinity, and if it became engorged again he didn't know what he would do.

There was a small stemmed glass on the bar in front of Miss Alcott, with a topaz liquid in it, and she lifted the glass and took a sip. Putting the glass down again on the bar, she turned to Milford and said:

"But has it occurred to you, dear boy, that I wouldn't mind if you suffered an erection again, and, indeed, that I might forsooth be quite pleased if you did."

"Okay, buddy," said the voice in Milford's head, "don't blow it now. For once in your pathetic life, don't fuck things up now."

"I don't want to fuck things up," said Milford.

"I beg your pardon," said Miss Alcott.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," said Milford. "I wasn't talking to you."

"Who were you talking to then?"

"A voice in my head."

"A voice in your head."

"Yes, it's my sort of doppelgänger – it's myself if I were not myself, but someone confident and bold and fearless. He calls himself Stoney."


"Yes. I'm sorry, I didn't make it up. It's – it's not a name I would have chosen myself."

"I think you need a drink, Milford. Look." She pointed to another little stemmed glass there on the bartop before him. "I ordered you an Amontillado.

The liquid was topaz, or was it gold, burnt gold, the gold of the gods, of the glistening beckoning golden apples of the sun…

"Oh," said Milford. "I don't drink. Or I shouldn't drink. You see –"

"I should think, Milford," said Miss Alcott, "that after the marijuana and hashish, the sacred mushrooms, and not to mention the drinks you've already consumed this evening, that one small glass of Amontillado will not send you howling to perdition. And it might even help you to relax a little bit."

"Yes," said Milford, after a moment, "you're probably right."

"You know she's right," said the voice in his head.

"Tell me of these so-called 'adventures' you had," said Miss Alcott.

"Oh, the adventures," said Milford. 

"Yes," said Miss Alcott. "The adventures you had during those five minutes we were separated."

The strange and aggressively annoying men in the Pointers room. The fellow who had given him an epic novel consisting of a blank page with only a handwritten inscription. The midget at the urinals, aptly named Shorty, who had brilliantly suggested that Milford think of his mother the awful Mrs. Milford in order to deflate his erection. The endless journey down a dim corridor with the midget piggyback on his shoulders. The emerging into yet another barroom called The Man of Constant Sorrow, filled with people who looked like vegetables, the encounter with that other annoying man called Slacks, and yet another horrible journey down a dim corridor, and then that other bar filled with sad clowns, then still another long walk down dim corridors, and his meeting with his aforementioned doppelgänger, "Stoney"…

"Don't blow it," said the voice, the voice of Stoney. "Say something, before she thinks you're a total lunatic…" 

"Oh, never mind," said Milford. 

"Good lad," said the voice. "Women dig men who are a little wild, but not certifiably insane."

"Drink your Amontillado," said Miss Alcott, pointing to the small stemmed glass in front of Milford. 

Oh, well, this wouldn't be his first slip of the evening, and at the rate he was going, it might not be the last. 

He picked up the glass and downed it in one go.

"You're meant to sip a fine sherry like that," said Miss Alcott.

"I'm meant to do many things," said Milford, taking direct dictation from the double in his brain. "And I haven't done one of them yet."

Miss Alcott smiled.

Milford felt something on his leg, and he looked down to see what it was.

It was Miss Alcott's hand, her delicate hand, squeezing his thigh, with surprising strength.

"This is it, boy," said the voice in Milford's head, the voice of Stoney.

"This is my chance," thought Milford. 

"You're right," said Stoney, "it is your chance, and quite possibly your last one. Now do something." 

"What should I do?"

"Put your hand on hers, idiot," said the voice of Stoney.

Obediently, Milford put his hand – in the immortal words of the mortal Keats, "this living hand, now warm and capable of earnest grasping" – on Miss Alcott's hand.

"Forget the Keats and now give her hand a gentle squeeze," said Stoney's voice, or was it Milford's own voice?

He gave Miss Alcott's hand a gentle squeeze, and then looked shyly into her eyes. 

She did not seem displeased.  

A new song came on the jukebox.

Once he dressed in tweeds and drapes,

owned a Rolls Royce car;

now he seems quite out of place,

like a fallen star…

{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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