A year ago I introduced Moneen to the Milo story series. This will mark the sixth story. The earlier stories appear on my blog www.bobgillen.net. The standup comic and the dummy have spent eight months together on the road and are ready for a winter hiatus. And a lifestyle change?

Slow To Change

Bob Gillen

I gazed out the windshield of the pickup from my booster seat as Moneen parked the truck in the near-empty beach parking lot.

“I’ve never been to a beach,” I said.


“Nope. Maurice was strictly an urban guy. Hated the outdoors.”

Moneen turned off the engine.

“It’s going to be chilly out there.”

“I don’t feel the cold much. I’ll be okay.”

I watched Moneen zip up her puffy blue coat and pull a beanie on her head. The middle of December on Cape Cod. Cold but above freezing.


“Yeah, Milo.”

“I don’t think I ever said a proper thank you for rescuing me from that awful club.”

 “No need.”

“No, I need to say it. I was buried in the bottom of that closet for so long, I thought I’d never be free again.”

“And here you are, ready to walk the beach for the first time.” She yanked on a pair of leather gloves.

I felt excited to see the beach and the ocean. Moneen slipped out of the truck and came around to pick me up from the seat. She locked the truck and we started for the beach.

There were a few cars in the parking lot. I didn’t see anyone around. Just as well. It must have looked odd for a woman to be carrying a ventriloquist’s dummy to the beach. In the winter. But if the two of us were anything, it was odd. 

A straight and a queer, I like to say. A straight dummy and a lesbian standup comic. We had been touring LGBTQ clubs in the northeastern US for the last eight months or so. Ever since she found me – entirely by accident – in the bottom of a clothes closet in a club green room. Moneen adopted me and included me in her act. Not too much. I have to admit, I am still getting used to the situation. I don’t do change very well. But she’s a pretty good ventriloquist.

For years I toured with my ventriloquist Maurice until his sudden death on stage one fateful night. Maurice was my friend, my constant companion. And now here I am touring with Moneen.

“The beach is at the end of this path,” Moneen said. She shrugged a scarf tighter around her neck with one hand, holding me with the other.

We followed a sandy path over a rise in the dunes. I smelled a smell I had never experienced before. A mix of grass, sand, salt. To the side of the path dune grasses rustled gently in the breeze off the ocean. As we topped the rise the panaroma of beach and ocean opened before us. The waves coming in off the ocean slapped softly against the beach’s edge. They slapped and slipped away. Slapped and slipped.

This is seriously cool, I thought. 

Moneen took us down near the water’s edge. The tide was out and there were hundreds of ripples in the wet sand. It looked like the inside of a corrugated box.

Moneen stopped, reached down and slipped off her sandals.

“I may regret this,” she said, “but I need to feel sand between my toes.” 

“What does that feel like?” I asked.

She knelt down in the damp sand, lowered me so my hand could touch the sand. 

It felt grainy, damp. Not smooth, like the makeup Maurice used to wear on stage. Not powdery, like talcum. More like a handful of sugar or salt.

Moneen moved my hand through the sand, digging down and pulling out a handful that ran between my fingers.

If my rigid face could crack a smile, now would be the moment.

I saw birds skittering across the sand at the water’s edge. They weren’t pigeons…the only bird I had seen before today.

“The clouds are beautiful,” Moneen said. She pointed to a horizon filled with low hanging purple clouds.

We walked along the water’s edge for a while. Farther down the beach I saw two figures. Maybe a woman and a child. The child was wearing yellow boots and a puffy pink coat. The birds scattered as they walked along, then reassembled behind them.

“They look like they’re having fun,” I said.

Moneen nodded.

“Are you enjoying this?” she asked me.

“Oh yes.”

“There’ll be more of this in Florida, when we get there in a few days.”

“No more gigs?”

“No more gigs, Milo. Not for a while. Today is the start of my winter break. I have friends in Florida. I crash with them every winter. There’s a softball league I play with. I’m the shortstop. Pretty good at it, too.”

“There’s more beach there?”

“Miles and miles of beach. Warm too. You’ll like it.”

“What will I do?”

“What do you mean?”

“No gigs?”

“No gigs. I always promise myself a few months off the road. Time to refuel. Write new material. Sleep.”

“So I just lay around?”

“Well…you can help me write new material. Look for the humor in life.”

“Sounds kinda boring.”

“Boring is good, Milo. I need it to refresh myself.”

The woman and child ahead of us had turned around and were walking back towards us. The child, a girl, pointed at us, said something to her mom.

They approached us. 

“Is that a dummy?” the girl asked Moneen.

“Yup. His name is Milo.”

Moneen slipped her hand inside my controls.

“Hi,” she had me say. “Are you enjoying the beach?”

The girl beamed, looked to her mother. “He’s talking to me!”

“Answer him,” her mom said.

“I love the beach. Look.” She reached into her pocket. “I found this today.”

She held out a piece of blue sand glass. 

“Blue is pretty rare,” Moneen said.

The mom said, “Thank you for talking to us. We need to go. She has a hot chocolate waiting for her at our favorite diner.”

The girl waved as they walked off.

“Cute kid,” I said.

Moneen nodded.

I sensed sadness in her face.

“Are you okay?”

Moneen was silent for a bit as we walked on.

“Milo, I may be finished with gigs and standup.”

“Finished? Why? What do you mean?”

I saw a few tears run down Moneen’s cheek. I don’t recall ever seeing her cry.

She held up her free hand. “Give me a few minutes.”

We walked along the beach for a while. Moved away from the water’s edge, up where the sand was drier. 

After a bit Moneen turned and we headed back to the parking lot. 

At the truck Moneen used an old towel to wipe the sand off her feet. She put her sandals back on. “My ankles and soles are killing me,” she said. “That rippled sand is a killer to walk on.”

She set me on my booster seat, came around and fired up the engine. She cranked up the heat.

“I think my standup days are done.”

She stared out the windshield as the sun began to set. 

“I never told you this, Milo.” I saw her pull a tissue out of her pocket. 

“I’m tired.” She leaned forward on the steering wheel. “Finding you…working with you…it’s been great. You got me through this past year.”

Moneen sat back, stared up at the roof of the cab. “Working with you has made me think, I want a child. I want a partner. Someone to love. Like the mother and daughter we just met on the beach.”

“You can love me,” I said. I was feeling a touch of panic. Will I be left alone?

“I do love you. And you will always have a place in my heart. But I need a human love too.”

Moneen began to sob. I never saw this. I didn’t know what to do. After all, she was my voice.

“What I started to say a minute ago, I never told you I once had a partner. Chrissy. She and I were together for five years. In our third year we adopted a baby. Actually a toddler. He was a year and a half when we got him.”

Moneen wiped her face with a tissue.

“His name was Roddy. Our baby. God, he was beautiful. But my partner and I split up two years later. I was on the road a lot, and she resented my being gone so much. Anyway, she got custody of Roddy. I haven’t seen him since. They moved out to California, to the Bay area. I get a card and a picture every Christmas.”

I watched her cry and cry. What should I do? I can’t hug her unless she moves me.

“When I get to Florida there should be a card waiting for me.”

Moneen reached over, lifted me off the seat, and hugged me. Hugged me hard. No one had ever done that to me. It felt good. Warm. Like I was more than a wooden dummy. 

Moneen laughed. She set me back in the seat. 

“I was just thinking of that joke I used in our last gig. It was a real groaner, wasn’t it?”

I had to agree. 

“Any of you into art history?” she had asked the audience. “Do you know the painter Toulouse Lautrec?” Most of the audience nodded.

“Do you know how he got his name? No? Let me tell you.

“When Lautrec was a young teenager he was going through a growth spurt. His mother took him to a tailor. The tailor handed him a pair of pants, sent him to the changing room. Lautrec came back a few minutes later. ‘Put your arms at your side,’ the tailor said. The pants fell down around his ankles. The tailor said, ‘What’s the matter, Lautrec? Pants too loose?’”

Moneen laughed again. “I’m getting stale.”

She pulled out of the parking lot.

“I think we have to find a laundromat, buddy. Get cleaned up. Florida is a long drive.”

I looked down at my navy pants and striped shirt. “Maybe I should get a new outfit.”

“Really? Wow. Time to shed the French sailor boy look?”

“I told you I’m slow to change.”

Moneen shrugged. “Yeah, buddy, so am I.”

She reached over and patted my knee. “What do you say we do this together?”

Deal,” I said. “A straight and a queer, looking for change.”