Healing through story

Tag: dummy

#shortfiction24 – slow to change

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.”


shortfiction24 – voiced by a lesbian comic

Milo finds a new voice in a lesbian standup comic. Change doesn’t come easily.

I’ve mentioned before, some of my stories have turned into series. The characters keep talking to me. I don’t have a story or character arc planned out. The continuing stories arise as they do.

Milo lost his beloved Maurice on stage one night. He was abandoned to the floor of a dressing room closet. He had a few adventures, with Maurice’s spirit helping him out of tight spots.

He has now been thrown together by serendipity with standup comic Moneen. They start a life which may be brand new for each.

Voiced by a Lesbian Comic

Bob Gillen

Standup comic Moneen Quirk waved to the audience, grabbed her water bottle, and left the stage to a healthy round of applause. Backstage the club manager called her over. 

“You did good. I’d like to have you come back. Call me in a month or two, when I have a fresh audience.”

He paid Moneen in cash. “Don’t forget. Call me.”

Deeper backstage in the deserted dressing room, Moneen counted out the cash, stuffed it in her jeans pocket. She wiped makeup off her face, ran her hands through her hair to soften the gel in her spiked blond tips.

“Time to hit the road,” she said aloud.

She reached into the closet for her jacket. The hanger broke, the jacket landed on the floor atop a pile of makeup-stained towels. Moneen reached down and her hand struck something hard. She took out her jacket, reached back in to find a head. The head of a dummy. 

A ventriloquist’s dummy. 

She pulled out the dummy. “Hey buddy. Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Waiting for someone to find me, Milo thought.

Moneen set the dummy on the counter, grabbed a cotton wipe and dusted off its head and shoulders. 

She studied the dummy. “Hey, you look pretty spiffy. Navy pants, striped shirt. A continental look. Can’t imagine anyone leaving you here.”

Moneen smiled, dropped her voice. “I spent a year working a ventriloquist routine. Couldn’t make a go of it. Never found the right dummy.”

 She glanced around the empty room. “How would you like to take a road trip with me?”

Anything but this.

Moneen threw her backpack over her shoulder, tucked the dummy under her jacket, and dashed out the rear exit before anyone spotted her.

In the parking lot sat her white Chevy Silverado 1500 all-wheel drive pickup with a low profile camper in the back. She set the dummy in the passenger seat, climbed in, fired the engine and hit the road.

A few miles ahead she pulled in at a McDonald’s drive through, ordered a Quarter Pounder and a coffee to go. 

As she ate in the truck, she said, “My next gig is tomorrow night. A three-hour drive. How about you and I just ride, see if we can get comfortable with one another.”

I can do that.

Moneen settled in behind the wheel.

“One thing is non-negotiable, Milo. I love driving the night roads.” She reached for the radio. “I prefer good old rock when I drive at night. Anything with bass, and lyrics that touch me…you must enjoy feeling the fresh night air, buddy. Been a long time, huh?”

Amen to that.

Moneen reached over to stroke Milo’s head. “Here we go.”

An hour down the road Moneen spoke. “Hey, buddy, I am so sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. Name is Moneen. Full name Moneen Felicity Quirk. I’m a standup comic. Travel mostly the northeast US, sometimes Montreal when the weather is warm. I live on the road six to eight months a year. This truck is my home. Wifi and internet is my lifeline.

“In the morning I’ll google you, see if I can find out what happened. At least I can find your name.”

My name is Milo. I can’t tell you that because I can’t speak without someone else’s voice. But I have feelings. They’re locked inside.

The wonderful silence of nights on the road fell over them.

After three hours they pulled off the road into a free camp site. Moneen turned the music off. “Have to move quietly in here, or they’ll toss me. We can sleep here. Clean restrooms and good showers.”

The two moved to the camper shell. 

“You can bed in here with me. Hope I don’t embarrass you. Don’t know if I snore. Been a while since I was with anyone.” 

Moneen set the dummy on a seating ledge, then nestled into a sleeping bag on her bunk.

“This is my life most nights. You’d think I can’t come up with any comic material living a boring life. But the humor is here. Gotta look for it, listen for it. I usually take the deep winter months off. Otherwise I play colleges and towns big enough for snow clearance to be a priority.”

In the morning, shortly before noon, Moneen stirred. “Morning, buddy. Let me hit the showers, then we can talk.”

Half an hour later Moneen searched the Internet for clues to what happened to the dummy. 

“Aha. You worked an act with Maurice. He died on stage at the club we just left. Almost two years ago. They left you there…your name is Milo, right?”


“Milo, I know you must have been close with Maurice before he died. I hope I can be a friend too.”


“I have an idea. We don’t know one another yet. I can’t pretend to be your voice. How about this? My next few gigs you can sit in the wings. Absorb my act, how I connect with audiences. After a while, you can come on stage with me. Remain silent for a bit if you’re not ready. When you are, we’ll try out an act.”


“And we’ll spend time on the road getting to know one another. That will help.” 

Better than sitting in a closet.

“You know, I started my career as a ventriloquist’s assistant. Worked my way up to ventriloquist for a short time, but I transitioned over to standup and never looked back.”

Moneen put on a jacket. She ran her hand over the dummy’s control mechanism. 

That feels good.

“Let’s go for a walk. We can talk for a bit.”

The two set out on a path that led to a small lake.

“I should tell you something. I’m a lesbian. Part of the LGBTQ community. I hope that doesn’t put you off. Being voiced by a lesbian.”

Milo spoke through Moneen. “I don’t do well with change. I guess it would be okay.”

“Ah, there’s your voice. Okay, we’ll try it. Might work. A lesbian standup comic voicing a straight dummy.”

They walked for an hour, tentative voices exploring one another’s personalities. As they approached the camper, Moneen said, “I am really slow on the uptake. Milo, you must be feeling a lot of pain. Losing your partner suddenly, in the middle of the act. In front of an audience.”

“It hurts like hell. We were together for a long time. Maurice’s wife divorced him. Said he talked to me more than to her. I was his best friend.”

“Alright, let’s hit the road. There’s a good diner near the next venue. Early dinner, and then we can scope the audience before we go on.”

That night Moneen set Milo on a chair in the club’s wings. She ran through most of her routine to a strong audience reaction.

Moneen glanced over at Milo. Nodded. Turned to the audience.

“Hey, you guys have been great. Before I finish I want to introduce a friend to you all.” She walked over, set Milo on her arm, and brought him out on stage. The audience stared.

“This is Milo. A new friend. I rescued him from the bottom of a closet.”

She had Milo face the audience. “He’s kinda shy.”

“Not shy,” Milo said. “Never been voiced by a lesbian before.”

The audience hooted and clapped.

“Okay, maybe not so shy. A new world for both of us. I worked a ventriloquist act a few years back. My dummies were all gay.”

Moneen unbuttoned the denim overshirt she wore, to reveal a white tee shirt with large bold letters that read: The Future is Female Ejaculation.

The audience erupted. A woman down front yelled, “I hear you, sister!” In the rear another woman stood, shouted, “You rock!”

Moneen sucked in the audience reaction. 

Milo spoke, “I’m a straight guy. This is all new to me.”

“Uh oh,” Moneen said, “I think I embarrassed you.”

Later, sitting in her truck, Milo balancing on her knee, Moneen said, “I owe you an apology. Too much too soon.”

“I told you, I don’t handle change well.”

“Milo, would you consider a costume change? Would you be more comfortable in a different outfit?”

Milo turned to glare at Moneen. “Okay, so we had an awkward moment, and already you want to change me. I’ve worn this outfit for years. Been this character since I can remember.”

“No, no. Just a thought. If you would be more comfortable…”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

The two lapsed into silence. Moneen whispered, “I’m sorry. I don’t do change well either.”

Milo did not answer.

Moneen set Milo in the passenger seat, pulled out onto the highway.

“No gigs till the weekend,” she said. 

They drove in silence for hours. At the next campground, they tucked in for the night.

In the morning, Moneen drove to a pancake house for takeout. In the camper, she said, “If I said again I was sorry, would you hear my voice?”

She reached for Milo’s controls. Silence.

Moneen laughed. Milo turned to stare at her.

“I had a crazy thought. We could dress you in a monk’s robe. You could hold a jar of jam. You have a vow of silence. You never speak onstage.”

Milo snickered. 

“Aha, you’re hearing me.”

Milo said, “I’m this guy. I won’t change. Don’t try to make me something I’m not.”

Moneen nodded. “And I won’t change either.”

Milo said, “A straight and a queer. We can make it work.” He blurted out, “Okay, if one of us has to change, how about I take on a James Dean look? Jeans, white tee, cowboy boots, slicked back hair.”

Moneen laughed. “Yeah. Jett Rink from Giant.”

Milo reached over, hugged Moneen. “A straight and a queer with the same sense of humor.”


shortfiction24 – Milo in Paris

Maurice and Milo are thrilled to perform at a club in Paris. They dream of becoming a global act. Alas…

What I’m Writing

In February 2020 I posted a story titled “Sawdust” about my quirky characters, Maurice and Milo, a ventriloquist and his dummy. A second story followed in August 2021. Today’s story is about them again, this time a prequel to Maurice’s sudden death onstage one night. POV is once again Milo’s. Here they are, excited to be performing at a club in Paris.

Milo in Paris

Bob Gillen

The club’s green room sat in the basement, under the stage. Dark, poorly lit. A tiny closet to the side. A locked door that led somewhere unknown. Maurice sat at the dressing table in front of the mirror. 

I watched him work through his makeup routine. He darkened his eyebrows, combed his moustache. Pulled on his fedora, positioning it carefully. He liked to frame himself as a film noir character.

Maurice turned to me. The dummy in the next chair. “You look good tonight, Milo.”

“Thank you. And I must say, you are looking quite well yourself, Maurice.”

Maurice smiled. “Thank you, my friend.”

Maurice smoothed my shirt, white with blue stripes. Pinched the crease in my dark slacks. He reached for a navy blue beret, positioned it carefully on my head. 

“I think we’re ready.”

A knock on the door. “Five minutes.”

“Thank you, five minutes.” Maurice stood. Smoothed his own outfit. 

“Our first gig in Paris, Milo. This is a big night. We’ll be here for a week, if tonight works. The first step in becoming a global act.”

“One show at a time,” I said.

“You’re right. You’ve heard me say that many times.”

Maurice picked me up and opened the door. As we mounted the stairs, I heard the applause from the act preceding us. Two dancers, their shoes tapping on the floor, dashed past us as we reached the wings.

“You’re on,” the club manager said.

Maurice took a deep breath, adjusted my beret, and stepped out on stage.

Credit: The Guardian

In the green room after our performance, Maurice said, “I hope you don’t feel badly when they call you sawdust, Milo.”

I shook my wooden head.

“The drunk in the Hawaiian print shirt was obnoxious. Obviously an American tourist speaking bad French.”

“We’ve seen worse,” I said, softly. “But it sounded classy in French. Sciure. Sawdust.”

“Funny…the word sawdust,” Maurice said. “Tonight it reminds me of my first job as a kid, right out of eighth grade. A summer job as a delivery boy for the local butcher shop. There was always sawdust on the floor of the shop. It was my job to sweep it up every night at closing time, and spread new sawdust on the floor. I did that while the butcher used a wire brush to scrub the blood and scraps off his carving block.”

I had never heard him talk of that before.

“That was a lot of years ago, Milo. A lot of years.”

Maurice folded my outfit carefully, placed it in the suitcase with his own jacket and fedora. 

“We’ve come a long way,” Maurice said. “A long way from doing sock puppets in my bedroom. Trying to drown out my mom and dad screaming at each other.”

It was always me.

He looked at the me. Me, Milo. It was always me, even as a sock puppet. Always French. Always there at his side. Somewhere at home he still had the sock. Rolled up in a drawer somewhere. Or in a box in the closet. If his ex-wife Darla hasn’t thrown it out. She hated me. Not at first. But it didn’t take long for her to realize I came first. I was more real than anyone else to Maurice.

I understood him like no one else did. An odd thing to say. A wooden dummy understands you better than any person. Odd, maybe, but real. Real for us.

“Tomorrow night will be even better,” Maurice said. “We open for a jazz trio. It will be an audience that appreciates the finer things in life.”

Oui,” I said.

Maurice smiled. “There’s always a tomorrow night.”


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