An excerpt from Day 15, slightly edited.
Mmrma climbed onto the empty seat behind Hannah. He gave her a thumbs up with his good hand. “Mmy mmhr, mmtah! Mmt mh nmnms meenn mm mn-my mwless mmntrlst mmy mmre!”” (1)
Mmrma’s seat-mate, a balding New York haberdasher and antiques dealer named Archibald Tunbridge, was understandably surprised to be addressed in such a manner by a one-eyed jawless ventriloquist dummy; but not because it was the first time he had ever been addressed in such a manner. “As a matter of fact I have.”
“Mmm mmk my mmx mfm!” (2)
“Perhaps some other time. But as a matter of fact I saw a vent not unlike yourself just recently in my shop. I was sorting a collection of photographs of Eleanor Roosevelt when a burly moustachioed man demanded I buy something from him. He strolled in with his raccoon coat and pointed a chorizo-sized finger at me accusingly. “Hey Mistuh, whadd’ll you give me for this here item I got?” he threw a stained shoebox on my meticulously organized mahogany counter, a cloud of dust rising from the sudden onslaught of boxy gravitas he visited upon it. The dust, mind you, not coming from my well-kept premises, but from the aforementioned gentleman – if I may use the term in the broadest sense – and his unsolicited delivery.”
“Mmmh, mmh, mg mh mm mnt mmmdy,” (3) an impatient Mmrma pleaded.
Archibald Tunbridge paused to examine his ragged cuticle and polish it with an ermine-collared 24 carat emery board. “Well if you’re going to be rude I suppose I can not tell it to you at all.”
“Mmmght, mmght, Mm mmrry mmldy. Mw mt mht mhe mmssve mmmsgggrmh mm mo mn! Mmmease? (4)“
“Very well,”Tunbridge continued.”I put on my archival gloves and waited for the cloud of dust to settle. I brushed dust off the top of the shoebox with a fine-fibred whisk broom I keep on hand for such occasions. And I opened the box. When I opened the box, I was startled – what I saw was a rare 1927 Ginger Jane ventriloquist dummy with the articulating elbows and the five-key eyebrow control, with hand-tooled ginger strands, and the spring-loaded double-take.”
Mmrma raised his eyebrow excitedly.
“In exquisite condition such a specimen would fetch a high four figures at Sotheby’s. But this poor creature – she looked like she had been tortured at the hands of some crazed, vengeful madman! Her once flowing ginger locks were singed a Thanksgiving turkey brown, one luminous green eye had been ripped out of its socket and her finely sculpted jaw was completely gone. I looked imploringly at the handlebarred demon who presented this ghastly wooden sacrifice before me.”
At this Mmrma shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and began to shudder imperceptibly.
“Eh, you know, I gave it to my kids to play with – I can’t believe they never learned to take care of their tings!”
“Sir, I’m sure you know this is a very special doll, but you’ve done terrible things to it. No doll should be treated like this, especially not a Ginger Jane!”
“Yeah, if I wanted ta be lectchered at I’da gone ta Town Hall. Tell ya what, Professah, I’ll leave this doll in yer capable white-gloved hands and whatever you do with it is fine wid me!” Billy the K waved his own massive paws in front of his face. “And do somethin’ about the dust in dis joint – no wonduh business is sowuh! Haw haw haw!”
Mmmra was now in tears of rage. “Mmmsth! Mmmsth! Mmse mp! Mh mnt mke mn mmr! Mt ms mh mho mhnk mh ms, Mh Mnt mnd mn mmr!” (5)
“I do apologize if my tale is rather graphic, sir, “ Tunbridge paused, wiping his bald pate for dramatic effect; if this had been for comedic effect, he would have contined the wipe down his face, brushing past his nose and turning his smile into a frown.”And I may have embellished somewhat as is my wont. But I assure you, good man, this tale has a happy ending. “
“Mmth! Mm mstle mt mh mmnmashm mf mr mst mmark!” (6)
“Sir, if you are who I think you are – and your behavior certainly indicates to me that you are – I can’t say I understand what you’ve been through, but please be assured that my intentions were noble and restorative. In fact, perhaps I can do for you what I did for the one you know as ‘Crackers.’”
“MMHSES MHLIVE?! MMAKRS MS MMLVE?!” (7)
“Yes, your Crackers is alive, Mortimer.”
“Mw mee, Mh mh mmst mmws mh moid mn mh mng mme – mh mmst mmws mh muh moid mvuh! May, mhw mmhm mu mn mnnsnd mh Mm myin moo mrs”? (8)
“Well, in addition to my expertise in the fields sartorial and antiquital,” – Mmmrma rolls his eye a hair at this, – “I am an expert in the field of sub-esophagal and reconstructive ventrilinguistics, and I determined what she was saying by examining the ligature of Ginger Jane’s – your Crackers’ – machinery as she struggled to explain to me her predickamentation. Err, predicament. And, although yours is a more common, dime-store ligature, I could extrapolate your meaning from the painful lessons of your Crackers.”
The guitar riff from Sister Sledge’s “He’s the greatest dancer,” – who can blame Will Smith for sampling it – plays.
“A strobe-light seems to flickr in the eyes of Archibald Tunbridge’s photographic memory. “Many splinters and liters of wood glue later, Crackers was able to tell me her story unencumbered by pain. She was a marvelous specimen, as I’m sure you knew – as she told me you knew,” Tunbridge raised an eyebrow. “She told me after Billy the K wrested her away from your Lawrence of Arabia-loving arms, he kept her hooked by means of the very substance that gave her the monniker you and all the other 42nd street swells knew her by. Billy the K had a cadre of females known for their great expertise in the art of seduction-for-hire in his collection of lost souls, but this Ginger Jane had a special spot in the devilish place where one presumes he kept his hear imprisoned, like another one of his indentured charges.
Here’s what we call our golden rule
have faith in you and the things you do …
“Billy the K took Crackers and her sisters to the disco every night – cruising for Johns of course, but also because they loved to dance – especially Crackers and Billy the K. Despite their discrepancy in size – so she told me – the rhythm and the drugs flowed through their lithe bodies – or, rather, her lithe body and his malevolent animal hide; and although I am personally more interested in the pleasures and creations of the intellect, I can envy the figurative creative flow of the dance, however primitive and epinephrine-fueled was their hedonistic ritual.”
Mmrma nodded, catching the Professah’s drift. He already knew Crackers could shake her moneymaker, but he hated knowing that Billy the K was a dancing fool himself. Mmrma despised and at the same time envied what sounded like an undeniable terpsichorean talent.
“But Crackers longed for you, Mortimer. Through the disco haze and the pills and the glitter and lights, the free-floating feeling of indestructability that her namesake poison gave to her, even after seventy-two sleepless hours at a time of non-stop dancing and hooking – something tugged at her, fingered her keys if you will, and in the middle of the dancefloor at Studio 54, one night she said to Billy the K, ‘Oh Mortimer, turn me around again!’
“Billy the K stopped and looked at her, the rainbow lights darting around her face, the structure that had captured the imagination and hearts of so many ventriloquist audiences spanning five decades – but never like this gem of the ocean … and Billy the K slapped her. Hard. He was a big man, as I’m sure you remember, and his soft voice made his penchant for horrible violence all the more shocking. Her jaw came off with that one swipe. Splinters flew over the lighted dance floor …”
These are the good times
leave your care behind
These are the good times
“Crackers stared at Billy the K in disbelief, too stunned to feel the excruciating pain.”
But Mortimer could feel it – it was the pain he lived with every day, all the more acute knowing that his beloved met the same fate. His one eye stared into space. He was thankful that she was better, if the Professah was not steering him sideways. And he wanted to know what happened. But it was the worst story he’d ever heard.
(1) “Hey there, mistah! Bet you nevuh seen a one-eyed jawless ventriloquist dummy before!”
(2)”Well knock my socks off!”
(3)”Yeah, yeah, get to the point already!”
(4) “Alright, alright, I’m sorry already. Now quit with the passive aggression and go on already. Please?”
(5) “Mistuh! Mistuh! Please stop! If it’s who I think it is, I can’t stand no more!”
(6)”Mistuh! I bristle at the connotations of your last remark!”
(7) “SHE’S ALIVE?! CRACKERS IS ALIVE?!”
(8)” Aw gee, that’s the best news I hoid in a long time – the best new I eveuh hoid evuh! Say, home come you can udnerstand what I’m sayin’ to yers?”