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  • Whit Hamilton

The Pillow Man - "Notes From the Nut House"

“I look like a polygamist’s wife from Utah!” I said through tears.

“No you don’t…you don’t have a prairie dress and you don’t look anything like Chloe Sevigny.” Randolph replied.

“You’re not helping! I can’t get my hair cut because I might get the plague!” I screamed.

“So write a play about a murderous king in Denmark instead. Besides, who actually sees you other than a few people on the street and me?”

“I see me—I DO! I see me and I see a woman who has never had a haircut or style! I see an active member of the temperance movement with her hair in gray plaits and fifteen kids - all of whom she has to clean up after.” I lamented.

“—I, I, honestly don’t know what to tell you. You want me to cut your hair?” Randolph asked compassionately.

“You touch my hair and I’ll cut off your balls.” I replied dead serious. My hair is a long brunette color with a sprinkling of silver as my fourth decade on the planet had arrived a year or two ago. We walked along the river in silence for a few moments. The snow had melted halfway along the bike path and in the distance you could see Manhattan glittering in the dying day like the emerald city. If only I could click my heels and say ‘there’s no place like home’ three times and vanish from the hellish reality of New York City in lockdown—or any city in lockdown — to a country estate in Tuscany or the Languedoc or even Tennessee, for chrissakes.

“I’ll get your meds ready when we get back to the Institution” Randolph said quietly.

“It better read Cote Du Rhone on the frigging bottle or I’m not taking them.” I said defiantly.

“Don’t you think drinking every day could be seen as a possible bad habit…dare I say ‘problem’.” He motioned with air quotes.

“Do you want to keep your digits, fucker?” I said softly. “You better keep those mits in your pockets. And besides, I think it would be a way bigger problem if I didn’t have a glass of wine in the evening with dinner.”

“All I’m saying, Maggie, is that Bill is a good friend of mine.” Randolph whispered.

“And Dorothy Parker is a good friend of mine!” I shouted.

The Starry Night - Pen & Ink Drawing, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

I grew up in Manhattan and remember my mother taking me to the Algonquin Room. By the time I went to Pratt (Art Institute) my mother, a social worker and my dad, an ad exec bought a brownstone in Brooklyn so that my commute wouldn’t be too hard. Who’s kidding who, here? My commute was walking down the street a few blocks. It was an investment that paid off extremely well for them as they are now jet setters in their retirement - except… They are also locked down. Back to the Algonquin, I enjoyed the stories of witty repartee between the members of the Vicious Circle that made up Dorothy Parker and her peers. My mother lamented that she wished she was as quick witted and sharp as Parker, but alas, she was not for fear of hurting anyone unintentionally. Oh, the compassion of a therapist. I, on the other hand, seemed to be characterized as a hot head and moody. I often wondered if I had been adopted as my father was a quiet, lovely, generous, stand-up kind of guy.

On a boozy night a few years ago on the eve of my 40th…as I faintly recall, I spit in a tube and sent it off to Ancestry. Ten days later and to my surprise I was very much Italian and Scottish. I began learning curse words in the Romance languages and a brogue in the event I might impress my friends and acquaintances with my worldly vocabulary. My poor mother is a southern mutt with every country listed as her heritage while my father is French and English with no hint of red hot latin-ism whatsoever in his genetic make-up. Perhaps I was the love child of an exotic Spanish woman and an Italian Lover left on the doorstep of a convent in Naples. Who knows...The neuroses that I seem to suffer from has no roots in my history or that of my current parent's history. I am fastidious…to a fault. To the point that I threatened Randolph that if he did not pick up after himself while looking after me, I would set his bed on fire. He chuckled until I actually tried to do it. The repetitive rant began thus:

“You need glasses because your aim sucks!”

“I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” He said quietly halfway listening to me and scrolling through his social media.

“You haven’t learned one thing from those goddamn archery classes, have you?” I replied. “Because if you did you’re aim would be better and you’d actually piss INTO the bowl instead of all over it.” I grew increasingly frustrated because the task of cleaning that part of the house is always mine. I have never seen a man on his hands and knees in the bathroom cleaning the outside of a toilet bowl. It would be like seeing Sasquatch in my yard or having a UFO hover over my very building.

“I’m not sure why you’re getting worked up?” He said not looking at me...still quietly scrolling. I quietly walked over to his room and pulled out a pillow. He grew alarmed at the silence as I am never silent.

“Hey, are you okay in there?” He said after a while. As he approached the threshold of the room his face went sheet white and his mouth hung open like a fly trap.

“I’m so sorry…I think I shit on your pillow.” I said - feigning tears.

“What—what—what have you done?!” He said shocked and almost backing away from the mess.

“I had an accident…on your pillow…and I’m not sorry.” I said with intense vulnerability. “The cat does it all the time and you don’t seem to be very bothered. As a matter of fact, you clean it up rather quickly.”

“The Cat! The CAT! THE CAT IS AN ANIMAL!” He bellowed.

“Homo sapiens belong to the animal kingdom—“ I started.

“BUT — BUT You KNOW better!” He screeched.

“And so do you!” I screamed back. “Just think of me as a big cat—Maggie the cat.” I said.

“This is about the toilet, isn’t it?” He said rhetorically. His bulb is dim.

“I need a cigarette!” I said jumping up and grabbing some kitchen matches.

“You don’t smoke!” He shouted looking forlorn over his shit stained pillowcase.

“I do now!” I hollered back. I found some green tobacco in his drawer and rolled a fatty. The skunk smell permeated the apartment and the building. "What kind of 'wacky tobacky is this?" I said giggling.

“Oh my fucking GOD! You lit up my stash! you asshole! You’re gonna get us arrested! Gimme that!” He began chasing me around the apartment. I erupted laughing hysterically until an ash fell on the mattress. As he struggled to save his last precious spliff, the flames began to lick and the fire alarm went off drenching all that we had in the sprinklers. And that, my friends, is how I wound up in the nut house.

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