Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, currently trapped in the universe of a mystifyingly obscure “paperback original” novel titled Rummies of the Open Road…
(Kindly go here to read our preceding chapter; if you happen to be recovering from a severe illness or a nervous breakdown and the doctors have recommended six months’ bed rest, you might as well click here to begin this 53-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir from the beginning.)
“Soon the summer vacation will be over, and, alas, I shall no longer be able to spend a minimum of eight hours a day lost in the infinitely wondrous world of Arnold Schnabel’s mammoth and sui generis chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in The Olney Community College Literary Review.
Laughing Lou didn’t fall to the floor, but he did begin to sob, holding one of his enormous hands to his fat cheek.
“Why’ja do that, Lily?” he sobbed. “Why’ja do that?”
Oddly enough he still hadn’t dropped that big cigar of his, and in between his sobs he took a couple of drags off of it.
“Oh, stop your bawling,” said the woman. “I didn’t hit you that hard.”
With her cigarette in her mouth she opened her black sparkly purse and dropped the pistol into it.
“It was too, hard!” said Laughing Lou.
“Big baby,” said the woman, and she snapped her purse shut with an authoritative click.
“I am not a baby!” said Laughing Lou. “But nobody likes to get slugged really hard in the jaw with a pistol!”
“Listen, buddy, if I ever slug you really hard you’ll know you’ve been slugged hard,” said the woman, whom now I began to think of as “Lily”. (It had only taken six or eight repetitions of her name for it to become one with her persona, at least in my own brain. Which was not to say I might not forget it soon enough.)
“It felt hard to me,” said Laughing Lou.
“That’s because you’re a punk,” she said. “A big, fat, loudmouthed –”
“You shouldn’t talk to me like that, Lily!” he yelled. “And I may be a little heavy-set, but I ain’t no punk! I’m a – I’m a –”
“Okay,” she said, and she pointed a finger at him. “Two things. Don’t ever interrupt me, I’ve told you that before. And don’t ever raise your voice to me.”
“But, but –” he burbled, if burbled is a word.
“And don’t ever contradict me,” she said.
“That’s three things,” said Ferdinand, who had been oddly quiet for some little time.
She turned and looked at me and at Horace, who was still sitting at the table.
“Who said that,” she said, and it was like that, with no question mark.
“It wasn’t me!” said Horace.
“So it was handsome there, huh?” she said, meaning me, and I wondered what exactly I looked like in this world.
“It wasn’t Arnie, neither,” said Ferdinand, who was buzzing around just above my head and to the right. “It was me.”
“So one of you bums is a ventriloquist, huh?” she said. “So which one is the ventriloquist and which one is the dummy?”
“Neither,” said Ferdinand, and he flew across the room and stopped and hovered a few feet in front of the woman’s face.
“What the fuck,” she said.
“What the fuck indeed,” said Ferdinand.
“A talking fly?” she said.
“Indeed, madame,” he said. “A talking fly, at your service. My name is Ferdinand.”
“Well, hi there, Ferdinand,” she said, and she took a drag on her cigarette. “My name’s Lily.”
“Watch him, Lily,” said Laughing Lou, who was still sniffling, if not sobbing. “He attacked me. Flew right into my eye –”
“Shut up, Lou,” said Lily. “Just shut the fuck up.” Then she looked over her shoulder at him. “Why didn’t you tell me we had a talking fly in the joint?”
Laughing Lou didn’t say anything, he just stood there near the door, with his hand caressing his jaw.
Lily turned and raised her purse in a back-handed striking position.
“Answer me, you disgusting fat oaf!”
“But you told me to shut up!” said Laughing Lou, and I heard Ferdinand chuckling.
“And now I’m telling you to talk,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me about the talking fly?”
“Well, you really didn’t give me much of a chance,” said Laughing Lou. “Before you started pistol-whipping me.”
For a second it looked as if she were going to go ahead and whack him with the purse, but then Ferdinand spoke again.
“Y’know, he’s got a point, lovely lady,” he said. “I mean I’m just sayin’.”
She lowered the purse, turned and looked at Ferdinand, who was now hovering only a couple of feet away from her.
“Where’d you come from, anyway, little fella?” said Lily.
“He came from another like world,” said Laughing Lou. “If you had given me a chance I would’ve explained it all to you.”
“I wasn’t asking you, crybaby,” said Lily, not even bothering to turn and look at Laughing Lou. “I was talking to Ferdinand.”
“Well, if I may answer your question, Miss Lily –” said Ferdinand.
“Please do, my friend,” said Lily.
“As the fat boy, says, I come from another world or universe if you will, fallen into this world, which is apparently that of a somewhat tawdry-looking paperback novel called Rummies of the Open Road, along with my two friends: Arnold – that’s the handsome poetic-looking fella over there – and Horace P. Sternwall, the author of said novel – which is to say the gentleman soaked with bourbon sitting at the table over there.”
“I could have told you all that, Lily,” said Laughing Lou, who had stopped sobbing, and was now mopping his face with a handkerchief.
“Sure, maybe you could have,” said Lily. “But if you had I very much doubt you would have expressed yourself with such elegant what’s the word?
“Brevity?” said Ferdinand.
“Right, brevity,” said Lily. “Something you wouldn’t know anything about, you longwinded bore-ass.”
“Jeeze,” said Laughing Lou. “Y’know, it may surprise you to hear it, Lily, but I happen to be a very popular raconteur and hail-fellow-well-met, always ready with a good joke, or a slightly bawdy yarn –”
“Can it, fatty,” she said, and she pointed the lit end of her cigarette at Horace. “So you’re the great Horace P. Sternwall – the modern day Dickens, Balzac and Tolstoy all wrapped up in one.”
“Heh heh,” said Horace, “I shouldn’t go quite that far in describing myself, heh heh –”
“Tell me something, Horace,” she said, “weren’t you taught to rise when a lady enters the room?”
“Oh, my goodness, please forgive me!” said Horace, and he quickly stood up, almost knocking his chair over again. “It’s just that I was, I was –”
“And what about the lid?” she said.
Horace looked around, as if looking for a lid he was supposed to know something about.
“She means your hat, Horace,” said Ferdinand.
“Oh! Yes!” he said, and he quickly took off his fedora. “I do beg your pardon, but you see, I was, I was –”
“Save the excuses, scribbler,” she said. “A joint like this, believe me, I’m used to no-class bums.”
“Well, it’s still no excuse,” he said. “And I do hope you’ll accept my sincerest, my most profound and heartfelt, um –”
“Horace,” said Ferdinand.
“Yes, my friend?” said Horace.
“Quit while you’re ahead.”
“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha –”
Laughing Lou looked as if he were going to toss out one more mirthless peal, but Lily shot him a look and he shut up.
“You know, if I may make a suggestion, Lily,” said Horace, “a lovely name, by the way – if I may address you as such, unless of course you would prefer I address you by your surname, preceded by the appropriate form of address, be it Miss or Mrs. –”
“My friends call me Lily,” she said.
“Lily it is then,” said Horace.
“My friends call me Lily and everyone else calls me Miss Lily.”
“So should I call you Miss Lily?”
“What do you think, Tolstoy?”
“You said you had a suggestion,” she said.
“Why, yes, I did, Miss Lily,” said Horace, “and mind you, this is only a suggestion – but perhaps if we all just had a drink of something refreshing then the atmosphere might, oh, how shall I put it, lighten up a bit?”
“That’s your suggestion, is it, Dostoyevsky?” said Lily.
“He’s a juicer,” said Laughing Lou.
“Hey, ain’t we all?” said Ferdinand.
“I mean,” said Horace, “it was only a suggestion –”
Lily stared at him. Horace shut up.
“Y’know, I can smell the booze on you from here,” she said.
“Oh, that,” he said, “well, you see, when Arnold and Lou had their little – how shall I put it – contretemps?”
“Try putting it in English, Monsieur Zola,” she said.
“Heh heh, yes, of course,” said Horace. “As I was saying, when Arnold and Lou had their little shall we say disagreement – well, you see the table was overturned in the hullabaloo, and the bourbon bottle overturned with it, and its contents you see spilled all over my shirt and tie, and –”
“What’re you, writing another novel?” she said.
“Heh heh,” he said, “no, but I was just trying to explain how all the whiskey soaked my shirt and tie, and there’s even some on my trousers I see –”
“Horace,” said Ferdinand.
“Yes, Ferdinand,” said Horace.
“What did I tell you about quitting while you were ahead?”
“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Ha –”
Lily shot him another look and he shut up again in mid-”ha ha”.
I couldn’t take much more of this – or, I probably could, but I didn’t want to – and I remembered again that if I were a fictional character there was no need for me to be my usual self-effacing self.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Miss?”
“Yes, handsome?” said Lily.
“As Ferdinand has said, my name is Arnold, Arnold Schnabel.”
“Pleased to meet you, Arnold,” she said. “You can call me Lily.”
“Hello, Lily,” I said. “I wonder, Lily, if I might say something.”
“You have the floor, Arnold,” she said.
“First off, I want to – to apologize for any unpleasantness that has – transpired here tonight,” I said. “Any unpleasantness that I may have been at least somewhat responsible for.”
“He tried to brain me with a chair, Lil,” said Laughing Lou.
“He did?” said Lily.
“He sure did,” said Laughing Lou. “See it on the floor, there? Broke the leg. One of them good chairs we got from Sears and Roebuck. Good thing I blocked it with my arm, too, he might have killed me. As it is I bet I’m gonna get a terrific bruise –”
“Oh, boo hoo,” she said. “All the fat you got on that arm, you probably didn’t even feel it.”
“Look, I admit I got carried away,” I said. “And again, I apologize.”
“You got nothing to apologize for,” said Ferdinand. “He pulled a .38 on you.”
“I only pulled my .38 because he threatened to knock me down,” said Laughing Lou.
Lily turned to face Laughing Lou.
“A guy half your size threatens to knock you down and you pull a .38 on him?”
“Well, okay,” he said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Excuse me, Miss Lily, but may I just interpolate something, at this juncture?" said Horace.
She turned and looked at him for a moment before speaking.
“Sure,” she said. “What’s on your mind, Flaubert?”
“Heh heh,” said Horace. “Flaubert, he was a great novelist –”
“Fuck Flaubert,” she said.
“Heh heh,” he said. “Right, he was rather dull, really –”
“Horace,” she said. “Say what you have to say or shut up.”
“Right,” said Horace, “brevity, concision, no beating around the bush –”
“Unless you want a taste of what Lou got you better spit it out, Mister Horace P. Sternwall, because in case you haven’t noticed, I am not a patient woman.”
“To the point then,” said Horace. “I just want to say that maybe – and please note I say maybe – maybe both Arnold and Lou were somewhat at fault. I say maybe.”
That Mantovani album was still playing, but still I could hear Ferdinand heave a sigh, even though he was hovering some six feet away from me. But he didn’t say anything. For which I was grateful.
“Maybe?” said Horace, again.
Lily took another drag on her cigarette before speaking.
“And maybe,” she said, “just maybe, I do not give a flying fuck.”
(To be continued, because we have three bartenders and two cats to support.)
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