We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the stately old Bleecker Street townhouse of the glamorous siblings Nadine, Terence and Cathy, on this rainy night in August of 1957...
(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; go here to return to the far-off and mist-shrouded beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume autobiography.)
“Yes, the dog days have descended upon us, and what better way to pass the time than to sit in one’s easy chair in one’s comfortably air-conditioned study, happily losing oneself in the world (that world containing so many worlds, and worlds within worlds) of Arnold Schnabel?” – Harold Bloom, in the Cape May Pennysaver Literary Supplement.
I sat up straight. Well, I sat up straighter, anyway. Nadine and Cathy were both touching me. Nadine was patting my back, Cathy was caressing my sweaty neck.
“Hurry, Terence,” said Nadine. “Go get Arnold a nice big plate of the bœuf bourguignon.”
“Should I heat it up?” asked Terence.
“Of course you should ‘heat it up’,” she said. “Arnold doesn’t want to eat cold bœuf bourguignon.”
“I wish Mrs. Murphy were awake,” said Terence.
“Well, Mrs. Murphy isn’t awake,” said Nadine, “or at least so one presumes.”
“I could ring her and see if she’s up,” said Terence. “You never know.”
“And what if she’s sleeping,” said Nadine. “You would wake that poor old woman up from a possibly sound sleep?”
“She might prefer to be woken up,” said Terence, “even from the soundest of sleeps, rather than have me clanging about with her precious pots and pans. I’ll just give her a ring.”
“You will not ring up that poor old dear, Terence. Now stop all this dilly-dallying and go and heat up some of that bœuf bourguignon for Arnold before he absolutely starves to death.”
“But why does it have to be me?” said Terence. “Why can’t you or Cathy do it?”
“Not me!” spoke up Cathy. “I can’t even boil water – you know that, mon frère.”
“And you know I won’t go anywhere near that stove,” said Nadine. “It simply terrifies me,” she said, addressing me. “You have to light it with a match and I’m always so afraid it’s going to explode, like a – like an atom bomb!”
“You girls are so fucking hopeless,” said Terence. He took another drink from his highball. He still hadn’t moved an inch from where he was lounging back against the arm of the sofa. “Sorry for the language, Arnold,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I said.
Now that I had composed myself somewhat, now that I was no longer on the verge of vomiting, all I wanted to do was escape.
“So, would you like some buttered egg noodles with your bœuf bourguignon?” said Terence. “We still have some of them left over. I’m afraid they won’t be exactly al dente after I’ve heated them up, but, you know – qu’est-ce qu’on va faire?”
“Listen,” I said. “Maybe I should just go.”
“Go?” said Nadine.
“What?” said Cathy.
“Pardon me?” said Terence.
I stole a glance at the colonel above the mantlepiece. He was still glowering down at me. With contempt. No, with disdain, that was it, a sort of disgusted disdain.
“Arnold?” said Nadine. “What’s the matter, dear boy? Mrs. Murphy’s bœuf bourguignon really is quite tasty.”
“It’s not that,” I said.
“Then what is it?”
“Yes, Arnold, tell us,” said Cathy.
“It shouldn’t take me longer than ten minutes to heat up a platter for you,” said Terence. “Well, maybe fifteen minutes, because if you heat it up too terribly quickly it sticks to the pan and gets burnt.”
My eye was now caught by the TV again.
“You’ve got twenty-four hours,” said one of the guys who had been roughing up Dan Duryea. “Twenty-four hours or you take the rap.”
“Fuck you,” said Dan Duryea.
“Look,” I said, trying to address all and sundry. “I’m sorry. But I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Why ever not?” said Nadine.
I said nothing, not because I had nothing to say but because I had too much to say.
“You poor dear,” said Cathy. “Do you have somewhere else you’re supposed to be?”
That too was a difficult question to answer.
Dan Duryea was now standing on the sidewalk on a nighttime city street. He lit a cigarette with a paper match.
“Twenty-four hours,” said his voice, although his lips didn’t move. “Twenty-four hours to a one-way trip to the electric chair.”
“D’ya know what I think Arnold is?” said Terence. “And I say this with the utmost respect.” No one said anything, and so he answered his own question. “He’s a poète maudit.”
“Is that what you are, Arnold?” said Cathy. “A poète maudit?”
“I think he is,” said Nadine. “It’s perfectly all right, you know, Arnold.”
“How romantic,” said Cathy.
“Well,” said Nadine, “poète maudit or pas poète maudit, we’re not letting you just run out of here. Into that gale out there. Look!”
She pointed across the room, to where there were three tall arched windows with drawn-back purple curtains. Rain was streaming down the window panes, like in a movie, as if stage hands were hosing them down.
“Anyway, I thought you were hungry, old boy,” said Terence. “Stay and have a bite.”
“Do stay, Arnold,” said Cathy.
“I shan’t let you leave,” said Nadine.
“Look,” I said, at last. “I hate to be rude, but I really have to go.”
“See?” said Terence. “Classic poète maudit behavior.”
“Have you always felt maudit?” said Cathy, and she ran her fingernail down the side of my face.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Maudit,” she said, and now she ran her fingernail up the side of my face. The fingernail was blood red, as were all the rest of her fingernails. “Have you always been maudit?”
“Mo dee?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “Maudit.”
“I don’t know what that is,” I said.
“Do you not speak French?” she said.
“Not very well, apparently,” I said.
“You don’t know what a poète maudit is, Arnold?” said Terence.
“No,” I said. “I have no idea what any of you are talking about – but, look, it’s okay –”
“Poète maudit,” said Terence. “It means cursed poet.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Would you say that’s what you are, old chap?”
“Well, maybe the cursed part,” I said.
“Oh, but you are indeed a poet!” said Nadine. “Remember, dear boy, I saw your performance at the Kettle of Fish earlier tonight.”
“His performance?” said Cathy.
“He gave a reading from his new epic poem at the Kettle,” said Nadine. “And then at one point he went off on this simply marvelous improvisation. It was ravishing!”
“Wish I’d been there,” said Cathy.
“Me, too,” said Terence. “I miss all the fun.”
“That’s because all you do is loaf around this house all day and night,” said Nadine.
“I go out,” said Terence. “Sometimes.”
“Okay,” I said, “well, if you’ll all excuse me –”
I started to get up, or to try to get up, but Nadine and Cathy each grabbed an arm and pulled me back down.
“You don’t seriously propose just to dash out into that typhoon out there, do you?” said Nadine.
“Yes,” I said.
“You’re really quite mad, aren’t you?” said Cathy. “I like that.”
“I just want to go,” I said.
“You said you would read my poetry,” said Nadine.
“Maybe some other time?” I said, shamelessly.
“I’m really rather hurt,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“You’re very cruel you know.”
“Her poetry is stupid,” Cathy whispered in my ear.
“What’s that you said, Catherine?” said Nadine.
“I said your poetry is really good!” said Cathy.
“Oh, thank you. I thought you hated it.”
“Hey, I’ve got an idea, Arnold,” said Terence. “If you don’t want bœuf bourguignon then how about some cheese and crackers, or maybe some cold sandwiches. Wouldn’t take a minute.”
“Have some cheese and crackers, Arnold,” said Cathy, and she pulled on my earlobe. “And sandwiches.”
I have to admit I was tempted, just because I was so famished. But I knew if I stayed here to eat I might not ever get out of this house.
“Look,” I said, “you’re all very nice, and I know I’m being rude, and unfair to, uh –”
Great, I couldn’t remember what-was-her-name’s name again. In a desperate attempt to avoid making this fact obvious I boldly turned to face her.
“I know I’m being unfair to you,” I said.
“You’re being more than unfair, Arnold,” she said. “You’re being cruel. Capriciously cruel.”
“He’s a poète maudit,” said Terence. “What do you expect?”
“Look,” I said, “I know it seems odd, but I just really have to go.”
I made to get up again, but once more Cathy and Nadine pulled me back down.
On the TV Dan Duryea was talking to a woman now. I think it was Lizabeth Scott. She slapped him.
“The girls don’t want to let you go, Arnold,” said Terence. “Ha ha.”
Cathy and Nadine – Nadine! that was her name – were still gripping my arms. They had pretty strong grips, but, still, they were two slender women, and I was a full-grown man – surely I could overpower them if it came to a crisis.
“Please let go of my arms,” I said. “I really have to go.”
“Tough guy,” said Lizabeth Scott on the TV. “Tough my ass!”
“Faggot,” said a gruff man’s voice, from somewhere to my left and up high. I turned and looked at the colonel again. Now he was smirking at me.
“Arnold,” said Nadine, not letting go of my arm. “Call it woman’s intuition but I can sense that something is troubling you. And I want you to know that you can confide in me."
“And in me,” said Cathy.
“Me three,” said Terence. “What’s up with all the drama, buddy?”
“Tell us,” said Cathy.
“Speak,” said Nadine.
“And enough of your lies!” said Lizabeth Scott.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll try to keep this simple. I am from another state of reality.”
“Oh?” said Terence.
“Fascinating,” said Cathy.
“Okay,” said Nadine. “And what exactly is this other state of reality?”
“It’s the real world,” I said. “Or I suppose to be fair I should say ‘my world’. Anyway, I’ve been trapped in this particular universe we’re in for quite some time, and I’m trying to get back. To my own universe.”
No one said anything for a moment, not even the colonel or the TV, but then finally Terence spoke up.
“You are absolutely mad, old boy,” he said.
“Yes, you’re mad,” said Cathy, but she was smiling, and she caressed my cheek.
“Mad as a hatter,” said Nadine, and she gave me a little fake-punch on my other cheek.
“Idiot,” said that gruff man’s voice again, and once again I turned in the direction it had come from, which was the painting of the Civil War colonel. He said nothing more, but just glared down at me with all too apparent distaste.
The rain continued to come down outside. From in here it made only a faraway sound, like a tidal wave of ball bearings rolling through the streets a few blocks away, but I could see it pouring thickly down the window panes, obscuring whatever else might be out there on the street, if anything was out there.
“Look, darling Arnold,” said Nadine. “Have a sandwich or two, some celery perhaps, or a carrot.”
She had let go of my arm, but now her hand was now on my thigh, its fingers squeezing gently, as if they were testing for ripeness.
“Some cheese,” said Terence.
“And crackers,” said Cathy. She too had let go of my other arm, but now again she ran the fingernails of her left hand along the back of my neck. “And olives.”
“Have a bite to eat,” said Nadine. “Read a page or two of my poetry, just enough that you may tell me ‘if it breathes’ if I may quote another lady poet of some renown. And then, by golly, maybe we can help you to get back to your – uh –”
“His ‘world’,” said Terence.
“’Your’ world,” said Cathy. She had stopped running her nails along my neck, but now she was caressing the stubble on my chin, producing a slight damp scritching sound.
“I need your help, doll,” said Dan Duryea, to Lizabeth Scott.
“Fuck you,” said Lizabeth Scott.
“Lunatic,” said the voice of the colonel.
I looked up at him. He was silent, but still smirking at me.
But I didn’t care about him. I had a more immediate problem, which was that, thanks to the physical propinquity and the caressings of both Cathy and Nadine, I was once again despite myself possessed of an erection. Trying to appear casual, I pulled the lower right front flap of my seersucker jacket over the offending area.
“Come on, Arnold, darling,” said Nadine, gripping my thigh muscle tightly now. “Stay.”
“Just for a while,” said Cathy, breathing into my ear.
“The party’s just starting, old boy,” said Terence.
I had two choices: to get up with a full-blown erection and leave, halfway bent over and shuffling like a cripple, or, I could wait it out and try to distract myself until the erection subsided. I chose the more cowardly course.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll have something to eat. And I’ll read a page or two or your poetry, N–”
I’d forgotten Nadine’s name again. How could I get out of it this time? All I could remember was that it started with an “N”, and I wasn’t entirely sure of even that much.
I improvised on that initial letter:
“And,” I said, “I’ll give you my honest opinion, for what it’s worth.”
“Ha ha,” said the gruff voice.
I looked up, and now the colonel was laughing, but in a demeaning and mirthless sort of way.
“Ha ha,” he said.
(To be continued for who knows how long, as yet another cache of Arnold’s black-and-white copybooks has just been discovered in an Utz’s potato chips can in the tool shed to the rear of Arnold’s aunts’ sprawling Victorian guest house in Cape May, NJ.)
(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find a possibly current listing of all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets are now on sale for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Summer Solstice Bash at the Pvt. Raymond T. Osmond VFW post in Arnold’s old neighborhood of Olney, Philadelphia. $20 ticket price includes “all you can eat kielbasa ‘n kraut” and open bar. Musical entertainment to be provided by “Freddy Ayres & Ursula ‘n’ Friends” featuring very special guest “Magda” on the Hohner electric piano and vocals.)