We left our hero Arnold Schnabel sitting at a table on the rear terrace of Lily’s Road House, in the company of Lily herself, the boisterous and large Laughing Lou, the noted author Horace P. Sternwall, and Arnold’s faithful friend Ferdinand, the talking fly…
(Please click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here to return to the not quite lost in time beginning of this 72-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)
“To me there is really only one absolutely essential work in American literature, and that of course is Arnold Schnabel’s massive (but massively readable) chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in The Field & Stream Literary Supplement.
After topping off my glass Laughing Lou poured more champagne into Lily’s glass, then refilled Horace’s and his own. He was just about to put the magnum back into the ice bucket when Ferdinand flew out of his glass and hovered threateningly close to the fat man’s face, as if ready to attack him again.
“Hey, big guy,” he said. “What am I? The invisible fly?”
“Oh, ha ha,” said Laughing Lou, “I beg your pardon, Ferdinand!”
He hefted the bottle up again and leaned over the table.
“My, you’ve drunk a good inch of the stuff! Ha ha! Not bad for a little fellow!”
“I may be little,” said Ferdinand. “But I drink big. Now pour some more champagne in that glass and try not to spill any.”
“Ha ha! Yes, of course, my small but thirsty friend.”
He filled up Ferdinand’s glass under the watchful thousand tiny eyes of my friend the fly.
“That’s better,” said Ferdinand, and without further ado he dove down to the surface of the bubbly wine.
Laughing Lou now shoved the bottle back into the ice and sat his enormous bottom back into his chair. Fortunately for him these chairs had no arms, otherwise I doubt he would have fit into it.
He picked up that big cigar of his, took a puff on it, it was still lit, and then he put it back in his ashtray, with the fat folds of his face assembling themselves into what seemed a serious expression, or at least what he might have hoped to appear to be a serious expression.
Horace was already gulping from his glass. Lily had finally stubbed out her cigarette and now was fingering the stem of her glass with her right hand, staring again out at the dark woods and the night, or maybe at the nothingness she had said lay beyond those woods. Ferdinand for his part was steadily lapping away at his champagne as he floated on its surface. Me, I was just sitting there, and – despite the uncertain position in which I had found myself in this universe – thinking about food, and wondering how I could broach the subject of possibly getting fed sometime in the near future.
“And now,” said Lou, still with this serious expression on his face, “I would like to make my proposition.” He turned to Lily and inclined his head. “I mean if that’s okay with you, Lily.”
Lily looked at him. It was a look I can only describe as a look of not even thinly-veiled contempt.
She lifted her glass and took a drink, but said nothing.
“But, Lily,” said Laughing Lou. “It’s – it’s necessary.”
“Is it, Lou?” she said. “Is it really?”
“Yes,” he said. “I mean pardon me for saying so, but these three fellows have traveled quite a way, in a sense they have traveled as far as anyone can travel, into another universe –”
“Is that really as far as anyone can travel, Lou?" she said. "Really?”
“Well, gee,” he said, “I don’t know –”
“What about to hell,” she said. “Isn’t that pretty far? What about the flaming burning depths of hell? That’s pretty far too, isn’t it, Lou?”
“Well, yes, okay,” he said. “Good point, Lily. Very good point. Hell is perhaps farther away, you’re right, as is heaven, for that matter, but –”
“Arnie’s been to heaven,” said Ferdinand, pausing his drinking for a moment.
“What?” said Laughing Lou. “He has?” he looked at me with what seemed a newfound respect. “You have, Mr. Schnabel?”
“I’m sorry, what?” I said.
My stomach was actually grumbling at this point, and it was hard to think of anything else but food.
“I asked,” said Laughing Lou, “if it’s true what Ferdinand says, that you have indeed been to heaven?”
“Calling me a liar?” said Ferdinand from where he floated on the champagne in his glass.
“No, no, not at all,” said Laughing Lou. “It’s just that, you know, I’ve never heard of anyone actually –”
“You heard of it now,” said Ferdinand, and he put his head down and went back to drinking himself silly, producing barely audible lapping sounds.
Laughing Lou looked at me with a distressed expression buried somewhere in all that bloated flesh on his face.
“It’s true,” I said.
“You’ve actually been to heaven?” he said.
“He just said he’s been there,” said Lily. “You calling Mr. Schnabel a liar now too?”
“No, no, of course not,” said Lou. “But – gee – may I ask you a question, Mr. Schnabel?”
“Sure,” I said. I figured if I played along it would be easier to bring up the subject of food, and if anyone knew where to get something to eat, it would be this enormously fat man. “What’s your question?”
“What – what was it like?” he said.
“What was what like?” I said.
As I have said, it was hard for me to think of anything else but, say, hamburgers and French fries.
“What was heaven like,” he said.
“Hey, excuse me, Lou,” said Horace. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but, do you mind if I have another glass of champagne? It’s really quite refreshing –”
“Yeah, sure,” said Lou. “Help yourself, pal.”
Without hesitation, rising up from his seat Horace grabbed that big bottle in both hands and refilled his glass again.
“So, Arnold,” said Lou, “if I may call you Arnold –”
“I don't mind,” I said, "but –"
“And call me Lou,” he said.
“Not 'Laughing Lou'?” I said.
“No,” he said, “ha ha, you can just call me Lou.”
“Okay,” I said. “By the way, Lou, I was wondering –”
“Anybody else ready for a refill yet?” said Horace.
“No, I think we’re all good,” said Lou. “So, Arnold, you were going to tell us –”
“I’ll take some more in a minute, Horace,” said Ferdinand.
“Sure thing, Ferdinand,” said Horace. “Miss Lily, may I give your glass a touch-up?”
“Put the fucking bottle back in the bucket, Mr. Sternwall,” she said. “You can see I’ve barely touched my current glass and Arnold hasn’t even taken a sip of his. Don’t you like the champagne, Mr. Schnabel?”
“Oh, no, it’s great,” I said. “The only thing is I’m a little –”
“Oh, don’t look so hurt, Mr. Sternwall,” said Lily.
Horace had obediently put the magnum back in the bucket and sat back down, staring into his brimming glass. He did look a little chastened, but he immediately brightened up, or at least put on the appearance of brightening up.
“Oh, no!” he said. “It’s true, I was overdoing it. Nothing more boring than exaggerated politeness, it’s like when –”
“Tell us what it was like Arnold,” said Lou, interrupting Horace’s babbling.
Horace immediately picked up his glass and drank. He seemed happy to have been interrupted, as now he could get back to drinking the free champagne.
I wished I could get some food. Come to think of it, a nice big T-Bone steak wouldn’t be bad, cooked rare, and smothered with onions and mushrooms. With mashed potatoes, and gravy –
“Arnold?” said Lou.
“Yes?” I said.
“We were wondering if you could tell us what heaven is like.”
“You were wondering,” said Lily, and she took another drink of her champagne.
“Okay, I was wondering,” said Lou.
He stared at me, his eyes looking out of all that fat like a scared animal looking out of a hole in the ground.
For a moment I forgot again what he was talking about, as I thought of roast chicken and dumplings, and hot buttered egg noodles, but then it came back to me.
“What was heaven like?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “If you don’t mind telling us.”
“Well, okay,” I said, “That’s a fair question. Well, the first time –”
“The first time!” he said. “You’ve been there more than once?”
“Well, yes, actually,” I said. “Just two times altogether, but –”
“Twice!” he said. “And you came back!”
“Well, yeah,” I said.
“Of course he came back,” said Lily. “He’s here, isn’t he?”
“That’s very true,” said Lou. “Very true.”
“Something’s either true or it’s not,” she said. “There’s nothing ‘very’ about it.”
“Yes, true again,” he said. “Very true. I mean – true! True!”
“So anyway,” I said, “I was wondering –”
“Been to heaven twice,“ said Lou. “I’m really impressed. But you still haven’t told us. What was it like?”
“Heaven?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s what I’m asking. What was heaven like. Ha ha.”
He said ha ha but he wasn’t even smiling.
“Well,” I said.
Where to begin. And why begin? I didn’t feel like telling the whole story over. I wanted some food. Maybe just a nice really big bowl of chili with a loaf of homemade bread to sop it all up.
“He doesn’t want to talk about it, Lou,” said Lily.
I suddenly realized that her hand had never left my thigh, that she was still caressing it, and had never stopped caressing it, that her fingers were kneading my thigh close to but not actually touching my inguinal area, and that, despite my intense hunger, I had become possessed of an erection.
“Look,” I said, “I really don’t mind talking about it, but, first, I was wondering if we could possibly –”
“Oh, of course,” said Lou. “Ha ha! First you want to hear our proposition!”
That wasn’t it. That wasn’t it at all. All I wanted was some food – maybe some buttermilk pancakes with scrapple and a big side plate of scrambled eggs – and, secondarily, I wanted Lily to stop caressing my thigh.
“Well,” I said, “actually –”
“Very well then!” said Lou. “Ha ha! Without further ado then, on to the proposition! Then afterwards we can chat about heaven. Ha ha!”
Lily continued to caress my thigh.
My erection continued to be erect.
My stomach continued to growl.
Laughing Lou took another good puff on his cigar, and assumed that serious-appearing expression amid the fatness of his face.
“Here is my proposition,” he said, but of course instead of getting right to it he paused, I suppose for dramatic effect, or maybe after all just out of some innate sadism.
Meanwhile what I wished that he was going to propose was maybe an enormous spaghetti dinner, with meatballs, and sausage, and loaves of garlic bread piping hot from the oven.
But I knew that was not going to be the case.
(To be continued, only five or six thousand pages left to go, unless some more of Arnold’s neatly handwritten marble copybooks turn up somewhere.)
(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for a listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, now available also for a modest sum on your Kindle™, all proceeds in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Preservation Society of Philadelphia, PA.)