I confess I turned away from Jesus, and my eyes closed of their own accord.
I fell asleep.
I suppose I woke up an hour or so later. I lay there for a bit. Elektra slept quietly on her side, facing the other way, breathing heavily and slowly, as one would imagine a small child to breathe. The sheet had gotten bunched up around her hips. I drew it up to her shoulders and she unconsciously tugged it over her breasts.
I couldn’t hear anything from the other room.
On the one hand I wanted to go home — well, to my aunts’ home, to my little attic room in my aunts’ house; but on the other hand I wanted to avoid the embarrassment of seeing Rocket Man and Gypsy Dave and Fairchild. I knew that there was no real need for embarrassment, these people were free spirits, bohemians: but I, alas, was not. I swear that if we had not been on the second floor I would definitely have just climbed out the window.
Of course I could have just gone back to sleep, I was extremely exhausted from my busy day after all (a day which seemed to have begun a thousand years ago with me accompanying my cousin Kevin to Wally’s cigar shop), but then if I overslept and didn’t get back to my aunts’ house before my mother awoke she would assume the worst, that I had drowned on my swim, perhaps purposely, in which case I would burn forever in that special place in Hell reserved for that most despicable regiment of the damned, the suicides.
So I got up, as quietly as I could, found my t-shirt and bathing trunks and flip-flops, and got dressed.
I went to the door and opened it; thank God, the lights were out in the living room. I stepped in and closed the bedroom door gently behind me. Fairchild was sleeping on the couch, under some sort of oriental printed sheet. I would have tiptoed were I not wearing flip-flops, but instead I trod quietly and slowly through the room, found the outside door, crept down the stairs and out to the rear of the house. I looked up at the porch where Elektra and I had stood and kissed. Yes, women were as great a mystery as ever. I walked around the house to Jackson Street.
I turned down Washington Street. It was empty. I had made my successful getaway.
The air was cool and clean and fresh, the ocean wind smelled alive with the grace of the universe, of seaweed and salt and bushels of glistening fresh oysters, and so naturally I had to have a cigarette. I stepped into the entranceway of Smythe’s Book Shoppe to light one up. In the lighter’s glare I saw a book in the window, The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot. I thought, now there’s a book I’ll have to read.
And then I thought, “Oh Christ,” because there he was again, reflected in the window.
“Got a light, buddy?” he said.
Was I never to be set free?
What the hell, I gave him a light. He had his own cigarette already in his hand.
“Thanks, Arnold,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” I said.
“Shall I walk you home?”
“I’d prefer you didn’t,” I said.
“Arnold, old boy, do you know how many millions of Catholics would give their right arm just to experience what you’re experiencing now?”
“Okay, I’m going,” I said, and I started walking again.
Jesus stayed by my side. He was getting to be a real pest.
“I think you made great progress tonight,” he said.
“Yeah, swell,” I said, quickening my step.
“That Elektra’s a pretty hot number —”
“This proves you’re not Jesus," I said. "Jesus would not call some girl a ‘hot number’.”
“I just did, Arnold.”
He was smiling.
“Oh — you’re impossible, Mac,” I said.
“Pal. Joe. Buddy.”
“My friends call me Jesus.”
I started walking again.
“Nice Jewish girl, too,” he said, still by my side. “You know, we are the Chosen —”
I stopped again. We were at the corner of Washington and Perry.
“Okay, Jesus — if that’s your name — you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna close my eyes again, really hard, and when I open them again, you’re gonna be gone. Got it? I’m tired of this, pardon my language, crap.”
“Oh, come on, Arnold, loosen up. I’m just here to tell you that it’s really all right, for you to — you know —”
“I’m closing my eyes now,” I said, and I did.
“– for you to — how can I put this and not offend your delicate Catholic sensibilities —”
“What?” I said, and I opened my eyes against my own will.
“Your delicate Catholic sensibilities,” he said.
“But you’re Catholic!” I nearly screamed.
“Not so loud,” he whispered.
“You’re Catholic!” I hissed.
“Arnold,” he spoke quietly. “I'm Jewish. You know that.”
I closed my eyes again.
“My eyes are closed,” I said. “They’re closed. And this time, when I open them, you’d better be gone. And I really mean it this time —”
It was another voice.
Great, now what?
I opened my eyes.
It was a cop, in his patrol car. Just great.
“You okay, buddy?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said.
“Had a little to drink?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said. Furiously improvising, “I had a few too many, I guess, and I, uh, fell asleep at a friend’s house, and, uh —”
“Where you staying, pal?”
“Right down the street, officer.”
He paused, looking at me.
“You want a lift?”
“No, I’ll be fine officer, honest, I’m just down the street there.”
He seemed to think it over for a few more seconds.
“Okay, go right home, pal. And no more talking to yourself.”
“Right. Thanks, officer.”
He drove off down Perry Street, and I quickly headed that way too. Fortunately I was alone, at least for the time being. I made it to my aunts’ house, found my key in the little pocket in my bathing trunks, and let myself in at the side door. I took off my flip-flops and tiptoed up to my room in the attic.
(Click here for the next thrilling installment. Tiptoe over to the right hand side of this page to find links to other episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven and to many of Arnold Schnabel’s immortal poems, now available for download as performed by Robert Morley, Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Jeremy Irons and Patrick Swayzie, musical accompaniment by Sammy Samuels and his Samba Swing Sextet.)