The year is 1963, Vietnam is a rumor, JFK and Jackie rule the White House, and the country is still young.
I insisted on paying the tab, despite her protestations.
We stepped out into that enormous heat. For some reason or for various reasons we stopped as soon as we got outside. She looked at me, silently. I have no idea what she was thinking about, and all I was thinking about was what she was thinking about. Was she in turn only wondering what I was thinking?
I thought of lighting a cigarette but it was too damn hot. Star of the Sea church loomed right across the street, and I noticed one or two people going up the steps. It was Saturday, confession day.
“Okay, walk me to the shop,” she said.
So we walked back down Washington and back up Jackson. Outside the shop she said:
“You can stop by any time, Arnold.”
“Okay,” I said.
“But not too often, okay?”
“All right,” I said. “How about tonight?”
“No,” she said. “I’m afraid you’ll wear me out. Do you know what I mean?”
“I know all too well,” I said. “I wear myself out, every day.”
“Where do you live?” she said.
“At Perry and North. The big white house one down from the corner there.”
“With your mother.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And my three maiden aunts. And my young cousin. And a bunch of boarders who come and go.”
“It sounds bizarre,” she said.
“It is,” I said.
“Maybe I’ll come by and visit you.”
“I’m there quite often,” I said.
Then she put her hands on my shoulder and gave me a kiss, which surprised me with its concupiscence. Well, everyone always said women were a mystery, why should Elektra be any different?
And kissing her in that bright sunlight, that intense heat, both of us already moist with sweat after just walking three minutes from the coffee shop, it felt almost as if we were in the intimacy of her bed together again...
But as I came up for air I noticed my aforementioned relations marching across Jackson Street down on Washington, a small stolid squad of four old women and one young boy, my Aunts Elizabetta and Greta in the front rank, my mother and Aunt Edith in the middle, and young Kevin picking up the rear. Kevin was flopping along in that way young kids do, like mentally retarded people, and turning his gaze at random he saw me, and stopped, cocked his head, but then continued on.
“Okay, see ya, man,” said Elektra, and she opened the door and went into the shop.
I was possessed of a slight erection, so I walked slowly back down to Washington. Even in this almost unbearable mid-day heat there were still lots of tourists wandering to and fro. They were insane. Perhaps not as insane as I, but on the other hand even I knew better than to walk around in 95-degree heat.
I was about to turn left to go home when I remembered confession. I had never missed Saturday confession in my life, even when I was in the army overseas, nor even when I was in the nut house. I considered just going home, what the hell, everything had changed, at least in my little life everything had changed.
But somehow I could not break the habit just yet, so I turned right toward the Star of the Sea.
My mother and aunts walk so slowly, they and Kevin barely beat me into the church. I didn’t feel like dealing with them right away, so I lit a cigarette. Two or three other Catholics stood at the foot of the steps, smoking a last cigarette before going in to have their sins annulled.
I finished my own cigarette, tossed it into the street, and went up the steps.
The shadowed stained-glass dimness of the church was a blessing after the inferno outside. I blessed myself with the cool holy water, went through the foyer into the nave, its smell of wood and marble, the sparkling of gold and candles. I genuflected and went on up to Father Reilly’s confessional. I knew that my aunts and mother always went to Father Schwartz, farther down over on the other side, and I could see my mother and my Aunt Greta kneeling in a pew. No one else was in line for Father Reilly, but the red light was on, so I slipped into a pew myself and knelt down. Just then young Kevin popped out of Father Reilly’s confessional like a jack-in-the-box, saw me, and immediately squirreled his way onto the kneeler next to me.
“Was that lady your girlfriend, Cousin Arnold?”
He had his hands folded as if he were praying.
“No,” I said. “Now quit talking and say your penance.”
“Wow, you have a girlfriend. I saw you kissing her.”
“All right, excuse me,” I said, and got up. “I have to go to confession.”
“Are you gonna confess kissing her?”
“Say your penance,” I said, and pushed past him to go into the confessional.
I told Father Reilly about the incident with Elektra. His silhouette perked up a bit. I’m sure he recognized my voice by now, and this was the first time I had confessed anything more grave than daily self-abuse.
Because he was a priest after all I ran the whole Jesus thing by him, about Jesus encouraging me. And then, I don’t know, maybe I was crazy from the heat, maybe it was the marijuana I had smoked (or of course, maybe I was just crazy), I started rambling on about whether fornication should or should not be a mortal sin. I think he lost patience with me after a while, because he rather abruptly absolved me and sent me packing with only three Hail Marys, which by the way is the exact same sentence he always gave me for my usual confession to seven or eight or more of the sins of Onan.
I left the box, knelt down in a pew and said my penance. Then I looked up. Kevin, my aunts and mother had all left the church. A few other penitents knelt scattered along the aisle seats of the pews.
Well, at least I was free of sin now, according to the Catholic church, anyway. So I had that going for me.
For the time being anyway.
(Click here to go to our next adventure. Go to the right hand side of this page to find links to other episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven -- now in development for a major mini-series on Masterpiece Theatre -- and to many of Arnold Schnabel’s immortal poems, available free of charge to senior citizens, students, and serving and former members of the armed services.)