It is a rainy, stormy day in Cape May, New Jersey; August, 1963.
So we went up the steps and onto the porch. She partly closed and then opened her umbrella quickly a few times to shake the water over the rail.
“Should I just leave it out here?” she asked.
It was odd, but just watching her do something so simple as shaking the water off of her umbrella made me want to go to bed with her.
“Yeah, just leave it by the door,” I said.
She furled it but didn’t bother buttoning it tight, stood it next to the door, it fell down.
“You know, it’s just occurred to me,” I said. “It’s odd my aunts don’t have an umbrella stand out here.”
“A serious lapse on their part,” she said.
In a way it was, for them, anyway. But I knew that if I happened to mention this oversight to them it would become this enormous deal, like if they left their lawn unmowed for three weeks or forgot to trim the hedges.
“What are you thinking about, Arnold?”
We were both speaking quietly, because there was only the screen door between us and the living room, from which came the sounds of a TV cartoon.
“I was just thinking how insane my aunts are.”
“Insanity runs in your family?”
“I think it might,” I said.
“So shall we go in or just stand out here all night?”
“I’d rather just go back to your place.”
“Come on, Arnold.”
For some reason she said this in a more pronounced New York accent than usual, and she put her arm in mine.
“Okay, let’s go,” I said.
We went in and Kevin of course was there, sitting on the floor, watching the TV.
“Hi, Electric,” he said.
“Hi, Kelvin,” said Elektra.
“My name’s Kevin.”
“My name’s Elektra.”
“Hi, Elektra,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Whatcha watchin’, Kevin?” she asked.
“Astroboy. I don’t think I’ve seen that.”
“It’s good. You wanta watch it with me?”
“I think I should say hi to the ladies first,” she said.
“They’re in the kitchen,” said Kevin, turning back to the show.
“Cousin Arnold’ll take you.”
“Okay. See ya.”
“See ya,” he said, but he was concentrating on Astroboy again.
I took her back to the kitchen. It was hot and moist and meat-smelling, and all the women stopped what they were doing and looked at Elektra.
For a strange moment there was silence. Elektra squeezed my arm, I snapped out of it, and introduced her to my aunts and re-introduced her to my mother.
Just then Charlie Coleman came in the screen door, wearing a wet rubber coat and a rubber hat and rubber boots. He had an armful of three different types of lettuce, and a half-gallon mason jar of what I think was cream and a plastic container of butter. I hadn’t even heard his truck pull up.
He cheerily said something I couldn't decipher, and my Aunt Elizabetta took the stuff off him, put the lettuces in the sink, the jar and the container on the counter. Then my Aunt Greta dug into her apron and gave Charlie a few crumpled bills and some coins.
He thanked her, then he said something to me -- I couldn’t make it out, I thought he was saying something like, “Who got the gravy.”
“He wants to know who the lady is, Arnold,” said my Aunt Edith.
“Oh, this is Elektra, Charlie,” I said. “Elektra, this is Charlie. Charlie helps my aunts out around the house.”
“Hi, Charlie,” said Elektra.
“Charlie brought us the duck, too, Arnold,” said my mother.
Charlie said something else, God knows what. He went on for quite a bit.
Elektra nodded several times back at him.
Charlie left then and the older women went back to staring at Elektra.
“Elektra brought some wine,” I said, and I took the bottle out of the bag.
All four of the older women said variations of “You shouldn’t have,” Elektra said it was nothing, they said she shouldn’t have again, she said it was no big deal, then they all said the same things one more time, but before they could go through it again I asked where the corkscrew was.
My mother and aunts don’t really drink, but I was ready for one. My mother found me the corkscrew, and I opened the bottle. Elektra said she wouldn’t mind one, too, and I could see a glance going around the old ladies, but somehow under the glance I heard them thinking, “She’s Jewish, they probably drink wine all the time, like Italians.”
There were no wine glasses so we drank out of a couple of my aunts’ Flintstones jelly glasses.
By this time the women were getting back to work on the food. Elektra asked if she could help with anything, but they all said no. Elektra asked again, they said no again. Then one more time around.
I wondered if I could take getting married if it meant listening to all these repetitious verbal rituals, and it occurred to me that I would probably just be a typical man and leave the women to their own arcane devices.
While I was thinking these thoughts Elektra went over to the stove and somehow started to engage in conversation with my Aunt Elizabetta, something to do with a gravy she was making.
I just stood there like a lump, drinking my wine by the kitchen table, sweating in the kitchen heat.
After a minute Elektra came back over to me and touched my back with her fingers.
“How are you doing, Arnold?”
“Fine,” I said. To tell the truth I was feeling just a little bit crazy, but I figured I’d probably be okay after a glass of wine.
“What did that man Charlie say right before he left?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” I said.
“He said he brought over the best duck he had,” said my Aunt Edith. I hadn’t even realized she was listening. She was holding a bowl of dark red blood. “And then he said he also raises chickens and pigs, and he has a cow, and if you ever want to buy any chickens or ducks or pigs or eggs or cream or fresh butter he would give you a good deal. Then he said you were really pretty and that it was about time Arnold married and settled down."
“Oh, okay,” said Elektra.
“Do you want to help me make the duck’s blood soup?” said Aunt Edith.
“Um, okay, sure,” said Elektra.
I was afraid this was going to happen, my Aunt Edith’s famous duck’s blood soup. I realized now that they had really gone the whole hog, reverting back to their dark past in a little village in Germany, and that Charlie had brought the duck over still alive. Thank God I had slept through that. I had stood witness once as my aunts killed a duck and then held it upside down to let it bleed into a bowl. It was not an experience I wanted ever to repeat.
Come to think of it, I didn’t particularly want to watch this next bit either, which involved some mysterious process of mixing the duck’s blood into the simmering and fragrant duck broth.
I don’t mind eating the duck’s blood soup, I just don’t want to watch any of these gruesome preliminaries.
I said I was going to go in to the living room and watch TV with Kevin until dinner was ready.
All of them, including Elektra, told me to go on in.
Elektra was already holding a wooden spoon and standing attentively next to my Aunt Edith and her bowl of blood which she had placed on the kitchen table. Elektra probably only stands about five foot four or so but still she seemed to tower over tiny Aunt Edith.
“Go on, Arnold,” she said, waving the spoon.
She didn’t have to tell me one more time. I refilled my glass, went on in and just caught the beginning of a Popeye cartoon, one of the good ones, with Bluto.
(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. Kindly go to the right hand column of this page to find links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, and to many of his brilliant poems.)