August, 1963. Cape May, New Jersey.
A nor’easter rattles the windows and shakes the trees and sends the waves crashing up against the stout pilings of Frank’s Playland.
After my bath I went to bed. I duly read some more of The Waste Land, making scarce head or tail of it.
I did like this one part:
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Kind of reminded me of dear old Olney, that bridge that goes over the Heintz factory, the burnt metal smell.
The whiskey reek when you walk by the taprooms, etc.
And indeed the gloom and doom of this reminds me of the poems I wrote about the old neighborhood after my breakdown.
Of course I at least made the effort to make my poems rhyme.
So I picked up The Cry of the Owl again, and that I quite enjoyed. It's about a madly obsessive young man who seems to all intents and purposes normal but who is really insane. A good rainy day book. After a while I laid it down and closed my eyes, listening to the rain crackling and popping on the roof right above me, the crashing of waves of rain against the front of the house and my little casement window.
I fell asleep. After a while I woke up and I saw Steve sitting at my table, reading one of the scrapbooks in which I keep cuttings of my poems. He had the desk lamp on, and he was wearing glasses, presumably reading glasses.
I tried to speak but I couldn’t get any words out.
Steve turned and smiled. He somehow seemed less desperate wearing these horn-rimmed glasses.
“Hi, Arthur. Just thought I’d stop by. Go back to sleep! You want this light out?”
I still couldn’t say anything.
He flicked off the table lamp, just an old gooseneck desk lamp.
Even though the light was out he still seemed illuminated somehow, as if his skin and clothes and his hair were phosphorescent.
“I know! You were right! I’m Jesus! Ta-da!”
He waved his hands.
“I like your poems, by the way. They really got better after your little breakdown, didn’t they?”
I just couldn’t talk.
“And you know what, I think you’re being too kind to that T.S. Eliot fellow. No one needs to make a poem that hard to understand, I’m sorry. What a lot of pretentious crap!”
I felt like my mouth was paralyzed with novocaine.
“So look, I’ll go, don’t want to disturb your sleep.” He stood, up, stooping a little because of course my room is right under the gabled roof. “Have fun with Elektra tonight. Put it in once for me, pal!” He chuckled and went out the door, closing it behind him.
I closed my eyes.
I woke up with a rush again.
Had I really just seen Steve? Was he Jesus? No, I was dreaming. It’s okay to have insane visions as long as you’re dreaming.
I fell back to sleep.
When I awoke again I felt much better, very rested. The rain was still coming down, but much more lightly now, and the wind had settled too. The green of the leaves on the oak tree outside my window sparkled dully, like seaweed in clear water.
I remembered my dream vividly but it didn’t scare me now. There was no possibility that Steve could have come up here, he didn’t even know where I lived. And there was no possibility that he could be Jesus, I just had to disabuse my poor brain of that notion.
I got dressed and went down to the bathroom. I peed, and then I brushed my teeth. I went downstairs. Kevin was in the living room, watching Sally Starr and The Three Stooges.
I went in to the kitchen where all three of my aunts and my mother were fussing with various foodstuffs. My mouth watered. Aunt Elizabetta was rolling and cutting noodle dough. I peeked in the oven, and there was a roast beef in it. A duck simmered in a pot on the range. I went over to where my mother was stirring chocolate batter in an enormous bowl. She told me to get away and not to spoil my appetite. I said okay and got a cup of coffee from the percolator.
I went back to the living room and watched Clutch Cargo with Kevin, then I went out onto the porch with my book. The rain had lessened quite a bit.
A yellow Oldsmobile hissed slowly by, and Steve stood across the street, under his now seemingly repaired umbrella, or perhaps another one. He waved, and then he disappeared, into thin air, or rather into thick rainy air.
So, there you had it.
I was still somewhat insane.
“Not insane,” said Steve. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Arthur.”
He sat in the rocker next to me, on my right, smiling, smoking a cigarette. A Pall Mall.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll go. Besides, look who’s here, buddy.”
I turned and saw Elektra coming down Perry Street, holding up a black umbrella, wearing a blue dress, carrying a paper bag of something. I turned my head back to my right, and sure enough, Steve was gone again.
When she got near the front gate I stood up, and then, realizing she wouldn’t have a free hand for the gate I ran down to get it for her.
When I closed it behind her she turned and held the umbrella over both of us.
“Brought you wine.”
She handed me the bag, it was a large bottle of Chianti in a wicker wrapping.
She looked beautiful in the wet grey light.
“What are we eating?” she said.
“Duck soup with noodles, and roast beef,” I said. “And chocolate cake.”
“Beef and duck and cake. Let’s go, big boy.”
Over her shoulder I could see Steve standing across the street under his black umbrella, waving at me. Well, at least he didn’t seem to be inviting himself to dinner. So I had that to be thankful for.
(Painting by Thomas Kinkade. Click here to find out more about the duck soup. And kindly turn to the right side of this page for links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, and to many of his classic poems.)