We resume Arnold Schnabel’s memoir right where the last installment ended. Or rather, almost. There is an entire half-page of his holograph here that has been completely cross-hatched out. Perhaps a trained cryptologist will someday discover what lies in that paragraph, but for the nonce we will continue with the following. It is still presumably late June or perhaps early July, 1963:
What have I done.
The day after my previously recounted escapade at the Pilot House was no worse than what might have been expected, viz., killing hangover, suicidal depression, pathetic and meaningless remorse and guilt, and unremitting boredom relieved only by an infinite self-loathing, in other words nothing to get excited about, just another day at Villa Schnabel. But the next afternoon, having vowed for the 769th time never to touch alcohol again I was sitting over coffee at a small formica table at the Cape Coffee Shoppe, enjoying the first day of the rest of my life and feeling quite pleased with myself for having written -- and quite successfully I thought, at least by my standards -- a sonnet on the subject of having neither talent nor inspiration, when who should burst through the door but she.
She being this woman from my disgraceful evening at the Pilot House, this “Rhonda” or whomever.
“You!” she shrieked. “You!”
At first I didn’t recognize her but then she shrieked again.
“You!” she shrieked.
“Oh,” I said.
“How are you?”
“I’m, uh --” I stood, trembling I’m sure visibly, but if I was it fazed her not one bit.
“What are you writing?” she shrieked, and to avoid repetition I’ll just stipulate here that she shrieked on the average every other phrase.
“It’s uh --” I gestured dismissively at the damning notebook lying on the table, “it’s nothing.”
“It can’t be nothing!” I should note though that although she shrieked approximately half her phrases, she didn’t necessarily alternate shrieking with speaking in a normal voice, normal for her anyway, phrase for phrase. “I mean it’s gotta be something!” No, there was no pattern. “Is it your diary? What is it?
I learned a long time ago that it’s a mistake to talk to people about my bad poetry. But still I do it anyway, God knows why. But now, hungover, half-insane, bored already to the point of screaming, all I wanted to do was to escape. I grabbed the notebook and shoved it into my Bermuda shorts pocket.
“Well, it was nice meeting you,” I said, "but I’m afraid I have to --”
“Oh! Don’t go! You know you don’t have to go! You’re just shy. I think that’s so endearing! And you’re such a gentleman! Won’t you ask a lady to have a cup of coffee with you?”
Don’t ask me how or why -- cowardice, weakness, the aforementioned perhaps-more-than-half insanity -- but before I knew it I was sitting back down with a refilled coffee cup and she was sitting across from me with a cup of her own, not that she needed it.
What happened next was like a Gestapo interrogation; without the pulled fingernails, it’s true, but after a few minutes I was ready to pull out my own fingernails. Oh, sure, she was asking me all about me, but I did not want to talk about me, I am sick of me, I am stuck with me every second of my life, and besides, it’s all so pathetic it’s embarrassing, unless I lie, and then if I lie it’s more embarrassing still.
In the end she got it all out of me anyway. The lifelong celibacy (well, all right, lifelong except for one drunken and depressing episode in the army, about which the less said the better, although I’ll doubtless say something about it before these memoirs are through), the living with one’s mother, the poem a week in the Olney Times, I even told her of my mental breakdown and hospitalization, of my returning to work finally and then being sent away from work indefinitely on half-pay, thinking maybe all this would scare her off. Ha.
“Arnold,” she said, “I’m going to make you my project.”
“Well, I must really be going,” I said, and started to get up.
She put her hand on mine.
“Sit down,” she said. “I know you don’t really have to go. Let’s talk a while.”
I sat down. And she talked. But now she went on to a subject even more boring than me: her.
I won’t go into it all, and besides I wasn’t listening to half of it, and half of what I was listening to I’ve already forgotten and it was only yesterday, but just for the record, she’s from Upper Merion, she works as a dental hygienist, she was married but is no longer, she has a child, a girl of some age I forget, whose name I forget. The child was with the former husband while the mother our heroine was enjoying this, her first ever vacation all by herself. It was all too dull, too much, too real, too little.
“Arnold,” she said, seeming to indicate a shift away from her autobiography. “Such a cute name. Say, you remember my name, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” I said.
“Then what is it?”
“It’s Rhonda,” I said.
“My name’s not Rhonda.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m terribly sorry.”
“You don’t remember my name?”
“I can’t believe you can’t remember my name.” I hadn't realized it but the shriek in her voice had gradually diminished in frequency and volume while she had been talking about herself, replaced by a non-hypnotic drone, but now the shrieking returned. "You jerk!" she shrieked.
“Uh, I was drunk, I’m afraid.”
“I was plastered, but I remembered your name.”
“You really don’t remember my name.”
Okay, this went on for way too long, but finally she broke down and told me her correct name:
“Mona. My name is Mona.”
“Oh,” I said. Rhonda, Mona, they were pretty similar really.
“Rhonda,” she said. “I should never talk to you again.”
“You’re right,” I thought. “You shouldn’t. Please don’t.”
But she did. And now I must leave off. I must change for dinner. Because I am taking this Mona person to dinner at the Merion Inn.
I am doomed.
(Quickly, click here to find out what happens next. Or check the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other episodes of Railway Train to Heaven, as well as to many of Arnold Schnabel's fine poems.)