In our previous chapter the lady artist Charlotte Rathbone asked Arnold to bring her some of his poems for her to read. Arnold duly goes back into the sprawling Victorian boarding-house of his three maiden aunts to fetch the poems.
Cape May, New Jersey; August, 1963.
I went back up to my attic room and got my latest scrapbook of poems. (I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before but I put cuttings of my poems from the Olney Times into these big scrapbooks that I buy at Kresge’s 5&10.)* I stood at my table and flipped through the book. It was true, my post-breakdown poems were perhaps less bad than the others, although one or two of the poems immediately preceding the complete loss of my marbles were not too bad either.
I headed downstairs and once again I ran into Gertrude Evans on the third floor. This time she was coming out of the bathroom. She was wet, and wearing a white fluffy bathrobe, carrying a white towel and some bottles of toiletries, another white towel wrapped around her head. Fresh from the shower as she was her lips nonetheless were bright blood-red with lipstick.
“Oh. Arnold,” she said.
“Hello, Miss Evans,” I said.
“Call me Gertrude.”
“Okay,” I said.
“But please don’t call me Gertie.”
“What’s that, a photo album?”
“No,” I said. “It’s a scrapbook of my poems.”
“Oh, I want to read them.”
“What? Don’t you want me to?”
“It’s not that,” I said. “But Miss Rathbone just asked me if she could read them.”
“Oh. Miss Rathbone. The painter.”
“I wouldn’t have thought she was your type, Arnold. And does your girlfriend know about her?”
“No,” I said.
“You’re such a rogue, aren’t you? Let me see. Take these bottles and let me take a look at these poems.”
Awkwardly we performed a hand-off, me taking her bottles of creams and unguents, and also her towel, she taking the book. I stood there holding her stuff while she looked through the big stiff pages. I didn’t really mean to, but I could see into the opening of her robe, and one of her breasts was almost entirely visible. I looked away, but there wasn’t much to look at in that hallway. There was a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mother on the wall, a reproduction of some old painting, so I looked at that.
“Very interesting,” she said.
I looked back at her. She didn’t look up. She was reading one of my poems to herself, moving her lips. But what was disconcerting was that even more of her one breast was showing now, like the moon dipping out from behind a white cloud.
I don’t know how long I stood there. I kept turning to look at the Blessed Mother, but I also kept turning back to look at Miss Evans, or I should say at Miss Evans’s breast, faintly outlined by what looked like a light but not painful sunburn.
Finally she closed the book and cocked her head and looked at me.
“I don’t know if you’re a genius or insane,” she said. “And what’s that?”
I hadn’t realized it, but I had suffered an erection, and it was this to which she referred.
“Oh, sorry,” I said.
“No need to apologize. I consider it a compliment. Come with me.”
She turned and walked to her door, still carrying my scrapbook. She opened the door and looked back at me.
“I’m not going to bite you,” she said, and then she went in.
She had my scrapbook, and I had her bottles and her towel. What could I do? I followed her into her room.
Her apartment is a nice big one, with a living room and separate bedroom, a small kitchenette. It’s usually taken by couples, hardly ever by a single person. There is a dining table there, and she laid the scrapbook on it.
“Close the door, Arnold.”
“I can’t stay,” I said.
With one movement of one hand she took the towel from her head and dropped it over the back of a chair. Her wet golden brown hair fell about her neck and shoulders.
“Close the door. And put those things down over here.”
I closed the door with my foot, then went over and put the towel and bottles and jars on the table.
“I really should go,” I said.
She took a step closer to me.
“Don’t you find it difficult to walk with that?”
It had started to subside somewhat, but as she said this it revived.
“I’m supposed to bring Miss Rathbone my poems,” I said. “And her mother is making me a sandwich.”
She took another step closer. She put her hands on my arms.
“You’re very strong,” she said. “A workman. A workman poet. A workman mad poet. Do you like gin?”
“Yes,” I said. “But I really should go.”
“You can’t walk out with that thing showing.”
She had a point.
“Have one drink with me.”
“Just one,” I said.
Universes collapsed, stars exploded and disappeared, new galaxies burst into creation, gods and entire races lived and died as she went into her little kitchenette and took a bottle of Gordon’s gin and poured healthy drams into two of the Flintsones glasses that my aunts had supplied the apartment with. She came up to me and handed me one of the drinks.
“I don’t have any tonic. Oh, did you want ice?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said.
“My kind of man. Cheers.”
She drank hers down in a gulp. Her eyes expanded and then seemed to shrink and then resume their normal size, albeit slightly glazed. I drank half my drink. She put her empty glass on the table and dropped her arms to her sides. I tossed off the rest of my own drink.
And then I did a strange thing. I put my glass on the table and grabbed her by the waist and kissed her on the neck, my nose in her wet hair.
“Oh,” she said.
I pulled her robe down over one shoulder and kissed her shoulder.
“Ah, ah,” she said.
She put her hands on my chest and pushed.
“What about your sandwich? What about Miss Rathbone? What about your girlfriend?”
“Oh,” I said. “I forgot about all that.”
“You passionate man.”
She lowered her hands to my side.
“I should go,” I said.
“Miss Rathbone and Mrs. Rathbone are waiting for me.”
“With your sandwich.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I suppose you’d better go then.”
She withdrew her hands. I picked up my scrapbook.
“Oh, by the way, how do you like my novel so far?” she asked.
“It’s good,” I said.
I turned and walked out, closing the door behind me. I walked gingerly over to the bathroom, went in, closed the door, unzipped, and splashed cold water from the tap onto the offending portion of myself.
*In fact Arnold has mentioned this before. -- Editor
(Click here for our next enthralling chapter. If you turn to the right hand side of this page you will find a listing of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems.)