After I had splashed the damnable thing with about a gallon of cold tapwater it finally gave up and surrendered and I put it away and zipped up my bermudas. I cracked the bathroom door and peeked down the hall first; somehow I wouldn’t put it past Miss Evans to appear yet again, and as much as I found her attractive I was already feeling pangs of guilt. After all, how long had I been seeing Elektra? Just a week or so? And already I was kissing another woman? That couldn’t be right.
I heard music coming from her room, opera.
I left the bathroom, holding my poem scrapbook, and tiptoed past her door. Well, I was wearing my sandals, so I suppose I wasn’t exactly tiptoeing, but I walked or shuffled as quietly as I could.
Finally I made it downstairs and out the side door, but this really was one of those days, because just then I saw Steve coming down the walk. If I had left the house just thirty seconds sooner I might have avoided him, but no such luck.
He waved weakly to me from the sidewalk. Even from here he looked rather pale and pathetic. I walked to the front and up the stone path to where he stood by the gate, although he made no motion to open it.
“Arnold,” he said, “I just came over to apologize.”
“Oh, that’s okay, Steve.”
“I feel horrible.”
“You shouldn’t feel horrible. All you did was get drunk.”
“No, I don’t mean I feel horrible about getting drunk, although I do, what I mean is I feel horrible physically. I don’t think I’ve ever been so sick in my life. I threw up all over my bathroom at the Chalfonte, and then I passed out in it. Fortunately I woke up in the cold light of dawn and was able to find some Mr. Clean and a sponge under the sink and clean the bathroom up before the maid came in. Anyway I wanted to come over here and apologize, and to thank you for getting me home.”
“Well, Dick helped too,” I said.
“I know. I don’t deserve friends like you guys. What’s that big book you have there?”
“It’s a scrapbook of my poems. I’m supposed to show them to this lady who’s staying here.”
“Oh. Well, I won’t keep you.”
Suddenly I had a brainwave. After that disgraceful Miss Evans incident I was feeling rather wary of this lunch with Miss Rathbone, even with her mother there as chaperone. Maybe if Steve was there he could act as a sort of buffer, or at least prevent things from turning into a complete orgy on the grass.
“Come with me, Steve,” I said. “I’m just going out back.”
“I don’t know, Arnold. I was thinking of just going back to my room and lying down some more. Staring into the yawning abyss of my soul. But it is so hot in that room.”
I opened the gate.
“Come on, Steve.”
“Well, if you insist. I hope this lady isn’t going to expect me to speak coherently. Or God forbid, cleverly.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
So Steve went with me around the house and out back where Miss Rathbone and Mrs. Rathbone sat at the metal table under the oak tree.
“Oh, no,” he muttered. “They have wine.”
“You don’t have to drink it,” I said.
“What a bizarre concept,” he said.
“Miss Rathbone,” I said, “Mrs. Rathbone. This is my friend Steve.”
“Is he what kept you so long, young man?” said Mrs. Rathbone. “We were afraid you had died in your room.”
“Sorry,” I said. I tried to think of some excuse for taking so long and drew a complete blank. Fortunately Steve came to my rescue.
“Are you a painter, Miss Rathbone?”
She was still wearing her paint-splattered smock-dress.
“I dab and daub,” she said. She and her mother were already drinking from the bottle of white wine on the table, out of the jelly glasses that my aunts traditionally provide all their tenants. These were Jetsons glasses.
“I wish I could have been a painter,” said Steve. “I’m so envious of artistic people like you and Arnold.”
“Sit down, Steve,” said Miss Rathbone. “Would you like some wine or a sandwich?”
“Oh, God, no, thank you,” he said.
“Well, sit down anyway. Here’s your sandwich, Arnold.”
It was sitting there on a plate, with sliced pickle and potato chips, a neatly folded pink paper napkin on one side and an empty Jetsons glass on the other.
“Thanks,” I said.
Both Steve and I pulled up chairs.
“Have some Sawn Sair,” Miss Rathbone said, raising the bottle, which I saw was actually called Sancerre.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. As bad as I am I’m still not much of a daytime drinker. Especially with a blazing August midday sun hanging up there in the sky like a balloon full of molten lava ready to burst all over us. And I had just had that rather large shot of gin up in Miss Evans’s room.
“Just half a glass,” she said, and she half-filled the empty Jetsons glass.
I ate my sandwich quietly while Steve and Miss Rathbone chatted about their respective jobs, about where she and her mother lived and where Steve lived. Their words passed into my ears and out again, leaving only the vaguest impressions on my brain. Steve smoked a cigarette. He seemed much more subdued than I’d ever seen him in our brief acquaintance, so I guess he really was hungover. When Miss Rathbone asked him again if he wouldn’t like something to drink he said he would take some water if she didn't mind. She went back into their cottage.
Mrs. Rathbone asked Steve if he was married.
“No,” he said.
“A good-looking man like you. You must have all the girls after you.”
”Oh, sure,” he said. “Beating them off with my walking stick.”
“You know Charlotte’s single.”
“Charlotte is Miss Rathbone?”
“My daughter, yes. How old are you, Steve?”
“You should ask Charlotte out for a date.”
“I’m sure Charlotte could do better than me,” said Steve.
“She scares men away because she’s very independent. You’re not afraid of independent women, are you, Steve?”
“Not at all,” he said.
I pushed my empty plate away and got out my cigarettes. This was working out better than I could have expected. Working out better for me, anyway.
Miss Rathbone came back carrying a flowered plastic pitcher of ice water and another Jetsons glass.
(Click here for our next intallment. Turn to the right hand side of this page for up-to-date listings of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his classic poems.)