Arnold Schnabel -- bachelor, brakeman, poet and recovering mental patient.
Steve Jones -- alcoholic, and possibly Jesus.
Charlotte Rathbone -- art instructor at the Shipley School, spinster.
Mrs. Rathbone -- Charlotte’s mother.
Props: a metal table, with peeling white paint; a bottle of Sancerre; a plastic pitcher of ice water; four Jetsons jelly glasses; a rusty tin ashtray; assorted cigarette packages and lighters; one large scrapbook filled with the poems of Arnold Schnabel.
Miss Rathbone sat down and poured Steve a glass of ice water.
He thanked her, lifted the glass and drank it all, his Adam’s apple palpitating like a small creature trapped in his throat.
He put the glass down.
“Oh my,” he said.
Miss Rathbone opened up my poetry scrapbook and began to read.
“I wish I could write poetry,” said Steve.
“Are you ready for some wine now, Steve,” said Mrs. Rathbone.
“Oh, please, Mrs. Rathbone, no, thank you.”
She topped her own glass off.
“Don’t mind if I do,” she said. She took a drink. “Don’t you drink, Steve?”
“Oh, boy, do I drink,” he said.
“I’m afraid so,” he said.
“You need a woman, Steve,” she said. “Arnold here, he’s got a woman. Nice Jewish girl, hey Arnold?”
I suddenly realized that the old girl was drunk. That she’d been drunk all along and was now getting even drunker.
“Hey, Arnold?” she said again.
“Mother,” said Miss Rathbone, barely looking up from my poems. “Leave Arnold alone.”
She took a drink of wine herself, again barely looking up from my deathless verse.
“Arnold can take care of himself,” said Mrs. Rathbone. “It’s Steve I’m worried about.”
Miss Rathbone turned a page.
“Leave Steve alone as well.”
“He needs a girl.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t,” said Miss Rathbone, while reading another one of my poems.
“You’re a girl,” said Mrs. Rathbone.
“Nominally,” said Miss Rathbone.
“Ask her out, Steve,” said Mrs. Rathbone.
“Mother, be quiet.”
“I’ll ask you out, Miss Rathbone,” said Steve.
“What?” she said. Seemingly reluctantly she looked up from my book, putting a pink fingernail on her place.
“I’d like to ask you out, Miss Rathbone.”
“Are you mad.”
“Perhaps. Will you go out with me?”
“I was invited to a cook-out tonight. Will you accompany me?”
“I was going to make bluefish for mother and myself. We got two nice fresh ones from this Charlie Coleman fellow who works here.”
“Go to the cook-out, Charlotte,” said Mrs. Rathbone. “I can broil myself a bluefish. I’m not a complete cripple.”
“But the other one will spoil.”
“Take it to the cook-out with you. As a house-present.”
“I don’t know.”
She went back to reading my poem.
“I’d love it if you would accompany me,” said Steve. “Miss Rathbone.”
“Call me Charlotte,” she said, not lifting her eyes from my masterpiece.
(Click here for our next chapter. Up-to-date listings of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems, many of them suitable as wedding toasts, appear on the right hand side of this page.)