Once again (go here to review our previous episode) our hero Arnold Schnabel finds himself in a potentially compromising situation with the attractive novelist Gertrude Evans, author of the classic melodrama of “beat” “hipster” Greenwich Village, Ye Cannot Quench (later made into a feature film directed by Larry Winchester, starring Sandy Dennis, Michael Parks and John Philip Law)...
Finally she seemed to have all her stuff collected and she walked up to me and said, “Do you think I’m frivolous?”
Even I know that if someone asks you if you think they’re anything less than perfect that the absolute last thing they want to hear is the truth.
So I said, “Oh, no, not at all.”
“You’re so kind,” she said, taking a step closer.
I backed up and hit the edge of the open door.
“Shall we go then?” she asked.
“Um, I think I’d better use the bathroom first,” I said.
I really had just then realized that I had to go, but, more pressingly, I felt the need to escape from her, even if it was only for a couple of minutes.
I staggered backwards out the door, turned and quick-marched to the bathroom down the hall.
Inside I turned the bolt and stood for a moment with my back to the door. I was sweating again, and now I needed a cigarette perhaps more than I had all day. I almost felt like I was about to be led to a firing squad. Didn’t they give the condemned man a cigarette with his blindfold?
I urinated, and I realized this was the first time I had gone since leaving the house that morning. Needless to say, what with all the iced tea I’d drunk, special and otherwise, plus that one strong highball and one beer, it took a while; and as I stood there I had the strongest feeling that Miss Evans was standing right outside the bathroom door, waiting, listening. It was most disconcerting. I swear, if it weren’t for Elektra I think I would just let her have her way with me and be done with it. After all, she is very attractive, at least physically, and at least then I wouldn’t have to deal with the continual anxiety of running into her in the hallway. And here she was, waiting out there, listening to me urinate; waiting, for me.
What would she say, or do, when she saw that it was Daphne downstairs with whom I was going to the beach? What if she pulled a switchblade from that big beach bag and attacked Daphne, or me?
I finished my business, flushed the toilet, and, as it performed its usual symphony of a truckload of pots and pans being dumped down the side of a rocky slope, I washed and dried my hands.
I went to the small casement window. It was open. I stuck my head out.
Running down the side of house, just to the right of the window, was a drain pipe, fastened to the house by rounded brackets every four feet or so, both pipe and brackets painted many times over through the hundred years of this house’s history. Directly below the window on the ground down there was a purplish-pink cloud of rhododendrons in full bloom.
I have experienced much insanity over the past seven months or so, but I must say that usually the insanity felt like something that was happening to me, that had descended upon me, rather than something I myself willingly chose to do. What happened next I’m afraid fell in the latter category.
I threw my towel through the window, and, without letting myself think about it too much, I climbed out after it. Halfway through it occurred to me that it might have been better to force myself out feet-first, but I didn’t feel like hesitating, so I continued to wriggle through the little window, while simultaneously reaching to my right with my left hand to grab ahold of the pipe.
With one last heave my legs came out and seemed to drop past me while I swung my right hand over to join the left on the pipe. Unfortunately the weight of my body and the force of gravity and the fact that I was neither Batman nor Spider-Man resulted in my hands bursting away from the pipe and my body falling backwards away from the house, and I saw the blue sky spinning above me and I caught what I presumed was my last glimpse of life, the upside-down fleeting image of the yellow-shingled, green-shuttered house across the way as I plummeted head-first, when suddenly I stopped just above the first floor windows.
Floating right before me, right-side up, meaning upside-down to my way of looking, was Jesus, more of a beach-bum than ever, in his loose trousers and torn t-shirt, with his beard and long hair, and his lit cigarette in his hand.
“Oh Arnold,” he said.
“I know,” I said.
“Is this any way to die? Jumping out of a third-storey window just to avoid walking to the beach with some goofy woman?”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I said.
He shook his head, I guess in bewilderment, put his cigarette in his mouth, reached out, grabbed me, and twirled me around so that I was now right-side up.
“All right,” he said. “Try to bend your knees and roll when you hit those rhododendrons.”
“I will,” I said, sheepishly, and I dropped without further ceremony into the shrubs and tumbled out onto the stone pathway.
I lay there on my back for a few moments. Above me I saw only that pristine blue sky.
I seemed to be okay. I pushed myself to a sitting position. I had a bruise along my right calf, and my swimming trunks were stained from the flowers I had just crushed.
I reached over, grabbed my towel, and got to my feet.
I tried to fluff up the rhododendrons, and I kicked some of the destroyed flowers under the bush.
Then I hobbled around to the front of the house, and went up the steps. I tapped on one of the cross-slats of the screen door.
“Daphne,” I said.
She was sitting in there, chatting with my mother and aunt, and Kevin was sitting next to her on the couch.
“Arnold,” she called, “how did you get out there?”
“I, uh, went out the side way,” I said.
For some reason, or perhaps for many different reasons, neither Daphne nor my kin questioned why I would come out the side way instead of coming down through the living room like a normal person. But then of course no one there thought me a normal person, and quite justifiably so.
I held the screen door open, Daphne got up, said goodbye to my mother and aunt and Kevin, and came out through the door past me.
“See ya,” I said, and let the door close.
We went down the steps.
“You’re limping,” she said.
“Yeah, I fell.”
“Are you okay to go swimming?”
“Sure, let’s go.”
I started to limp even faster. I was afraid that Miss Evans would come running out the door after us.
Daphne took my arm and we headed up Perry Street in that thick August sunlight.
I wondered how long Miss Evans would wait outside that bathroom door. I had left it locked, but of course my aunts had a key, so presumably no one would break the door down with a fire axe.
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Steppin’ Out, baby: