Wednesday, September 3, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 95: Jimmy

In our previous episode of this sprawling memoir (winner of the Bishop Sheen Award for Young Catholic Literature), our hero Arnold Schnabel found himself transported from 1963 Cape May (New Jersey) to a second-floor screened veranda in the Philippines, circa 1933. He was enjoying high tea with the lovely but unsatisfied Mrs. Biddle as the afternoon rains came crashing down when suddenly her husband Jimmy appears on the porch…


Jimmy said nothing at first. He stood there in his wet linen suit, a faint steam rising up from his great round shoulders. He looked like a man who had played fullback in college but who hadn’t exercised in the fifteen years since his graduation. He swayed just slightly, staring alternately at Mrs. Biddle and myself. His eyes were small but with large black pupils.

Swallowing my bite of butter cookie I stood up, wiped my hand on my trousers and then extended it, my hand, to him.

“How are you?” I said. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

Of course I couldn’t be absolutely sure of this, as I had no recollection of being in 1933 before, if that was the year we were in, or in the Philippines, if that was where we were.

He stared at my hand.

“Whatcha doin’ here,” he said.

I could now smell the alcohol fumes wafting gently from his large body, admixtured with those of cigars and sweat and what I now recognized as female sexual exudation.

“Mr. Schnabel simply stopped by for a visit,” said Mrs. Biddle behind me.

I brought my unshaken hand down to my side.

“You’re that nut,” said Jimmy, to me.

“Jimmy,” said Mrs. Biddle.

“I heard about you. Railroad man. Went nuts. Are you nuts?”

“Jimmy,” repeated Mrs. Biddle. “Stop it.”

“What are you doin’," he said to her, "having tea with this lunatic?”

“He’s recovered. Or recovering. Be polite. Mr. Schnabel is our guest.”

“I didn’t invite him. I go away for a few drinks at the club and you invite some nut case in for tea.”

“Stop this nonsense, Jimmy.”

“You,” said Jimmy, pointing a large bloated finger at me, “Beat it. Hop it. ‘Fore I throw you out.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Arnold,” said Mrs. Biddle. “You don’t have to go. Jimmy, you’re drunk. Go to your room and lie down.”

“Shut up,” said Jimmy. He was still pointing at me and now he stepped forward and poked me in the chest with that big finger. “Scram,” he said.

“Sure,” I said. I turned to Mrs. Biddle. “Thanks for the tea and sandwiches, Mrs. Biddle. And the cookie.”

“Don’t go, Arnold. Don’t leave me with this beast.”

Suddenly something — I suppose Jimmy’s ham-like paw — shoved mightily against my shoulder and I tripped over the tea table, sending it and the tea service clattering and shattering onto the floor. I staggered several steps but managed not to fall down. Mrs. Biddle screamed, I turned, and Jimmy was rushing toward me making a sound like a man whose arm was being twisted behind his back, but in fact both his arms were raised and his hands were clenched into fists, but fortunately for me he slipped on something, I think it was the silver tea tray, and I stepped to one side as he stumbled past me and crashed through the screening and into that almost solid wall of rain, from which erupted a shrieking bellow like a dog being run over by a truck, cut off abruptly by a muffled but loud wet thump.

I stood there looking at the big jagged hole the man had left in the screening. The only sound now was that of the rain, this wet cacophony as if some ocean in the sky had decided all at once to come crashing down to drown the earth forever.

“Oh my God,” said Mrs. Biddle. “Are you all right, Arnold.”

“Yes, I think so,” I said.

I looked at her, she was still sitting on the wicker sofa, but sitting up very straight, with her fists clenched close to her breast.

“Go look, see if he’s okay. He’s such a bull. I’m sure he’s okay.”

I went over to the edge of the veranda and looked down through the torn space in the screening. Down through the torrents of rain I saw Jimmy’s pale form lying absolutely still face down in the mud of the yard.

“Is he okay?” asked Mrs. Biddle.

“He’s not moving,” I said.

“Oh,” she said.

I moved back a bit from the verge of the veranda. I had been getting wet.

“I’ll go down and check on him,” I said.

“Wait. Let me look.”

She got up, stepped over the tea things on the floor, and came over next to me. She put her hand on my arm and leaned forward, looking down.

“He’s not moving,” she said.

“No,” I said.

“He’s not moving at all.”

Continuing to hold tightly onto my arm she leaned farther over, holding her other hand over her forehead to keep the rain out of her eyes.

“I think his neck is broken,” she said. “Look, Arnold.”

I didn’t want to, but I did, shielding my eyes from the rain with my hand. It was true, his head was twisted at an unnatural angle. He looked like some enormous puppet dropped in the mud.

Then we saw a man in a white suit come out of the house, carrying a black umbrella. He came down the steps, went over to Jimmy and knelt down next to him on one knee. All we could see was this large black umbrella, and the bottom half of Jimmy’s unmoving body.

Then the man stood up and tilting the umbrella towards his back, he looked up at us. It was Tommy.

“How is he?” called down Mrs. Biddle.

Tommy called up something but the downpour drowned out his words.

“What?” called Mrs. Biddle. “How is he, Tommy?”
Tommy called louder this time, cupping his hand to the side of his mouth:

“I'm afraid he’s dead, Mrs. Biddle.”

She paused, then straightened up and looked at me.

“It was an accident, Arnold. There was nothing either of us could do."

She had continued to hold onto my arm, but now she let go of it.


(Please go here for our next thrilling chapter. And see the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of links to all available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Josef Von Sternberg Production.)

6 comments:

kathleenmaher said...

Way to go, Arnold!
Who else would write: "what I now recognized as female sexual exudation."? Only the gentleman Arnold, whose care and brilliance should encourage us all, no matter what year (and/or dimension) he's visiting now.

Jennifer said...

Oh! The farce turns dark!

Nice use of the Fatty Arbuckle photo! I knew no good was going to come from a post starting with Fatty.

Anonymous said...

I hate Jimmy almost as much as Sarah Palin.

Dan Leo said...

Kathleen, Arnold may be a nut case, but he is still a gentleman.

Jen, who knew you were a Fatty Arbuckle fan? Or maybe you're just a fan of early Hollywood scandals.

Anon, at least we won't have to deal with Jimmy any more.

Manny said...

Thank goodness Jimmy is around to take care of things.
I think a glass of his special tea will be in order.

Dan Leo said...

Manny, kindly check the next episode of Arnold's adventures.