(Go here to see our previous chapter, or here for the first chapter of this third-place prize-winner of the Catholic Standard & Times Award for Confessional Literature.)
“Mr. Jones?” said a woman, and Mr. Jones’s shoulders flinched again.
His interlocutor was a lady behind the screen door of the entranceway. Mr. Jones swiveled deftly about to face her, almost falling down as he did so. I reached forward with my left hand and grabbed his upper left arm.
The woman pushed the door open.
“Ah, Mrs. Davenport,” he said, “Looking lovelier than ever.”
She stood there with her shoulder holding the door open, her arms folded, and she looked from Mr. Jones to me. She was about forty or so, slender, wearing shorts and a flowered sleeveless top. Her hair was red, and wavy, almost curly.
“Who’s your friend, Mr. Jones?” she asked.
“Arnold,” said Mr. Jones. “He was nice enough to walk me home. Chivalry is not quite dead.”
It seemed to me that Mrs. Davenport was looking at me suspiciously, or at least warily.
Then Mr. Jones collapsed, again, falling back against me. I still had the doll box under my right arm, so I continued to hold him up awkwardly with my left hand gripping his upper left arm.
“Oh no,” said Mrs. Davenport, and she came down the two or three steps to us, the screen door closing behind her.
“Can you take this box?” I said.
She took the box, and I was now able to get my right arm around Mr. Jones.
“Sorry,” I said. “I just met him on the street, and I thought I’d better get him home.”
“That was nice of you,” she said. “Do you mind helping me get him to his room?”
“Not at all,” I said.
She went ahead up the steps and held the door open. I lugged him up through the doorway.
“He’s on the third floor?” I asked.
“He told you that?”
“No, he’s no longer on the third floor. I couldn’t have him climbing those stairs drunk every night. He’s got the first room on the left in here.”
I dragged him into the hall, I was holding him up with both arms around his chest. His straw hat fell off.
“I’ll get his hat,” said Mrs. Davenport, and she did so. “Here, let me get the door.”
The door was unlocked, she opened it, flicked on an overhead light.
“Bring him in.”
It was a small neat room, with a small brass bed. I laid Mr. Jones down on it.
Mrs. Davenport put the hat on the bedpost. She handed me back the doll box, then she slipped off Mr. Jones's shoes, cordovan loafers, and laid them side by side on the rug next to the bed. Then she came up and removed Mr. Jones’s glasses, folded them and placed them on the night table. She bent over to loosen his tie and unbutton his shirt collar, then she stood up straight and looked at me.
“I refuse to undress him,” she said.
“I don’t blame you,” I said.
He lay there on his back in his grey suit, his mouth slightly open, his arms at his side.
“I’ll put the window fan on,” she said. There were two windows, and a fan was installed in the one closest to the head of the bed. She went over and turned it on.
“All right, he’ll be okay now,” she said.
I went back out into the hall and the lady followed me, putting out the light and closing the door. She turned and looked at me, and then at the box.
“What’s in the box, anyway?”
“An antique doll,” I said.
“Ah. For your daughter?”
“Well, no, I’m actually holding it for a friend of mine, who’s going to give it to his girlfriend, I think.”
“I see. What was your name again?”
“Arnold,” I said. “Arnold Schnabel.”
“I’ve seen you around town. I’m Myrna. Davenport.”
She offered her hand. I transferred the box from my right arm to my left, and I took her hand.
“Well, I have to get back to the end of my movie. I only got up because a commercial came on. They’re showing Sayonara.”
I could hear Marlon Brando’s voice from down the hall.
“Good night,” I said. I was about to turn and go but she said:
“Are you staying here all summer?”
“I -- yes, I suppose so,” I said.
“With your family?”
“With my mother. And my aunts.”
“Oh. You’re not married?”
“Never been married?”
“I’m a widow. My husband died of a heart attack a couple of years ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.
“He was fourteen years older than me,” she said. “He left us a nice nest egg.”
“I have two teenagers, a boy and a girl. One is at band camp, the other one is a counselor at another summer camp.”
Marlon was still talking, in the background, but Mrs. Davenport didn’t seem concerned.
“I enjoy running my little house,” she said. “I teach school here in the winter. So what do you do that you can take the whole summer off?”
Finally someone in this town who didn’t know my whole sad history.
“I’m on a disability leave from my job with the railroad,” I said.
“You don’t look ill.”
Amazingly she didn’t ask what my illness was.
“Well, good night, then, Mr. --”
“Schnabel,” I said. “Arnold Schnabel.”
“Good night, Arnold. Thank you for bringing Mr. Jones home safely.”
“Good night, Mrs. Davenport.”
“Good night, Myrna.”
I turned and opened the screen door, went down the steps and around the house and to the front path.
“Very much the ladies’ man, aren’t you, Arnold?” said the doll.
“Not really,” I said, going through the gate and turning right.
“Could she have been any more obvious?”
“She was only being friendly,” I said.
“Desperately friendly. Open the box.”
I stopped and took the lid off. She sat up in the box. She touched my face. Her touch was warm and soft.
“I think I’d like to walk a while,” she said, and, she leaned forward and put her little arms around my neck. “Let me down now.”
I bent forward till her feet were about a foot from the pavement, and she let go and landed gracefully, her long dress billowing up a bit as she did and then slowly deflating.
“Been rather a long time since I’ve been out of that dusty shop,” she said. She smoothed out her dress with her tiny hands. “Now take my hand and let’s stroll.”
She held up her hand.
“I can’t walk you into the Ugly Mug like this,” I said.
“We’ll just walk till we get to the corner of Decatur Street, then I’ll pop back into my box. Until we get to the bar of course. I so want to meet your friends.”
She wiggled the fingers of her upraised hand.
“But you’ll promise to be still and not talk?” I said.
“Well, all right."
I put the lid back on the box, put the box back under my arm, and took her hand. She had to hold her arm all the way up in order to put her hand in mine. We strolled along the pavement, the trees making their wishes above the streetlamps.
A young couple came walking along in our direction and when they came near us the woman said:
“Oh, what a darling little girl!”
She had a southern accent. She was a pretty blond young woman in a puffy dress, her hair sprayed into the shape of a mushroom, or a rutabaga.
The woman stopped and bent forward in front of the doll, which of course forced us to stop as well.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?”
“Clarissa,” said the doll.
“Clarissa, what a darling name! And how old are you, Clarissa?”
“I’ll be seventy-three years young next October.”
The woman touched Clarissa’s dark curly head.
“Aren’t you just darling?”
She straightened up and addressed me.
“You are very lucky, mister.”
“Yes,” I said. “I know.”
“Now, let’s go, honey,” said the young man, smiling. He had a southern accent too, and he wore a light-grey shiny suit with a thin tie.
“Goodbye, Clarissa!” said the woman, waving her hand.
“Goodbye,” said Clarissa.
The young couple walked past us, and Clarissa and I continued on, hand in hand.
“I have that effect on the female of the species,” said Clarissa.
(Continued here. Kindly go to the right hand column of this page to find an allegedly current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™; Nihil Obstat, Bishop John J. “Smiling Jack” Graham.