*”As vast, as all-encompassing, as life itself; and would that our own lives could be half as entertaining.” -- Harold Bloom, in Parade Magazine.
“I don’t mind if you light a cigarette, you know,” she said.
“Oh, that’s okay,” I said. “I’m supposed to be quitting anyway.”
“What on earth for? It’s manly to smoke. Oh, let’s turn down here.”
She pulled me down to the walkway at the side of the hall. The last time I had been on this pier was not two hours earlier this evening, with Dick and Mr. Arbuthnot, the three of us recoiling in horror as that enormous black cat poked his giant paw down out of the night-time sky. But halfway down the pier Clarissa stopped me by a wire-mesh trash can. She looked all around her and then reached inside the top of her dress and brought out a man’s wallet.
“Oh, no,” I said.
She took some bank-notes out of the wallet, then dropped the wallet into the trash can.
“Clarissa --” I said.
She was counting the bills.
“Where did you get that wallet?” I said, stupidly.
“I took it from this oaf who was dancing with me.”
“But you told me you would stop stealing.”
“No I didn’t.”
She opened her little white leather purse and stuffed the money into it with the rest of her ill-gotten loot.
“Well, you have to stop it,” I said. I picked the wallet out of the trash and looked through it. “Look, this poor guy has his driver’s license in here, a Diner’s Club card, look, his library card --”
“What is your point, Arnold?”
“My point is that you have not only stolen from this man, but you’ve caused him a great inconvenience.”
“He deserved it. You should have heard the way he spoke to me. He called me ‘baby’. And he tried to rub his body against mine.”
“I’m going to take this wallet back into the hall.”
“And do what with it?”
“I’ll -- I’ll leave it with the cashier, or -- uh --”
“Oh, give it to me.”
“All right.” I handed it to her. “And I want you to put that money back into it,” I said.
She walked over to the railing opposite, and then with a side-hand gesture she tossed the wallet over the top rail and down into the dark crashing surf.
She turned to face me across the boards. Her dark curly hair swirled around her pale face in the ocean breeze.
“You’re such a bore,” she said.
I paused for about two or three seconds I suppose. Then I turned and headed back towards the boardwalk.
I had almost gotten to the front corner of the hall when I heard her hurrying footsteps behind me.
“Arnold!” she called.
I kept going, headed toward the steps that led down from the promenade.
“Arnold, please wait!”
At the top of the steps I stopped, I don’t know why, but I didn’t turn.
I felt her hand on my arm. Keeping her hand on my arm she came around in front of me. There were tears in her dark eyes.
“Please don’t leave me, Arnold. I promise I won’t steal any more. Or rob. Please don’t leave me.”
A tear slid down one of those porcelain cheeks. I took out my handkerchief, and put it in her hand, the one that wasn’t gripping my forearm, but she didn’t wipe her face.
“I’ll be all alone if you leave me, Arnold.”
“All right,” I said. “I won’t leave you.”
“Do you promise?”
A man and a woman came up the steps. The man looked at us then quickly looked away. The woman however continued to look from me to Clarissa as she and the man came up the steps and then past us. A lover’s quarrel, they thought. If they only knew.
“Promise me, Arnold,” said Clarissa.
She squeezed my arm.
“I promise,” I said. I peeled her small but strong fingers from my arm. “Look, you should wipe your face, Clarissa.”
She dabbed her eyes and her cheek, then handed me back the handkerchief. I put it back into my pocket.
“I was only trying to amass a grubstake,” she said.
“But that’s not the way to do it.”
“I know. I’ve been very naughty.” She straightened the collar of my polo shirt, although I have no idea if the collar needed straightening. “But what shall I do?” she asked. “Will you give me money?”
“Clarissa, I’m living on a half-pay disability allotment from the railroad.”
“But aren’t you helping that Larry man to write his motion picture?”
I had conveniently forgotten all about that.
“Well, yes,” I said.
“He’s probably paying you loads of money for that.”
She had backed me into a corner.
“All right,” I said, “I’ll help you out, just till you get settled. But you’ll have to get a job.”
“You mean like a steno, or a waitress?”
“That sounds frightfully boring.”
I couldn’t deny what she said.
“No,” she said. “No, that won’t do. We’ll have to think of something else. Come, walk with me some more, Arnold.”
She put her arm in mine.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s stroll along the boardwalk some more. It’s such a lovely night.”
I really did want just to go home at this point. But, if I did, what would I do with Clarissa? I certainly couldn’t bring her to my aunts’ house. No, no, I couldn’t do that. Could I?
“All right,” I said, and once again we started strolling along the promenade, arm in arm, just as if we were a normal couple.
(Continued here, and on and on until hell freezes over. Please look to the right hand side of this page to find links to innumerable other chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, third-place winner of the Catholic Standard & Times’s “Saint Augustine Award” for Confessional Literature.)