Saturday, August 8, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 157: Magda

Previously in this Gold View Award™-winning memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel (“that most uncommon common man” -- Harold Bloom) found himself thrust into the position of the savior of the Savior, as his friend Josh collapses into Arnold’s arms in the convivial Pilot House (“Swing nightly to the ‘Sweet Sounds of Summer with “Freddy Ayres and Ursula”©’ -- a Cape May tradition since 1946!”), on this eternal Saturday night in August of 1963...


“Whoah,” said Ursula, and, stating the obvious: “he’s passed out.”

Josh’s head lolled on my shoulder, I kept my arms around his lower back.

I gave him a little shake.

“Josh?”

Nothing.

“He’s out cold,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Oblivious,” said Freddy.

“Throw him over your shoulder, Arnold,” said Ursula. “We’ll take him upstairs.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I should probably take him home.”

“You’re going to carry him home in that state?”

She had a point. Another good point, which I didn’t mention, was that I had no idea where home was for Josh, if indeed he had a home on this earth.

“Well, okay,” I said.

“You should be able to carry him,” said Ursula. “Big strong boy like you.”

Saying this she put her hand on my biceps and gave it a squeeze. It felt like a sparrow was nibbling at my flesh.

Anyway, by leaning forward and hoisting Josh’s torso with both my arms I managed -- with some little help, very little help in fact, from Freddy and Ursula and Mr. Arbuthnot -- to get Josh awkwardly over my right shoulder.

“What the hell’s going on?” said Mr. Jones, arriving on the scene with two Manhattans.

“Arnold’s friend passed out,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, taking one of the Manhattans. “Where’s Arnold’s Manhattan?”

“I drank it. Three were too many to carry.”

“Well, I suppose I should have done the same in your shoes,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Let’s go,” said Freddy, and he went through the doorway and started up the winding staircase.

Ursula waved me forward, saying, “Go ahead, big boy. We’ll catch you if you fall.”

I started up the stairs, straining with the weight of Josh over my shoulder.

“A little heavier than me, isn’t he, Mr. Schnabel?” said Mr. Jones, following me.

“He carried me, also, didn’t you, Arnold?” said Mr. Arbuthnot, farther down. “Tossed me around like a rugby ball.”

“Arnold is a strong and strapping boy,” said Ursula, closing the door down below. “Unlike you two fogies with your withered carcasses.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Yeah, so also I,” said Mr. Jones.

“Fogies,” said Ursula. “Not enough sense to keel over when you’re dead. You should both be beaten into your graves with sticks.”

I came to the head of the staircase and looked out on an enormous apartment with vaulted ceilings and broad windows, gauzy white curtains stirring in the breeze, and I stepped into a living room the size of a modest ballroom, filled with various couches and divans and comfortable-looking arm-chairs, tables small and large, some of them covered with lace, some uncovered and of brilliantly shining wood, and a grand piano at which sat a young blond-haired lady playing a waltz and smoking a cigarette.

Like Ursula, she wore a white dress of the sort that ladies wear in movies about ancient Rome. A string of pearls sparkled on her mostly bare chest.

“Magda,” called Freddy, “we’ve brought some friends up.”

The young lady stopped playing and took the cigarette out of her mouth.

“Who is the dead guy?” she said.

“Oh, he’s not dead,” said Freddy. “Merely a drop too much partaken.”

The young lady stood up, pushing back the stool with the back of her calf.

“And who are you, muscle man?” she said to me.

She had an even stronger accent than Ursula’s, although, like Ursula’s, I couldn’t place it.

“This is our new friend Mr. Schnabel, dear,” said Freddy.

By now Jones, Arbuthnot and Ursula had also come up from the staircase.

Ursula closed the door to the staircase behind her, effectively eliminating the noise and the music from the bar downstairs.

“Just throw him on that couch there, big boy,” said Ursula, indicating a large zebra-striped one nearby.

I laid Josh down on his back, and Ursula came over and adjusted a pillow, also zebra-striped, under his head.

“There, that’s done,” she said.

“Cocktails, anyone?” said Freddy.

Arbuthnot and Jones polished off their Manhattans at a gulp.

“I wouldn’t mind a small one,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes, perhaps a small glass of sherry if you have it,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, putting down his glass on an end-table and then reaching into his jacket.

“Would some absinthe do?” said Freddy.

“Absinthe’s fine,” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, yes, a splash of absinthe would be delightful,” said Mr. Abuthnot, taking out a small enamel pill box. “Do you have something to smoke this with, or do we use my Meerschaum?”

“Oh, we have an excellent hash pipe,” said Freddy. “I think it’s in the large credenza, isn’t it, dear?”

“Top drawer,” said Ursula. “Sit down, everyone.”

With a wave of her hand she indicated the zebra couch that Josh lay on and several matching arm-chairs and a couple of hassocks that were placed in a casual semi-circle facing it. A long glass-and-chromium coffee table sat in front the couch, and smaller tables of a matching design were placed near the chairs.

A forbidding-looking bottle of absinthe already stood on a tray on the coffee table, along with a pitcher of water, some ornate leaded glasses, a smaller tray of little slotted spoons and a bowl of brown sugar cubes.

Mr. Arbuthnot and Jones sat down next to each other on the couch, their small feet not quite reaching the floor, which I noticed was of a highly polished parquet. The couch was a long one, so there was still plenty of room for them even with Josh sprawled out on it.

Mr. Arbuthnot leaned forward and put the pillbox on the coffee table, opened it.

“Mr. Schnabel,” said Ursula, “why don’t you bring out that reefer you were talking about?”

“Oh, sure,” I said, reaching into my bermudas pocket, and taking the thing out. “Here, I really don’t want any.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, and she took it and smelled it, holding her cigarette in its holder away from her face. “Smells good. Match me, big boy.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have a light.”

“Use that lighter on the table there.”

It was a large lighter in the shape of the Statue of Liberty. I picked it up.

“Just click the lady’s head back,” said Ursula.

I did so, after only a few tries I achieved a flame, and I gave Ursula a light.

“Hmmm.” She made this noise while holding in the smoke. She still held her holder with its lit cigarette in one hand.

“I’ve got the pipe,” said Freddy, re-joining our group, and brandishing a small long-stemmed pipe up high. “How’s that weed, darling?”

Ursula exhaled, letting the smoke billow up toward my face.

“Not bad,” she said, not coughing.

Someone touched my bare arm and I jumped.

“Nervous?”

It was the young lady, Magda, who had come up behind me.

“Oh. No,” I said.

“And what is your pre-name, Mr. Schnabel?”

For some reason I understood her.

“Arnold,” I said.

“Pleased to meet you, Arnold.”

She raised her right hand slowly to the level of her shoulder. I placed my fingers on hers, but I drew the line at kissing them.

She drew her fingers slowly away from mine as if she were slipping her hand out of a glove.

“Charmed I’m sure,” she said. “And what are you doing with this gang of senile degenerates?”

This was not an easy question to answer, and I hesitated for a moment.

“Never mind,” she said. She now ran the fingers of her hand up along my arm. “You do not seem like the usual riff-raff that Freddy and my mother invite up here. What is your occupation?”

“I was a brakeman,” I said. “For the Reading Railroad. But now I’m --” for a moment I was lost. What was I? “I’m on a leave of absence,” I said.

“Why?”

“I -- I had a sort of breakdown,” I said, putting it mildly.

She drew on her cigarette, and slowly exhaled, looking at me through the smoke.

“You don’t look so insane to me,” she said.

“That’s good to hear,” I said.

“You kids are missing all the fun!” called Freddy. “Would you care for some absinthe, Mr. Schnabel?” He and Ursula now sat in chairs near the coffee table, and Freddy was pouring water from the pitcher over a sugar cube laid on a slotted spoon over a glass of absinthe.

“No thank you,” I said. I figured that absinthe was the last thing I needed at this stage of the game.

“Vile stuff,” said Magda. “Would you like a nice cold beer, Mr. Schnabel.”

What I really wanted was to go home. But since I couldn’t go home yet I figured there was no way I could get through this without drinking something with alcohol in it, so I said, “Okay, thank you.”

“Perhaps a sandwich?”

“Well --”

“Come. Put down that cigarette lighter. You look like you’re going to strike someone with it.”

“Oh --”

She took it from my hand and put it on the table. The old people were all passing the reefer and the little hashish pipe around.

She put her hand on my arm.

“Come with me,” she said, and she started leading me across the room.

“Oh,” she said. “Perhaps I should put something on the gramophone first.” And now she pulled me toward a large hi-fi set. “What do you like to hear?” she asked.

“Oh, anything,” I said.

There was a pile of LPs there, she shuffled through them.

“Something lively, I suppose. How about Drums of Passion?”

She held up an album which showed an African man, playing a drum.

“Sounds good,” I said.

“Drums of Passion it is then,” she said, and she took the album out of its sleeve.


(Continued here and for at least thirty-seven thousand more episodes. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for a sometimes current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets available now for the East Oak Lane Art Players’ open-air production of Arnold!, a new musical based on the life of Arnold Schnabel, at the Sturgis Playground softball field, at 2nd Street and 65th Avenue. Beer provided by the Green Parrot Tavern.)

6 comments:

kathleenmaher said...

The fun never ends and time stretches beyond any perceivable limit. It reminded me of heaven but not like that vacant corporation with no facilities that Arnold visited earlier.
And the Statue of Liberty lighter--I wonder how it got there?

Manny said...

Magda knows just the right things to say. She may give Elektra a run for the money.

Bald Samson said...

Arnold better turn around and run!

Jennifer said...

Ok, I'm surprised no one stuck a spear in Josh's side just to make sure he was truly out...

So does this mean that the story about the about one set of footprints in the sand was incorrect? Was Arnold really doing the carrying all along?

Dan Leo said...

Jennifer, you open up whole new worlds of meaning in Arnold's tale...

Jennifer said...

After reading my comment... it apparently had no meaning... I thought I had cut out a complete chunk, then retyped... Guess not! :)