(Newcomers may go here to read the first chapter of this Gold View Award-winning masterpiece, which the noted critic Harold Bloom has called “perhaps the finest memoir available to humanity”.)
She dropped the album cover back on the pile and, putting her cigarette between her lips, which were painted rose red, she put the record on the turntable, turned the machine on, lifted the needle and dropped it onto the record. Soon a pounding African rhythm pulsed through the apartment. She nodded her head and began to shake her shoulders and hands, almost as if she were playing a bongo drum herself.
She turned to me.
“Would you like to dance?”
“No, thank you,” I said.
She took the cigarette from her mouth.
“Is this too intense for you? I could play something quieter. Perhaps a bossa nova.”
“This is fine,” I said.
“But you don’t want to dance.”
“Not especially,” I said. “But if you insist.”
“No. Dancing should come from the heart. Don’t you agree?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said.
“So have you never danced?”
“Occasionally I have danced with my mother. And tonight for the first time I danced the Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Frug and the Hully-Gully.”
“I am impressed. Would you like that beer now?”
I glanced back at Josh, lying on the zebra-skin couch among those debauching senior citizens. He still appeared to be out cold.
“Sure,” I said.
“Come with me.”
She set off again across this huge room, and I walked with her. Finally we came to a kitchen off to the left. It was large also, even bigger than Mrs. Biddle’s.
“Sit down at the table."
This was a big rectangular red laminated table with steel-tube legs, six steel padded chairs with shiny red plastic upholstery.
I pulled up a chair and sat.
The African music was somewhat muted in here, but only somewhat. It was all I could do to prevent myself from modestly playing my own imaginary bongo.
Through tall windows along one side of the kitchen I could see the roofs and chimneys of houses and hotels, the dark ocean, the starry sky.
Magda went to a large white refrigerator with double doors, opened it. I noticed that her dress was slit rather far up one thigh, and I tried not to stare.
“Tell me about this comatose friend of yours,” she said, taking out a pint bottle of Schmidt’s. (I confess that, given the luxuriousness of this enormous apartment, I had been expecting, and hoping for, something more exalted. A Tuborg maybe.)
She closed the refrigerator, then popped the bottle open on an opener built into one of the doors. She brought the bottle over.
“Well?” she said.
It took me a mere second or two to recall what she had asked me about.
“His name is Je-” I corrected myself, “Josh.”
“No, just Josh,” I said.
She laid the bottle in front of me.
“Want a glass?”
“No thank you,” I said, although I did. But I didn’t want to put her out too much. I sensed somehow that I was already on thin ice with her.
She sat down across from me. She reached over, pulled a purple glass ashtray closer, tapped her cigarette ash into it.
“And what does this Josh do for a living?”
“He -- um --” I took a quick drink of beer. Very cold, and good, if not exalted.
“Is he on a leave of absence as well?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “He, uh, doesn’t have a job really. His father is, um, uh, very wealthy.”
“Oh really.” She drew her chair in closer to the table. “Now I am intrigued. I must admit I find you intriguing as well. However, a railway brakeman -- on a mental leave of absence yet -- you know -- a girl should be choosy in her choice of men. Don’t you agree?”
“I can’t live off the benevolence of Freddy and Ursula all my life. It’s time I found a man to take care of me. A rich man. Am I to be despised for thinking thus?”
“Oh, no,” I said, and I took another, deeper swallow.
She stubbed out her cigarette.
“Perhaps you are thinking I should get a job?”
“Oh, no,” I said. “Although you play the piano very well. Maybe you could get a job like Freddy and Ursula --”
“Playing sentimental crap for the yokels, four sets a night, seven nights a week, matinées on Saturdays and Sundays?”
“Well, uh --”
“I should rather die,” she said. “No, some women are not meant to work. This Josh fellow, nice guy?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Really. Girlfriend? Married?”
“I don’t think he’s married,” I said. “And as far as I know he doesn’t have a girlfriend.”
“Does he like men?”
“Well, sure --”
“I mean does he like to have sexual relations with men?”
“Oh, no,” I said. “I mean, not that I know of.”
“That’s good enough for me. I hope you don’t think me mercenary.”
“Some women are meant to be wives.”
“Sure,” I said. I took another swig of Schmidt’s. “Wives, mothers, these are important, uh, roles. In the, uh, social --”
“I said nothing about being a mother.”
“I find children to be quite annoying. If not vile. However, I suppose that spawning is part and parcel of the job, and so I’ll have to have one or two babies at least. I assure you they will have the finest nurses and governesses I can afford. I can do no more.”
“Well,” I said, “that’s very, uh, generous of you --”
“Only doing what’s right,” she said.
(Continued here, and until every last one of those marble notebooks that fill Arnold’s old army footlocker has been faithfully transcribed. Please go to the right hand side of this page to find what might possibly be an up-to-date listing of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Be sure to buy your tickets now for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Summer Solstice Ball at the VFW on Chew Street. Music provided by Rockin’ Harry Hirsch and His Orchestra.)
Now go back and read the chapter above while listening to this: