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I did my best to keep up with him.
“I love this world,” he said. “Don’t you love it, Arnold?”
I was thinking I would love it a heck of a lot more if I weren’t in pain, but I said simply, “Yes.”
We were passing that dress shop that Clarissa had robbed earlier tonight.
“The smells,” Josh said. “The honeysuckle. The ocean. I love that ocean smell. Don’t you, Arnold?”
“Yeah, they’re good smells,” I said.
”You don’t get these smells,” he said, “you know, upstairs.”
“No,” I said. “I suppose not.”
He slowed down a bit, turned and looked at me.
“What?” he said.
“Nothing,” I said.
He finally tossed away his cigarette.
“No,” he said, “you were thinking something.”
I still wasn’t sure how nearly omniscient he was. But I figured he was at least omniscient enough to know that I was thinking something I wasn’t saying. So I might as well say it.
“It’s about the smells,” I said.
“Yes? What? You don’t like these smells?”
“No,” I said. “I like them a lot. But the thing is, when you’re human, sometimes the smells are not so good.”
“Oh. I get it. Like, uh, the smell of death.”
“Yeah, I was thinking of that. Among other things.”
Other things too numerous to mention even if I had a mind to.
“Wow. You really know how to put a damper on the fun, Arnold.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“Just enjoy the present moment.”
“I try to.”
“I know,” he said. “But it’s hard. Because, as you were saying earlier, all over the world people are in pain. Misery. Despair.”
True. Not to mention that I was pulsating with aches and pains myself as I hobbled along. I was hoping that it would occur to Josh that my various scrapes and bruises might be painful, and that he would offer to heal them for me. But he was just too drunk I’m afraid. And I was too shy to ask him straight out for another miracle on a night when he’d already performed several, including bringing back a decadent old man from the dead.
Suddenly he stopped and turned to me.
He opened up his arms.
“We screwed up, Arnold. My father, me, and the – uh –”
“The Holy Ghost,” I said.
“Spirit,” said Josh. “He really prefers Holy Spirit now.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Spirit.”
“He thinks it makes him sound less – scary.”
“It does, I think,” I said.
“To me he’ll always be H.G., though.”
“H.G. For ‘Holy Ghost’. I’ve always called him H.G., because, you know, it’s a little awkward addressing someone as ‘Holy Ghost’. Or ‘Holy Spirit’, for that matter.”
“Um,” I said.
"But, the thing of it is, Arnold, we did – all three of us – we screwed up. Royally.”
Who was I, a mere human, to tell him different?
“Well, don’t feel too bad, Josh,” I said. “Humans screw up all the time.”
“True. But I like to think that we three would hold ourselves to a slightly higher standard.”
“Let’s get you to bed, Josh,” I said.
And we continued our walk, past Hughes and down to Columbia, where we crossed the street and then turned left.
After having walked in silence for a block or so I couldn’t take it, and so, just to make conversation, I said:
“So, Josh, what do you intend to do down here?”
“On the earth.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t intend to do.”
He was walking on the street side of the sidewalk, and as he said this he stepped off the curb, and stumbled, but he regained his footing without falling.
He turned to face me.
“What I’m not going to do, Arnold, is get myself crucified. Not if I can help it. Or scourged. There will be none of this, this, redemption business. Once was enough for all that.” He started walking again. Then stopped. “Am I wrong to take this attitude? I know, I know, you’re not qualified, but again, if you had to say, forced at gunpoint, am I wrong not to want to go through all that again?”
“No,” I said. “I would think once was enough. More than enough.”
“You’re telling me.”
Josh took off again, striding along with his hands in his pockets, me limping alongside a step or so behind him.
“This whole business of me allowing myself to be horribly tortured and then agonizingly killed as part of some scheme to, to redeem humanity? What was I thinking?”
“I don’t know,” I said, honestly.
Suddenly he stopped again and brought out of his trousers pocket the fat reefer we had been smoking on the way to the Pilot House.
“Well, what do you know? Forgot I still had this baby.”
He took out his Ronson from his other pocket and he lit the thing up.
“Josh,” I said. “Really –”
“Relax, Arnold,” he said, puffing. “There’s absolutely no one around. If I see a cop car coming I’ll toss it away. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said, looking back over my shoulder just to make sure a patrol car wasn’t already silently cruising up behind us.
“Here,” said Josh. “Take some of this.”
What I really wanted was one of those Pall Malls in his shirt pocket, but I settled on the reefer.
“At least this stuff doesn’t make you physically ill,” he said.
“You’ve got a point,” I said.
We strolled along Columbia, passing the reefer back and forth, and then we saw the graceful pale mass of the Chalfonte across the way there on Howard Street.
“How about a nightcap?” said Josh.
“I hope you’re kidding me, Josh.”
“Josh, the last thing you need is just one more.”
“You speak as one who knows.”
“I know a little about drunkenness, it’s true. And a lot about hangovers. And believe me, you’re going to have a tough enough time tomorrow morning as it is.”
“I thought I vomited it all out.”
“No, Josh. It doesn’t really work that way. Trust me.”
He handed me the butt of the reefer, and I stopped so that we could finish it before going up to the hotel.
He watched me puffing, and then held out his hand, ready to attempt to smoke even the last and least tiniest butt of the butt. I duly proffered it, and he took it in his fingertips. He puffed it down to a nubbin the size of a fly, and then finally tossed it away.
“But you forget one thing, Arnold,” he said, slowly exhaling.
“I do?” I couldn’t even remember what we had been talking about. “Only one thing?”
“About the hangovers.”
“I’m the son of God. I don’t have to have hangovers.”
We walked up toward the Chalfonte’s steps.
“Okay, tell me something, Josh,” I said. “Then why did you allow yourself to get so sick from drinking? Couldn’t you just have made the sickness not happen?”
“So one might think, Arnold. But I was drunk.”
“I forgot who I was.”
“So what do you say? One beer in the King Edward Room?”
“But then I’ll be hungover tomorrow,” I said. “I’m only human.”
“So have a soda.”
“No, really --”
“Something to eat? A sandwich. Some pie.”
“Josh,” I said, “I very much doubt they’re serving food this late.”
“Oh, for me they will.”
The truth was, I was hungry. Very hungry in fact.
“Come on, Arnold.”
The attentive reader of these pages will know that I often have a certain difficulty in saying no, to anyone. So just imagine what it’s like when it’s the son of God that I’m talking to.
“Okay,” I said.
And we went up the wooden steps of the Chalfonte.
(Continued here, because we have no choice. Please go to the right hand side of this page to find what on certain days might be an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Tickets are now on sale for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Fall Ball at the VFW at 5th and Chew; entertainment provided by “Freddy Ayres and Ursula”, and very special guest stars The Joe & Larry Schmidt Big Band; all proceeds to go to the Schnabel Museum Project.)
This top-secret Soviet satellite photo (please click to enlarge) should be of value to readers who wish to trace the progress of Arnold and Josh's stroll from the Pilot House, on Decatur between Washington Street and Carpenter's Lane, to the Chalfonte Hotel on Howard Street (indicated by the red inverted teardrop).