Thursday, November 19, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 174: just a man

In our previous episode our hero Arnold Schnabel was nice enough to walk the inebriated and battered Buddy Kelly home to Buddy’s apartment; Buddy repaid Arnold by healing Arnold’s scrapes with a mysterious and foul smelling scarlet liquid…

(Go here to return to that long-ago first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning multi-volume masterpiece, which the noted critic Harold Bloom has called, “by way of being not so much a memoir, nay, but rather a way of life”.)


“Here,” he said, offering me the brown bottle. “Take this with ya. I got more.”

My immediate thought was how would I ever explain this bottle and its contents to my mother, who was unfailingly aware of every single thing I might bring home.

“Oh, no, that’s okay, Buddy, thanks.”

“Ya never know when ya might need it.”

“I’ll just try to be more careful in the future.”

“You’re a funny guy, Arnold.”

“A barrel of laughs,” I said.

“I mean here ya go turning down this shit for free, gratis and for nothing that could go for a thousand bucks an ounce if I ever put it on the market.”

“Maybe you should,” I said, wondering if it would be untoward of me to ask for one of his Dutch Masters Panetellas instead.

“Nah, the time ain’t right,” he said. “Mankind ain’t ready. And just between you and me and the wall I don’t know if it’ll ever be ready.”

“Well, I really should be pushing off now,” I said.

“Mass in the mornin’, huh?”

I had completely forgotten about mass, which certainly was an issue.

“The nine, right?” asked Buddy.

“Well, I don’t know if I’ll make the nine,” I said.

“Yeah, me neither,” said Buddy. “Unless I decide just to pull an all-nighter.”

He turned his head and gazed as if longingly at the TV screens.

“Okay, then,” I said. It didn’t look as if he was going to offer me a cigar. I turned and opened the screen door. “Good night, Buddy.”

“Good night, ya bum.”

I went out onto the landing, then safely down the steps. At their foot I paused, my hand on the rail. Up in Buddy’s apartment a pale glow flickered from the windows and from the doorway, accompanied by that multitudinous humming, as if all the universe with all its living and its dead and its still to be born were contained in that one room.

I went around the side of the house and back through the front gate, and set off again down Hughes Street.

Although my scrapes and their pain had been healed I was very tired, almost as tired as after one of my brakeman trips from Philadelphia to Binghamton, New York, and back again on the old Interstate Express in bad winter weather. I wished I could just fly home.

I came to the spot where Buddy and I had fought Mr. Lucky. There was no sign of the battle, not even a trace of his smell of corruption and death.

Impatiently I quickened my pace, broadening my strides. This was how my ancient ancestors survived and thrived I thought, hairy barbarians jogging relentlessly though hill and dale, through swamps and forests, chasing the mighty wooly mammoth. I’ll bet those fellows got tired too after twenty miles or so and before the invention of proper footwear. They too wished they could fly. And so imagine my surprise then when I actually did start to fly.

At first it was just a few feet or so, and I only rose up a couple of feet at that. But on touching down to the pavement I pushed off on one foot with greater vigor and now I rose up several feet and described an arc through the air extending perhaps ten or twelve feet. I was getting the hang of it now, and when I landed this time I kicked off from the sidewalk as forcefully as I could, and now I sailed up to the height of six feet, straightened my body out parallel to the sidewalk, and with my arms slightly open at my sides I flew steadily along at what I would estimate to be a healthy speed for a ten-year-old bicyclist.

Not as impressive as what Clarissa could pull off, but not bad at all for a beginner, I thought.

This was a restful and soothing way to travel, but I could see how unwise it would be to employ it in the daytime, especially for one such as I who has always preferred to blend into the scenery. No one was about now, though, the streets were quiet and empty, the only movement besides myself being that ocean breeze through the little leaves of the bushes glinting in the streetlight and sliding away beneath me like millions of stars.

At the corner of Ocean Street I touched down again and, turning inland, immediately sprung off deftly and smoothly to my previous altitude and speed. At this rate I would be back in my narrow army cot in no time.

My narrow cot.

The thought of it made me think of Elektra’s bed, that large comfortable bed smelling of flowers and of her, and I thought of her in that bed, sleeping soundly. Would she mind if I were to fly up to her window and drop quietly in? How nice it would be to sleep next to her warm body. All I had to do was make a left turn up at Carpenter’s Lane, and sail down to Jackson Street…

I briefly closed my eyes, thinking of Elektra, of her soft skin and her smell like warm peach pie when suddenly I felt a terrific jolt as my shoulder banged against the unsympathetic iron of a streetlamp pole and I crashed down to the pavement.

I lay there for a few moments, painfully aware of brand-new scrapes on the heels of my hands and my elbows and knees, of a wholly-new throbbing in my left shoulder, and of a painfully-enforced fresh sense of humility.

It occurred to me that perhaps just because I was able to do something did not mean that I should do it.

I turned over and lay there, breathing deeply, letting the new pains settle in, staring up through the barely stirring leaves of an oak tree.

But then again, how should I know what I should or shouldn’t do, except by trying?

I felt the earth turning beneath me, with me on it, and blinking among the oak leaves above I saw stars in their millions.

Despite my new array of pains it was almost restful lying there on the hard pavement.

I closed my eyes again.

But no.

This wouldn’t do.

If a cop should come along I would not be a personal friend of the savior and a conqueror of the devil but just another drunk lying on the pavement.

I pulled myself up by easy stages to a standing position.

Nothing seemed to be broken.

I took a step, did not fall down, although I winced and grunted.

I took a breath, and then another step.

I would walk home.

Like any normal man at the end of a long Saturday night, I would walk home.

Or at any rate I would limp home.

Not like a normal man, perhaps, but like a man.


(Continued here, because not to do so would constitute a crime against civilization.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for what may very well be a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, #99 {preceded by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and followed by The Plague by Albert Camus} on The Ladies’ Home Journal’s “One Hundred Inspiring Books for the Holidays”.)

5 comments:

Jennifer said...

I still don't feel it's over...

Dan Leo said...

Ha -- I think you're right, Jen...

kathleenmaher said...

I have no idea what time it is or how far Arnold has to limp home. But I imagine his mother and aunts wake with the sun, which means he's nowhere near resting yet.

Manny said...

loverly

dianne said...

"Impatiently I quickened my pace, broadening my strides. This was how my ancient ancestors survived and thrived I thought, hairy barbarians jogging relentlessly though hill and dale, through swamps and forests, chasing the mighty wooly mammoth. I’ll bet those fellows got tired too after twenty miles or so and before the invention of proper footwear. They too wished they could fly. And so imagine my surprise then when I actually did start to fly."
Until the last sentence I fully identified with Arnold - I thought it was only me (or should I say I ;-) ) who imagined being an early hominid to power through a difficult situation. Perhaps everyone does it. But I never did fly.