Let us rejoin our intrepid memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his inebriated and deific friend “Josh”, as they ascend the wooden steps to the stately Chalfonte Hotel, in the only slightly shopworn resort of Cape May, NJ, late on a Saturday night in August in that faraway land called 1963...
(Please click here to go to the previous chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning multi-volume masterpiece. Newcomers, or those old-timers who wish to re-live the good times, may go here for the very first chapter.)
We walked across the porch, or Josh walked, I limped, Josh pulled open the screen door and we entered the lobby.
No one was about, no one at the desk, but we could hear some faint voices down to the left of the hall, from the King Edward Room, although we couldn’t see into it from here.
In the light of the lobby I got a good look at Josh as he turned and headed toward the lounge.
“Hey, Josh, wait up a minute.”
“What’s up? Come on, we’ll miss last call.”
“Josh, wait, look at us.”
There was a full-length pier-glass on the front wall. I gently pulled Josh over to it, and I stood there next to him.
There was he, with tar-black stains on the knees of his khakis and the elbows of his wrinkled Oxford shirt. And there also was I, both bare knees scraped, and with a trail of dirty-looking blood painted down one of my shins and into my sockless Keds. I watched myself as I raised the underside of my right arm so Josh could see the long bloody scrape there, and then I held out my left hand with its own scrape and purple bruise.
“Okay,” said Josh, looking at us, and smiling. “I know I look bad, but you look terrible, Arnold.”
“I know,” I said, and I turned to face the real him and not his image. “We can’t walk in there looking like this, Josh. They’ll throw us out.”
“Well, you they would throw out, definitely. I suppose those scrapes hurt, don’t they?”
“Uh, yes, a little.”
“Well, twice in one night with you, then. Here we go.”
He made to crouch in front of me, but I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him up.
“Josh, not in here.”
“Oh, right, I guess it would look a little suspicious to anyone just strolling in. Well, okay then, let’s just find a more private spot.” He looked around, taking out his cigarettes. “Oh, I know, the dining room, the so-called, what, Magnolia Room -- come on.”
A mere dozen or so quick strides and limps, and we were in the dining room; the electric lights were all turned off, but the white tablecloths glowed and the upturned glasses and the silverware sparkled and gleamed in the pale light spilling in through the tall windows from the street lamps outside on Sewell Street.
Josh pulled a chair out from the nearest table, turned it around and sat down. He popped a cigarette up from the pack in his hand, and, after he’d lit it, he said, “All right, let’s try this again. Stand in front of me.”
I did so.
“Let’s do the knees first,” he said.
Putting his cigarette in his mouth he laid his hands with outstretched fingers lightly on my knees.
After ten or fifteen seconds he pulled his hands back, took the cigarette out of his mouth and said, “That’s funny, the scrapes should be disappearing.”
I bent forward and looked down in the dimness. The scrapes were still there all right.
“Does it still hurt?” he asked.
“Be frank now.”
“Yeah, it still hurts,” I said.
“Hmmm. Okay. Let’s give it another shot.”
First he reached around behind him and grabbed an ashtray, brought it to the edge of the table and put his cigarette in it. Turning forward, he took a breath, then rubbed the palms of his hands together rapidly for half a minute or so. Then, quickly, he put his hands out again and laid them my knees, but much more firmly this time.
“Ouch,” I said.
“Sorry,” he said. “Just bear with me here. Do you feel anything?”
“Yes,” I said. “Pain.”
“Nothing like an energy wave -- you know -- the life force, that sort of thing?”
“Well, maybe a little. But mostly just pain.”
“Okay. Hold still just a little longer.”
I waited. I really wanted a cigarette now. And God only knew what would happen if someone walked by the dining room and took a look inside. But then I thought, Wait, Josh is the son of God. Which means he more or less is God, since God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost -- or Spirit rather -- were one God indivisible, or at least so I had been taught, although I won’t pretend to say that I had ever even begun to understand the ins and outs of this odd doctrine. So, what I should do, I should just do what the priests always told us to do, and leave myself in his -- or His -- hands. But I doubt if the priests ever meant that phrase so literally.
Finally Josh pulled his hands away.
“Hmmm,” he said. “This is really bizarre. Scrapes still there. Does it still hurt?”
“Well, it’s a little better,” I said.
And it might have been a very little better. But not very much better.
He reached over to the table, got a napkin, and wiped his hands, which had got my blood and dirt on them.
“Well, there you go,” he said. He took his cigarette out of the ashtray. “Not only am I not omniscient, but I’m obviously not so very all powerful, either.”
He took a drag of his cigarette.
“You’re tired,” I said.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Probably bringing Mr. Arbuthnot back from the dead took a lot out of you.”
“You know, Arnold, you’re probably right. That on top of all the bourbon I drank.”
“And the reefer, too, maybe,” I ventured.
“No, I don’t think it’s the reefer,” he said. “If anything the reefer should help when it comes to miracles.”
“Well, anyway, it’s okay,” I said. “These scrapes will heal. They’re nothing serious. God knows I’ve fallen in the street loads of times before, and I’m still here to talk about it.”
“Yeah, true. Oh well --”
He heaved himself up from the chair, looked around. There was a small white vase in the center of the table with a stem of pink-hued gladiolus in it; Josh picked up the vase, spilled some water out of it onto the napkin he had just wiped his hands with, then he handed me the napkin.
“Here you go, Arnold, just get the blood off with this. I gather you’d be more comfortable doing it yourself.”
“That’s true,” I said. “Thank you.”
I gingerly wiped off my knees, my calf, my arm, my hand.
“Great, looks worlds better,” said Josh.
Now I didn’t know what to do with the napkin.
“Okay, let’s get that drink now,” he said. “And a sandwich for you. Or pie.”
We went back out into the lobby. I was still carrying the blood-stained napkin, and Josh noticed this.
“Here, give me that.”
I gave it to him, he took it between his thumb and index finger, looked around again, then went over to the reception desk. I was afraid he was going to stick it in a drawer or something, but he found a waste-paper basket behind it and dropped it into that.
“It’ll be one of life’s little mysteries for the desk clerk tomorrow,” he said. “Okay, let’s go.”
(Continued here, because we must. Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find what quite often is an up-to-date listing of links to all other faithfully transcribed chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, soon to be a major motion picture starring Jeremy Irons as Arnold and Brad Pitt as “Josh”; a J. Arthur Rank Production, written and directed by Larry Winchester.)