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“So you were talking to yourself?” said Carlotta. She had changed, and was wearing a red dress.
“Yes,” I said.
“Who was he talking to?” This was called out by Carlotta’s friend Pat, from inside their apartment.
“He was talking to himself,” called Carlotta, over her shoulder.
“What was he talking to himself about?” called out Pat.
“What were you talking to yourself about, Porter?” asked Carlotta.
“I was wondering if I had an umbrella,” I said.
She had been holding a lit cigarette, and now she tapped the ash off its tip. Her fingernails were painted red, matching her dress.
“Why do you seem like you’re lying? And about such an inane thing?” she asked.
“So what was he talking about?” yelled out Pat.
“Patricia,” said Carlotta, over her shoulder again, “if you want to join the conversation come out and join us, but I’m not going to give you a running commentary.”
“I’m fixing my hair!” called Pat, or Patricia, whatever she preferred.
“Then you’ll just have to wait for my report on Porter’s dialogue with himself,” she said. “Biting your fingers in anticipation.”
Pat mumbled something unintelligible from within.
“What?” called Carlotta.
“I called you a bitch,” called Pat, more clearly.
“Well, I guess I’ll be going,” I said.
“But what about your umbrella, Porter?”
“Oh,” I said.
The fly buzzed near her face and she swiped at him.
“You know what I think, Porter?”
“No,” I said.
She came a step closer to me, took a drag of her cigarette.
“I don’t think you have an umbrella,” she said, the smoke drifting out of her nostrils. “You’re not the sort of man who owns an umbrella. And even if you did pick one up at a bar somewhere you would probably lose it the next time you took it anywhere.”
This might not have been true of Porter, but it was certainly true of myself.
“Oh. Well,” I said.
“Would you like to borrow an umbrella?”
“If you don’t mind,” I said. “I promise not to lose it.”
“But then what will Pat and I do tonight if we lend you our one umbrella.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry, I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Surely you didn’t think I was staying in tonight wearing this frock?”
“Well,” I said, “maybe Mrs. Morgenstern will lend me one?”
“Haven’t you tortured that poor woman enough.”
She had me there. Perhaps I had tortured Mrs. Morgenstern in some way, or ways, and enough, or more than enough. There was much about Porter I didn’t know. In fact there was precious little about Porter that I did know.
Carlotta swiped at the fly again, but gently.
“Where are you going anyway, hotshot?”
“Well, um, to the Kettle of Fish?”
“Good, we’ll take you in Pat’s jalopy.”
“You were going there too?” I asked.
“Now we are,” she said. “Come on in a minute.”
“Well, I really should hurry.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Porter, you wanta walk all the way there and get soaked for your big date and maybe catch your death of cold or will you come in and wait like a normal human being for two minutes until Pat and I finish getting ready and we’ll drive you there.”
Her logic seemed unassailable, but still it was with a faint but distinct feeling of dread that I said, “Well, okay. Thank you.”
She turned and went back inside, and with her back to the door she waved me in. I came in, and the fly did too. Carlotta closed the door behind us.
Then she put her cigarette between her red lips and straightening the knot of my tie she said, “How about a Dubonnet while you wait?”
“No thank you,” I said, and the fly buzzed up against my head. Maybe he liked Dubonnet.
Pat sat at a dressing table, fixing her hair. She wore a black dress and she was smoking a cigarette too.
“How about some tea then,” said Carlotta. She had taken the cigarette from her mouth with one hand and with the other she ran her fingers along the front of my jacket as if to smooth it out.
“Well --” I was thinking a cup of tea would be nice, but then she would have to boil the water, steep the tea, we would never get out of here. “No, no thanks,” I said.
“Well, I’m having some,” she said and she gave me a little tap on the chin.
But then instead of going over to their kitchenette she went towards a dresser and opened a drawer.
Their apartment was about the same size as mine, except they had two beds squeezed into it, and there was a folding oriental screen between the beds. They had lots of printed scarves hanging over lamps and chairs and little tables, there were paintings and drawings on the walls, and somehow there was even room for a small couch, also draped with scarves. Unlike my own apartment there were curtains in the windows, and also unlike my apartment it smelled nice, like perfume and candles and like something else I couldn’t quite place but which reminded me of Elektra’s and her friends’ apartment back in Cape May...
“Put a record on, Porter,” said Carlotta, who was doing something or other on top of the dresser.
They had another one of those suitcase record-players, a pink one, sitting on a little table, and I went over to it. On the floor near it and leaning against the wall were stacks of records.
“What should I play?” I asked.
“Anything,” said Carlotta.
“Turn over the album that’s on,” said Pat.
I turned the record over. Anita O’Day. I flicked the switch and put the needle down.
“You sure about the tea, Porter?” said Carlotta, over the music.
“Well, if you’re making a cup I guess I might as well have one,” I said. What could I do? It was still raining outside.
“I didn’t mean that kind of tea, you idiot,” said Carlotta.
She came over to me, puffing on a lit cigarette. A hand-rolled cigarette. She handed it to me, holding in the smoke.
“Oh,” I said. So this was what I had smelled. You couldn’t put anything over on me.
“Go ahead, man, you’re wasting the smoke,” she said.
Just to be polite I took it.
I’m not sure how much later it was, but I was sitting on one of the beds intently reading the sleeve notes to the Anita O’Day album. Carlotta had been sitting on the bed also, right next to me, pulling on and fastening her nylon stockings, and I had been doing my best not to look at this procedure, and while I was at it not to feel her warmth, not to feel the softness of her hip against my thigh, not to smell her perfume, and failing on all counts.
“How do I look,” she said.
She was standing in front of me, and she turned from side to side, smoothing the red dress, looking down at me over each of her round bare shoulders in turn.
“Swell,” I said.
“Swell, he says,” she said.
“I heard him,” said Pat. “How do I look, sailor?”
She came over in her black dress and also turned from one side to another. She was smaller than Carlotta but parts of her were not, especially when she stood sideways.
“Swell?” she asked. Or said.
“Um, swell,” I said.
“Hey, Porter, do a girl a favor,” she said. She came up to me and bent over, holding out her hands at shoulder height and wiggling her fingers, the tips of which were painted the same bright red as her lips. “Put it in my mouth because my nails are not quite dry.”
I quickly realized she meant the marijuana cigarette, what little there was left of it, which I hadn’t even been aware that I was holding. I placed the butt between her lips.
She straightened up, drew on the reefer, held in the smoke, said out of the side of her mouth, “Now let’s blow.”
“Yeah, let’s blow,” said Carlotta.
“Kettle of Fish,” said Pat, still holding in the smoke.
“See what this new girl of Porter’s is like,” said Carlotta, and she took the stub from Pat’s lips.
Pat finally exhaled.
“Gotta see this bitch,” she said.
“Definitely,” said Carlotta, gently putting out the reefer with her thumb and index finger. “Save this for later.”
She came over to the bed, picked up a large red plastic purse, opened it, dropped the butt into it.
“Still raining,” said Pat, looking out the window, gently waving her fingers again. “These accurséd rains,” she said, in an English accent now, “will they never cease?”
“Get your purse,” said Carlotta. “Let’s go, Porter. I thought you were in a hurry for your hot date.”
“Oh, right,” I said.
The problem was that I had become possessed of an erection, which fortunately I was able to hide with the record jacket, at least while I was sitting.
“So let’s go,” said Carlotta.
I stood up, holding the record cover over my private area.
Pat had gotten her purse from somewhere, a small hard black one, and both girls headed for the door.
I walked slowly, keeping the record jacket before me, trying to will away my tumescence.
Carlotta picked up a large black umbrella that had been stuck in a vase near the door. She turned and looked at me. “Are you going to bring that album cover, Porter?”
“Oh, no,” I said, and slowly I turned and slowly walked back to the record player, trying to think about baseball.
“God, Porter,” said Pat, “you are the slowest man I’ve ever seen.”
“Its just because he’s high,” said Carlotta. “He’s cute.”
“It’s like he’s walking to the electric chair,” said Pat.
When I reached the record player I only realized then that the entire side of the Anita O’Day album must have played through. The little red light was still on, so I turned off the switch, and then I started to lift the record off the spindle.
“Oh, Christ, Porter,” said Pat, “just leave the record there.”
“Okay,” I said. I put the record back on the turntable, then, bending over, I stood the record jacket up against the wall along with a stack of other records. Keeping my back to the girls I picked one of the albums up and pretended to be interested. It was the New Lost City Ramblers.
“Porter,” said Pat, “if you want to stay here and play our records, that’s perfectly okay.”
“No, no,” I said, and I put the record down, slowly turned.
“Oh my God,” said Carlotta.
“What?” said Pat.
“Oh,” said Pat. “I see. Porter, is that for Carlotta or for me?”
“I think it’s for both of us, babe,” said Carlotta.
“Men,” said Pat.
“Men like Porter, anyway,” said Carlotta.
“Porter, go into the bathroom and splash some cold water on that.”
“Does that really work?” asked Carlotta.
“We’ll find out.”
Blushing more than I ever had in my life, in any of my lives, I headed for what I assumed was the bathroom.
“Porter,” said Carlotta.
I kept going.
“Porter,” said Pat.
I kept going, got to the door, opened it.
It was a clothes closet, filled with soft-looking and fragrant women’s clothing. I had a moment’s desire to enter this closet and close the door behind me.
“The bathroom’s over to your left, Porter,“ said Pat.
“It’s not like you’ve never used it before,” said Carlotta.
I closed the closet door, went to the door farther to the left, opened it. It was a bathroom. I found the overhead light switch on a chain, pulled it, closed the door.
“Boy, those babes really busted you, man,” said the fly, who had flown in with me.
I said nothing, but unzipped and freed my offending organ, turned on the cold water tap.
“Can’t say I blame ya though,” he said. “Go ahead, splash some of that cold water on it, it really does work.”
I did this.
“Yeah, I think we’re gonna have one hell of a night,” he said, buzzing back and forth. “You and me, pal.”
I kept splashing the cold water on, and looked around the bathroom. Like the rest of the apartment, it smelled nice, and although it was somewhat messy it looked basically clean, which was more than you could say about my bathroom.
“There ya go, it’s working, what did I tell ya,” said the fly.
I turned off the tap.
“Great. Now dry it off, zip it up, and let’s get the hell outa here already. We got some partying to do.”
I looked at a towel hanging on the rack, but I hesitated.
“Go on,” said the fly. “Those girls don’t give a damn.”
I took his advice and dried that part of myself off, zipped it up.
Then, just to be scrupulously hygienic, I gave my hands a quick rinse and then dried them off.
“Okay, doctor, ready to operate,” said the fly. “And now let’s split.”
I opened the door, remembered to switch off the light.
“Who were you whispering to in there?” said Carlotta from across the room.
“No one,” I said, closing the door.
“Another interior monologue,” said Pat.
I had not said a word in the bathroom, so that meant that Carlotta and Pat had heard the fly talking, a fact I found disconcerting but also at the same time reassuring.
Both the girls had lighted up cigarettes again, and Carlotta waved the furled umbrella back and forth like a large fan.
“So weird,” she said.
“Let’s just hope the car’s still there,” said Pat, and she opened the door and went out.
“Come on, Porter,” said Carlotta, gesturing with the umbrella the way an old-time army officer might with his sword.
I went past her into the hallway, she gave me a tap on my backside with the umbrella, and then came out herself.
Pat had her key ready, and she locked the door.
“At last,” she said. She was speaking in her English accent again. “At long fucking last.”
The fly flew up right next to my ear and whispered, “Hey, pal, I dig these crazy chicks!”
He landed on my shoulder. He was beaming, ready for the ride.
(Continued here, if only because of certain embarrassing legal obligations.)
(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. A Q.M. Production. Coming soon to better bookstores everywhere, “What a Piece of Work”: A Biography of Arnold Schnabel; Volume One: The Early Years, 1921-1942; by Carl Sandburg; Foreword by Robert Frost (1,148 pages; Oxford University Press.)