Saturday, November 20, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 225: alone?

The Prince of Darkness has transformed our memoirist Arnold Schnabel into “Porter Walker, a broodingly handsome young poet” in Ye Cannot Quench (Knopf, 1960), the sophomore novel of Gertrude Evans (the celebrated author of many other fine novels, including Ride a Dead Horse; The Café of Lost Souls; That Bus Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore; A Girl Called Aspidistra; and The House Next Door But One).

Let’s rejoin our hero on a rainy summer’s night in Greenwich Village, in the year 1957...

(Go here to read our previous chapter; if you have way too much time on your hands you may click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir. “Now that winter is approaching I look forward to taking to my bed for three or four months, with my pipe, my laudanum, my chamomile tea, and my volumes of Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in Women’s Wear Daily.)


“Emily,” she repeated. She turned her head to look at me. “You know two Emilys. I find that well-nigh incredible.”

“Even I,” said the other Emily, “who have been accused of a self-absorption bordering upon solipsism, do not find it unbelievable that Mr. Walker should know two persons of the same appellation.”

Emily let go of my arms and turned to face Emily the waitress.

“Are you accusing me of being solipsistic?”

“I make no accusations. I merely make observations and let the hearer draw what conclusions he – or in your case, she – may.”

“What? Hey.” Emily was back to talking with an American accent now. “You got a lot of nerve, lady.”

“Undoubtedly,” said the other Emily. “Indeed I have been characterized as a bundle of nerves.”

“You know I didn’t mean that kind of nerve.”

Julian had come down the steps of the areaway, and he joined us in that small dry space under the awning.

“Emily,” he said, “stop picking fights.”

“But this – this female – insulted me.”

Holding Emily’s briefcase under one arm, Julian closed up his umbrella and gave it a little shake, being careful not to sprinkle himself or any of us with rainwater.

“I believe you are inebriated,” said Emily the waitress to the other Emily. “And so I shall not bandy words with you.”

“Inebriated?” said Emily. “I’ve had maybe three drinks, tops.”

“Ha,” said Julian.

“Okay, four drinks,” she said.

Still with Emily’s briefcase under his arm Julian was struggling awkwardly with the fastening-button of his umbrella.

“Do you want me to help you with that, sir?” said Emily the waitress.

“Thanks, I just seem to be all thumbs,” said Julian.

“You do have quite massive hands and fingers,” said Emily the waitress.

She stuck her sheath of poems back into her apron, took the umbrella from Julian, and in a second had it neatly buttoned up.

“There,” she said, handing it back to Julian.

“I could have done that,” said the other Emily.

“Well, thanks, anyway, Emily,” said Julian to Emily the waitress.

“I fear you have me at a disadvantage, sir,” she said.

“Oh, sorry,” I said. “Emily, this is Mr. Smythe.”

“Mr. Smythe?” she said.

“Julian Smythe,” said Julian, offering his large hand. (Well, come to think of it, large was the only kind of hand he had to offer.) “Call me Julian.”

Emily the waitress put her thin hand (the only kind she had) into Julian’s.

“Julian Smythe,” she said. “Not Julian Smythe of Smythe & Son.”

“That’s me.”

“Oh. Charmed I’m sure.”

Emily the heroine turned to me and mouthed the words “Charmed, I’m sure”.

“So,” said Julian, “Emily, do you work here?”

“I don’t wear this apron for laughs,” she said.

“Ha ha. Funny-looking place. I must’ve walked down this block a thousand times and I never really noticed it.”

“I hear that a lot,” said Emily the waitress.

Julian smiled and turned to me.

“You weren’t just leaving, were you Porter?”

“No,” I said. “In fact I’ve ordered a bacon-cheeseburger, and fries.”

“Food!” cried Julian. “I knew there was something missing from this evening! How’s the cuisine here, Emily?”

“We receive few complaints, save from chronic complainers,” she said.

“Well, the hell with them!” said Julian. “You here by yourself, Porter?”

“No, I’m with some friends,” I said.

“Then what’re you doing standing around out here?” Suddenly Julian glanced at Emily the waitress, and he assumed a look of embarrassment. “Not that it’s any of my, uh –”

Emily the heroine had been silent for quite a long time for her, her gaze moving like a cat’s from one to the other of us, but now she piped up.

“What do you think he’s doing out here, Julian? You know how fond he is of the ladies.”

“What?” said Emily the waitress.

“I hope you harbor no illusions concerning the exclusivity of Porter’s alleged affections,” said the other Emily.

“I harbor no illusions about him at all,” said Emily the waitress. “I was merely showing him my verses.”

“Oh, give me a break.”

“What do you call these?” said Emily the waitress, pulling her little sheath of poems back out of her apron.

“I call them nothing.”

“All right,” said Julian. “Ladies. Let’s be nice.” He turned to Emily the waitress. “I’m sure your poems are very good, Emily.”

“How nice of you to say, Mr. Smythe, knowing as you do nothing of them. I wonder though if you would care to nullify this ignorance.”

“Pardon me?”

“Would you be so kind as to peruse my poems?”

“Me?”

“You are a publisher, are you not?”

“Ha,” said the other Emily.

Julian shot a displeased look at that Emily, then turned back to the poetic Emily.

“Yes,” he said. “I am a publisher, and I’d be happy to look at your poems.”

“You don’t even like to read poems,” said the other Emily.

“Here, give them to me,” said Julian, holding out his hand. “I promise I’ll, uh –”

“He’ll get someone else to read them,” said Emily. “Probably me.”

“Oh,” said Emily the waitress, handing the poems to Julian, but looking at the other Emily. “Are you Mr. Smythe’s secretary?”

“I,” said Emily, “am an editor!”

“Well,” said Julian, stashing the poems in his inside jacket pocket, “you’re Porter’s editor.”

“Why are you so mean to me?” She started to cry. “Why does everyone hate me?”

“I’m sure everyone doesn’t hate you, miss,” said Emily the waitress.

“Only people who haven’t met me,” sobbed Emily.

“Okay,” said Julian, “I think what we need to do is get some chow in you, Emily. And in me.”

She wiped her eyes with her finger.

“Do you think that’s all I need?”

“Well, I couldn’t say it’s all you need, but a bite of food sure wouldn’t hurt.”

The flesh below her eyes was now darkened with mascara, as were her eyelids.

“Yes,” she said, opening her purse and taking out a lacy handkerchief. “It wouldn’t hurt.” She dabbed her eyes, wiping off some but not all of the mascara, then dumped the handkerchief back into her pocketbook and clicked it shut.

“Good, let’s go in,” said Julian.

He still had the briefcase under one arm and his umbrella in his other hand. I opened the door for him. Rock-and-roll music and the shouts of drunken writers spilled out into the areaway and off into the rainy night.

“Thanks, Porter,” said Julian. “After you, Emily.”

Holding her head high, Emily went in.

Julian looked at me.

“Listen, Julian,” I said, “you go ahead. I’ll just be –”

I left the sentence unfinished.

He glanced at Emily, then back at me.

“Sure, buddy. See you inside.”

He went in, I let the door close behind him, the jukebox music and the bar noise trailed inside after him.

Once again it was just me and Emily the waitress, standing out there in the areaway, lit by the red glow of the Rheingold beer sign, the rain pattering on and dripping off of the awning above us.

“You probably think me terribly opportunistic,” said Emily, “giving my poems to your publisher friend.”

“No, not at all,” I said. “In fact even though I haven’t read them I would bet anything that they’re a lot better than my own epic poem here.” I hefted up the unwieldy mass of papers. “Hey, listen, Emily,” I said. “Speaking of this epic poem of mine, I wonder could you take it back in and give it to Mr. Smythe for safekeeping.”

“Why can’t you do that?”

“Because I’ve suddenly decided that I’m not going back in.”

“But why?”

“Because I feel that if I do go back in there that I may lose my mind. Or my soul. Or both.”

“I see,” she said. And she said it as if she actually understood what I was saying. ”But what about your bacon-and-cheeseburger. Your fries.”

“Give them to someone else.”

“Mr. Whitman is very fond of bacon-cheeseburgers.”

“Give it to him.”

“And Mr. Poe is simply mad for our french fries.”

“Give them to him, with my compliments.”

“I hate to mention this, Mr. Walker, but – your bill?”

“My friend Josh will cover it. He’s loaded.”

“He does exude an air of wealth and privilege. And what should I tell him and your other friends?”

“Just tell them I decided to go home.”

“The whim of a moody poet?”

“Sure. But listen, if you don’t mind, tell Josh, tell him –”

“Yes?”

“Just tell him that I – that I hope to see him tomorrow. Or very soon, anyway.”

“You hope to see him tomorrow. Or very soon.”

“Yes.”

“I will,” she said.

“Okay then,” I said. “Here you go.”

I handed her the epic poem.

“It’s very heavy, isn’t it?” she said.

“Yes.”

“And you’re going out in this rain, without an umbrella.”

“I don’t mind.”

“I could duck in and get you one. People are always leaving umbrellas here.”

“Don’t bother. I’ll catch a cab.”

“You have cab fare I hope.”

“I do.”

“Because I could lend you some money if you’re short.”

“No, really, I have plenty for a cab.”

“Well, all right. They usually pass on this street quite frequently.”

For a moment neither of us said anything. The rain fell.

“Good night,” I said.

“Good night, Mr. Walker. Perhaps you will return some other night.”

“That’s not completely inconceivable,” I said.

I opened the door for her. Again the rock-and-roll music and the shouting and laughter emerged from inside, as if someone had turned on a switch. She started to go in, carrying the poem, then she stopped and looked at me.

“You’re not like the other writers,” she said. She paused. “This is a good thing. Goodbye, Mr. Walker.”

“Goodbye, Emily,” I said.

She went in, the door closed behind her, the music and the shouting and laughter slipped inside with her.

And now, standing there alone, already I began to second-guess. And to regret. And to miss. I would miss Carlotta, and Pat, I would even miss Sam, and Emily the waitress, I would miss Julian, and in a way I was even beginning to miss the other Emily.

I was alone again. Alone in the night, in the rain.

But then again, not quite alone.

I heard that familiar buzzing and then I heard the voice of the fly.

“So, pal, you gonna stand here all night?”

I turned, so that I was facing the street, and there he was hovering in front of my face.

“No,” I said. “I’m going home. Or at least I’m going to attempt to go home.”

“Can I come with you?”

“Well –”

“Ah, come on, pal. You’re the only pal I got in this cockamamie universe. Don’t leave me hangin’ here. All alone.”

I felt sorry for him, even if he was just a fly. And the thing was, I didn’t really want to be alone either.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“Now you’re talkin’, pal.”


(Doggedly continued here.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find what might possibly be a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Made possible in part by the sponsorship of Sears & Roebuck: “Come see our stylish ‘Arnold Schnabel’ line of affordable men’s bohemian clothing. Special discounts for matching beret-sweater-and-scarf ensembles.”)

7 comments:

kathleenmaher said...

Bracing and rewarding, Dan. It's gratifying to see Arnold/Porter deciding to act of his own accord. Nice, too, to think that Julian might think well of Emily Dickinson if only to spite Emily the heroine. Of course, Emily Dickinson has long had her due (and perhaps then some.) Too bad for her if it wasn't in her time.

Jennifer said...

I agree with Kathleen. There was something hopeful about Arnold/Porter taking matters into his own hands and getting the hell out! Let's hope he does indeed get the hell out.

Manny said...

I feel sort of sorry for Emily. You know which one.

Dan Leo said...

Manny, you're a bleeding heat liberal!

Manny said...

too true, I'm afraid.
But so is Josh.

Dan Leo said...

Manny, before any major decision in life I always ask, "What would Josh do?"

Di said...

Josh seems to avoid major decisions