(Click here to review our previous episode; anyone with way too much time on his or her hands may go here to return to that nearly forgotten first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 63-volume memoir. “Arnold Schnabel -- the very name seems to open up a vast world so much more rich and less boring than the one in which we mere mortals toil and and moil our various and sundry ways to the grave.” -- Harold Bloom, in Collier’s.)
I waited. The fly waited. Nothing happened. There was a speaker grill on the wall next to the buzzers, but no sound came out of it.
“Give it another buzz,” said the fly.
I pressed the button again.
Nothing. Silence except for the sound of the falling rain.
“Press it again,” said the fly.
“What if they’re sleeping?”
“Press it again.”
“I’d hate to wake them up. They have kids and all.”
“Just press the button, pal.”
“But I don’t want to be obnoxious.”
“Jesus Mary and Joseph, is it going to kill you to press the buzzer just one more time?”
“No, but --”
“Hey, you know what? We could go back to that Valhalla bar. Probably Pat and Carlotta are still there --”
“There’s no cabs. You wanta walk all the way back to Bleecker and MacDougal in the rain?”
“Well, no --”
“Me either. Button. Press. It."
“Or, wait, I know -- how about --”
“How about you just press the fucking buzzer again? Christ almighty --”
“Look, what if we go to that Bob’s Bowery Bar around the corner? You wanted to go there anyway, right? We could have a beer.”
“Hmmm, y’know, now that I think about it, that’s not a bad idea, not a bad idea at all --”
“Good,” I said. “We’ll get a couple beers --”
“One beer.” He was excitedly bobbing up and down in the air again now. “It’ll look weird if you buy a beer for a fly.”
“Okay, one beer.”
“And you can just splash a little on the bar top for me.”
“Sure,” I said. “And I’ll ask the bartender for a pencil and paper.”
“Yeah, whatever. Maybe a shot of whiskey, too.”
“Okay, we can get a whiskey --”
“What are we waitin’ for?”
“Right, then,” I said, “Let’s --”
The entrance door opened.
It was Mrs. Morgenstern, wearing an old grey corduroy bathrobe.
“Porter? Who you talking to?”
“Oh, no one.”
“Just, you know, talking to myself.”
“Talking to yourself.”
“Yeah, heh heh, wondering why you didn’t you know, uh --”
I pointed at the speaker.
“You know that thing don’t work,” she said.
“Oh, right, heh heh, I forgot --”
“Meshuggenah. You forget your keys again?”
“Yes. Yes I did. I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“I was awake. Come on, get in out of the rain.”
She held the door open and I came into the vestibule. The fly did too, of course.
She drew the door shut and turned to me.
“Look at you,” she said. “All wet. Why you didn’t take your umbrella?”
“I, uh, forgot.”
“Forgot your keys. Forgot your umbrella. You drunk?”
“Well, I’ve had a few, but I wouldn’t say I’m drunk --”
“Did you eat dinner?”
Dinner. No, I had forgotten all about that bacon-cheeseburger I had ordered and never gotten. And the french fries. And I was hungry, too.
“You didn’t eat, did you?” she said.
“No,” I confessed.
“What I’m gonna do with you?”
“I don’t know,” I confessed.
Suddenly she put her arms around my waist, and she looked up into my eyes.
“What I’m gonna do with you, Porter?”
“I -- um --”
“And me a happily married woman with two beautiful kids.”
“I -- uh --”
She drew herself closer to me, and laid her head against my chest. She had a good smell. She smelled like a warm Sunday in autumn, like roasted chestnuts, like laundry right after it’s come off the clothesline --
She looked up at me again.
“But I can’t help myself,” she said. “Jake works so hard all day in his cobbler shop, saving up his money so we can move out to a nice home in Long Island, he’s so tired at the end of the day all he wants to do is sit in his undershirt and watch Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton. I can’t blame him. I blame myself.”
“Don’t blame yourself --” I hesitated, because I wanted to address her by her first name, but I didn’t know what that was, and it seemed absurd to call her Mrs. Morgenstern under the circumstances, especially as I, despite my best intentions, was beginning to suffer an erection.
“Who I’m gonna blame then? You?”
“Sure,” I offered. “Blame me.”
“Your book,” she said. “They really gonna publish it?”
“Apparently,” I said.
“And here I never read even one of your poems.”
“You’re not missing much.”
“You’ll probably be moving out. You’ll be making good money. You won’t wanta stay in this dump and I don’t blame you.”
“Yes,” I said. “I might be leaving.”
“I knew you’d leave someday.”
“Well --” I said.
Actually I had nothing in mind. I had only said “well” just to say something.
She continued to stare up into my eyes.
“Everybody leaves eventually,” I said.
“We all leave life eventually.”
“That’s true,” she said.
She continued to look into my eyes, as if she were looking for something.
“Y’know, Porter, for an American, you can be really depressing.”
“I like it though. It’s the poet in you.”
“Maybe,” I said. “Or maybe it’s just the depressed person in me.”
“We can’t stand here in the vestibule all night,” she said.
“Jake and the kids are sleeping. Sound asleep.”
There was a pause here.
“But still I guess we better not,” she said.
Even I could tell what she meant we’d better not do.
“No,” I said. “It’s probably better that we don’t.”
The fly buzzed around our heads.
“Verkakte flies,” she said. “What a dump. It’s good you’ll be moving from here. Kiss me one time, you lug.”
What could I do?
I kissed her.
It lasted a minute or so, maybe longer. I know I shouldn’t have, even if I was only in someone else’s novel, but I couldn’t help myself, and I didn’t want to disappoint Mrs. Morgenstern.
Finally she pulled her face away from mine.
She was breathing heavily. I suppose I was too.
“Hoo boy,” she said.
She still had her arms around my waist. We were still standing in the vestibule, with its old wooden moldings, its cracked and stained ceramic-tiled floor, the worn rubber welcome mat.
“I think we better go up now,” she said.
“Yes, we’d better,” I said.
She let go of my waist, she opened the inner door and went through, and I followed her.
I followed her up the stairs, walking slowly, as I was now possessed of a full-fledged erection. She seemed to be wearing a nightgown under her robe, and threadbare corduroy slippers.
At the second floor we walked to my door, she took a big ring of keys out of her robe pocket, separated one from the rest, opened the door.
I went in, turned around, she was standing in the open doorway, still holding the keys.
“You want me to fix you some food?” she said. “A sandwich? Glass of milk?”
“No, please,” I said, even though I was terrifically hungry now.
She stood there looking at me.
She looked both ways up and down the hall, and then she stepped just inside the doorway.
“Them three times we made love, when Jake was at synagogue. They were the best, Porter. But I can’t do it no more. It ain’t right.”
“You’re right,” I said.
“You go on with your life. I’ll go one with mine.”
“Yes,” I said.
The fly buzzed around my ear. I brushed him away.
“I wish you the best of luck with your poetry. Someday I bet I see you on Jack Paar, Edward R. Murrow.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“I’ll see your picture on the back of a book. Your handsome face. I’ll think, ‘That’s Porter. I knew him.’ I’ll always have that.”
I didn’t know what to say to this. I said nothing.
Suddenly I remembered the money that the boy Mickey had given to me for Mrs. Morgenstern. I took the wad out of my inside jacket pocket.
“What’s that?” she said.
“I ran into your nephew, Mickey?”
“Yes. He asked me to give you this money. For helping him out with legal expenses.”
“It’s probably stolen.”
“Well, he asked me to give it to you,” I said.
“Okay, I’ll take it.”
She took the roll, and without counting it she put it in the pocket of her old bathrobe. Then she looked at me.
“I want to kiss you again,” she said, “but I think maybe I shouldn’t.”
She glanced down at the bulge in my pants.
“We probably shouldn’t,” I said.
I wished I knew her first name, but I didn’t, so I simply said goodnight.
She turned and walked off back towards her own apartment. I could hear her lightly jangling the set of keys, not continuously, but with a pause of a second or so between each jangle.
I closed the door.
“Idiot,” said the fly. I hadn’t realized it, but he was sitting in my ear again. “Idiot. You coulda had her, man. She was dying for it.”
I felt for the wall switch, found it, turned on the overhead light.
“Idiot,” repeated the fly.
“Look, just shut up, okay?” I said.
“Who the hell you talking to, Porter?”
I turned around.
It was Nicky, sitting at my kitchen table, his feet up on the table, on my papers, on Porter’s papers anyway. He lit a cigarette with his lighter.
He gestured to a jelly glass and an almost-empty bottle of Early Times bourbon on the table.
“Found your hooch under the sink. Hope you don’t mind I helped myself. Get yourself a glass. Porter.”
(Continued here, as is only meet and just.)
(Kindly refer to the right hand side of this page for a current listing of links to all other electronically-accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored in part by Uneeda Crackers™. “Feeling the economic pinch this holiday season? The kids will love an economical lunch of Uneeda Crackers™ and store-brand peanut butter -- delicious and nutritious!”)