(Go here to read our preceding chapter; in case you’ve been stricken with a severe case of gout and expect to be bed-ridden through the winter months you may click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 51-volume epic of autobiography.)
“Frankly I had given up on so-called serious reading and was spending most of my spare time reading mysteries and books about bridge. Then one fateful day in the University Club library as I was looking for a Dick Francis that I hadn’t read too recently I happened upon a dog-eared Ace paperback edition of the first volume of Arnold Schnabel’s memoirs. And my life was changed, changed utterly.” -- Harold Bloom, in Man’s Adventure.)
Of course I was taken aback.
“How did you get in here?” I said, feeling as if I were reading from a script.
“Oh, please,” said Nicky. “This isn’t exactly Fort Knox, you know. By the way, do you want to duck into the head for a few minutes and relieve yourself?”
With the two fingers that held his cigarette he pointed to my inguinal area.
“Oh,” I said, looking down again. Fortunately, I could feel the blood already draining back into my torso and the offending organ shrinking, and no wonder. “I don’t think that will be necessary,” I said.
“You and the chicks, Porter, you and the chicks. Ha ha ha.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Very funny.”
“Ha ha ha. Even your landlady. How was she anyway?”
“I consider that question ungentlemanly and one I would never deign to answer.”
“Oh, excuse me!”
The funny thing was that the thing that annoyed me the most just then was the way he had his shoes up on the table, on my papers, my poetry. Well, it was Porter’s poetry, but still. So I spoke up.
“Look,” I said, “do you mind taking your feet off of the table?”
Nicky looked at his feet, as if quizzically.
“Oh. I suppose that was a little rude of me.”
He lifted his feet off the table and put them on the floor, in the process pushing some of my papers fluttering to the floor as well.
“Oh, great,” I said. “Now I’m going to have to reorganize all my papers.”
“Does it really matter if they’re organized or not?” he said. “Seems to me you could just throw them together at random and they’d make as much sense.”
“What do you know about poetry?”
“Well, not a whole lot I suppose.”
I noticed he wasn’t using his cigarette holder. Did he only use it in public, when he wanted to impress people? Did I not count as someone worth impressing?
“You could at least pick them up,” I said.
“Pick what up?”
“My papers you’ve just knocked onto the floor.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“No, I’m not kidding. It’s just common courtesy.”
I went over and bent over and picked the papers up myself.
“All right, I’m sorry,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Don’t you number your pages?”
I glanced at the papers in my hand.
“Apparently not,” I said.
“Well, wouldn’t it make it easier if you --”
“Listen,” I said, “what are you doing here anyway? Sitting here. Drinking my whiskey.”
“Oh. Okay. Now you’re really kidding me.”
“Arnold, it’s me. Lucky.”
“Oh,” I said. Then, the full realization finally dawning: “Oh.”
“Yes,” he said.
“So it really is you.”
“What did you think?”
“But -- you said you were really this Nicky Boskins, public relations man. With a wife and three kids in -- where?”
“Scarsdale,” I said. “In a fine old Victorian house.”
“Merely one of my personae,” he said.
“I don’t know what that word means,” I admitted.
“I thought you knew Latin, like a good Catholic boy.”
“Well, to be quite honest, I only know what’s in the Roman Catholic mass,” I said. “And barely that.”
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “And you a poet and all.”
“Yes, but I’m not a good poet. And I left school at thirteen to go to work.”
“My heart bleeds. Well, anyway, personae is the plural of persona, like a guise, a role.”
“Oh, I get it,” I said. “I think I’ve seen that. Just didn’t know how to pronounce it.”
“The curse of the autodidact. An autodidact is --”
“I know what an autodidact is,” I said, although to tell the truth I wasn’t entirely sure.
“No need to get touchy,” he said.
I tapped the papers straight on the table top.
“Hey, pal, who is this asshole?” whispered the fly in my ear.
I laid the papers down on some other papers next to my typewriter, making sure I didn’t get too close to Nicky, or Lucky I suppose I should call him.
“Just think your answer,” said the fly, “I’ll hear it.”
“He’s the Devil,” I thought.
“So get a glass,” said Lucky. “Or a jelly jar, whatever.”
“Kick him in the face,” whispered the fly. “I hate this fucking guy. He’s the one turned me into a fly.”
“I said get a glass, Arnold,” said Lucky. He was starting to look more like Lucky and less like Nicky each passing second.
“Grab the typewriter and smash it on his skull,” said the fly.
I turned, headed toward the sink.
“Porter, Arnold, whatever the hell your name is,” whispered the fly, “what’re you doin’?”
“I’m stalling,” I thought.
“Yes. I can’t beat him in a fair fight. He has the strength of ten men, plus I think he knows judo or jiu-jitsu. I have to out-fox him somehow.”
“Well, okay, might as well have a drink then.”
“You’re awfully quiet, Arnold,” said Lucky.
Just to annoy him, but also because I really had nothing to say to his remark, I said nothing.
The glass that both the fly and I had used earlier in the day was still in the sink. I didn’t see any dish soap, but I turned on the tap and gave the glass a thorough rinse with hot water.
“You know,” said Lucky, “you’ve really impressed me today.”
“Oh really?” I said.
“Yes. I thought I was going to drive you crazy by exiling you into this universe.”
“Ha,” I said.
There was no dishtowel around, so I just shook the glass in the air to get some of the water off it.
“That’s right,” whispered the fly. “Treat the bastard with the contempt he so richly deserves.”
I turned around and headed back to the table.
“You forgot one thing, Lucky,” I said. “If I may call you Lucky.”
“Or Mr. Lucky. Or Lucifer’s okay. Or Dark Lord.”
“Call me Lucky then. What did I forget?”
I walked around to the opposite side of the table.
“Sit down, Arnold.”
There was a chair there, so I sat in it, across from him. He pushed the Early Times toward me. He reached into his inside jacket pocket, brought out his cigarette case, clicked it open.
“I’ve quit,” I said.
“And again I say, oh, please. Arnold old man, do you think you’re going to live forever?”
“I doubt it.”
“Or even, say, oh, I don’t know, five more minutes?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Have a cigarette. One last cigarette. One really, really, final last cigarette.”
He clicked the case shut, put it back into his jacket.
“So what did I forget?” he said.
I took the bottle. He hadn’t put the cap back on. I poured myself a shot, a double shot really. I took a drink.
“Save some for me, pal,” whispered the fly.
“Arnold,” said Lucky, “I asked you to tell me what I forgot. Or what you claim I forgot.”
The whiskey tasted good. I took another sip, savoring it. I turned my head, looked out the window that gave onto the Bowery. It was still raining out there, and rainwater had wet and was wetting the windowsill.
I turned back to Lucky. I put my glass down.
“What you forgot,” I said, “is that you can’t drive a crazy man crazy.”
Lucky just stared at me. His moustache had grown back, and his eyes had become darker, almost black.
“Oh my God, you’re getting to him, pal,” said the fly. “You’re really getting the bastard’s goat.”
“I could drag you down to the flaming pits of hell this very second if I wanted to,” said Lucky.
“What’s stopping you?”
He continued to stare at me. Sweat beaded on his forehead.
“You’ve got something up your sleeve, don’t you?” he said.
Actually I had nothing up my sleeve. I had nothing. Except my insanity.
I stared into his eyes. True, they were frightening, like two holes looking into the abyss of the universe. But I had looked into that abyss before, I had fallen into it, and I had come out again. None of this was really new to me.
“Hey, pal --” the fly started to say, sounding nervous, but I cut him off.
“Quiet,” I thought. “I’m trying to concentrate.”
“Sorry, pal, do what you gotta do.”
“You’ve got some deal with your buddy, don’t you?” said Lucky. “Your so-called friend -- ‘Josh’.”
As far as I knew Josh unfortunately was still getting drunk at that writers’ bar on MacDougal Street with Pat and Carlotta and the rest of the gang, but of course I didn’t say this.
“I don’t make deals,” I said.
I have no idea why I said this. It just sounded like a “cool” thing to say.
“You don’t make deals,” said Lucky.
I said nothing. I took another drink, finishing what was in the glass.
I picked up the bottle, poured myself another good shot. There was still a little left in the bottle.
“Do you want some more?” I said.
He hadn’t taken a drink the whole time I’d been in here, and there was still a couple of fingers in his jelly glass.
“Some whiskey,” I said. “Do you want some more?”
“Oh, no thank you, I, uh, I, uh, no, I’m good. Thanks.”
He lifted his glass, took a drink.
He was sweating quite profusely now.
He tapped his cigarette ash into the ashtray that was on the table, the one that said “At the Prince George Hotel -- where the service is swell!”
“Hey, you know what I think,” he said, suddenly. He paused. I said nothing. “You know what I think, I think you’re bluffing. That’s what I think. What could you, what could you possibly, what could you -- even if ‘Josh’ were to -- even if -- wait.”
He looked at me. I looked back at him.
“I don’t know what you’re doin’, pal,” said the fly, “but keep on doin’ it.”
“Wait,” Lucky said, again. “What did -- what did Josh say about me?”
I said nothing.
“Did he -- wait -- did he give you the authority to -- hold on. I know you’ve got an ace in the hole. Did he say that I could, you know --”
I said nothing.
“Did he say I could come back? Is that was this is about? Is this why you’re so --”
“Why would he let you come back?” I said.
“To his father’s house? Why indeed? Why indeed. But -- one time, Arnold, one time, I was pretty tight with that crew, very tight. Okay, some say I got above my station. Well, everyone says that. So okay, I got tossed out. Big deal. We all make mistakes. But. It’s been an eternity, Arnold. Well, not an eternity, that’s impossible, but, like millions, millions, eons, epochs, whatever. A long time. I mean, the big guy’s supposed to be merciful, right? Right?”
I said nothing.
“So where’s the mercy for ol’ Lucifer?”
I held my peace.
“What do you think, can I get back?”
I looked at my drink, then I looked at him.
“Maybe,” I said.
“Can you -- could you -- would you -- I mean, do you think you could work it out for me?”
“Why should I?”
“Why should you? Arnold, you don’t know the real me. I used to be called the Light Bearer, you know. I can be a really good guy. A good guy to know. I’ll be, you know, I’ll be -- what?”
“Yeah, whatever, I’ll be good.”
“You’ll have to put it in writing.”
“Sure. Of course. Whatever.”
“Okay then,” I said.
I pushed my chair back, got up.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Just to get a pen.”
“We can’t use the typewriter?”
“Gotta be a pen.”
I started across the room toward my night table.
“I’ve got a pen,” he said, “a nice one, a Montblanc, right in my pocket.”
“Come on, Lucky, you know we can’t use your pen.”
“Oh. No, I guess not.”
I remembered seeing a tortoise-shell fountain pen on the bed table when I had first woken up here a couple of days ago (what seemed like a year ago). It was still there. I picked it up. It looked familiar. I was pretty sure it was the same pen.
I walked back towards the kitchen table.
“Is this like a contract I’ll have to sign?” said Lucky.
“Yeah, pretty simple,” I said.
I sat down again, took the cap off the pen, replaced it onto the barrel.
“What about all the billions of people who are in Hell?” he asked.
“Well, I don’t know about them,” I said.
“Ah the hell with them anyway, right, heh heh. They deserve to be there. Just kidding.”
“Slide me a blank piece of paper, will you, Lucky?”
“Sure.” He picked up a blank sheet of typewriter paper, handed it to me. “So I guess you just have to, uh, what --”
“Yeah,” I said, “I just have to write something down here -- a little -- what’s the word?”
“Yeah, just a sentence or so.”
“Then I sign it.”
“Sure, if you want to.”
“Oh, I want to, I really want to --”
“Good,” I said.
“Okay. Write away. Can’t wait to get back to the big house. Wonder if I’ll get my old room?”
“Don’t know,” I said.
“You’ve been there, right?”
“Yes, I’ve been there,” I said. “Now, look, I don’t want to seem impolite, but would you mind awfully just being quiet for a few seconds while I write this?”
“Oh, sure, sorry. Go right ahead.”
He finally shut up. The only sound was the rain, and the buzzing sound of the fly, who was now circling above my head.
I wrote what I had to write on the paper, and it didn’t take long.
I took the cap off the barrel of the pen, stuck it back onto the tip.
“Finished?” said Nicky.
“Yes,” I said, putting down the pen. “Here. Read this over.”
I picked the sheet of paper up, handed it to him.
Putting his cigarette between his thin lips, he eagerly turned the paper around so that he could read it.
There was a pause. Outside there was a flash of lightning, then a bang of thunder that sounded like two cement trucks crashing into each other at full speed down in the street.
“You bastard,” said Lucky. His cigarette fell from his lips to the table.
He dropped the paper, then abruptly stood up, knocking over his chair.
“You fucking lying bastard. I’ll fucking --”
There was another, greater flash of lightning, a series of flashes really, and then Lucky was gone, leaving only an opalescent wisp of smoke or vapor and an odor of dog feces and moldy linoleum, of burning compost, of dead bodies.
A rolling barrage of thunderclaps sounded through the windows like a stick of bombs exploding along the Bowery.
Then there was silence, all but for the sound of the rain outside and the buzzing of the fly.
I reached across the table and picked up Lucky’s still-burning cigarette butt, and I stubbed it out into the ashtray.
“Holy shit,” said the fly, zooming merrily around the table. “What did you write on that paper?”
“Can you read?” I asked.
“’Course I can read, I may be a fly but I ain’t illiterate.”
“Here then,” I said. I reached over, picked up the paper and held it up. The fly came down and hovered in front of it.
“Oh you slay me, pal. You absolutely slay me. ‘Go back to hell, you bastard, and stay there.’ Priceless. ‘Go back to hell, you bastard.’ Ha ha ha. ‘And fuckin’ stay there.’ Ha ha ha. I love it, you slay me pal. Let’s have a drink.”
“Good idea,” I said.
(Continued here, somehow, someway, for some unknown reason or reasons.)
(Please look to the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to all other chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven© which are currently available to humanity. Be sure to tune in to “St Stephen’s Day: The Arnold Schnabel Day After Christmas Special” tonight at 9:00 PM (EST) on the DuMont Television Network, hosted by John Cameron Swayze and starring Dane Clark, Cleo Moore, Audrey Trotter, Dan Duryea, and Zachary Scott; music by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and the Red Norvo Quintet; special appearances by the June Taylor Dancers and the Mabel Beaton Marionettes; sponsored by Tastykake.)