Not without some maddening delays, our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his friends (the roistering paperback hero Big Ben Blagwell and the talkative fly Ferdinand) have finally gotten out of Arnold’s garret room and are now descending the stairs of his aunts’ rambling and ramshackle guest house here in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, on this fateful Sunday afternoon in August of 1963...
(Please click here to read our previous chapter; if you have way too much time on your hands you may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 89-volume masterpiece of the confessional art.)
“Oftentimes in the course of my busy day I take a few minutes to open up one of my old Arnold Schnabel Popular Library paperback originals with the really cool Robert McGinnis covers and I read perhaps just a page or two; then, refreshed and re-invigorated, I slip the book back into the inside pocket of my suit jacket and I dive once again into the meaningless hurly-burly of this so-called real world.” -- Harold Bloom in his “Book Chat” column for Cosmopolitan.
“So,” said the fly, “where we goin’?”
I stopped, three or four steps from the second floor landing; Ben almost crashed into me, but he drew short just in time, slamming onto my shoulder what felt like a twenty pound ham but which was in fact only his left hand. I grabbed onto the banister, it buckled but didn’t break, and I managed to stay upright.
“Listen,” I said, in a low voice, after I had caught my breath, “Ferdinand.”
“Yeah, buddy.” The fly made what I believe is called an Immelman turn and came back to hover facing me. “What’s up?”
“Listen, I mean no offense by this --”
“Uh-oh,” he said.
“But, um, I just want to remind you, uh --”
“Um, just that I think it might be best if you don’t talk when other people are around.”
“Only because it could get --”
“Awkward,” I said.
“Awkward,” said the fly.
“Awkward,” said the fly, again.
“Uh, yeah,” I said, again.
Not to overuse the word, but an awkward pause transpired here, made only more so by the fact that I was standing there on the stairs, with Ben’s enormous bulk looming behind me and above me like a living mountain; if he were to suffer a sudden coronary and collapse upon me like an avalanche of flesh and sinew then it could well be the end for both of us.
Finally the fly spoke:
“Y’know, you really know how to talk down to a guy, Arnold. You really fucking do.”
“Hey, Ferdinand,” said Ben, “Arnie don’t mean nothing by it. But you know how people can be. Squares, daddy-o. Squares.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” said the fly. “Squares.” Suddenly taking flight he deftly traced in the air with his tiny body the shape of a twelve-inch square, returning in a flash to the exact same spot in space from which he had started. “Cubes,” he said. “Like maybe even a what I thought was a friend of mine by the name of Arnold Schnabel.”
“Aw, don’t be like that, buddy,” said Ben. He took a drag of his Sweet Caporal. “It’s just people. The overwhelming majority of which just ain’t broadminded like Arnold and me.”
“Yeah,” said the fly.
“Fuckin’ people,” said Ben.
“Yeah,” said the fly.
“You know,” said Ben.
“Yeah, I know,” said the fly. “And y’know somethin’ else? They say flies eat shit. And y’know what? Flies do eat shit. But y’know what motherfuckers really eat shit?”
“I don’t know,” said Ben.
“People,” said the fly. “Fuckin’ people eat shit.”
“Amen, brother,” said Ben.
“Okay,” I said, again in my low voice. (Ben and and the fly were talking just as loud as they normally did, which come to think of it was pretty loud.) “So, look,” I said, painfully aware as I was that my mother one of my aunts or one of their guests could appear as if out of nowhere at any moment, “if you could just keep kinda mum when other people are around.”
“Uh-huh,” said the fly.
“When we’re all alone -- hey --”
“Well,” I said, “when we’re all alone, you know, just the three of us --”
“Like right now?”
“Well, yes, like right now,” I said, and then I realized that I had gone back to talking in a more normal tone of voice. I reverted to a whisper: “But not inside a house with a lot of people in it --”
“What?” said the fly. “Inside a house with what? Speak up a little.”
“But that’s the point,” I whispered somewhat louder. “I’m saying we shouldn’t talk like this where other people might hear us --”
“And by us you mean me.”
“Yes, or me, or Ben, talking to you.”
“But mostly me is what you’re saying,” said the fly.
I had started sweating profusely again, even though the staircase was nowhere near as hot and close as my attic room had been. I glanced back and up at Ben, who was enjoying the last of his cigarette but not helping by keeping quiet.
“What?” said Ben.
“I was just saying to, uh, Ferdinand, that when we’re all alone, just the three of us --”
“The three musketeers,” said Ben.
“Yeah,” I said. “When it’s just us three, then --”
“Then it’s a continuous party,” said Ben.
“Yeah,” I said. “That too, but what I meant was when it’s just the three of us, with nobody else nearby, then it’s fine for, uh -- Ferdinand -- to talk --”
“Oh, sure,” said Ben.
“You know, to, like, talk all he wants,” I said.
“Sure,” said Ben. “Whatever.” He dropped his cigarette stub down to the worn black rubber runner on the stair step, crushed it with his deck shoe. It was a good thing my aunts or mother didn’t see that, and I was tempted to pick the butt up myself, but I resisted the impulse.
“Uh, so,” I said, addressing the fly again. “Uh,” I added.
“Look, don’t sweat it,” said the fly. He was still talking in his normal tone, not whispering at all. “I know how to keep my trap shut.”
“Well, that’s great,” I said.
“You didn’t need to make a big federal case out of it.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear it.”
“Uh,” I said.
“Like a little church mouse I will be. In fact even quieter than a church mouse because out of me you will not hear neither a squeak nor even the scrabbling of my little feet.”
“Great,” I said, wondering exactly when he would start being quieter than a church mouse.
“Only a faint buzzing perhaps will you hear.”
“Well, good,” I said
“Besides, you know what?” he said. “It don’t matter.”
“Well, no,” said Ben, finally getting back into the conversation again. He was picking at an upper edge of the old floral wallpaper that had come loose. “I think it does matter, because, because --”
“Because what?” said the fly.
“Because you’re our buddy,” said Ben. His picking was making more of the paper come loose. “And we care about your feelings. We may act kind of gruff, and horse around and all, but you -- you, me, and Arnie here -- we’re buddies. And buddies -- well, we don’t like to talk about it like a bunch of dames, you know --”
“God forbid,” said the fly.
“But in our rough-hewn, rawboned way, we care about each other’s feelings.” He kept picking at the paper, like a little boy carefully trying to lift off a section of sun-blistered skin from his shoulder. “So that’s what I mean when I say, yes, it does matter.”
“But I’m tellin’ you it don’t matter,” said the fly.
“Really?” said Ben.
“Yes,” said the fly.
Whereas a minute ago just a tiny portion of the edge of wallpaper had been loose, Ben had by now freed about a six inch triangle of paper from the wall, revealing a much more faded and ancient floral wallpaper underneath. He suddenly began to press the triangle back down again with his fingers. The fly watched him for a couple of seconds and then continued:
“I mean it don’t matter on accounta I can communicate with you guys telepathically.”
“No shit?” said Ben. He finally let the wallpaper be. “And we can like talk back to you telepathically?” he asked.
“Sure,” said the fly. “Just think what you want to say and I can hear you clear as a bell.”
“Holy shit, that‘s fuckin’ wild,” thought Ben.
“See, I heard that,” said the fly, telepathically.
“No kidding,” said Ben, without sound. “And can Arnold hear us?”
“Yes,” I thought.
The triangle of wallpaper was slowly coming free from the wall again.
“Fucking wild,” Ben's words reverberated within my brain pan. “Does this mean Arnold and I can talk to each other telepathically when you’re not around?”
“What’re you, crazy?” thought the fly. “No. Of course I got to be there. Humans don’t got them kinds of powers.”
“Sorry,” thought Ben. “Just asking.”
“Don’t worry about it,” thought the fly. “Now can we get a move on?”
“Sure,” I said, silently, and at last I started down the stairs again. At this rate, I thought, it would take us a month just to get out of the house.
“It ain’t gonna take that long,” said the fly's voice inside my head. “Wiseguy.”
“Long as we don’t keep stopping every two minutes,” said Ben’s mental voice.
“I ain’t the one who keeps stopping us,” thought the fly.
“You got a point,” thought Ben.
I started down the last flight of stairs.
“So,” came the fly’s voice, from somewhere deep within my brain, “where we goin’?”
“Well,” I said, “first off we have to go out to the docks --”
“You’re talking out loud, y’know,” thought the fly. “I only mention it because it sounds funny, ‘cause it sounds like you’re answering a question that no one’s asking.”
“Right,” I thought, “I forgot. Sorry. So, anyway, we have to go out to the docks and get some fresh seafood.”
“Oh, I love seafood,” thought the fly. “Can I have some?”
“Uh, sure,” I thought, “We can get you some, sure, nice fresh seafood too.”
“It don’t have to be fresh.”
“Oh, well --”
“In fact I prefer it’s not fresh.”
“Well, we’ll see,” I said.
“Maybe they got some day-old,” said Ben. “Like in a bakery.”
“You can ask,” said the fly.
“Right,” I said.
“Don’t hurt to ask,” he said.
“No, no,” I said, realizing that we had all been talking aloud again. However, we were finally outside the house, and no one seemed to be around, so I didn’t worry about it too much.
(Continued here, the sound of one hand clapping madly in the middle of an unpopulated forest)
(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other legally-accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Tickets now available for the annual “Arnold Schnabel Cruise” off Cape May, on the good ship “Capt. Johnson”; musical entertainment provided by “The Siren Songs of Summer with Freddy Ayres & Ursula, featuring special guest Magda on the Hammond B-3”. Unlimited Schmidt’s beer and Mrs Schnabel’s Homemade Bratwurst ‘n’ Kraut included in ticket price.)