Let’s rejoin our intrepid memoirist Arnold Schnabel here at the bar of a certain roadhouse existing somewhere in the world of an extremely obscure “paperback original” novel called Rummies of the Open Road…
(Kindly go here to read our preceding episode; if you’ve finally gone quite hopelessly insane then you may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume autobiography.)
“Oh, what glorious joy to check the morning’s post and find that – yes! – the latest volume of Arnold Schnabel’s consummate chef-d'œuvre has finally arrived!” – Harold Bloom, in The Sports Illustrated Literary Supplement.
“So, the disgusting little fly talks,” said Trixie. “I’m supposed to be impressed?”
“Look, sister,” said Ferdinand. “I came in here in good faith, with my two buddies, to get a load on, and maybe – just maybe – to meet a nice young lady. I did not come in here to be insulted.”
“Oh, yeah? And what are you gonna do about it, small fry?” said Trixie.
“Don’t push me, blondie,” said Ferdinand.
“Oh, no?” she said. “Or what?”
“You don’t want to know what,” said Ferdinand.
He was still perched on the edge of my shot glass, but I could see he was quivering with anger and ready to attack at any moment.
Fortunately the big fat man, Laughing Lou, spoke up. I say fortunately because I had no idea what to do.
“Now, Trixie,” said Laughing Lou, “why don’t we just –”
“But it’s a goddam fly!” she said. “And he insulted me!”
“You started it, baby cakes,” said Ferdinand. “Calling me disgusting.”
“You are disgusting,” she said. “I don’t care if you can talk. You’re just a vile disgusting filthy little insect, and you don’t know how to talk to a lady, neither.”
“You ain’t no lady,” said Ferdinand.
“And you eat shit,” she said.
“Okay,” said Ferdinand. “You asked for it, doll face.”
I knew he was going to attack now, and the last thing I wanted was to get in a brawl here, so finally I spoke up.
“Ferdinand,” I said, realizing even before I said it how lame what I was going to say was going to be, “let’s stay calm.”
“Why should I stay calm?” he said. “I got feelings too, y’know.”
“I know,” I said. “But I’m sure Trixie didn’t mean, uh –”
“Oh, I meant every single word I said, all right,” she said. “He’s a disgusting shit-eating fly.”
“I have an idea,” said Horace, who had perhaps understandably held his peace throughout the foregoing exchange. “Why don’t we just start all over? Trixie, I’d like you – and Laughing Lou as well – to meet our tiny friend, Ferdinand.”
“So you’re friends with a goddam fly too, Horace?” she said.
“Ah, but dear Trixie, as you see, Ferdinand is not just any fly, but a miracle – a talking, sentient fly!”
“But he’s still a fly,” she said. “And flies are disgusting.”
“All right,” said Ferdinand, and he flew up off of the glass.
“Wait! Ferdinand –” I said.
“Don’t try to stop me, Arnie,” he said. “I’ve taken just about all I’m gonna take from this bitch.”
Horace stepped in front of Trixie.
“Ferdinand,” he said, holding up his hands, one of which held his cigar, and the other his shot of bourbon. “Please. We are guests here.”
“Get out of my way, Horace,” said Ferdinand.
“But –” said Horace. I could tell he was upset. The poor fellow hadn’t even drunk his shot yet, and I knew how much he had been looking forward to drinking alcohol. “But –”
“May I make a suggestion?” said Laughing Lou.
“Yes,” I said, emphatically, especially for me.
“I wonder if you two gentlemen, and our friend Ferdinand here –”
“The filthy fly,” said Trixie.
Laughing Lou shot a glance her way, but her forged on.
“I wonder if you fellows would care to join me somewhere more private, so we can all sit and have a nice quiet chat?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Sure, Laughing Lou,” said Horace.
“Yeah, great, go,” said Trixie. “Get them all away from me. Especially that fly.”
“Bitch,” said Ferdinand.
“Insect,” said Trixie. “Shit-eater.”
“Trixie,” said Laughing Lou, “that’s enough now.”
“Okay,” said Trixie. “For you I’ll clam up, Lou. For you. But for these two ham-and-eggers and their shit-eating friend? For them I don’t shut up. That fly says he’s got feelings? Well, I got feelings too, y’know. I’m a lady.”
“Whore, you mean,” said Ferdinand.
“Ferdinand,” I said. “Cool it.”
“Yes, heh heh,” said Horace. “Let’s all be civilized.”
“He comes near me I’m swatting him,” said Trixie. “I’ll poke him with my cigarette.”
She made a poking gesture with her cigarette.
“So,” I said, addressing Laughing Lou, “shall we, uh, you know –”
“Bust a move?” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Yes! But – we haven’t drunk our toast yet!”
“Shall we drink to peace and good will?” said Horace.
“Yes, ha ha!” said Lou. “Bottoms up!”
And so Horace, Laughing Lou and I all drank down our shots of Heaven Sent bourbon. I didn’t really want a shot, but I suppose I succumbed to peer pressure, and also to a desire just to move things along. I gasped, because even after all these years I still find it hard to drink down a shot of whiskey all at once.
I leaned over and put the shot glass on the bar, which brought me very close to Trixie, and she said to me, in a quiet voice, “You just drank a shot of whiskey that a fly was drinking out of.”
“It’s okay,” I said.
I picked up one of the bottles of Tree Frog ale that were sitting there on the bar where the bartender had put them just a few minutes or hours or days before.
“You don’t care about his germs?” she said.
“Well –” I said.
To tell the truth I did feel slightly disgusted, now that she had mentioned it, but I decided just to forget about it and to wash it down with a good gulp of ale, which I did.
Horace and Laughing Lou had both also put down their shot glasses and picked up their own respective bottles of Tree Frog ale.
“So, come with me, if you please, gentlemen,” said Laughing Lou. ”Ha ha!”
“Is there more booze where you’re taking us?” said Ferdinand.
“Oh, yes, there’s more booze, my friend, ha ha!” said Laughing Lou.
“Then lead on, big guy,” said Ferdinand.
“So, Trixie,” said Laughing Lou, “if you will excuse us –”
“Go,” she said. “Go. I’m fine right here.”
She raised the straw of her drink to her lips and slurped, and the rest of her multi-colored drink disappeared, except for the ice in the glass.
“Émile!” yelled Laughing Lou. “Another Pousse Café for Miss Trixie, on my tab!”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Lou!” yelled back the bartender.
Laughing Lou put his big cigar in his mouth and his arm in Horace’s arm, said, “Ha ha! This way, gents!” and pulled Horace away.
Ferdinand flew after them and I started to go but Trixie put her hand on my arm. She had put down her empty drink and she now held her cigarette in the hand that wasn’t gripping my arm.
“I thought we had something,” she said. “Between you and me. A vibration, like. A sort of electrical current. I thought maybe, just maybe, it could be love.”
I looked at her. I realized that she must be extremely drunk, and perhaps also insane, but still I felt a certain pity. After all, I had been a pathetic wretch my own self through most of my life.
“I’m really sorry,” I said. “But, you see, I have a girlfriend –”
“Of course you do,” she said. “All the decent guys have girlfriends. Or wives.”
“Well, maybe not all of them,” I said.
“You mean I still might meet a decent guy?” she said.
“Sure,” I said. “I mean, you’re a pretty girl, so, uh –”
“Pretty,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “You’re very, uh –”
“But what about my personality?”
“Oh,” I said, “well, you seem like a, uh –”
“Um, I don’t know,” I said. “A nice girl?”
“No one has ever called me a nice girl,” she said. “Ever. Even when I was a little girl. Even then everybody said I was bad.”
“Well, uh –” I said.
“You gonna tell me all them people my whole life were wrong about me being bad? About me being a bitch? And some other words I won’t say on account of I’m a lady? You gonna tell me all them people were wrong?”
“It’s possible they judged you too – harshly,” I said.
“You really think so?” she said. “Don’t you find it a little hard-to-believe that all them people were wrong about me?”
She took a drag on her cigarette, staring at me as she did.
I paused before answering, trying to find a way not to lie.
“I’ve discovered that the most hard-to-believe things can actually be true,” I said.
“Yeah?” she said. “Like what?”
“Like that a fly can talk,” I said. “And that a man can travel not only into fictional worlds but to the world beyond death and back again, and also into the past and back.”
“You’ve done all that?” she said.
“So it would seem,” I said. “Unless I hallucinated it all.”
She paused, staring at me, and then she flicked the cigarette to the floor. I resisted the urge to step on it.
“And what about this?” she said. “Is this a hallucination?”
And before I could leap away she got up off her barstool, took me by both arms, pulled me to her, and kissed me on the lips. This lasted for several seconds, and I confess the experience was not unpleasant.
Then she drew her face away from mine and looked up into my eyes.
“That’s for what might have been,” she said.
“Thank you?” I said.
“What might have been if you didn’t have a girlfriend. And if maybe I was a bigger goddam bitch than I am.”
“Um,” I said.
“Go,” she said.
“I mean, um,” I said.
She climbed back up onto her barstool.
“You heard me,” she said. “Scram.”
She turned and picked up a red plastic purse from the bar.
“Okay,” I said.
“Laughing Lou is waiting for you,” she said. She took out a compact mirror, and clicked it open. “Look at him over there.”
I turned, and it was true, Laughing Lou had stopped about ten feet away down the bar, still with his big arm in Horace’s. He took the cigar out of his mouth with the hand that held his bottle of Tree Frog ale, and he made a beckoning gesture to me.
“Well,” I said, “I’ll see you, uh –”
“Sure,” said Trixie. “Later, maybe.” She was looking at her lips in the compact mirror. She pressed her lips together, then ran her fingertip along the outside lines of her lipstick.
“Um,” I said.
“Now seriously, go,” she said. She snapped the compact shut, and dropped it back in her purse. She clicked the purse shut and then she looked at me. “I think Lou’s got a job for you.”
“Yeah, a job. You think he bought a couple of hard luck cases like you and Horace a round out of the kindness of his heart?”
“Well, I, uh –”
“We could have had something, Arnie,” she said. “You and me. We really could have had something. But ya know what? I think maybe this isn’t one of them kind of books. One of them books with true love. And romance. Too bad for me. And too bad for you. But who knows? Maybe, just maybe our paths will meet again. It all depends what kind of story this is. And like you said, that ain’t up to us.”
“Um,” was all I could manage, again.
“You got lipstick on your lips,” she said.
I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.
Then she swiveled around on her barstool just in time to grab up the fresh multi-colored drink that the bartender had brought over.
I left her, and, taking my bottle of Tree Frog ale with me, I headed back down the bar to join Horace and Ferdinand and Laughing Lou.
There was only one way to find out what kind of story this was going to be.
(Continued here, and onward, unrelentingly.)
(Illustration by Charles Copeland. Please look to the right hand column of this page to find a quite possibly current listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©.)