Our hero Arnold Schnabel’s companion that sadly forgotten giant of literature Horace P. Sternwall (Big Gun for a Little Lady, The Young and the Damned, etc.) has been reading aloud from his oddly-obscure classic of forbidden passion, Slaves of Sappho…
(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; go here to return to the first chapter of Slaves of Sappho. The idly curious may click here to return to the far-off misty beginnings of Arnold Schnabel’s Gold View Award™-winning memoir Railroad Train to Heaven©.)
“To enter the world of Arnold Schnabel is to step into a world that contains infinite worlds, and, yes, worlds within those worlds. And so on.” – Harold Bloom, in the AARP Literary Quarterly.
And what a night it was! The Lobster Thermidor was as delicious in its own way as the oysters, although somehow not quite so – what was the word? Transgressive? One of those words everyone had used with great abandon at Barnard but which Missy had heard not once after she graduated and entered the awful and humdrum so-called “real” world…
And after the lobster and haricots verts (with bacon bits! what a marvelous idea!) had come Cherries Jubilee, another first for Missy, and all of it washed down with the genuine French pink champagne, something Chad had never bought for her, the big cheapskate.
And then there was the matter of Muriel’s foot, her bare foot with its probing toes, at intervals sliding up between Missy’s legs and eventually going to a place that no one had ever gone before in Missy’s twenty-two years, excepting the gynecologist.
She knew it was wrong, technically wrong anyway, to allow Muriel to do what she was doing, what her toes were doing. But – here was the thing – wrong or not, it felt good! It felt divine in fact. How could anything which felt so divine be wrong?
The only thing was the moisture produced. That was a little embarrassing. But there again, why should she be embarrassed? No one could see anything. At least she hoped nothing would be visible when she stood up. But just to be on the safe side, she opened her little black purse and took out her handkerchief, pretended to dab her nose with it, and then surreptitiously placed it beneath her private parts, where it could absorb any dampness that might have made its way to the material of her month’s-wages-even-with-her-staff-discount lovely Chanel work dress.
After the cherries she suddenly felt extremely sleepy, even though Muriel had ordered coffee with the dessert.
“Oh, gosh, Muriel,” she said. “This has been so much fun, but I’m so sleepy! I think I’m going to have to go home to bed!”
“You can always stay over with me here in the hotel,” said Muriel. “I have an extra-big bed. An eiderdown featherbed. It’s ever so soft and comfortable.”
“But I don’t have a nightgown, or anything,” said Muriel.
“You can borrow a pair of my pajamas,” said Muriel. “Of course they’ll be a little big for you, but, you know, roll up the cuffs and the sleeves, you’ll be fine.”
“I’d hate to impose.”
“No imposition, really. Love to have you.”
“My flatmates will wonder what happened to me.”
“Phone them up.”
“We don’t have a telephone.”
“Are you telling me none of those girls ever fails to come home at night?”
Missy thought about this.
“You know something, Muriel, they always stay out all night, I mean, not always, but quite often!”
“Well, there you go,” said Muriel. “So now it’s your turn, darlin’.”
“You know something else, Muriel, you’re right! It is my turn! Oh, but wait.”
“I don’t have a toothbrush!”
“Newsstand out in the lobby, they have toothbrushes.”
“This is a hotel, Missy. A very respectable hotel, but still.”
“But you’re really sure I won’t be intruding?”
“Not at all. It will be our own little slumber party.”
“We used to have those at Barnard!”
“I’m sure you did, honey.”
“They were so much fun,” said Missy, and then, after a pause, “sort of.”
“Only sort of?”
“Well, the thing is, the girls invariably always got so – so tedious –”
“Oh, really. In what way?”
“Oh, you know – talking about boys, men, boys – and these were educated girls, Barnard women!”
“Well, what are you gonna do, honey? Women are women, even if they do read Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. You know what?”
“Sometimes I wished I was a man.”
“Yeah. Just so’s I could have the freedom, y’know?”
“I do! I do, Muriel! I wish I could be free like a man!”
“Men don’t give a damn. Do what they please, and the devil take the hindmost.”
“I know! Whereas we women, everyone always says, oh, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, that’s not ladylike – and then you go to a good college –”
“Yes, you go on scholarship to Barnard, get a degree in French literature – and all you can do is work at the stupid cosmetics counter at Macy’s.”
“The economy’s tough, honey. Or so they tell me.”
“I’m hoping I can get a job teaching French at a high school, but it’s hard to get in –”
“Oh, dear God.”
“Teaching high school? Doesn’t that sound dreadful?”
Missy thought about it a moment.
“You think so?”
“Well, each to his own.”
“But – what else could I do?”
“Let me see.” Muriel tapped the ash of her Herbert Tareyton into the ashtray. She must have smoked at least ten of them so far this evening, and had even sent the not-so-old waiter, who was named Felix, over to the bar to get her a fresh pack. “Oh, I know,” she said. “How about translating?”
“Gee,” said Missy, “that must be really hard to get into. Don’t you have to know someone, or –”
“I have some contacts in publishing,” said Muriel.
“Friend of mine publishes paperback translations of French novels.”
“Specialized French novels.”
“Specialized in what way?”
“I’ll be honest with you, Missy. Some might call it pornography.”
“Certain prudes would, yes.”
“Gee, I don’t know.”
“I’ll give my publisher pal a ring.”
“Do you think he would hire me?”
“It’s a she.”
“She would hire me?”
“You read French, right?”
“She’ll hire you, especially if you work cheap.”
“I’ll work cheap. Anything has to be better than selling lipstick and foundation and mascara all day.”
“Consider it settled then. I’ll give her a buzz tomorrow, set up an appointment for you.”
“Aw, gee, why are you so nice to me, Muriel?”
“Because I think you’re sweet, honey. You want to go up and hit the hay now?”
“It’s funny, but now I feel so wide awake all of a sudden! I don’t think I could get to sleep. Do you have a Monopoly board, or Scrabble? Or if you have a radio we could listen to some music. Do you like classical?”
“Sure. But you know what? It’s early yet. Let’s blow this joint and hit another dive.”
“Oh, but I couldn’t drink anymore. Maybe we could just walk around and look in the shop windows.”
“Sure, we could do that,” said Muriel, and she looked away, towards the bandstand, where Lily LaRue was singing “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis”.
“Or we could go to a bar,” said Missy. Muriel turned and looked at her. “I mean, if that’s what you would like to do, Muriel.”
“Yoo hoo, Felix!” called Muriel abruptly, waving her hand at the not-quite-elderly waiter named Felix who was staggering by with a tray of drinks. “Could we have the check over here?”
First they went to the Minetta Tavern, then to the White Horse Tavern, then to the Village Vanguard, where Muriel introduced Missy to a Negro pianist apparently named “Felonious”, and then to the San Remo, where Muriel said, “Okay, one more stop.”
“One more stop?” said Missy. She was wide awake now because at the Village Vanguard Muriel had come back from the ladies’ room with a couple of pink pills in the palm of her hand and had told Missy to take one while she took the other one, and they had, washing them down with gulps of Tom Collinses, and after that Missy had felt as wide awake as she had ever felt in her life.
“One more stop,” said Muriel. “We’ll hit the Kettle of Fish up the street, one and done, and then head home.”
“I’m having such a great time,” said Missy.
Muriel gave her a little kiss on the cheek.
They left the bar, it was at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal, and they turned up MacDougal, walking arm in arm. It had been raining off and on all evening, and the sidewalk and the street were wet, almost flooded.
“I just love it when it rains in the city,” said Muriel. “Don’t you?”
“Gee, I don’t know, I always thought I didn’t like the rain,” said Missy. “Because your shoes get ruined, and it makes my hair frizzy, and you have to remember to carry an umbrella, or wear a raincoat –”
“But look at that,” said Muriel, and pulling Missy to an abrupt halt, she turned and made a backhanded wave at the gutter with her free hand, the one that held a Herbert Tareyton almost smoked down to its cork tip.
“What?” said Missy.
“Look at that rainwater, just coursing along the gutter there, with all the colors gleamin’ in it, reflecting the street lights. That there is beauty.”
A crushed Old Golds cigarette packet came floating by.
“Oh, my God, Muriel, you’re right,” said Missy. “It is beautiful!”
“Yeah,” said Muriel. She took one last drag off her Herbert Tareyton, and then flicked it down into the gutter water, where it fizzled out and then drifted away. “You know what else is beautiful?” she said.
“The gleaming wet street, and the sidewalks?”
“Well, that, but you know what else?”
“To be young, and alive?”
“You’re getting warm, but that’s not what I was thinkin’ of.”
Muriel looked up and down the street, and then without a word she pulled Missy into the dark entranceway of a nearby tailor shop. “What is it?” said Missy.
Muriel had her great big leather bag hanging on her shoulder, but now she let it drop to the pavement. She took her arm away from Missy’s, but then put both her arms around her waist.
“It’s you,” said Muriel. “You’re beautiful, darlin’.”
“Aw, gee, do you really think so, Muriel?”
“I know so,” said Muriel, and she pulled Missy closer.
“Gee,” said Missy. “I wish Chad would have held me this way.”
“Forget about that little ol’ pansy.”
“You’re right, Muriel. I should –”
“Now kiss me.”
“That’s right, darlin’.”
“You mean as if you were a boy?”
“Now you’ve got the idea.”
“But, Muriel, I’m not a – a –”
“Yes. I mean, no. I’m not one. A lesbian.”
“Tell me something.”
“Does this feel good?” And Muriel did something with her hand that no one had ever done to Missy before in her life, not even herself. Two minutes later Muriel asked again: “Feel good?”
“It feels divine,” whispered Missy.
“Now kiss me.”
“Gee, do you really think we should?”
“Never been more sure of anything in my life.”
And Muriel lowered her lips to Missy’s, and Missy rose up on her toes, dropping her little black purse and putting her own arms around Muriel’s thin but muscular waist.
Two men stood not far away on the sidewalk, watching the two girls kissing in the shadows. The one man was about forty, wearing an old grey fedora, a worn brown leather jacket and rumpled work trousers. The other man was about a dozen years younger, and he wore a soiled and wrinkled seersucker jacket over a plaid work shirt and faded blue jeans. Both men wore scuffed work shoes, but they didn’t look like workmen. The older man was smoking a cigarette. A fly buzzed lazily around just above their heads
“Wow,” whispered the older man. “You checking out this action, Arnold?”
“Yes,” I said.
(Continued here; the end is still nowhere in sight.)
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