We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel in the passenger seat of a red Jaguar XK120 being driven at high speed through the rainy streets of lower Manhattan by his new acquaintance “Miss Nadine”...
(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you have finally finished Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady, and are casting about for something even longer to read, then go here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 77-volume masterwork.)
“The attentive and persistent reader of Railroad Train to Heaven will discover perhaps sooner than later that Arnold Schnabel’s towering and massive chef-d'œuvre is so much more than what one of my students termed, ‘a mind fuck’.” – Harold Bloom, in the Soldier of Fortune Literary Supplement.
After she had dragged on the reefer four or five times I drew it away from her lips, but she took her right hand off the wheel and waggled her finger in a way that seemed to say, “More,” and so I put the reefer to her lips again.
All this time she continued to speed the car through that crashing torrent.
When she had taken a few more drags I pulled the reefer away, in a tentative fashion, and this time she allowed me to do so.
I glanced at the speedometer again, and wished I hadn’t, because it now read 75 mph. I still had the palm of my right hand pressed firmly against the polished wood of the dashboard, even though I knew how useless this pathetic maneuver was. No, any second now I would be flying headfirst through that windscreen, or maybe I would stay in the front seat but the entire front part of the car would rush back against me like a wave of steel and wood and shattered glass. Either way, the best that I could hope for would be an instantaneous death.
I decided that since I was going to die anyway, I might as well smoke some more of the reefer, and so I did, but only taking three or four drags, not ten or a dozen of them as this madwoman had done.
I was holding in the smoke, wondering if the breath that I exhaled it with would be my last when suddenly, without putting her foot on the brake, the madwoman yanked the steering wheel hard to the right, and I was thrown against the passenger door, the cats in the bag wailed, but louder and more shrilly this time, and I coughed up smoke, but I was alive.
Don’t ask me why, but after I straightened up I drew upon the reefer again, but just as I did so the crazy woman yanked the wheel to the right once more and this time the centrifugal force (if that’s what it’s called; I am after all a former railroad brakeman who didn’t get his high school diploma until he was twenty-two and in the army, I’m lucky I can even spell a word like centrifugal, let alone know what it means) or whatever it’s called sent me sprawling down into the footspace of the car, hitting my already bruised skull on the dashboard as I went down, and I just had time to think, “Well, this is it, I’m going to die at last, as senselessly as I have mostly lived, so goodbye to this world or any other world but the next and presumably final world this time.”
But obviously I didn’t die.
Instead suddenly the madwoman slammed her foot on the brake, and I think this may have been the first time her foot touched the brake since we had gotten in the car, the cats in the gunny sack squealed again louder than ever, and the car came to a stop, causing me to strike my head against the dashboard a second time, but on a different spot on my skull.
I turned and looked up at her as she calmly did something with the gear shift, switched off the wipers and the headlights, cut the ignition and removed the key.
Only now did she exhale the reefer smoke from her lungs, a great cloud which again almost entirely filled up the interior of the car.
“We’re here,” she said. “Sorry if I drove too fast for you. Are you quite all right?”
“I, um,” I said.
“I hope you didn’t drop the reefer.”
Amazingly, or maybe not, I still had the reefer between my thumb and finger. It had gone out, but I still had it. I held it up so that she could see it.
“Splendid. Put it in your pocket and we’ll save it for later.”
I obeyed her, as it seemed it was my fate to do, and put the reefer into my shirt pocket.
“Good boy,” she said. “Now get up out of there and be a darling and hand me my bag and my umbrella.”
I did as she asked me to, and I waited as she unfastened the little flap on the umbrella.
“Now,” she said, “press the button to lock your door and then scooch out my side and I’ll hold the umbrella so you won’t get drenched.”
I continued to follow her instructions as she got out of the car and opened her umbrella. She held it over me as I closed the car door. The rain was falling just as hard as before we got in the car, but in the light of a streetlamp I could see that we had parked in front of a big old-fashioned three-story brownstone house. It had tall arched windows, and a dozen steps led up to a wide covered entrance with a big double door. Gas lamps burned in black metal fixtures on either side of the doors.
I looked up and down the street, but because of the rain everything was shadowy, blurry, and vague. It all looked like a street in a dream.
“If you’re through gawking,” she said. “Let’s get out of this monsoon.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, because I had just had a horrible thought.
“Yes? What is it this time?”
“Where are we?” I said, yelled, in a sort of low-grade panic. I was too tired for a high-grade panic. “I mean, are we, where are we, are we –“
“We’re on Bleecker Street, silly. Corner of Fenno Place.”
“Oh,” I said.
“And this quaint old pile is my familial manse,” she said.
“Ah,” I said. “Okay. That’s good.”
She was standing quite close to me, holding the umbrella over both our heads.
“Why are you being so weird?” she said.
“Am I being weird?”
“Yes. Very. Why.”
“There must be a reason. Tell me.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Tell me, damn you.”
“Well, it’s just that –”
I couldn’t say it. I was used to sounding stupid, but this was stupid even by my standards.
“Spit it out,” she said.
“It’s just that I thought that, maybe, we were, that we were–”
“Do take your time.”
“I thought maybe we were – no longer in the, um –”
“No longer in the what, darling?”
“The world of the living?”
“I thought maybe we had crashed and, um, passed into the, uh, next world, or, um, one of the next worlds, or –”
“You thought we were dead?”
“Well, sonny Jim, we’re not dead. I hope you’re not terribly disappointed.”
I sighed, standing there with her under her umbrella in the rain. Her breasts were touching my ribcage again, and I felt a stirring in my allegedly procreative organ, which made me feel better, not the beginnings of an erection per se, but this manifestation of my corporeal state.
“You silly man,” she said. “But you’re a poet. And poets are perforce sensitive chaps, are they not?”
“I guess so,” I said.
“Now let’s stop this absurd badinage and go inside, we’ll simply catch our death out here.”
Taking my arm in hers she led me at a trot up the steps and into the entranceway, which had lions and snakes carved into it, maybe some other animals, I couldn’t tell you for sure, maybe next time I’ll take notes, if there ever is a next time.
She handed me the umbrella and I closed it up and re-buttoned it while she unlocked one of those massive double doors with matching bronze door knockers on them, the knockers molded in the shapes of cats' or more likely lions' or tigers' paws.
She got the door open and we went through into a foyer with lots of marble and dark wood and engraved mirrors and a tiled floor with an old rubber runner on it. An overhead light was on, but it threw only a dim yellow light.
The crazy woman closed the door and suddenly the sound of all that crashing rain was like a distant faint thrumming, like natives beating war drums deep in a jungle.
“Just shove the umbrella into that priceless but cracked Ming vase there, ha ha,” she said, and I obeyed. Of course I had and have no idea if the vase was a priceless Ming vase, but I can attest that it was cracked, and with a half-dozen or so other umbrellas and canes in it.
She took off her safari hat, which had gotten wet, and put it on a hatrack on the wall, on which hung six or seven other hats of various kinds, then she took her leather bag off her shoulder and dropped it onto a small table that was covered with yellowed lace.
She turned and looked at me. The ends of her hair had gotten wet, and little points of it adhered to her jaw and her neck like leeches.
“Oh, I smell a fire!” she said suddenly, and now I could smell fire too. “Don’t you just adore a fire on a rainy night, even if it is August?”
“As long as it’s a fire in a fireplace,” I said.
“Ha ha, you really are too much, Porter, or should I call you Arnold. That does seem to be the name your alleged buddies back there preferred to call you.” She put her hands on the lapels of my seersucker jacket and made smoothing and straightening motions upon it. “Which do you prefer, tough guy?”
“I really don’t care,” I said.
“Then I think I’ll call you Arnold, and do you know why?”
“No,” I said, in all honesty.
Now she began playing with my tie, tightening and then untightening the knot.
“Because,” she said, “if your friends call you Arnold then I want to call you Arnold too. Because I hope to be your friend.”
“Okay,” I said. It was getting hard to concentrate because now that she was standing close to me again my procreative member was following its own mad will and growing by the second.
“Do you think it’s possible for a man and a woman to be friends?” she said.
“I suppose so,” I said.
"A young attractive woman and a young attractive man?"
She tugged on my tie.
“Yes," she said. "‘Arnold’. I shall call you ‘Arnold’.”
“Okay,” I said.
“And what will you call me, Arnold?”
I couldn’t just come out and say that I only thought of her as “the madwoman”, or, rather, I could have, but it seemed less trouble not to, and so, after quickly searching the archives of my memory, I said, taking a slightly wild guess, because I was far from sure, “Maybelline?”
She tightened the knot of my tie, rather too tightly.
“Oh, come now, you scamp! Say my name.”
“Stop it, you jackanapes.”
“Heh heh,” I said. Maybe if I pretended I was joking she wouldn’t get upset.
“Now say my name,” she said.
She yanked on my tie.
“You do know my name, do you not?”
“Sure I do,” I said.
“Say it then.”
"Stop being an idiot and say my name.”
If I kept stalling maybe it would come to me.
“You mean your first name, right?” I said, trying to sound serious. “Because I don’t think you ever did tell me your last name –”
“Yes,” she said. “My first name.”
“Ah,” I said. Rather annoyingly I now had an almost full erection. “So you just want me to – say it?”
“Your actual first name?”
“What other name would I be talking about?”
“Well, I thought maybe you might want another, a special name, just for us. Because we’re friends.”
“That’s sweet, Arnold. But I am quite happy with my given Christian name.”
“So say it.”
“Well, uh –”
“You don’t remember it, do you?”
She tightened the knot of my tie, tighter.
“Of course I do,” I said.
"Then say it.”
She tightened the knot even further.
“It’s –” I had no idea. The thought of violence against a woman appalled me, but I realized I would probably have to resort to it, either that or consent to be strangled in this foyer. “It’s –”
“Nadine,” said a man’s voice.
“Nadine,” I said, and, thank God, Josh, the prince of darkness, whomever, she loosened the knot of my tie.
“Oh. Hello, Terence,” she said.
I turned and saw the man who had just spoken. He was a young tall pale fellow with shiny dark hair who looked remarkably like “Nadine”, and I determined to remember her name this time, Nadine, Nadine, Nadine.
“Who’s your friend?" said the young man. He wore a smoking jacket, and he was, in fact, smoking, a cigarette. And drinking also, he had a highball glass in his hand.
“It’s Porter Walker, the poet,” said Nadine, Nadine, Nadine. After one last tug she finally let go of my tie. “But his friends call him Arnold.”
“Hello, ‘Arnold’,” said the young fellow.
“Arnold, this is Terence,” said Nadine. “He’s my brother.”
“Hi, Terence,” I said. I took a step to one side, so that Nadine (Nadine) Nadine’s body would block my erection from the young man’s view, although I was pretty sure he had noticed it already.
“Would you like a drink, Arnold?” said this Terence. “Or are you and Nadine just going to shall we say get right to it.”
“Oh, Terence, don’t be a bore,” said Nadine, there, I’ll remember it now, I hope.
“I won’t be a bore if you won’t be a whore,” said Terence. “Ha ha. Don’t mind us, Arnold. We always carry on this way. So. Highball, old man?”
“Yes, Terence,” said Nadine. “Arnold will have a highball and I’ll have one as well.”
“Follow me, Arnold,” said Terence, and he turned around and started walking away.
“What a frightful beast,” said Nadine, taking my arm and leading me on, out of the foyer, following Terence across a great shadowy room filled with furniture from the 1880s. I was limping, because my knees had never stopped aching, and now I had an erection to deal with as well, but Nadine dragged me along, seemingly regardless both of my pain and the bulge in my jeans. “Terence is horrible I know,” she said. “But he’s my blood. A tainted corrupt blood, but it’s the only blood we have. I can tell he likes you.”
Terence turned his head slightly as he walked along and said, “I can hear every word you’re saying!”
He was heading toward some other dim room to the right, with a fancy archway over the entrance to it, and with faded thick purple drapes tied up on either side. I could hear voices from the room, but they sounded like television voices. Suddenly a young woman appeared from behind the drapes. She had dark blonde hair, and she was wearing what looked like silk or silky black pajamas. She was barefoot, and like Terence she was holding both a highball glass and a cigarette.
“Well, well, well,” said this dark blonde girl. She looked like Nadine also, but she somehow seemed more boyish than Terence. “Look what the cat’s dragging in.”
“Keep your hands off him, bitch,” said Terence. “Nadine saw him first. And I saw him second.”
“I assure you I have no interest in Nadine’s rough trade,” said the new girl.
“How dare you,” said Nadine.
“I’m only calling a spade a spade,” said the blondish girl. “So get off your high horse.”
We were now all standing awkwardly between the big room and the other room with the TV sounds coming from it. Or, come to think of it, I was the only one standing awkwardly, the other three all seemed relaxed enough.
“Hello, rough fellow,” said the new girl to me. The room behind her had more of the 1880s furniture and an enormous fireplace with a fire in it. I couldn’t see the television set, but I could see its bluish flicker on the furniture.
“Hello,” I said.
“The manners of my siblings,” said the new girl. “My name is Catherine but everyone calls me Cathy. What is yours? I’ll bet it’s something manly. Like Spike. Or Buck. Or F-”
“His name is Porter Walker,” said Nadine. “But he likes to be called Arnold, don’t ask why. And he’s not rough trade, he’s a poet.”
“Oh,” said the other one, Cathy, another name I had to try to remember. “A poet. That explains a lot.”
“It certainly does,” said Nadine. “Now let’s get some drinks.”
“Oh, goody,” said this Cathy girl. “Drinks.”
“Leave the drinks to me,” said Terence, sounding a little bored, and he went on into this other room, which was smaller than the first room but still bigger than the whole ground floor of the house I grew up in. Nadine had never let go of my arm, and now she pulled me along again, following Terence into the room. Luckily my erection had disappeared, for the time being.
The Cathy person stood to one side and let us pass, and as I passed she touched my backside.
I said nothing.
What could I say?
I wanted a highball.
(Continued here, and onward, come hell or high water and everything in between.)
(Kindly scroll down the right-hand side of this page to find what may be a reasonably current listing of all officially-published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets are now available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Summer Solstice Dinner at Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at Bleecker and the Bowery, featuring unlimited quantities of Bob’s famous “basement-brewed” house bock and “wurst ‘n’ kraut’ steam table. Musical entertainment provided by “Freddy Ayres and Ursula ‘n’ ‘Friends’”, with special guest “Magda” on vocals and the Hohner electric piano.)