We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the stately old Bleecker Street townhouse of his new friends the Belleforest siblings – Nadine, Cathy, and Terence – on this long rainy night in August of 1957...
(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you are one of those who find Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu to be a bit on the terse side for your tastes, you may click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume masterpiece.)
“A question I am often asked in re Railroad Train to Heaven: ‘Is it “fact” or “fiction”?’ To which I can only reply that as far as I am concerned every word of Arnold Schnabel’s towering chef-d'œuvre goes way beyond questions of mere fact or fiction – way, way beyond, into that rarest of all realms: the realm of Truth, with a capital T to be sure.” – Harold Bloom, from the “Introduction” to his Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven: an Abridged and Illustrated Version for Younger Readers (the Olney Community College Press).
“Arnold,” said Nadine, “stop being so weird and sit back down.”
“Yeah, you big weirdo,” said Cathy.
The both of them were yanking on my arms like bell ropes, but I kept myself standing, leaning forward as if into a stiff wind.
“Please,” I said. “Let me go.”
“You know you could stay for just a little bit longer, buddy,” said Terence, “after we went to all that trouble fixing you up such a nice little tray of food and all.”
“Yeah,” said Cathy. “Show some consideration, you big dope.”
“And what about my poetry?” said Nadine. “You’ve hardly read any of it.”
“Ha ha. Oh. I get it now,” said Terence. “Ha ha.”
“Ha ha what exactly?” said Nadine.
“Ha ha he read some of your alleged poetry, that’s what exactly,” said Terence.
“Ha ha,” said Cathy. (This whole family, including the colonel in the painting, had this annoying way saying “ha ha”. I can’t explain it, so I won’t try.) “Who can blame him for wanting to run screaming into that tempest out there? Ha ha.”
“How dare you two,” said Cathy. “Arnold said he liked my poetry – or at least he likes what he’s read so far, don’t you, Arnold?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” I said.
“See?” said Nadine. “So there! What do you two illiterates know about poetry anyway?”
“I know it’s intensely boring,” said Terence.
“Especially Nadine’s,” said Cathy. “Ha ha.”
“My poetry is not boring!” said Nadine. “Arnold, tell them my poetry is not boring!”
“It’s not boring,” I said, “but I really have to go. Look, I promise I will come by some other time and read your poetry."
I have told thousands of lies of varying degrees in my life, but with that last sentence I think I really outdid myself. I didn’t fool the old colonel though, because he immediately said just one word:
“I’m not lying,” I said, doubling down on my duplicity.
“No one said you were lying,” said Terence. “Although truth to tell now that you mention it you do sound rather as if you’re telling a great big fib, and not doing a terribly good job of it either I might add. Ha ha.”
“I’m really not lying,” I said, tripling the lie. “It’s just – it’s just – now that I’ve eaten those hashish brownies I just know that if I stay here I might never escape.”
“Escape?” said Nadine.
“That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think?” said Terence.
“I wish I could escape,” said Cathy. “Take me with you, Arnold!”
She tugged particularly hard on my right arm.
“Arnold’s not taking you anywhere, dearie,” said Nadine. “Are you, Arnold?”
“No,” I said.
“Gee,” said Cathy.
“Ha ha,” said Terence. “Shot you right down, sis.”
“You can be awfully cruel, Arnold,” said Cathy.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t mean to be.”
“He’s cruel to me, also,” said Nadine.
“I’m sorry for that, too, N-”
Once again her name escaped me. And I don’t know why, but once again the colonel helped me out, and whispered but in a loud sort of way:
“I’m sorry, Nadine,” I said, trying to sound sincere, and as if I hadn’t forgotten her name again.
“If you wouldn’t behave in such a beastly manner you should not have to be so repeatedly sorry,” she said, giving my arm a good tug.
“Please let go of my arm,” I said.
“I think the thing of it is,” said Terence, “is that friend Arnold’s just a leetle bit paranoiac from this weed.” He still held the reefer, but it had apparently gone out. He took a lighter from his smoking-jacket pocket, and relit the reefer before continuing. “And the thought of how high he is going to be in a few minutes, after gobbling up all those hash brownies,” he said, holding in the smoke, “is making him even more paranoiac.”
He exhaled the smoke, sending the cloud in my direction.
“Is that it, Arnold?” said Cathy, pulling on my arm with one hand as she took the reefer that Terence was proffering her. “Are you paranoiac?”
“I would say no more than the average person,” I said. “Not that I am qualified to say how paranoiac the average person is. I am however, it is true, afraid of still being here when those brownies take effect, and if that’s being paranoiac, then so be it, but –”
“Boring,” said Terence.
“A little,” said Cathy.
“Just a tad,” said Nadine.
“Boring as shit,” said the colonel in the painting.
“I know,” I said. “I’m boring myself actually, but nonetheless I am asking you –”
What was the one sister’s name, the one to my right?
“Cathy,” said the colonel, whispering.
“I’m asking you, Cathy, and you –”
I turned to Nadine but my brain went dead again, there was only a great yawning void where her name should have been, but for what must have been at least the fourth time the colonel came to my rescue, I don’t know why, I suppose he found all this amusing –
“Nadine!” he hissed.
“I’m asking you, Nadine, and, uh, –
“Cathy!” yelled the colonel.
“I’m asking you and Cathy to please let go of my arms and let me leave," I said. "Because I’m afraid.”
“But you’re perfectly safe here,” said Nadine. Cathy had “toked” I believe the word is, liberally, and Nadine with her free hand took the reefer. She toked herself, and deeply, before continuing. “You can even sleep over if you like,” she said, holding in the smoke. Then she exhaled a great cloud of warm redolent reefer smoke up into my face. “We have loads of spare rooms.”
“Oh, like you want him to stay in one of the spare rooms!” said Terence. “Ha ha. That’s pretty thick.”
“You could sleep in my room, Arnold,” said Cathy. “We could just cuddle.”
“Look,” I said, “I’ll tell you all right now that I very much appreciate the offer, but I am definitely not staying the night here.”
“Oh, dear,” said Terence.
“Here,” said Nadine. Continuing to hold onto my arm with her left hand, she reached up with her right hand and held the reefer to my lips. I was in such a distracted state I did the last thing I should have done, I “toked” on the reefer again, repeatedly, filling my lungs with smoke.
“This is better than a minstrel show,” said the colonel. “Ha ha! I mean, really fucking hilarious. Hey, Arnold, sing us a song. You know ‘Camptown Races’? How about ‘Jimmy Crack Corn’?”
I stared up at him. The reefer, and I suppose also my general distressing circumstances, and the dubious state of my sanity, had affected me in such a way that I felt it incumbent upon myself to answer him seriously.
“I’m not sure if I know all the words to ‘Camptown Races’,” I said, after I had emptied my lungs of the smoke.
“What about ‘Jimmy Crack Corn’?”
“I might know some of the words to that one,” I said.
“He’s lost his mind,” said Terence.
“Yeah,” said Cathy, who now had the reefer again, and was partaking of it, “it’s like he’s talking to Great-Grandfather’s portrait.”
“Oh, he is, I think!” said Nadine. “I forgot to tell you two. He’s able to speak to and carry on conversations with Great-Grandfather Belleforest!”
“Well, that’s, um, unusual,” said Terence.
“I think it’s really neat,” said Cathy. “What are you talking about with him, Arnold?”
“Well, he asked me if I could sing ‘Camptown Races’ or ‘Jimmy Crack Corn’,” I said. “And I told him I wasn’t sure if I knew the words to ‘Camptown Races’.”
“What about ‘Jimmy Crack Corn’?” said Terence. “By the way, pass the reefer, Cathy.”
“I might know at least some of that one,” I said. “I probably couldn’t be sure until I started singing.”
“Sing for us!” said Nadine.
“Oh, yes, please do,” said Cathy.
“Yeah, sing a song,” said Terence, dragging on the reefer. “’Jimmy Crack Corn’!”
I had another one of my brainwaves at this point, but not one of my best ones.
“If I sing the song,” I said –
“’Jimmy Crack Corn’!” said Cathy.
“If I sing ‘Jimmy Crack Corn’,” I said, “will you let me go?”
“No one’s preventing you from leaving,” said Nadine.
“But you and Cathy are holding on to my arms,” I said.
“Ha ha,” said the colonel in the painting. “Ha ha, oh Christ. Sing, you fool! Sing for your supper!”
That was humiliating. To be honest, I think I really had been on the verge of singing ‘Jimmy Crack Corn’, or at least as much of it as I could remember, but now my pride was hurt.
“Well?” said Cathy, she had gotten the reefer back from Terence, it had gotten much shorter but it was still going, “are you going to sing ‘Jimmy Crack Corn’, Arnold?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve changed my mind. Instead I’m just going to leave here, even if I unfortunately have to drag you and – uh –”
“Nadine!” hissed the colonel.
“Even if I have to drag you and Nadine along as you hang onto my arms, I intend to leave.”
“But my poetry!” said Nadine. “You promised, Arnold! You promised to read my poetry!”
“I did read some of it,” I said.
“A dozen or so lines! That doesn’t count!”
“It’s all he had to read,” said Terence.
“Ha ha,” said Cathy. “Here, Arnold, take another toke.”
She held what was left of the reefer up to my lips, and, incredibly, I know, I drew upon it. It was as if my insanity were feeding upon itself at this point.
“Give me that roach,” said Nadine, “before Arnold burns his lips.”
She took that last little nubbin of reefer from Cathy’s fingers and dropped it into the nearest ashtray.
“Give it up, Arnold,” said the colonel. “You’re never getting out of here.”
“Yes I am!” I said, exhaling smoke and coughing.
“What?” said Terence.
“Yeah, what?” said Cathy.
“He’s talking to Great-Grandfather again,” said Nadine, “aren’t you, Arnold?”
“Yes,” I said.
I tried to pull my arms away again, but the sisters just wouldn’t let go.
“What did Great-Grandfather say this time?” said Cathy.
“He said I’m never getting out of here.”
“Ha ha,” said Terence.
“Oh, the hell with it,” said Nadine, and at last she let go of my arm. “Cathy, let go of Arnold’s arm.”
“But I don’t want him to go!” she said. “He’s ever so amusing.”
“I know he is, but if he wants to leave we must let him do as he pleases.”
“Oh, okay,” said Cathy, and finally, she too let go of my other arm. “But I’m terribly disappointed in him.”
“So am I,” said Nadine.
“Me too,” said Terence. “He’s quite the most amusing creature you’ve dragged in out of the rain, ever.”
“But I just want you to know I am very crushed, Arnold,” said Nadine. She picked up her can of beer and took a swig. “Terribly, terribly crushed that you won’t read my poems.”
“That was pretty shitty,” said Terence. “I mean to tell someone you’re going to do something, then wolf down a lot of food and swill a lot of beer and then just stand up and announce that you’re leaving – I mean, I know, I know, poète maudit, I get that, but still –”
“Trampling on my feelings,” said Nadine.
“I hate to pile on,” said Cathy, “but I concur. You are being a bit of a dick, Arnold, you should excuse my French, ha ha.”
“Maybe I should just toss my poetry into that fire,” said Nadine. “Maybe I should throw myself into the fire.”
“Look,” I said, deciding on the spur of the moment just to go ahead and tell the new most outrageous lie I had ever told in my life, but the only problem was I was about to address Nadine, and her name again came up a total blank in my brain. Quickly I looked up at the colonel for help, and smiling, he mouthed her name, without actually saying it, but I was able to read his lips. “Nadine,” I said, “I swear, by all that’s good and holy, on my life, on my honor, I swear I will come back here sometime and read your poetry.”
“Really?” she said. “When?”
“Oh, anytime,” I said.
“What about tomorrow?” she said.
“Tomorrow sounds good,” I said, sinking deeper and deeper into a dark murky vat of lies and broken promises.
“Shall we say about four then?” said Nadine. “We’ll have cocktails, and I’ll have Mrs. Murphy prepare some nice hors d'oeuvres.”
“That sounds good,” I said.
“No need to dress, we’re very informal about the cocktail hour here.”
“Okay,” I said.
“But tomorrow may never come,” said Cathy.
“That’s true,” said Terence. “What if someone drops an A-bomb?”
“What if a death ray from outer space incinerates the entire planet?” said Cathy.
“My siblings have a point, Arnold, dear,” said Nadine, after just a slight pause.
“Listen,” I said –
“Hey,” said Terence, “I just realized the TV is turned off. Who turned it off?”
“Arnold did,” said Nadine.
“I was watching that movie!”
“Oh, as if you care,” said Nadine. “All you do is lie around and watch television. Why don’t you get a job?”
“Why don’t you get a job?” said Terence, and he slipped off the couch and headed for the Philco.
“I have a job,” said Nadine. “I am a poetess!”
“Poetess, schmoetess,” said Terence, and he switched the TV back on.
“Terence,” said Cathy, “will you be a dear and open me another beer can?”
“Helpless,” said Terence.
“Open me another, too,” said Nadine.
“Helpless and helplesser,” said Terence, but he went over to the coffee table and opened cans of Rheingold and handed them to the girls.
“What about you, Arnold?” he said. “Another Rheingold?”
“No thanks,” I said.
“Oh, right, you’re leaving supposedly. Well, I’ll have another, thank you very much,” he said, and he opened one for himself.
The grey silent blankness of the TV was being replaced by humming sounds and flickering images expanding from the center of the screen, and the sounds became people’s voices and music, and the images coalesced into the living, sweaty, black-and-white face of Dan Duryea.
“Hey, buddy!” he said. He seemed pretty drunk. “Good to see you again! Come on over!”
I don’t know why, but I looked up at the colonel.
“Don’t look at me,” he said. “It’s your life. Do what the fuck you want to do.”
And I don’t really know how I did it, especially with my badly damaged knees, which had been growing progressively more painful ever since I stood up, but all at once I leapt right over the coffee table, throwing myself with arms outstretched straight before me, like a diver, or like Superman, directly towards the television screen.
(Continued here, and for no one really knows how long if more caches of Arnold’s neatly handwritten copybooks keep turning up under piles of old magazines in basements and tool sheds.)
(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find what the editor hopes is an up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets are now available for the Autumn Walking Tour of Arnold Schnabel’s Cape May, culminating in a “Beef ‘n’ Beer Bash” at the VFW, entertainment provided by “Freddy Ayres ‘n’ Ursula ‘n’ Friends”, featuring the vocal and Hohner electric piano stylings of the lovely “Magda”!)