Friday, April 4, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Sixty-Five: Kierkegaard’s great leap into faith

When last we saw Arnold Schnabel (author and hero of these memoirs*) he had found himself yet again in a compromising situation with the hot-blooded young novelist Gertrude Evans, in a bedroom of the stately Biddle residence, in Cape May NJ, on an increasingly sultry night in August, 1963...

*”Like Proust except the sentences aren’t so long.” -- Harold Bloom

I said nothing. Not because I was trying to be the strong, silent type, but because I couldn’t think of anything to say, let alone something witty or profound.

Suddenly she grabbed the cloth of my shirt at my chest in both her hands and pulled me closer to her.

“Have you read Kierkegaard?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

I had heard the name, but it lay stranded somewhere between Kant and Knut Hamsun on that long list of authors I intended to get to when I found the time in my busy schedule.

“He speaks of a great leap. A leap into faith. Don’t be afraid to take that leap, Arnold.”

“It’s not the leap into faith that I’m afraid of,” I said.

“What are you afraid of?”

She stared deep and questioningly into my eyes, even though I’d just finished telling her it was her I was afraid of; I’ve noticed in life that with some people you just have to keep telling them something, perhaps with slight variations, until at last they get it through their thick heads that you actually mean what you say.

But before I could answer she answered for me:

“It’s me,” she said. “Isn’t it? You’re afraid of me. Why are you afraid of me?”

I didn’t quite know where to begin. But I did know there was probably no extremely gentle way to answer this question. So on the spur of the moment I decided to fall back on the time-honored recourse of babbling the first nonsense that came into my head.

“I’m afraid of your passion,” I said. “I’m afraid to take that leap because I fear it would be like leaping into some great dark lake. No, some great dark sea. A great dark warm, stormy dark sea. In which I would drown.”

“You’re such a poet,” she said.

“Well, I guess I’ll go get that drink of water now,” I said.

She hesitated only a fraction of a second before tightening her double fist-hold on my shirt front and pulling me around and then pushing me back and down onto a bed that I had only vaguely been aware was even there.

I lay back on the bed, looking up at her in the half-darkness. I became aware that Frank had started singing again, out on the porch:
Fly me to the moon
And let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars
She stepped closer to the bed, between my legs. She lowered one of the straps of her sundress off her shoulder, and a soft pale crescent of bosom appeared.

Moving like an Olympic gymnast I lifted my right leg up and to the other side of her, sprang to my feet and quickly sidestepped around her, heading for the door.

She grabbed my arm, again, and pulled me around to face her.

“Tonight, then. My room,” she whispered.

The loosened shoulder strap lay down at her elbow, and that side of her dress hung low, revealing more than enough of her to cause me to sigh.

Where was my friend Jesus when I needed him, I wondered.

“Right here, buddy,” he said.

And sure enough he was standing behind her in the shadows, glowing in his white shirt and trousers. He popped a cigarette into his mouth from a pack of Pall Malls, and shoved the pack back into his shirt pocket.
In other words please be true
In other words…
“You don’t have to look over my shoulder,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to look into my eyes.”

“Yeah, don’t look at me, Arnold,” he said, taking a lighter out of his pocket.

I looked into her eyes. She put her hand on my cheek.

“Or I could come to your room,” she said.

“Give her a break, Arnold,” he said. He lit the cigarette, clicked the lighter shut, took a drag. “Christ you can be a stick-in-the-mud.”

“Your poet’s garret,” she said. “I could creep away before dawn, and your mother and aunts would be none the wiser.”

“Miss Evans,” I said.

“Gertrude,” she said.

“Listen, Gertrude,” I said.

“I’m listening.”

“I’m leaping, but I’m leaping in the other direction.”

“So, tonight then?” she said.

It was as if I were speaking Chinese.

“You’re not speaking Chinese,” he said, with a grin. “But you are speaking with a woman.”
In other words please be true
In other words, in other words
I love you
I removed her hands, from my face and from my arm. Nevertheless she kissed me, warmly but briefly. She drew her face away from mine.

Her eyes were dark blue, gleaming and beckoning.

I noticed him smiling, nodding his head.

I turned, went to the door, opened it and went out.

I really needed a glass of water now.

(Whew! Click here for our next chapter. And turn to the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to other steamy episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™.)


Unknown said...

Kierkegaard's a good gambit for Gertrude. She sure needs something. And lessons from Lauren Bacall won't work, because she was in a class by herself.
Besides that leap of faith, Soren further helped us quivering types by reassuring us that anxiety was simply the dizziness of freedom.

Anonymous said...

"because I fear it would be like leaping into some great dark lake. No, some great dark sea. A great dark warm, stormy dark sea"

great touch adding the "warm" detail

Anonymous said...

this is a classic 22

Dan Leo said...

"The dizziness of freedom" -- a felicitous phrase which I'm sure Arnold would have appreciated.

And thanks, Anons.

Jennifer said...

Every once in awhile Arnold's memoirs have just a touch of the Three Stooges to them.

Dan Leo said...

Jen, I know. Or maybe a dash of 1930s screwball comedy à la Bringing Up Baby.

Cary Grant as Arnold? I'm thinking now of Cary with his dotty old aunts in Arsenic and Old Lace...

Jennifer said...

Yes, Arnold suits the farce genre. I remember one selection reminding me very much of "You Can't Take It with You".

The aunts from A&OL would be perfect. That's now making me think of "The Trouble with Harry".

Dan Leo said...

Ah, the Trouble With Arnold...

Jennifer said...

Ah, the Trouble With Arnold...

And Shirley MacLaine is already there!