Friday, May 2, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 71: the bluff

Previously in this critically-lauded memoir (“Does for diaries of madmen what the Beatles did for popular music” -- Harold Bloom) Arnold Schnabel and his friend the enigmatic naval officer Dick Ridpath found themselves in a seaside resort in 1890s France...

“Go back?” said Dick. “But we just got here.” He patted his pockets and came up with a silvery cigarette case. He popped it open. “Oh, look, we even have cigarettes. Care for one?”
“Okay,” I said. I picked one out. It was as thick as my little finger and as long as my ring finger. I patted my own pockets, looking for something to light it with. My trusty Zippo lighter was gone, but I found an ornate box of wooden matches.
I lighted up Dick and then myself. The tobacco was strong and harsh, and both of us coughed a bit. But I had to admit there was something about it I liked. You knew you were smoking something when you smoked one of these babies. You could almost feel the cancer cells popping up merrily inside your freshly blackened lungs.
We stared out at this pleasant seaside scene, Dick and I, for all the world two gentlemen in straw hats who actually belonged in this particular universe.
“You might have a point though,” said Dick, picking a dark and horsefly-sized shred of tobacco off his lip and flicking it away. “About getting back, that is.”
“Right,” I said.
“Your girlfriend — Alexa?”
“Elektra. Her name’s Elektra,” I said wearily.
“Right, Elektra,” said Dick. “She’ll be wondering where you are.”
“And Daphne will be wondering about you,” I said, thinking this might give him a nudge.
“Arnold, as long as there’s someone willing to be trounced by her at badminton I assure you I’m the furthest thing from her mind.”
“Yeah, well, anyway, we should probably be moving along.”
“Right," he said. "But look at these women. Fantastic.”
In the day’s waning light even more of the ladies had come out to sit or stroll on the terrace or to stand by the trelliswork fence gazing out at the sea which was now blazing up in the setting sun, and it’s true that with their delicate parasols and their hats blossoming like mad flowers and their voluminous dresses of rich reds and blues and greens and purples and with their light singing voices on the breeze they seemed like a garden that had become human.
“Don’t you just sort of want to meet a couple of these babes, Arnold? I mean, you know, just to chat a bit?”
“I don’t speak French well enough, Dick, and we really should get back.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” he said, wistfully, probably wishing his companion wasn’t a tight-assed old confirmed- bachelor usher from St. Helena’s. “So, how do we get back?”
I almost dropped my fat French cigarette.
“Dick, don’t you know?”
“Not really. It’s not as if I drop into Belle Époque France on a regular basis.”
“Oh, no.”
I just wanted to sit down. I wanted to go back to that table with Marcel and the little guy and start guzzling absinthe hand over fist.
“Now, don’t get upset, Arnold. We got here. There must be a way to get back.”
“Oh, no,” I moaned, ignominiously.
I thought: This is going to be just like when I first went nuts, except this time I won’t come back from it.
“All right,” said Dick. “Look, leave it to me. Here’s what we do.”
“Um, uh —” He was looking around, looking up, looking back down. “Um —”
Great. He had no idea.
I looked out at that sea and at the blotchy orange sun sinking down into it. I started walking across the terrace and over toward the fence.
“Hey, Arnold, wait up.”
I kept walking and Dick hop-skipped up until he was in step with me.
“Gonna check out the sunset, Arnold?”
I kept going. We reached the fence. Below it a rocky bluff sloped steeply down to a white beach with foamy surf lapping at it from the sparkling rich green sea. There was a gate over to the right, and it led to a zigzagging stone stairway going down the side of the bluff to the beach. I went over, opened the gate and went through. Dick followed me. We stood there on the other side of the fence, about four feet away from the verge of the bluff. I walked over and looked down. It was about a hundred  foot drop to the beach and almost straight down.
“Are you thinking of doing what I think you’re thinking of doing?” asked Dick.
“Yeah,” I said.
Well, Miss Evans had been bugging me about taking a great leap.
“All right, then,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
We both backed up to the fence.
“Count of three?” said Dick.
“No, let’s just do it,” I said.
“Okay then.”
We ran forward and leaped off the bluff, swooping down at first but then leveling off above the beach and the surf and the ships and boats and then up into the purple sky above that big orange setting sun.

Next thing I knew I was back standing on the first floor landing in Mrs. Biddle’s house, and Dick was standing next to me, still staring at the painting of the old-fashioned people, the sea and the boats.
“So, shall we go up?” he said.
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
Dick picked his beer bottle up off the little table and headed up the stairs, and I followed him with my beer bottle and my cigarette.
It was a fat cigarette, with dark brown strong tobacco, and it was neither one of Dick’s Chesterfields nor one of my own Pall Malls.

(Kindly go here for our next thrilling chapter. And please consult the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all currently recovered episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, an ongoing project of the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA. Donations accepted.)

Yeah, that Arnold, he's a rebel:


Unknown said...

Please, tell me the rest.

Anonymous said...

For a minute there I thought Arnold was bluffing.

Jennifer said...

For a moment I thought he was going to be able to travel through paintings!

I love that he brought something back.

It's the 86th of Martober and Spain has a king! Arnold is the king of Spain!

Anonymous said...

I was afraid that when he got back he'd find himself on the 6th floor of theTexas School Book Depository

Anonymous said...

I thought he would drop to his dead, ah well, for the good of the story it's best that he didn't, they didn't.

Dan Leo said...

Don't worry, Manic, good old Arnold's still got some stories to tell.