Wednesday, June 18, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven", Part Eighty-Two: Arnold Schnabel's great escape

August, 1963. Cape May, New Jersey.

Once again (go here to review our previous episode) our hero Arnold Schnabel finds himself in a potentially compromising situation with the attractive novelist Gertrude Evans, author of the classic melodrama of “beat” “hipster” Greenwich Village, Ye Cannot Quench (later made into a feature film directed by Larry Winchester, starring Sandy Dennis, Michael Parks and John Philip Law)...

At last Miss Evans seemed to have all her stuff collected and she walked up to me and said, “Do you think I’m frivolous?”

Even I know that if someone asks you if you think they’re anything less than perfect that the absolute last thing they want to hear is the truth.

So I said, “Oh, no, not at all.”

“You’re so kind,” she said, taking a step closer.

I backed up and hit the edge of the open door.

“Shall we go then?” she asked.

“Um, I think I’d better use the bathroom first,” I said.

It’s true to say that I had just then realized that I needed to urinate, but, more pressingly, I felt the need to escape from this woman, even if it was only for a couple of minutes.

I staggered backwards out the door, turned and quick-marched to the bathroom down the hall.

Inside I turned the bolt and stood for a moment with my back to the door. I was sweating again, and now I needed a cigarette more than I had all day, or all my life. I felt like I was about to be led to a firing squad. Didn’t they give the condemned man a cigarette with his blindfold?

I went to the bowl and proceeded to do what I had supposedly come in here for. This was the first time I had emptied my bladder since leaving the house that morning, and what with all the iced tea I’d drunk, special and otherwise, plus that one strong highball and one beer, it took a while, and as I stood there I had the strongest feeling that Miss Evans was standing right outside the bathroom door, waiting, listening. It was most disconcerting. I swear, if it weren’t for Elektra I would have decided just to let Miss Evans have her way with me and be done with it. After all, she was very attractive, physically anyway, and at least then I wouldn’t have to deal with the continual anxiety of running into her in the hallway. And here she was, waiting out there, listening to me peeing; waiting, for me.

What would she say, or do, when she saw that it was Daphne downstairs with whom I was going to the beach? What if she pulled a switchblade from that big beach bag and attacked Daphne, or me?

I finished my business, flushed the toilet, and, as it performed its usual symphony of a truckload of pots and pans being dumped down the side of a rocky slope, I washed and dried my hands.

I went to the door, but then I stopped. Was Miss Evans out there? I leaned the side of my head forward, listening, but I couldn’t hear anything.

I turned the bolt on the lock, as quietly as I could, then put my hand on the doorknob, but then I paused and put my ear even closer to the door.

Not a sound.

But that didn’t mean she wasn’t standing right out there, holding her breath.
I took my hand off the doorknob and went to the bathroom window. It was a casement window, open, with an adjustable screen in it. I took out the screen and stood it on the floor against the wall. I stuck my head out the window.

Running down the side of the house, just to the right of the window, was a drain pipe, fastened to the house by rounded brackets every four feet or so, both pipe and brackets painted many times over through the hundred and four years of this house’s history.

Directly below the window on the ground down there was a purplish-pink cloud of rhododendrons in full bloom.

I have experienced much insanity over the past seven months or so, but I must say that usually the insanity felt like something that was happening to me, that had descended upon me, rather than something I myself willingly chose to embrace. What happened next I’m afraid fell in the latter category.

I threw my towel through the window, and, without letting myself think about it too much, I climbed out after it. Halfway through it occurred to me that it might have been better to force myself out feet-first, but I didn’t feel like hesitating, so I continued to wriggle through the little window, while simultaneously reaching to my right with my left hand to grab ahold of the pipe.

With one last heave my legs came out and seemed to drop past me while I swung my right hand over to join the left on the pipe. Unfortunately the weight of my body and the force of gravity and the fact that I was neither Batman nor Spider-Man resulted in my hands bursting away from the pipe and my body falling backwards away from the house, and I saw the blue sky spinning above me and I caught what I presumed was my last glimpse of life, the upside-down fleeting image of the yellow-shingled, green-shuttered house across the way as I plummeted head-first, when suddenly I stopped just above the first floor windows.

Floating right before me, right-side up, meaning upside-down to my way of looking, was Jesus, in his khakis and old t-shirt, with his usual lit cigarette in his hand.

“Oh Arnold,” he said.

“I know,” I said.

“Is this any way to die? Jumping out of a third-storey window just to avoid walking to the beach with some goofy woman?”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I said.

He shook his head, I guess in bewilderment, put his cigarette in his mouth, reached out, grabbed me, and twirled me around so that I was now right-side up.

“All right,” he said. “Try to bend your knees and roll when you hit those rhododendrons.”

“I will,” I said, sheepishly, and I dropped without further ceremony into the shrubs and tumbled out onto the stone pathway.

I lay there on my back for a few moments. Above me I saw only that pristine blue sky.
I seemed to be okay. I pushed myself to a sitting position. I had a bruise along my right calf, and my swimming trunks were stained from the flowers I had just crushed.

I reached over, grabbed my towel, and got to my feet.

I tried to fluff up the rhododendrons, and I kicked some of the destroyed flowers under the bush.

Then I hobbled around to the front of the house, and went up the steps. I tapped on one of the cross-slats of the screen door.

“Daphne,” I said.

She was sitting in there, chatting with my mother and aunt, and Kevin was sitting next to her on the couch.

“Arnold,” she called, “how did you get out there?”

“I, uh, went out the side way,” I said.


Neither Daphne nor my kin questioned why I would come out the side way and all the way around to the front porch instead of just coming through the house from the starirway like a normal person. But then of course no one there thought me a normal person, and quite justifiably so.

I held the screen door open, Daphne got up, said goodbye to my mother and aunt and Kevin, and came out through the door past me.

“See ya,” I said to my family members, and I let the door close.

We went down the steps.

“You’re limping,” said Daphne.

“Yeah, I fell.”

“Are you okay to go swimming?”

“Sure, let’s go.”

I started to limp even faster. I was afraid that Miss Evans would come running out the door after us.

Daphne took my arm and we headed up Perry Street in that thick August sunlight.

I wondered how long Miss Evans would wait outside that bathroom door. But I couldn’t worry about that now.

(Go here for our next thrilling chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an exhaustive listing of links to all possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Joe Boyd Production.)


Unknown said...

This might be Arnold's best story yet. And Jesus! Never has He acted so life-affirming, Redeemer and Savior.
Give me a cigarette, please.

Anonymous said...

I used to have that Bluesbreakers album on vinyl. Wore it out.

Anonymous said...

My 6 year old cousin fell off a 30 foot cliff on our property when I was a kid and landed in a thick
cluster of rhododendron bushes. He was scraped up but otherwise unhurt.

Dan Leo said...

No cigarettes for you, Kathleen. Not even one!

I have to get that Bluesbreakers album, haven't heard it since my own worn-out copy disappeared ages ago.

Anon, suddenly Arnold's little adventure seems not so fantastic after all. I wonder if your little cousin perhaps had some help from Arnold's "friend"?

Anonymous said...

He skidded down the rock face, spinning slowly as he fell, then relaxed into a perfect "back float" position right before hitting the bushes. A cloud of thick dust exploded skyward upon impact and then a few seconds later he scampered out from below and ran back to the house wailing.

Dan Leo said...

Damn, Anonymous, that was poetry!

Unknown said...

Jesus is sounding more and more like "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski.

Dan Leo said...

"I'm the Dude. So that's what you call me. That, or Duder. His Dudeness. Or El Duderino, if,you know, you're not into the whole
brevity thing --"