Saturday, August 23, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven,” Part 94: rain

Previously in this critically-acclaimed (“both longer than, and, frankly, a hell of a lot more readable than À la recherche du temps perdu” -- Harold Bloom) memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel went into Mrs. Biddle’s room and found himself on a plantation in the Philippines, circa 1933. As accepting of life’s vicissitudes as ever, Arnold takes tea with the lady on her second-floor veranda...

She paused, holding the pot.

“Darling, I just realized I don’t even know how you take your tea.”

“Don’t feel bad, I barely know how I take my tea myself.”



“One lump or two?” she asked. “Or honey?”

“What the heck, let’s go with honey. One teaspoonful.”

“That’s exactly how I take it,” she said.

She fixed our tea. I lifted my cup and tasted it: pretty good, actually.

“You like it?” she asked. “Tommy blends it himself. Assam and something else. And sometimes, yes, laudanum. But this —” she licked her lips appraisingly, “seems to be un-spiked. Or, if it is, it’s only just a teeny bit spiked.”

She put down her cup and saucer, took one puff from her cigarette and then stubbed it out in a large cut-glass ashtray.

“Here it comes again,” she said.

She was referring to the rain, which started just then with a smattering of fat drops exploding against the screening of the veranda, and which a moment later turned into an utter downpour, turning the outside world a dark streaming and clattering grey. The only illumination was from a handful of windows glowing like dying suns from the other buildings on the plantation, small blotches of dull swimming light in this submerged world.

“This damned rain,” she said. “Do you ever miss home? Philadelphia?”

“No,” I said, “not really.”

It was good to sit here drinking sweetened strong tea, out of the downpour, sitting with this beautiful lady. I took a bite of a sandwich. Chicken salad. And very good.

“This racket,” she said. “This rain. It sounds like all the heavens are crashing down.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’re not.”

“No, of course they’re not.” She put her hand, the one with a wedding ring on it, onto my knee. “You’re so strong, Arnold. So unflappable.”

“Not particularly,” I said. “These people who work on your plantation. They’re strong.”

“Yes, I suppose they are.” She lifted her hand, flexed and unflexed it. “And I suppose you think I’m horribly spoiled.”

“No,” I said.

“I do work you know. I’m up at seven every morning attending to affairs. Tommy oversees the fields and I deal with the house and the ordering and transport and everything else. While Jimmy drinks. Drinks and gambles. Drinks and whores and gambles.” She looked away, out at the downpour beyond the veranda’s screening. It was like being behind a waterfall. “Perhaps I’ve said too much,” she said.

“Oh, no,” I said.

I tried another sandwich. Pork I believe, also excellent.

“I’m horribly unhappy, Arnold. I no longer love Jimmy; and he has never loved me. He married me for my money, I know that now. But if I divorce him my mother will have a cow, an absolute cow. Catholic you know. And my father will be none too happy either, believe me, as Jimmy took all my money and sank it into this hellhole and it’s all in his name and if I divorce him I know he won’t give me a red cent. What should I do?”

I thought about this a moment, chewing my sandwich.

“Could you wait till Jimmy gets really drunk one day and then have him sign the property over to you?”

She held still for a moment, then took a sip of her tea.

She laid the cup and saucer down.

“That’s actually not a bad idea. I could arrange for our lawyer Dr. Rodriguez to be there, all ready with his contracts and stamps and pens. I’m sure he’d be happy to do it. Dr. Rodriguez is slightly in love with me you see.”

There was a small plate of cookies on the tray also, I hadn’t even noticed them before. I started to reach for one but her hand intercepted mine and pulled it to her breast.

“Feel this,” she said. “Can you feel my heart beating.”

I could, actually.

“Yes,” I said.

I started to pull my hand away, but, not only would she not let go of it, she pulled it under her décolletage and placed it on her right breast, all the while staring into my eyes.

“Um,” I said.

“Don’t you want me, Arnold?”

“Well, it’s just that —”

“Your little — friend?”

“Yes,” I said.

She continued to hold my hand on her breast.

“Persephone is it?”

“Elektra,” I said.

“Are you going to marry her?”

“I doubt it,” I said.

"Why not?"

"I wouldn't want to inflict myself on her," I said, in all modesty.

"Oh, yes," she said. "This alleged breakdown of yours."

"It's not merely alleged," I said. Her breast was warm, and moist, but I suppose no more warm nor moist than my hand was.

"I don't give a damn about your breakdown," she said. "Pardon my language."

"Of course."

Despite myself I felt those ancient stirrings down below.

“Wait, did you hear something?” she asked.

All I could hear was the clattering rain.

She pulled my hand away from her breast and laid it, my hand, on the table.

I reached over for one of the cookies, it looked like a butter cookie.

“Oh, dear,” she said, looking over my head.

Putting the cookie between my lips and biting into it — it was indeed a butter cookie, crispy and delicious — I turned and saw a large blond-haired fellow in a disheveled and wet white suit come out onto the veranda.

“Hello, Jimmy,” said Mrs. Biddle. “You’re back early. How nice. Do you know Mr. Schnabel?”

(Click here for our next suspenseful chapter. Be so kind as to look to the right hand side of this page, where you will find a listing of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, soon to be a budget-priced paperback manga from Ha! Karate Entertainment Corporation of Yokohama.)

Here’s another version of a great Serge Gainsbourg song, featuring the ever lovely Anna Karina: “Ne dis rien” -- “Don’t say anything”...


Unknown said...

This Mrs. Biddle has some nerve, setting up Arnold like that.

“Hello, Jimmy...You’re back early. How nice. Do you know Mr. Schnabel?”

Jennifer said...

I can't figure out if Arnold is a love god or a guru or just the convenient answer everybody uses to fill their blanks...

Unknown said...

"...the rain, which started just then with a smattering of fat drops exploding against the screening of the veranda, and which a moment later turned into an utter downpour, turning the outside world a dark streaming and clattering grey."
Perfect. I'm always there with Arnold.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, guys. Personally, I'm just wondering how Mrs. Biddle all of a sudden turned from being Bette Davis into Joan Crawford.

Unknown said...

Is that picture Joan Crawford?
We thought it might be Charles Ludlum (Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, et al)....

Dan Leo said...

Manny, yes, it is indeed La Crawford, from a movie titled (appropriately) "Rain".

You do not want to mess with this woman. But I think you already knew that.

Anonymous said...

Best ever