Thursday, October 23, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 106: it's all right

Cape May, New Jersey; August, 1963:

In our previous episode of this steamy banned-in-Wasilla memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel, having taken his friends into Pete’s Tavern in a desperate attempt to escape the terminally boring DeVores, has now fallen into the awkward situation of finding in this smoky bar no other than the hot-blooded novelist Gertrude Evans in the company of Arnold’s confessor, the long-suffering Father Reilly:

“What are you doing here, Arnold?” Miss Evans asked.

I’ve always had to wonder about this question, because it’s usually asked when it’s plainly obvious what one is doing. But I suppose I’m too harsh. People must say something, even when, as is often the case, they have nothing to say. And, now that I think about it, I myself have gone forty-two years on this planet with little or nothing to say, and yet I've never let that stop me from yammering nonsense night and day like everyone else.

At any rate, Miss Evans hardly gave me time to answer.

“Who is your little friend?”

She referred to Sister Mary Elizabeth, who was obliviously leaning over the jukebox and punching in songs like no one’s business.

“It’s uh --” somehow “sister” seemed like a bad idea, so I said simply, “Mary Elizabeth.”

“You certainly get around, don’t you, Arnold? I wonder if your Greek lady friend knows about this?”

“Well, no,” I said, probably a general “no”, as in no to anything Miss Evans might possibly say, including that I had a Greek lady friend.

“Men,” she said. “You’re so free. So wild. And so very dangerous.”

While this was going on I couldn’t help but notice Father Reilly sitting there looking as if he were trying to get rid of a bad case of hiccups by holding his breath. Occasionally he glanced up at Miss Evans, and at me, probably also at Sister Mary Elizabeth (it would have been hard not to, the way she was bending over the jukebox in her blue dress), and then back to his unfortunately empty glass.

“Oh! One of my songs finally!” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

Some fellows began to sing: “Say it’s all right.

Miss Evans put her hand on Sister Mary E.’s arm, and the sister straightened up and turned around.

“Hello,” said Miss Evans. “I’m Gertrude. A friend of Arnold’s.”

“Oh, hello,” said the sister. “Wait. You’re not his girlfriend, are you?”

“Oh my goodness no. So you know about her.”

“A little.”

“She’s quite the looker.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Greek,” said Miss Evans. “Hot blooded.”

“I thought she was Jewish,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth. She looked up at me. “Daphne told me she was Jewish.”

“Um --” I said.

“Oh but I’m being so rude,” said Miss Evans. “James,” she said, turning to Father Reilly, “you know Arnold, don’t you?”

The poor man now looked as if he were two heartbeats away from a fatal heart attack.

“I um uh,” he said.

The thing is, I knew who Father Reilly was from seeing him say the mass, but he only knew me from my disembodied voice in the darkness of the confessional, and as one of the nameless communicants kneeling at the rail and extending their tongues to receive the Host.

I decided on the spot to try to rescue him.

“I don’t think we’ve met,” I said, reaching down and putting out my hand. “Arnold. Arnold Schnabel.”

He put his hot soft wet hand in mine, and I shook it gently. It felt as if it would come right off with a good tug.

“I’m uh pleased to meet you,” he mumbled, and he withdrew his hand, looking around as if he were expecting the detectives to come in at any moment and slap him into handcuffs.

"James," said Miss Evans, "this is Arnold's friend Mary Margaret."

"Actually," said the sister -- she was now staring at Father Reilly, her head cocked to one side -- "it's Mary E-"

“You two must sit with us,” said Miss Evans.

"Um, uh, I," said Father Reilly, and he began to slide himself to the outside of the booth. “I really should run now,” he said.

“Oh no,” said Miss Evans, and she went over to stand by his side of the booth.

“No, really, Gertrude,” he said.

He halfway rose up in the booth, which is of course is as far as anyone can stand up in a booth.

She moved right up to the edge of the banquette. The only way he could get out now would be to shove her aside, knock her over, or climb over her.

“You said we could talk,” said Miss Evans.

“Yes, but, uh, I really --”

“Oh, no, I don’t believe it,” said Sister Mary E. She put her hand on my arm. “Look.”

I looked in the direction she was looking, toward the entrance. The DeVores had just come in, their heads swiveling in unison, and stopping when their eyes were in alignment with Tommy and Daphne, who were still deep in conversation with Charlie Coleman. Then the Devores cast their gaze methodically up along the crowded bar until they saw me. And they came.

“Oh, it’s those two” said Miss Evans. “The gang’s all here.”

What could I do? I was trapped. My only possible escape route was past the jukebox to where I saw the rest rooms were. But how long could I hide in the men’s room? No, I had to face the music.

In one second they were with us, very close to us, too close really.

“Arnold,” said Mr. DeVore, “we’ve been looking all over for you!”

“Yes!” said his wife. “We thought we’d try this folk novena.”

“Yeah, what happened?” said Mr. DeVore.

“Hello, Miss Evans,” said Mrs. DeVore.

“Hello,” said Miss Evans.

“Nice to see you, Miss Evans,” said Mr. DeVore.

“And you too,” said Miss Evans.

Father Reilly had finally given up and sat down again.

“So what happened to the novena?” asked Mr. DeVore.

“It was canceled,” I said.


“Yes. The priest got sick.”

I was really racking up the years in purgatory with all this lying, but it was too late to stop now.

“I hope he’s okay,” said Mrs. DeVore.

“Oh, I think so,” I said. “It was -- uh --”

“Summer cold?” offered Mr. DeVore.

“Yes,” I said.

“Summer colds are the worst,” said Mrs. DeVore.

This is another common saying that’s always bothered me. How are summer colds worse than winter colds? A cold’s a cold. But I thought it wise to let it pass.

“There was a novena?” asked Miss Evans.

“Canceled,” I said.

“So what are you doing here?” said Mr. DeVore, to me. That question again.

“That’s what I asked him,” said Miss Evans.

Mr. DeVore now turned his attention to Father Reilly.

“Hiya, fella. Bob DeVore,” he said, putting out his hand.

Now Father Reilly looked like he was going to throw up. But he lifted his hand, slowly, the way a little boy will lift his hand to a nun who holds a bronze ruler shoulder high, about to whack his palm with it for some bold malfeasance.

DeVore grabbed the father's hand and shook it vigorously, as if to get all the moisture out of it.

“And what’s your moniker?”

I think this is the first and only time outside of a movie or TV show that I’ve actually heard the word “moniker”.

(Continued here. In the meantime feel free to refer to the right hand side of this page where you should find an allegedly up-to-date listing of links to all other recovered chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, a Patriotic American™ Production.)

The Impressions:


Jennifer said...

Once again, the insane man is the sanest one in the room.

Anonymous said...

"DeVore grabbed the father's hand and shook it vigorously, as if to get all the moisture out of it."


Unknown said...

Anonymous, my favorite hand-shake description comes earlier: Arnold shakes Father Reilly's hand gently and:
It felt as if it would come right off with a good tug.

Unknown said...

It's all right, brother.