Tuesday, October 28, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 107: cry, baby

Return with us now to a warm August evening in that forgotten year of 1963, to Pete’s Tavern, Cape May’s unique African American drinking establishment, to which our hero Arnold Schnabel has resorted with his friends in an unsuccessful attempt to escape the supernaturally mundane Mr. and Mrs. DeVore…

(A glancing acquaintance with our previous chapter will perhaps make today’s episode slightly more comprehensible, if no more plausible.)

Father Reilly retrieved his hand with a squishing sound from DeVore’s manly grasp.

The poor father seemed unable or unwilling to give his name or a pseudonym and so Miss Evans helped him out.

“His name is James,” said Miss Evans.

“Pleased to meet you, Jim,” said Mr. DeVore. “And what’s your game?”

“My -- game?”

I noticed that Father Reilly had a smudge of lipstick on the side of his mouth.

“What’s your line?” DeVore asked him. “I’m in insurance myself.”

“I love your dress, by the way,” said Mrs. DeVore to Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“It’s not mine,” said the sister.

Miss Evans’s attention was distracted by this brief exchange, perhaps because someone else’s dress had been complimented as opposed to hers. She eyed appraisingly Sister Mary Elizabeth’s dress, and, I venture, the small but shapely person who wore it.

Seeing an opening, Father Reilly suddenly slipped out of the booth, shoved past Miss Evans and rushed down the bar, this thin white man in a white short-sleeved shirt and grey slacks among all these happy dark-skinned people; he made it to the door and was gone.

“Well, what’s his problem?” said Mr. DeVore.

“You scared him away,” said Miss Evans.

“I did?”

“No matter,” she said. “Arnold, will you buy me a drink?”

“Um,” I replied.

“No, this round’s on me!” said Mr. DeVore.

“Come sit with me, Arnold,” said Miss Evans, and sliding into the side of the booth Father Reilly had just vacated she grabbed my arm and pulled me in after her.

“Sit down, honey,” said the male DeVore to the female one, giving her a little series of shoves, and she slipped demurely into the opposite side of the booth with DeVore bustling in after her and saying, “Squeeze in with us!” to Sister Mary Elizabeth, who had just finished inserting the last of her dimes into the jukebox.

“No thanks,” she said, and she headed back down the bar to Daphne and Tommy and Charlie Coleman.

“What a great bar!” said DeVore. “Where’s the waitress? Let’s get blotto!”

Miss Evans put her hand on my right thigh.

A new song came on the jukebox, a man singing, “Cry, baby!

Miss Evans whispered in my ear, “Am I a fool always to chase impossible men?”

“Yes,” I said.

“How dare you,” she said.

“What are you drinking, Arnold,” asked Bob DeVore. “How about Manhattans?”

“Make mine a double,” said Miss Evans.

“Doubles all around!” said DeVore, his face like that of a boy on Christmas morning unwrapping a brand new Flexible Flyer.

Miss Evans had now put her hand on my right forearm, gripping it so tightly I could see the veins on the back of my hand bulging and pulsing.

I felt at that moment that what little and precious sanity I had so carefully guarded and nurtured within myself for the past six months was now being sucked out of my very pores, that if I stayed at this table for very much longer I would be writing myself a one-way ticket back to a permanent padded cell in Byberry.

I slid back out of the booth, Miss Evans still holding onto my forearm.

“Where are you going, Arnold?”

“I’m uh going to get the waitress,” I said.

“Hurry back,” she said, and she released my arm.

“Yeah, tell that waitress to step on it, Arnold!” said DeVore, beaming with delight.

Mrs. DeVore said nothing.

I hurried back down the bar, flexing and unflexing the fingers of my right hand to restore its circulation.

When I got back to my friends I wasted no time.

“Listen, I told the DeVores and Miss Evans that I’m getting the waitress, but really I have to go.”

“Don’t go, Arnold,” said Daphne. “We’re having fun.”

“You people stay here and enjoy yourselves,” I said. “Sorry.”

“What should we tell them if they ask where you went?” asked Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“We’ll tell them you took ill,” said Tommy.

“Who they?” asked Charlie Coleman.

“Some very frightening people, Charlie,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Better hurry, Arnold,” said Daphne. “They’re all staring at you.”

“I feel guilty abandoning you all.”

“It’s not us they’re after, Arnold,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth. “Go, go to your lady friend.”

“Godspeed,” said Tommy.

I shook hands quickly with Tommy and Charlie, and without looking back I made a mad dash for the door.

Outside the evening was falling, and the sky which a quarter of an hour before had looked as if a box of crayons had been melted in it now looked like a great bowl of water into which a giant had spilled pale blue ink and then stirred with his fingers; the air was warm but fresh, blowing in from the ocean, smelling faintly of fried clams and beer. I cut across Jefferson Street, went past the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and across the parking lot. My leg was still gimpy of course, but I didn’t care. When I reached the sidewalk on the Ocean Street side I looked at my watch. Elektra had said to come by at around eight, and it was still only seven-thirty-two. I didn’t want to show up early and seem importunate or presumptuous, so I decided to walk or limp around and kill a little time. I went up the block to Washington and crossed with the light amid vacationers going out to dinner or to the shops and the bars. Across the street I looked back, and there, across the Acme parking lot and just leaving Pete’s Tavern, I saw Miss Evans in her silvery dress.

Averting my face I quickly ran up the steps of the church and in through those big doors again. I was thinking I could hide in one of the confessionals for a half hour or so until the coast was clear, but who should I see almost as soon as I entered the nave but Father Reilly on the aisle seat in the rearmost pew on the left.

(Continued here. And kindly look to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of links to all other possible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, named a “notable book of the month” by the Lapsed Catholics of America.)

The Libertines: don’t look back...


Jennifer said...

“It’s not us they’re after, Arnold,”

So much power and so little idea what to do with it.

Unknown said...

Once upon a time, I'd get in trouble for asking this, but no one in my memory ever paid me the courtesy of answering--So, Arnold, I'm counting on you.

Are priests allowed to make-out?

PS. "... the sky...looked like a great bowl of water into which a giant had spilled pale blue ink and then stirred with his fingers..."

It's enough to drown a person.

Jennifer said...

"... the sky...looked like a great bowl of water into which a giant had spilled pale blue ink and then stirred with his fingers..."

I meant to mention this one as well... it was one of those descriptions that was so perfect, you didn't even have to think about it, you just felt it.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of the embedded song link so you can listen to the "soundtrack" while reading the installment on a separate browser tab, but I ended up turning it off in the end because it distracted me from the great writing. I know people that read and listen to music at the same time just fine, but my brain is too tiny.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, Jen. Always a thoughtful comment from you.

Kathleen, we might get into your question about priests and making out -- stay tuned.

Anon, it's funny, I practically always listen to music while I'm writing, but, like you, I usually prefer to have quiet while I'm reading.

Unknown said...

Arnold has to learn to never look back.
But then, of course, he wouldn't be Arnold.

Dan Leo said...

True that, Manny.