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“Oh, Christ,” I said.
“Arnold, please,” said Josh, in a slightly quietened voice, “call me Josh.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“You look upset. Is it because I ordered you an Old Fashioned?”
“No,” I said. “I mean, it’s true I don’t want an Old Fashioned --”
“Would you prefer just a glass of beer?”
“No, Josh, thank you. Look, do me a favor,” I was whispering, probably in a very suspicious manner, anyway I could see Beroosha and Manbootha or whatever their names were tilted toward us, smiling stiffly, their ears quivering as they tried to hear what Josh and I were saying, “do me a favor and just turn sort of naturally the other way and lean forward a bit and tell me who you see talking to my friend Dick down there at the other end of the bar. But don’t turn suddenly.”
“You told me you didn’t know the guy.”
“I said that because he was turned away. But just now I saw his face.”
“Wait, it’s not that bastard Lucifer again, is it? Did he follow us here?”
“No, Josh, it’s not Lucifer. Just look, but do it unobtrusively. Say something or other to these ladies.”
Josh turned the other way, saying as he did, in a hearty fashion, “Well, where’re those libations?”
“Libations,” said Berooga. “You are so cute.”
“Too cute,” said Muranna.
“Here you are, sir,” said the bartender, arriving with a tray with the drinks.
“Well, thank you, Jerry,” said Josh. “What do I owe you?”
“On the house, sir,” said the bartender, deftly dropping a coaster in front of each of the four of us.
“Well, thank you very much, Jerry,” said Josh.
“My pleasure, Josh,” said the man, laying the drinks down and then backing away, bowing slightly.
Josh raised his drink to the ladies, they raised theirs. Not wanting to draw attention, I raised mine as well.
“Thank you very much, Josh,” said Beroomoo
“You’re a sweety-pie,” said Mulanna.
“Cheers,” said Josh.
The ladies both held out their glasses to be clinked, and Josh duly clinked them with his. Then I had to go through the awkwardness of reaching out my own glass for clinking.
Then came the drinking part. I hadn’t wanted to drink at all, but now I felt that just a little alcohol might help, so I took a sip. Anyway, the bartender had forgotten my large seltzer, so I had nothing else to drink.
Josh turned smiling to me, and leaning forward, he said, in a very quiet voice, holding the smile, “Arnold, that’s you down there, isn’t it?”
“What the heck is going on?”
“I’ve gone back in time again,” I said. “Inadvertently.”
“And brought me with you.”
“Oh, I don’t mind,” he said.
“I do. I have to get back to my own time. This is too weird. Even for me. What if I turn and see myself here?”
“You mean the other you.”
“If he should see you here.”
“Right,” I said.
“Well, I’m sure he’ll be able to handle it. I mean you’re doing okay, considering.”
“No, I’m not. I’m ready to run out of here screaming.”
“Well, don’t do that.”
“I’ll try not to. But I have to do something.”
“What are you two talking about?” said Bezooma.
“Yeah, let us in on it,” said Muloona.
Josh turned back to the ladies.
“Please forgive us,” he said. “My friend Arnold has a little problem.”
“What sort of problem?” said Bethimba.
“Yeah, tell us,” said Marimba. “We know all about problems.”
“Well,” said Josh, “the problem is, he --”
Quickly and firmly I cut in.
“It’s my lady friend,” I said.
“What?” said Josh.
I poked my finger into his side.
“Aw, woman trouble,” said the B-woman.
“Women are trouble,” said the M-woman
Then they both burst into peals of laughter.
I saw myself turn and glance down toward our end of the bar, so I drew my head back, out of my line of vision.
“Josh,” I said, into his ear. “We have to get out of here.”
“But we just got our drinks.”
“And you wanted something to eat.”
“I’ll grab something at home.”
He dropped to a more exaggerated whisper that was still just as loud as before, only more whispery.
“Wouldn’t it be rude just to leave these ladies after buying them drinks?”
“But, Josh, if I see myself then the entire, uh, fabric of the universe might fall apart.”
“You mean if your other self down there sees you.”
“Well, you’re seeing yourself and the universe seems okay.”
“Just relax. Maybe you’ll leave soon.”
“You mean the other me.”
I peeked down the bar again and just avoided myself idly glancing this way again. I noticed I was smoking one of my Pall Malls, and I was deeply envious.
I got up, keeping slightly bent over.
“Arnold --” said Josh.
“Hey, where ya goin’?” said Beroosha.
“Yeah,” added Mullasha.
“Uh, men’s room,” I mumbled, God knows why (or not), and I hobbled off, doing my hunchback imitation, but instead of heading back to the entrance I went the other way, into the short hall where the doors to the lavatories are. I don’t know why I did this, blame it on my confusion, or the reefer, or, perhaps since I had said I was going to the men’s room, blame it on the power of suggestion or on my wish never to tell a lie. At any rate I found myself going into the men’s room.
As it happened I had to urinate anyway. In fact I only now realized that I was ready to burst.
Fortunately no one else was in the small facility. I unzipped and relieved myself, it took a full two minutes at least, two minutes in which all was pleasure and nothing else seemed to matter, and then the two minutes were up, and reality, or my version of reality, descended upon me again. I re-zipped and went to the sink.
There was I in the mirror, with the same baleful face I had just seen back there in the bar.
I washed my hands, and splashed cold water on my face, on one of my faces.
After drying my face and hands on the towel from the roller thing I turned and took a look at the window. It wasn’t too high up, and it was open, with no screen. I didn’t like to abandon Josh, but after all he did have the two ladies to keep him company. I went over and took a deep breath to prepare myself before hoisting myself up onto the sill.
“Do you need a boost there, Mr. Schnabel?”
Of course I nearly leapt out of my skin.
I turned around.
It was that tall dark man from the Pilot House, the one Josh had pointed out to me, the one in the ash-colored suit. Very dark shiny hair, a black moustache. Smiling, smoking a fat strong-smelling cigarette.
It was Lucifer.
(Continued here, and until the men in the white jackets come. Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page for a dauntingly long list of links to all currently available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Be sure to watch out for the première of Ken Burns’s new 12-part documentary, Arnold Schnabel: American Master; music by Flatt and Scruggs; narrated by ”Wilford Brimley”; featuring interviews with David McCullough, George Will, Harold Bloom, Gore Vidal, Joyce Carol Oates, Dick Cavett, Alistair Cooke, Steve Allen, Kitty Carlisle, Sir Kenneth Clark, Bennett Cerf, and Tallulah Bankhead.)