Saturday, January 29, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 235: obsequies

Let us rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel on this rainy Sunday morning in August of 1963 as he enters the kitchen of a large and ungainly Victorian boarding house in the moldering old port town of Cape May, New Jersey…

(Click here to read our immediately preceding episode; newcomers may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 67-volume masterwork, which Harold Bloom {in Field & Stream} has called “just the thing to have on your shelves the next time you get snowed in at your rustic cabin in the mountains for several months”.)

The whole clan was in the kitchen. My mother and my aunts Greta, Elizabetta and Edith were all standing about doing the things they do, and my young cousin Kevin sat in his usual place at the table, reading a comic book. They would all have already had their breakfasts of course: for my aunts and my mother a slice each of dry toast with a cup of black coffee and for Kevin a couple of large bowls of Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes sprinkled liberally with extra sugar.

Doing my best to disguise my limp, I walked over and sat down where I always sat, at the middle of the table, to Kevin’s immediate right. My mother and aunts immediately began laying out my breakfast, scrambled eggs and potato pancakes, freshly-made weisswurst, rolls and coffee.

Kevin was reading a very worn-looking Our Army at War comic featuring Sgt. Rock and nursing probably his third or fourth tall glass of Fox’s U-bet chocolate milk of the morning. He folded the page over his finger, turned his small moonlike face only slightly towards me and gazed up at me out of the corners of his narrowed eyes.

“What’s this about you taking me to Wally’s to get some new comics.”

“Kevin,” said my Aunt Edith, “don’t be rude. At least say good morning to your cousin Arnold.”

“Good morning, Cousin Arnold.”

“Good morning, Kevin,” I said, putting my napkin on my lap and picking up my knife and fork.

“So, about Wally’s --”

“Yes,” I said. “I thought we might stop in, pick you up some --”

“I got no money.”

“Well, I was going to treat you, Kevin.”

The boy turned his head more fully towards me, staring at me with furrowed brow, probably wondering what my angle was.

“Say thank you, Kevin,” said my Aunt Elizabetta.

“Thanks, Cousin Arnold,” he said. “When can we go?”

“After I have breakfast and take a shower,” I said.

“Your cousin Arnold still has to go to mass, Kevin,” said my Aunt Greta.

“He can take me there on his way to the church,” said Kevin.

“Kevin --” said my mother.

“No, it’s okay,” I said. “We’ll do that, Kevin.”



“Make sure he comes right home, Arnold,” said my mother. “I don’t like him being in that place alone.”

“Open on Sunday,” said my Aunt Edith. “It’s a sin.”

“Why’s it a sin?” asked Kevin.

“People shouldn’t work on Sundays,” said Edith. “It’s the Lord’s Day.”

“Priests work on Sunday,” said Kevin.

“Kevin,” said my mother, “be still and read your comic book.”

Kevin tightened his lips and breathed in deeply through his nose, staring down at the back cover of his comic book, which had an advertisement urging young boys to sell Grit, “America's Greatest Family Newspaper", a publication I had never actually seen. He continued to breathe deeply, and quickly. He had the fever, the lust for comic books. He re-opened his Sgt. Rock comic and I could hear the rattle of a Thompson gun and the Sarge’s gruff baritone shouting out, “Let’s go, you dogfaces! You wanna live forever?”

“Yes,” I said, chewing some weisswurst, “of course I do.”

Kevin looked up.

I heard the whistle and the explosion of a mortar shell, the cry of a wounded man, someone calling for a medic.

“What?” said Kevin.

“Um,” I said, “I mean of course we’ll take you to Wally’s on my way to church.”

“I thought we had already settled that,” he said.

“Uh, yes, yes, so we did. Mother,” I addressed that good woman, who was watching both Kevin and myself warily, “is that today’s Sunday Bulletin there?” pointing with my knife at what was obviously today’s Sunday Bulletin at the other end of the table.

“Yes,” she said. She picked it up, laid it next to my place. I laid down my knife and fork and removed the funny pages from the bundle of the paper. The funnies were all I read any more, these days even the sport pages were too much for me. As usual, I turned first to Fritzi Ritz, and Fritzi and her mentally-deficient boyfriend Phil Fumble did me the favor of confining their antics to the colored ink on the paper.

I made it through breakfast without further incident. If my mother or aunts or Kevin noticed the scrapes on the heels of my hands they kept quiet about it. And after all this wouldn’t have been the first morning I had appeared at breakfast with scrapes and bruises acquired in drunken shenanigans the previous night.

After I had refused a third helping of everything my mother put an ashtray next to my place.

“Oh,” I said, “I’m guess I didn’t tell you. I’ve given up smoking.”

“You have? Since when?”

“Since yesterday morning.”

“Don’t you feel well? Let me feel your forehead.”

“No, no, I feel fine. I just decided to quit, that’s all.”

Still she made a move to feel my forehead, but I drew my head away, perhaps churlishly.

“Really, Mother, I’m fine. I just got tired of coughing in the morning.”

“You’re sure?”

There you go, inadvertently I had given her something new to worry about. But this couldn’t be helped. I polished off my fourth cup of coffee and got up.

“Let me just shower and change,” I said to Kevin, “then I’ll take you to Wally’s. On my way to church.”

“I’ll be waiting,” he said.

Once again being careful to try not to limp too much, I thanked my mother and my aunts and left the kitchen.

On the third floor I halted at the head of the stairs, listening.

I heard the sounds of opera music coming from Miss Evans’s room. This time I took no chances. I unlaced my sneakers, took them off, and tiptoed slowly down the corridor, making it successfully to my attic door…

The next stage of my campaign went according to plan (for once). The only real unpleasantness was finding that Miss Evans had not only not cleaned the tub behind her, but had forgotten even to drain the bathwater. No matter, soon enough I had very satisfactorily voided my bowels, showered and shaved, re-brushed my teeth, and returned to my attic to change.

But when I was finally back in my little garret and had hung up my bathrobe I realized something was missing, and I stood there, wondering what that could be.

I felt a lack, a lack I could not identify.

Now to be honest I have gone through life feeling a vague lack, or feeling the negative presence of all sorts of nameless and faceless lacks, but this was different, it felt like something very specific.

I stood there, naked, standing in the middle line of the room, the only section of it that I can stand up straight in, as the ceiling slopes down sharply from the roof beam on either side.

What was it?

For a moment I was afraid I might be going insane again.

And then I realized: it was the fly -- Frank, or Francis, whatever his name was.

He had said he would meet me here, but where was he?

I looked about the room, which didn’t take long, it’s a small room, but he was nowhere, nowhere to be found.

Where was he?

Quickly I dressed, putting on my grey suit from Krass Brothers, my black cordovan shoes from Thom McAn, my one narrow black and grey striped tie from God knows where, and then I dashed down my steps and out to the third floor once more.

Just as I was approaching her door Miss Evans opened it and stepped out. She was wearing her fluffy bathrobe again, but she looked considerably better than she had an hour before: her hair was damp and brushed, she wore both her slippers, she had lipstick and makeup on.

“Where’s the fire, big boy?”

“I have to go to mass,” I said.

“Oh. Mass. How quaint. If you see Father Reilly say hello for me.”

“I will.”

“The bastard. Running out on me last night. Why do men always run out on me?”

I didn’t think she wanted me to answer that honestly so I said nothing.

“Go then,” she said. “Perhaps I would go with you, but I have to get ready to go meet that Lucky chap for luncheon. But wait, you said I shouldn’t lunch with Lucky. Do you think I should I stand him up?”

“Uh, well, I don’t know --”

“I’ve never been to a Catholic mass. I could get dressed quickly and go to mass with you instead. What do you think of that?”

“Well, you know,” I said at once, “now that I think about it, if you make a date with someone I really think should keep it.”

“You do?”

“Yes,” I said, firmly. “I mean it’s only polite.”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, it is, isn’t it?”

“I think so,” I said.

“It’s just -- oh, how shall I say? Comme il faut.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, you know --”

“Common simple politeness. And civility.”

“Right, you know, uh --”

“That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

“No, uh --”

“In this day and age.”


“By golly, Arnold, that’s the way I look at it too,” she said. “You would never break a date, would you?”

“No,” I said. “But then I’ve had very few dates to break. Heh heh.”

“Ha ha. Well, just don’t forget ours, big boy.” She reached out with both of her hands and straightened the knot of my tie, or at any rate she fiddled with the knot of my tie, for all I know she unstraightened it. “Phil’s Tavern,” she said. “Six-ish.”

“Pete’s Tavern,” I said.

“Phil’s, Pete’s, you know what I mean.”


“Go.” She touched my cheek with her fingers. The nails were painted bright red, and they smelled of varnish. “Go to mass.”

I went.

At the first floor I quickly went down the hall to Kevin’s room. The door was still ajar. I switched the overhead light on and looked around, bent over, stepping as carefully as I could, squinting and searching. Finally I saw him, on the floor, on the inside of a Baby Ruth wrapper, lying on his back. I got down on one knee and carefully I lifted the wrapper up. He lay there, very still, no, more than very still, not moving, not moving at all. Involuntarily I gasped, and I felt a tear welling in my eye. It wasn’t fair. He had been so full of life. And he had been so joyful at the prospect of consuming Kevin’s leftover sugary treats. It just wasn’t fair. I slowly let out my breath, and this exhalation caused his tiny body gently to turn over, so that he now lay on his belly.

“Sorry, little guy,” I whispered. “I’m really sorry.”

The tear that had been in my eye ran down my cheek.

Outside Kevin’s screened window the rain continued to fall, drenching all of Cape May, drenching the trees and the houses, the streets and gardens and lawns, the rain fell continuously, giving life to the living but giving nothing at all to the dead.

What should I do with the fly’s body? It seemed wrong just to drop him in the wastebasket. Perhaps I should fold him up in the Baby Ruth wrapper and give him a decent burial somewhere. Maybe say a few words over his grave.

I stood up.

“Don’t worry, pal,” I said. “Maybe you’re in a better place now.”

Or maybe not I immediately thought.

“At least you died happy,” I said.

So one could only assume.

With my free hand I wiped the tear from my face.

“I’ll wrap you up now, buddy,” I said. “And after I send my cousin back home from the cigar shop with his comic books I’ll find you some quiet spot, I’ll dig you a little grave, and put you in it. You may have been only a fly, and, yes, you may have been a little annoying sometimes. But you were my friend. You were my friend at a time when I needed a friend.”

I took a deep breath, preparatory to folding him up in the wrapper and putting him in my pocket.

“I think this Baby Ruth wrapper will make a good coffin for you, old buddy. You said you loved Baby Ruths.”

I looked again out the window at the rain. Then I looked back at him, his tiny motionless body.

“Or would you prefer a sea burial?” I asked. “I could take you out on the rock jetty and toss you into the waves.” I looked down at him there in his wrapper, in my hand. “Would you prefer that to being buried? To be cast into the waves, to become one with the ocean.”

Suddenly the fly turned over and stood up on his hind legs.

“What the fuck are you talking about, pal? I would prefer neither to be buried nor to be tossed into the ocean.”

“Oh, my God,” I said, “I thought, I thought --”

“Look, you know I like to take a nap after I eat. That’s no reason to fucking bury me or throw me into the ocean.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “But you really looked --”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a pretty heavy sleeper. So, what’s next on the agenda? How about a beer?”

“Well, I’m supposed to be going to mass.”


“I’m not really going to go. I’m going to go see what my lady friend is up to.”

“Lady friend? Not that crazy broad who lives down the hall?”

“No, this is a different one,” I said.

“You slay me, pal. You and the frails. What’s your secret?”

“I don’t know.”

“So, this lady friend, she got a friend?”

“You mean like a --”

“Like another lady.”

“Well, yes, yes, but, uh --”

“And no skinny chicks neither. You know me, I like ‘em with some meat on their bones.”

“Well, uh --”


“Look, don’t take this the wrong way, uh, Frank --”

“What? Take what?”

“Um --”

“Spit it out,” said the fly.

“Okay,” I said. “Listen, I’d really like to go see my lady friend alone.”


“You know how it is,” I said.

“Yeah, I know how it is. You’re hoping to get your end wet.”

“Well, uh, um --”

“Hey, go. With my blessing, go, go forth and copulate, pal. Don’t worry about me. I’ll amuse myself around here.”

“Okay,” I said. “Just be careful --”

“I know, I know, the old German broads who like to kill flies.”

“Well, yes.”

“I will keep a weather eye out, believe me.”

“Good,” I said.

“Arnold?” said my mother.

I turned. She was standing in the doorway.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Oh, uh, just came in to look for Kevin, um.”

“You were talking.”

“Yes, just talking to myself.” I looked down at the wrapper. The fly had flown away. “I was just saying to myself how sloppy Kevin is. Leaving his candy wrappers lying all around.”

“He’s very untidy.”

“Yes, he, uh --”

I crumpled up the wrapper and tossed it into Kevin’s wastebasket.

“You’d better get going,” she said, “if you’re going to make the noon mass.”

“Yes,” I said, “yes, I’d better. Where’s Kevin?”

“In the living room, watching a cowboy movie.”

“Well, I’d better get him then, and get going.”

“You’ll need to take umbrellas.”

“Yes, umbrellas,” I said.

I thought I heard the fly laughing.

(Continued here. An army of Schnabelians demands it.)

(Please go to the right hand column of this page to find a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored brought to you in part by Fox’s U-bet™ chocolate syrup: “The chocolate syrup that made Brooklyn famous!”

Saturday, January 22, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 234: the fly & I

On a rainy Sunday morning in August of 1963 our hero Arnold Schnabel dresses for breakfast in his attic room in his aunts’ ramshackle Victorian boarding house in the quaint seaside resort and fishing town of Cape May, New Jersey. With Arnold is his friend a talking fly...

(Go here to read our previous chapter; if you have just come down with your fourth severe cold of the season and have decided not to leave the house until winter’s end you may click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 43-volume masterpiece of autobiography.)

“Arnold Schnabel -- how trippingly and delightfully the very name rolls off the tongue!” -- Harold Bloom, interviewed in High Times.

In a matter of minutes (during which time the fly quizzed me about the number and quality of bars and diners and restaurants in town,* as well as to the number and quality and availability of what he called “broads”**) I had buttoned my shirt and tucked it in, put my belt on and buckled it, and laced my feet into my comfortable old Keds.

“So, dress slacks with sneakers and no socks?” said the fly. “I did not know you were ten years old.”

“Look, I’m just going down to breakfast, okay?”

“Just so you ain’t going off to church dressed like that.”

“People are very informal at church here anyway. It’s a resort. Some men even forgo neckties --”

“Whatever, let’s go.”

I went down my attic steps and gingerly opened the door to the hallway again.

“Come on, pal, let’s get the lead out,” said the fly. “I’m starving up in here.”

“Quiet,” I whispered.

I stuck my head into the corridor, directing one ear toward the bathroom. I had to go past the bathroom to get to the stairs down on the left, and it would be essential to make it down the hall without being accosted by Miss Evans again. I couldn’t count on my mother inadvertently rescuing me twice in a row.

Fortunately I could hear the sound of the bath water running, also the sound of a woman humming a vaguely familiar air.

“Oh, come on!” said the fly.

“All right, I think we’re okay,” I said, in a low voice.

For a second I considered taking my sneakers off, but I didn’t want to hear what the fly would say about it, so instead I started slowly walking toward the stairs, keeping close to the wall opposite the bathroom. The portrait photograph of Robert Taylor looked down on me indifferently.

However, just as I got near the latitude of the bathroom the humming abruptly ceased and the sound of the running water stopped also. Instinctively I stopped in my tracks, like a burglar who has just heard a car pull up in the driveway of the house he is robbing.

The fly gave a zooming buzz by my ear, as if to say once more, “Oh, come on!

I took a step, and then another.

I paused.

I was directly across from the bathroom door now.

I took another step, and an ancient floorboard creaked with a sound like that produced by a cat who’s had its tail stomped on by a great fat man.

“Arnold,” shot out Miss Evans’s voice, from inside the bathroom. “Is that you, dear?”

“Busted,” whispered the fly in my ear.

“Arnold? Are you out there?”

I could hear the fly snickering as he flew loop-de-loops around my head. Robert Taylor up there on the wall seemed to be attempting to hold in a great peal of laughter.

“Arnold,” Miss Evans called again.

“Uh, yes, Gertrude,” I said, yelled, croaked.

“Why have you stopped out there?”

The fly continued to snicker and to fly about in an exaggeratedly hysterical manner. Robert Taylor also was now chuckling all but audibly.

“Arnold,” she called again, “what the bloody hell are you doing?”

“Uh -- I was -- um -- tying my shoelace,” I yelled, or gasped.

“Oh,” said her voice. “Really.” I heard a splishing, splashing noise. Then: “There wasn’t something you wished to say to me, was there?”

“No,” I said, but for some reason the way I said it sounded as if I were not quite sure, not very sure at all.

I heard another splashing sound. Then silence. Then:

“Arnold, why are you still standing out there?”

“Just, uh, um -- I don’t know.”

“Silly man. Go eat your breakfast before your mother climbs those stairs again. Ha ha. Drags you downstairs by your earlobe.”

“Okay,” I said.

I lifted my right Ked to take a step but the voice called out again.

“You won’t forget our date?”

“No,” I said.

“When is it again?”


“Six-ish, at Phil’s Tavern.”

She meant Pete’s of course but I didn’t bother correcting her this time.

“Okay,” I said.


I heard splashing sounds again, and humming. I’m pretty sure she was humming something from the opera she’d been playing the previous day, La Traviata. Then she began to sing, in Italian, at least it sounded Italian. I headed quickly for the stairs, or as quickly as I could with my sore legs.

“So, what’s on the bill-of-fare for breakfast, do ya think?” asked the fly, just as I was reaching the second-floor landing. “Y’know what I could go for? Bacon and eggs. And home fries. No. Hey, ya know what I’m in the mood for? Pancakes. Yeah, pancakes, with lots of butter and lots of maple syrup --”

Suddenly I stopped on the landing before going down any farther.

“Um, listen,” I said, “about breakfast.”


He hovered in front of my face.

“By the way,” I said, as cheerily as I could manage, “what’s your name, anyway? I mean if you don’t mind telling me.”

“I’m a fly. Since when do flies have names.”

“But -- you said you used to be a human, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

He sounded a bit suspicious, as if he suspected I was up to something.

“Well,” I said (to tell the truth I was up to something), “then you must have had a name when you were human, right?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“So I was just wondering what that name was.”


“Well, so I can -- you know -- address you. When I’m speaking to you.”

“But I just told you I’m a fly now and flies ain’t got names.”

“But -- wouldn’t you like to have a name again?”

“I don’t give a shit. Now let’s go, I’m fucking famished here.”

“I just wanted a name to call you by.”

“Jesus Christ, awright awready, if I tell ya my old human name then will you get a fucking move on?”

“Sure --”



“Yeah, Francis.”

“Well, would you prefer it if I called you Frank, or --”

“I. Do. Not. Care.”

“So -- Frank’s okay then?”

“Sure, Frank is great, now come on, I’m about to get the dry heaves I’m that hungry.”

He started flying down toward the first floor, and I took a step after him, but then I said:

“Okay, but look, 'Frank', wait up. Here’s the thing --”

He stopped, and turned, facing me, with all his hundreds of hungry little eyes.

“Now what?”

“Look, it might not be such a great idea for you to eat breakfast with me.”


“And I’ll tell you why.”

“Oh, please do.”

“It’s just that my mother, and my three aunts, these are very cleanly ladies, you might almost say obsessively cleanly, you know -- German?”

“Oh, yeah, the Germans are clean all right.”

“And the thing is, if they see a fly at the table, I guarantee you they will grab every flyswatter and newspaper and slipper handy and they won’t rest until, until --”

“They’ve squashed me like a bug.”



“It’s just the way they are,” I said.

“Yeah. Germans.”


“They like to kill.”

“Well, you know --”

“Awright. Relax. I appreciate the heads up actually. But answer me this. While you’re enjoying a nice home-cooked breakfast, what the fuck am I supposed to do? Starve?”

“No. No, of course not.”

“Then what?”

I thought. Where could he safely get some food around here? Some of the guests might have a few crumbs lying around their rooms, but what if a guest saw the fly -- “Frank” -- and swatted him? I’d never forgive myself. But then I had a brainwave.

“Okay, look,” I said, “I have a little cousin, Kevin, and he has a small room off the first floor hall. The door is always open, and he has a habit of eating candy bars in his bed.”

“Candy bars?”

“Yes. And he just tosses the wrappers anywhere. With crumbs in them.”

“No kidding.”

“My aunts and mother are always cleaning up behind him but they can never get caught up. Also he’s always leaving empty bottles of Coke around, and peanut brittle, fudge, half-eaten cotton candy cones, ice cream containers, Tastykakes --”

“I’m liking this kid already. You think he’s in his room now?”

“No idea, but it doesn’t matter, the last thing he would ever do is swat a fly.”

“What is he, a Buddhist?”

“No, far from it, he’s just lazy, and not very cleanly.”

“Not a good Kraut boy, huh?”

“Well, he’s half Irish.”

“That explains it.”

“Um --”

“Fudge, huh?”

“Sure, and salt water taffy, licorice, jujubes --"
"I fuckin' love jujubes!"
"Sticks his chewing gum on the bed post --”
“Just show me the way, pal.”

“Sure, come on, uh, Frank --”

We came down to the first floor. I quickly walked past the open door that led into the short hallway to the kitchen, and came to Kevin’s little room at the other end of the main hallway. I believe it's a former storage closet or wood shed. As usual the door was ajar. The light was off and the room was empty. Outside its one small window the rain continued to fall. The room itself gave off an odor of damp, of old comic books and sugar.

“Right in there,” I whispered.

“I can smell the candy from here!” said the fly, buzzing merrily around my head. “Baby Ruth?”

“Oh, he loves Baby Ruths,” I said.

“Here I go,” said the fly. “I’ll see ya after breakfast. Meet ya up in your room?”

“Sure,” I said. “Do you want me to leave the door open, in case I go up first?”

“Don’t bother, I’ll just fly in under the crack.”

“Okay, then --”

“Arnold?” said my mother’s voice.

I turned. She was leaning her head out from the little hallway to the kitchen, one hand on the corner of the wall.

“Oh, hi, Mother.”

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, just, uh, seeing if Kevin is in his room?”


“Well, uh, I thought, oh, I don’t know, maybe he’d like me to take him to Wally’s, the cigar store, to get him some comic books.”***

“Oh,” she said. “But first you have to eat breakfast and go to mass.”

“Sure. Of course. I meant later.”

“Come in and eat your breakfast.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

Her head disappeared.

“Ha ha, hilarious,” said the fly. “Okay, check you after breakfast.”

And off he flew into Kevin’s dank little room.

And I headed off to my own breakfast.

*Questions I endeavored to answer to the best of my ability. {Marginal insertion in Arnold Schnabel's holograph.}

**A topic I told him I could not and would not as a gentleman discuss. {Marginal insertion.}

***Schnabel first mentions Wally's cigar store and pool room (now, alas, sadly defunct) way back in Chapter Two of the first volume of his memoirs. {Editor's note.}

(Continued here, and for a really long time to come, because yet another cache of Arnold’s memoirs -- one hundred and nineteen marble copybooks, in an old cardboard box marked “Christmas Decorations” -- has recently been discovered in the basement of his mother’s house at B and Nedro in the Olney section of Philadelphia.)

(Kindly go to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-authorized chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored in part by The Committee for the Defense of Sarah Palin™: “Why is everybody always pickin’ on Sarah?”

Saturday, January 15, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 233: gaze

It’s a brand new day for our hero Arnold Schnabel, finally back in his own body and in his aunts’ ramshackle old boarding house in Cape May, New Jersey, on a rainy Sunday morning in August of 1963...

(Click here to read our previous episode; in case your 1947 Hupmobile has broken down in some one-horse town in the middle of nowhere and the sinister mechanic says it’s going to take maybe a week to get the part he needs (“Maybe more.”), you may go here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 97-volume memoir.)

“It’s become fashionable to call Arnold Schnabel the ‘Proust of his time’; I prefer to call Proust ‘the Arnold Schnabel of his time’.” -- Harold Bloom, in Cosmopolitan.

She wore her fluffy white robe, and her eye-makeup and lipstick were smeared, making her face look out-of-focus, like in the movies when the projectionist has fallen asleep or passed out, her hair stuck out in tufts or else was matted against her skull as if with Elmer’s glue, and a bruise on the upper part of her forehead shone like a small blue light bulb. In her right hand she held an unfolded pink bath towel that dragged on the floor behind her and in her other hand she held a toothbrush and some bottles and tubes against her side. She wore only one slipper.

She approached me, saying, “Please don’t look at me.”

Obediently I looked away. My aunts had a framed portrait photograph of the actor Robert Taylor on the opposite wall, I suppose the picture had come with the frame. I looked at that. But I could hear and sense Miss Evans coming closer to me.

One of her fingers touched the side of my face, at least I could only assume it was her finger.

“No! Don’t look at me!” she said, although I was still looking straight at the picture of Robert Taylor, in fact I was concentrating on it. “I know I must look a fright,” she said. “Do I look a fright?”

This time I did start to turn to look at her, but she slapped me lightly on the cheek and said, “No! You mustn’t look. I know I look a fright. Are you through with the bathroom by the way?”

“Yes,” I said, staring at Robert Taylor, “for the time being.”

“Good. I need a long hot bath. Never have I been so hungover. Have you ever been so hungover?”

“As hungover as you are?”

“Well, no, I meant have you ever been as hungover as you are now.”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “Plenty of times. But then I’m not extremely hungover.”

“I am extremely hungover,” she said.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

There was a pause here. She was no longer touching my face or any other part of me, but I could tell she was standing close to me. I could hear her breathing and feel the heat of her body, and I could feel my skin starting to perspire beneath my old grey bathrobe.

“Well --” I started to say.

“I don’t want you to feel guilty,” she said.

I looked at her.


“Please,” she said. She had the towel under her left arm now. She put her right hand over her face. “I asked you not to look at me.”

“Sorry,” I said, and turned again to Robert Taylor. He gazed back at me impassively.

“About last night,” she said. “That will be -- oh, let’s just say that that will be our little secret.”

She had started speaking in a sort of English accent again.

“You mean --”


“It’s okay, Miss Evans --”


“Gertrude. You were just a little drunk, that’s all. I only hope you weren’t hurt badly.”


“Yes. The bruise on your forehead.”

“I have a bruise on my forehead?”

I didn’t look, but I suppose she felt her forehead with her fingers.

“Ow. How did I get that.”

She had slipped back into her regular accent.

“Well, you -- uh --”

“You brute.”

“Hey, wait a minute --”

“I know, I asked for it. You bold brute you.”

“But, wait --”

“No, no need to apologize. I‘m sure I was asking for it.”

“But --” I said.

“Not another word.” Her accent was getting a little more English again now. “I shall simply part my hair to the side.”

“Look, Gertrude --”

“I said ‘not another word’. Besides, my head is killing me and I have to urinate and, possibly, regurgitate. I’ll see you later.”

“Okay,” I said, knowing there was probably no way to avoid seeing her for the rest of my life, short of skipping town and changing my name, and perhaps having plastic surgery.

“What are you doing after lunch, by the way?” she asked.

“I haven’t even had breakfast yet.”

“Let me put it this way: what are you doing later this afternoon.”

I suddenly remembered. I actually had an excuse.

“I’m supposed to be working on this screenplay with Larry Winchester.”

“Oh. Then afterwards. What are your plans.”

“I don’t have any.” Then I quickly hedged: “I mean, uh, I’m getting together with Elektra I think.”


“Uh, I don’t know -- later?”

“Where can we meet.”

“Um --”

“That Negro bar. Phil’s?”


“Meet you at Pete’s for cocktails. Say five-ish?”


“Oh, all right, say five-thirty-ish. I very much doubt that you and Larry will be wrestling in the throes of creation that far into the day. And on the Lord’s day to boot.”

“Well --”

“Oh, I get it. Now that you’ve -- what’s the term -- 'had' me, you have no more interest, is that it? What am I, a Kleenex, to be used once and then dropped to the sidewalk?”

“I would never drop a Kleenex on the sidewalk.”

“Then why are you dropping me?” asked Miss Evans.

“Miss Evans, Gertrude --” (I was having trouble continuing to stare only at Robert Taylor. He really seemed to be staring back at me now.) “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh,” she said.


“So you were that drunk?”

“Last night? Well, yeah, I was a little drunk.”

But not half as drunk as you were I might have added, but because I am a gentleman I didn’t.

A little drunk,” she repeated. She sounded sad, although I don’t think she really was sad. “Look, stud, just be there at Phil’s, say six-ish. That’ll give you plenty of time for your little hack-work session with Larry.”

“You mean Pete’s,” I said.

“Yes, I just said that. Pete’s Tavern, six-ish. Now if you will excuse me, I must bathe. I have to meet that chap Lucky for lunch at the Pilot House.”


I turned and looked at her.

“Damn it, Arnold, if you look at me one more time I’m going to give you a bruise on your forehead.”

“Sorry,” I said, turning back to the actor, who was now blatantly smirking at me. “But, Gertrude, about Lucky --”

“What about him?”

“I’m not so sure you should have lunch with him.”

“How dare you. How dare you tell me whom to have lunch with. Do I tell you not to have lunch with your little Italian, Alethia?”

“She’s not Italian. Also her name is --”

“Regardless. You have no right. You have no claims upon me. Or do you? Do you think you do, you big ape?”

She sounded genuinely curious.

“No,” I said quickly. “It’s just that I -- I think that Lucky might not be a very nice fellow.”

And that was putting it mildly.

“But he said he could get my books into the movies.”

“Well, maybe he can,” I said, “but --”

Suddenly from the corner of my eye I saw my mother’s grey head at the stairs down to my left.

“Arnold,” said my mother. “You’re never going to be able to eat your breakfast and make the eleven o’clock mass at this rate.”

“Oh, hello, Mrs. Schnabel,” said Miss Evans. “Arnold and I were just chatting. I hope I’m not keeping him from his religious duties.”

“He really should eat his breakfast after mass,” said my mother, “so he can receive communion.”

“Yes, he should, shouldn’t he?”

I was tempted to tell my mother to forget about breakfast, but I was famished, I felt as if I hadn’t eaten in days.

“Tell you what, Mom,” I said, decisively, “I’ll go to the noon mass.”

“The noon?”

“Yes, the noon. That’ll give me plenty of time to eat.”

“Well, okay,” she said. She still sounded doubtful.

“I’ll be down in two minutes,” I said.

“Two minutes?” said my mother.

Her head was still all that was visible on the stairs.

“Three maybe,” I said.

“Well, okay.”

Her head disappeared.

I looked at Miss Evans.

“You’re looking at me again,” she said.


I looked again at Robert Taylor, who now wore a broad mocking grin.

I felt fingers touching my face.

“Until six-ish then,” she said. “At Phil’s Tavern.”

“Pete’s Tavern.”

“Whatever. We’ll have a civilized cocktail, maybe two, like two broad-minded modern adults and then you can run off to your Spanish girl Elvira and do whatever unspeakable things you two do together.”

The fingers left my face. I heard feet shuffling away, and now that it was safe I turned and looked. She was heading roughly in the direction of the bathroom, dragging her towel on the floor behind her.

I opened my attic door, went in, closed the door.

“Jesus Christ,” said the fly.

I went up my steps, or rather I limped up my steps.

“Jesus fucking Christ, pal,” said the fly. “You can pick ‘em all right, and that’s for sure.”

“I didn’t pick her,” I said.

“Well, you banged her.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you played hide-the-salami with her. Made the beast with two backs. Schtupped her.”

“No I didn’t.”

“You didn’t?”

“I certainly did not.”

I was standing there in my attic having this conversation with the fly.

“Well, pal, she certainly thinks you did.”

The fly hovered in front of me, staring at me, as if incredulous at my thickness.

“Oh,” I said.

“Oh is right,” said the fly.

I paused. I’ve always been a little slow on the uptake.

“Well, nothing I can do about it now,” I said.

“You better get downstairs before your mother comes up again.”

“Yes, you’re right. Let me get dressed.”

“I’m not stopping you, pal.”

I hung up my towel and put my toothpaste and toothbrush back on their shelf. I gingerly took off my sweaty bathrobe and hung it on its hook, then I hobbled over to what passed for a closet in my attic, namely a wooden bar that had been fixed across one narrow end of it in front of a small dormer window.

The fly flew over and landed on the window sill; the window was open, although it had an adjustable screen in it to keep out the mosquitoes; the fly seemed to be gazing out at the rain and at the view of the old house across the way...

I had only brought one pair of long trousers to Cape May with me, those that went with my one grey summer suit.

Gritting my teeth with my various aches and pains I took the trousers off their hanger and started to pull them on.

The fly turned and looked at me.

“Them the only slacks you got?”

“I’m afraid so,” I said.

“Robert Hall?”

“No, I believe my mother bought them at Krass Brothers.”

“Never heard of ‘em.”

“It’s a Philadelphia shop.”

“Not exactly Brooks Brothers I take it.”

“No, not Brooks Brothers,” I said.

“Not that I’m criticizing.”

I had one long-sleeved shirt, a white one, and I took this off its hanger.

“Your mom get that shirt at Krass Brothers too?”

“I think she may have gotten it at Sears,” I said.

“Sears, the hallmark of quality in men’s wear.”

“Look --”

“Awright, awright, I’ll shut up.”

He turned around, looking out at the window at the rainy scene. The window made it all look like a painting, and the rain made it beautiful. I could smell the ocean in the damp air, and honeysuckle, the scents of the flowers that surrounded my aunts’ house, chrysanthemums and roses, rhododendrons...

“Y’know, pal,” said the fly, “I think I’m gonna like this town.”

(Continued here, and for no one knows how long.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, presented with the permission of the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia Pa. This week’s episode sponsored by Tastykake™: “The oven fresh goodness of all Tastykake™ products is preserved with only the finest American-made wax paper.”

Saturday, January 8, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 232: my life

Our resourceful hero Arnold Schnabel has outsmarted the Evil Trickster once again, and has returned to his own time (August of 1963) and his own body, and to his little attic room in his aunts’ boarding house in the quaint seaside town of Cape May. Accompanying Arnold is the new friend he acquired on his last epic adventure, a loquacious fly.

(Go here to read our preceding chapter; those who have recently been sentenced to a stiff prison sentence and who are looking for some good books to while away their time may click here to go back to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 58-volume memoir.)

“I daresay I look forward to each new volume of Arnold Schnabel’s mammoth magnum opus with the same level of excitement that eager Londoners used to feel on entering the Globe Theatre for the latest production of Mr. William Shakespeare.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Ring Magazine.

As I sat there getting my bearings the fly buzzed around my small attic room.

“So, I gotta say, pal,” he said, “I am not too overly impressed with the digs. I mean, I hope this is not the entirety of your abode is what I’m saying.”

“Well, this is my bedroom,” I said. “This house belongs to my three aunts.”

I was only wearing what I had gone to bed in way back when, that is my boxer shorts.

“Oh. So you got the run of the whole house then?”

“Well, no, not exactly.”

I almost reached for my night table drawer, for cigarettes, but I stopped myself.

“Whaddaya mean, ‘not exactly’?”

This could possibly be my first full day without a single cigarette. At least in this world.

“Pal, what do you mean, ‘not exactly’?”

“Oh, sorry. I mean this is a boarding house,” I said. “But I can use my aunts’ kitchen and living room, and also I like to sit on their front porch. Sometimes I sit in the yard out back.”

“Oh. Well, I guess that’s not so bad,” said the fly, but he didn’t sound too impressed.

I forced myself to a standing position and groaningly started to make my way over to the hook on the wall where my old grey corduroy bathrobe hung.

The fly accompanied me.

“And so we’re where did you say?”

“Cape May, New Jersey. It’s down on the southernmost tip of --”

“Oh, I know where Cape May is, pal.”

I took the bathrobe off its hook.

“That robe’s seen better days, ain’t it?”

I didn’t say anything to this. At least I had a bathrobe. Gritting my teeth, I pulled it on.

“And this is like, what, 1963?” said the fly.

“I certainly hope so,” I said.

I tied the bathrobe’s belt, took a clean hand towel off another hook and put it over my shoulder.

“Very inneresting,” said the fly.

I grabbed my toothbrush and toothpaste from the little shelf there on which I kept my few toiletries.

“I ain’t never traveled into the future before,” he said.

I started down the steps to the third floor. The fly came with me.

“So, what, is everybody got flying cars now and ray guns and shit?”

“No,” I said. At the bottom of the steps I opened the door to the corridor, but just a little bit, and peeked out.

“Did we send anybody to the Moon yet?”

The corridor was empty.

“No,” I said in a very low voice. “We did put a man in orbit in a rocket ship, though.”

I stepped out into the corridor.

“No kidding? We beat the Russians to it?”

“No,” I whispered, and began hobbling as quickly as I could toward the bathroom. “I’m afraid they sent a man up first.”

“Goddam Commies. So, you got your own bathroom here?”

“No,” I said. “I share it with the guests on this floor.

I made it to the bathroom door, and knocked. No one said anything, so I opened the door, went in, closed the door, shot the bolt.

“Hey, pal, can I ask you something?” said the fly, who of course had come into the bathroom with me. “Why is everything like a spy movie with you?”

“It’s too complicated to explain right now,” I said.

I put my toothpaste and toothbrush on the edge of the sink, then lifted the lid of the toilet bowl, and, with a deep sigh, I started doing what I had to do.

Outside the bathroom's open window the rain continued to fall.

“So,” said the fly, “let me get this straight: you, uh, you live with your three aunts.”

“Yes, and my mother.”

“And your mother.”

He was flying lazily about the bathroom, as if he were inspecting it.

“Yes. She brought me here to help me recover from a --”

“A nervous breakdown.”

“Well, it was more like a complete mental breakdown.”


“Yes, I was hospitalized for almost three months. I was released at the beginning of April --”

He landed on top of the mirror above the sink.

“Excuse me, pal, that means nothing to me because I have no idea what month we’re in now. Please bear in mind that I have just been thrust willy nilly from a supposedly fictional world into what is, at least in your opinion, the real world and the present time.”

“Oh, sorry, it’s August, the beginning of August, I’m not quite sure of the date --”

“Okay, so in other words you’ve only been out of the nut house a few months.”


“And please do not take this the wrong way but would I be correct in assuming that upon your release you, uh --”

“Yes,” I said, “I --”

“You were still a little screwy.”

“I was going to say I wasn’t able to go back to work.”

“Because you were still a little screwy.”

I said nothing, and continued to urinate. How much beer had I drunk the previous night anyway? But of course to answer that question I would have to decide which night in which universe I was referring to.

“And you were on the railroad, right?”

“Yes, the Reading, I was a brakeman.”

“Good job, union job. You ever gonna go back?”

“I don’t know. To be honest I don’t know how keen they are on my returning. Or how keen I am to return. Anyway they have me on a half-pay disability.”

“Half-pay -- and you get by on that?”

“Yes, I live pretty cheaply, really.”

“Uh-huh. And would I, uh, be correct in assuming you’re not married?”

“No. I’m not.”

“So -- and stop me if I’m gettting too personal -- have you always lived with your mother?”

“Yes. We have a row home in Philadelphia.”

“Just you and your mom.”


“Okay. You finished there finally?”



This was a voice from outside the door. It was my mother’s voice. She has always had an unerring instinct for instigating conversations with me when I am in the midst of bodily functions. I halted my current function in mid-stream.

“Yes?” I said.

“Who are you talking to in there?”

“No one.”

The fly made a slight hissing sound. I think he was laughing.

“What mass are you going to, Arnold?”

“Oh,” I said. I realized I was wearing my watch, and I looked at it. 10:01. “I guess I’ll go to the eleven,” I said.

“Do you want to have some breakfast first? Since you’re going to such a late mass.”

“Uh, sure, Mom, thanks.”

“You better hurry up then.”

“Okay,” I said.

“All right,” she said.

“Just give me a minute.”

“Okay,” she said.

“So that was your mom --” started the fly, who was sitting in my ear now.


I held my finger to my lips. My mother has a habit of lingering, of waiting until she’s sure that disaster is not imminent before leaving wherever she happens to be.

“I’ll be right down, Mom,” I said. “Just give me a minute.”

“Okay,” she said, not sounding very convinced, which to be honest, is often the way she sounds when I tell her something.

I waited, keeping my finger near my lips. Then I heard her soft steps walking away and finally fading away down the far end of the hall.

I proceeded to finish the last of my interrupted urination.

“Can I talk now?” said the fly.

He flew out of my ear and landed on top of the mirror again.

“Sure, go ahead,” I said.

“So I guess that was the old lady.”

“You guessed right,” I said.

I flushed the toilet, and its racket filled the little room, much as though an orchestra whose instruments were composed of various-sized pots and pans were playing a demonic symphony beneath the floorboards.

“She’s got a funny accent,” said the fly.

“She’s German,” I said.

I turned on the faucet and began to wash my hands.

“Not that I’m prejudiced,” said the fly.

I shook my hands into the sink, picked up my toothbrush and toothpaste.

“So,” said the fly, lifting off from his perch. “You had your own pad back on Bleecker Street.”

I squeezed some toothpaste on my brush and began to clean my teeth. The fly hovered between my face and our reflections in the mirror.

“Maybe it wasn’t the Ritz,” continued the fly -- he sounded in his tone a little like a lawyer in a movie, delivering his final argument to the jury -- “but it was your own ‘pad’ as the young people say, your own ‘trap’, or ‘digs’. You had dames crawling all over you, including your landlady. You had a book of epic poetry about to be published. Oh, perhaps it was not going to make Homer or John Milton uneasy with envy, but then who am I to judge, I am not Cyril Connolly but a mere fly. And also -- and don’t get me wrong now, I ain’t queer, far from it -- also may I say you were a devilishly good-looking young guy, you looked kind of like Montgomery Clift.”

My mouth was filled with toothpaste. I said nothing.

“And so,” said the fly, “here we are. You live with your three aunts and your mother. You sleep in the attic. You’re only recently released from the mental hospital and you’re unemployed. You’re at least ten or fifteen years older than you were last night, and, if you don’t mind my saying so, you don’t look anything like Monty Clift.”

I spat out the toothpaste, rinsed my brush.

“And this,” said the fly, “all this is what you were so anxious to come back to.” He paused. “And so, my question to you, my friend, is --”

“Look,” I said, I cupped my hand under the running water, rinsed out my mouth. “It may not seem like much, but this is my life. Okay?”

“Okay, okay, don’t get upset. You gonna take a shower?”

“No, I’d better take one later.”

“Don’t want to keep mom waiting, huh?”

I took my towel off my shoulder and dried my hands. The fly was sitting on the edge of the sink. I had an awful urge to swat him with the towel. But the urge passed. It was true, he was only a fly, but he was a sentient fly. And despite his many annoying qualities part of me felt a strange affection for him. I felt guilty. I tossed my towel back over my shoulder, re-capped my tube of toothpaste and picked up my toothbrush.

“Come on,” I said, “we’ll get some breakfast.”

“Now you’re talking, pal.”

I slid the bolt open on the door, opened it and peeked out.

“Still the cloak and dagger, huh?”

“Okay, here’s the thing,” I whispered. “There’s this woman who’s staying on this floor, and -- well --”

“Oh ho, now I get it. So even in this world you got the dames all over ya. Who is she?”

“It’s this lady writer I told you about. Gertrude Evans. The one who wrote the novel we were in.”

“Oh, that crazy bitch.”

He buzzed past my head and into the corridor. He looked up and down the hallway.

“Nobody out here, pal, come on.”

I went out, and, as quickly as I could, I limped back to my attic door.

But not quickly enough.

“Oh,” she said. “Arnold.”

I had my hand on the door knob. Another second and I would have been home free. Home free for the time being.

I turned.

“Oh. Good morning, Miss Evans.”

“Please, Arnold. After all we’ve been through. Call me Gertrude.”


“That’s better.”

(Continued here, and at this rate well into the second half of this century.)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, presented free, gratis, and for nothing, thanks to a grant from The Walmart™ Foundation for the Humanities: “Walmart™ -- kind of like America: really big and full of stuff!”)

Monday, January 3, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 231: awaken

Our hero Arnold Schnabel has been transmogrified by the Prince of Darkness into “Porter Walker, a devilishly handsome young poet” in Ye Cannot Quench, a once mildly-popular novel by Gertrude Evans (author of One Step From the Precipice; The Canasta Hustlers; Let’s Not and Say We Did; The Girls in Apt. 2-A; and Tell It to the Pigeon).
(Click here to read our previous chapter; those with an abiding interest in abnormal psychology may go here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 73-volume memoir.)

“Just the other day I was going home on the train and re-reading one of those old Gold Medal paperbacks of the early Arnold Schnabel volumes and imagine my surprise when I got so engrossed that before I knew it I looked up and realized it was the next morning and I was in Sioux Falls, SD.” -- Harold Bloom, in Holiday.

I put down the paper and lifted my glass of whiskey.

“Hey, pal,” said the fly, “don’t forget me, huh? Just pour a little drip on the table there.”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, and did as he asked, pouring a drop from my glass onto the scarred old table top.

The fly immediately flew down and landed on the drop.

“Bottoms up, pal!”

“Bottoms up,” I said, and I took a drink, finishing the whiskey in the glass.

“Damn,” that was good, said the fly. He had finished all his whiskey too. “Now I could use some chow. You hungry at all?”

“In fact I’m starving,” I said.

“Great, whyn’t we run down to that Bob’s Bowery Bar, see if they got some hot dogs, pickled pig’s feet or something.”

“You forget why I came up here in the first place,” I said.

“Oh, right, yeah. Okay. So how long’s that gonna take you think?”

“It shouldn’t take long.”

“Oh, okay, so, like a minute?”

“Well, maybe more than a minute. I don’t want to --”

“Fuck it up.”

“I just want to do it right,” I said.

“Okay. But if it don’t work then we can go down to Bob’s.”

“Sure,” I said.

“You still got some money, right?”

“I’m sure I have enough for a couple of hot dogs in a place like that.”

“And a couple beers. You can’t eat hot dogs with no beer.”

“I have enough for a couple of beers.”

“Good. You like sauerkraut?”

“Yes,” I said.

“So we can get kraut on the dogs?”

“Sure,” I said. “If they have it.”

“If not get some chopped onions. We need ‘em not just for the flavor and texture but the vitamins.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Okay, so do what you got to do already, then we can go eat.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I said.

“Ha ha. Now write. With my blessing. Scribble away, Hemingway.”

“Okay,” I said. I found another blank sheet of typing paper, set it down in front of me. I picked up the pen, removed the cap, stuck the cap onto the barrel.

I paused, thinking. I gazed toward the window, out at the rain.

After a minute the fly said, “What? Writer’s block now?”

“No,” I said. “Not exactly. But I was just thinking, what about Mrs. Morgenstern?”

“What do you mean what about her?”

“I mean what’s she going to think if I just -- disappear?”

“If you disappear.”

“Yes,” I said. “If I disappear, what is she going to think?”

“Who cares? Write already.”

“But -- she’ll worry. In fact all these other people will worry also -- Pat, and Carlotta --”

“Them bitches? They’ll worry for like five seconds, tops. Unless you owe them money. You owe them money?”

“Um, not that I know of --”

“So don’t worry about it.”

“And then there’s Emily --”

“Fuck her, she’s an even bigger bitch, and a nutcase to boot.”

“And Julian, my publisher. And that little waiter guy, Sammy --”

“So, what?” said the fly. “You don’t wanta upset nobody by disappearing, then don’t disappear. It’s a goofy idea anyway. Let’s go down the bar, we’ll eat something, get a load on, who knows, maybe we get lucky --”

“No,” I said. “I still want to try this. But I have to leave a note first.”

“A note.”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s the polite thing to do. Now be quiet and let me think.”

“Oh. Okay. The great brain at work.”


“I am mum.”

I thought for a moment, and then began to write.

Dear Mrs. Morgenstern,
I regret to inform you that, for personal reasons, I have decided to leave this apartment, and, indeed, to

I paused.

“I smell rubber burning,” said the fly. “You must be thinking.”

I continued writing.

-- and indeed to leave the country. I feel the need to travel the world, incognito

“Incognito, that’s good,” said the fly, for he was now hovering over the sheet of paper.

-- to study humanity, and life, and to seek wisdom.

“You’re on a roll,” said the fly.

I realize that my leaving without notice like this could cause you some economic hardship, and so I ask you to take this letter to Mr. Julian Smythe of Smythe & Son, the publishing firm (their address should be in the phone book) and tell him that I authorize him to give you two months’ rent for this apartment out of my first advance payment checks for my book,

What was it called again? Oh, yes --

The Brawny Embraces.

I paused again, thinking.

I suddenly remembered that there was still a little whiskey left in the Early Times bottle. I picked it up and poured the remainder in my glass.

“Hey, what am I, an orphan?” said the fly.

I shook the upended bottle over the table, and three or four fat drops fell out.

“Now we’re talkin’, pal,” said the fly, and he descended on his treat.

I too took another drink, then resumed writing.

In fact, Mrs. Morgenstern, I hereby give you power of attorney over all my affairs, and I ask Julian to sign over all my future advance and/or royalty checks for my book to you.

Once again I wished I knew Mrs. Morgenstern’s first name, not just because it seemed sad to have made love with a woman three times and only know her married name, but also so that I could make the document legally airtight. Then I remembered her mentioning her husband by his first name. I changed the last period into a comma, and continued:

-- to you, Mrs. Jake Morgenstern of 3 Bleecker Street, New York City, New York.

I paused again. Writing the address of the building had reminded me of my neighbors. I took a moment, then continued.

I ask you (after the afore-mentioned two months’ rent have been taken care of) to divide up each of these checks into equal parts, one for yourself and one part each for my neighbors Pat and Carlotta, in recognition of the kindnesses you all have shown me.

This reminded me of the kindness, if that’s what it was, that poor Emily had shown me. I felt bad leaving her out.

Please give another equal share to my editor, Emily.

I didn’t know Emily’s last name. Too bad.

I paused again. Then:

Also, there’s a man named Maxie who works as a waiter at the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel. Julian Smythe knows who he is. Please give Maxie an equal share also.

Once again I paused, gazing out through the window at the rain. Then I continued.

I just remembered that my advance payment for my book is only fifty dollars a month, and so, unless by some miracle this book becomes a bestseller, we are not talking about great sums of money here. But it’s the best I can do, and I hope this small monthly emolument will go some way toward making up for my sudden departure. As for myself, I want no money from the book. I shall wander the world heedless of riches, much like the wandering monks of old, picking up odd jobs here and there and perhaps composing another and even more epic poem.

I paused, gazing around the small cluttered apartment. Then I wrote:

Addendum: Any of my papers and odd poems and whatnot that are in here, you can pass on to Julian Smythe, to publish if he is mad enough to do so, or to throw in the trash, it is a matter of complete indifference to me. If he does choose to publish them I ask that he distribute any royalties forthcoming to you, to Pat and Carlotta, to Emily and Maxie, equal shares for all.

I paused again.

If you want any of the pictures, books, records, household items or anything else I’m leaving here, please take them. Anything else you may let Pat and Carlotta and Emily and Maxie pick over, and if there are any items still remaining just donate them to Goodwill or put them out on the sidewalk where I hope passing bums and bohemians will make short work of them.
Porter Walker, poet.

“Well,” I said. “What do you think?”

“About your little note?”

The fly’s voice sounded a bit slurred, and no wonder, he’d sopped up all the whiskey from the tabletop, and he was just sitting there, to the side of my note.

“Yes,” I said.

“Can I read it later? I don’t think I’m up for it now.”

“Sure,” I said.

He sat very still there, and then -- yes -- I could hear him snoring.

I put the note to one side, on a clear section of the table, where Mrs. Morgenstern would be sure to find it.

I picked up another blank piece of typewriter paper, set it before me.

I took another sip of whiskey, and began to write again.

And so Porter wrote the words that would take him back to his own self, to his own world.

I sighed. There was nothing more to write.

I re-capped the pen and and sat there, holding the pen in my fingers. I suddenly felt very, very tired.

The rain continued to fall outside, and a fresh breeze smelling of the ocean came through the window.

I pushed back my chair and stood up.

I walked over to the hallway door as if already in a dream. I flicked off the overhead light, the room fell dark, but not completely dark, some light from a streetlamp spilled in from outside.

I walked back towards the bed, and I almost tripped over the chair that Lucky had knocked over. I started to bend down to set it upright, but decided to let it go.

I made it to my bed and sat down. I was still holding the pen; I put it on the night table. It had been such a long day. The weariness was swallowing me up. I was still very hungry, but I was even more sleepy than hungry. I didn’t want to fall asleep fully clothed, so I forced myself to undress, dropping my clothes to the floor. I actually fell asleep a couple of times while I was undressing, but I woke up as soon as my head dropped to my chest.

At last I was down to my boxer shorts. I shoved the sheet aside, lay on my back, then turned on my side, toward the sound of the rain, to that breeze blowing in from the ocean. I fell asleep.

When I awoke there was still the sound of rain.

I opened my eyes, and I saw my window, my little casement window in my attic room in my aunts’ house, in Cape May, the rain falling through morning light, the wet leaves of the oak tree outside stirring and glistening, the air smelling of the ocean.

I had been lying on my side. I turned over onto my back.

My plan had worked, and I had returned to my own world, to my own body, to my own self.

I was hungry, ravenously hungry. And I had to urinate.

My covering sheet was down by my feet. I swung my legs off the bed and sat up, with my fingers on the edge of the mattress. The breeze coming through the window was soothing if not quite cool against my back.

I made an attempt to get up, and flinched, with not just one but with a whole variety of aches and pains, and I remembered last night’s shenanigans (last night that felt like a year ago), flying blithely through the air, smashing into a streetlamp pole, crashing onto the pavement; and later, back at the house, struggling and wrestling with Miss Evans as though she were Haystack Calhoun and not a slender woman. Both my knees were scraped and bruised, as were my hands, my forearms, my elbows. My left shoulder was especially sore and stiff, as was my right knee. Somewhere in there was a slight hangover. But I didn’t care. At least these were my own aches and pains, my own bruises and scrapes, my own hangover. But I would have to wear long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt today, just to forestall comment from my mother and my aunts…

“Hey, pal? Is that you?”

The fly was sitting on my bedside table, on top of Miss Evans’s book.

“Yes,” I said. “This is me.”

“You look like terrible.”

“I feel like terrible,” I said.

“Y’know what you need, pal? A good breakfast. Fix you right up.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I said.

“So get dressed and let’s eat.”

“Okay,” I said.

I was back.

I was back, and my new friend was with me.

(Continued here, of course.)

(Kindly go to the right hand column of this page for a listing of links to all other legally-authorized chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored in part by Bromo-Seltzer™. “Too much partaken over the holidays? Join the club, and have another Bromo™!”)