Saturday, February 4, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 287: back

Will Arnold Schnabel and his companion that aged rascal Mr. Jones ever succeed in returning to the world of the living? Let’s rejoin our heroes on the fog-shrouded island of lost souls…

(Go here to read our preceding chapter; if you think you’ve got what it takes then go ahead and click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 48-volume memoir.)

“Now that I have Arnold Schnabel’s masterpiece available on my Kindle I often find myself missing my bus stop and blissfully riding to the end of the line.” -- Harold Bloom, in Better Homes and Gardens.

We started at a fairly good pace, at least by Mr. Jones’s standards, but soon enough he had slowed once again to a shuffle. I reflected that it had been a very long day for the old fellow. He had died, after all, for one thing, and then had many adventures here in the next world. He had also smoked opium and marijuana, and he had had a shot of I.W. Harper bourbon, a bottle of Tree Frog Lager, and three or was it four Manhattans. No one could blame him for walking slow. We shuffled in silence arm-in-arm through the fog, moving at the rate of perhaps a yard every minute, and then suddenly and without warning Mr. Jones began to sing a song which seemed to have been already in progress in his ancient brain:

...the score was fourteen-twenty,
the roaches was ahead,
the bedbugs hit a home run
and knocked me out of bed.
When I went down to breakfast
the bread was hard and stale,
the tea was like tobacco juice
the kind you get in jail.
Automatic coffee, automatic cheese,
Indian rubber beefsteak
and double-jointed peas…

He stopped singing and we resumed our shuffling, but after a minute he picked up the song again, at least I think it was the same song, but I could be wrong, maybe it was another song, or perhaps a different section of the same cantata, who knows:

At the bar, at the bar,
where I smoked my first cigar,
and the nickels and dimes just rolled away,
it was there by chance
that I ripped my Sunday pants
and I had to wear my sister’s every day!

He stopped the song here, and we continued on. He shuffled more and more slowly. It was all I could do to move so slowly. It was also rather boring.

“Mr. Jones,” I said at last. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but would you mind terribly if I carried you?”

“I thought you’d never ask. Here, you take the beer, then hunker down a bit and I’ll clamber up.”

I took the quart of beer from him, turned, and hunkered. Mr. Jones tossed his cigarette away into that thick dark grey cloud all around us and clambered up onto my back like some very old but still somewhat spry monkey. After I got him settled, with his arms around my neck and my forearms under his childlike thighs, his faint dry breath on my neck, I set off again at a brisk pace.

Mr. Jones again began to sing, at a much faster rhythm now, matching my quickened strides:

Oh, I’ve known many a fair-haired girl
so young and pretty and gay
but there’s never been a girl
in the whole wide world
who didn’t wind up old
and shriveled and grey,
unless of course death should
touch her with his finger so cold
ere she had a chance to become
an ancient and haggard crone.
Yes, that flesh which was once so tender
has now become like leather
and those sparkling white choppers
have been replaced by dentures,
but still it’s good to remember
those youthful sweet embraces,
and though the names and faces
and other particulars may be
forgotten, still the memories
of past pleasures will linger
until we feel death’s cold finger…

Suddenly I sensed something different about the quality of the dark fog I had been walking through and then my foot hit something hard and once again I almost fell. I looked down and saw a brick wall, about four feet high, and perhaps a foot wide. Before us I could see only more fog, but I could hear the gentle lapping of water below.

“So,” said Mr. Jones. “We’re here, apparently. The river wall. So now what? Try to find another boat?”

“No,” I said. “I have another idea. But, again, I must ask you to trust me.”

“And this idea is?”

“To leap off the top of this wall.”

“To leap into that void?”

“Yes,” I said.

“To commit suicide? But why give up so easily? Let’s at least spend all our money first, tie a good load on…”

“First off,” I said. “I’m not so sure we’re even able to commit suicide. After all, we’re already in the land of the dead. But anyway, I have no desire to commit suicide. No, what I propose is we jump off, and fly back to the land of the living.”

“So now you’re able to fly?”

“I know it sounds unbelievable, but, yes, I have flown.”

“Not that I don’t believe you, Arnie, but you may be able to fly, but I, as you well know, can barely walk, let alone fly.”

“But,” I said, “if you stay on my back I think I just might be able to carry you along with me in my flight.”

“Well, you certainly are a sturdy young fellow,” said Mr. Jones. “There’s no denying that. But are you sure you don’t want to go back to the bar and have a drink or two first?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure,” I said.

“What say we finish the quart then. I just happen to have a church key in my pocket.”

“I’d really just prefer to get the show on the road,” I said.

“Arnie, come on, be a man. It’s only a quart, it’ll just take us a minute if we chug it.”

“Mr. Jones,” I said, “once we get back to the world of the living we’ll have all the time in the world to drink beer.”

“If we get back,” he said.

“Well, okay,” I conceded. “If.”

Mr. Jones tried to reach down and grab the quart from me, but I held it away.

“Damn your eyes, Arnold,” he said. “Damn you and all you stand for. However, if you are quite adamant, and it seems you are -- or are you?”

“I’m quite adamant,” I said.

“Oh, all right then, if we’re going to do it, then let’s do it and get it over with. Do you want me to climb down while you mount the wall?”

“No,” I said, “I think it might be better if we back up a bit and I take a running start and then vault over the wall.”

“With me on your back.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You think you can vault it with me on your back?”

“Possibly,” I said. “You’re very light after all.”

“Ninety pounds soaking wet,” said Mr. Jones. “Well, go on then, Arnold. Blast off.”

“Okay,” I said. I backed up a couple of yards. I would have backed up even more, but even at this distance the wall was only very faintly visible. I didn’t want to misjudge my running start and just run into the wall again.

I hitched Mr. Jones’s thighs up with my forearms.

“Hold tight now,” I said.

“Oh, believe me, I will,” he said. “And you hold tight onto that there quart.”

“Okay,” I said. I took a deep breath, then another.

“See you on that far shore,” said Mr. Jones.

“I hope so,” I said.

I took another deep breath. Then another.

“What’s the hold-up?” said Mr. Jones.

“I’m afraid,” I said. “What if we wind up somewhere even worse than this?”

“Fuck it, Arnie boy, let’s face it, we always wind up in a worse place eventually. But we’ve got some drinking to do. So either make the jump or let’s head back to that bar.”

I knew that if I hesitated even one second longer I would never do it, and so, without another word I bolted forward and then jumped, hoping to land one foot on top of the wall and then to soar off into the fog, but I misjudged my jump, or misjudged my ability to jump with my already damaged legs and with the old man on my back, and I caught the toe of my Ked on the inner edge of the wall and fell forward over it, Mr. Jones still holding tight to my neck, and a second later I was crashing headfirst into dark cold water and down I went, down and down through a world of nearly black water, down and down, Mr. Jones still hanging onto my neck.

Well, I had tried, and that’s all a man can do.

My only hope now was to try to reverse my direction, to swim upwards, with Mr. Jones on my back, and if I succeeded in breaking through to the surface then I would try to get back onto the island of lost souls. I would try to get us back, and if I succeeded we would go back to the bar, if we could find it, we would dry off, have a drink, perhaps a hot toddy or two. We would try something else...

But I kept sinking down, with Mr. Jones still gripping tight to my neck, down and down I sank, Mr. Jones gripped even tighter onto my neck and this made me gasp, which let water rush into my mouth, and I went from trying to hold my breath to drowning, strangling. I let go of the quart of beer. Mr. Jones would not be happy about that…

And then I blacked out.

And a moment or a century later I awoke, lying on my back, and I looked up and saw Big Ben Blagwell leaning over me, as well as Mr. Arbuthnot, and Mr. Jones too. And buzzing above my face was Ferdinand the fly.

“Hey, Arnie,” said the fly. “You okay, pal?”

I took a breath. The air tasted and smelled of tobacco, of marijuana, of old people’s furniture and rugs, and of something else which I couldn’t name at first, and then I realized it was Ben’s eau de cologne.

“Give him some air,” said Ben.

“He’s all right,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Hey, Arnie,” said Mr. Jones. “You owe me some drinks.”

“I could go for a drink,” said Ferdinand.

I was back. I had traveled into the next world and brought both Mr. Jones and myself back here, to the previous world.

Shnooby the cat jumped onto my chest from somewhere and he looked right into my face.

“Where’s my food?” he said. “You were supposed to bring me some fresh seafood.”

Yes, I was back all right.

“Shnooby,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Give the man a break. Can’t you see he’s had a shock?”

“My heart bleeds,” said Shnooby, and for some reason he licked my nose.

“You gave us a scare there, pal,” said Ferdinand.

Quick as a shot Shnooby took a swipe at Ferdinand but the fly was too quick, and he zoomed up out of the cat’s reach.

Yes, I was back.

I was back in the land of the living.

(Continued here, and so on, in this world and possibly in the next.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a complete listing of links to all other officially-published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©; soon to be a major mini-series event from the Dumont Television Network, starring Lee Marvin as Arnold, and featuring Sir Cedric Hardwick in the role of Mr. Jones.)


Unknown said...

Again, a rewarding and satisfying conclusion to what I hope is actually a chapter in Arnold's day. Encore!

Dan Leo said...

Never fear, Dear Kathleen -- you know that Arnold's just getting started!