Friday, January 2, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 423: slaves

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the cozy parlor of the Stop-Rite Inn, just as his friend the noted author Horace P. Sternwall has begun to read aloud to the assembled company from his unaccountably obscure “paperback original” novel
Slaves of Sappho...

(Kindly click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here to return to the very first chapter of this 69-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“If there is one author who might possibly challenge the primacy of Arnold Schnabel in the American literary pantheon then that author would be no other than Arnold’s friend Horace P. Sternwall, author of such disgracefully out-of-print classics as
An Easy Ten Grand and Hell in the Amazon.” – Harold Bloom, in the Catholic Standard & Times Literary Supplement.

It had been another grey and lonely day in New York City, a hot and sticky August day {Horace read}. And now night would soon be falling, another hot and sticky lonely night.

Missy Hallebrand walked up Bedford Street in the direction of the apartment she shared with three other girls on Jane Street, but she couldn’t bear to go home yet, not yet, to that un-airconditioned and squalid shotgun flat festooned with drying stockings and underthings and filled with the cigarette smoke and the mindless unceasing chatter of those three twits Maddy, Teri, and Gerrie. And besides, she knew that as usual there would be nothing there to eat except maybe the dregs of a jar of peanut butter and a smear of strawberry jelly if she was lucky, and doubtless not even a single moldy Uneeda cracker to spread the stuff on.

She decided to go into the automat by the Hotel St Crispian, which was where she took most of her evening meals, meager as they were. She could nurse a cup of coffee there and read her library book, and when she got hungry enough she could treat herself to some split-pea soup and a roll. 

She would linger there as long as possible, switching from coffee to water so as not to toss and turn all night in bed anymore than she would normally do, which was a lot, and then finally she would head back to the wretched sweltering apartment on Jane street, to the blaring radio and the mindless chatter of her flatmates, to the stench of cigarette smoke and cheap perfume and unwashed linens…

The automat was crowded, as it usually was at this time, 7:30 in the evening. She got her cup of coffee and found a small table by the window which looked across the alleyway to the dirty brown brick walls of the Hotel St Crispian.

Missy Hallebrand was a petite pretty blonde-haired girl of twenty-two, like thousands of other girls in this swarming madhouse of a city, except she was not a happy girl.

She wasn’t one of these laughing chattering idiots like the girls she worked with at Macy’s, or like Maddy, Teri, and Gerrie.

She was a sad girl.

She opened her purse (black, plastic, cheap, all she could afford even with her employee’s discount at the department store) and took out her book.

Thank God for the library and thank God for books. 

Not that she believed in God.

“Excuse me, ahem, miss?” 

These words were spoken by a tall young woman with short dark hair and a panama hat with a wide red band, wearing a sleeveless and scoop-necked black pullover of what looked like real silk and pearl-colored pongee slacks. She had a large brown-leather bag on her shoulder, like something an army officer would carry maps in, and she had a tray in her hands.

“Is this seat taken?” said the tall girl.

“No,” said Missy. “It’s free.”

“Do you mind terribly if I sit? The only other empty places are at tables with men. I hate to sit at tables with men. They disgust me so.” She had some sort of southern accent, which seemed to Missy even more pronounced with the next thing she said, which was, after a short pause: “They’re so mean, so mean and hateful.”

“Please, sit,” said Missy.

“Thanks, doll.”

The girl sat down and put her tray on the table. The tray held a cup of coffee and a slice of what looked like the pineapple upside-down cake.

“Would you mind passing the cream?” she said.

The cream pitcher was no closer to Missy than it was to the other girl, but Missy had been brought up right, so she picked up the creamer and moved it three inches closer to the girl.

“Thanks,” the girl said, and she poured a couple of ounces of cream into her cup. She glanced in a meaningful-looking way at the sugar dispenser, but before she could say anything Missy slid it towards her. The girl picked it up, poured about four teaspoons worth of sugar into her cup, then picked up her spoon and stirred the mixture thoroughly.

Missy returned her gaze to her book, but before she could find her place the girl with the Panama hat spoke again. 

“I wouldn’t mind it if the men were nice at all, but they are invariably so rude, and they all think they are God’s gifts to women. Don’t you find that to be true.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Missy.

“Don’t you find that men are always trying to pick you up when you sit alone in places like this?”

“Well, sometimes –”

“And what do you do about it? Do you let them pick you up?” The girl was eating her cake as she spoke now, along with taking little sips of her coffee, but, unlike Missy’s flatmates, she managed to perform all three actions in a manner that was not revolting, neither leaving crumbs on her lips nor making vile slurping noises. “Or do you tell them to take a hike?”

“I just tell them I have a boyfriend,” said Missy, “and then they usually leave me alone.”

“Oh,” said the girl. She put down her fork, picked up her paper napkin, and dabbed her lips, which were painted very red, and seemed especially red as her face was as pale as the paper napkin which she laid very neatly back onto her tray. She took another sip of her coffee, and Missy had just lifted her book to try to read again when the girl spoke, again: “And do you really have a boyfriend?”

Missy was beginning to be annoyed, but there was something about this girl – her pale skin, her red lips, her forthright manner, combined with the soft southern accent – that overcame, if only barely, Missy’s incipient annoyance.

“I suppose I do,” she said.

“You suppose you do?” said the girl, and one of her eyebrows arched upwards a full inch. Her eyebrows were thin and dark, but they didn’t seem to be trimmed or shaven at all, and they were free of that awful tarlike paste most women smeared on theirs.

“Well,” said Missy, “the thing is, he’s away in the army.”

“Oh,” said the girl. “He’s in the army. Overseas?”

“Yes,” said Missy. “He was drafted, right out of law school, and he’s in Germany now.”

Germany,” said the girl, with an emphasis that made it sound like the name of a place much farther away, like the South Pole, or perhaps a space station orbiting Alpha Centauri. She took up her fork and set to work on her pineapple upside-down cake again.

Missy returned her eyes to her book, but not with much hope of even beginning to read a sentence, and sure enough the girl spoke once more.

“How much longer is his hitch for? The boyfriend.”

“Oh,” said Missy. “At least another year I think.”

“Another year,” said the girl. “That’s a long time.”

“Yes,” said Missy.

“Oh, my name is Muriel by the way. Muriel Armitage.” She put down her fork and held out her hand. The fingers were long, slender and white, the nails were long and painted the same color as her lips. Missy took the hand, and the girl squeezed Missy’s hand with a rather strong grip for a woman.

“I’m Missy. Missy Hallebrand.”

The girl called Muriel gave Missy’s hand one more good squeeze, and then set it free.

“But I’ve been talking your ear off, and you’re trying to read your book.”

“I don’t mind.”

“I can’t help but notice it seems to be in French. What’s it about?”

“Well,” said Missy, “it’s about this man, a novelist who is a confirmed bachelor, and, in a moment of weakness, he proposes to this girl, and it seems as if he’s spending the rest of the book trying to get out of the engagement.”

“Oh, marvelous. Sounds like my kind of book. And what is his fiancée like?”

“Well, she’s sort of a drip, actually.”

“Ha ha, a drip. There certainly are plenty of them around. Drippy girls I mean.”

“I know.”

“Almost as many as there are drippy men.”

“Maybe even more,” said Missy.

“Ha ha,” said Muriel. “That is quite possible. What do you do.”

“You mean, what do I do for a living?”


“I sell cosmetics at Macy’s.”

“How dreadful for you.”

“It’s not so bad.”

“It sounds bad.”

“Yes,” said Missy. “It’s pretty bad. But unfortunately there’s not many jobs for girls with degrees in French literature.”

“I daresay not.”

Muriel lifted her cup, this time using both of her long and slender scarlet-tipped hands, and as she sipped her coffee she looked at Missy. Her eyes beneath the brim of that Panama hat were brown, and deep. She used just a little eyeliner and mascara, although to be quite honest Missy thought she could give her a couple of simple pointers on their more correct application.

“What else do you do, Missy.”

“What else?”

“Yes. With your life. While you’re waiting for soldier boy to return from Germany.”

No one had ever asked Missy such a question before, and she was just a little taken aback.

What did she do with her life?

“I hope you don’t think I’m a Nosey Parker,” said Muriel. “I was only curious.”

Missy looked out the window at the dirty brown brick walls of the Hotel St Crispian.

This is it,” she said. “I work at the cosmetics counter at Macy’s. I can’t stand to go home to my smelly hot apartment and my idiotic roommates, so I sit here in the automat and read a library book. If there’s anything good playing I may go to a movie. I take walks. I – I –”

“You what, honey?”

“I wait.”

“You wait.”

“Yes. I know it’s pathetic, but I wait –”

“Wait for what.”

“I wait for my – my boyfriend to get out of the army.”


“You see, we’ve talked about – you know –”

“Getting married?”


“So you’re engaged.”

No,” said Missy, after a pause that lasted longer than she wished it had. “We’ve only talked about it. Chad says –”


“Yes, that’s my boyfriend.”


“Yes. He says, he said, he says, we should wait, until he gets out of the service, before deciding, and, and –”

“And what, dear?”

“And maybe wait, some more, until he gets established, in his law career, before, before –”

“Oh, honey.”


“Nothing,” said Muriel.

She had finished her pineapple upside down cake. She picked up her map case or whatever it was, opened it, fished around in it, and came up with an opened pack of Herbert Tareyton cigarettes.

“You smoke, honey?”

“No, not really,” said Missy.

“Take a Herbert Tareyton.”


“’Cause, honey, you’re gonna need one with what I am about to tell you.”

Missy hesitated for a moment, but then she took a cigarette after all, she had no idea why.

(Continued here, and well into the new year and no one knows how many new years beyond.)

(Kindly scroll down the right hand column of this page to find what should be a reasonably current listing of links to all other officially-released episodes of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Make your reservations now for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual 3 Kings Day Beef ‘n’ Beer bash at the VFW at Chew and Chelten, Philadelphia PA – tickets are going fast, so don’t delay! Musical entertainment provided by "Gabriel and his All-Star Heavenly Band", with special guests "Freddy Ayres & Ursula"!)


Unknown said...

Although I don't yet know what Muriel will tell Missy, I'm certain she needs to listen well.

Dan Leo said...

I'm looking forward to finding out myself!