Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, sitting here on a sofa with those charming siblings Nadine, Cathy and Terence, in their stately Greenwich Village townhouse on this rainy night in August of 1957...
(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; click here to travel back even further in time to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 67-volume memoir)
“As I inexorably approach what the Bawdy Bard called that ‘undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveler returns’ I can think of no better way to pass the time still left to me than to sit in my old La-Z-Boy recliner and lose myself in the immortal world (nay – worlds – infinitely plural!) of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the Times Literary Supplement Special Summer Supplement.
“Thank you, Arnold,” said Nadine (whose name I suddenly remembered again, at least for the time being). “Are you looking at that dreadful painting?”
“Yes,” I admitted. “
That’s our great-grandfather. Isn’t he frightening?”
“Yes, a little,” I said, although I didn’t mention his speaking, or his mirthless laughter.
“Colonel Lucretius Punctilius Belleforest,” she said. “I suppose you’ve heard of him.”
“Oh, sure,” I said, just automatically lying for no good reason.
“Odd to think that we three – Terence, Cathy and I – are the last of the proud Belleforest line.”
I didn’t care. But it’s rude to say that sort of thing, so, just to say something I said:
“Well, you’re all still young –”
“Ha!” said Terence. “I don’t think I’ll be producing any heirs, I’ll tell you that much!”
“I don’t think I could stand getting so fat,” said Cathy. She was playing with my earlobe again.
“I think I could have a child,” said Nadine, still caressing my thigh by the way. “Just one maybe. But I should have to find the right man.”
“What about Arnold?” said Cathy.
“Oh, Arnold is far too independent,” said Nadine, “far too bohemian, far too devoted to his work to be interested in fatherhood, aren’t you, Arnold?”
“Yes,” I said, trying to sound as emphatic as possible.
“Too bad,” she said, and she gave my thigh another good squeeze. I continued to hold the bottom right front flap of my jacket over my erection.
“So,” said Terence. “Arnold, old man – sandwiches? Cheese and crackers?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Sandwiches or cheese and crackers?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said.
“Liverwurst okay? Chicken? Baloney?”
“Anything,” I said.
“And what kind of cheese do you like?”
“Any kind,” I said.
“Terence,” said Nadine, “stop grilling Arnold and go make him up a nice little platter – sandwiches, cheese, crackers, the lot.”
“And, again,” said Terence, “of course it’s me who has to do it.”
“Oh, balls,” said Nadine.
“I mean, really,” said Terence. “What am I, a servant around here?”
“You’re a lazy idle loafer is what you are,” said Nadine.
While all this was going on Cathy continued to pull on my earlobe, and to caress the side of my face, to run her fingernails through the probably somewhat greasy stubble on my chin and my cheek, and her sister continued to squeeze my thigh, and so my erection continued unabated.
I tried to concentrate on Dan Duryea on the TV. He was sitting at a bar, the sort of bar you only ever see in movies, where nearly everything was white, and on a stage Lizabeth Scott was singing with a combo, “Begin the Beguine”.
Dan Duryea’s highball looked pretty good to me, and I remembered that I still had an only half-drunk highball of my own on the tray on the coffee table in front of me, and so, as Nadine and Terence continued to call each other names, I picked up the drink and poured a good gulp of it down my gullet.
“Jitbag,” said Nadine.
“Skank,” said Terence.
“Tell me something,” said that gruff man’s voice again. “Yes, you, moron.”
I knew who it was, although I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I decided to ignore him, and I pretended I didn’t or couldn’t hear him.
“Don’t ignore me,” he said. “And don’t pretend you can’t hear me, either. Look at me when I’m addressing you!”
Reluctantly I turned my head and looked at the painting of the Civil War colonel. He was really glaring at me now.
“That’s better,” he said. “So, let me ask you a question. I know you didn’t come here to read Nadine’s doggerel, so what exactly are you doing here?”
I didn’t want to be heard talking to a painting, and so I shrugged, which come to think of it, was probably as good an answer to his question as anything else I might come up with.
“I suppose what you’re really hoping to do is to get into Nadine’s underdrawers, am I right?”
This was definitely not the case, and so I shook my head.
“Oh, so it’s young Cathy you’re after, is that it?”
Again I shook my head, and just as emphatically.
“You’re not?” he said. “What are you, a nancy boy, hoping to pack some fudge with Terence are you?”
Again I shook my head, with even more emphasis.
“So you’re just here for the free food and drinks I suppose, hey?”
I shrugged. I didn’t really know why I was there.
“Ah, fuck it,” he said. “This is what it’s come to. As Nadine, said, the last of the proud Belleforest line. These three loons.”
Again I shrugged. The conversation was working out fairly well with me contributing only shrugs and head-shakes, maybe some modest facial expressions. Perhaps I should adopt this nonverbal method more frequently in my dealings with other people, or animate objects.
“Three great-grandchildren,” he went on, “squandering the fortune I worked so assiduously to acquire. Disgracing the family name with their antics. And me stuck here and not a damn thing I can do about it!”
I didn’t know what to say to this. I said nothing.
“And, yes,” he said, and then sighed, “soon, soon enough, this proud family name, yes, some would say this overweening family name, soon this name which once struck fear and awe and envy into the hearts of men and women and hermaphrodites alike, soon this proud name, I suppose I should say once-proud name, soon this name will be forgotten.”
To this I replied with a sort of half-turn of the head, lips pursed slightly, gazing off into innumerable possible futures, in one of which this name he was talking about would not be forgotten, although I had myself already forgotten it.
“You’ve forgotten it!” he said, suddenly.
I gave a look that was meant to express the idea that I was sorry, but I didn’t know what he was referring to.
“My name!” he said, shouted really. “You’ve forgotten it already, haven’t you?”
I tried to remember it, but the old fellow was right, I had completely forgotten the name. I suppose I made a sheepish expression, my eyes darting to the TV set, where Dan Duryea was talking to the bartender, who was played by William Bendix.
“Belleforest!” the colonel yelled. “Belleforest! The Belleforests of Bleecker Street!”
I looked up from the TV and gave the colonel what I hoped was an enthusiastic-seeming series of rapid nods, as if I actually never had forgotten the stupid name.
“Don’t lie to me, you young motherfucker,” he said. “I read you like a book. A very bad, pointless, and sloppily written book, I might add!”
I hung my head.
“But tell me something,” he said. “Did you then not know Nadine was a Belleforest?”
I shook my head. Every once in a while I was able honestly to tell the truth.
“Well, y’know, that’s something then,” he said. “Maybe you’re not as big a loser as you look like after all. Because if you did indeed not know that Nadine was a Belleforest, then that at least indicates that possibly – and I say possibly – you are not after her just for her money. Or are you?”
Again I shook my head, in what I hoped was an emphatic-seeming way.
“Y’know,” he said, “I’m almost beginning to like you, kid, although I can’t say I approve of the way you’re dressed. Never had much time for bohemians myself. Or are you just a slob?”
“Okay, look, you know what?” he said. “Forget everything I said. You look like you’re pretty down at your heels. You know what you should do? Make a play for Nadine. Marry her. She and her two siblings haven’t completely squandered the family fortune yet. Maybe there’s still a chance to keep the Belleforest bloodline alive. So, go on, you have my blessing.”
“Hey, you know what, Nadine?” said Terence, and I realized that those two had been at it the whole time I had been conversing with the colonel. “You can suck my dick.”
“I’ll put my foot up your ass is what I’ll do,” said Nadine. “Although on second thoughts you would probably enjoy that.”
I suddenly realized that my erection had subsided again. If I was going to act I had better act now.
“Listen,” I said, putting down my glass, which I had been holding but not drinking from all this time, “I don’t mean to be a source of dissension, so maybe it’s best that I go after all.”
“What?” said Nadine.
“I think maybe I’d better, like, go,” I said.
“No!” shrieked Cathy in my ear.
“No!” echoed Nadine.
“Oh, here we go again,” said Terence. “Scaring another one off, Miss Nadine!”
“Me?” said Nadine. “What about you, Mr. Too-Good-to-Get-off-His-Lily-White-Ass-and-Make-a-Snack-for-Poor-Arnold!”
“The both of you are scaring him off!” said Cathy.
“Well, I don’t see you volunteering to fix Arnold a plate, you spoiled brat,” said Terence.
“For once Terence has a point, little sister,” said Nadine.
“I’ll make him a plate!” said Cathy. “I may not be able to cook, but I can make a cold-cut sandwich, by golly!”
“Then do it, damn it,” said Nadine, “and stop draping yourself so shamelessly all over Arnold like some dockside slattern.”
“You should talk,” said Cathy. “You’ve been kneading his thigh there like a piece of pie dough.”
“Okay,” I said. “I guess I should go –”
I started to get up once again, but both girls pulled me back down again.
“Stay!” yelled Cathy. “Come on, Terence, we’ll both fix Arnold something nice, right now.”
I could scarcely believe it, but, amazingly, Terence sat up and put his rope sandals back on and then he and Cathy both got up off the sofa, and, chattering about something I’ve completely forgotten if it ever registered at all, they both left the room, heading out the way I had come in.
Which left me alone with Nadine.
“Finally,” she said. She still had her hand on my thigh, and now she put her face close to mine. “Would you like to kiss me?” she said.
“Well, you know what I’d really like?” I said. For once my brain was not only working, but working at top speed, or top speed for me, anyway, which is probably about half-speed for the average adult human being.
“To have sex?” she said. “We’d have to move very quickly if that’s the case.”
“Well,” I said, “that sounds pretty good, but what I’d really like to do first is to read some of that poetry of yours.”
“You would?” she said.
“Sure,” I lied, blatantly. “I’d love to.”
“Like right now?”
“Why not?” I said.
“Oh my goodness. I’d have to run up to my room and get it.”
“I can wait,” I said.
“I won’t be a mo.”
“Take your time,” I said.
She stubbed out her cigarette.
“Make yourself another highball if you like.”
“I might do that,” I said.
She lifted her glass to her lips and finished off her green drink, then put down the glass.
“I’m so excited,” she said.
“Me too,” I said.
“And, please, help yourself to a cigarette if you want one.”
“Maybe I will,” I said.
She finally got up. She didn’t bother to put her shoes back on. She leaned down and touched my face.
“If you don’t want to shave you should grow a proper beard,” she said. “No woman likes to have her face or God forbid the tender flesh of her inner thighs rubbed raw by a man’s stubble.”
I had no reply to this, but she didn’t wait for one, and she went off, striding across the room, staggering just slightly, and she went out and to the right, disappearing from my view.
I was alone at last.
Except for Dan Duryea on the TV, who was lifting a drink.
And except for the colonel in the painting.
“I see what you’re doing,” he said. “I guess you think you’re pretty fucking sharp.”
I didn’t dignify that remark with a response and instead got up, but I had forgotten about my bad knees, and as soon as I was upright I got a horrible stab of pain in my right knee, and as I lifted that leg to take my weight off it, my other knee buckled and came down on the edge of that heavy marble coffee table, causing another sharp stab of agony from that knee, and I fell headfirst over the table, knocking the tray and the glasses that were on it onto the floor, with myself following right behind them.
(Continued here, and onward, until that last marble copybook filled with Arnold’s neat Palmer-Method handwriting has been carefully transcribed, and there are plenty more left.)
(Drawing by Edward Gorey. Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a rigorously updated listing of all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. A few tickets are still available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Walking Tour of Arnold Schnabel’s Greenwich Village, culminating in a “Beef ‘n’ Beer Bash” at Bob’s Bowery Bar, with your M.C. Horace P. Sternwall and musical entertainment provided by “Freddy Ayres & Ursula ‘n’ Friends”, featuring special guest “Magda” on the Hohner electric piano and vocals.)