by dan leo
illustrations by konrad kraus
part two of four
(Extracted from Arnold Schnabel's 37-volume memoir, "Railroad Train To Heaven")
“Well, it’s just that --”
“Your little -- friend?”
“Yes,” I said.
She continued to hold my hand on her breast.
“Persephone is it?”
“Elektra,” I said.
“Are you going to marry her?”
“I doubt it,” I said.
"I wouldn't want to inflict myself on her," I said, in all modesty.
"Oh, yes," she said. "This alleged breakdown of yours."
"It's not merely alleged," I said. Her breast was warm, and moist, but I suppose no more warm nor moist than my hand was.
"I don't give a damn about your breakdown," she said. "Pardon my language."
Despite myself I felt those ancient stirrings down below.
“Wait, did you hear something?” she asked.
All I could hear was the clattering rain, well, that and Mrs. Biddle and myself of course.
She pulled my hand away from her breast and laid it, my hand, on the table.
I reached over for one of the cookies, it looked like a butter cookie.
“Oh, dear,” she said.
She was looking over my head. Putting the cookie between my lips and biting into it -- it was indeed a butter cookie, crispy and delicious -- I turned and saw a large blond-haired fellow in a disheveled and wet white suit come out onto the veranda.
"Hello, Jimmy,” said Mrs. Biddle. “You’re back early. How nice. Do you know Mr. Schnabel?”
Jimmy said nothing at first. He stood there in his wet linen suit, a faint steam rising up from his great round shoulders. He looked like a man who had played fullback in college but who hadn’t exercised in the fifteen years since his graduation. He swayed just slightly, staring alternately at Mrs. Biddle and myself. His eyes were small but with large black pupils.
Swallowing my bite of butter cookie I stood up, wiped my hand on my trousers and then extended it, my hand, to him.
“How are you?” I said. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
He stared at my hand.
“Whatcha doin’ here,” he said.
I could now smell the alcohol fumes wafting gently from his large body, admixtured with those of cigars and sweat and what I now recognized as female sexual exudation.
“Mr. Schnabel simply stopped by for a visit,” said Mrs. Biddle behind me.
I brought my unshaken hand down to my side.
“You’re that nut,” said Jimmy, to me.
“Jimmy,” said Mrs. Biddle.
“I heard about you. Railroad man. Went nuts. Are you nuts?”
“Jimmy,” repeated Mrs. Biddle. “Stop it.”
“What are you doin’," he said to her, "having tea with this lunatic?”
“He’s recovered. Or recovering. Be polite. Mr. Schnabel is our guest.”
“I didn’t invite him. I go away for a few drinks at the club and you invite some nut case in for tea.”
“Stop this nonsense, Jimmy.”
“You,” said Jimmy, pointing a large bloated finger at me, “Beat it. Hop it. ‘Fore I throw you out.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Arnold,” said Mrs. Biddle. “You don’t have to go. Jimmy, you’re drunk. Go to your room and lie down.”
“Shut up,” said Jimmy. He was still pointing at me and now he stepped forward and poked me in the chest with that big finger. “Scram,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. I turned to Mrs. Biddle. “Thanks for the tea and sandwiches, Mrs. Biddle. And the cookie.”
“Don’t go, Arnold. Don’t leave me with this beast.”
Suddenly something -- I suppose Jimmy’s ham-like paw -- shoved mightily against my shoulder and I tripped over the tea table, sending it and the tea service clattering and shattering onto the floor. I staggered several steps but managed not to fall down. I turned and Jimmy was rushing toward me making a sound like a man who was having his arm twisted behind his back, but in fact both his arms were raised and his hands were clenched into fists. I could hear Mrs. Biddle shout as Jimmy rushed at me raising his right fist high over his shoulder,
but fortunately for me he slipped on something, I think it was the silver tea tray, and I stepped to one side as he stumbled past me and crashed through the screening and into that almost solid wall of rain.
I stood there looking at the big jagged hole he’d left in the screening. The only sound now was that of the rain, this wet cacophony as if some ocean in the sky had decided all at once to come crashing down to drown the earth forever.
“Oh my God,” said Mrs. Biddle. “Are you all right, Arnold.”
“Yes, I think so,” I said.
I looked at her, she was still sitting on the wicker sofa, but sitting up very straight, with her fists clenched close to her breast.
“Go look, see if he’s okay. He’s such a bull. I’m sure he’s okay.”
I went over to the edge of the veranda and looked down through the torn space in the screening. Down through the torrents of rain I saw Jimmy’s pale form lying absolutely still in the mud of the yard.
“Is he okay?” asked Mrs. Biddle.
“He’s not moving,” I said.
“Oh,” she said.
I moved back a bit from the verge of the veranda. I had been getting wet.
“I’ll go down and check on him,” I said.
“Wait. Let me look.”
She got up, stepped over the tea things on the floor, and came over next to me. She put her hand on my arm and leaned forward, looking down.
“He’s not moving,” she said.
“No,” I said.
“He’s not moving at all.”
Continuing to hold tightly onto my arm she leaned farther over, holding her other hand over her forehead to keep the rain out of her eyes.
“I think his neck is broken,” she said. “Look, Arnold.”
I didn’t want to, but I did, shielding my eyes from the rain with my hand. It was true, his head was twisted at an unnatural angle. He looked like some enormous puppet dropped in the mud.
Then we saw a man in a white suit come out of the house, carrying a black umbrella. He came down the steps, went over to Jimmy and knelt down next to him on one knee. All we could see was this large black umbrella, and the bottom half of Jimmy’s unmoving body.
Then the man stood up and tilting the umbrella towards his back, he looked up at us. It was Tommy.
“How is he?” called down Mrs. Biddle.
Tommy called up something but the downpour drowned out his words.
“What?” called Mrs. Biddle. “How is he, Tommy?”
Tommy called louder this time, cupping his hand to the side of his mouth:
“I'm afraid he’s dead, Mrs. Biddle.”
She paused, then straightened up and looked at me.
“It was an accident, Arnold. There was nothing either of us could do."
She had continued to hold onto my arm, but now she let go of it.