“If you like,” I said, “you can go ahead, and I’ll meet you --”
“Oh no,” said Daphne. “We’ll wait. Can we wait on your porch?”
“Uh, sure,” I said.
So I led the way, unlatching the wobbly bloated wooden gate (perhaps someday I will fix it, if I can find some time in my hectic schedule) and stepping onto that mossy bluestone path to the porch just as Mr. and Mrs. DeVore -- the young couple who had proven to me the night before that although there may be human limits to pain or to pleasure there are apparently no limits to banality -- came wheeling around the side of the house and immediately assumed expressions which would have been suitable if President Kennedy and all his clan had suddenly arrived to play a brisk game of touch football.
“Mr. Schnabel!” said Mrs. DeVore. “We heard all about your evening out!”
“Oh, yes,” I said, not stopping.
“Sinatra!” shouted Mr. DeVore. "Ol' blue eyes!"
“Uh, yeah,” I said, making it to the porch steps.
“And who are your nice friends here?” demanded Mrs. DeVore.
I was trapped, so, turning at the top of the porch steps I quickly declaimed:
“Mr. and Mrs. DeVore, this is Tommy, and Daphne, and Sister Mary Elizabeth.”
“Sister Mary Elizabeth?” said Mrs. DeVore.
“Just Mary Elizabeth,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.
“Arnold was joking,” said Daphne.
“Heh heh,” said Mr. DeVore.
“Heh,” said Mrs. DeVore.
“I have to change now. Excuse me,” I said.
“Where are you all going?” said Mrs. DeVore as I turned away, and I heard Daphne say, “Nowhere,” as I opened the screen door and almost toppled over my cousin Kevin who had been standing in the doorway unbeknownst to me.
“Who are those people, Cousin Arnold?”
“My friends,” I said.
“Lady!” he suddenly yelled, catching sight of Daphne.
“Hello, cutie!” she yelled back, and the little scamp shoved past me as if the house was on fire.
But now I faced a phalanx of wide-eyed familial womanhood right inside the doorway, my mother, my Aunt Elizabetta, Aunt Greta and good old Aunt Edith.
“It’s that girl,” said Edith. “His new girlfriend.
“Arnold,” said my mother, “did you eat?”
“Who are all those people?” asked Elizabetta.
“Which one’s his girlfriend?” asked Greta.
“She’s not my girlfriend, I had something to eat, thank you, Mom, those are my friends, and they’re just going to wait while I change,” I said, and I went around their flank, through the room, down the hall and up the stairs, taking two or three steps at a stride, sore leg or not.
On the third floor I slowed down, and walked slowly, quietly, holding my breath, past the always treacherous doorway to Miss Evans’s room.
I got past it safely and finally made it to the bathroom. I locked the door behind me, then tested it, just to make sure. Finally, sighing deeply, I did what I had wanted to do but had not been able to do since -- what was it? -- 1933, on a plantation somewhere in the Philippines.
And as it all streamed so gloriously out of me, I thought of that fateful rainy afternoon so long ago. Had I been in some measure responsible for Jimmy’s unfortunate demise? Had I -- with that lowest and even unconscious degree of will which can nevertheless produce terrible and even fatal actions -- stuck out my foot and tripped Jimmy, causing his great drunken bulk to hurtle forward and off that second-floor veranda? Who knows? I had to admit that the world was undoubtedly better off without his presence, but still, it was not my prerogative to hasten his departure. I would have to remember to confess these thoughts to Father Reilly next Saturday. I wasn’t sure however if it would be a good thing to mention to him that this incident occurred thirty years ago.
Of course most likely it had all been a waking dream. But are we responsible for sins committed in our dreams? I would perhaps bring this up with Father Reilly as well, unless I sensed that I had already tried his patience enough for one day.
I zipped up, washed my hands, looked into the mirror. I can’t even say how gratifying it was to see myself, not in tropical linen, but in my modern dark slightly iridescent Krass Brothers suit which looked sometimes navy blue, occasionally black, and other times like now a deep purple.
I decided to go whole hog, and brushed my teeth.
Feeling pretty good about myself I put my ear to the door, just to make sure that Miss Evans wasn’t coming or going (I felt I could recognize her step by now, as quiet and sylph-like as it often seemed to be), then opened the door and went out to the hall.
Luckily for me it seemed to be exactly the same hallway I had left a few minutes before, and I went on up to my attic room.
Once again my mother had worked her magic. My bed was made, the room was swept, dusted and aired. A clean white polo shirt and a fresh pair of madras bermuda shorts lay folded on top of my dresser, and I changed into them. I ran a comb through my hair, bending down into the small round mirror on its swivel.
I opened the night table drawer which held my cigarettes, my trusty Pall Malls. I picked up the open pack in there, and my old Zippo lighter. Then I thought, no, and I put them back and closed the drawer. You see, I wanted to live.
I hurried downstairs, come hell or high water.
I felt that the world -- this world, or any other world I might wander into -- I felt that all the world was my oyster, or as much mine as anyone’s.
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Mr. Wilson Pickett, baby…