Ernest Miller Hemingway, 1899-1961
It was so sad reading about love gained and lost that it made me hungry. I put down my paperback copy of A Farewell to Arms and made my way to the kitchen for a snack. “Why would a man of Hemingway’s talent kill himself?” I asked out loud. “He could have spent more time breeding cats with extra toes.” The cat lying on the table was not polydactyl, and kept its own counsel on the matter of artistic suicide, so I continued on to the refrigerator.
Opening the door and hoping for salsa, I found myself looking instead at a young Ernest Hemingway. He was sitting alone at a table, swearing into his mustache with his chin uplifted at a dangerous angle. Gertrude Stein exited stage left, presumably into the ice maker, and I resolved to set things right, no matter the cost.
“You don’t know me,” I began, “but I know you, and we are going to get a little tight and settle this thing.”
“She is so God-damned right all the time, it drives a man to drink,” declared Papa. “I will do it my way or not at all, by Christ. Or not at all!”
“Of course, you are quite right, one must be true to oneself and all that rot,” I murmured while signaling the waiter for a round of saucers and wondering if I had any interwar period francs in my wallet with which to pay. No matter, it would take care of itself when the need arose.
As we toasted Paris and quaffed the first round, Ernest settled into a more dignified funk and revealed he was about to begin a novel but needed the ending first. “How can you balance the scarcity of words with the vast emotional lives of the characters, eh? Answer me that. If you fail to begin in the correct manner, they will never arrive at their intended fate.”
Nodding as we drank the second round, I waited for the opportunity to present itself. Some people learn the hard way or not at all, we had that in common. My nerves were jumping as Hemingway gestured for the third drink. Timing was everything.
“Timing is everything,” the young man continued, “If I do not start this story now, I will never get it right. Art imitates life, and any damned thing will throw you off if you are not careful.” The third round arrived, and if he noticed that his toast was met with my left hand, he made no comment. “To Art! May she blossom and die in the blink of an eye, for we have all time and a bottle of rye.”
I surged up and toward him as he lifted his cup, feeling the power rise from the floor and through my hips and back. My right hand crashed into the side of his jaw and followed through as the chair tipped over. I stumbled over his legs and stood above the literary lion.
“Real life does not always end with a carefully crafted climax, Ernie!” He was down but not out, and I had to talk fast. “Remember that when you think you need a better ending. It goes on and on and it is stupid and ugly and all that we have got and art imitates life you son of a bitch, so stop trying to be perfect all the God-damned time!”
Hemingway glared as he rose up on one knee, and then advanced with a snarl. “Don’t you think I know that?” I had time to remember that the cuts of salami were in the crisper drawer and he was upon me. He feinted with two jabs though my arms hung loosely at my sides, then landed the right. My eye exploded in pain and light as the world went dark all around me.
“Don’t you think I know?”
The cold hard tile felt surprisingly good on my forehead, and the refrigerator door was wedged open by my elbow. I reached into the drawer without getting up, grabbed several slices of cool deli meat and pressed them against my nascent shiner. The cat was licking the cut knuckles of my hand and I shoved it away. A Farewell to Arms still rested on the table, but now appeared to be twice as thick. Something about the way the cat was licking his paws sent a shiver down my spine. “Six toes,” I heard myself cackle, “he’s got six toes!”
Ernie Hemingway, 1899-1982