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Heming’s Way

by Frank on March 17th, 2012

It can be great fun and a good writing exercise to try and catch the tone of a favorite writer.  Here’s an anonymous effort to capture one side of Ernest Hemingway.

 

Heming’s Way

 

Percy and I went to the tavern and sat at a table by the window.  The waitress came over and we ordered drinks—scotch and soda for Percy, a boilermaker for me.  The late afternoon sun streamed in the window and we toasted. Puddles steamed between the cobblestones. The waitress came back and we ordered again.

“More scotch,” said Percy.

“Bring me a bottle of vodka and a glass of ice cubes,” I said.  “If you please.”

Her name was Elaina and she had long legs and a fine brown down on her upper lip.  Percy and I drank while the sun sank above the red tile roofs of the village.  Percy finished his second scotch and asked Elaina also for a glass of ice cubes and he poured himself some vodka from my bottle.  The bottle was nearly empty when Percy began talking.

“I was thirsty,” Percy said.  “I feel better now.”

“You don’t look better,” I said.  “You’re as ugly as a toad regurgitated by an alligator.”

Percy laughed in an unpleasant way, a sound like lava from a volcano and he kicked me under the table.  When I bent to see if he’d drawn blood from my shin, Percy picked up the bottle and smashed it on my head.  Elaina helped me up and came back with a broom and another bottle of vodka.  She also brought me a towel to soak up the blood that was running down my face.  I got a good look at her ankles and they were fine ankles.  I told this to Percy, by way of revenge, for I knew what would happen.  The next time Elaina disappeared into the back, he rose from the table and followed her.  But I had taken the girl’s measure.  When Percy came back, his left eye was swollen shut and his lip cracked open.  He sat.

“Serves you right,” I said.

“Damn you,” he said, touching his damaged face.

The police came and talked to us for a while.  We offered them some vodka but they were on duty and could only drink wine.  Outside the sun had set and the air was purple. The police knew how to get the best out of the wine.  They got drunk and shot out the window and a nice breeze came in.  Then they left us at the table, which was covered with blood and shards of glass.  Elaina brought us a bottle of good brandy.  The proprietor would give us no more glasses so Percy and I drank using our hands for cups, and soon Percy put his head on the table not minding the broken glass and began snoring.  I drizzled some brandy in his ear.  He did not move.  I covered his head with a napkin and left.

Elaina met me outside and we walked in the streets which were deserted due to the festival in the next town which is where Percy and I would have been had I not allowed him to make our bookings.  We could hear the fireworks going off beyond the hills like heat lightning back when I was a boy and would lie on the roof and listen to my parents and their friends in the backyard drinking beer and talking about their plumbing and their stock options.  She took me to a place she knew in the forest behind the old church that was once a cemetery before the trees came back.  She went behind a tombstone and I could hear her relieving herself.  I thought of the rain falling on the window of my room in Paris last week and I was glad when she returned with a bottle of good Madeira that was the same color as the blood that Percy and I had shed on the table back in the tavern.

“You keep a cache of Madeira here?” I said.

“Yes,” she said.  “Life is short.”

“Yes,” I said.  “You are a good girl, Elaina.”

We shared the bottle and I did not think of Percy as Elaina told me about her life.

“I would tell you more,” she said.  “But I think you are laughing at me.”

“Elaina,” I said.  “I would never laugh at you.  I was just noticing how the Madeira catches on the down of your upper lip the way rocks by the ocean hold the moonlight.”

I saw her shoulders tremble and so I asked her if she was cold.  She said no.  Then she came to me and pushed me back onto the grass.

I woke when the morning sun hit me on the chin and I could not remember my name for a while.  Elaina and my socks were gone.  It was not certain who had gotten the best sleep—Percy lying on the table that was covered with glass shards and blood, or me with the insects by the tombstone in the forest that the graveyard had become.

“A forest is a very good thing for a graveyard to become,” Percy said, as we stood in line to buy train tickets back to Paris.  I had told him of my night.  “Why would she want your socks?”

“Some things don’t bear asking,” I said.  “Your face will need attention when we get back.”

I remembered a bar next to the train station so we went there until our train would leave.  It was good to see my old friend Jorge wiping glasses with a towel that looked like it had been used to kill many flies since the last time I had seen him.

“Senior Heming!” said Jorge.  “Long time.  How have you been?”

“Better than him, Jorge,” I said, jerking my thumb toward Percy.

“What happened to his face?” Jorge said.

“Stow it, you Castilian whoremonger,” said Percy.  “Give us a drink.”

Jorge took us down an old stone stairway to his basement where it was cool and where he kept the clear powerful aquavit that his wife made in their cistern from pears and blackberries that she crushed with her own mouth.  I admired the whole salted trout that Jorge had hanging from the rafters.

We drank and talked about Jorge’s favorite subject that I remembered from the old days and was how the death of Christ on the cross was nothing but a substitution for human sacrifice invented by the Druids until Percy grabbed the trout from the ceiling and threatened to hit him.  When it was time to catch the train Jorge called for his sons, Immanuel and Sinbad, who carried us up the stairs as if we weighed no more than rabbits and into our coach where a pair of nuns were playing cards and talking in little birdlike voices.

“How do you make your voices sound like that?” Percy said.  “You could be sparrows or finches.”

“You should shut up,” I said to him.

They looked away then and out the window where the hills rolled by like a herd of rhinoceroses.

I told the two sisters, one of whom was old and homely and the other of whom was also old and homely, of Jorge’s theory about the origins of Christianity and the Druids and of how Percy had all but used a salted trout against him and I invited Percy to box in the isle with both hands tied behind my back but the conductor refused to referee.

 

 

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