For Nancy Ford
Who accompanied Papa and me
Every step of the way
Who could write a book, without books? So many interesting books by Hemingway, and about Hemingway! Dozens of them, scores of them. My thanks to scores of unnamed authors I have never met, especially those presently residing elsewhere, such as Carlos Baker, Michael Reynolds and, of course, Ernest Hemingway.
“No biography can portray a man as he actually was.”
-Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story
“But when it came time to go, all I could think of to say was, Good luck, Papa. I figured he knew how much I loved him, so there was no point in mentioning that.”
-A. E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir
“But life is a cheap thing beside a man’s work. The only thing is that you need it.”
-Thomas Hudson, Islands in the Stream, p. 464
Prologue: The end?
Chapter 1. On Trial
Chapter 2: The End and the Beginning
Chapter 3: The War at Home
Chapter 4: The War in Europe
Chapter 5: No Home to Return To
Chapter 6: Chicago and Hadley
Chapter 7: Paris
Chapter 8: Contacts
Chapter 9: O Canada
Chapter 10: The Literary Game
Chapter 11: Friendship
Chapter 12: Changing Wives
Chapter 13: Breakthrough
Chapter 14: A Farewell to Europe
Chapter 15: Key West – First Years
Chapter 16: Africa
Chapter 17: Key West –Middle Years
Chapter 18: Spain
Chapter 19: Key West – Final Years
Chapter 20: A Long Way from Home
Chapter 21: War at Sea
Chapter 22: Ground War
Chapter 23: Starting Over
Chapter 24: Higher Mathematics
Chapter 25: End Game
Chapter 26: The Life He Led
Chapter 27: What if?
Chapter 28: The Verdict
Prologue: The End?
His 62nd birthday was approaching, and he didn’t want to be there to see it. He wasn’t Hemingway anymore, he was a frail old man. The doctors had him at 50 pounds under his fighting weight. He couldn’t fish, couldn’t hunt, couldn’t write. Couldn’t read. Couldn’t fuck or fight or do one damned thing he loved doing. He couldn’t even remember!
This was worth clinging to?
In the early morning he went downstairs, quietly. Mary wouldn’t thank him if he forced her to prevent it again. She had left the keys where he could get them.
He had the shotgun out of the case. He thought of his father, long dead, remembering how bitterly he had criticized the old man, and for how many years. “It took a while, dad,” he thought, “but I finally saw your point. Sometimes there just isn’t any going on.”
He had the shotgun loaded. Where to do it? Somewhere where she couldn’t help seeing it. “Take that, you bitch! You were hand in glove with them, you’ve whittled me down, you’ve got me where you wanted me, at least see the result.”
(Was that fair? Was it Mary’s fault, really? He pushed aside the whisper of doubt, as he held off any thought of his sons, of anyone he had loved. The Hemingway they had loved was gone. This was just clearing away the debris.)
He pulled the triggers, expecting it to be the end.
Chapter 1. On Trial
“The goddamn shells must have been too old.” That was his first thought. “Didn’t get the job done, and I’ve got it all to do again. God knows when I’ll get another opportunity. They’ll be watching me twice as close now.”
He was lying on a bed; he knew that without opening his eyes. And he could feel the presence of someone sitting at the bedside. Mary? A guard? Warily he opened one eye the slightest bit.
It was a man, smiling at him. No one he recognized. “Good morning. Welcome back.”
He gave up, and opened both eyes. “Back. As in, back from the grave?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
He looked around. They were in a small room, pleasant but undistinguished. If this was a hospital, a private room. He had questions, but he didn’t want to ask them. Instead, he sighed. “Now what?”
“Now you get on with your life, of course. No hurry. When you feel up to it.”
The man was somewhere in the prime of life. He gave off a sense of being open, alive with anticipation, the way he himself had had once been, before so many injuries, before he had suffered so many betrayals.
(Suffered? Well, inflicted, too, if truth be told. It hadn’t gone only one way. Hmm. He had been pushing that thought away all his life. He could admit it now, for some reason, and admitting it was easier than he would have thought.)
“Starting to feel better?”
Suspicion was a habit of many years’ standing. “Who are you?”
“The real question is, who are you?”
“If that’s a riddle, I’m not in the mood. If you’re trying to find out if I’m delusional, I’m not. I’m Ernest Hemingway. I’m a little beat up, but I’m not out of my mind.”
“In this place, being out of your mind is the one thing no one would ever accuse you of. But — you’re Ernest Hemingway. Are you sure?”
Another sigh. “Yes I’m sure.”
“You say that as though the answer is obvious, but — a few moments ago? Did you feel like Ernest Hemingway then?”
“I feel like what I am, a sick old man who has seen better days.”
“You’ve gotten used to the suffering. But are you in pain at the moment?”
Some cautious stock-taking. “No, as a matter of fact.” More cautious exploration, the kind of physical assessment he had been so good at when he was in his prime. “No, actually I feel pretty good.”
The man nodded. “That’s to be expected. Now, let me ask you this: What makes you think the shotgun shells were no good?”
A sharp jolt of suspicion. But the man shook his head. “No, you weren’t talking in your sleep. What makes you think you failed?”
He didn’t dare say anything, hardly dared move. Another sanity test? What was the right response?
The man’s mouth remained closed, but the words came anyway: “Don’t worry so much. It’s not a trap. I was listening to what you were thinking.”
He looked at him, a hard flat stare.
“No, it’s true. Here, we communicate directly, mind to mind. I’ve been pretending to speak, but that’s just something we do at first to give people an easier transition. As you see, it isn’t necessary.”
His mind was working. (In fact, his mind was working better than it had been for some while.) “If you know what I’m thinking, how come I don’t know what you’re thinking?”
The smile broadened. “It’s just a matter of mental habits. You assume that you aren’t going to know what thoughts people are keeping from you, and you get what you expect. As soon as you open yourself up to it, it’ll be there. After all, you were reading people’s minds your whole life.”
(I was, like hell! Wish I could have!)
“Think about it. All your life, you knew what people were thinking. Not always, nothing is 100%. But often. That was telepathy, pure and simple, as natural as breathing.”
(Telepathy! Shades of my mother!)
“Mr. Hemingway, there isn’t anything mystical about it, and it doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not. The fact is, you used it, routinely, the same way you knew what a fish was thinking, 50 fathoms down. Or are we not conversing with our mouths closed?”
Reluctantly: “I suppose you’re saying I’m dead.”
The man cocked his head sideways, a sort of shrug. “Of course you’re dead. Thing is, though, dead isn’t what you were thinking it was, all those years. You were closer to the truth when you came back from dying in Italy in 1918.”
Not the same thing at all! He was 18 years old then, not old, fragile, used up.
The man smiled at him. “You don’t have to be that way. It’s just a matter of choosing. Pick an age, a time of life, and intend to be there.”
Skeptically: “That easy?”
“Not everything pleasant has to be difficult. It’s just remembering.”
He could feel himself frowning in concentration. Nothing changed. Still the same withered chest, still the same fragile sticks for arms and legs.
“Think how you were the last time you saw your father, down in Key West. Remember what that felt like.”
He had been in his late twenties then, his hair thick and black, his body tanned and well exercised, unbent. Solid. The remembrance came first as a concept, then as a sort of reconstruction, and then suddenly he recaptured the feeling of it, and presto, he had his old body back. Bum knee, shrapnel and all, but vigorous, alive. He threw his legs over the side of the bed, sitting up. “Unbelievable! Unbelievable.”
“Nice trick, isn’t it?”
He felt a spasm of pity for the used-up old man he had just been. He stood up. “It was all an illusion, wasn’t it? Life, I mean. First to last, an illusion.”
“A very realistic illusion. Nice clothes, by the way.”
He was wearing old familiar clothes that he must have brought from Paris, not yet the clothes that became his Key West uniform. He brought a finger up to his mustache, and smiled. He felt so good! It had been a long time.
“You don’t have to stay like that, either. It’s up to you. For instance, you could go back to the way you were on July 7, 1918.”
The day before he was wounded. “I could?” He had lived with his injuries for 40 years. “I can’t remember what it felt like.”
“Think of any one specific, given day. How about the time just before you embarked for France with the Red Cross, when you marched down the streets of New York City and President Wilson reviewed the troops? Can you remember that?”
That was just before they’d sailed. He’d been –
“Yes, that’s what I meant. Your Red Cross uniform all brand new. Very spruce. How do you feel?”
“I feel great! I really had forgotten. And it isn’t just the body, is it?”
“No, the body, that’s merely the externals. It’s all there, the way the body felt, your emotions, the way you thought then, the whole package, ready for you to revisit any time you want to. The only reason I suggested going back to one specific moment was to help you recapture your sense of who you were. But you can return to any age you want to be.”
He laughed. “All those years! If I had known it was going to be this way, I could’ve saved myself a lot of worrying.” He could feel, flowing in himself, the full vigor of his early manhood, so long forgotten. He did a little dance, feeling his right knee operating without that accustomed stiffness. “Boy, I wish Hadley could see me! She never knew me before I was hurt.”
“Well, now she can. And there is no telling how she will appear to you, either.”
“Except, she’s still living.”
“That won’t matter. Her conscious self will never know she’s here. But of course we’ll want her at your trial.”
“Trial.” He said it warily. “What trial?”
“Your life-summary trial. It’s customary when you come back to be examined on what you did with the life you were just entrusted with.”
“Is this because I killed myself?”
“Not really. Killing yourself flowed from what you had made yourself. It isn’t like suicide is going to be judged in isolation.”
“So I’m going to be judged on how I lived my life?”
“Let’s say we are going to see what it looks like from your new viewpoint.”
“I see,” he said, although he didn’t. “All right, how do I prepare?”
“You don’t. You can’t. You don’t need to. You already know everything you need to know, and it isn’t as though words are going to fail you.”
“I’m going to have to defend myself, I suppose”
“In a way. But this trial isn’t really about what other people think, and at least you don’t have to worry about them lying about you. People here can’t hide what they think, so they can’t lie, and so they don’t try to.”
Despite his tension, he grinned. “So I take it this is hell for lawyers.”
The man responded with a dry smile. “Speaking of which, I am here to act more or less as your lawyer.”
“`More or less’?”
A shrug. “The trial itself is `more or less.’ You can’t expect it to be just like life in physical matter. I’m here to be your friend. You’re going to have to trust me a bit. I know that you are in the habit of harboring suspicions. If you don’t like what I do, you can ask to have me replaced.”
In resignation. “By somebody else just like you.”
“You know any good lawyers over here?”
He smiled sourly. “Is a good lawyer like Sherman’s idea of a good Indian?”
“Dead, you mean? Well, yes – as dead as anybody gets. But by definition that makes me a good lawyer, right?”
He let that go. “So what am I being accused of?”
“Nothing. Everything. Your whole life. What you started with, what you did with it, how you wound up the way you are now. What it all became.”
“And do we consider what I accomplished?”
“Certainly. This trial is about what you made yourself into.”
“Mr. Hemingway, you are too harsh on yourself. There’s no reason to assume that you would have gone to hell.”
He looked at him silently, almost afraid to think out loud.
“Besides, there isn’t any hell except what people create for themselves. Shall we begin?”
“No time like the present.” He smiled again. “That’s sort of an inside joke, here.”
“Yeah, great, very funny. Sure, let’s do it.”
Without transition, they were in the courtroom, sitting at the defendant’s table. To his right, there was another table, and the man sitting there was presumably the prosecutor. He saw that the courtroom was filled with spectators.
“I didn’t think that this was going to be an open trial. Who are all these people, and what’s it to them?”
“Later, Mr. Hemingway. Here’s the judge. When he asks, you’re pleading not guilty.”
“All rise!” He hadn’t noticed the presence of the bailiff. “All rise. This court is now in session.”
The judge sat down and said to the courtroom, “You may be seated.” He looked at the bailiff, who said, “The state versus Ernest Miller Hemingway, your honor. Age 61, nearly 62. Committed suicide.”
“Ernest Miller Hemingway, you are charged with willfully abandoning life in physical-matter reality. How do you plead?”
“Well, I did kill myself.” He could feel the defense attorney focusing on him. “But, your honor, I’d like to plead not guilty.”
The judge nodded. “Your counsel is acceptable to you?”
“Yes, your honor.”
“Do you wish to request a jury trial?”
He turned to his lawyer. “Should I? What do you think?”
“Juries are unpredictable. Instead of convincing the judge, you’d have to convince twelve people. But, it’s your decision.”
“Does a guilty verdict have to be unanimous?”
“It isn’t exactly going to be innocent or guilty, Mr. Hemingway. I tried to explain that. But if you mean, will everybody’s doubts count, yes, they will.”
Twelve chances, instead of only one. “Okay. I request a jury, Your Honor.”
“Very well.” Instantly, the jury box filled. Twelve jurors and two extras, just like life.
“I assume you are somewhat familiar with standard trial procedures, Mr. Hemingway,” the judge said. “We will hear opening statements from prosecution and defense, then witnesses will be examined and cross examined. You will be allowed to interact with the witnesses. Defense and prosecution will summarize their arguments, and the jury will arrive at a decision. Do you understand?”
“Yes, your honor.”
Observing him. “I am not certain that you do. You will find that your life looks different, away from time and space.” Turning his attention to the prosecutor: “Mr. Prosecutor, your opening statement?”
“Thank you, Your Honor.”
The prosecutor stood up and walked over to the jury box.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as you know, this is the standard rendering of accounts following completion of a life in physical matter. You have all been through physical life, so you understand the opportunities and difficulties it presents. A fair verdict must reflects the difference between what the defendant might have made of his life and what he actually did make of his life. To help us to come to the full truth, we mimic the conditions of polarity. I will present the negative, as fully and as accurately as possible: the case against the defendant. The defense will present the positive viewpoint, equally fully. It will be your job to weigh the evidence in light of your own life-experience and render a verdict neither unrealistically harsh nor unrealistically lenient.”
“The prosecution will contend that Ernest Miller Hemingway’s heredity and environment provided him with remarkable gifts and with ample scope to develop them – which is practically the Greek definition of the good life. He was enabled to be in the right place at the right time repeatedly, so that his external success was quick, and sure, and even dazzling. He was surrounded by love, and admiration, and assistance, to the degree that he was able to accept them. Proceeding from this fortunate foundation, he did accomplish an impressive lifework. However, the record will show that throughout his life he allowed himself to indulge in negative traits that took a severe toll on his character.
“In his self-indulgence, he weakened his control over himself, and damaged his ability to use the gifts he had brought with him into physical life.
“In his self-righteousness, he alienated himself from family and friends who would gladly have provided him with the emotional support throughout his life.
“In his insecurity, he undermined the self-confidence he required in order to go his own way and accomplish the work he had come into the body to accomplish.
“In his ruthless determination to advance his own interests, he repeatedly turned on family, friends, and benefactors.
“In the end, his inability to accept the results of his own actions led him to systematically falsify his memories, which led him ultimately to the form of insanity known as paranoia.
“In the course of this trial, the prosecution will present ample evidence substantiating these and other charges. Part of your duty as jurors will be to decide to what extent he might reasonably have been expected to have suppressed or overcome these traits. I thank you for your attention.”
He bowed to the judge and sat down.
The judge turned his head toward the defense table. “Counsel?”
The defense attorney stood up. “Thank you, Your Honor.” He too walked over to the jury box.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, an old saying has it that, `of those to whom much has been entrusted, much is expected.’ Much was entrusted to Ernest Hemingway, and the expectation was not disappointed. In fact, I am tempted to propose a corollary to those words: `Of those from whom much has been received, much may be forgiven.’
“The very mixture of talents and qualities that allowed Ernest Hemingway to profoundly influence the culture of his society, and indeed of the entire world, presented him with considerable challenges in day-to-day life. My friend the prosecution counsel cited certain of Mr. Hemingway’s character flaws. In the course of this trial, I propose to demonstrate that these were the defects of his qualities, qualities essential to Ernest Hemingway’s personality. The greater the talents we are entrusted with, the greater the responsibility we have, and the greater the burden to bear.
“To say this is not to beg for mercy. The question before us is not what the defendant’s range of possibilities was, but what he did with what was possible. I, and I’m sure the defendant himself, will concede that at times he fell short of his own standards. But I ask you to remember, as the prosecution illustrates these failures, that throughout his life, the defendant also consistently exhibited generosity, sensitivity, courage, intelligence, and the articulation of a positive set of values.
“In his earliest days, dreaming of glory, he put himself in harm’s way unnecessarily. In his middle years, emulating his hero Theodore Roosevelt, he pursued `the strenuous life,’ practicing or observing everything from shooting, horseracing, and boxing to bullfighting and big-game hunting and fishing.
“Later, he did what he could to oppose the success of fascism in Spain. In World War II, he spent more than a year patrolling waters around Cuba in search of U-boats and U-boat supply dumps as part of a civilian auxiliary enterprise. When that effort became no longer necessary, he went to Europe to report on the progress of American troops. There he assisted the Army in ways that went beyond the call of duty.
“Throughout this time, he was crafting some of the finest English prose since Shakespeare, changing the course of literature This achievement not only exhibited technical mastery, but was the embodiment in prose of a way of seeing the world. His life and work presented a model of a man who was habitually active physically and mentally.
“Of the defendant’s relations with his wives, and with his children, and with his friends, lovers, and enemies, much will be said in the course of this trial. I ask you to remember, while you are listening to that testimony, that this is a man in whom strong passions, fine sensitivity, intellectual curiosity and emotional intensity are all present to extremes. It was his difficult job in life to direct many wild horses, not all galloping in the same direction. Thank you.”
He turned to the judge, and bowed, and sat down.
The judge looked at the prosecutor. “You may begin.”