He hadn’t smoked since he was a kid, but now he wished he had a cigarette. He wished he had a drink. He wasn’t moving, but it felt like he was pacing. “What if they find me guilty?”
“Guilty of what?”
“I don’t know! You’re my representative here. Don’t you know?”
“Do you remember, when you were first coming out of your confusion, I told you we couldn’t discuss what comes next until your trial ended? The situation isn’t any different. It isn’t over till the jury comes back.”
“And you can’t tell me anything about anything.”
“I suppose we can talk about this: What did you learn?”
“It hasn’t organized itself. I guess I won’t know until I think about it.”
“That’s probably what’s holding up the jury. Maybe they’re waiting for you to decide what it all means.”
“Is that what you think?”
“So what did you learn?”
Mary, and Pauline, and his mother. Funny that they would sort of clump together in his mind like that.
Dad. Grandfather Hemingway.
Skiing in Austria. Spain. Good old Karl Thompson, out in Africa, embarrassed about bringing in better heads, and he couldn’t stop from competing even with him. Why was it that he had to compete all the time?
He’d pushed away his early Paris friends, nearly every one. Why was that? Gertrude and Scott and the Murphys and even Archie MacLeish. Dos and Katy and his sister Carol, and what was he trying to be, anyway, papa all the time.
But — Ezra and Joyce and Link Steffens. Max. Coming down with jeeps in ’44 to see if Sylvia was okay, and liberating the rue de l’Odeon.
Putting the words on paper in the early morning heat at the Ambos Mundos in Havana, in the days before Martha found the Finca.
Rene, and Sinsky, and the Black Priest, and Wolfie and Gregorio and Thomason and the embassy and government gasoline.
Hunting in the high country in Wyoming and Montana and Idaho. The Spanish Sierras. Eland and goats and lions in Africa.
China Rot and sixteen kinds of plague, and dysentery on the safari. The snows of Kilimanjaro and Harry Walden.
Mr. Bumby and the Mexican Mouse and Gigi. Did any of them ever know how much he loved them? Why is it that none of them came to testify? Maybe they weren’t asked?
Where were Jane Mason and Ava Gardner and the Kraut? Where were his sisters, and his hero Anson Hemingway in his Civil War uniform, or Uncle Tyley?
One true sentence. The whole thing was so intimidating, but if he could write one true sentence, he could build another on it, and see.
He returned his attention to the defense attorney. “What did I learn? It’s what I said. It’s a good world and you can find good things in it, if you pay your way. But what stays with you as much as anything is how you are with people. Everything else is just furniture.”
“What about craftsmanship? What about competition, and achievement?”
“They’re there too. It’s like when you’re in a great romance, you’re still going to want to enjoy other things. Thank God I had my writing. You have to have that inner world, too. But it’s no life without people.”
The defense attorney smiled. “I think the jury is coming in.”
“The defendant will rise and face the jury.”
Like making that speech to the writers, all over again.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached your decision?”
The foreman stood up. “We have, your honor.”
“Then please tell him whatever it is that you have decided to say.” Sensing his surprise, the judge said, “As you were told earlier, Mr. Hemingway, this is not material reality, and so certain features of this trial are different from what you might otherwise expect. You may proceed, Mr. Foreman.”
“Thank you, your honor. Mr. Hemingway, we the jury were tasked with weighing your life in light of the evidence and your testimony and your reactions. It is my charge to present our findings in such a way as to meet your understanding. Nothing here is said in a spirit of condemnation.”
That sure sounds like good news coming!
The foreman was apparently incapable of smiling. “No one enjoys having his life judged by another. These initial remarks were an attempt to relieve your anxiety.”
“Mr. Hemingway, if we were to put the jury’s opinion in terms of innocence and guilt, we would find you innocent in some respects and guilty in others. But the very idea of guilt and innocence was a problem throughout your life. So was the very idea of judgment. Judgment may imply condemnation or merely discernment. The former meaning, we would suggest, made your life more difficult than it might otherwise have been. Discernment was essential to your task, but the difficulty was to discern clearly. Now, Mr. Hemingway, you are not obliged to accept the jury’s observations or follow the recommendations, but you should bear in mind that this is the most disinterested advice you will ever receive.”
“I understand, and I appreciate it.” Apparently the reassurance was sinking in. He could feel the nervousness abating, replaced mostly by curiosity.
“First observations. You had a most fortunate and productive life. We realize that you think your life was an artistic success and a failure in personal relationships, but we would say that both judgments are too sweeping. Your relationships were not devoid of love, and support, and satisfaction on both sides. Your artistic life was not unaccompanied by traits and incidents that were unfortunate.”
There was a brief pause.
“You see how you were expecting condemnation? No one ever condemned you nearly as continually, habitually, and automatically as you condemned yourself – which of course tempted you to condemn others. So the jury’s first observation is that your perfectionist standards, although they made your great achievement possible, left you in private despair because you could not live up to them.”
“But Mr. Hemingway, no one could! The jury’s first recommendation is that you remember, in the future, that ideals cannot be achieved, only lived toward. If in the future you pursue impossibly high ideals, recognize that an ideal that can be attained is not an ideal but a practical goal.”
“And as to my artistic life?”
“Again you are waiting for criticism, perhaps condemnation. But your life was an artistic success. Perhaps your public persona, perhaps even your writing itself, was only a way to bring you unforgettably to the public eye. It has been said more than once in this trial that people came to perceive you as a model of a life lived to the full. That model – even more than the specifics of the things you wrote about, and more than the artistic revolutions you carried out – is the legacy of Ernest Hemingway.”
He felt like laughing. All that work, all that striving, and they were telling him that his career was incidental to the creation of a public persona.
“Your stories and your style of writing, and the attitudes and values you espoused, did affect your times. But a life takes time to be understood, and it is said that a great man’s shadow lengthens with time. You need not fear that you will be forgotten any time soon.”
Well, it would be nice to think that at least some of his work would achieve that. What had he been striving for, after all, but immortality?
“The jury’s second observation, and recommendation, concerns your use of alcohol and other mood-altering substances.” There, for the first time, the foreman showed the ghost of a smile. “We aren’t going to say, `You shouldn’t drink,’ and we aren’t even going to say, `You shouldn’t have drunk so much.’ We do know who we’re talking to! But we would suggest that you consider this. It may be true that alcohol gave you more than it ever took from you, but is it possible that by careful management you could have received more of the benefit and paid less of a price? We mean, specifically, that the essence of your life and work was control, and alcohol loosened that control, over time.”
“I take it you think it hampered my ability to write, but actually I was careful about that.”
“We were thinking more about how it lessened your ability to be you. It is true, you mostly preserved your gift. But, Mr. Hemingway, think back to so much painful testimony from people who cared about you. Did drinking increase your self-control? Did it strengthen you for the trials of life? Did it give you greater patience, more tolerance, fewer causes for remorse?”
“I thought you said you weren’t going to say I shouldn’t have drunk so much.”
“I am saying, on behalf of the jury, that it would have been better if you had been more aware of the effect of too much alcohol over too long a time. We do realize that alcohol can be a valuable resource for a writer, the spark that reminds you of the greater life beyond what is obvious. The sheer number of creative artists who use alcohol testifies to the fact. But can’t a valuable tool be misused, and turned into a detriment?”
“You may not remember how it feels to be trapped. Sometimes in the material world, the only way you can get out of the tyranny of the present moment is a good drink, or more than one.”
“Mr. Hemingway, on behalf of the jury, let me ask a rhetorical question. When you traveled to that other country in your mind, when you spent a morning writing, were you trapped in the tyranny of the present moment?”
“No, I was free, but you couldn’t necessarily call that feeling in whenever you wanted to.”
“But when it wasn’t there and you were writing, you didn’t let yourself turn to drink to get there. So how did you do it?”
He shrugged. “I just kept at it, I guess. I worked at it. You can’t just work only when you feel like it.”
“That is precisely our point. When you had to get to that other place, and you could not do so by using alcohol, you did it by willpower. What might your life have been like if you had done that at other times?”
“But I liked drinking. It was one of the things I enjoyed doing when I wasn’t working.”
“No one is saying there was anything wrong with enjoying yourself. We say, merely, that a good ladder may make an awkward crutch.
“Let us pass on to our third and final set of observations and recommendations. It seemed to us that you were happiest when you trusted in life. We recommend that you cultivate trust. How much good did it ever do you, all that worrying about whether you would be able to succeed, whether you would find love, whether you would retain access to that other dimension where you found your inspiration?”
“It seems to me if I hadn’t done all that worrying, and working, and concentrating and keeping my eye on the ball, my life wouldn’t have been anything like what I was able to make it. I would have wound up a reporter in Kansas City, maybe, or a real estate agent in Chicago.”
“Mr. Hemingway.” There was something faintly reproving in the foreman’s expression. “You have told yourself a story about your life and success, and you have told it to yourself for so long as to accept it as true. Would you now please intend, in the way you have done previously during this trial, and ask for the truth about your life’s success?”
“All right, I’m willing.” He did, and again things changed, and changed in a sudden instant of understanding. “I wasn’t born to fail, was I?”
“No, Mr. Hemingway, you weren’t. No one is, it’s just that different people’s lives are shaped to present different challenges and opportunities.”
“Yeah, I see it. It was up to me, but, I wasn’t ever working alone the way I thought I was.”
“You could choose well or badly, and you could make your road smoother or rougher, but you were fashioned to live the life you led. There wasn’t any reason for you to worry so much.”
“Yeah, but how was I supposed to know that?”
“Who was it who said, `My luck, she is running good’?”
“Sure, and that was right after I was damn near killed.”
“But you believed in your luck, in the same way you believed in your talent. And, you knew things. How could you know things, like knowing that a woman you had just met was going to be your wife?”
“Hadley, you mean.”
“And later Mary. Your life was shot full of luck. You were always in the right place at the right time, and it had nothing to do with planning, calculations, worrying about who was stabbing you in the back or dropping the ball at Scribner’s. Next time, relax a little, and trust more. You can still work just as hard, you just don’t have to think you’re all alone.”
He stood there absorbing the idea.
“And by the way, Mr. Hemingway, on behalf of the entire jury, congratulations. You had a hell of a life.”
The judge acknowledged the jury foreman with a nod. “The court thanks you for your careful attention and thoughtful consideration.”
“That was it? A few remarks, a little advice?”
“That was it. Did you expect them to find you guilty as charged? Their function was to hear what you made of your life, and tell it to you so that you could hear it. Whether you take advantage of their advice is up to you.”
“Um, your honor, since you bring that up –”
“Of course, Mr. Hemingway. Naturally, you wish to know what is in store for you. I am about to tell you.” The judge’s energy changed, as if until this moment half his mind had been elsewhere. “It should be obvious that there is no reason to offer advice unless you have a future in which you would be able to choose to accept or reject the advice. You live, and you will continue to live, everyone does. But which form of life you choose determines where you go from here.”
“Can we review the options again?”
“Certainly. One, judgment followed by heaven or hell. Two, another immediate 3D life. Three, observing the physical world from here. Four, life centered here without much reference to the 3D world. Five, moving on from here, leaving Earth behind forever.”
“Can we review the options a little slower?”
The judge smiled. “Yes. First option, judgment followed by heaven or hell. Some people cannot accept that their life is over unless they experience judgment and sentencing.”
“You mean they accept being condemned voluntarily?”
“Like you, many people fear being judged, but some prefer that the decision be out of their hands. Since that’s what they will accept, that’s what they get, life after life, until they change their minds.”
“A second option is another immediate 3D life. Some do that, moving rapidly from one 3D life to another, searching for their ideal of perfection.”
“You can look at it that way.”
“Do they remember the life they just came out of?”
“Not usually, it would be too confusing. How do you get oriented into one time and place when you are living half in another?”
“So I wouldn’t remember being me?”
“The part of you that was embodied wouldn’t, no. The rest of you would.”
“And presumably that embodied part has experiences and makes decisions, and all of that changes a person. Would it change the rest of me as well?”
“You would find yourself receiving continual feed from the new life; it’s difficult to predict what kind of effect that would have on you.”
“So I might change as the result of choices that are out of my control. Not so sure about this one. And the other choices?”
“A third option is to stay here in the non-physical realm, still oriented to the earth. In other words, you would be aware of 3D life, but would not be subject to being changed by what happens.”
“Watching the party from a knothole in the attic floor, you mean?”
The judge smiled again. “That’s the first time I have heard it put it that way, but yes.”
“I don’t think so. Another option?”
“You could choose to remain in the non-physical, but instead of concentrating on what is gong on in the 3D world, you would spend your time creating whatever you wish to experience.”
“Create just by using my mind, you mean?”
“You envision, you create, and when you wish to alter it, you alter it, just like that.”
“So I create what I want to experience, but if I don’t like what I do, I can rip it up and try again.”
“You continue to create, yes. You create, observe, create some more, for as long as it amuses you.”
“Creation without toil. How did Yeats like that option?”
“If you choose this path, you can ask him yourself.”
“That’s a lot more choice than I thought I was going to have. And what was the last one, again?”
“You could remain in the non-physical but move on to other realms and other ways of being.”
“If I took that one, would I remember who I am?”
“You can’t expect to move to other realms and remain as you are. If you mean, would you still be Ernest Hemingway, the answer is, mostly not.”
He thought about it. “Big decision. Is it ever possible to change your mind and choose another door?”
“Of course. Nothing is satisfactory forever. You can always choose again, right up until you choose to move on to another realm – which will present its own choices, of course..”
“Okay. In that case, it’s easy. I choose creation without toil. As hard as I worked on earth, it’s going to be a pleasure to spend a while creating without all that effort.”
“Very well,” the judge said, “that’s your choice. I can assure you as you begin this next phase of your life, everyone in this courtroom wishes you only the best. And you have my best wishes, as well.” The judge struck the bench with his gavel. “This proceeding is completed, and court is adjourned.”
Nick was still there after the others had disappeared. “Nick, thanks for standing with me. It helped. I wish there was some way I could repay you.”
Nick said, “Who says there isn’t? You can teach me what you know about art. You can teach me to fish.”
He beamed. “It’s a deal. Count on it.”
The little boat was pitching in the moderate sea that was running. It was the Gulf Stream as he remembered it, a late summer day as he remembered them. There again was the blue, blue sky, the cumulo-nimbus clouds towering over the purple water. And he was on the Pilar, which was young again as he was young again.
Choose the age you want to be, they had said. Choose where and what and who. Create it as you wish it, or recreate it as it was. Be what you were or what you wanted to be or what you wish you had been. And of course that went for anyone else who came to visit. Ed Hemingway and he had chosen to be about the same age, and so they were in their mid-thirties together, standing as equals, together in mind and sympathy as they had never been able to stand in physical life.
There would be other days – an endless series of other days, he hoped. He would go out with all the friends who never knew him as he was on the Gulf. Sylvia, for instance: He looked forward to seeing how Sylvia would like the endless sea, the towering unmarked sky. Maybe she would want to fish, maybe she wouldn’t. Either way, they’d have a good time. But this first day had to go to the man who had taught him to fish, all those years ago.
“Got to get Walter and Nita out here again,” he thought, “and Gregorio. Once they’re safely dead, I mean. And meanwhile I’ll have Max, and Mr. Josie, and Charlie, and so many others. God, it’s wonderful! Nobody ever loved the world more than I did, and here it is again.”
He helped get his father strapped into the chair. He got the lines out, baited. His father was holding the unfamiliar deep-sea rod with the confidence of a life-long fisherman, his hawk-sharp eyes filled with anticipation.
“Be ready, dad,” he said. “It’s nothing like trout fishing. We could get a strike at any time, and with any luck at all, one of them might be enormous.”
“But you aren’t determining what or when,” his father said, repeating.
“Nope. It’ll be more fun if we just take what comes.“ He glanced around the cockpit, making sure that everything was as it should be. “It’ll be unpredictable, just the way it was on earth. You’re going to love it.”
Not the end