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Bad Hemingway

The annual Imitation Hemingway contest was sponsored for years by PEN/Harry's Bar, then by Hemispheres Magazine, but, alas, is no longer. Being one of ten finalists for "Papa in Love" was a great honor. It is hard writing - try it! - to be short, snappy, funny, yet sound like authentic-Hemingway prose. It is sad to no longer have to face this tiny blank white page challenge.


Then there were the questions and they were dumb.

"Is that your final answer, Papa?" the man with the tight hair asks me, and even though I know that there are no final answers except in war and in love, I respond in the only way that a man who has seen bravery as big as the Ritz and has even survived the end of the century without a drop of bottled water can respond, with the single word that makes a man a man. "Yes."

I am in the clean well-lighted television studio with the pulsing music for thinking because of what Miguelito the bullfighter said. "It's a new century, Papa," he offered as he lay wounded in the dirt. "It's not enough to fish, fight, write and die," he whispered with his last breath. "Try new things. Go dot-com. Please a woman with your tongue. Try for the dollars that are free on TV. Then die." And he did, dying his manly death in the afternoon before I could ask about that tongue-thing.

The TV man with the silver tongue tells me I've won some more dollars and I watch that tongue and wonder what he knows. The dollars are good but they are not yet the big ones that can take a man back to his best days in Florence, a time of fine wine that had great authority and a low price in pleasant cafes with girls as pretty as apple tart. A man can buy many good meals of cold roasted fillet of ostrich and tagliatellini con luganega at a fine establishment like Harry's Bar & American Grill when he has the million.

"Papa. For $64,000. Only five away from the million --- What is the difference between you and a rich person? Is it--

     a)sex             b )money
     c)whiskey     d )hills like white elephants ?"

There are old bullfighters and there are brave soldiers and there are other dead white males who are sometimes your friend and sometimes not, but they are always your lifelines, and with the help of AT&T you can call them in the dark of night for the answers that matter.

"Hello, Scott?"

"Is this Regis?!"

I read Scott the question and he says it is money that makes the difference between a rich person and me and he says it is final and then there are more dollars in my pocket that I will not share with him and it is a swell thing.

A man in the hot seat answers many questions with his own might because he knows by sight what is true at first light. Even when the answers all sound alike he does not ask for help from the audience that is greedier than a blind pig foraging for little radishes and a good foie de veau in the winter rain that can make dirt mud.

"Papa. For $500,000 -- one away from the million. The question is: What do women want? Is it --

     a)sex             b )money
     c)whiskey     d )hills like white elephants ?"

I see my reflection in the man's shiny tie, sneering at him because he dare ask such a question. There are women with hills who want mountains and there are women with whiskey who want sex and there are women with money who want me and there is no final answer about women and that is the final answer.

I walk away from the million and I remember that I am an old-century man and I remember that when you are very poor and very hungry the writing is good. But then I also remember that when you are very hungry every taste bud on your tongue is sharpened and that Miguelito is a wise dead friend. After all, the tongue-thing can not be as hard as facing the blank white page, but then, what is?

                                                      Copyright 2017 Cassady Black/Indigo


Papa in Love" made it as one of ten finalists in 1999, but, alas, did not win the Big Prize.

It is written on the body that there are five things that make a man happy. There is food and there is drink. There is work and there is friendship and then there is love. Papa thought he had it all on this holiday in the islands until he looked across the bedroom at the girl with the long black hair. Written on her naked body was but a single question - Papa, did you bring the Hard Stuff?

Then there was the good weather. He tried to tell her about the winds and the big hurricane he had known, the one they called El Grande Hurricane, but she said that sounded like a girl's drink back at Harry's Bar & American Grill and it made her sad. That was not the hard stuff she wanted. He knew what she meant and she did not mean the liquid poison that can make the words flow and she did not mean the white powder that can make strong men dance in borrowed shoes and she did not mean the weeds that are smuggled by old men across the river and in through the sea. She meant the little pills that can make a man a real man again, and again, and again. He could not answer her, because in his heart he was still a young man, a man who could face the blank white page, the wild bull, and the girls who were wilder still, all in the same night, and out-perform the bull.

"I will cook the good fish that I have caught," he said, leaving her desire trailing like a matador's red cape in the dirt after the fight. "We will have candlelight and it will be a fine meal, just like at Harry's in the days before the Problem."

"You forgot it, Papa," she said quietly. "You forgot to bring the hard stuff," she said, with the disappointed voice of a woman who knows what she wants and even though she says she loves you on Wednesday, she can easily disappear by Thursday, slipping between the pages of your calendar like a paper clip gone astray in the random diary that is your life.

Only God knows why a man does the things he does in the face of fear, if there is a God, and if that God keeps up with modern medicine. It would have been easy enough to bring it, a simple gesture of something resembling love. There could have been laughter and lust languishing under the palm trees. Instead, there is fine food and cold drinks and there are always friends and later there will be the words that are the work. With any luck, there will be another day when the love also rises.

                                                      Copyright 2017 Cassady Black/Indigo


I rowed in the dark keeping the wind in my face. It was not a swell idea to force seven people into a small wooden boat that should only hold four. My beautiful Kate, the bald priest, the twins, two magicians and me. Then there were the waves.

Kate waved at me from her end of the boat. "If we're going to die, Papa, I think that I must tell you things."

I looked away. There was ice in the sea. Big, grand, glorious chunks of floating ice. They reminded me of my last scotch on the rocks at Harry's Bar and American Grill. A damned fine drink in a damned fine bar from another place and time. A time when men fought the good fight, women kept their secrets and ice knew its proper place.

"Kiss me, Kate," I said. I stood up and rocked the boat.

She kissed me like there was no tomorrow and I would have to say farewell to her charms tonight. She kissed me and there was no cold and there was no wind and we were still on the big boat with all the good white dishes.

Then the rain came. The waves were as big as elephants. The sea swelled. In the dark of our night just before the dawn I held Kate tight and I told everyone it would be all right. I said it only trying to lie so that the world would not feel so bad. Also so that nobody would dare ask me who would have to go over first, and for whom the swells rolled.

We sat down. The priest and the magicians were huddled under the one blanket. I knew as sure as I knew the fear of the blank white page that neither God nor magic would save us from the big waves. It was a bad time.

"Save your secrets, Kate," I whispered. "It is too late."

She began to cry, the tears that can make a man remember hope. I made her look up into the wet rain and I told her the story that the tall bullfighter in Palermo told me so long ago. That there are nine galaxies in this universe for every single one of us and that in just our own Milky Way there are sixty-nine suns for each person alive. That if we only face the fear that is the raging bull with courage every single day we will survive for one more day to find the light.

The twins sighed, the priest stopped praying, the magicians smiled. Kate held my hand and we pressed seven bodies into one on the floor of the tiny boat and it was a fine and safe place. We slept the sleep of the innocent until we heard the distant roar of the engine that was big and strong.

Then the sun rose, also.

                                                      Copyright 2017 Cassady Black/Indigo


The thing about living in the tunnels was that you could stay hungry for a long time and barely notice because of all the dancing in the dark. Hunger was good discipline for a prairie dog and you learned from it. Cy learned it a little too well and this was well and good, but Cy was not well.

"We could take him to Harry's Bar and American Grill for good food and drink," Lady Marmot suggested, looking sadly at Cy's furry body slumped just under the swinging chandelier at the far end of the Lost tunnel.

"No, Harry's Bar is too far," I told her, checking Cy's slow pulse. "This is not a moveable beast."

"What shall we do?"

"We'll leave him here and cross the Big Road to the place with the numbers. A fine plastic dish of nachos with extra onions and a lemon-lime slurpee will do the trick." The place with the bold numbers was not exactly Harry's, but then, what was?

"Oh no, not the Big Road. Not again. Couldn't we just go across the river and into the trees?" she asked.


"Why not?"

"It's been done."

I held her close and she smelled like hope and fear mixed with dirt. She had the aroma of a woman who can look at you and make you believe you can save her and you know you can't but you try anyway and maybe tomorrow, with any luck, you'll still be alive to take her to Harry's.

"Must we go?"

"We must."

If that was how it was then that was how it was but there was no law saying that Lady Marmot had to like it and we both knew it.

"Hold my paw," I said, and she grabbed on as though it mattered.

We ran. The traffic never stopped. We ran as though our lives depended on it. When we hit the yellow lines I felt a glimmer of hope. The threats were many in the dirt-side world, but none could make you a man quite like the promise of roadkill.

When we made it to the cheese she kissed me hard. I knew then that we'd make it back and I knew I would make Cy well and this was well and good, but I also knew that when this was done I would have to face writing the hard stories about up in the dirt. I kissed her hard anyway. It wasn't exactly love, but then, what was?

                                                      Copyright 2017 Cassady Black/Indigo


It was a good airport. A swell airport. An airport worthy of it's name, Denver International Airport. But it would not open.

"No planes land here," Carrie Case said. Life as a baggage consultant was not easy. "The suitcases have behaved badly. Damned badly."

The man beside her looked long and hard down the runway. "There must be hope somewhere. The computers. We'll talk to them again."

They strode through the high arched doors. Every inch of the airport shone with the gleam of non-use. Wounded luggage was strewn on the floor everywhere they looked.

"We must win this war," said Carrie Case. "That's the first thing. If we don't win the war, nothing else matters."

A pale blue Samsonite suitcase lay open, blocking the man's way to the computers. All of Victoria's Secrets were visible to his eyes. He observed them carefully. They were splendid secrets.

"Do we use loaded luggage for the tests?" he asked Carrie Case. "It seems so cruel."

"Yes, we do. Because war is truth. And truth matters. If there is a truth."

It was three o'clock. Carrie Case heard a far-off, distant throbbing and looked up and saw the planes. But they would not land here.

The computers were brave but stupid. They would seem to know exactly what to do, then break down and send the luggage to all the wrong places. If this was how it was then this was how it was. But there was no law that made Carrie Case say she liked it.

"What will happen if the luggage never behaves?" the man asked.

"It's simple. They say the entire airport will become another Harry's Bar & American Grill. A marvelous idea. But no planes will land at Harry's."

"It's a damn shame."

The man pushed the white buttons. The computers began to whir. The new test was underway, but Carrie Case was doubtful. This was no way to think. Bags needed guidance and motivation. Particularly these bags.

The test started badly. "The suitcases just can't find their destination," the man said.

And who can, thought Carrie Case. All the life you have or ever will have is today, tonight, tomorrow, today, tonight, tomorrow, over and over again. What was a destination in life anyway? Carrie Case had known a few. Love. Home. A fine friend. Strong whiskey. The end of a story.

                                                      Copyright 2017 Cassady Black/Indigo


"One batch of dough passeth away, and another batch of dough cometh, but the crust abideth forever...The bun also ariseth, and the bun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose, with warm water and yeast...."                                          ---from the King Bisquick version

The desert sun was hot. They were all a long ride from home. Home had been a bakery. A damned fine one. Brett Bagelette was spread out on the sand. She had a title. Lady Bagel. She only used it when she was sliced.

"You're a fine friend, Jake," she said with a smile.

Johnnycake Jake tried to return the smile. He looked around at the group. Croissant Cohn was challenging Bill Biscuit to a boxing match. Croissant was once the flakeweight boxing champion of the bakery. Boxing was a daily occurrence there, but only for the donuts, and only by the dozen.

Lady Bagel and Johnnycake Jake strolled to the desert cafe. They spoke of Croissant.

"He's behaved very badly," said Brett.

"Damned badly. He had a chance to behave so well," agreed Jake. "Perhaps he was egged on."

The music began. It was good music. It was music to touch your soul. Johnnycake Jake rose to the occasion and poured the drinks. Bagels made such fine friends, he thought. Awfully swell. In the first place, you had to be in love with a bagel to have a basis of friendship. Some were salty, some plain, some seedy, some hard to the touch. He loved them all. Then there was the butter. The butter was always warm and kind and good. In his dreams there was even cream cheese. Dreams of another day.

Lady Bagel sat looking straight ahead and said nothing. Perhaps she dreamed of Muffin Mike. Mike would spread her with cream cheese. He would know how.

They spoke of the old days at the bakery, before they became the lost generation of baked goods. They remembered the running of the ovens. It had been a fine party. The excitement was as high as the temperature. One moment too long and you were toast.

"Care to dance?" Johnnycake Jake asked Lady Bagel.

They danced together, carefully avoiding brushing against each other.

"This is crumby," said Lady Bagel.

They danced the Marmalade Mambo, and they danced the Flour Fandango. Brett brushed the crumbs from her round shoulders. She felt like day-old bread in his arms. It was a stale feeling. He had loved her once, but not anymore. The bun no longer rose.

Croissant Cohn and Bill Biscuit joined them at their small table. They all loafed and watched the desert sunset.

"It's a swell life," Croissant said tenderly.

Bill Biscuit shrugged. Ideas were like dinner rolls. They passed the basket, and you could take one or not. Bill had let the rolls go by too many times in life. No morsels were left for him.

The drinks were cold. The sun set lazily. "Oh, Jake," sighed Brett Bagelette, "we could have had such a damned good time together."

"Yes," agreed Johnnycake Jake, sadly. He had kneaded her so much. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

                                                      Copyright 2017 Cassady Black/Indigo

Watch Orson Welles talk about Hemingway's influence, and his lack of humor in writing but not in life.

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