Henry F. Tonn

Hemingway's Question

The Boss shotgun rested comfortably against his knee as he sat on the sofa in the soft glow of the morning light. It was a cool, clear, pleasant morning, reminding him of the ones so many years ago at Walloon Lake when he would rise early to take advantage of the good fishing. He would stroll quietly along the edge of the water with the birds chirping happily around him, and search for the right place to cast in his line. And if he were lucky and caught enough fish, there would be a big feast for the entire family that evening on the front porch. It was the best of times: hunting, swimming, playing with friends, sleeping in a tent in the backyard. The sky seemed bluer then, the air cleaner, the future infinite. Life had not yet been reduced to living with “grace under pressure.” How he longed to go back and do it over.

Perhaps he would change a few things.

Well, one thing he would not change was being an ambulance driver in the Great War. He acquitted himself well in that conflict-- brief as his contribution was-- and had nothing to apologize for. Yes, it was terrible to hear men shrieking and suffering and moaning and dying, and it was terrible to feel those shell fragments ripping into his own legs and having to spend five months in the hospital. But he fell in love with Agnes and that memory could never be taken from him. And from that love came A Farewell to Arms, which would endure far beyond his life on this earth.

But maybe he should not have drunk so much.

Of course, Scott drank all the time. Scott, who thought life was one big decadent party and the money and success would last forever. Scott, who never realized that the moveable feast would eventually end, and the brilliant writing which came to him so effortlessly would someday desert him. God, what a waste of talent. He had no control at all. And Zelda: that moray eel sucking him dry. She undermined his writing and spent money like there was no tomorrow. Crazier than a loon and relentlessly pushing him towards destruction.

He was a lost man in a lost generation.

Well, no, that’s a misnomer. That generation wasn’t lost at all. Everyone was moving toward their own destinies and excited by the possibilities that lay ahead. Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Picasso, Joyce: future greats hanging out together. It’s amazing. Paris in the twenties was as memorable as you could ask. And there was Hadley. You walked blocks to a good, cheap restaurant with your wife because you couldn’t afford anything better and then you visited your friends and argued philosophy and politics and literature, and later tried to write it all down exactly as it was. “Short, concise sentences,” Ezra would insist. “Short, concise sentences.”

Did he ever love anyone more than Hadley? Probably not. She shared Paris with him when they were both very poor and very happy. There was Switzerland and Austria and Spain, and she bore him a blond, chunky son with apple cheeks. But he couldn’t resist Pauline when she came along, causing him to commit the kind of treason for which there can be no exculpation. Born of innocence perhaps, but still no excuse. And he did no better by Pauline. He traveled the world and she followed him at the expense of their two sons—for which she would be forever castigated—and always it came down to his own self-indulgence. He could admit it now. And then there was Martha with her honey blond hair and feisty, independent personality. Did she want to be an international journalist or a wife in his bed? She chose journalism, which was okay, because she was better at that. And finally Mary, whose devotion was unquestionable. A fine companion but…in the end he would be thinking of Hadley.

Still, let’s be honest, he wasn’t the type to stay with one woman any more than he could stay in one place for any length of time. There was a whole world to be seen and adventures to be had: marlin fishing in Cuba, bullfighting in Spain, game hunting in Africa. What can be more exhilarating than facing down a charging rhino when you only have time for one shot? It’s what separates the men from the boys. Facing death and doing it bravely, that’s the highest calling. Like a bullfighter engaged in the duel of death, accomplished with elegance and class. At those moments you feel indestructible, larger than life. Every cell in your body vibrates. You feel alive!

But eventually the body wears down. The doctor informs you about your high blood pressure and your liver and you already know your eyesight is failing. Too much drinking, too much of everything. You outlived Scott, but perhaps you didn’t live any better. You try to put it all down on paper but it won’t come anymore. No more true sentences. What’s the point?

The depression rolls in and you can barely get out of bed in the morning and they take you to the hospital and give you electroshock treatments and now what little memory you had is completely gone. You will never write again. Body and mind both obliterated. You spy the Old Whore staring at you now eagerly waiting for that moment she can pull you into the darkness of her womb. Well, she has her ideas and you have yours and you’ll be damned if you’re going to exit by her timetable. There are still a few things in this world over which you have control.

He slid his hand down the barrel of the Boss and hooked his thumb around the trigger.

But how in the world did I back myself into this corner?



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