August 21, 2011
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
In red weather.
– Wallace Stevens “A Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock”
Ernest Hemingway staggered up to the steps of Wallace Stevens’ beach house. The cool breeze rustled the shrubs. Hemingway took one final slug of his whiskey and hurled the bottle against the front door. The sound of ocean waves harmonized with the shattering glass.
“Hey! Stevens! Get out here!”
A light clicked on. The second floor of the house suddenly seemed alive. A shuffling of shadows adorning robes, a tall man’s deep voice and an elderly woman’s muffled pleas. A 50-year old poet clattered down the wooden steps and opened the door.
“Well, well. Look what we have here! Finally come to get your whoopin’ eh, Ernie?”
Hemingway stood back from the porch. He motioned Stevens to come meet him. The moon cast dim light on the drunken figure. “I’m gonna mess you up old man.”
Last night, Stevens had been to a small gathering of Key West intellectuals. During the course of the party, the world-renowned poet had imbibed a few too many gin and tonics and decided to make his disdain for Ernest Hemingway known. Hemingway’s sister, who happened to be at the party, tried in vain to defend her brother’s honor, but the witty criticisms of Wallace left her in tears.
“I don’t care what you say about me, you old curmudgeon. But you screw with my sister, you’re dead.”
“If screwing your sister is reason to fight a man, you’ve got quite a few battles to go,” Wallace smirked. “You’re going to have to take on the whole New York Yankees.”
“That’s it!” Hemingway rushed at Stevens. At 30, he was much younger than his fellow combatant, but the liquor had slowed his senses considerably. They grappled with each other briefly before Hemingway landed an uppercut that sent the poet to the ground.
“You better sell yourself some life insurance you old fogey!”
“Oh, I get it,” replied Stevens, climbing to his feet. “Because I’m an insurance executive in addition to being a famous poet right? You’re so witty.”
“Robert Frost was right. You’re an asshole,” Hemingway took a wild roundhouse swing that connected with a resounding crunch, sending the taller Stevens to the ground again. But the tough-as-nails Stevens climbed to his feet, rising like the Sun over the beach.
“You know that Bell you wrote about?” Stevens said as he spit out a bloody tooth. “It’s tolling for you now, you little, limp-wristed school girl.”
Hemingway lunged again but this time Stevens caught him square on the chin with a left jab. A loud crack echoed off the palm trees.
“Ah!” Stevens cried out in pain. “My wrist! My wrist is broken.” He fell to the ground, writhing in agony.
A new cut under Hemingway’s mouth had started to ooze a drop of blood. He laughed. “Guess you won’t be writing anymore horrible poems with a compound fracture, Wally! Farewell to your Arm! Hee-Hee!”
Hemingway stumbled back into the Key West Night. The clouds shrouded the moonlight and wrapped it in a cool blanket. He whistled to himself and the tune carried on the ocean breeze.
*This actually happened.