He Didn’t Say Much: A Short Story from Cuba

Ernest Hemingway sat alone in a bar in Havana, Cuba with a stiff drink in front of him, two sips from being empty. Maybe, just one. It could have been his sixth or seventh drink that night but who was counting? He came to this bar often, they called him Papa, he seemed to be in deep thought and above a handsome sun-faded utility shirt, he wore an ambiguous expression that was something between a grin and a smile. But far sadder. His beard covered his wrinkles so it was hard to tell exactly how old he was, but he was indeed aging well. Like most men in Cuba.

A cool, damp wind that blew in off the Strait of Florida wandered into the bar with the opening of a door. A woman followed the breeze and coincidentally sat down beside Ernest Hemingway, telling the bartender, I’ll have what he’s having. It probably wasn’t a coincidence. Ernest looked at the woman with the same expression, his face a little glazed now by the sea mist. A man with a scar on his face sitting in the far corner of the bar strummed a guitar, more to himself, really, than to anyone else in the room. The woman stirred her drink and mumbled something nervously about the weather. She was not sure if Ernest replied with a shrug—or not—but clearly she could tell that he didn’t say much. And perhaps that’s precisely what she wanted. A man who listened. 

She inched closer to him, careful not to give him the eye just yet. His shirt smelled of rum and cigar smoke and the sea. The woman wondered if the great Hemingway could dance. Specifically, salsa. More specifically, with her. Perfect scenario: Upon the concrete seawall that lined the malecon—at dusk—with waves crashing intermittently against it, exploding like fireworks with each spin that Ernest twirled her.

She took another sip and swallowed, audibly. Perhaps he liked to drive. And the two of them would hit the road, floating across the Cuban countryside in his ’55 Fairlane convertible, her hair ablaze in the wind all the way to Trinidad on the southern coast. An old pirate town where the streets sing with accordions and rooster crows and trade-winds rustling the giant palms. In the woman’s mind, the color of his car matched the brilliant bluebird skies. 

Again, Ernest grinned. Or smiled. She couldn’t tell. But perhaps he liked to walk, she thought. Away from the tourists like herself in Old Town, and through the leafy, colonial barrio of Vedado. Perhaps they’d walk together down those streets and they’d pass the dilapidated mansions, glowing with color but crumbling at the touch, and he’d point out which flat he’d composed his masterpiece in. Maybe he’d even take her up to that very room and recite a line of it to her and—

She took another sip, recklessly, and glared at him through the corners of her eyes. It was now or never, she decided and slid her trembling, free hand on to his. It was impossibly cold. Startled, she looked into his eyes and they were vacant, dead. The woman stared at him, slack-jawed, and pulled her hand away, suddenly embarrassed. The man was a statue, but then again, she had always been quite fond of statuesque men. Specifically, ones that listened. 

She stirred her drink again. She had big plans for him and her, big plans. And yet, there was still something about that smile—or was it a grin—that hinted at some kind of sentient spark within him. Somewhere in there.

COMING SOON TO FREENOTE

Comment