Dark Seeds:
Hemingway Out of Havana

by D. J. Herda

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Book Opening:

Hemingway peers out the window, past the fog and the cold drizzle rolling in off the beach.  It is winter, and winter is his least favorite time of year.  Well, winter in Cuba, at least.  In the mountains of Idaho or Colorado or Argentina or even Greece, winter is a different story.  With two staves strapped to his feet and poles to help keep him balanced, the crisp cry of a sunny sharp January lingers lightly on his mind.  But here, winter is simply winter.


He turns back toward the room looking out onto the plaza, where sometimes in more pleasant weather the bulls run wild down the center of Obispo y Mercaderes and the people linger on the corners, smoking cigars and cigarettes, the women, too, and wondering what the day will bring, if it will be hot and humid or if there will be an ocean breeze or what. 


On days such as those, this room seems pleasant, welcoming, a warm spot in which to while away the hours before returning to the villa and work.  The innkeeper at the Hotel Ambos Mundos keeps this room for him free, room number 211, for he knows that it is Hemingway’s favorite and, although Spartan in most respects, has at least a hurricane lamp to warm the chilly winter nights and cast its happy glow along the rows and rows of manuscripts the author keeps stacked between periods of working on them, reading them, re-reading them, and working on them some more.  He often writes at the hotel cantina downstairs, or at an outdoor table when no one is around to distract him, nothing to draw his attention from the arduous task he finds writing to be these days except perhaps for a warm glass of beer or a fresh young sweet wine or even an icy Marguerita. 


Delores asks, “Are you glad you came to Havana?” 


“I’m glad we came to Havana,” he replies.  He smiles at her, seated on the edge of the bed, and crosses the room to be closer to her.  She is all Cuban, he thinks.  Cuban eyes, Cuban hair, Cuban temperament.  Except that her father was born in Corsica and her mother somewhere in the Italian Alps.  Besides which she has never been to Cuba before in her life and wasn’t sure she would like it even now.  Notwithstanding, of course, that he is here.  And that is reason enough for her to approve of the place. 


She reaches her hand out, takes hold of his, and squeezes it for several seconds.  He drains the amber liquid from his glass and sets it on a small tile-topped table next to the bed.  He wears only his boxers—a large, furry chest peering out above them, a chest once larger and more attractive than it is today.  A chest filled with desire and rage, with daring and wanderlust.  A chest a man could be proud of.  A chest ....


He wonders how it will end.  And when.  Will it be with the whimper of passing time, with the tears of old age?  Or, perhaps, suddenly, on an unwise pass in the bullring or on a narrow mountain road laced with land mines?  Or perhaps even in a duel with some jealous fool husband intent upon satisfying his demand for redemption on the heels of an errant wife’s cuckoldry.

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