Mary's first obligation on arriving in the US was to go to Chicago to
see her elderly parents, and explain she was leaving Noel Monks so she
could marry Ernest Hemingway. Ernest listened to Mary explain all of
this over the telephone and then told her he couldn't possibly wait
another two weeks before he saw her.
"I'm sorry, sugar, but I have to go and see the Elderlies, and explain.
I really do.”
“ Sure, sure. Of course you do,” replied Ernest. “ Look I'll spend the
time getting properly shipshape and Bristol fashion. All the folks here are looking forward to meeting you, and I've described you to them and they think you're real swell. And I've cut back on the drinking, not a drop until lunchtime, and only a small Tom Collins before lunch, and then only a half bottle of wine with lunch. And I do feel better, and the head is clearing real swell. Honey, please come home.”
“ I will. Just a couple of weeks. I have to see the Elderlies, and put their minds at rest about you and me, and Dad hasn't been well.”
“ Sure, sure. Two weeks?”
“ Two weeks. I'll call you from the Elderlies, bye, sugar.”
“ Bye. Oh, the cats, and the dogs send their love.”
“ But they don't know me.”
“ Sure they do. I've been telling them all about you, and showed them your photo, and they can't wait to meet you.”
“ Good, I can't wait to meet them, they sound like a nice bunch of folks.”
“ They are.”
“ Oh, Hem.”
“ Bye, honey, and say hi from me to the Elderlies.”
Hemingway replaced the receiver and called his driver who then drove him into Havana where he got plastered.
The following day the distinguished Cuban doctor, Jose Luis Herrera, came for lunch, and over some cold ham and potato salad Hemingway explained the adverse effects of his two wartime concussions.
“ The headaches were terrible, Doc, and they were always there. Still get them.”
“ Were you on painkillers?”
“ Yes, to start with, but I gave them up and stuck to the booze after that. Seemed to help.”
“ In the short term it will, but it can only do more harm than good in the long run.”
“ Another glass of wine, Doc?”
Hemingway pours them each a glass of chilled Cuban white wine, and then insists Herrera have some more ham.
“ Then I started to loose my verbal memory. And for a writer that's bad news, Doc.”
“ Any other symptoms?”
“ I found it hard to think clearly, and I even started writing syllables backwards.”
“ Which is very bad news for a writer.”
“ Damned right it is!”
“ Any ringing in the ears?”
“ Yep, and some loss of hearing too.”
“ And how long did you stay in bed after the automobile accident in London?”
“ Just four days.”
“ I don't believe it. You should have been in bed for at least two weeks with absolute rest. What was the doctor thinking of?”
“ Not his fault. I discharged myself. Wasn't going to miss D-Day.”
“ Then you hit your head again, in France, when you had to dive into a ditch, is that right?”
“ No choice. But old Hem's head found the only goddam rock around. Is it what I think it is? A sub...”
“ A subdural hematoma? Yes. Which should, for all intents and purposes, have been in an acute state after you hit your head in that ditch. By rights you should be dead.”
“ Tell me more, as I seem to be a walking miracle.”
“ Well, a subdural hematoma is rapidly-clotting venous bleeding of the bridging veins etween the cortex and the venous sinuses. They dissect the arachnoids away from the inner layer of the dura - but external to the brain - which spreads out along the cerebral convexity. The so called sub acute stage usually occurs three to four days after a severe injury to the head, which in your case must have been the automobile accident, with the chronic stage becoming apparent some two to three weeks later. Your constant intake of alcohol during this period would have increased the risk of alcohol-associated coagulopathy, and cerebral
haemorrhage, enormously. As I said, you should be dead.”
“ Thanks, Doc. A young army doctor back in France suggested I might be suffering from some sort of shell shock.”
“ He could very well be right, and if you link that with subdural hematoma your symptoms fit the bill. What I don't know is why you are still alive. Do the Hemingways have particularly hard heads?”
“ Both sides of the family come from Yorkshire, so perhaps we're as hard as Sheffield steel?”
“ Must be. But, Ernest you've got to take things easy now.”
“ Could this subdural hematoma account for erratic behaviour?”
“ Most certainly.”
“ So I don't have too much apologising to do?”
“ I don't think you're the apologising sort are you?”
“ Depends who to I guess.”
“ My advice is to rest, and then gradually build up, day by day, your intellectual activity until you feel your old self. But I must warn you
that you will never be the man you were, intellectually, or physically.”
“ Hell, Doc, I've been pretending to be a half-wit for years, now I don't have to pretend.”
Ernest's butler then served them iced melon, with a bottle of Champagne, and the afternoon ended with Hemingway taking to his bed with only a mild headache. He tried to read some Proust but gave up after half a page.
“ I think I'll stick to Frank Yerby. As the Doc said, build up my intellectual activity day by day,” he said to himself.
With that thought our man fell asleep.
A few days after his lunch with the Doctor Hemingway took his beloved boat, Pilar, as far as the cove at Bacuranao, wearing only a jockstrap. The boat was in good order after its wartime ordeals and Hemingway spent the day anchored in the cove cleaning and painting the craft, and getting a good all over suntan ready for when Mary arrived.
Two days later Mary phoned again to say the Elderlies were keen to meet the man who seemed to make their daughter so happy.
“ They sound like a fine brace of folks to me.”
“ They are, Sugar, the finest in all the world.”
“ When are you starting home, Kitten?”
“ In a day or two, Sugar. Thought I might get the train, not too keen on flying.”
“ Okay, but phone from along the way.”
“ Will do. Oh, Ma sends a big kiss, and Pa a manly handshake.”
“ Good. Love you, Kitten.”
“ Love you too.”
“ Love you three.”
“ Love you four.”
After the phone call Hemingway finished thatching the pool shelter, sorted several boxes of books for the new bookcase, swam ten laps, did seventy five lifting exercises, went on a pigeon shoot with his old friend, Alvarito Villamayor, and killed nineteen out of the twenty pigeons, and won $30. He then concluded the day with three sets of tennis and a few more laps in the pool. He told Mary, in a letter he wrote that night, that it was a:
“...necessary programme in order to write good, and love and cherish his new wife, think straight, fight when necessary, and enjoy truly and with all five senses his one and only life while he was still able to live it.”
He also told Mary that once he was back in condition he'd get back into the swing of writing:
“...first with letters, then with simple short stories, then with complex short stories, and at last a novel.”
The only letters Hemingway received were from Lanham, who was now a brigadier general, but Hemingway (although he loved to hear from his old comrade in arms) was trying to push his memories of the war into the back of his damaged brain, as if thinking about them might add to the
Even so, he had little time for anyone he came across who had not been in uniform, and repeated constantly that if you had “...not been with the infantry in France after D-Day you'd not been anywhere.” Maybe his poor old brain was refusing to let him put those memories of the war into the shadows?
He treated the death of Roosevelt with some scorn - a man he'd never really liked - and put all politics very firmly out of his head.
Following the good doctors orders he read a little bit more each day, enjoying the experience of re-discovering Mark Twain, D.H. Lawrence, and James Joyce, especially Ulysses:
“ Tiptop. Let me see. I'll take a glass of burgundy and, let me see.
“ Sardines on the shelves. Almost taste them by looking. Sandwich? Ham and his descendants mustered and bred there. Potted meats. What is home without Plumtree's potted meat? Incomplete. What a stupid ad! Under the obituary notices they stuck it. All up a plumtree. Dignam's potted meat. Cannibals would with lemon and rice. White missionary too salty. Like pickled pork. Except the chief consumes the parts of honour. Ought to be tough from exercise. His wives in a row to watch the effect...”
Hemingway laughed again at Joyce's wonderful wit and remembered when he'd first read that in Joyce's longhand in the front room of their apartment in Paris. It was as funny now as then. People forget, Hemingway thought, just how funny Ulysses is.
When Mary arrived on the 2nd of May Hemingway picked her up at the airport in the Lincoln and bore her back to the Finca like some visiting dignitary. And Mary found Ernest in much better shape than when she last saw him back in Paris. He was tanned, and his belly was flat, and his eyes shone, and he was kind to the pets, and considerate with the servants, and ate “...like a gourmet.”
Hemingway was delighted Mary liked the cats and dogs, and they her, and her very presence banished his loneliness, and for whatever reason Mary's company made him want to remember the war, and start writing about it. Mary also brought the good news that Jack had finally been liberated, and was well and that he was coming to the Finca in June to recuperate.
Ernest and Mary spent their days alone and naked on the Pilar, making love as and when they felt like it, and for a recovering Ernest that was quite often. Hemingway put his new found desires down to reading D.H. Lawrence. Mary put it down to the fact that she was, in Hemingway's eyes, the most beautiful woman in the world.
“ Isn't that the case, Sugar, that your new found sexual drive is down to the fact that I'm the most beautiful woman in world?”
Hemingway put his book down and looked at Mary.
“No, D.H. Lawrence, Honey.”
With that Mary pushed Hemingway overboard into the deep blue sea.
Note: Although based on fact some of the dialogue and scenes are imagined.