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Ernest Hemingway, Archie Pelkey and James Joyce


Pelkey puts a steaming pot of real coffee, a cup and saucer, and two slices of buttered toast, onto a table at which Hemingway is sitting, reading.

" What's the book, general?"

" Well done, Archie."

" Hell, I know a book when I see a fellah reading one."

" Well, this book, Professor Pelkey, is called Ulysses, and was written by an old friend of mine called James Joyce. He's dead now."

" Is that so?"

" That is so."

" So what's it about, this book by your dead friend?"

" It's about one day in Dublin, back in 1904, a day seen from the viewpoint of several people, most notably Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan, Leopald Bloom and his wife, Molly."

" Looking at the thickness of the book, general, it must have been one hell of a long day."

" Archie, just pour me a cup of coffee."

" Yes sir, general."

Pelkey pours the coffee and starts eating Hemingway's toast.

" This friend of yours, how does he rate in the scribbling scales, say on a one to ten, in comparison to, say, Zane Grey?"

" Zane Grey?"

" Yeh, you know the guy..."

" Yeh, I know the guy. Pioneer of the Frontier, and all that stuff."

" Great book. So how does this friend of yours, this Joyce fellah rate, in comparison?"

" Well, he don't rate, not in comparison. Grey wrote westerns and some great books on fishing too, got them all. But you can't compare the two. Joyce was an innovator, a great literary stylist. Grey was a teller of moral tales of the Western Frontier."

" Ain't there a comparison there? They were both pioneers in a way. One, Grey, a pioneer of the western, of the re-telling of the struggle for land against all the odds, in other words, as you say, moral tales about people under stress, not unlike your own work? And that Joyce, if what you say is true, was a pioneer of style, and therefore a writer who broke through literary frontiers. Surely they have this in common?"

Hemingway takes a sip of his coffee and looks at Pelkey.

" Where you read that, Archie?"

" Didn't read it, just kind a worked it out. Am I right?"

" Sure you're right, but I ain't never thought of it myself till now. And which books of mine have you read?"

" Most, leastways bits of most, although I reckon To Have and Have Not is your best..."

" The critics won't agree with you there."

" What do I care about the critics. That book is your best, a great read from start to finish, and the way you describe that shoot-out in the street outside that bar in Havana is brilliant, man."

" Thanks, Archie."

" And Morgan is a real tough guy, a guy we could do with here."

" There's talk of making a film, but I guess it won't happen till after the war?"

" Bogart is the man. Tell the studio to hire Bogart, tell them Pellkey said so."

" I will, Archie."

" Tell me about this guy Joyce."

" Archie, I ain't no lecturer."

" I wanna know, might even get around to reading him one day, if he's as good as you say."
Hemingway finishes his coffee, then pulls a bottle of brandy out of his rucksack, takes a long drink and then hands the bottle over to Pelkey. Hemingway then stands, and like his grandfather, starts to pace up and down the room.

" Well, Archie, James Joyce was born on February 2nd 1882. He was the oldest surviving son of John and May Joyce, and always felt guilty about the deaths of the brothers he never knew, which is a constant undercurrent in his work, especially in his collection of short stories, Dubliners."

" Is that a fact, general. Ma lost three before they reached school age. Goddam it, can you believe that?"

" Well, like I was saying, the Joyce family wasn't particularly well off, and because of his father's loyalties to the republican cause he never really prospered in a city ruled by the British. James was a gifted and industrious scholar and began his education with the Jesuits at Clongowes Woods, just outside of Dublin. But he was soon withdrawn due to ill health. My personal feeling is he got beaten up once too often and probably retaliated with a right boot in some young priest's genitals. I might be wrong, but James always came across as a guy who could look after himself."

" Tough son-of-a-bitch, eh?"

" Reckon he had to be, what with the Jesuits, and the Brits, had no choice. Anyway, he eventually finished his education at Belvedere College, and then University College Dublin. I tell you, Archie, he was one hell of guy to be around. When he was twenty-two he wrote an essay which he entitled Portrait of the Artist, and then an early version of his story,The Sisters. In 1902, after the death of his brother George, he took himself off to Paris, but was soon recalled because of his mother's poor health. She died in the late summer of 1903, and almost one year later, on June 16th 1904 - and remember Ulysses is set in 1904 - he met Nora Barnacle."

" Any relation to Barnacle Bill the Sailor?"

" What the hell are you talking about, Archie?"

" The song,Barnacle Bill the Sailor. Bix Beiderbecke had a big hit with that back in the 1920s, you must have heard it, I'm Barnacle Bill the..."

" No, can't say I have."

" Sorry, general, pray do continue."

" Archie? I'd say you were looking for a belt in the mouth, wouldn't you?"

" Sorry."

" Where the hell was I?"

" Barnacle...I mean, Nora Barnacle."

" Nora, yes. Nora was not an educated woman, far from it, but she was intelligent, and outspoken, and well versed in sexual matters, and, it would seem, well suited to the demands James was to make on her, and she on him for that matter. Neither had any love, or commitment to republicanism, to politics of any colour, and certainly no interest in the Celtic revival, which they both saw as backward and futile, so they decided to flee Ireland and set-up shop, so to speak, on the mainland of Europe. They left Dublin on October 8th 1904, first settling in Zurich, then in a small town on the Adriatic coast of Italy called Pola, then, in March 1905, they finally settled in Trieste where James began working for the Berlitz School. Their son, Giorgio, was born in July 1905, after which they left Trieste for Rome, where James worked in a bank as a cashier. Can you believe that, Pelkey? James Joyce behind the counter of a damned bank?"

"Had a sister who worked in a bank, Paloma First National. The crash of '29 finished it off of course, and sis moved to a gas station out on Highway Ten, married the owner in the end, fellah by the name of Roland Justice, nice guy most of the time, except when sis started hitting the bottle. He used to lock her in her room. I thought that was pretty mean of him considering he got drunk most Fridays himself. Anyway she left him in the end, burned the place down. She married a preacher after that, happy as hogs."

" Archie, you are a revelation."

" Is that good or bad, colonel, I mean general?"

" Do you want to hear any more about James Joyce?"

" No, no thanks general, reckon I'll go see to the Jeep."

As Pelkey left the room Ernest Hemingway put his copy of Ulysses back into his rucksack, took out a very dog-eared copy of Zane Grey's Lone Star Ranger, took a long drink of brandy and began to read.

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