By Jan Morehead
Maybe I was expecting more from such an iconic hero of fiction and journalism than I had a right to. I certainly thought he’d be a lot taller, more ‘Gary Cooper’ in the way he carried himself or suffused the room with his presence. Instead, I watched a man of average height, sturdy build and care worn features step through the door, sweep the room with unmet expectation, then walk over to the nearest bar stool and take up residency.
Like everyone else in Gentleman Jones Bar of the Dead, Mr. Hemingway had about him the look of someone who’d once boasted a light as brilliant as a new-born sun, only to discover, as with all nova’s, their brilliancy had a shelf life and that he’d come to the end of his.
A neatly trimmed beard and half-moon face, supported a full mouth, boyish dimples and eye’s the color of ripened walnuts. A remnant of evenly matched dark brows, once mirrored images of each other, now sat catawampus – one straight – the other as an afterthought – the mismanaged result of a burning fuselage from the plane crash that nearly took his life eight years ago. His once thick hair, now receded to a point midway between forehead and crown, lay peppered and thin in his attempts to capture an earlier time. With an upraised hand he caught Jonesies attention, “Bar keep, start me with a whiskey neat, a pint of Guinness, and keep em’ comin’.”
My curiosity is notoriously my undoing, so you’ll understand why I was compelled to leap from my perch – neatly clearing of a bowl of mutilated peanut shells, but not so neatly the outer edge of Sally Loren’s shot glass. ‘Sorry, sorry.” I screeched, then hopped out of range of her half-hearted attempts to separate me from several tail feathers. Between me and our newest arrival, stood a labyrinth of shot glasses, half empty bottles of rum, whiskey and the piston like movements of Jonesies arm, as he filled and re-filled the cadaverous drinks; it took me a few minutes, but I managed to make it through with all the usual swagger.
Upon reaching my destination I was careful to place myself slightly to the left of his center, fluffed out the under pinning of my aqua and green plumage, raised and lowered my breast bone several times, then purred in a near perfect imitation of Mae West, “Hey big boy…what’s a girl…gotta do… to get a drink around here…huh?”
Now in the four hundred years I’d been propositioning the dead, I’d narrowed their response to finding themselves no longer among the living down to one of two categories: those found it necessary to spit their response onto my perfectly groomed feathers – thus the position of center left, and those who still believed that this was all just a bad dream and that they’d soon wake up. The day Hemingway walked into the bar, I started a third response; “I’ll be damned, I thought you’d be a lot bigger than that.”