What would you say to Hemingway?
The Idaho sun is rising above the treetops. The Sun Valley home you find yourself within smells of Hoppe’s, old leather, whiskey and sweat. He’s there, sitting in a stiff backed chair behind a desk. You’ve plopped yourself into a leather stuffed monster that nearly swallows you whole.
“Papa,” you say, “your stories are not — have never been — real.”
“Of course they were real.” The man slurs his words, from age or alcohol, it’s hard to tell. His bearded face scowls at your presumption.
“I mean, to readers. To readers, they were always imaginings. They close the book and their own lives came back into view.”
“You could go on telling stories that even you, yourself, knew to be fully rooted in the realm of imagination.”
The old man cleaned his teeth with his tongue. His jaw worked at the concept. “Imagination is not something I bother with. If it’s not been felt, rubbed into your skin, someone’s skin, then it’s not real.”
“Yes, I know the truth has gagged you.” The old man jerked his chin your way. “But,” you continue, “your readers have always believed in your stories.”
“What? Gagged? How… Well of course they have. HOW COULD THEY NOT BELIEVE?” He’d become agitated, he started rummaging through the drawers of the desk.
“What I mean to say is that, for them, real or not, imagined or not, while they read your words, they were transported into the world you created.”
Papa Hemingway stopped his searching. He lay the double barrel onto the worn and pitted desk before him. “Put it plain, man!”
“Realism is in the eye of the reader. The truth of the story — is in the telling.”
The big man sat there, staring at you. His rough, scared hands clenched over and over. He’d wandered out here, in his bathrobe, to work at some internal conflict. You’d heard the commotion, risen and joined him. You refused his offer of a finger of amber liquid, the hour being late (or early, as it were).
“If I wrote of men on Mars, for god’s sake, the readers would read that?”
“And fantastical trips to strange lands and distant shores — all full of bollocks?”
“They’d read, and enjoy that, too.”
He set his elbows on the desk and leaned forward. His forehead tilted to touch the receiver of the engraved shotgun lying like an offering there across his desk. He jerked up, startling you. “And the tales I’ve told, the rhinos and marlin and white lion, they… They think those things ‘imagined,’ creations of my mind?”
You’d gotten through to him. You knew it from the compelling look in his eyes. “If they were real, or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s your words that brought those visions to life. And can still do so.”
He stared at you. His eyes blinked. “Damn it, man! I’ve got stories to write.” He moved to get up, yet stopped. “But, this H&H has been mistreated. I’ll clean it first and bear down upon a story I’ve been dreaming about for some time. It’s about the end of the world.”
“I could clean that gun for you. I’d be happy to.”
He paused as he lifted the elegant firearm from his desk, “My gun, my responsibility.”