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Short Story Week - Once Upon A Time...

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Short Story Week - Once Upon A Time... A theme of 'Short Story Week' and an opportunity to re-read my back catalogue, so to speak. I hope I'm not being self indulgent in sharing my short story from 2005, Dinner With Hemingway, a 'memoir' from his last mistress.
Dinner with Hemingway
   Hello, my love. I’m thinking about you and I can’t get to sleep…again. It’s been nearly every night this week.I’m running out of pages in this little book which has become a part of me.
   I’m back to the time when we stayed the weekend at the Waldorf Astoria. Not the time in the summer that you always talked about, but early the following year, 1959. Freezing February in New York!Whatever possessed us? We could just as easily have gone to Europe.Where was Mary?I can’t remember, but I’m sure you would have told me at the time. We spent an entire afternoon in that enormous bed sliding on the satin sheets. I can still feel the gentle touch of your beard on my skin and your warm lips on my neck. We didn’t surface until dinner time.
   The restaurant was all shell-pink linen with single carnations the exact same pale colour, discreet staff and clientele who were too busy with themselves to notice us. It was really good to relax into a romantic meal without fear of discovery. We weren’t very interesting, anyway. You’d been married four times and there was nothing new to say and I was, well, who was I anyway?The gossip columns were all about JFK and Marilyn, or the ‘is it on, is it off?’ between Larry and Viv.
   That was the night Larry and Vivien came in for dinner, just the two of them, which you said was unusual because they rarely dined without guests when they were working. Larry was playing Archie Rice in ‘The Entertainer’ on Broadway. I’ve forgotten which theatre. You were twiddling with the carnation, turning it round and round in the thin, single stem vase and talking about wanting to end your marriage to Mary so that we could be together.Suddenly, there was this gush of‘Hemingway, dear boy, it is you!’ and there was Laurence Olivier, patting you on the back then shaking hands as you stood up. You introduced us. He was ‘charmed’ and kissed my hand. I was too star-struck to speak. I was looking into the eyes of Heathcliff and I wanted to feel bold and free like Cathy. Instead, I was nervous and flustered, like the second Mrs de Winter.I was glad when he declined your offer to join us; something about Vivien being unwell and not wanting company.She looked well enough, engaged in conversation with others.Mood swings, that was her malady.He said he was still playing Archie Rice. You told him we would go to see it, but we never did.
   We didn’t fully resume our conversation about the future, either.I can see you, in front of me, pained expression in those grey-blue eyes, hand on your chin with thumb on one side and fingers closed together on the other as you stroked your white beard. That, above all, is my lasting image of you, better than any photograph. In my head, I can hear your voice, Chicago accent still apparent with some drawling southern tones you picked up on the way. I loved you with all of me, from the heart, nothing held back. I cherish many times spent in your company but the Waldorf Astoria offered us the freedom to be ourselves. Precious times.
   Sometimes, like now, I am absorbed by the memory; joyfully reliving each moment and feeling reborn and renewed. I believe you truly loved me. I could see it in your eyes and I could sense it, yes, I really do mean sense it and I can see you now, smiling at my funny ways! Sometimes, though, memories can lead me to despair and sorrow for what was lost. What we lost. What you took from me when you returned to Idaho to sort things out.   And my poem,   Story Time
Come and gather round the wireless,    It’s time for Listen With Mother.
   “Are You Sitting Comfortably?”
   A story time, like no other.
   A few minutes of quiet time
   With my mom every afternoon
   Enjoying our togetherness,
   I was starting school very soon.
School was great and I learnt to read    The stories of Janet and John,
   And more besides, Oh what a world
   Full of entertaining fiction.
 Reading, writing, the love of words,    In my childhood the seeds were sown
   To strengthen my ability
   To write short stories of my own.
PMW 2019     Thanks for reading, Pam x
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