So I wrote this story a couple months ago after reading a bunch of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories in the Finca Vigia collection and I was struck by how he was able to say so much with so few words. I was particularly taken by Big Two-Hearted River, not only because it appealed to my love of backpacking and the woods, but because it seemed like a story about nothing and yet it felt so huge. I read it three times in a row, and that’s not something I do very often unless I REALLY love a piece. In the story, a man hikes from the train station, finds and sets up camp, cooks dinner and goes to sleep. The next day he wakes up, makes breakfast and lunch and does some camp chores. Then he fishes in the river and the story ends after he catches two good fish. It was so simple. It didn’t need a vast epic plot or a dozen supporting characters. It just needed one man getting himself right after experiencing one of the most traumatic things someone can go through, war. Anyway, after researching his iconic Iceberg Theory (What would we do without Wikipedia?) I decided to put the theory into practice. I took an encounter and stripped it down to its barest bones and left them hanging around for all to see. I cut out dialogue and exposition and I purposefully omitted significant background information for both the characters. I wanted it to all come out naturally in the story. I wanted the tension felt totally instinctually. I even used the Hemingway App (which is really cool, by the way, check it out at http://www.hemingwayapp.com) to simplify it as much as possible. So really the whole project is ‘kind of a nod’ to Hemingway. Well, that was lame. So here it is, Kind of a Nod.
Kind of a Nod
I saw her standing there in the dry foods aisle. She was looking at the pasta sauce, trying to choose between flavors. I almost kept walking right on by. At first I didn’t recognize her but once I did I wanted to keep going, hoping she didn’t see me and then go on with my day. But I knew I’d regret it. I knew I’d let that stew in my brain for the next week. I’d be going back to the store to somehow catch another glimpse of her. I almost walked right by but then she turned her head and her eye caught mine. I didn’t even know if she recognized me either but I took the chance and stopped.
“Hey, what’s up?” I said with my hands in my pockets.
“Oh my god hey!” She reached up and hugged me but there was a space between us. “I don’t know what kind of god damn pasta sauce to get!” she said looking back at the sauces.
“Try the three cheese marinara. Its good.”
“Yeah, with some Italian sausage and noodles. Really good.”
“Thanks” she said as she grabbed a jar and put it in her cart, “So how have you been? You kinda disappeared a while back.”
“Did I? Disappear?”
“I guess. I don’t know. I just didn’t see you on Facebook or anything anymore. Where have you been?”
“I’ve been around. Here in town mostly. I got rid of all my social media. I never really was into it all that much.”
“Yeah you weren’t were you? So how long has it been? Years I feel like. Was it the time I saw you working at the mall or the time we smoked weed in the parking lot?”
I laughed. “It was the time we smoked. So what have you been up to?”
“Oh not much. I got married.”
“Yup and divorced. Word of advice; don’t get married to the first guy who asks you when you’re only twenty years old.”
“I’ll be sure to go back in time six years and remind myself.”
“That’s good because you don’t want to forget. I know you are at a high risk for that sort of thing.”
“Oh of course, I have guys asking for my hand like every day.”
“I bet you do!” she said playfully pushing my arm, “But actually I’m pregnant now.”
“Wow. Congratulations.” She caught me off guard with that one. It was hard to imagine her becoming a mother.
“I know. It’s fucking crazy to think about isn’t it? I feel like just yesterday we were both still in high school. Remember that time at my birthday party when we had a shaving cream fight? We both spiked our hair up with shaving cream?”
“Yeah, I remember your dad hosing us off. I’m pretty sure he turned the water pressure up or the temperature down for me.”
“Oh my dad didn’t hate you…that much.”
“See! I knew he hated me!”
“Oh I’m just kidding man, calm down. He liked you. Maybe not so much when he knew you smoked pot but it didn’t really matter at that point did it?”
“No I guess not.” I said scratching the back of my head. She held her cart and looked at me.
“So what about you? What have you been up to? Don’t tell me you got married and divorced too?”
“No. I finished school and have been working a lot. Been trying to do this writing thing.”
“That’s great! Anything published?”
“Nope! Not a thing.”
“It’s ok. You’re smart. I know you can write something really great if you set yourself to it.”
“I actually reference you in my first novel.”
“Really? Does that mean I’ll be famous?”
“Well people will have to read it first.”
“I’d love to read it if you would let me.”
“Yeah, but it’s not really totally done. Still working on editing and rewrites. But when I’m done.”
“I want a copy.”
She turned and looked at the pastas stacked and arranged on the shelf behind her. I scratched the back of my head and put my hands in my pockets. We stood together there without speaking for what felt like days. I checked my phone and she looked at her grocery list, ticking off what must have been pasta sauce. She looked at me and smiled. I tried to smile back but could only give a cheap grin.
“Well, it was really good seeing you, David.”
“Yeah you too, Beth.”
“So hey we should hang out sometime. Catch up. We go back too far to only run into each other at the store. We could grab drinks or something.”
“Sure. That sounds cool. Whenever I get some free time.”
“Oh I know. I’m just so busy. Well, text me and we’ll figure it out.”
She turned and walked her cart down the aisle. I picked up a few things like soap and bread and spaghetti sauce. I walked to the front and stood in line waiting for the cashier. He scanned my items and I paid and left through the door on the side of the store. As I was driving out of the parking lot I saw two cars speeding down the road. It looked like they were racing each other. It looked dangerous.
Disclaimer: Kind of a Nod is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the author.