The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid.
“What should we drink?” the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.
“It’s pretty hot,” the man said. “Let’s drink beer.”
“Two beers,” the man said into the curtain.
“Big ones?” a woman asked from the doorway.
“Yes, two big ones.”
The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glasses on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.
The man picked up a glass of beer from the felt pad and looked at it. It was amber and wet, and had bubbles. The bubbles rose to the top of the beer. Each one stopped there for two minutes, then disappeared.
“It’ll be better in Madrid,” said the girl. Her voice was husky. She took a sip of beer, and wiped the foam from her lip with her hand. Her hand had a scar across the knuckles.
“Yes,” said the man. “It will be better in Madrid.”
“But it’ll still be hot,” said the girl. Her skin was the colour of copper.
“Yes,” said the man. “It will always be hot.” His face was sunburnt, and skin was peeling from his neck. He drank more beer from the glass. The felt pad stuck to the bottom of the glass, then fell to the ground. The ground was dusty. The man put the glass back on the table. The table was made of wood.
“You’ll mark the table,” said the girl.
“Yes,” said the man, “I will mark the table. I am not the first.” There were light-coloured rings on the surface of the table. The rings were the same size as the bottom of the beer glass.
“No,” said the girl. “You’re not the first.” She drank some beer. “And you won’t be the last.”
The man narrowed his eyes. “No,” he said, “I will not be the last. For that is the way it is, with tables and glasses.”
“And bottles,” said the girl. “Even in Madrid.” She looked again at the line of hills. They were still white in the sun.
“Yes,” said the man. “Tonight we will be in Madrid.”
“And it’ll still be hot,” said the girl.
“Yes.” The man scratched at the loose skin on his neck. “It will still be hot.”
“It’s always hot,” said the girl. She was tracing the line of her scar with the fingers of her other hand. The scar was brown and dry.
The woman came out of the building with a small dish. She put the dish on the table. The dish contained olives. The olives were black. She picked up the felt pad from the ground, and put it on the table. The felt pad was dusty. She put the man’s glass on top of the felt pad. The bottom of the glass was wet.
“There will be a new mark on the table,” said the woman.
“Yes,” said the girl, “There’ll be a new mark.”
“I am sorry,” said the man.
“No,” said the woman, “you are not sorry.” She went back into the building.
The man looked at the country below the line of hills. It was still brown and dry. There was a railway track running across it.
“She is right,” said the man. “I am not sorry.”
“You’re not the first,” said the girl. She took an olive.
“In twenty minutes the train will come,” said the man.
The girl spat the pit from the olive onto the ground. It was moist and glistened in the sun. “Yes,” she said. “The train’ll come, and soon we’ll be in Madrid. Though it’s hot in Madrid too.”
“But not as hot as here,” said the man.
“We’ll see,” said the girl. She was looking at the olive pit, which was lying in the dust near the table. It was covered with ants. The ants were black.
“Yes,” said the man, “we shall see.”
“The ants are hungry,” said the girl.
“And thirsty,” said the man. “Because it is so hot.”
“That’s the way it is with ants,” said the girl.
“And with men,” said the man. He looked again at the railway track. “I cannot see the train,” he said.
“It’s Madrid that way,” said the girl. “I’m going to have another olive.”
“That is the direction of Barcelona,” said the man. He drank some beer. The glass was half-empty. “Soon we will see the train.”
The girl spat out another olive pit. Soon it was covered with more ants. These ants were also black.
“There’s a lot of ants,” said the girl.
“Yes,” said the man, “there are many ants. But there is only one railroad to Barcelona.”
“Yes,“ said the girl, “there’s only one railroad to Barcelona, and not everybody knows which one it is. But we’re going to Madrid.”
The man drank some more beer. He belched. “There is also only one railroad to Madrid,” he said.
“But there’s a hell of a lot of ants,” said the girl. She spat out another olive pit, and drank some beer. Her glass was still half-full, and she was looking at the line of white hills on the horizon. “The olives are good,” she said.
“I do not like olives,” said the man. His eyes were closed.
“Why don’t you like them?” asked the girl, putting another olive into her mouth. The olive was plump and black.
“Because they make me belch,” said the man. He opened his eyes and drank more beer, until the glass was empty. “I am still hot,” he said.
“Maybe you’ll always be hot,” said the girl.
“Maybe,” said the man. “And maybe one day I shall be cold.” He raised his eyes once more to the hills. The hills shimmered in the heat. They were the colour of icebergs.
“It’s time to go to the station,” said the girl. She finished her beer, and tipped the last three olives onto the ground. They were black, like the ants.
“Yes,” said the man. “It is time for us to go to the station.”
The girl picked up her hat, and put it on. It was made of straw, with a ribbon around it. The ribbon was blue. Her hair was long and black.
“Let’s go,” she said, “or we’ll miss the train. And there won’t be another train to Madrid for three days.”
“That is true,” said the man. “Though there is a train to Barcelona tomorrow.”
“We’ve already been to Barcelona,” said the girl. “You said it was too hot.”
The American and the girl stood up, and walked off toward the station.
The woman came out from the building. She wiped the table, and collected the glasses and the dish.
“There will be a new mark on the table tomorrow,” she said. “That is the way it is with men.”
(1899-1961) was an American author with an international reputation; he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1954. He didn't write any poetry, as far as I know. The first few lines above (as far as the arrival of the "felt pads") are the opening of one of his short stories; the continuation is my own. The golden rule for "doing" Hemingway is never to qualify a noun with an adjective, and never to qualify a verb with an adverb. Characters should be tough but inarticulate.
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This page last updated 27/11/2004