I could write circles around him, Joe said, sipping his whiskey. Look at him, sitting there, Mr. Smug, Mr. Infallible. I should go over there and give him a good what-for.
He’d knock your block off, Bob responded matter-of-factly, sipping his brandy.
I could take him—
He’d knock your block off—
I could write circles around him, circles and—
Your block would be knocked right off, doomp, there goes your block—
Aw nuts, Bob. Will you can it?
I’m just saying, Bob said, and went back to his brandy.
Joe and Bob were drinkers with writing problems. They blamed Hemingway for many things in their lives. Missed deadlines, hangovers, failed relationships, debts, blackouts, unfinished manuscripts. The list went on and on.
Hemingway, who had been dead for fifty-three years, remained their active nemesis, and a phantom thorn in their sides.
The bartender came over—Another round, gents.
Joe looked at Bob, Bob looked at Joe.
Sure, Joe said, one more round.
What’s funny, Joe asked.
Can’t a guy just laugh? For no good reason?
Yea, a guy can, but usually . . . Look at him, now he’s holding court. With his moustache and beefy forearms. Look at him, Bob, just look.
Bob laughed again. And said—We don’t measure up, do we?
Speak for yourself, Joe raised his bluster.
We don’t, Joe, and you know it. Deep down inside, you know.
I, Joe started with a charge, then softened—Aw nuts.
Gents, the bartender said, placing their drinks on the counter.
Here’s to the writing life, Joe said, raising his glass.
The writing life, Bob echoed, clinking his glass against Joe’s.
After their respective first sips, Joe said, his upper lip caught in a snarl—Look at him, Bob. Look at him.
Bob turned to look at him.
The bartender trailed Joe and Bob’s line of vision to the empty stool at the far end of the bar. Then he shook his head and left the men to their illusions.