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Tuesday, October 10

Giants At Play

"Giants at Play"
Short Fiction - Literary
by Rod Drake

Hemingway was late. That meant he was either drunk, in love or, F. Scott Fitzgerald joked, actually writing for a change. Gertrude Stein laughed shrilly at that pointed comment, and Ezra Pound snorted his characteristic chuckle. Zelda Fitzgerald was too preoccupied with a handsome young American at a nearby table to react. He seemed to be flirting with her, and Zelda appreciated that.

Paris, 1923. Autumn. Late afternoon at the Le Revolution, a little hole-in-the-wall café where American expatriate writers, artists and hangers-on gathered for conversation, cognac and criticism.

Outside a light rain began. John Dos Passos hurried inside, his right hand wrapped awkwardly in a handkerchief. There was blood on the white linen handkerchief. The result of a brief but probably dangerous scuffle, most likely with a jealous French husband. It would not be the first time. Nor the last.

He dropped, breathless, into the chair next to Gertrude Stein. She offered him one of her thin Turkish cigarettes. Dos Passos took it in his left hand which was still shaking. Alice B. Toklas rubbed his shoulders and comforted him

Pound glared at the interruption. Dos Passos whispered “sorry,” and tried quickly to blend in. After a grand and overly dramatic silence over which Pound presided like a judge, he began reading one of his latest poems to the group. All listened intently. E. E. Cummings closed his eyes, slowly rubbing his temples with his fingers as Pound read. Thornton Wilder scribbled away on a napkin as Pound recited sonorously.

Pound stopped mid-stanza, accusing Wilder, perhaps in jest, of stealing verses. Dos Passos, feeling better now and playful on this wet afternoon, blew perfect smoke rings at Pound. Pound waved them away, frowning irritably at Dos Passos and demanding to see the napkin.

Fitzgerald ordered another drink for himself and a round for the table where Zelda’s admirer sat. The tall, lanky stranger came over and thanked Fitzgerald, introducing himself as Tom Mix. The famous cowboy movie star was on a promotional film tour of Europe. Zelda was as charming as she could be, which was considerable. Lon Chaney, vacationing in Paris after completing The Hunchback of Notre Dame, pulled up a chair and conversed quietly with Wilder.

Anais Nin sat by herself near the fireplace, writing furiously and glancing at the front door frequently. Where was Henry?

Then the front door burst open dramatically, like a stage curtain finally going up. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing and stared at the door. Ernest Hemingway stumbled in, glowering, looking like he had been in a fight. Henry Miller followed him, grinning like the winner.

For a moment all was silent. Then Gertrude's shrill laugh shrieked through the café and the place erupted in laughter and shouts. Hemingway scowled, Miller shook hands all around and even kissed Zelda before sitting down in triumph with Anais. Pound whispered in his ear, “Hemingway deserves a beating daily.”

Fitzgerald sent a bottle of expensive champagne over to Miller's table and Archibald MacLeish, who had just arrived from America, presented Miller with a fat Cuban cigar.

Hemingway got roaring drunk, of course, and ended up punching Fitzgerald in the nose. Alice tended to Fitzgerald’s bloody nose and bandaged up Hemingway’s already raw hand. Hemingway shook Miller’s hand, all disputes now forgiven, apologized drunkenly to Fitzgerald then danced clumsily with Anais before he finally passed out behind the bar.

Shyly, Tom asked Zelda to dance, and the two of them spent a romantic if chaste evening together. Chaney demonstrated how he contorted himself to become the crippled character in The Miracle Man for Wilder and Cummings to their great amazement.

Rain pounded at the windows, and the fall night turned chilly. But no one inside the warm little café cared.

Rod Drake came, he saw, he wrote. Read Rod’s other stories published in Flashing in the Gutters, Flashes of Speculation, Flash Flooding, Flash Forward and AcmeShorts.

2 reactions:

Kelly Parra said...

Rod such a wonderful scene! Great job!

Mike said...

The really is a nicely created scene. You really captured the friendship and the multitude of things going on at the same time amongst a bunch of friends.