Marta Wrist-Wrestles Ernest Hemingway

At last it was afternoon. The clear light rang down from the hills, filling the small square where the people gathered, watching. The man named Papa had been drinking the rum, the strong good rum of the hills, since daybreak, but he was a rugged man and he wobbled only a little as he took his seat. The woman called Marta had not drunk any of the rum, for which Papa had derided her, issuing the challenge that filled the new morning so many hours before and which was, now, to end in the hot, sunfilled square among the people who had gathered to witness this ending. But she was tired, the woman was, tired of the heat, and the flies, and the buzzing of the people, and the stench from Papa’s armpits as he braced his elbow on the table and reached for her hand. His big hand covered her small, woman’s hand and the people sighed. But the woman named Marta ignored them, concentrating on Papa’s bloodshot eyes, the red lines running through them like the blood of bulls and matadors on the sandy ground in the Plaza de Toros on hot Sunday afternoons.

They had each won a round. He had won the first one and she had won the second, taking him by surprise, pinning his broad wrist to the table in less than a minute so that his supporters cried that she had cheated. He had thundered deep in his chest, a dark thunder with some amusement in it, and waved them to silence. And now, after Papa had drunk yet more rum, they met again for the third and final match under the hot Cuban sun.

Their arms trembled, straining for movement and advantage. They stared into each other’s eyes, his blue ones in a web of blood and her brown ones, deeply brown under drooping lids. She had surprised him, forcing his arm back toward the checked tablecloth. Sweat gathered on their foreheads and dripped over their eyebrows, dripped into the blue eyes and the brown eyes, and slowly his arm started to move, so that the movement was like the trembling of the earth when the bulls begin to run, away at the edge of the village. Slowly, then, his arm rose toward the sky, the densely blue Cuban sky, until at last it surged upright once again but, at the end, he could not find the strength, the power, the will to counteract her last thrust, pure and strong, and his arm fell like a tree, like a felled mast, like the bull as it staggers and comes to its knees in the hot, clear sun of the Plaza de Toros.

The table moved.


The missing original opening of The Hobbit


Had Bilbo Baggins not been so fond of cheese, none of the adventures celebrated in the great Sagas of the Shire would have happened, for Bilbo – but wait, let us approach this story as did Bilbo himself, step by step, not knowing the ending even as the beginning unfolded like the cover of Goldberry’s muffin basket which allowed the sweet smell of muffins to fill the afternoon air and dance lightly into the noses of those waiting so eagerly, among them our friend Bilbo who beyond all things wanted one of Goldberry’s Gorgonzola muffins and whose desire had led him to challenge Maalox the Orc, destroyer of villages, ravager of herds, lover of sheep, for the very last Gorgonzola muffin that the fair Goldberry would ever bake, for many were those who swore that should she bake another they would rise in their wrath and strike her down regardless of the sweetness of her blueberry muffins and the bowel-loosening properties of her bran muffins, and so the fair Goldberry had baked this last, this final, this ultimate Gorgonzola muffin over which the valiant Bilbo Baggins, gentleman hobbit of the Shire, and Maalox the foul Orc, reeking of the decaying flesh of his victims and smelling almost as emphatic as the Gorgonzola muffin itself, faced each other, weapons drawn, for Bilbo had brought along his famous sword Sting, the weapon with which he had struck down dragons and giant spiders and other denizens of Middle Earth, while Maalox the Orc clutched his hideous fourteen-foot battle spike, bristling with sharp blades and jagged metal teeth that were rumored to have been cured in the blood of Shelob the Spider and therefore carried wicked poisons in the flakes of rust that adorned the monstrous spike and rained off as Maalox braced his feet and swung the repugnant spike at the limber hobbit while Goldberry put her pretty white hands to her pretty pink cheeks and shrieked like a macaw and Bilbo, leaving Sting resting in its jeweled scabbard, ducked to evade the Orc’s swing and in ducking reached out his hand and stole the Gorgonzola muffin while his other hand slipped the Ring onto his finger, the Ring that made him invisible to all save the Eye of Sauron in his evil Lair of Doom under the volcano which was also called Doom but which had never before seen (we speak of the Eye of Sauron here, and not the volcano called Doom) had never before seen, I say, Gorgonzola muffins made by Goldberry, delicately browned along their domed tops and mottled with the odoriferous cheese which had bubbled and melted during the baking process, producing the smell which the Eye of Sauron could only imagine since it was, after all, the Eye of Sauron and not the Nose of Sauron, but the Nose of Maalox the Orc was drippingly present in the crowded little bakery and paraphernalia shop where Goldberry sold her wares, and so Maalox the Orc could track the whereabouts of the Gorgonzola muffin and hence of Bilbo himself, so that with a grunt he swung his butt-ugly battle spike a second time and once again missed the agile hobbit, who had bitten a large hunk from the Gorgonzola muffin and taunted Maalox the Orc with the sounds of chewing and swallowing and the smacking of lips until Maalox bellowed like one possessed and swung a third time and impaled the remaining part of the muffin, ripping it from Bilbo’s hand and into visibility again, and before any other mishap could occur, Maalox crammed the Gorgonzola muffin into his foetid, ragged, cavity-ridden mouth and swallowed it, not knowing that as he did so he also swallowed the One Ring which had been ripped from Bilbo’s finger by the force of Maalox’s swing and which gave Maalox such a tremendous tummy ache that he ran howling from Goldberry’s Bakery and Head Shop and Bilbo, bereft of muffin and Ring both, gave chase, leaving the Shire far behind and initiating the celebrated adventures heretofore referenced.