On the 116th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s birth, I’m republishing my tribute to him that I first posted on my old blog 15-Month Adventure. It recounts, in the style of Hemingway, a visit to the Conflict Zone war photography exhibit in New York City in 2012. The photo described in the story, taken by Jed Conklin, can be found in the gallery (#5 of 20, to be specific) at this New York Times story on the exhibition. Read my story, please, read the link, and then read today at least one story from In Our Time, Hemingway’s great collection of home-from-war fiction.
The veteran made his way across the first floor and took the elevator up to the third floor. There were so many people in the gallery that he could not see the photos on the walls. He had to squeeze people aside just to look at them.
The pictures were really good. Some were of soldiers in action, like one of a Marine pulling another Marine to safety. Another showed a soldier staring through the window of a Humvee that had just been attacked. The windshield was splattered with blood and gore, and an M4 rifle lies on the hood of the Humvee.
The picture was intense, but it was the rifle on the Humvee hood that got him. He remembered using that same space for quick meetings, and how soldiers would spread their weapons and gear across the flat surface to free their hands to take notes or look at their maps.
Now, in the picture, the M4 looked forlorn as it lay separated from the soldier inside the vehicle. But also sinister, the jet black weapon and its equally black sling sprawled on the yellow-brown Humvee hood like a nest of vipers on the desert floor.
Other pictures showed soldiers in calmer moments. Many were of Iraqis and Afghans. Some were taken during moments of fear, pain, and loss, others in the midst of daily life. These pictures were good, too.
The veteran looked at every picture twice. Then he stood outside on the sidewalk and thought about going back in to see them one more time. He watched the crowd come and go and decided to head home. The cab driver seemed willing to talk, but the veteran let the cab roll on quietly, up the Avenue of Americas and then Park Avenue to Grand Central.
Four Hispanic men were clowning around in the line at McDonald’s. One of the men began singing a song in English, “Open Arms” by Journey. The guy could really sing. He sounded just like Steve Perry. He was really good. But then he stopped, and he and his friends started cracking up again in Spanish.
On the train, the veteran read Hemingway’s In Our Time. The stories were good. The best was “The Battler,” but the one that made him wonder most was “Soldier Home.” The protagonist, a WWI vet back from the war, goes to see his sister play “indoor baseball.” What the hell was indoor baseball?
He was thinking about that when he noticed the woman across the aisle. She had been fiddling with her phone and computer and drinking a 24-oz. can of beer. Now, though, she was upset. At first he tried to ignore her, but it was impossible. She had a bloody nose that would not stop bleeding.
“Can you watch my stuff for a minute?” she asked.
She hurried to the bathroom. The veteran moved across the aisle to stake a better claim on her things. After a while, she returned, and he went back to his side of the train.
When the veteran’s train arrived at his station, he got off and he went home.