A Beer with Hrabal

Hemingway's Pilar

I step into the place where blue and green waters meet. I wave to you and then wait patiently until your Pilar takes me in. I clench your hand, which smells of salt.

†"Where are we sailing to, Papa?"† You know very well, but youíre not saying anything.† For a while weíre going south, and then west, and you're asking yourself why marlins swim from east to west, against the hands of time.

Your Pilar is a magnificent boat.† She carries herself on the waves like a queen in black satin.† Pilar is your freedom, independence, reminding you of your true love for Paulina.† She named your boat, but she is not with us.

My friend Richard warned me not to sail out to sea alone with a man.† I donít want to think that a big man would use me as bait for his fishing passion.† Do you believe that a woman on board is bad luck?† I raise my head fearlessly and look you over.† Youíre whistling on the captain's bridge, possessively holding the helm with your strong boxing hands, which donít need any help to reel a big fish on to the deck.† I understand why you canít get tired of the sea.† What if you get tired of me?† What should I talk about with a big fisherman?† I will be as quiet as a fish lying on your deck.† I will wait for you to speak first.† What if you do the same?† For a writer itís always wiser to listen.† Itís an important quality.† What if you control my thoughts, but think that Iím controlling yours?† Youíll sap my brain and close yours, and then our words will be a conversation between two distant people.† When that happens, Papa, I will shake your hand and say, ďGoodbye, dear Hemingway.† It was a pleasure meeting you, but weíre captains of different boats.Ē

Why should that happen?

Why canít we find common ground?† The sea?† Books?† Life?† Love?

You share your talent with your readers.† You can share it with me.† Many people have good ideas, but canít put them into words.† You and I could have an interesting discussion.† Many speakers, for whom words slide easily off the tongue, donít want to deal with writing.

I admire anyone who can write on a boat.† I can neither write nor sleep.† But maybe I would fall asleep beneath the stars on board a small fishing boat tied to a wharf in Key West, as your painter friend Waldo did.† I would eat his nightly portion of spinach with him, and then ask where he got such fresh spinach in Key West.† The fishermen may say that Waldo and I were counting the stars all night.

Is it fair game to die on the ocean?† As a captain on your boat, I would die and be born again in a self-chosen life. A medal for life, or a medal for death?† Like all people, we die one day.† In the meantime, we go our different ways. Some go peacefully, others adventurously and dangerously.† We look for answers to our questions, but we donít always get them, no matter how long we live.

I will never lose sight of you, Papa.† You are the captain with powerful wings.† The ocean is your lover, who permits Pilar to sail on her warm waves.† She calms Pilarís tears and washes away his wounds.† You invite me closer, to the captainís bridge.† The warm wind caresses my face, and at faster speeds the strong wind stings it.† I can almost touch the clouds that reflect the blood of wounded marlins.† The wind is messing up my hair.† Itís your foolish idea to tie it with a dirty string that smells of fish, and to put on a scruffy, sun visor, which you perhaps bought somewhere on the way to Ketchum.† Where has your hat been, and how many cats have slept in it?† You say that forget-me-nots die quickly in the sun.† You have a weakness for forget-me-nots and the hair of women.† You add, that if I were in Mombassa on a boat with you, I would need a hat even in June.

Now, you accept me into your fish family and hand the helm over to me.† The moon and stars signal a good nightís sail.† You go down to the kitchen to mix your favorite drink.† Some people like to drink before dinner, others after.† I donít know what your stomach is accustomed to, Papa, but Iíll gladly have a drink with you to toast courage and our friendship.† You make a good drink.† It smells of gin and coconut milk.† Teach me how to break a coconut shell without any tools, knocking off the hull from the stem until it peels off like an orange.

The drink fills my body with its delicious energy.† You bind me with freedom.† I donít know how to use it.† I pour my drink into a pink conch shell and drink like the Indian woman in Florida who cleaned the shell out with sand and cooled her lips in its shade.

I press my ear to the wide opening†and hear a boy in the Bahamas calling out, "Buy a conch!"† For three dollars I bought a cup of the raw, slimy, chopped conch meat seasoned with lemon and let the rare delicacy melt slowly in my mouth.† I carried the empty shell of the pink conch as if it were a piece of gold.

I grasp the helm more firmly and dare to ask you again: ďWhere are we sailing?Ē† Are we catching fish without knowing where they swim?† The fish have tricks of nature.† The fishermen, too, must have tricks to catch them.† There are hundreds of fish.† If you canít catch any here, then forget about fishing, you say.

Do you remember, Papa, how on your third birthday you received a fishing rod?† To go fishing for the first time and to catch the biggest fish out of all the fishermen on the lake is a sign of great things.† And on your fourth birthday your present was an all-day fishing trip with your father, and you withstood the heavy rain that made your clothes cling to your body.† What about your fifth birthday, when you got a microscope from your grandpa and sat around for hours looking at insects and stones?† Your family made sure that you would like nature.† I think your father was a wise man.† He opened your eyes.

Papa, the fishermen in Key West complained that you caught all marlins.† Do you remember 1952?† Through the end of September, you caught thirty-nine giant marlins.† Now all that's left in the ocean are small dolphins jumping around the pier.† I called out to two fishermen to come see the miracle I saw.† They turned away without interest.† They were spoiled, Papa.† All they wanted were big fish.† One fisherman from Key West invited me over for steamed dolphin.† I couldnít believe it was a delicacy.† He was right: it melted on my tongue.† I wouldnít trade my plate for the special shellfish dish that the two Asian girls at the neighboring table were wolfing down.

Itís strange.† I feel at home on a boat.† I chase away all my fears. I stroll from one end to the other and back again.† I peek into one cabin big enough for six people to sleep in and into another for two.† Empty beds, empty pages of the boat's diary marked by time.

I canít forget the night sky, when the stars are so bright that they reflect off the surface.† Itís a strange feeling to look into the dark and not see life in it.† I prefer daylight's glittering water.† It has a peaceful attraction.† You said that understanding the sea is like understanding a book and staying in its waves.† When the waves rise, itís time for battle.† Not for fame, but for life, for complete inspiration.

Early the next morning, my eyes see a fisherman counting fish scales and hiding them in a cup and another ritually casting them in the sea.† Do fish scales matter?† Why do people believe that they bring luck?† There must be a reason why we care about fish scales when we flush them into the water.

Papa, I wish for you what every successful fisherman dreams of Ė a big catch.

Wherever you say goodbye to me, Iíll step into the water where the blue meets with green and wave to you until you vanish from my sight.

I miss you, Papa, so much.† I return to your house.† As I pass through the open door, I call, "Can I talk to Mr. Hemingway?"

A soft voice replies, "He passed away."

"Oh, no.† I just sailed with him on his boat."

"Iím sorry," says the voice,†"I didnít know."



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