SECOND THOUGHTS – THE HINDU
Rainy day stories
BY NAVTEJ SARNA
Only a special kind of tale will fit the mood of the wind whistling round the house.
I reach once again for the 1925 collection of Hemingway’s stories In Our Time, which contains the short story that best encapsulates what is happening outside my window
The wind has been blowing all night, blowing in from the sea with some devilish intent, whistling in wild triumph as it reaches the land. The clay tiles on the roofs of the beach houses clutter in fright and the trees — the straight palms and the strong ficus — bend at the waist. Even the broad brush of the olive, standing on its strong, ancient trunk, sways wildly, out of control. The early morning sun has no sobering effect. The blue roaring water is flecked, right till the horizon with white foam and the beach has been swallowed up. It will continue to blow like this all day, the forecasts say, and perhaps even tomorrow. Only the sun will come and go, giving its place to a grey darkness, which will only deepen the blue of the sea. A day to stay in, a merciful day when all else except the call of books can be put off.
But not any kind of book will do. So I move away the pile of books on history and politics into which I have been dipping like some moody swallow dips into the surface of a summer sea and I reach once again for the 1925 collection of Hemingway’s stories In Our Time, which contains the short story that best encapsulates what is happening outside my window: “The Three Day Blow”. It’s a relatively short story, told almost entirely as a conversation between Nick Adams (the young protagonist of many of Hemingway’s stories) and his friend Bill. The conversation takes place in Bill’s house while a foul three day wind is blowing outside. The two men sit by a roaring fire and start to drink, first finishing a bottle of Irish whisky that Bill’s dad has left and then getting onto another bottle of Scotch that is lying open. Evidently, Bill’s dad does not mind drinking as long as it is from a bottle that is already open — it’s the opening of bottles that, according to him, makes alcoholics.
And as they drink — with the intention of getting drunk — they talk. It’s typical man talk, made even more so by Hemingway’s characteristic terseness — of baseball, of Bill’s dad, of drinking, of books and writers, including Horace Walpole and Chesterton. And then finally of Marge, the girl with whom Nick has just broken up. Hemingway readers will recall the prequel to this story “The End of Something” in which Nick tells Marjorie, as they are out fishing on the beach at night, that it isn’t fun to be with her anymore and their love is done. In that story too after Marjorie has walked away Bill appears, asking Nick how it went, showing that he was privy to Nick’s intent all along, and perhaps even encouraged it. Now, while the wind blows and the whisky goes home, Bill tells Nick that he did the right thing in throwing Marge over. “It was the only thing to do. If you hadn’t by now you would have been back home working, trying to get enough money to get married….Once a man’s married he’s absolutely bitched. He hasn’t got anything more. Nothing. Not a damn thing. He’s done for……They get this sort of fat married look.” But the more Bill tries to justify the decision, the more alone Nick begins to feel. The alcohol leaves his head. “All he knew was that he had once had Marjorie and that he had lost her. She was gone and he had sent her away. That was all that mattered. He might never see her again. Probably he never would. It was all gone, finished.” All blown away, like the leaves off the trees by the ferocious wind outside.
Then deftly, with each sentence straining on a tight leash, Hemingway changes the nuance. When Bill mentions the danger of renewal of the relationship, Nick sees in that possibility a hope and it’s not important to get drunk anymore. They are suddenly out in the cold, shotguns in their hands with Nick revelling in masculine freedom and camaraderie while nursing the hope of renewing a relationship with a woman. “None of it was important now. The wind blew it out of his head. Still he could always go into town Saturday night. It was a good thing to have in reserve.” This final note that underlines the lack of finality opens up all possibilities.
The thick raindrops are making dull flat sounds on my window panes and joyous hailstones are bouncing off the concrete garden path. It will not stop blowing; on the other hand, it just might.