The Man himself stood in front of me. His hair and beard a bright white. I was with five friends from college. I had seen one picture. But recognized him instantly. He was a great hero to us. He was wearing a white linen suit. I approached him alone, he leaned up against the wall, reading. How peculiar. I approached, all my friends hadn’t the courage.
“Mr. Hemingway, I am a great enthusiast of your work.” I stood there nervously.
“Thank you, did you buy the books?”
Hemingway reached out and shook my hand. “Thanks for keeping a roof over my head.” He smiled. Unsure of how to respond I said.
“Are you available for lunch?” He hesitated. He seemed to mime the word no.
“I don’t see why not. Have some place in mind?” Hemingway questioned.
“The Hotel, Algonquin.”
We were a table of six. They had to push two tables together. He sat in the center, nearly where the tables joined. Hemingway had done something unusual once we ordered. The Waiter asked him for his order first. But he passed it to me first. Each of us ordered. When the waiter arrived on him. He said that he didn’t want anything. I felt as if I had inconvenienced him.
“Are you not hungry?”
“I’m Curious. Food and drink are a great treasure of life.” He said.
He leaned forward, whispering.
“Would each of you permit me the first bite of your meals?”
“Yes, of course,” I said. My friends followed my lead. Nodding. Then I added. “There should be stakes.”
“A Wager?” Hemingway smiled. “What is my prize, if I win?”
“You get to eat from each of our plates.”
“Boring, also you all agreed to that already.” Hemingway looked at the other occupants of the table. They nodded. “The Bet is one dollar from each of you.” He placed a dollar bill on the table in front of them.
“What if you lose?” I said.
“I will give you each a dollar.” Hemingway smiled. “What is the challenge?”
I hesitated. I leaned over to my friends. I would be foolish to offer him a writing challenge, his vocation. However, this was a singular moment. My friend said. “Write a fully realized story.” But the limitation needed to be impossible. Hemingway watched us.
“Write a fully realized story. Using only six words.” I said.
Hemingway smiled. He pulled a pen from his pocket. He took one of the napkins. He sat back in his chair. We watched him raptly for three minutes. He leaned forward and wrote six words. He handed it to me. I read it to myself.
“For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”
I pulled a dollar out of my pocket and put it on the table. My first friend read the napkin and did the same. This continued, all the way around the table.
“Keep your money.” He said.
“But you won,” I said.
“Money isn’t a reason to do a thing.” Hemingway smiled. “It’s the challenge that gives life.”
I was holding the story in my hand. “May I keep this?”
“Of course,” Hemingway smirked. “Trouble is, no one will ever believe I wrote it.”