The Hemingway Test

She trudged on, directionless but fueled, her rage focused on the patches of pavement shifting and trembling beneath her favorite shoes.

He’d looked at her with unfocused, uninterested eyes. He’d shaken her hand. He’d politely led her into his office and waited for her to sit.

The wind snuck its way into the hole between her scarf folds. She covered it absent-mindedly and walked faster. A pigeon scuttled in circles in her path. She stopped and thought back to the clock.

It was round, standard, white. She’d stared at it at the start of the interview, trying to recall the Stranger’s emotions. She didn’t mean to stare at it; it merely interrupted the path of her gaze, and she found it alarmingly blank. The priest? “I don’t remember,” she said. She couldn’t remember any of the plots of the books she mentioned, only impressions, the smoke that trailed off, the “faint remainder,” “the gentle indifference of the world.” So what if he didn’t visit the priest?

She toyed with the idea of paying James a surprise visit. The pigeon stared at her. Happy young people strolled left and right, leaving her and the street pigeon in the middle of the sidewalk, her still rooted to the ground, the bird still trotting about, pecking at bits of nothing.

The piles of books spilling from his bookshelf onto his desk seemed to taunt her; the Folger edition of Othello, the same as hers, shouted, “How could you not remember?” Siddhartha, which she’d never read, and which he casually held up, saying, “If you were to teach this book, how would you teach it?” burned into her eyes, its fire-red cover glowing frightfully while in her mind, the cool, misty ocean of her memories with existential characters still splashed in silence. Red Siddhartha drowned in it.

And in front of her was a volume of Hemingway’s short stories, the same as hers, flipped to the four-page work of clouded dialogue, unidentified conflicts, and a timely issue she failed to catch.

She saw an artist sketching out basic forms and figures in physical appearances and filling in the details with human emotion, overflowing in that tense, tight-rope dialogue.

He saw a woman in love with another woman but belonging to a man. He extracted the meaning behind “vice” and “perversion.”

In the missing pieces, she saws strains of brutal honesty, perceived betrayal, gentle yearning. In the crystal patchwork of her questions and his answers, she felt loss. And anger.

With the missing pieces, he fit together a whole picture, a neatly packaged story that explains the man’s frustration and the woman’s departure and the man’s resulting and instantaneous growth.

He wanted the answer.

She didn’t.

He asked her for the answer.

She said nothing.

“So how do you like it here?” he asked.

“I don’t like it so much.”

“Oh, why not?”

“I miss New York. I’m uninspired here.”

“I think Seoul’s the next best place to New York! It’s about who’s around you, really.”

“Right. The right people.”

——

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