My head was pounding. I ached from top to toe. My eyes seemed out of synch with my ears.
Had I been in a traffic accident? I took a breath and felt one hundred knives jab below my ribs.
When images of boxers began dancing before me, only then did I realize I was lying flat on my back in the middle of a boxing ring. Punishing my ears, a bell clanged relentlessly.
A man bent over me. A friendly enough expression was on his face but he seemed worried.
He shouted, “Qui diable êtes-vous? D’où viens tu?”
Roughly translated this meant, “Who the hell are you and where did you come from?” Quite a reasonable question but one to which I had no reasonable answer. I was sure I was on another CyberSpace adventure! But where? Paris?
I squinted up at him. There was no malice in his tone. But underneath lay a macho challenge. With a touch of contempt, he reached out and yanked me up onto my feet. I was slightly dizzy and the boxing ring appeared, for just a moment, entirely deserted.
I did not try to formulate an answer for the man because, to my surprise, my knees began to buckle.
Instantly two other gentleman came to my assistance. “Find him a place to sit down, Morley,” the one said.
“Listen Scott,” Morley said, “I don’t want to fight Ernest, but he’s absolutely set on it.”
Together they led me down the steps to a front row seat.
Fitzgerald said to me, “Sir? Wait here till we’re done. Morley and Ernest are boxing next.” They turned their backs and climbed back into the ring.
Memories came seeping back. I was astonished. Were they really Callaghan and Fitzgerald? And the burly fellow punching at shadows in the ring–Hemingway? Wasn’t there a famous match up in Paris in 1929 between Hemingway and Morley Callaghan?
Here I was in the presence of three truly great twentieth-century writers of some of the finest literature I know and love!
How many times have I read Ernest’s The Sun Also Rises infused with the sweet and painful hopelessness of post- World War One?
And then here was his sparring partner, Morley Callaghan, Canadian author of Such is My Beloved and More Joy in Heaven. The intricacies of love and compassion illuminate his work. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald captured the essence of the American dream and rendered it with haunting intensity.
Now Ernest continued his prance about the ring and Callaghan settled himself solidly in one spot. Scott lounged casually against the ropes as if to hide his nerousness. How could men, who exhibited such loving sensitivity to the world and their art, find any point or pleasure in this so-called sport? Hard to believe that the two in the middle of the ring were ready to pound each other into submission!
Normally, as a landscape painter, I have no use for the pugilistic spirit. In the past, I have wondered why artists might want to draw blood. Why would such great writers desire to knock each other’s brains out? Surely they could find more civilized activities—such as writing or enjoying a sunset. I am a man with a peaceful nature and am slow to understand the drive of the macho personality. As I watched Hemingway and Callaghan put on their gloves and square off, I stopped my rant. I. too, felt the tug of the blood sport!
I knew they had boxed together a few times in the past, but from the atmosphere thick with tension, I knew this was the match in which something much greater would be lost. A friendship would shattered.
Each round was to last precisely three minutes. Failure of accuracy by Scott was the cause of the rupture in any friendship the two men might have had.
In the first round, each of them landed a few punches but nothing to cause any harm.
It happened in the second round. Hemingway circled Callaghan who remained still, yet alert. His weight was securely positioned on his back left foot. He held his gloved hands lower than usual—but then again I know almost nothing of this so-called sport and could not say for certain.
Hemingway lashed out ferociously. Had he connected, no doubt he would have flattened his opponent. But Callaghan was quick and adept at ducking. Here and there he landed a punch but he did his best to stay away from Ernest’s face. I remember hearing that he had some training and that Hemingway had none. He simply relied on brute “masculine” force and a rather imposing physique.
Was Scott paying attention? True—he did continue to watch the clock. I watched the second hand of my watch. In ten seconds, the second three minute round would be over. Three minutes was up! It was absurd–perhaps not as absurd as this picture below, but Callaghan gave the impression he was holding back and Hemingway seemed ready to move in for the “kill”.
Good grief! Should I intervene? The scene was about to play out just as history tells us. Would Fitzgeral let the round go a full minute longer? A minute would be an eternity!
When twenty seconds beyond the three minute mark had passed, I sprang to my feet. I hurled myself over the ropes and into the ring. Hemingway’s fist flew up and struck me just above my ear. I staggered. I fell but in that instant, Callaghan’s punch landed hard and Hemingway’s lip spurted a torrent of blood. With my head spinning, [I did not lose consciousness] I staggered back over the ropes and into my front row seat.
Fitzgerald looked stricken. His face white, he whispered through twisted lips, “My God! I let it go for four minutes!”
By then Hemingway was snarling at Fitzgerald.
“If you want to see me get the shit kicked out of me, just say so! Don’t pretend it was an accident letting the round go a minute over.” Holding a bloodied towel to his face, Hemingway stormed off to the showers. Everyone knew that something had been broken. A friendship had ended—permanently.
It is one thing to read forty years later about this altercation which Morley Callaghan recounted in his memoir That Summer in Paris. It is quite another to witness it. In reading it, you do not appreciate the emotional impact it had on everyone in the gym. Being there, you could see and feel it. It was as if Hemingway’s anger had seeped into and occupied the entire gymnasium staining everything in sight a billious green. The split between the two of them cracked like lightning in my head. For an instant, or was it an eternity, not a soul breathed. All energy had been sucked from the building.
Fitzgerald was shattered. Morley was stunned. And I? I had somewhere else to go and knew that soon I would. It’s like that with these CyberSpace adventures.
But they had to slog on through the years carrying this event. I recalled that when Hemingway neared his final year, Fitzgerald’s mistake in timing the round had grown in Hemingway’s mind from four minutes to thirteen minutes. No forgiveness, No reconciliation. Not even from men who could write with the greatest perception of human folly. Here they are much older than they were on that day.
But an avalanche of thoughts crashed into my brain. Mostly regarding time travel and its seductions.
How wonderful to go back an unknown distance in time! How exciting to wonder whom I would meet at the next turn. Where would I wake up? So far, in my travels, I had met many fascinating painters, writers, poets and thinkers—even several politicians.
Upon occasion I had done some good. When I met Tolstoy, I was able to give him the will to live if only by recalling thoughts he had written years after I had met him. I was able to save Salvador Dali from his folly suffocating in his diving suit.
But here, it was different. I was prevented [by chance?] from interfering with Scott’s incorrect timing of the match only by a blow on the side of my head. At no point in time was the existence of any life in jeopardy
What if I had actually prevented the round from going more than the allotted three minutes? Maybe Hemingway would not have committed suicide in 1961 and Fitzgerald would not have died of drink in 1940 at the age of forty four. But that is only the most inventive speculation.
And so, I wondered just what the rules in CyberSpace might be? Act or not act? What if I were to change one event in CyberSpace? Would I have to change many others? For example had I successfully intervened, who knows what might have happened? The friendship might have blossomed leading to solace, companionship and collaboration by two men and entirely different kind of literature. But then–something far worse might have happened.
In our world, we wonder—what if I had done or said this and not that? What would be the outcome? Would it make any difference or even matter? It’s much the same in CyberSpace. I would certainly advise not to change anything at all unless you’re thinking of averting a very great disaster. Perhaps events happen only as they do because that is the way they must in this world. I know only this—it’s far too complicated to change anything even with hindsight.
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Presently, The Drawing Lesson is a Wattpad Featured novel which you can read in its entirety right here Wattpad.com