A Matter of Faith

Legend has it Ernest Hemingway was asked to write his autobiography in six words. Ever the king of brevity, he penned, “For Sale: baby shoes, never used”.

On the surface, these six words make for a catchy tale, beneath the surface though, they display a sadness that Hemingway was unable to fully express.

Being bi-polar or manic-depressive as it was once known, gives me a slight insight to Hemingway. It also helps me understand to a small extent his final resolution in dealing with his personal demon.

This is the third and final installment of my failed attempt to enter a Hemingway writing contest, sponsored by Harry’s Bar and American Grill, in Century City. While I like this story the most, I had to really stretch things in order to get Harry’s name written into it as the rules required.

The explosion shook the entire ship and all aboard it. Immediately following the ear deafening bang, flames shot into the nighttime darkness.

The blaze roared through the ship engulfing everything in its way. Passengers, who were sleeping, now ran about the decks in a mass panic, each concerned with nothing more than their lives or the life of a loved one.

The bow was slowly slipping into the black ocean water, with the aft of the vessel soon to follow. Those who hadn’t got into a life raft, didn’t stand on the disappearing decks, feeling sorry. They had decided to take their chances with the unknown sea and like lemurs, tumbled into the water.

As for Gerald Rabner, the same was true. His cabin was near the back of the ship and he hadn’t felt the rumble until seconds after it occurred. By the time he shook the sleepy cobwebs from his head, the decks were crowded with people fleeing the quickly dying ship.

He turned back and grabbed his trousers off the floor where they lay. Back to the hallway and towards the deck he ran as fast as he could.

 He stopped and looked over the railing as he pulled his trousers over his legs.

In the water he could see dozens of horrible stories drawing to a conclusion.

 He looked over his shoulder, thinking he’d rather take his chances with the flames. One deep breath of smoke would send him into unconsciousness and he’d never know what happened after that.

Then the flames licked at his face. The full beard he once sported was now gone, having been singed.

Over the side of the vessel and into the water he flung himself.

For only a moment, which seemed like hours, he struggled to get back to air. And as his head broke the water’s surface, the ship was gone as were the voices of the many that had been splashing about him.

Only a single crate was visible in the immense darkness, and Rabner swam to it as fast as he could. As he clung to the crate, he could see more debris floating beyond it.

Among that debris was the outline of a lifeboat. Now Rabner found himself swimming for that.

When he reached it, he pulled himself aboard the wooden craft. Once safely inside he found he wasn’t alone.

Lying in the bottom of the boat was Jack Russell terrier. And like Rabner, it too was cold, wet and scared. The dog quickly greeted him with a wagging tail and barking.

Yet the crate was on Rabner’s mind at the moment and with great speed he moved to recover it. And as he did so, he saw the word, “supply,” stenciled to the box, causing his heart to race with anticipation.

Once the box was in the lifeboat, he wasted no time in opening it. Once opened, Rabner laughed out loud.

He looked at the dog sitting next to him and said, “You’ll eat well, my little one.”

For days the tiny boat drifted about the ocean. And Gerald Rabner slowly faded with each passing day, often dreaming about evenings spent at Harry’s Bar and American Grill.

On the twelfth day a passing cargo ship spotted the little craft. And the captain ordered it brought along side the ship.

As the captain looked down from the high deck into the little boat, he could see Gerald Rabner was dead. However the Jack Russell terrier was still alive and was greeting the sailor’s recovering the lifeboat with a wagging tail and more barking.

They hauled the expired man’s boat onto the ship’s deck as the captain ordered. It was met by both the ship’s doctor and chaplain.

“The man died of starvation,” the doctor reported to the captain.

 The captain looked puzzled, “He had food, didn’t he?”

“Yes, sir,” the doctor answered.

“Then why did he starve to death?” the captain queried.

The chaplain interrupted, “He was a Jew, Captain.”

“So?” the captain countered.

“All he had aboard were tins of pork,” the chaplain answered, “And most Jews don’t eat pig as a matter of faith.”

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