A meaty hand knocked on my door, so I opened it. There was my wife of ten years. We’d recently divorced on account of my foolish ways.
“Hello, my dear,” I said.
“I’m not your dear,” she said. “Also, here’s a child.”
I looked down to my ex-wife’s right hand side, the side where she’s shorter due to club foot, and there was a child. The child was about as big as three buckets stacked up on top of each other.
“Whose child is this?”
“Not mine. He’s yours now. You owe me.”
“I really don’t think so,” I explained. “I am, after all, a man of leisure.”
“But this child needs taking care of.”
I thought of slamming the door in their faces, of continuing my life as it was, but I couldn’t. Everything was different now.
“Look,” I said. “Come in. We can talk about this over some biscuits and caffeine.”
“Okay, well where are the young lad’s parents?”
“Dead and buried?”
“In the earth. The soil of the earth.”
“I’m bad with children, you know this! Is there anything else I should know?”
“Well, this child vomits. So there’s that.”
She was right. The child burped up a chunk of vomit and tried to hold it in his mouth, but it leaked out from his purple lips.
“Right, thank you for letting me know.”
She pushed the child towards me. “Just remember to water the bastard every day.”
“Otherwise he’ll wilt and die.”
My wife approached me, possibly to embrace me with her bony arms, but no. She stopped short of the embrace and smiled a fake smile and then ran off, dancing over the hills and into the distance.
“Goodbye, old wife! Goodbye and good luck!”
But now there was the child. He stood there in the doorway, pale and well shod. “Listen, little man,” I said. “What is your name? Spit it out. You’ve already ruined my life.”
“My name is Ernest Hemingway.”
“Like the writer? The writer who blew his head off?”
“Yes, sir. He was my parents’ favourite writer.”
“Fine. Come on, follow me. We’ll get you cleaned up. Did you know you stink of vomit? Of shit and vomit?”
He looked down at his feet, possibly in shame, I thought. But no. Ernest Hemingway had shit himself.
I took Ernest Hemingway by the hand and led him to my bathroom. I unclothed him and turned the shower on, washing away the vomit and poop.
“We’re going to have to burn these clothes, Ernest.”
I gave him some of my clothes and promised to buy him better fitting clothes later that day. I invited him to the ceremonial burning of his crapped-on clothes in the yard. We doused the clothes in oil and a splash of vinaigrette. I asked Ernest Hemingway if he’d like to light the match and he said yes. He did so, and he did so with aplomb. We burned his clothes to a crisp.
I was desperately unhappy with the situation, but knew that I had to do right by the child. Firstly, there was the matter of food.
“Ernest Hemingway,” I said. “Are you hungry? Are there foods that you can keep down?”
“Yes. I really like fruit and deer.”
Jesus Christ, I thought. Where were we going to find a deer? I lived right here in the big city and the only animals here were cats and dogs and rats and pigeons.
“Do you eat rat,” I asked him.
So we got in my car, but as Ernest Hemingway sat down and buckled up, his hair fell out.
“What is this shit?”
“She told you. I need watering.”
So I ran back into the house and filled up a bottle of water, ran back out, and chucked it over Ernest Hemingway’s head. His hair sprouted back.
Parenthood! Who would’ve known it’d be this hard, I thought.
But out we went, right to the outskirts of the city and caught a deer. I skinned it and chopped it up for dinner. I also managed to pilfer several peaches from a market on the way back to my home.
We ate and then went to bed.
Weeks passed. Years, too, even. Ernest Hemingway got older because of time. So did I. My knees were weak and surrounded by fluid. Sometimes when I jumped up and down in excitement at, say, a sports game, I would crumple like an accordion and Ernest Hemingway would have to stretch me back out again.
“Old people are funny,” he said.
“Sure are, Ernest Hemingway.”
Ernest Hemingway grew to like films. We would watch them together and we would laugh and sometimes cry. These were good times, I thought. We would also listen to music. I would read him books and I would watch him listen to me.
And then one day Ernest Hemingway started coughing.
“Quite the cough you have there, son,” I said.
He coughed so hard that the blood from his body would splutter from his mouth.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Just fine.”
I took him to hospital and the doctors did their checks. Ernest Hemingway was still in the other room when the doctor came out.
“You’re the father?”
“That’s me,” I said.
“I’m afraid it’s not good news.”
“What’s wrong, doc?”
“His lungs are rotting.”
“What does this mean?”
“It means that your son only has a month to live.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “How could this be? A few weeks ago he was fine. He was right as rain.”
Had I looked after him as well as I could?
“It’s genetic, most probably. All I can advise is that you spend your remaining weeks doing something beautiful.”
Ernest Hemingway left my life soon after. He had coughed every organ from his body and when I buried him, his coffin was as light as a few sheaves of paper.
My wife was there with me as the coffin was lowered into the ground.
“We are equal now,” she said. As the soil was piled on top of the coffin, I guessed that perhaps we were.