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Hemingway Adventure

Key West, Florida (fifth day)

Key West, Florida, USA 
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Shine's front room. An Aladdin's cave collected over eighty-three years.
Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureShine knocked on the door of the grand house at 907 Whitehead with deep misgivings, but Hemingway, far from being angry, asked him and his friends in for some sparring practice and told them to come round any time.

And they did. One Christmas, Shine recalls, they were walking up Whitehead, short of cash, when they saw a light in the Hemingways’ house and knocked on the door. Hemingway was holding a party and the boys earned $200 sparring by the pool as an entertainment for his guests.

Shine finishes his Budweiser and sends the bottle skimming across the yard. One of those sparring friends, who went by the name of ‘Iron Baby’ Roberts, is being buried this morning but Shine doesn’t think he’ll go along. He doesn’t like funerals. And he looks like the sort of man who doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do.

He stares for a while across to the chain-link fence on the other side of the street, which surrounds a now abandoned military base. He flicks a fly away. I ask him if he ever hurt Hemingway. He rubs the flat of his hand across his bad eye and chuckles.

‘I could never get near him. He was a big man.’ He mimes Hemingway’s long arms. ‘I had to look up to see him.’

I ask him if Key West has changed a lot since the days when he helped milk a cow in the house he now lives in.

He looks around, never hurrying to answer. ‘Sure.’ His eyes come back to mine. ‘No one’s hungry any more.’

As we’re leaving, Basil notices a cockerel lying in a corner of the yard. It’s been very still for an awfully long time. He brings it to Shine’s attention. Apart from confirming that this is an ex-rooster, he doesn’t seem much interested.

‘What do you do?’ Basil enquires solicitously. ‘Bury him?’

‘We’ll bury him.’ Shine yawns expansively. ‘Or throw him over the fence. He’ll go over the fence one day.’

As will we all.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Key West, Florida (fifth day)
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Key West, Florida
  • Book page no: 151

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