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Life Stories

by Martin Green

The last thing Malcolm Hastings, the brilliant young literary historian, remembered was being in his study with Gloria, his latest mistress, celebrating the completion of his latest book and talking about having a well-deserved getaway, when suddenly everything went black.

Now he was dimly aware of being on a hospital gurney surrounded by figures in green scrubs who were saying things like “myocardial infarction” and “triple bypass.” Then he was on a table in an operating room. A cone was placed over his nose and all went black again.

Hastings opened his eyes to find himself in a huge hall in which hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were sitting at desks, busily writing away. He turned to the white-bearded man clad in a white robe next to him and asked, “Am I dead?”

“Dead? Oh, dear no. But, this is the Hereafter, and as you were on the threshold, so to speak, in light of your eminence as a literary historian we thought we’d give you a little preview.”

“Who are all these people? And what are they writing?”

“These people are all authors, or departed authors, I should say. And they’re writing the stories of inhabitants on the planet Earth.”

“You mean everyone’s life on Earth is a story being written by somebody in the Hereafter?”

“Exactly. Of course, different authors are assigned to different people. For somebody like Winston Churchill, for example, the obvious choice was Shakespeare. For the run-of-the-mill person we assign a run-of-the-mill author. You understand, I don’t like to mention any names.”

“I understand,” said Hastings. He looked around. Yes, he recognized Charles Dickens with his beard, Mark Twain with his moustache and, if he wasn’t mistaken, that good-looking but somewhat dissipated-looking writer over there was F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Uh,” he said. “May I ask, who is writing my life story?”

The man in the white robe smiled. “Why, in honor of your eminence, we’ve chosen your favorite author, none other than Ernest Hemingway.”

“That is an honor,” said Hastings. Then he thought, all of Hemingway’s heroes had brief lives and came to violent ends. Look at those bullfighters gored to death. Then there was “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” whose hero had been killed by his unfaithful wife while on an African safari. And that writer who’d died of a fever in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. No, he didn’t want his life to be written by Ernest Hemingway.

“But, you know, I’d just as soon have some other author do my life story, perhaps one of those woman novelists who write about family dynasties in thousands and thousands of words.”

“Well, that would be highly irregular. I don’t know if we can...” The robed man’s voice faded out and his features blurred, then all was black again.

This time when Hastings opened his eyes he was in a hospital bed in a sunlit room crowded with flowers. The doctor told him he’d had a narrow escape but should be his old self again within a matter of months. Before the doctor left he told Hastings, “There's a visitor waiting to see you.”

Hastings leaned back against his pillows. He thought of the vision, or dream, or whatever it was, he’d had while undergoing surgery. Every person on Earth having his life story written by a departed author. And his own life story being written by Ernest Hemingway. All nonsense, of course. But an interesting concept. He’d have to tell Gloria.

Just then, Gloria came in, all smiles. “I’ve been talking to the doctor,” she said. “He told me you’ll make a complete recovery. I’m so glad. And I have a surprise for you. You remember we’d been talking about a getaway. I’ve booked a trip for us. As soon as you’re better, we’re going to Spain to run with the bulls in Pampalona, then we’re going on a safari in Africa.”

Copyright © 2007 by Martin Green

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