At some point in the past, I heard a story about Ernest Hemingway. At some point in the past, the story says, Hemingway wrote a six word story for a bet.
“For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”
That’s the story that the story says Hemingway told. I think about this a lot. Probably too much. The recursive nature of it is in itself a miracle of the human experience.
Hemingway may never have told this story. This may just be an entirely fabricated thing – a story about Hemingway telling a story.
The fact that somebody can have lived less than fifteen years before I was born, and there can be legends about them, is sometimes still crazy to me. We will never know whether this thing didn’t happen.
It’s possible to prove, to some extent, that a thing like this did happen. A reliable written record, or a credible witness, is plenty for that. But it’s almost impossible to prove the absence of something.
This is the snarled mess I can get myself in over a thing, and that’s before even looking at the story within the story itself. Six words. Not enough for most people to form a viable thought in sentence form. But there’s an undeniable narrative there, with an emotional snarl at the middle of it that few could deny.
This time last year, everything was worse. Things are better now, but the world is still more empty. Nearly thirty-five years ago, somebody else nearly happened, but can you prove it? It’s almost impossible to prove the absence of something. Unless it sits in the middle of a family.
People might argue that six words can’t be a story. Those people could say that Hemingway’s maybe-tale is really just a statement. But if a story is a narrative spread like a virus, from one person to others, than it’s more than enough. I say you could shorten it further.
Most of us see at least two stories there. One happy. One sad.
I’ve never been the sort of person who could lose a shoe in public. Perhaps that’s why I can’t walk past a discarded piece of clothing in the park or on the pavement, especially one that might seem as necessary as a sock or a dress or a shoe, without seeing a story in it. The story might be mundane. It’s sometimes hilarious. But on occasion it’s tragic.
We don’t expect to see clothes without people. A dog with no owner begs questions. There will be some point in our life when we see an empty chair and it fills us with sudden and overwhelming sadness.
We tell ourselves stories about who we think we are. We tell ourselves stories about the people around us. When they’re gone, they can’t tell us any more stories that prove us right or wrong.
Hemingway wrote a six word story for a bet. As far as I know, that’s true.