winning writing •
Selected finalists from the
PEN Center International Imitation Hemingway Contest
aka "The Best of Bad Hemingway"
Across the River and Into the OBSCENITY
by Scott Stavrou
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then you will carry that experience with you always. If you are unlucky enough to have lived in Paris and stepped in dog obscenity then you carry this around, too. With life in Paris and being young and stepping in dog obscenity that is the way of things. Youth and Paris both are rich in obscenity.
There are as many kinds of men as there are kinds of dog obscenity. There are men who are large and brown and foul smelling and others who are old and crusty and dried up. It is the same with dog obscenity. There is a certain kind of man who loses composure when he has stepped in the dark brown filth of dog obscenity. That is the wrong kind of man. In the summer of that year I was the right kind of man and it was a good and true feeling to be young and to live in Paris on the Left Bank and to be the right man. Even with the matter of the Parisian dog obscenity on my sole. When one has the obscenity on the sole there is but one thing to do. If you are the right kind of man. I was. So I did the one thing. The good thing. The one good thing. I went to Harry’s Bar & American Grill, where you could clean the sole of the shoe and eat the sole of the fish in a lemon butter sauce and do some soul-searching in a dark corner leather booth.
Sure, I was worried about the obscenity on my sole and about how it might effect the trueness of the hard lines of my Italian loafer and the obscenity on my soul and how it might effect the trueness of the hard lines I was trying to write then. But to worry too much is not to live and that summer I was alive. I was so thirsty for life that I walked through the swinging doors of Harry’s to get a drink and forget about the heavy weight of the obscenity I carried around on my sole.
“I am here for the cure of my sole,” I said, in dialect and loud and true and making sure not to speak in the timid manner of one who is afraid of what the obscenity could do to the soul. The barman placed three fiascoes of strong drinks before me on the bar.
“Never place anything before me,” I said. But I drank them anyway for a heavy sole brings a great thirst and strong drink should always be utilized to kill the great thirst in the same manner that strong words must be used even when you know the expletives may be deleted.
It was after consuming the drink that I smelled the odor. It was not the odor of death that the robust Pilar had taught me and it was not the odor of the obscenity on my sole. No, it was neither of these. It was the putrescence that only can mean Fascists. There had been a slight odor from some Marxists at the end of the bar but this was stronger.
“I smell the stink of a Fascist. Who here is a Fascist?” I asked.
I looked at the end of the bar and saw the cowardly look that a Fascist wears when he has been detected by one who has made a career of fighting against Fascism and against sobriety and against bad writing. Having always hated fear and Fascists I knew what I had to do.
I picked up the foot whose sole carried the Parisian dog obscenity. It was my left foot. Always lead with the left, I remembered. I had learned that in the ring at another time in another place. It had been either a bull ring or a boxing ring, I never remembered. Never drag your left, no matter how heavy your sole is. I threw my left with grace and power and heard the satisfying sound of Parisian dog obscenity meeting the cowardly face of a Fascist. If you have ever dedicated your life to fighting against Fascism you will understand how it is with this sound. It is better than the sound of a Mannlicher 30.06 caliber bullet meeting the muscular neck of a Kenyan wildebeest. It is very much like that sound. Only better. And for a Fascist the obscenity is a big improvement.
I don’t know if it was the strong drink from Harry that made me feel better or the slinging of the obscenity off my sole I only knew that when I came into Harry’s my sole had been heavy and now it was not. I know only that when that happened I was young and I lived in Paris and I was at Harry’s and I had left obscenity on the ugly face of Fascism. I had thrown the obscenity well and true and drank the strong drink in the right manner. I might have been a man and a writer but for that moment my sole was light and I was not full of obscenity.
The Short, Happy Life of Frances’ Comb
by Scott Stavrou
Frances’ comb was an old comb and he used it alone. He had not combed his hair for eighty-four days and to hunt for hair was getting harder all the time. When he had been younger, in the days before he got older, the hair had been as plentiful as the fish in the Gulf Stream. The comb used to be just a small part of his fine arsenal of hair care products. Before the comb had proved its solitary worth he had used it in tandem with the sleek Remington small-caliber blow dryer and a fine vent brush made by the Italians that practically forced the hair into submission. If you were lucky enough to have had strong hair and a powerful arsenal of truly excellent hair care products, you used them all and even took them with you for the aficionado of grooming knows that hair care is a moveable feast, and if you were lucky enough to have had brave hair as a young man, then it stayed with you forever. Sometimes.
The hair line, Frances noted, could also be a moveable feast, one that of late had been retreating back away from his forehead even faster than the Italians retreated from the Austrians. Ah, they were fine chaps, those Italians, even in retreat. Frances thought about the Italians while he stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror late that morning in the hours that came just before the afternoon and after the night. His reflection stared back at him. Main thing a reflection did. Stared right back at you. He noticed that it was the same reflection that had stared back at him last night from the clean, well-lighted windows of Harry’s Bar & American Grill.
“Damn insolent reflection,” Frances said aloud. The reflection mouthed the words with him but made no sound.
“Damn insolent silent reflection,” he said.
His freshly washed hair stood on end, having barely survived the morning attack of the strong, relentless Shower Massage jet-spray. Certain of the finer strands swayed like the shorter grasses of the Serengeti. There were bright shiny patches of skin showing through the fine strands of hair just as if they had been mowed down by a stampeding herd of wildebeest.
Only the hair hadn’t been ravaged by wildebeest, not quite, really. Rather.
“Male pattern baldness,” Frances thought aloud, even though there was no one to hear him other than his reflection and his now useless comb.
“They say it is the fault of the mother. Damn insolent mother.”
Many things had been her fault, like the playing of the cello. But it was better not to think about that now. Now was the time for the running of the comb through the hair and not to think about the retreating hairline or the Italians or even the one he called Mother. Even though the comb was his only remaining weapon, it was a good, clean comb with strong lines and well-made tines.
Picking up his comb he made the first pass at the hair, going in boldly and strongly in the manner of Belmonte moving in for a kill after the picador had finished his work. Certain strands of the hair gave themselves fully to the attack and ended up captured in the strong, true tines of the comb. Frances knew that there was nothing to be done for those imprisoned behind the enemy tines of the comb. Being caught was the same as death, worse, really, in a way, because then you had to clean the comb and you got that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, the way you do when you know that your hair is done for and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. There was the hair club for men, but there was no glory in that and you weren’t really fooling anyone, not even your reflection.
So you did the only thing a man could do, you used the comb to arrange the hair to cover as much of the scalp as possible, but gracefully.
And you knew that truly, like the earth and like living in Paris, the hairline did move.
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