Hole in My Life

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos Read Free Book Online

Book: Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jack Gantos
developed into more than a gale with eighty-mile-an-hour gusts. It passed over us in the night, dumping a foot of rain and blowing down the weak trees. The greatest damage was done to the tourist industry. The vacationers had fled. Of course, it didn’t help that the TV stations played Key Largo on one channel and a documentary on the “Great Hurricane of 1935” on the other. That hurricane had killed over eight hundred people who were fleeing by rescue train when a twelve-foot surge of water, whipped up by two-hundred-mile-an-hour winds, swamped the passenger cars and took them all away. When the bodies were finally collected, they were burned in tall pyres like Hindus on the Ganges. And when the rescuers ran out of driftwood, they buried the rest in mass graves.
    In the morning, when I emerged from my room, the locals were out and about cleaning up the mess, and a few drunken tourists were still celebrating their victory over nature. But the rest had fled and left the place to me. Right away I started making my rounds. First, I went to Ernest Hemingway’s house. He had killed himself on my birthday. My tenth birthday. He took a shotgun, put the barrel in his mouth, and pulled
the trigger with his toe. My dad had read The Old Man and the Sea to me because it was a fishing story.
    â€œI’d have shot myself, too,” he said after reading the obituary in the paper, “if it took me that long to catch a fish.”
    Hemingway’s house had survived the storm, except that the giant swimming pool was filled with brackish water and debris, along with a magnificent sea turtle that I immediately named Ernest. I imagined the big man as wide across his back and tanned as the dark turtle and just as unflappable as it did a slow breaststroke from end to end.
    I untangled an aluminum lawn chair which had blown into a manchineel tree. I sat down with my writing journal and grinned like an idiot. Just describing that huge, brooding turtle lumbering from end to end was inspiring. I was so happy to be the first one on the scene and wrote down all my impressions—just as Hemingway did in Spain during their civil war, and Crane after the sinking of the Commodore. Suddenly I remembered that John Hersey lived in Key West. His on-the-scene reportage of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was incredible. These guys had gone into the heart of something raw and humanly transforming and had survived to write great books. They got their beginning as writers by going where the action was—to war—and I could, too. With Vietnam on fire the army was taking everyone they could get, but there was no guarantee I could be a journalist like Hersey. Instead, I
could end up more like George Orwell and take a bullet through the neck. And there was something else—as much as I despised the war, deep inside I felt I was a coward. Like Henry Fleming I figured when the bullets started chewing up the ground around me I’d duck and run. I depressed myself. The only thing I had to write about was a turtle in Hemingway’s pool. Moments before it seemed so romantic. Now it seemed mundane.
    In order to buck up I went searching for John Hersey’s house. Maybe seeing where he lived would give me another boost of courage. I got in my car and drove to a market. There were guidebooks to Key West but none of them gave his address. He was mentioned after Tennessee Williams and Elizabeth Bishop, whose addresses were listed. I went to the Williams house. It looked fine except the little white gazebo he built for Jane Bowles had toppled over. I had read A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie and, like everyone, I thought Williams was a genius. I hadn’t read Jane Bowles’s work but knew her husband’s book The Delicate Prey , which was just about my favorite collection of stories in the world. Paul Bowles had gone to Morocco to write about Moroccans. I was hoping that St. Croix might be interesting to write

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