A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 11 – The Old Man at the Bridge, by Ernest Hemingway

Railroad Bridge, Waco, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 11 – The Old Man at the Bridge, by Ernest Hemingway

Read it online here:
The Old Man at the Bridge, by Ernest Hemingway

An old man with steel rimmed spectacles and very dusty clothes sat by the side of the road. There was a pontoon bridge across the river and carts, trucks, and men, women and children were crossing it. The mule-drawn carts staggered up the steep bank from the bridge with soldiers helping push against the spokes of the wheels. The trucks ground up and away heading out of it all and the peasants plodded along in the ankle deep dust. But the old man sat there without moving. He was too tired to go any farther.
—-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man at the Bridge, opening paragraph.

I love reading Ernest Hemingway. More than anything else, I feel he respects his readers. We are all busy, we have real lives to live. Hemingway doesn’t waste our time with any extra words.

Look at two sentences in this very short story:

It was my business to cross the bridge, explore the bridgehead beyond and find out to what point the enemy had advanced. I did this and returned over the bridge.

A lesser writer, a different writer, would have filled pages with description at this point, of how afraid the narrator was, of the close calls he had with the enemy, of how satisfied he was that he completed his mission and returned alive. The author would have been very pleased with himself – with his skill, artistry, and clever way with words.

But Hemingway knows that none of that matters. He knows the real story is the old man waiting at the bridge. The rest is fluff and we don’t have time for fluff.

That’s why I like reading Hemingway. The unnoticed old man at the bridge tells the story of the world.

Interview with Hemingway:

“That’s something you have to learn about yourself. The important thing is to work every day. I work from about seven until about noon. Then I go fishing or swimming, or whatever I want. The best way is always to stop when you are going good. If you do that you’ll never be stuck. And don’t think or worry about it until you start to write again the next day. That way your subconscious will be working on it all the time, but if you worry about it, your brain will get tired before you start again. But work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.”

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, from the Commerce Street Viaduct
Dallas, Texas

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