Monday, July 16, 2012

Teamwork is Key

Teamwork is Key

Dmitry received the wet, slippery leather checkered ball and ran with it close to his feet, pushing it forward with quick sharp kicks. He came to a halt digging his black cleat shoes into the muddy grass.

“Shoot it before they call the game!” said his friend Casey.

An attacker broke free of the defense and slowly approached Dmitry, hunched over and glaring.

I’d give Rick the ball if I thought he could make it in, thought Dmitry. He trapped the ball dead under his shoe and swung his leg back. The opponent skimmed the ball sending it spinning sideways. Dmitry winced in pain as the cleat of his rival’s toe met his bare shin. He quickly reached into his tall sock to put his shin guard back in place and limped off in pain.

Casey headed straight for Dmitry. “Are you alright? Try kicking the ball to Rick.”

“He always gets rid of it as soon as he gets it,” said Dmitry. “He doesn’t even aim for the goal.”

“We need to score. If they see lightning their going to call the game.”

Dmitry dropped backfield and leaned over, desperately grabbing the sweaty plastic of his shin guard through his muddy tube sock to cover him from the certain pain of another blow to his shin. He got the soccer ball again and blindly chipped it with the end of his toe towards the goal without aiming. The goalie slid to his knees, gathered the ground shot and tucked the ball safe to his body with gloved hands.

The whistle blew sounding that it was halftime.

The blonde headed Casey threw up his pale lanky arms, “What are you doing? That’s twice you could have kicked the ball to Rick. He was standing right there at the goal both times!”

Dmitry covered his mouth with the side of his hand and whispered. “He can’t play, if I give him the ball he’ll just screw it up.” Dmitry nodded sure Casey would understand what he meant.

“How do you know if you don’t give him a chance?” said Casey, grabbing a white Styrofoam cup from a small card table set up at the edge of the soccer field. He held the cup under an orange Igloo beverage dispenser full of lemonade and stabbed at its stubborn, stiff button. “You should give everyone a chance. That’s what coach says. That’s why he’s letting Rick play.”

“Not him, I‘m not giving the ball to someone who I know isn’t going to make it in,” said Dmitry. He grabbed a baggie of sliced oranges out of a little cooler sitting on the grass and sat down. “Hey, take a look at this.” Dmitry pulled back the top of his tall tube sock exposing his wound, showing Casey his scraped up shin and the dark dried blood inside of the sock.

“Ouch. How did that happen?”

“My shinguard keeps slipping around and I’m getting kicked in the shin.”

“I can help you with that problem,” said a small hurried voice from behind them. Both Dmitry and Casey spun around. It was Rick.

Dmitry watched as Rick ran away from them over to his parents, black shoelaces flopping in the breeze. Abruptly, Rick tripped over them, stumbling forward, but the clumsy player barely seemed to notice.

Dmitry slapped the palm of his hand to his forehead, closing his eyes. He sighed heavily. “You want me to pass the ball to him?” he said to Casey.

“He’s always in front of the goal.” Casey took a sip of his lemonade and his face twisted at its lack of sugar.

“We’re going to lose this one huh?” Dmitry peeled back the flexible skin of his last orange slice with his thumb.

Rick quickly returned as awkwardly as he had left with something tight in his grip. “Here,” he said to Dmitry. “Put these on.”

The ref blew the whistle signaling the players to get back on the field.

Dmitry took the funny looking socks and looked back up at Rick. “These are shinguards?”

“My mom got them for me after the game last week when she saw I was getting kicked in the shin so much.”

Dmitry waited till Rick was out of hearing range. “I just watched Rick trip over his own shoelaces.” He pointed loosely over at Rick and tossed his bag of orange peels back in the open cooler.

“Then tell him to tie his shoes,” shrugged Casey. He dropped his cup beneath the table. “No one’s losing and the score’s still zip to zip. Try passing the ball once in a while. We’re not a one man team”

“Teamwork, right," said Dmitry rolling his eyes.

His team, sporting green jerseys and red shorts started with the ball. Dmitry sprinted, legs wild and relentless with the toe of his cleats digging in to the soft muddy grass as he whooshed past Rick, deftly stealing the soccer ball from the other team. Here was his chance and it was time to score the first goal. A player challenged him and missed the ball, slamming their foot in to his shin. The unmovable plastic of the special tube sock he borrowed from Rick took the full force of the blow and Dmitry felt no pain. He paused for a split second with his foot on top of the ball and thought about his last attempt at scoring a goal before halftime. A thought rushed through his head, Last week Rick was getting rid of the ball, because he was afraid of getting kicked in the shin, but now we have the same shin guards. He broke free from the other teams’ guards and sprinted even closer to the goal.

The goalie in the distance stood ready, bent knees, clapping his hands, taunting Dmitry. “C’mon! Give it your best shot! You haven’t made it yet!”

Dmitry’s eyes narrowed in concentration as an ominous low rumble of thunder rolled across the sky.

Rick flew by him. “Pass it here! Pass it forward!”

Dmitry tapped the ball with the side of his foot. He smiled at the cleverness of his sneaky short range pass. The soccer ball spun out in front of Rick's feet. He watched Rick as he swung back his right foot, gritted his teeth and kicked as hard as he could. He nicked the side of the soccer ball, sending it out in front of his left foot.

“Follow it through! Kick it in!” said Dmitry, excited. The goalie stayed in his position with his head lowered and arms outspread.

“C’mon Rick! Kick it in!” said Casey from his position left of the goal.

Rick tamed the ball with the inside of his left foot and in one fluid motion; he lifted his leg in to a high back swing, slamming the ball with his instep. The back of the opposing team’s net flew outwards with the force of his goal followed by his shoe. Parents, brother and sisters cheered from the sidelines. Dmitry ran over to Rick and patted him on the back.

“Why did you pass it to me?” asked Rick. “You could have scored the goal yourself.”

Dmitry shrugged his shoulders, leaned over and knocked on the hard plastic through his socks. “These shin guards make both of us fearless and I couldn’t win the game by myself. Besides, I’ve missed every goal I’ve tried.” He patted Rick on the back again and smiled for the first time that day. “C’mon, let’s do that again.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Driven To Distraction (Children's Lit assign. #6)


“You know what Samantha? If this music is going to make you so sad, then maybe you should stop listening to it,” my sister Megan jeers, loudly, like she’s the boss.
I wipe my wet and blurry eyes with the soft brown sleeve of my sweatshirt and snuff up my nose so hard it makes me cough. “But this is Mom’s favorite song!” I yell back. The song is about trusting in the Lord and I don’t want Mommy to go to heaven with him yet. God is supposed to be the great physician, but he hasn’t fixed Mom. She should be at home right now, not stuck in some hospital bed. I would trust God if he gave me a good reason to.
My sister leans over me and punches the FM button on the truck’s radio, turning it to “Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer”. This music is way too cheerful and I grit my teeth and put both my hands over my ears, while squeezing my eyes shut. Then I push the CD button. Megan bounces forward across me flipping her ponytail in my face and pushes the FM button again.
“You know what? Radio off.” Dad hits the off button. My sister can’t be quiet, so I know she’s going to say something.
“Oh, good job!” She says to me. Her voice is like a screech owl’s. “Now we can’t listen to anything at all!”
The rain is pounding against the front windshield and it’s fogged up really bad. I can’t even see out of it. I wonder if Dad can. He’s driving way too fast and he’s staring straight ahead. I can tell he’s angry when he gets really quiet like he is right now.
I hit the CD button again and skip to song number six. Mom loves this song too and my face turns hot as tears well up in my eyes.
“Daddy!” says Megan. “How come she can listen to her music but I can’t!”
Suddenly I just snap. ”Mommy might be dying and all you care about is your music!” I turn to my Dad and yell at the top of my lungs. “You made me go home early and I wanted to see Mommy a little bit longer!”
Wait a minute. I grab on to the edge of my seat with both hands. There really isn’t anything good to hold on to and suddenly, it feels like the back wheels are sliding through thick mud and the tires are bumping along. Is the car on a slip and slide?
“Hang on girls!” my dad yells.
I put my hands under my knees and duck my head down to my legs. I think this is the position you’re supposed to be in for a crash, at least on an airplane.
Then my head jerks up. “Daddy! We’re going to hit the trees!” I scream. He doesn’t say anything. His hands are clutching the steering wheel in a death grip and his knuckles are white.
Dad’s window is spinning and all I see are green spindly pine needles on wet scratching branches. They’re clawing at the window like they’re trying to get in. Then there’s a sudden jolt that splashes the diet Coke I just got from McDonalds all over the place.
I’m sitting in silence. I think we just crossed back over the road sideways and now we’re in a muddy ditch. It happened so fast I don’t really know what happened.
“Is everyone okay?” My dad turns to me and then looks over at my sister. The truck smells sticky sweet because of the diet Coke that exploded everywhere. It’s all over the sleeves of my favorite sweatshirt and my pants legs.
“I’m sorry I was yelling,” I cry. “I didn’t mess up your driving did I?”
“Well, you did mess him up a little,” chimes in my sister. She can’t be quiet for anything.
My dad cautiously opens up the truck’s door. “Well, at least that still works,” he says.
I look out the window and it looks like the rain has let up some and now I can actually see the dark gray sky.
“Daddy, where are you going?” my sister says in a panicked voice.
“I’m just going to check things out.”
I watch him as he disappears from view. “I’m coming too!” I yell.
“No! Stay in the car!” he answers back.
This road is dangerous and I know, I should stay in the car, but I’m not going to. I step into the mud and my shoes slosh and stick and make sucking sounds as I lift my feet. My feet are getting cold as my socks soak up water through the holes in the top of my shoes. The front of the truck looks fine. No cars are coming. It’s safe to go where Daddy is and then I see what happened. The whole left side of my dad’s shiny blue truck is one long scraped up and caved in, muddy dent. The bumper is twisted and hanging off and there are tree limbs in the bed of the truck.
“Things are bad, but they could have been a lot worse,” says my father.
“You think God was watching over us so we didn’t crash too bad?” I say. I know for a fact we could have hit a tree, a telephone pole or a car, head on. All of the sudden it hit me, if God can protect us like that, maybe I should trust in him to make Mom better.
I look down the road and I know town is still really far away.
“It looks like He kept us safe from harm,” my dad says. “Let’s get in and see if we can make it in to town. Otherwise we have a long, cold, wet walk ahead of us.”
I climb into the truck and my sister blurts out, “Daddy told us not to get out of the car!”
I think I’m going to listen to some Christmas music.

Monday, January 17, 2011


by Carlos Nordquist

This is a place interrupted. The night sky has a streak of lightning crossing straight through it. It looks like a jagged, sharp, bright and blue scar. I am doing my best to maintain consciousness. I have been struck in the head with a soft skinned, yet hard skeletal blunt object. His knuckles were like solid steel brass covered with soft, pliable flesh. Deep in the contorted, twisting, dancing pit--it was an accident.

“Hey man, are you ok?” His stoned mind says to me in the soft, velvet, black darkness. I can smell the thick sticky sweet green of the magical ganja on his sweet breath. Techno dreams scream behind the closet door. It’s not really a closet door, but the door to a room writhing with bodies. They are not dead, but most of them wish to be. It was death or razor blade dreams of fathomlessly deep smiling, slitting wrists and swirling dark red, spinning down shower drains.

They dress in silk dresses, painted white faces and vermilion lipstick ripe with the scent of its pasty baby powder smell. Boys with Christian Death ‘Rozz William’ T-Shirts and girls with black wedding dresses clothe the floor and their thin bodies appear as birdlike shapes. They are all deathly pale and thinner than ancient Dixon Ticonderoga pencils from empty grade-schools. This is a gothic candied place where the boys can buy red, bloody roses with razor sharp thorns—the scent of the flowers. Oh, the scent—it is sweeter than honey from a bee. And if between the electronic body music’s beats, if you listen hard enough in the one second silence, before the beat drops again like a hammer, you can hear the dead. You can hear them whisper your name—longing for you to meet them in white drape covered dreams. If you’re not afraid, chicken.

I open up the hollow wooden, stiff, rusted spring, creaking door to the club no longer maintained by fired sick janitors. Men who fixed the girls bathroom so its oak wooden door, would not shut all the way. Men who drilled teaspoon size holes in walls to see things with vacant morals.

Purple black lights brighten the whites of my eyes and expose the virgin, lacy lint on my ‘Lust For Blood’ Velvet Acid Christ T-Shirt. On the back of my shirt, the letters of the V.A.C. logo are drawn like knifes and are metallic in color with razor sharp edges. A heart is on the front of my shirt where my real heart would be. It’s not some sissy valentine but resembles the real thing, glistening and bleeding.

She’s the only girl of my dreams, a young teenage thing and only nineteen as track nine of a vicious Acumen Nation song begins. ‘I have no imagination’ are the lyrics and here, looking at her I know I am nothing compared to the endless deep blue of her eyes. Her skin is delicate like sweet whip cream candy frosting and her black shoes shine, a half-moon in those startling black tap dancing shoes. She doesn’t tap, but she wears what she longed to be, what she always wanted. I need go no further, because I’ve always wanted her.

Three minutes pass and she beckons me into the cool wisps’ of the night. Her full lips like roses part to reveal perfect teeth, the bottom row plays with her tongue like a magician on a golden harmonica—her tongue rolls in her mouth, wet candy cane mint speaking words that make my heart race at butterfly speed.


I listen and hear the puffy clouds of midnight and its distant thunder. It’s more haunting than anything. The Depeche Mode like chanting of Assemblage 23 soars through air that is heavy with the flowery smell of Jasmine. I can see its tiny symmetrical petals stuck tight to a stem that will never let go. Just as I know this wedding cake beauty, with her corset top and bare milky shoulders will never let me go. I wrap my spidery arms around her smooth, frilly satin waist. I whisper in her ear and tell her my favorite haiku:

“Kudzu strangled house
Overgrown vines and tangled veins
Summer place of pain”

She laughs and tickles back at my ear like a soft white feather.

Needles of kudzu strangle the once abandoned establishment--the place where the sounds we love keep angry neighbors over ancient train tracks awake all night. Her chiffon ball gown turns, its bottom bells up and rings, calling spirits that its time to enter back in to the church of acid.

She tucks her small hand behind the door frame and taps it open. She eats in gusts like a snake every two weeks, but her limbs pull the closet open--hard and with a destructive fury. She doesn’t even have to try.

Inside lights have stolen the darkness from the dance floor that’s sliding and glistening with spilled alcohol. Boys without shirts slither and then pound against each other. Anvils of the beat pound the air and their fascinating shapes move in a liquid frenzy, trapped in an isolation tank of hatred for this mundane world. They all know what each other is thinking. Silver bullet, metal guitar riffs tear the fragile jasmine scent. Tears streak down their faces as the beats and riffs join each other with their own voice. They pause temporarily from time to time waiting for the next boy or the next to join in. Each with tattoos of women with black hair and blue eyes (just like my princess) adorned on their bodies, the angels upon the boys’ skin smile at me.

The DJ places another vinyl on the turn table. Space begins. Its black and empty and ruthless. The raspy, male, German voice of Wumpscut begins. The music has the odd sound of an organ in it. Its rapid and it swirls in time with the xylophone-like keyboards while the heavy beats pound. I know my ears are going to ring for days after this.

My angel turns the corners of her red licorice lips and her endless deep ocean blue eyes look at me. It’s a look that could melt a thousand princes all at once. “Are you ready yet?” She says.

I answer yes and we leave. We head back through those hot purple black lights, melting power that is about to burst like a balloon lost by a motherless child. I hope the light breaks from the surges of power that provide that illuminating light. The light that exposes all of the flaws of our clothing and yet brightens us up like white lingerie on a newly-dead.


We travel across the night street--past the hundred year old oaks with pale green moss draped over their branches. A hot mist is coming from the empty road, because it has just rained again--that cold winter rain. We enter an all night restaurant. There is a dried up buffet with dark brown gravy on it, splattered and dried to a crisp. The mashed potatoes are yellow in color and one best not eat the seafood--it expired hours ago.

This place caters to those who want to pretend it’s normal to be out at the devils hour--three a.m. eternal--the hour when it is not safe to be un-Christian. The hour when an angry friend or voodoo priestess can send a demon someone's way while the slit of their eyes are sleeping. They wake up and find life is cursed. Powered by this devils hour.

This soft, velvet black haired, chiffon dressed girl with those milky soft, porcelain smooth shoulders is cursed. The Cures ‘Fascination Street’ whistles in our ears, old and familiar. We sit at a table, hold each others frail, dead hands and hear a throat clear. The young voice belongs to a girl who will be food. We order catfish and other things. It comes and its flaky white, greasy texture melts in our mouths like bottom-feeding, dirty river tear drops.

Aurelia gives me a greasy finger and I suck and lick it and bite it with my razor sharp canine teeth. Her flesh cracks like a cracker when I nip at it. Chewing on her reminds me of snapping tiny bird bones under my feet. “Ouch!” She says and she glares at me with that--wait till your backs turned--I will get you later, look. We trust each other, most of the time.
Twisting her face in to the beautiful look of pain is worth it. Like when I gave birth too her--when I bit her reluctant body and she joined me for all eternity (until someone stakes us in our coffin warm sleep).

Our waitress, our meal, refills our crystal glasses of Coke's and Aurelia nods at me. It’s time. We have watched and the only other person there, the cook, has gone out for a smoke. We hope she tastes as delicate as the catfish.

Saturday, August 28, 2010



“This is where the slaves used to live!” said a girl with a red and pink striped shirt with spaghetti straps. I can draw my picture in there!” Sweat beaded on the ball of her shoulders and she squinted with her bright blue eyes as the sun glared at her through a thick moss covered canopy of zigzagged snarled old oak limbs that stretched to the sky.
“It’s easy to get in here Samantha!” said a girl with greasy looking blonde hair. She wore a red, white and blue cheerleader uniform and marched along with a walking stick taller than her. She also wore scattered patches of BBQ sauce on her cheeks.
“Megan! Be careful honey!” called her mother from a white van with black trim. “Let me wipe your face!”
Samantha clicked and scratched her long, chipped and beaten cherry red press on nails with flaked off paint, against rough random patterns of jagged, sharp looking shells and solid concrete, on the outside of the slave quarters’ tabby walls. There was a small puff of loose dirt as one of the toes of her oversized worn blue flip flops bit the dirt. Her next foot slowly made it in the structure. The Muddy stagnant smell of the marsh at low tide hung heavy in the room. “It stinks in here like someone went to the bathroom.” Dirt dobbers with pipe flute looking mud houses clung to beams in rows like organ pipes and circular cobwebs hung in corners.
Samantha let out a piercing shrill scream that didn’t match her voice. Then a broad and sticky smile slowly drifted over her glittered and glossy lips exposing the gaps between her large teeth. “It’s a dried up snake on the wall! It looks like an oak root!” She reached out with a careful and steady hand to touch its rough surface. “Is it alive? Megan?”
She held a tattered dirt covered pink book tight to her chest and removed a pencil stuck in its gray spine. The books yellow pages rustled as she opened it revealing a cleanly lined drawing of a girl in a triangle shaped dress. She quickly drew a long line and then stopped. “It doesn’t have a head. I’ll make one up!” She quickly drew a happy face and a smile.



I’m using the car mirror on the windshield to fix my hair. I’m trying to put my hair in a clip. I want it to look nice, not really any other reason. I have a skirt on and a long sleeve shirt for fall, but it’s yellow so that’s spring and summer colors. I don’t want to trade head bands because I like the white one. I’m wearing the white headband, because white matches anything and black does to.
We were driving in bad rain and I thought we were going to bust in to the river because my dad was driving. The river was all along side of us and its gator water for tons of miles. That’s when we were in Louisiana.
There’s cactus out here now. We stopped at a hotel and I wanted to go swimming so bad. The pool was closed. I touched a cactus on accident on my arm and a thorn stuck in me. My dad said it wasn’t the kind with the barb, so it came out real easy. Mom cleaned it up and gave me a Band-Aid for it. There are tumbleweeds out here that aren’t rolling. My mom says whenever they get dry they fall off and start rolling.
I don’t know. This trip is long and boring. The rain was cool, and the boulders on rocks that looked like if someone pushed them from behind, they would fall. I’m looking at the map and we’re in New Mexico, and heading to Arizona, but I don’t know if we’re going to make it. My dad’s driving is scary. I stuck the window up on the map to hold it there. I thought the map said national park stadium map and guide, but I read it harder and it says national park system map and guide.
I thought we were going to get on the highway. This doesn’t look like a highway. This isn’t a highway, cause it’s not high. Like when we’re up high in New Orleans. There you can see down and the houses are all messed up with holes in the roofs from a flood or something and all the animals and dogs and children and people got sucked in to the ocean or something. Driving is fun, but I’d rather fly.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Foster Home

My hand is covered in a thick wet soggy washcloth and it’s red and raw beneath. I knew the cherry red burner was hot, but I touched it anyway. I jumped back at the white hot f lash of pain that came next and can’t remember if I cried or not .

I shouldn’t test the burner where bacon sizzles, swells and pops. Mother puts brown sugar on the bacon’s edges as it curls up in salty smelling grease. I love the rich caramelized scent as the brown sugar bubbles and fizzes. I also like to test the tall soft cushioned bar stools I can spin on in endless circles. I like to lean back on the seat as far as possible, while keeping my hands on the counter.

There is a warm, pink-orange light from the evening sun, above the light brown tweed sofa I don’t like to sit in because it’s itchy, rough and scratchy. The doorway to my bedroom is a dark shadow. My room has two small windows in it and in my dreams velvet stuffed animals, like on Sesame Street, pop up and stare at me through the window’s eye-like slits. The creatures have vacant black eyes and gaping mouths with bright red tongues.

Sometimes in my dreams I’m up high on a black webbed cargo net on a murky gray day. It’s one of those days where the thick musty smell of dark clouds full of rain makes me so nauseous I puke. I can see a lady far, far, off leaving a store with a shopping cart. Then a scary thumping sound comes that vibrates the air and I look back to where she was and she’s gone.

My best friend Chris left yesterday. He tips his head of curly black hair to the side when he talks out of the corner of his mouth, like Popeye. He does that because the corner of his mouth was singed together when he bit down on a fish tank’s long black electrical cord. I lean my head to the side when I talk, so I can be like him.

Today I played with the kids down the street. Our shoes squeaked and skidded on someone’s driveway as we punched, kicked, and fought over a tiny orange plastic ball. I walked home triumphant, shoes in hand, barefoot, skipping each crack with dry summer weeds. I hit a crack hard with my toe and it caused a bright stinging pain. The skin moved aside and a sore red smile showed up and then I put on a sock with a dirty brown toe to cover it up.

After that I took cold rusty scissors and used them to snip a green stem that cried thick sappy tears after it was cut. I smelled the busy looking curl of a Red Silk Rose and it smelled like baby powder and the vanilla powdered sugar mother uses to frost cakes. The rose is for the lady with dark blonde hair with curls at the end that wisp up making her face look soft and pretty. The man who is always with her has a beard of dark brown needles and large serious dark golden-green hazel eyes that I would not want to make angry.

They have been taking me to a fun place called McDonald’s to get small mushy burgers and steaming hot fries loaded with crystal flecks of salt. My social worker Joyce says it’s okay I go with them when they come to get me.


You’re on vacation in sunny tropical Key West, Florida, walking beneath the cool shade of a Weeping Fig tree. Beneath the tree, you see a cat on a cement park bench and it’s cleaning one of its paws. You take a closer look and to your amazement, you notice the paw it’s licking has a thumb just like a person! Guess what - you just saw your very first Hemingway cat.

Hemingway cats are named after the famous American novelist, short-story writer, and journalist Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway who lived from 1899-1961. Papa Hemingway was a fearless war correspondent during World War I, the Spanish Civil War and World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. He used his real life experiences in his novels, sometimes greatly exaggerating the events that happened to him, which made for great stories told both verbal and written.

In Hemingway’s teenage years he had a great enthusiasm for baseball, boxing and books and his friends enjoyed his wit and humor. As an adult, the force of his personality was such that it heightened the impact of his physical presence. Darkly handsome, broad-shouldered and muscular, he always impressed people as being taller than he really was. Actually 5 ft, 11 inches, he often was described as being a “huge man, over six feet tall.”

Papa Hemingway admired the spirit and independence of cats and believed that, “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” Hemingway liked cats, because they were not disruptive when he was trying to write. He surrounded himself with them all his life and sought their comfort during times of loneliness and stress. Cats appear in many of his writings; particularly in A moveable Feast, Islands in the Stream, the Garden of Eden, and True at First Light.

From 1931-1940, Papa Hemingway lived in a house made of limestone in Key West, Florida given to him by his wife Pauline’s Uncle Gus. It was here he received his first cat with thumbs—a six-toed polydactyl tomcat (the term polydactyl is Latin for ‘many digits’) named ‘Snowball.’ Snowball belonged to Papa’s friend Stanley Dexter, a sea captain from Massachusetts. The captain had the tomcat on his ship, because polydactyl cats are excellent mousers and were considered good luck at sea. Upon his departure from Key West, the captain presented Snowball to Hemingway as a gift.

Today the descendents of the first Hemingway cat, Snowball, still possess the unusual six toes. Normal cats have five toes on each front paw and four toes on each hind paw. Hemingway cats may have as many as seven toes on each front paw and six toes on each hind paw. and it is rare for a cat to have polydactyl hind paws only. These front toes look like mittens so polydactyl cats are often called ‘mitten cats’. Some polydactyl kittens have difficulty learning to walk, however when they get older, cats with six toes can perform tricks a five-toed cat cannot. Some of these tricks include opening latches, catching objects with a single paw like catcher with a mitt, and picking up food to bring to its mouth. Some polydactyl cats can even pick up a pencil!

Hemingway once wrote, “One cat just leads to another…it doesn’t really seem as though there were many cats until you see them all moving like a mass migration at feeding time…” He was speaking of his eleven cats at his villa ‘Finca Vigia’, in ‘San Francisco de Paula’, which is a suburb of Havana, Cuba. Papa Hemingway lived in this spacious Spanish Colonial house for twenty-one years, from 1940-1961. During this time the number of cats swelled to a staggering fifty-seven.

Papa Hemingway named each cat he owned and had a personal relationship with each one. He gave them fanciful names like Howard, Hughes, Katherine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy, who were movie stars of those days. He even named some of them after characters in his own books.
However, contrary to popular belief, Hemingway did not own a large number of cats at his house in Key West. He only owned two, but all of the polydactyl cats on the island of Key West today are descendents of these first two Hemingway cats .

Today, Hemingway’s habit of giving his cats fanciful names has become tradition in Key West. The polydactyl cats are named after movie stars, legendary writers, presidents, and even after some of Florida’s hurricanes. Currently, cats called Ivan and Frances, Emily Dickinson, Audrey Hepburn, and Harry Truman roam the grounds with their thumbed feet at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, and these entitled felines are protected by the terms of his will. You will never be far from seeing a cat as there are now forty-six.

Upon Papa’s death in 1961, a local Key West businesswoman named Mrs. Bernice Dickson purchased the Hemingway house. She lived in it until she opened it as a museum in 1964, when she moved into the carriage house in back of the main house. The home was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1968 and the Ernest Hemingway Museum and Home today is the property of Mrs. Dickson’s family.

At the Ernest Hemingway Museum and Home all of the ‘mitten cats’ live a life of luxury. Many of the home’s visitors say they would like to come back as a cat and live there. This is because all Hemingway cats do is get up in the morning, eat, and take a nap, eat some more and then take another nap. The cats do nothing, the same way Papa Hemingway saw it and liked it at his house in Cuba, with fifty-seven cats running around his property. Every corner you take at his House and Museum you’ll find a couple of cats either snoozing or eating, or lapping up some water out of a special cat fountain that was once a bathroom’s urinal. Do you think you could live with fifty-seven cats?

Monday, November 30, 2009


Emily snapped awake at an alarming sound—“Yipe! Yipe! Yipe!” She grabbed her pink Hello Kitty blanket and threw it off. “Butterball!” she yelled and then she clasped a tiny hand over her mouth. She didn’t want to wake her parents. The old box springs of her bed creaked as she swung her legs over to the floor. Her bare feet padded along the cold, dirt covered linoleum in the kitchen. She quickly reached the laundry room’s familiar smell of dusty, dirty, laundry lint. She heard an eerie, mournful sound that stopped her in her tracks.

"Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo."

She answered the call. “Who, who, who?” She opened up the laundry room’s back door. The night air was crisp, illuminating every star available with a crisp clarity. She thought about the dangers of the dark; how her parents were always telling her not to talk to strangers. Dog in trouble or not it would be better to go. With a hand still on the cold brass doorknob she headed back inside.

“No!” said something outside in the darkness. “It's, Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo!”

“Who, who, who?” She said nervously, making sure to not let go of the doorknob in case she had to quickly shut the door behind her.

“No, child, don’t go anywhere, I want to talk to you!” The owl followed his statement with another "Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo." Suddenly a dark shape thumped on the wet grass in front of her. It leaped ungracefully to a top of a patio chair and teetered there. “Well, I won’t be attacking your dog tonight; I seem to have hurt my wing very badly.” He wrapped his razor sharp talons around the back of the chair to keep from falling off.

Emily giggled with delight and said the first thing that came to mind. “Oh! You’re a bird!” And then she put on her serious face. “What do you mean attack my dog? Where’s Butterball?”

The owl puffed out his chest “I beg your pardon. I am not just a bird. I am a Great Horned Owl.” The owl turned his head slightly and stared into the distance with his large yellow-orange eyes, while whistling a guilty tune. He cast the little girl a cautious glance.

She frowned, while taking a step forward and pointed at him. “You look guilty like you did something.” She looked hard into the night at all visible areas. She looked under the backyard trampoline and at the old, wooden shed, leaning over, with wet pine straw on top, with its fragile roof about to cave in. “Where’s butterball?” she said again.

“I didn’t do anything,” said the owl hastily.

“Butterball? Where are you?” she said and her voice trailed off into the night. At the sound of his name the little dog yipped again. “I can’t see you! Where are you?” She sighed and addressed the owl. “You know where he is and you’re just not telling me!” She wrapped her arms around herself and turned back inside. She grabbed the large handle of the outdoor freezer, located in the laundry room and yanked its door open; the cold breath of the freezer hit her in the face and she grabbed an item in a white wrapper. Plastic crinkled as she timidly uncovered the chocolate covered vanilla bar on a stick.

“What’s a Butterball?” said the large owl. He shook his one wing that did work, but winced in pain as he tried to move the other.

“You know where he is?” She said frustrated, cracking off a piece of rich dark chocolate with the side of her teeth. The cool of it washed though her mouth with its intense creamy, chocolaty flavor and she took another bite.

“Do you care about your dog?” asked the owl. The cold metal of the patio chair was beginning to hurt the center of his feet and he shifted around to get more comfortable.

“Of course I care about my dog!” She was careful not to use the word ‘Butterball’, because she didn’t want to make him yip with distress again. Solid rings of brown from the ice cream bar surrounded her mouth now and she licked at it.

“I think you missed some,” said the Owl, shaking his head. There was a long silence and then...“I swooped down from an Oak and dive-bombed your dog Butterball. He ran into his doghouse. I lost control and accidentally pushed the opening of his doghouse against the fence. The grass is wet and it slid and now he’s stuck in the doghouse. I see you mistreating him all the time.”

Emily stared at the ground and thought very hard. “I don’t know what mistreat means!” and she stomped her feet, near tears and threw down the leftovers of her ice cream. “I’m going to go get my dog!”

She stepped a cautious foot down a cold stone step. It was a scary step because she knew it was cracked with many holes in it and very large rats came in and out at night.

“Wait a second!” said the Owl quickly.

Emily looked down and hopped back up a step. “Did you just see a rat?”

“A rat? No. If I saw a rat I wouldn’t be perched up here right now. Mistreat means your dog is going to die, because you do not appear to love it. You do not feed it and you do not bring it in from the cold during the winter and you do not bring him inside at night to protect him from dangerous animals like me.”

Emily crossed her arms again. “You said your wing hurts very badly. How about, you promise not attack my dog and I will promise to call the animal doctor to get your wing fixed.

“Look, said the owl,” and his eyes glistened, large, yellow and beautiful. “How about you stop mistreating your dog. Meaning that you will feed it and bring it in from the cold during the winter and you will bring him inside at night to protect him from dangerous animals like me. I only go after pets no one seems to care about.”

“Okay,” said little Emily. She stood back on one foot looking at him curiously. “I like those horn thingy’s on your head,” and she pointed at the top of her own head, “they look neat.”

“Thank you,” said the Owl. “After you free your dog can you still call the animal doctor?”

Emily put a fist in front of her mouth and let out a big yawn. “When I wake up in the morning, I will call.”

“Sounds good to me,” said the Owl.

Emily walked across the cold grass to the doghouse. “Mr. Butterball. You get to sleep with me tonight okay?”