A CLEAN, WELL-LIGHTED PLACE
My Favourite Short Stories Revisited Part 65
A house is an inanimate structure whereas a home is a place you live in.
A house is a tangible entity.
A home comprises the animate and inanimate, tangibles and intangibles.
You have to live in a house to make it a home.
But that is not enough.
There two vital attributes which epitomize a home.
Firstly, you must always feel like going home, feel happy to be in your home – your home must the best place in the world, the happiest place for you.
Secondly, your home must always heartily welcome you and your home must also feel happy when you are home.
Yes, you must feel welcome in your home and your home must welcome you when you come.
You must be happy in your home and your home must be happy to have you home.
A home comprises tangible things like a house, furniture, décor and people and also some intangibles like emotion and vibes.
A good home generates positive vibes in you and you generate positive vibes towards your home too.
Your home should be the best place in the world.
Some people are not so lucky.
They hate going home and probably their homes too do not welcome them and hate them coming home.
Some unfortunate people are not happy in their homes and their homes too are not happy to have them home.
So they find solace outside their homes and try to avoid going home except when absolutely necessary and for the minimum inescapable time.
Some hang around drinking in bars, like the protagonist in this story.
If you love to drink and love your home too, you will know that the best place to have a drink is in your own home.
Long ago when I used to drink I always preferred enjoying my drinks at home rather than in some bar or club.
I once knew a man who, after work, used to go to his club and drink there with his friends and come home drunk at midnight when everyone in his family was asleep.
Surprisingly, his wife and children preferred it that way too.
In fact, in many cases I have seen that a father or some person in the family generates so much negative vibes in his home that the other members of the family feel uncomfortable when that person comes home.
His home too generates negative vibes in him so he prefers being outside.
This can happen due to conflict between family members or owing to some other factors like a gloomy or demoralizing atmosphere caused by illness, poverty or misfortune.
This story A Clean, Well-Lighted Place explores this theme.
There are three characters in this story.
An old man who comes to a bar every evening and keeps drinking till closing time well past midnight.
A young waiter who wonders how anyone could sit alone drinking in a bar instead of buying a bottle for himself and drinking in the comfort of his own home.
And an old waiter who defends the old man and feels that it is better for the man to have many drinks in public than any drinks in private.
The younger waiter wants to go home early because he has a wife eagerly waiting for him and wishes that the customer would leave quickly, so that he can go home and go to bed with his wife.
The older waiter is not keen to go home and wants to stay in the café longer.
Hemingway's beautifully written dialogue clearly brings out the differing views of the two waiters.
The young waiter complains about having to stick around the café waiting for the man to finish drinking. He says that he has a wife to go home to and he would rather be in bed than in the café.
The old waiter defends the drinking man because he can relate and even see himself in the man. He sympathizes and empathizes with the old man knowing that he himself too prefers a clean well lighted place to drink and will later appreciate such a place in his old drinking age.
The old man is in his final years of life and the old waiter recognizes that soon he himself too will have the same fate as the old man.
Towards the end of the story the older waiter makes a telling comment which reveals his inner loneliness and despair: “Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café.”
So the younger waiter realizes that it is not the old man alone who wants to stay at the café, but even the older waiter seems to need the café as well.
From the dialogue one can infer that there are two reasons for his reluctance to go home early.
Firstly, he understands why the old man and others like him may need to stay late and he keeps the café open as a gesture of kindness and generosity.
Secondly, he himself needs the café, so he is reluctant to close it because he, like the old man and others, will then be without a place to sit and wait out the night.
While the younger waiter is rushing to get home, the older waiter leaves the café sadly, once again displaced and alone.
The short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is freely available on the internet for you to read.
I am giving a link below and also, for your convenience, pasting the story from the link for you to read and enjoy:
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference. The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.
"Last week he tried to commit suicide," one waiter said.
"He was in despair."
"How do you know it was nothing?"
"He has plenty of money."
They sat together at a table that was close against the wall near the door of the cafe and looked at the terrace where the tableswere all empty except where the old man sat in the shadow of the leaves of the tree that moved slightly in the wind. A girl and a soldier went by in the street. The street light shone on the brass number on his collar. The girl wore no head covering and hurried beside him.
"The guard will pick him up," one waiter said.
"What does it matter if he gets what he's after?"
"He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago."
The old man sitting in the shadow rapped on his saucer with his glass. The younger waiter went over to him.
"What do you want?"
The old man looked at him. "Another brandy," he said.
"You'll be drunk," the waiter said. The old man looked at him. The waiter went away.
"He'll stay all night," he said to his colleague. "I'm sleepy now.I never get into bed before three o'clock. He should have killed himself last week."
The waiter took the brandy bottle and another saucer from the counter inside the cafe and marched out to the old man's table. He put down the saucer and poured the glass full of brandy.
"You should have killed yourself last week," he said to the deafman. The old man motioned with his finger. "A little more," he said. The waiter poured on into the glass so that the brandy slopped over and ran down the stem into the top saucer of the pile."Thank you," the old man said. The waiter took the bottle back inside the cafe. He sat down at the table with his colleague again.
"He's drunk now," he said.
"He's drunk every night."
"What did he want to kill himself for?"
"How should I know."
"How did he do it?"
"He hung himself with a rope."
"Who cut him down?"
"Why did they do it?"
"Fear for his soul."
"How much money has he got?" "He's got plenty."
"He must be eighty years old."
"Anyway I should say he was eighty."
"I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o'clock.What kind of hour is that to go to bed?"
"He stays up because he likes it."
"He's lonely. I'm not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me."
"He had a wife once too."
"A wife would be no good to him now."
"You can't tell. He might be better with a wife."
"His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down."
"I know." "I wouldn't want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing."
"Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling.Even now, drunk. Look at him."
"I don't want to look at him. I wish he would go home. He has no regard for those who must work."
The old man looked from his glass across the square, then over at the waiters.
"Another brandy," he said, pointing to his glass. The waiter who was in a hurry came over.
"Finished," he said, speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners. "Nomore tonight. Close now."
"Another," said the old man.
"No. Finished." The waiter wiped the edge of the table with a towel and shook his head.
The old man stood up, slowly counted the saucers, took a leathercoin purse from his pocket and paid for the drinks, leaving half a peseta tip. The waiter watched him go down the street, a very oldman walking unsteadily but with dignity.
"Why didn't you let him stay and drink?" the unhurried waiter asked. They were putting up the shutters. "It is not half-past two."
"I want to go home to bed."
"What is an hour?"
"More to me than to him."
"An hour is the same."
"You talk like an old man yourself. He can buy a bottle and drink at home."
"It's not the same."
"No, it is not," agreed the waiter with a wife. He did not wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry.
"And you? You have no fear of going home before your usual hour?"
"Are you trying to insult me?"
"No, hombre, only to make a joke."
"No," the waiter who was in a hurry said, rising from pulling down the metal shutters. "I have confidence. I am all confidence."
"You have youth, confidence, and a job," the older waiter said."You have everything."
"And what do you lack?"
"Everything but work."
"You have everything I have."
"No. I have never had confidence and I am not young."
"Come on. Stop talking nonsense and lock up."
"I am of those who like to stay late at the cafe," the older waiter said.
"With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night."
"I want to go home and into bed."
"We are of two different kinds," the older waiter said. He was now dressed to go home. "It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the cafe."
"Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long."
"You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves."
"Good night," said the younger waiter.
"Good night," the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself, It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all anothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y naday pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.
"What's yours?" asked the barman.
"Otro loco mas," said the barman and turned away.
"A little cup," said the waiter.
The barman poured it for him.
"The light is very bright and pleasant but the bar is unpolished,"the waiter said.
The barman looked at him but did not answer. It was too late at night for conversation.
"You want another copita?" the barman asked.
"No, thank you," said the waiter and went out. He disliked bars and bodegas. A clean, well-lighted cafe was a very different thing. Now, without thinking further, he would go home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it's probably only insomnia. Many must have it.
Dear Reader, tell me, as you read the story did you not notice the desperate images of despair and how Hemingway illustrates uses images of light and dark to illustrate the harsh contrasts between youth and age?
Near the end of the story, the author shows us the desperate loneliness and emptiness of life in old age with nothing to look forward to except death.
This story leaves a sad aftertaste in you – a melancholic feeling of despondency that there is no escape from the misery of old age.
I love the ending of the story – the words say it all:
Now, without thinking further, he would go home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it's probably only insomnia. Many must have it.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” in one of the best examples which demonstrates the techniques of Ernest Hemingway’s signature writing style – economic prose and the “iceberg principle”.
Only the tip of the story is visible on the page, while the rest is left underwater—unsaid.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2012
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
Did you like this story?I am sure you will like the 27 short stories from my recently published anthology of Short Fiction COCKTAIL
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About Vikram Karve
A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
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