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EXTRA LETTER: A Sick Note From Ernest Hemingway's Mother


Dear Mrs Kreig,

Please could Ernest be excused from class again today.

I do apologize for these continued absences but as you know the boy is a wretchedly weak, sickly, sallow, feeble, wheezy and singularly unexceptional article. He now claims there is something wrong with his ear. Apparently this was damaged while fleeing from our family dog who is a source of particular terror for Ernest.

The animal is a minuscule, meek schnauzer of the most placid temperament that only has one lung and who wouldn’t harm a fly even if it was able, which it most certainly is not. The poor beast is being driven more and more neurotic by the child’s abject fear; screaming and crying in mucus-filled jags whenever Frisky is encountered while innocently napping on the porch or plaintively looking out of the window. My son’s attitude at this entirely harmless cur continues to be nothing but a source of complete disappointment to all our family and neighbors.

Ernest has also informed me, in that sniveling, snot-drenched way that appears to be his only way of communicating, that he no longer wishes to be included in gym or any of the physical activities that the school offers. There are a litany of increasingly depressing reasons for this. He tells me, in his depressingly simpering tone, that many of the other children (and certain faculty members) make fun of his bodily physique (and who can blame them, I have to witness it much more than you and frankly it makes me quite queasy). The combination of the sunken chest, stick-thin legs, over-sized ears, scrawny neck and dribbling appears to be the perfect combination of defects to provoke his schoolmates into violence.

He also seems to suffer from some mystery ailment that produces profuse and noxious sweating under the armpits leading to a distinct yellowing of his clothing that cannot be removed no matter how often we boil his shirts. If you have noticed an odor reminiscent of tires burning beside a rotting orchard, that is almost certainly Ernest. This provides another factor in the persistent and completely relatable bullying of my son.

Frankly I think the armpit thing is something of a blessing as it draws attention away from his face which, apart from the sickening clusters of acne, continually bears an expression that induces sudden violence in even the mildest soul. A companion of mine, severely angered by the most fleeting of glances at my son's challenging visage, claims Ernest’s expression resembles someone perpetually caught between a dry heave and suddenly blurting out the word ‘klaxon’. Even a Trappist monk who was staying with us as a guest of my husband informed me of his desire to punch the boy repeatedly in the throat, the first words this man had uttered in almost 25 years.

Then, of course, there is the unfortunate bed-wetting. Oh that it was only contained to beds. Any item of furniture, both domestic and street, can be soiled at the lightest provocation. Strong breezes, a rousing passage of music, loud speech, a cork popping or the cat yawning have all led to the immediate dampening of the child.

So again, my deepest apologies at the lack of Ernest’s attendance. Though I imagine his absence is surely a point of celebration for the school. I do fear for his future. How such a hideously fearful and knock-kneed weakling will make it in this world is beyond me. His father and I, driven by revulsion and dismay in equal measures, have decided that military service might be the best for him and we plan to ship him off to some foreign war or other as soon as he turns 17 next month.

Yours in constant sorrow,

Mrs Hemingway.

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