For Hemingway’s birthday, a bit of his flash fiction (before it was called that). Cat in the Rain, from 1925, is a remarkable study of using the unsaid to tell a powerful story. This is similar to the more famous Hills Like White Elephants. I like this one more.
CAT IN THE RAIN
There were only two Americans stopping at the hotel. They did not know any of the people they passed on the stairs on their way to and from their room. Their room was on the second floor facing the sea. It also faced the public garden and the war monument. There were big palms and green benches in the public garden.
In the good weather there was always an artist with his easel. Artists liked the way the palms grew and the bright colors of the hotels facing the gardens and the sea.
Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain. The motor cars were gone from the square by the war monument. Across the square in the doorway of the café a waiter stood looking out at the empty square.
The American wife stood at the window looking out. Outside right under their window a cat was crouched under one of the dripping green tables. The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on.
‘I’m going down and get that kitty,’ the American wife said.
‘I’ll do it,’ her husband offered from the bed.
‘No, I’ll get it. The poor kitty out trying to keep dry under a table.’
The husband went on reading, lying propped up with the two pillows at the foot of the bed.
‘Don’t get wet,’ he said.
The wife went downstairs and the hotel owner stood up and bowed to her as she passed the office. His desk was at the far end of the office. He was an old man and very tall.
‘Il piove,” the wife said. She liked the hotel-keeper.
‘Si, Si, Signora, brutto tempo.”
He stood behind his desk in the far end of the dim room. The wife liked him. She liked the deadly serious way he received any complaints. She liked his dignity. She liked the way he wanted to serve her. She liked the way he felt about being a hotel-keeper. She liked his old, heavy face and big hands.
Liking him she opened the door and looked out. It was raining harder. A man in a rubber cape was crossing the empty square to the café. The cat would be around to the right. Perhaps she could go along under the eaves.
As she stood in the doorway an umbrella opened behind her. It was the maid who looked after their room.
‘You must not get wet,’ she smiled, speaking Italian. Of course, the hotel-keeper had sent her.
With the maid holding the umbrella over her, she walked along the gravel path until she was under their window. The table was there, washed bright green in the rain, but the cat was gone. She was suddenly disappointed. The maid looked up at her.
‘Ha perduto qualque cosa, Signora?’
‘There was a cat,’ said the American girl.
‘Si, il gatto.’
‘A cat?’ the maid laughed. ‘A cat in the rain?’
‘Yes, –’ she said, ‘under the table.’ Then, ‘Oh, I wanted it so much. I wanted a kitty.’
When she talked English the maid’s face tightened.
‘Come, Signora,’ she said. ‘We must get back inside. You will be wet.’
‘I suppose so,’ said the American girl.
They went back along the gravel path and passed in the door. The maid stayed outside to close the umbrella.
As the American girl passed the office, the padrone bowed from his desk. Something felt very small and tight inside the girl. The padrone made her feel very small and at the same time really important. She had a momentary feeling of being of supreme importance. She went on up the stairs. She opened the door of the room.
George was on the bed, reading.
‘Did you get the cat?’ he asked, putting the book down.
‘It was gone.’
‘Wonder where it went to,’ he said, resting his eyes from reading.
She sat down on the bed.
‘I wanted it so much,’ she said. ‘I don’t know why I wanted it so much. I wanted that poor kitty. It isn’t any fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain.’
George was reading again.
She went over and sat in front of the mirror of the dressing table looking at herself with the hand glass. She studied her profile, first one side and then the other. Then she studied the back of her head and her neck.
‘Don’t you think it would be a good idea if I let my hair grow out?’ she asked, looking at her profile again.
George looked up and saw the back of her neck, clipped close like a boy’s.
‘I like it the way it is.’
‘I get so tired of it,’ she said. ‘I get so tired of looking like a boy.’
George shifted his position in the bed. He hadn’t looked away from her since she started to speak.
‘You look pretty darn nice,’ he said.
She laid the mirror down on the dresser and went over to the window and looked out. It was getting dark.
‘I want to pull my hair back tight and smooth and make a big knot at the back that I can feel,’ she said. ‘I want to have a kitty to sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her.’
‘Yeah?’ George said from the bed.
‘And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes.’
‘Oh, shut up and get something to read,’ George said. He was reading again.
His wife was looking out of the window. It was quite dark now and still raining in the palm trees.
‘Anyway, I want a cat,’ she said, ‘I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can have a cat.’
George was not listening. He was reading his book. His wife looked out of the window where the light had come on in the square.
Someone knocked at the door.
‘Avanti,’ George said. He looked up from his book.
In the doorway stood the maid. She held a big tortoiseshell cat pressed tight against her and swung down against her body.
‘Excuse me,’ she said, ‘the padrone asked me to bring this for the Signora.’