by Samuel Snoek-Brown
The first one who turned up was some thick-chested guy in an open-collared shirt and khakis. He had a mustache black like the grip of a gun and an unmistakable aroma of cigarettes about him. I found him in the kitchen of the house I shared with my brother, my friend Jake, and my girlfriend. I went downstairs and there he was, sitting at our kitchen table, goddamn typewriter and everything, banging at the keys. Jake joked that he looked like Hemingway, but it wasn’t a fucking joke. This guy never said a word, just sat down there all goddamn morning typing away in the kitchen as if we weren’t even there. At least he made us all coffee.
Then Whitman showed up. He liked to sit in a wood deck chair and stare at the trees in the back, bleak in the late fall, the limbs creaking in the wind as gray and wiry as his beard. The Hemingway barely acknowledged him, but the Whitman sometimes sneaked a longing glance into the kitchen.
I thought someone was fucking with us, paying their buddies to put on thrift-store clothes and show up unannounced. My brother swore he knew nothing about it. I was a little annoyed because my girlfriend kept eying the Hemingway. He looked back at her infrequently, but enough.
Two days later, Gertrude Stein pushed through our front door. Squat, domineering, and, unlike the men, loud as hell. “The light in here is terrible the light is wan. The light is the light and needs to be lighter.” She pointed at a Vermeer print my girlfriend had hung over the couch, this big poster of a woman at a table in the sunlight. Stein pointed like she wanted to cut the thing, her finger sharp in the air. “You call this art?” she said.
I liked her immediately, but all of us were starting to freak out.
We had a meeting in the garage, where Jake discovered Kerouac sleeping in the back seat of his car, and we discussed what to do about all these writers. My brother looked over at Kerouac, sound asleep and smelling like fortified wine, and said, “I tried to kick some of them out, but Austen. She lit into me. It was so bad I got weak in the knees. I ain’t saying shit to anyone.” He ran a nervous hand through his hair. “And I am not pissing off Hemingway, man. You know what that guy is capable of?”
My girlfriend said, “I wouldn’t mind seeing you fight Hemingway.”
“Sell them,” someone said and we all yelped there in the garage. It wasn’t that we weren’t used to new voices by then, it was just rare that any of them talked to us. We crept around the back of Jake’s car and found Charles Dickens hunched on a milk crate, writing by candlelight on a stack of cardboard boxes.
“Sorry,” he said. “Everywhere else was taken.”
He didn’t say much else, but we got the gist, and the other three loved the idea. So they put out ads, cleared furniture from the living room, roped off pathways like we lived in some royal manor. Come watch the authors at work, the ads said. Five dollars, and later fifteen dollars, a person. Jake moved his car out of the garage and set up tables, and sure enough, more authors came, men, women, men we’d never realized were women writing under a penname, people whose language we couldn’t speak. They rented a pavilion tent and set it up in the front yard, and more authors came.
I wanted to move out, but no one would let me. I even tried to break up with my girlfriend. She said, “What the hell is the matter with you? This is why we came here. We’ve finally got the company of writers and you just want to fucking run away.” I’m pretty sure she was sleeping with Hemingway by then.
They’d moved a bunch of the furniture into my room to clear more space for the writers and the tourists. The refrigerator was in there, the stove, both the washing machine and the dryer. A couple of hall tables. Even the other bedroom furniture. I had three beds to wake up in each morning and I couldn’t get out of any of them.
But today, I don’t know why, I’d had enough. The partying and drinking and vocalized philosophizing keep me up all night. I opened the window and started throwing out bedding, quilts floating like parachutes into the lawn, pillows sliding down the canvas slope of the pavilion tent. I disassembled each bed, even my own, and threw out all the pieces, and I tossed out all the artwork then leaned the mattresses against the wall. Out in the yard, Stein was eying the wrecked paintings then nodding approvingly up at my window. I threw my stereo at her, then I threw my brother’s television and all my girlfriend’s clothes. I shoved the appliances out into the hall and all afternoon I could hear my brother explaining, “Sorry folks, detour!” But I didn’t care. Fuck Hemingway.
I’ve cleared out everything and moved a mattress to cover the door. I had what I’d actually moved here for: an empty space, plenty of light, and a little quiet in which to write.
“Colony” was originally written for Our Band Could Be Your Lit.
SAMUEL SNOEK-BROWN is a writing teacher and a fiction author, though not always in that order. He lives with his wife in Portland, Oregon; online, he lives at snoekbrown.wordpress.com. Sam’s work has appeared in Ampersand Review, Forge, Midwest Literary Magazine, Orchid, Red Fez, Red Wheelbarrow, Temenos, Tonopah, and others, and is forthcoming in Sententia.