The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.
‘What should we drink?’ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.
‘It’s pretty hot,’ the man said.
‘Let’s drink beer.’
‘Dos cervezas,’ the man said into the curtain.
‘Big ones?’ a woman asked from the doorway.
‘Yes. Two big ones.’
The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills.They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.
‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.
‘I’ve never seen one,’ the man drank his beer.
‘No, you wouldn’t have.’
‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.’
Ernest Hemingway begins his short story “Hills Like White Elephants” off with this succinct dialogue exchange. Do you feel the tension already? Small talk barely masks the volumes of unspoken misunderstandings between these two characters; and these are just the opening lines – wait until you read the end. Even the stark landscape, described by Hemingway to relay exposure and excruciating heat, contribute to the agonizing atmosphere.
Terrell Clemmons references this Hemingway short story in her article in the Summer 2012 Salvo, “Harm’s Way: Men, Abortion, and Hemingway” . She reminds us that birth is not an occasion with ramifications just for women, but for women and men.
Read Matthew Cantirino’s thoughts on the article over on the blog of First Things here.