Dashiell

For some reason I think of Dashiell Hammett, all of fifty four, a veteran of two world wars with a bad case of tuberculosis and emphysema to boot, cleaning toilets in a West Virginia penitentiary. Good old Sammy Hammett, still girl crazy as ever, a communist and an ex-Pinkerton, blacklisted, down there on his knees scrubbing the bathroom tiles, wondering if he’ll ever pound the keys again, perhaps dreaming about Sam Spade and wishing he were back on some farm in St. Mary’s with his feet up, or in a Tacoma hospital with his arm around a nurse. I think of him wheezing his way to his death, the mere art of breathing taking up all his days and nights. A bundle of raw nerves, sweating coffee and brandy, forehead swabbed by a doting Lillian, too ill to even care about books or tulips. His typewriter untouched; beloved foolish gadgets packed up and away: something to hope to have after it was all done. And his high white hair like fields of wheat stalks bowing in the breeze. A thin man only getting thinner. A cat-shy dog. Simpler than blood. Cowards die a thousand times. Heroes don’t. I think of Dashiell Hammett, and then I do not.

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