“Life is pain, so live it up while you can.”

— Ernest Hemingway

It wasn’t the injury the old man had dreamed of having this late in his life; he knew that one day sooner or later he would suffer from a fall, and that maybe it would draw sympathy from his woman.

He always imagined that it would be something dramatic, like leaping from a cargo ship deck into the sea to rescue a damsel somewhere off the coast of Gambia.

Or perhaps, he imagined, as a test pilot, he would break his knee after bailing out of a fighter plane in Libya; something dramatic.

But there was no glory in this injury, and certainly no sympathy from the woman who thought only that it was another of his failed stunts to get another glass of wine.

No. The fall was an ignominious tumble to the ground, as he slipped on the ice in an attempt to get his copy of Arthritis Today magazine from the mailbox.

In his youth, when his hair was as black as a Cairo night, he had imagined falling as he fled an irate husband on a cold wintry night in Paris. Or as he was being pursued by KGB officers in the icy streets of Moscow. Something fun and cinematic, but sad and pathetic.

But this? In the street in front of his mailbox as his Republican neighbors drove by, honking and waving?

Now, overdosed on Advil, pinot noir and diet Dr Pepper, the old man sat in the blue light of evening, moaning and rubbing his damaged knee.

It was then that he saw his youthful mentor, Papa Hemingway, sitting beside him on the couch. “Pain is good,” Papa said. “Pain is your friend, because it means you are not yet dead.”

“But I fear it is broken,” the old man moaned.

The specter that was Papa winced and leaned forward and whispered back.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken place.” That comforted him.

Suddenly, She appeared in the room, bringing him another glass of Diet Dr Pepper, and he knew she did not see Papa. The old man demanded more wine, but she only smiled and patted his head and said, “You are so brave and quiet; I forget that you are suffering.”

“She thinks I drink too much,” the old man said.

Papa smiled. “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more wine.”

Papa began to fade now, but before he vanished, he turned and said, “Write clear and hard about what hurts.”

It was dark now, and the old man felt the pain deep in his knee. He hoped there would at least be a scar from the operation, a dramatic one like that from a bayonet’s slash, or a bullet to the knee. It would be better to have a deep scar as the matador Villalta had from being gored in the arena at Malaga. That would be grand, he thought.

Perhaps, he thought, there would be an upside. He would limp down the aisle in the church, and he would not be able to kneel or genuflect upon taking the blessed sacrament at the altar. He knew that those in the pews would pity him as he winced in pain, and that he could at least make something of that.

Until She told everyone about Arthritis Today magazine.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.