by Bob Jacobs
When I arrived home from work, I smelt cigarette smoke as I walked through the kitchen. Gloria was sitting at the table in the garden, puffing on a cigarette and reading a copy of The Old Man And The Sea. On the table, next to a bottle of Rioja and a half-filled glass, was a packet of Benson and Hedges. Gloria only smoked at Christmas and on birthdays, and then only when she was drunk. She knows I don’t approve. She nodded as I approached, and flicked the ash from the cigarette into a large ashtray. It was the ugliest ashtray I’d ever seen: round, white, the size of a dinner plate, with a raised edge painted blue. The edge was chipped in several places and the blue paint unevenly worn.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Sit down, honey. Have you read this? You want some wine?”
“You never smoke.”
“Look at this,” she said, and tapped the book against the ashtray.
“It’s an ashtray.”
“Not just any ashtray. It’s secondhand. Guess who the previous owner was?”
“I don’t care whose hands owned it. Why are you smoking?”
She waved the book. “Hemingway!”
“Obviously. I’ve read it. But why are you smoking?”
“No, the ashtray. The previous owner. This is Hemingway’s ashtray.”
It didn’t look like Hemingway’s ashtray. It looked like something a working men’s club might have thrown on a skip after many years of faithful service.
“Where’d you get it?”
“That little antiques place on the corner of Palace Street.”
I began to worry. “How much?”
She giggled. “It was a bargain. He wanted two hundred quid, but I got him down to one fifty.”
“You paid a hundred and fifty quid for an old ashtray?”
Gloria took a last deep drag, then stubbed the cigarette out forcefully.
“Not an old ashtray, honey. Hemingway’s ashtray. Imagine. I’m smoking in the same ashtray Hemingway used. How fucking cool is that?”
“Gloria, it’s not cool. Not at a hundred and fifty quid. Five quid would be cool. We don’t have a hundred and fifty to spare.”
“But I beat him down from two hundred, honey. You’d have been proud. And that’s not all. This isn’t just Hemingway’s ashtray. It was taken from his house after he died. He might have smoked his last cigarette in this ashtray, and now I own it.”
“He didn’t just die. He shot himself.”
“He shot himself. Then he died.”
“How do you know it belonged to Hemingway?”
“The man in the shop told me.”
“The man in the shop was trying to sell it.”
“He told me. Then he sold it.”
“You have to take it back.”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“We can’t afford it.”
“I’m keeping it.”
“It’s going back.”
“Over my dead body.”
“Fuck you and your lousy day. It’s my ashtray. I’m keeping it.”
“Fine. I’ll take it back tomorrow.” I turned to walk into the kitchen. As I reached the door something exploded beside me. The ashtray bounced off the wall and landed on the floor in pieces.
“Okay, big man. You take it back,” she cried, and pushed past me. There was no taking it back. I grabbed the pieces and dropped them in the bin.
The next day, when I arrived home from work, I smelt cigarette smoke as I walked through the kitchen. Gloria was in the garden, puffing on a cigarette and drinking a glass of wine. Hemingway’s ashtray was on the table. I walked over and checked it. No sign of a crack, no sign of a repair.
“How come?” I said.
She blew a couple of smoke rings. “The man in the shop. He had another one.”
She smiled. “Relax, honey. I got him down to ninety quid.”
Bob Jacobs lives in the south-east of England with his wife and kids and Sony Vaio. In his spare time he likes to lie motionless on his back, whistling and staring at clouds.