This is a brief excerpt from the opening pages of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.
It's about a stunning muse, who, on a rainy day, enters a Parisian cafe' to mesmerise a writer in full flow.
It's about where writing comes from, how it grows, and where it goes to die.
A girl comes into a cafe' when Hemingway is writing a story. She has "smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin"; the "sh" alliteration onomatopeically reminding us of water. The girl's hair is "black as a crow's wing", and this image is further reinforced by the description of her haircut.
He notices that she's waiting for someone, so he carries on writing, and thinks about putting her in his story. But it's the story that's in control of the writer, not the other way round. The following lines seem to say it all, and I never tire of reading them:
"I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil."
This mystery girl is imagination personified. She comes from water, which is life, and her hair is the colour of the crow, an omen of death. She appears out of nowhere, she seduces with her beauty, and she will soon disappear. When Hemingway finishes writing his story, and looks up, he won't find her in the cafe'. And he will feel an inexplicable sadness. Not because he has finished the story, but because imagination has fled.
"A girl came in the café and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair was black as a crow's wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek.
I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself so she could watch the street and the entry and I knew she was waiting for someone. So I went on writing.
The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I ordered another rum St. James and I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink.
I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.
Then I went back to writing and I entered far into the story and was lost in it. I was writing it now and it was not writing itself and I did not look up nor know anything about the time nor think where I was nor order any more rum St. James. I was tired of rum St. James without thinking about it. Then the story was finished and I was very tired. I read the last paragraph and then I looked up and looked for the girl and she had gone. I hope she's gone with a good man, I thought. But I felt sad.
I closed up the story in the notebook and put it in my inside pocket and I asked the waiter for a dozen portugaises and a half-carafe of the dry white wine they had there. After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day."