Chapter 2: Teach You to Drink
Everyone who is anyone in Europe knew Horatio.
American playboy, scholar, dreamer, writer, and spoiled drunken rich brat… at least that is what the people that didn’t like him said behind his back, including all of the gossip magazines. Horatio’s arrival in Europe landed with the start of the Jazz age and it was as if he had disembarked with his own soundtrack and style in hand. He was the one that introduced the young French populations to dances such as the shim-sham and perfected the art of the cocktail. He was then original and so very brilliant.
With the death of his rich grandfather the great Forster estate was his. Horatio had no interest in the oil enterprise that made the Forsters so prosperous. Even when his grandfather was alive and tried to introduce him to the family business, Horatio shocked the family by merely (and dangerously) lighting a cigarette by an open canister and simply shrugging his shoulders.
He was twelve at the time.
By the time the fortune fell onto his lap, Horatio had other hopes for his existence, and it was this rebellion to the American dream that intrigued everyone. Who does that? He abandoned the states, moving into a series of small apartments throughout Europe. If asked he would tell people that he was going to study at the universities there; and he did study at a few, but always ended up dropping out. Really he came to the continent to write the next great novel. He certainly could play the role, for he could talk the other young writers he would find in the Parisian coffeehouses under the table. Of course, the big difference between him and those authors is that he had more unfinished tales than finished ones. In time each seemed to rise above him, leaving him to wallow in disappointment with only his grandfather’s money for solace.
Was it the poet William Wordworth or someone else that said all of the great ideas happen before the age of 28? Horatio couldn’t be certain of the quote, but the age troubled him for he was now 27 and he had little to account for.
Answers, that is truly what Horatio was looking for if someone was to dig deeper. His prince once argued that Horatio should stop suffering for the pen but help support others with that very pen and a checkbook. Be a backer, maybe even start a publishing house, supporting the writers he felt were creating art. Certainly it was a good idea, but to Horatio it felt like an acceptance of failure; and because the money didn’t start with him, made it that much more bittersweet.
Horatio met the prince back when he came to study at the University of Wittenberg. Before the prince’s arrival, Horatio was considering (once again) dropping out since he was not getting the inspiration he craved. He always unfairly blamed the classrooms and the teachers. Not the right place, he thought, time to move on. While he found the unrest in Germany interesting, not for the disturbing political reasons but for the potential of a story, it just didn’t feel like enough to stir that novel out, at least until the prince arrived.
The prince was just simply and utterly fascinating.
Real royalty! With power and money!
It could also be said that he was worth more than Horatio and that was definitely something the young oil tycoon was not used to.
In the early days Horatio would never have considered calling the prince by his first name, but after you see someone vomit from too much cheap liquor, social decency can slip away. Yes, that was Prince Hamlet of Denmark vomiting in that dark alley in Hamburg.
Then there was that time they were both almost arrested for licking the Eiffel Tower after drinking absinthe with some painters (they were able to bribe their way out). There was a bet that it tasted like cinnamon, it didn’t.
Or the time in London they broke into the Danish embassy, took the meals planned for a gathering, and brought it to a party that were sorely lacking of provisions. That time the incident made it all the way to the royal family.
Hamlet was so naive in those first years, at least that is how Horatio thought of him. He was obviously an introvert, someone who enjoyed the smell of a library as compared to the stink of a sweaty and smoky music hall. Horatio sometimes wondered about his friend’s life before his escape to school. He would talk to himself often, and when Horatio asked about it, Hamlet explained sheepishly it was out of habit. That said a lot.
“I’ll teach you to drink deep,” Horatio said that to Hamlet during one of their first adventures. That quote, which Hamlet enjoyed throwing back at Horatio from time to time, was more than about the booze, it was about life. Of course, the irony is Horatio wasn’t even sure how true that was and if he had anything important to teach. Wasn’t he really just adding someone to his pointless adventures? With the hope that maybe together they would find some meaning? How long would this last until Horatio again felt this was the wrong place to be, seek his inspiration someplace else, with someone else?
Then they were known for sneaking away to Paris for the weekends. They could be found wandering the streets drunk. They would see bars close and open, flirt too often with the prettier flappers (succeeding if they recognized them, but usually not) and getting in far too much trouble. Sometimes they would be joined by someone else from Hamlet’s court since Hamlet seemed to know someone in every city, or at least they claimed to know him. Like that one young man in France, what was his name? Horatio could never remember. He was too serious in Horatio’s opinion, always talking about politics, but Horatio knew about his sister.
For all of the “important” letters Hamlet ever sent home went to a young woman that he kept in touch with at the castle. Whenever Hamlet described her, Horatio imagined it as fairy tale, the poor damsel stuck in a tower, dreaming of the world outside.
Hamlet compared the prettier can-can dancers to her.
He compared a star in a silent movie to her.
Horatio even caught him writing poetry once (it wasn’t heart stopping).
This secret adoration was another thing that intrigued Horatio about his friend. He would draw pictures of her in the back of his school books. Whenever Horatio sneaked a glance in Hamlet’s books, the drawings would always begin with her profile, noble and regal. But a few drawings later the image would be of a nipple.
Hamlet and Horatio when they still pretended to be students would spend evenings in each other’s rooms, a half-empty bottle in a hand, discussing their hopes for a new world. Hamlet’s plans would begin and end with her.
With enough drinks and a late enough hour, Hamlet might speak of abdicating the throne (scandal!) to stay around academia, maybe even acting (doubly scandalous!). Horatio was the one who convinced Hamlet to audition for that play Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind under a pseudonym. And to everyone’s surprise he got the lead. The reviews were wonderful, until the reviews got to Denmark, and then returned with the singular word: No.
Horatio would never dare to state that Hamlet was his best friend. He was fairly certain, even with his boorish American decorum that that would be inappropriate to say aloud. Horatio was certain though that Hamlet’s family felt this 1920s free bohemian lifestyle unbecoming, for they would push friends at Hamlet. There was the slimy Rosencrantz and the thin one named Guildenstern. He was always yawning and it drove Horatio crazy, especially if he knew there was nothing to yawn at. They could never escape the two of them, and their visits were on clockwork as if it was planned. If Hamlet suspected them, he never said anything to Horatio. Of course, Horatio would argue to himself that this might be just that the prince was better at hiding his true feelings inside, used to people that would kowtow at the drop of a penny.
Hamlet was royalty, Horatio was just rich.
Horatio remembered the first time Hamlet shared a picture of his family. It felt like seeing an image from a story, not something from the real world. And in that armor and attire, they would have fit nicely in one of those children story by Baum. The one time Horatio met the prince’s family (who had come to Wittenberg to see how the heir was doing), it could not have been more awkward.
Did the king read the gossip rags? Is that why he gave Horatio that look? Horatio had to bite his tongue from laughing at the thought.
Time slipped by then. Nothing was accomplished by either of them, save trouble and the amazement at still being alive. Others around them got married, had kids, found purpose (maybe politically or employment), but not Hamlet and Horatio. There was always another bar and another show. Wasn’t Louis Armstrong coming to France? Reality could wait with Satchmo in town.
It was all so fun until Horatio awoke one day to find that Hamlet was gone.
There was no note. The front page of the newspaper said enough.
KING OF DENMARK DEAD
Found in garden, said he was just going for a nap. Investigation into death begins. Family and country weeps.
There was Hamlet’s father looking out of the paper with those piercing eyes. The papers blamed his heart, but Horatio wondered if he had one big enough to end a life. There were other rumors and suspicions, but there always were around deaths of the powerful.
An entire country and part of a continent went into mourning, Horatio mourned as well, but it was for a friend. For he was certain that their adventures were done, and he was again alone. This time it felt almost like the world was telling him he wasn’t right.
There was a window between drinking and complaining that first day when Horatio considered buying a train ticket to Denmark to console his friend. That is what a good friend would do; yet, it wasn’t enough for him. He felt guilty thinking it, but it was true. He needed more to spur him forward, and Hamlet has his family with him there. He would just get in the way. More importantly, what would Horatio get out of it? His great novel was not in a simple story like that. His friend becoming a King is interesting, but not enough to drive him to literary greatness.
Then the other royal shoe dropped.
When the papers announced the throne lineage and marriage arrangement, Horatio almost spit up his coffee like Chaplin in the silent movies.
Hamlet was not to be king!
His uncle had taken the throne, somehow pushing Hamlet aside in the process, and to cement his hold on it, he was marrying Hamlet’s mother, making her a queen again. Horatio had no idea how to define her new title. He actually debated this point with some of his friends who enjoyed the gossip. High Queen? Queen-Queen? Double Queen? (That last one sounded like a drink.)
The fact is the more Horatio listened to those friends discuss the erupting story, a spark Horatio had been waiting for finally began to ignite. A little flame and growing…
There was something there.
The newspaper stories began to fill up with rumors about this new arrangement in the castle, but it was all conjecture. None of those professional writers could get past the castle walls so they had to make it out. The gates were shut and complaining wasn’t helping.
Horatio knew he could get in.
It was with that thought in mind, and no invitation in hand, Horatio jumped on a train bound for the north. If Horatio felt guilty at the possibility of using his friend’s losses for his own artistic gain, he didn’t let it bother him much. This was it. His moment had finally arrived. Opportunities like this don’t normally fall out of the sky, he told himself. If he wanted to be a writer, he had to reach out and grab this, claim it, and let the others be damned. Wasn’t he preparing his entire life for an opportunity like this?
No, Horatio had no choice. None at all.
The funny thing is upon arriving Horatio had finally reached a moment when his celebrity and wealth didn’t help. The castle was in an enforced quarantine. Visits were carefully monitored. It was as if the powerful in Denmark were more worried about an attack as compared to mere gossip. The reporters were the barbarians at the gates.
It didn’t take long for Horatio to bump into a friend for it was the story of the year. This friend checked all the boxes for Horatio: American, writer, and drinker. Ernest Hemingway quickly brought Horatio up to speed. To emphasize the struggles of the reporters and their cause, he opened his pockets and spread out his own returned letters. That night, they both drank each other under the table, winning and losing together. Thanks to that evening and others with Hemingway, to Horatio’s horror, he became the story.
The wild Horatio is here! Isn’t he friends with the Prince?
Page one may have been devoted to the royal story, but Horatio soon found himself on the others. Hamlet used to love to call the gossip columnists fishmongers, as if they were selling their smelly wares on the street with a shout. Now Horatio for the first time felt the prince was close to the mark. If Horatio had any hope of sneaking in and just writing his brilliant novel in secret, they were dashed. The funny thing about it is that he wasn’t having his typical wild times. There may have been the liquid adventures with Hemingway, but most days were spent in his room, staring at his typewriter, waiting for destiny to show its hand. That is where his days would begin and end, with nothing but blank pages to show for it.
Finally, after a week of waiting and each letter returned unopened like Hemingway’s, Horatio decided to depart. Hamlet wasn’t even getting his mail. He was certain of that.
The bitter truth as well is Horatio knew that readers wouldn’t want to wait for his opus to be ready, they wanted their news now. He was wasting his time and he might have been embarrassing his mourning friend if he ever discovered his arrival (which the papers had no problem hinting in every article). That realization was a hard one for Horatio. He felt as if he had lost two friends not one, the prince and the dream of writing.
He drank much that last evening, so it is not surprising it took many knocks to wake him up the next morning.
Bam. Bam. Bam.
Horatio staggered to the door, still feeling the spirits in his veins. The door creaked open. A crack and then open all the way. Even though Horatio was tired (with a hangover, a hunger, and a thirst), the look on the old soldier’s pale face in the hall was enough for Horatio to feel, for the very first time, he was exactly where he was supposed to be.
Permanent Spring Showers was published by 5 Prince Books. You can find out more about my novel as well as my other books (including A Jane Austen Daydream and My Problem With Doors) and grab a copy via my author page on Amazon.com here.