"Gerda was laughing and making terrible sounding noises and spitting. She
was mimicking my cigarette cough. At first I had no idea why she was making such
nasty noises. "Because," she laughed, "that's what you sound like!"
I couldn't believe that. How could I sound like
that? I had no idea I coughed and spat so unpleasant. But she wasn't angry with
me. She just laughed.
Then we were holding each
other and she was telling me that a man shouldn't have such eyes. "I do not,"
I replied, "have a woman's eyes."
are a total idiot," she said, and laughed again.
loved to hear her laugh.
dated "Toronto, July 19, 1990":
"Rereading what I
had written a month or so after she'd been killed, I got very tired. There are
things I left out. Did she really say she might be going to China with Capa? She
was supposed to. I had forgotten that. Was she going back to Paris to rejoin Capa
and go with him to China? Or was she going to tell him that she and I were going
to marry? Now I think I made it all up, about her and me getting married. Had
she been in some internal conflict about me, and resolved it by deciding to go
with Capa? But she didn't love him the way she had begun to love me. Or am I imagining
If it is true that she told me she was
going to China with Capa, then it would explain what I've blocked out for so many
years: when Dr. Caldwell told me she was dead I heard myself thinking, "Capa
will not get her now."
That would be one
guilt, one unpleasant thought to repress and feel guilty about.
another: The General had told me to get her away as quickly as possible. I didn't.
I felt responsible for her death. Had I been strong, manly enough, I'd have forced
her to leave earlier and she wouldn't have been killed.
in "Happy Ending: A fictional Autobiography, Written July 22, 1969,
London. (Putney)" Ted wrote:
"I've faced everything there is to face about it now, haven't I? That she
choose Capa, and not me; that I was glad she was dead because it meant he could
not have her; that perhaps she saved my life by taking that position on the running
board in front of me; that I might have saved her if I had been more dominant,
manly, whatever, after the General urged me to get her away from the sector.
I have also noted that when I used to rewrite the
story of that day, I always added a bit of crap to it. I'd start to describe what
she looked like dead. Her mouth was open and her teeth showed, I'd always add.
But in that first version all I wrote was that "I looked at her and her face
was not quite the same."
go back to Spain and take the story up at the point we left it, on that terrible
day: Ted had just smoked Gerda's last cigarette, and asked the doctor to ship
Gerda's body to Paris, and...
the nurse came over and said that she was sorry.
"I lay there numbed
now by morphine. I'd had Dr. Caldwell call the Blood Unit. Bethune was in Canada
raising money for Spain, but Hazen and Henning came top pick me up in one of the
Unit's vans. They brought me to a hospital in Madrid. The Palace Hotel had been
transformed into a hospital.
The hospital room I was in smelled pretty
bad because of the guy in the other bed. His foot stank to hell and back and he
kept yelling that either they should give him a gas mask or cut off his foot.
I kept quiet and breathed through my mouth. He was going to lose his foot anyway
and why the hell the doctors didn't cut it off I couldn't figure out at first.
He had a bandage over his head and face leaving room for his mouth, nostrils,
and eyes. Later I found out that he had a hole in his head the size of a fist
and the doctors figured that he wouldn't last more than a couple of weeks at most
and he was too weak to stand any kind of operation, so they let the pus from his
foot leak into an enamel pan. Sometimes the nurse forgot to empty the pan and
the smell was worse than the stink of dead flesh in the sun.
name was Joe, Joe Stevens, and he came from San Francisco. He got spurts of strength
and talked his head off. Then he grew weak as a baby and moaned into his pillow.
When he talked he recited some of the filthiest poems I had ever heard. When he
wasn't reciting filthy poems or Shakespeare, he was telling me about the longshoreman's
union and what a great guy Harry Bridges was, and how the longshoreman's union
was the best goddamned union in the whole goddamned world.
my wound had been worse I would have argued with him. But my thigh was only broken,
it had been crushed, and it was in a cast, and a guy with a broken leg doesn't
argue with a guy with a hole in his head who isn't going to live very long. The
guy with the worst wound is always right. His town is the best town. His girl
is the best girl, or the worst. Whatever he says. I wished my wound was worse
so I could argue with him. He was such a stubborn bastard.
going to lose this goddamed war," he always said, and once I asked him why
he said that. He was the only guy in the International Brigade I had ever met
who said a thing like that. But it was no good asking why to anything he said.
He'd say something and then twitch his lips and sob into his pillow, and I knew
that pain was making him say things he otherwise wouldn't have said.
going to lose this goddamed war. We're going to lose it. The British are bastards.
They're helping Franco. They've sold us out. After all this fighting, we're going
If I said, "No, we're going
to win it," he'd start spitting and lose his temper and being to cry, so
I agreed with everything he said. But it wasn't easy.
things happen in a war, and a crazy and most wonderful thing happened to us when
one of the newspapermen who visited me brought me his portable gramophone and
Beethoven's fifth symphony and all of the Straus waltzes, or most of them.
Something happened to both of us when we got that
gramophone. We didn't talk as much. The shells poured into the city but they didn't
bother us as much either, and when you've been hit once everything bothers you.
Every shell is going to get you and every bullet is going to make a nice bloody
hole in your head, but when we got that gramophone and the fifth symphony and
the waltzes things became different. I slept better, I didn't shiver so often,
my appetite started to come back, and I felt happy deep deep inside. Joe must
have felt the same way, only he was getting worse from day to day and couldn't
talk very much, and moaned more often.
to wind the gramophone and I was weak, so it took a long time to wind. I'd turn
it once and then lay back on the bed and rest for a few minutes. Then raise myself
and turn it again, and rest, and again until it was all wound up. It might take
up to half an hour, and when the record was finished I'd have to start again.
Sometimes some of the other guys who could walk around would come in and listen,
and they'd wind it for us. But it wasn't the same. It sounded better when I wound
it. When I wound it the music said things to us, to Joe and me, just to us.
I used to wonder what Joe looked like. I never saw
his face. Not once. When they changed his bandage they had a screen around his
bed. I couldn't move very well or I would have been able to sneak around and look,
but I never saw his face, although he could see mine if he turned a little.
It got so that he could only whisper, and then it
came to a point where he could only mumble and moan. I'd say, "Joe, the fifth
symphony?" and he'd mumble, and I couldn't figure whether he said yes or
no, so I'd start to play it and if he mumbled I figured it meant no, and if he
were quiet it meant yes.
He was dying quickly,
and I was getting stronger. The nurse told me that soon I'd be able to get crutches
and walk around. It took less time to wind the gramophone, and I played the records
all day over and over again, and when Joe didn't like what was being played, or
wanted something else, he'd mumble and moan. It got so that I knew he always wanted
to hear the second movement of the symphony. He never got tired of that. I played
it eighteen times straight off one day and he was smiling in his sleep by the
time the record was finished the eighteenth time.
a while I couldn't stand listening to it. It began to make me nervous. The Straus
waltzes made me want to scream.
were about to discharge me. "Is someone else coming into this room?"
I asked the nurse.
his hands and arms alright?"
"Can I see him before I leave."
can bring you up to the room he's in now. Why do you want to see him?"
"I've got to tell him what to play when he's
So they brought me up to this other
guy's ward and I told him, "Play the second movement of the fifth symphony.
That's what he likes. Play that as often as you can. It makes him feel good."
He was a Frenchman, this other guy, and when I took one look at him I figured
it would take him an hour to wind the gramophone for one record. They were probably
putting the guys who were dying together.
nurse promised that she'd try to remember to wind the gramophone whenever she
passed by the room.
I went back to the hospital to say goodbye to Joe before
I left Madrid, but they said he had been transferred.
were a lot of guys I knew in Spain who were dead, and I added Joe Stevens to the
list and tried not to think about them. I told myself that a new life was ahead
of all of us, and we had work to do.
At first it was thought that my right
leg would never heal. Then I was assured all would be well in time.
Matthews of the New York Times was driving with Sefton Delmar of the Daily Express
to Paris. I asked if I could go with them. I was hobbling about on crutches by
The drive through the Pyrenees scared
Another thought has just struck me: did I write that line "Capa
and she were going to China" to appease Capa, to give him a gift? By putting
that line in he knew she was coming to Paris as planned, to go to China with him.
Did I write it for that reason? Or was she really going to China with him? I can't
What else do I keep obsessively remembering or obsessively
forgetting? That the General shouted at me to get her away; that I was unsure
and indecisive with her, afraid to make her think I was being cowardly. She had
asked me if I had ever been under fire before. I had been bombed in Albacete for
eight hour straight and that had been terrifying enough. But this, being shot
at by planes, by shells, by bombs, was beyond anything I'd ever experienced. No.
I had not been under fire before! Not like this. This was my baptism. I didn't
like it. And then I wrote the story in Paris in such a way as to hide the truth
from Capa, so that he'd never know she and I had fallen in love and were talking
about getting married.
In Paris I said goodbye to Delmar and Matthews
and registered in a small cheap hotel. I lay in bed most of the time. I had called
Ce Soir to find out where Capa lived. I wanted to see him and tell him I had tried
to take good care of Gerda, that it wasn't my fault she was dead. I left a message
that I had phoned. Ce Soir sent a photographer who took my picture. I wore sunglasses
and two crutches and my photograph was on the front page of Ce Soir next day.
I walked out of the hotel conscious that people were looking at me, and wondering
why until I bought the paper. I returned to the hotel feeling ashamed and excited.
I now had my evidence: I was a complete fraud. The first evidence had been my
not feeling anything when Gerda died. The second had come when I though, "Capa
will not get her now". The third and conclusive item was this, my cashing
in on her death. I was getting attention because of it. I despised myself, but
I was still a little thrilled seeing my picture in the paper, being recognised
on the streets. This thought, this reaction confirmed that I was a phoney. It
made me ill. I didn't want to be a phoney, but I enjoyed the notoriety, the attention.
I was still in a bit of a fog, a bit of a fugue, and I was wearing those sunglasses...
I feel nauseous. I have just gone to the bathroom
to vomit, but I didn't.
Lily told me in Paris that Gerda wasn't happy with
I think Gerda was afraid of Capa. She
went to him because she was afraid of him. I didn't know how to save her from
him. Then when she died and I thought, "He won't get her now," it wasn't
that I meant if I can't have her you can't have her. Perhaps I only meant that
she was being saved from him by dying.
if I was glad she died, then why did I start screaming twenty years later, screaming
my insides out.
When Robert Capa was killed
in Vietnam in 1954 I thought: "Now I can tell the truth about Gerda."
So I must have been glad he died too. (1)
I was sorry, though, when Chim (2) was killed
in Egypt, because he was one of those who knew about me and Gerda.
came for me and found me in a hotel room and made me move to Robert Capa's. I
didn't want to. "I loved her," I told Chim.
all right," said Chim. "Robert knows and still wants you to live with
"I don't want to," I said.
"Please, for Robert's sake."
I went. Robert Capa greeted me shyly and held my
hand and asked about my leg. I was still on crutches.
flat in Montparnasse was a large studio loft, a typical of artist's studio. Robert's
and Gerda's photographs were displayed on one wall.
and his friend Chaya were also staying in the apartment. Chaya was a lovely Dutch
ballet dancer. She was a tender, gentle woman with jet black hair and pale blue
It was in Robert's flat that I first wrote
of Gerda's death. I wrote the story in a fury. Started in the early morning and
finished in the afternoon. Chaya read it. "It's good," she said in much
the same tone of voice Gerda had used when she had read my stories. Chaya suggested
I cut a few lines that were unnecessary, I think descriptions of fields. And then
Chaya and I went to dinner. We slept together. It was sweet, gentle, tender. We
spent some time together, some nights together, and then, one night I went to
a hotel and went to sleep, without telling Chaya or anyone else.
Ted and Capa sailed together to New York. They planned to return to Spain and
write a book together. But the party would not allow Ted to travel. They accused
him of "adventurism" and in "punishment" insisted he stay
and work as editor of foreign affairs for the Daily Clarion. Capa returned to
Europe, and to Spain.
Ted wrote short stories
during this period and began to be published quite frequently. The story Ted wrote
in Paris about Gerda is titled "Lisa". It was published in Harpers in
Much of Ted's time during this period
was spent working on his novel, "This Time a Better Earth", a fictionalised
account of his adventures in Spain, published in 1939 (3).
"Next time a better book," Ted would quip. But, indeed, Ted asked Hemingway
to write a forward.
"I gave him the novel when he and his wife,
Martha Gellhorn, were in a New York hotel. He said he'd read it that night. When
I came back next day he said, "I read it. Gerda was a whore. I'm not writing
a preface for that."
So Martha came out
with me, closed the door and said, "He's so full of shit. He's so full of
shit. I'll tell you something quick: he can't fuck. He goes in, he's finished
and boom it's over. Okay, have I made it up to you?"
said, "Not really."
So much for Hemingway.
Ted saw Bethune after Spain on a few
occasions. Soon after Ted returned Bethune examined and dressed Ted's wounded
"Then when Hemingway rebuffed me, I wrote Bethune and
asked him if he would write a preface and he agreed. We met on Mount Royal, and
he handed me the preface. I hated it because he had questioned my motives for
going to Spain, levelling the accusation of "adventurism" at me. I was
stung, and later tore up the preface. I first remember doing it in front of him,
but I don't think that's how it happened. I kept it for a few weeks and then destroyed
it because of the charge of "adventurism" - a terrible Party crime in
There is a final
twist to the story of Ted and Bethune in Spain.
"In 1992 the
Spanish Consul in Toronto called and asked if he could come and see me. I said,
"Of course." A very pleasant gentleman appeared to tell me he thought
it important for me to know that Spain's modern democratic government had been
studying archival material and had come across information indicating that the
two doctors Bethune had accused of being fascist sympathisers were, in fact, fascist
sympathisers and were sabotaging Bethune at every opportunity they could find.
Ted's relationship, his involvement
with Bethune never ended. "I dreamed just the other day," he told me,
"that Bethune was looking down at me from heaven saying, 'You! You're going
to write my biography?' and he laughed."
said, "A man has to do something
significant in order to become a man. I think I became a man in the Spanish war.
After surviving that everything that followed was a pleasant challenge"?