Ernest Hemingway was born today in 1899. Unlike most of his later works, some of his earliest stories, like “Up In Michigan”, written in 1921, have fallen into the public domain, so we’ve shared it below. The story, set in a remote town in northern Michigan, is one of rigid gender roles, unsurprisingly, and is told in Hemingway’s characteristically terse style. But, atypically, it’s told from the point of view of a female character, as we watch a young woman by the name of Liz Coates, who falls for a blacksmith, have her notions of love crushed by the brute indifference of masculinity.
Up In Michigan
Jim Gilmore came to Hortons Bay from Canada. He bought the blacksmith shop from old man Horton. Jim was short and dark with big mustaches and big hands. He was a good horseshoer and did not look much like a blacksmith even with his leather apron on. He lived upstairs above the blacksmith shop and took his meals at A. J. Smith’s.
Liz Coates worked for Smith’s. Mrs. Smith, who was a very large clean woman, said Liz Coates was the neatest girl she’d ever seen. Liz had good legs and always wore clean gingham aprons and Jim noticed that her hair was always neat behind. He liked her face because it was so jolly but he never thought about her.
Liz liked Jim very much. She liked the way he walked over from the shop and often went to the kitchen door to watch for him to start down the road. She liked it about his mustache. She liked it about how white his teeth were when he smiled. She liked it very much that he didn’t look like a blacksmith. She liked it how much A. J. Smith and Mrs. Smith liked Jim. One day she found that she liked it the way the hair was black on his arms and how white they were above the tanned line when he washed up in the washbasin outside the house. Liking that made her feel funny.
Hortons Bay, the town, was only five houses on the main road between Boyne City and Charlevoix. There was the general store and post office with a high false front and maybe a wagon hitched out in front, Smith’s house, Stroud’s house, Fox’s house, Horton’s house and Van Hoosen’s house. The houses were in a big grove of elm trees and the road was very sandy. There was farming country and timber each way up the road. Up the road a ways was the Methodist church and down the road the other direction was the township school. The blacksmith shop was painted red and faced the school.
A steep sandy road ran down the hill to the bay through the timber. From Smith’s back door you could look out across the woods that ran down to the lake and across the bay. It was very beautiful in the spring and summer, the sky blue and bright and usually whitecaps on the lake beyond the point from the breeze blowing in from Charlevoix and Lake Michigan. From Smith’s back door Liz could see ore barges way out in the lake going toward Boyne City. When she looked at them they didn’t seem to be moving at all but if she went in and dried some more dishes and then came out again they would be out of sight beyond the point.
All the time now Liz was thinking about Jim Gilmore. He didn’t seem to notice her very much. He talked about the shop to A.J. Smith and about the Republican Party and about James G. Blaine. In the evenings he read The Toledo Blade and the Grand Rapids paper by the lamp in the front room or went out spearing fish in the bay with a jacklight with A.J. Smith. In the fall he and Smith and Charley Wyman took a wagon and tent, grubs, axes, their rifles and two dogs and went on a trip to the pine plains beyond Vanderbilt deer hunting. Liz and Mrs. Smith were cooking for four days for them before they started. Liz wanted to make something special for Jim to take but she didn’t finally because she was afraid to ask Mrs. Smith for the eggs and flour and afraid if she bought them Mrs. Smith would catch her cooking. It would have been all right with Mrs. Smith but Liz was afraid.
All the time Jim was gone on the deer hunting trip Liz thought about him. It was awful while he was gone. She couldn’t sleep well from thinking about him but she discovered it was fun to think about him too. If she let herself go it was better. The night before they were to come back she didn’t sleep at all because it was all mixed up in a dream about not sleeping and really not sleeping. When she saw the wagon coming down the she felt weak and sick sort of inside. She couldn’t wait till she saw Jim and it seemed as though everything would be all right when he came. The wagon stopped outside under the big elm and Mrs. Smith and Liz went out. All the men had beards and there were three deer in the back of the wagon, their thin legs sticking stiff over the edge of the wagon box. Mrs. Smith kissed Alonzo and he hugged her. Jim said “Hello, Liz,” and grinned. Liz hadn’t known just what would happen when Jim got back but she was sure it would be something. Nothing had happened. The men were just home, that was all. Jim pulled the burlap sacks off the deer and Liz looked at them. One was a big buck. It was stiff and hard to lift out of the wagon.
“Did you shoot it, Jim?” Liz asked.
“Yeah. Ain’t it a beauty?” Jim got it onto his back to carry it to the smokehouse.
That night Charley Wyman stayed to supper at Smith’s. It was too late to get back to Charlevoix. The men washed up and waited in the front room for supper.
“Ain’t there something left in that crock, Jimmy?” A.J. Smith asked, and Jim went out to the wagon in the barn and fetched in the jug of whiskey the men had taken hunting with them. It was a four gallon jug and there was quite a little slopped back and forth in the bottom. Jim took a long pull on his way back to the house. It was hard to lift such a big jug up to drink out of it. Some of the whiskey ran down on his shirt front. The two men smiled when Jim came in with the jug. A.J. Smith sent for glasses and Liz brought them. A.J. poured out three big shots.
“Well, here’s looking at you, A.J.,” said Charley Wyman.
“That damn big buck, Jimmy,” said A.J.
“Here’s all the ones we missed, A.J.,” said Jim, and downed his liquor.
“Tastes good to a man.”
“Nothing like it this time of year for what ails you.”
“How about another, boys?”
“Here’s how, A.J.”
“Down the creek, boys.”
“Here’s to next year.”
Jim began to feel great. He loved the taste and the feel of whiskey. He was glad to be back to a comfortable bed and warm food and the shop. He had another drink. The men came in to supper feeling hilarious but acting very respectable. Liz sat at the table after she put on the food and ate with the family. It was a good dinner. The men ate seriously. After supper they went into the front room again and Liz cleaned up with Mrs. Smith. Then Mrs. Smith went upstairs and pretty soon Smith came out and went upstairs too. Jim and Charley were still in the front room. Liz was sitting in the kitchen next to the stove pretending to read a book and thinking about Jim. She didn’t want to go to bed yet because she knew Jim would be coming out and she wanted to see him as he went out so she could take the way he looked up to bed with her.
She was thinking about him hard and then Jim came out. His eyes were shining and his hair was a little rumpled. Liz looked down at her book. Jim came over back of her chair and stood there and she could feel him breathing and then he put his arms around her. Her breasts felt plump and firm and the nipples were erect under his hands. Liz was terribly frightened, no one had ever touched her, but she thought, “He’s come to me finally. He’s really come.”
She held herself stiff because she was so frightened and did not know anything else to do and then Jim held her tight against the chair and kissed her. It was such a sharp, aching, hurting feeling that she thought she couldn’t stand it. She felt Jim right through the back of the chair and she couldn’t stand it and then something clicked inside of her and the feeling was warmer and softer. Jim held her tight hard against the chair and she wanted it now and Jim whispered, “Come on for a walk.”
Liz took her coat off the peg on the kitchen wall and they went out the door. Jim had his arm around her and every little way they stopped and pressed against each other and Jim kissed her. There was no moon and they walked ankle-deep in the sandy road through the trees down to the dock and the warehouse on the bay. The water was lapping in the piles and the point was dark across the bay. It was cold but Liz was hot all over from being with Jim. They sat down in the shelter of the warehouse and Jim pulled Liz close to him. She was frightened. One of Jim’s hands went inside her dress and stroked over her breast and the other hand was in her lap. She was very frightened and didn’t know how he was going to go about things but she snuggled close to him. Then the hand that felt so big in her lap went away and was on her leg and started to move up it.
“Don’t, Jim,” Liz said. Jim slid the hand further up.
“You musn’t, Jim. You musn’t.” Neither Jim nor Jim’s big hand paid any attention to her.
The boards were hard. Jim had her dress up and was trying to do something to her. She was frightened but she wanted it. She had to have it but it frightened her.
“You musn’t do it, Jim. You musn’t.”
“I got to. I’m going to. You know we got to.”
“No we haven’t, Jim. We ain’t got to. Oh, it isn’t right. Oh, it’s so big and it hurts so. You can’t. Oh, Jim. Jim. Oh.”
The hemlock planks of the dock were hard and splintery and cold and Jim was heavy on her and he had hurt her. Liz pushed him, she was so uncomfortable and cramped. Jim was asleep. He wouldn’t move. She worked out from under him and sat up and straightened her skirt and coat and tried to do something with her hair. Jim was sleeping with his mouth a little open. Liz leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He was still asleep. She lifted his head a little and shook it. He rolled his head over and swallowed. Liz started to cry. She walked over to the edge of the dock and looked down to the water. There was a mist coming up from the bay. She was cold and miserable and everything felt gone. She walked back to where Jim was lying and shook him once more to make sure. She was crying.
“Jim,” she said. “Jim. Please, Jim.”
Jim stirred and curled a little tighter. Liz took off her coat and leaned over and covered him with it. She tucked it around him neatly and carefully. Then she walked across the dock and up the steep sandy road to go to bed. A cold mist was coming up through the woods from the bay.