Hemingway’s “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn” After He Was Told It Had to Hit a 500-Word Minimum

For Sale” were the first two words the man read of the advertisement. He checked the Classifieds every morning. He read other parts of the paper, too, including the News Section, the Entertainment Section, and the Opinion Section. He sometimes read the Sports Section. The man read almost every section. He enjoyed the newspaper. It was a simple pleasure he had come to appreciate during the war.

On this particular morning, the man read an advertisement in the Classifieds Section. It started with “For Sale.” This made sense, if not redundant, as the classified was advertising items for purchase. The man thought of all the places he had seen “For Sale” signs. He had seen them in boutiques and department stores and flea markets. The man had seen “For Sale” signs in Italy, which is where he had been stationed as an ambulance driver. Those signs had said “Vendesi,” which is Italian for “For Sale.”

The man swallowed his scotch before returning to the advertisement. The scotch was strong. Like an angry Galician bull.

The next two words read, “Baby Shoes.”

The classified didn’t specify what kind of shoes. It only said they were meant for a baby. It didn’t say booties or sneakers or slippers. It didn’t say whether it was those baby sandals with buckles or the little canvas shoes with the elastic sides so there is no need for laces. It didn’t say Pershing Boots either, which is a type of shoe brave men wear on the battlefield.

All that was said was that these shoes were sized for a baby.

The classifieds didn’t mention anything about socks, either. The man thought for a moment, wondering if perhaps these shoes were not shoes at all, but instead those glorified socks with traction nubs on the bottom. But anyone who’s seen the backside of a bear knows those don’t count as shoes.

After all this thinking, the man struggled to recall the first four words of the classified. He read them again. “For Sale: Baby Shoes.” The man looked at the near empty bottle of scotch. He couldn’t remember having consumed so much of it. But there was much the man couldn’t remember. Because of the war.

After those four words, which most men of logic would agree had been considered properly, there were still two more words. The man felt that he had discussed the prior four words to their fullest extent, and that to discuss them any further would be unnecessary. The man decided that it was okay to move on to the last two words of the classified. They were, “Never Worn.”

The man read it again. “Never Worn.” And then again. “Never Worn.” And then the man read it one more time. “Never Worn.”

He thought for a long moment about babies. They were so small. So soft. He’d like to have a baby one day. He thought he would.

Tears welled in the man’s eyes. But then he saw the next ad which read, “For Sale: Adult Roller Blades, Gently Used.” The man clapped his hands together like a young boy. He took out his pen and circled it for later.

The man turned his attention back to the first ad. What had it said? He had spent so long considering it, he could barely recall its contents. He read it again, this time without stopping in between words.

It said, “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

Huh, the man thought. How succinct.