Published by Scribner in 1987 after Hemingway's suicide, "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio," written in 1933, was part of an anthology titled The First Forty Nine. In his story written in characteristic minimalist style, Hemingway connects the elements of a seemingly unconnected title.
Two men, a Mexican and a Russian, thought to be beet workers, are brought into a hospital with gunshot wounds. The Russian has been shot in the thigh; the Mexican has been shot twice in the abdomen. As the detective questions the Mexican, Cayetano Ruiz, the wounded man merely calls the shooting an accident, claiming he does not know who shot him since, he says, he was shot in the back.
"Yes," says the detective to the interpreter, "I understand that, but why did the bullets all go in the front?" Ignoring the detective's words, Cayetano expresses sympathy for the Russian who cries out all night, even though Cayetano's stomach pain is excruciating.
Sister Cecilia, the nurse, reports that the Mexican has peritonitis and the Russian will soon be released. Sister Cecilia says that Cayetano cannot be a beet worker because his hands are without any callouses, and she knows he is a bad man of some sort, so she is going to pray for him. Mr. Frazer, another patient, turns to his radio that only comes in at night. From the Hailey, Montana, hospital he can listen to Los Angeles and Seattle and, finally, to Minneapolis in the early morning until the X-ray machines are turned on. Frazer reflects that after staying in his room long enough, he has become fond of the radio and the view from his windows: "You welcome them, and resent the new things."
The next day, Sister Cecilia enters Frazer's room, saying that she cannot join him to listen to the Notre Dame football game because she will not be able to stop praying for the team. Nevertheless, Frazer reports on the game to the nun. When she later talks with Frazer, she tells him that she has asked that some Mexicans come up to see "poor Cayetano." Ironically, the men who come are friends of the beet worker who has shot Cayetano, a man, the Mexicans say, with no friends because he is a "card-player." As they talk with Frazer, the thin one refuses a drink, claiming he will suffer a headache. He later tells Frazer he distrusts priests, monks, and sisters because he was an acolyte: "Now I believe in nothing....Religion is the opium of the poor."
The Mexicans leave, promising to bring beer the next day. Mr. Frazer returns to his radio; the next day, Sister Cecilia brings his mail, but there is nothing of interest. Sister Cecilia tells him that all she wants of life is to be a saint and Frazer reassures her emptily, "Everybody gets what they want." Against Frazer's objections, she declares that she will bring in the recuperating Cayetano. Upon his arrival, Frazer politely commends Cayetano for not complaining of the pain, and answers Cayetano's inquiry of his own pain by replying that he cries for an hour each day. Cayetano reveals that his shooter only lost $38.00. He confesses that he is a "poor idealist...a victim of illusions," a professional gambler, but he has no luck and loses all the money he has won from others. Yet, when Frazer asks what he will do, Cayetano says, "Continue, slowly, and wait for luck to change."
On the last night the Mexican musicians come to play, Frazer lies in his room listening, but he cannot keep from thinking. When asked, he requests the Cucaracha, "which has the sinister lightness and deftness of so many of the tunes men have gone to die to." Despite the music, Frazer continues to think, pondering the statement of "religion is the opium of the people" including in this opium music, economics, patriotism, education, drink, the radio, gambling, and a belief in any form of government. What is the real opium? Frazer decides it is bread. Having called for the thin Mexican, Frazer is told by him that the music is the tune of the "real revolution." When Frazer asks why all the opiates of the people are not good, the Mexican replies that the people should be rescued from ignorance. Refuting him, Frazer does not believe in education, only knowledge. This statement the Mexican does not understand; he departs. Alone, Frazer thinks:
Revolution...is no opium. Revolution is a catharsis; an ecstasy which can only be prolonged by tyranny. The opiums are for before and for after.
Frazer, "thinking well, a little too well," decides he will drink a little of the "giant killer" after the Mexicans leave and play the radio; he can play the radio "so that you could hardly hear it."