ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching
Book Two, Chapter 61: Festering
David delivers mail to my building. In our occasional talks in the mail room or by his mail truck, I’ve come to realize he’s a wise man.
“I don’t like anything to fester in my heart,” he says to me today. “Any little thing that bothers me, I tell my wife. She wonders why I bring up all these little things, but I don’t want the little things to get any bigger.”
I remember when Ernie brought up a grievance long festering in his heart. I was vacuuming the tribal rug. He stood not five feet away, framed in the kitchen’s doorway holding a cup of tea he’d just fixed. “You’re a heart-hearted shrew,” he said.
I looked up. He was glaring at me. His look spoke far louder than his voice. I didn’t respond to him. The roar of the vacuum cleaner went on as he passed me and headed to the bedroom.
But now, I’d do this.
I turn off the vacuum cleaner. I say: “You’re angry with me. What’s wrong, Ernie?”
“That you don’t love me. That I’m dying. That no one cares that I’m dying. That I can’t stop it from happening. I’m pissing blood, and that scares me. I awake in the middle of the night from my recurrent nightmare that I’m dead. Once I dreamed that my father and my two uncles, all in black suits, were coming toward me, holding out their hands to me. I don’t want to go to them. I don’t want them to touch me.”
“Oh, Ernie, what can we do?”
“Blood in my piss is not normal. I think the bladder cancer’s back, but I’ve been too scared to even say the word.”
“Cancer! Cancer! Cancer! There, I’ve said it. I’ve screamed it. Now what?”
“I’m sorry I called you a hard-hearted shrew. Maybe you do love me, Ernestina. Maybe you really do want me to stick around.”
“Oh, Ernie, you don’t know how I feel about you because we don’t talk about that kind of thing. Maybe I don’t even know how I feel about you.”
But I do now.
And it’s too late for whatever I feel to help Ernie.