ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching
Book Two, Chapter 134: Faces
I come across a fragment in Ernie’s handwriting that’s not part of any novel he wrote. Maybe it’s a thought he put down to save for a future novel. Or is it something he read — someone else’s thought — that he identified with and copied down? I don’t know.
You can wander the world and still not find that face you’d most like to see. That face is gone, or never was, a dream, a figment, or if it ever existed, only a flicker of light that died almost as soon as it was born in the vastness of time, in the indifference of the universe, in the swirling indifference that is life.
I read this fragment. I read it again and again. The more I read it, the more I realize Ernie wrote it.
I think this: the face Ernie searched for is female. That face would have looked upon him with unflinching kindness and complete understanding. I think this: that face belongs to his beloved, and he never found her.
I also think this: the face he showed the world, and showed me, was often not his true face. And when he did show his true face, I did not see it. Or, perhaps, all his faces were facets of him. He had so many facets.
I remember lines from his mystery/thriller Missing Faces — and isn’t it strange, or not strange at all — that this is its title? The lines describe Percy, one of the novel’s characters: Congenial banker. Model husband. Esteemed civic leader. Beneath his many masks lay his real face, that of the scared, weak, impotent little boy who wanted to be punished.
I think this: Percy’s real face is the face Ernie hid.
In the hospital, as he lay dying, Ernie asked for pencil and paper. He wrote, with pressure so weak I’m still unable to decipher one of the words: Faces. Fat Faces. _______ Faces. Yellow Faces. Amber Faces. Pale Faces. Freckled Faces. All swirling before me as if I were the center of the universe as I lie helpless and they stare at me in my hospital bed. Odd old man, isn’t he? one thinks
Ernie hadn’t the strength even to form a final period. The pencil dropped from his hand. These are his final written words.
I am facing myself now. I am facing Ernie now. In this writing, we are face to face. No more turning aside. No more running away. No more covering up.
We don’t have the same face, Ernie, but we can show each other, finally, our real faces. All of them. Even the face of fear. Even the face of despair.