ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching

Book Two, Chapter 68: A Birthday

It’s my birthday. I’m sixty-three.

For a celebration lunch, Joshua and I head to a French bistro located in a converted carriage house just east of downtown.

Yesterday he took the day off from house-repair work, but I didn’t.

“I scrubbed the kitchen ceiling yesterday, Joshua. When I poured a bucket of dirty water down the toilet, I inadvertently dumped a rag down the toilet, too. You don’t think that’ll mess up the plumbing, do you?”

Joshua keeps his eyes on the road. “You’re telling me the drain the plumber just cleared for me, that cost me two hundred dollars, may be stopped up again?”

“I don’t think it’s stopped up. I flushed the toilet repeatedly. It seems okay.”

“This could be really bad news. What if that rag is stuck in piping under the house? What if it’s beyond the length of a snake? A rag’s not like toilet paper. It won’t disintegrate. Down the road, this could cost me a lot of money. The tub, the sink, and the toilet all drain into the same pipe.” He puffs out his lower lip. “Why do I always get bad news?”

“Because I’m a fuckup,” I say, “an incompetent. I have to watch myself continually. When Ernie was with me, he didn’t tell me how big a fuckup I was. I wish he had. Maybe I would have improved myself.”

We arrive at the bistro. Joshua parks, but neither of us moves. Neither of us feels like celebrating my birthday. Why would I want to celebrate my birthday? I rue my existence.

Finally we go inside. The interior is a study in order and elegance: plaster walls painted light blue interspersed with walls of brick painted silvery; marble-topped tables with buttery leather chairs. A huge blackboard behind the counter holds the menu. Any item — even pancakes — can be ordered at any time of day.

“Nothing sounds good to me,” vegetarian Joshua says. “Even the clam chowder has bacon in it, and I don’t want a salad.”

I think about leaving but we’d just wander about, maybe get into a real argument. If Ernie were here, he’d find something to order. I try to follow his lead. “We’ll split a Nicoise salad, Joshua. You’ll like that.”

Our server, knowing we’re sharing the salad, brings it to us on two white oval plates. Each of us has blue-fin tuna, thick lengths of roasted potato and slim lengths of green bean along with tomato and olives and hard-boiled egg, all moistened with balsamic vinaigrette. In addition, we’re each served a chunk of baguette.

“Really good,” Joshua says. He eats fast. “A really good salad . . . really good. A really good salad.”

When he’s nervous or uncomfortable, Joshua repeats himself. When I’m nervous or uncomfortable, I go mum. Where’s Ernie? He’d help us out here.

It’s my birthday. I need to be re-born.

My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 3-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.