ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife

Book One, Part One, Chapter 37: Uno, Dos, Tres

Ernie’s memoir is finished. He includes photos, even trying to procure an image of his classmate Perry, who died at age ten, by asking the current secretary of the former Baptist Orphans Home to search its archives for a group photo taken around the time Ernie and Perry were best friends. She mails a photo to Ernie, and there Perry is, at the end of the front row, his tight white curls shining.

But the memoir doesn’t find a publisher. Ernie’s story of Bryan and Arabella hasn’t sold, either, even though the literary agent Ben Camardi loves it and has sent it out repeatedly. Most editors think the story sounds too familiar. I disagree.

“No one’s ever written a story like The Thoroughbreds, Ernie. It’s not just a love story. It’s not just a story about war. It’s not just a story about a son’s seeking his father, or about a horse farm in the Bluegrass. It’s a story about all this and written in the way only you can write it.”

“I don’t think editors read beyond the first few pages,” Ernie says.

We need money. Mary Lee’s no longer here to give us her Social Security check, and the high utility bills generated by our building’s old and inefficient furnace cut deeply into its rental income. Ernie suspects the furnace leaks carbon monoxide, too. Plus, asbestos covers a lot of its ductwork. Not good.

We three hold a conference in the living room. Ernie, on the daybed, covers a sheet of paper with numbers. “We can sell this apartment building. The housing market’s gone up dramatically in the past eight years, so the building will probably bring more than twice what we paid for it.”

“Where will we live, Ernie?”

“Wherever it is, I hope I get my own room, with a place for my bike and my comics,” Joshua says. When his friends visit, he tells them his bedroom is on the third floor — which it isn’t. We rent out the one-bedroom on the third floor.

“Maybe we’ll move to Mexico,” Ernie says. “I traveled to Taxco and Mexico City with Alex Rose the summer between my junior and senior years. I didn’t want to come back. If I could have figured a way to stay down there, I would have.”

Uno, dos, tres,” Joshua says.

Oh, yes, Joshua’s taking Spanish this year. At fifteen, he’s taller than his daddy and doesn’t want to be — he stoops when he stands next to Ernie. His Caribbean blue eyes still glitter in the sun. His skin is still creamy, and his lips are full, like Ernie’s when Ernie was young, before Ernie lost most of his teeth. “Soft teeth,” he called them.

“I hate school,” Joshua says. “I haven’t learned anything important since third grade. If we go to Mexico, I won’t have to go to school.”

Is this possible? Can we really sell out and move to Mexico? But with Ernie, anything’ s possible — except perhaps finding a publisher for a novel that becomes a Best Seller. And maybe he’ll find a way to make this happen, too. Eventually.

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My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 2-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.

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Ernestina

My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 2-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.