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

Book One, Part Two, Chapter 52: Charles Street

Buying rental property is still on Joshua’s mind.

He decides against the house on Mulberry Street that Cindi and I looked at — too much renovation needed — and also says no to a house on Rubel that’s as dark inside as a doghouse and missing a few kitchen floorboards, but Cindi’s undeterred. “We’ll find a house for Joshua,” she says.

Yesterday she e-mailed him with news of a house on Charles Street, a bank buyback following a foreclosure. “We’ll have to act fast on this one,” she tells him, so Cindi and I meet there this morning.

From the sidewalk, she looks up at the house. “The roof looks fairly new, the gutters seem to be in good shape, and the porch is wonderful, isn’t it?” Three fluted columns span its width. “This is the nicest house we’ve looked at so far, at least from the outside. Let’s go inside.”

The front door opens to oak flooring.

“This house cost more when it was put up than a lot of houses in the neighborhood, and look at the ceiling. It’s at least nine feet high. Dingy paint, but that’s a quick fix.”

We go into the dining room. Pet stains splotch the floor.

“Too bad,” Cindi says, “but it’s restorable. I know a good floorman.”

In the bathroom, a sink faucet leaks and the tub drains slowly. We move to the kitchen. No refrigerator, a dishwasher connection that won’t pass code, and a built-in oven with its door missing a spring. Also, the glossy ceiling and walls, once white, are now caramelized with cigarette smoke.

“Before you paint, you’ll have to scrub off the cigarette smoke,” Cindi says, “but the vinyl floor can stay. It just needs toe molding. And the wood cabinets would look good painted cream. That would lighten the room.”

I look up at the caramel ceiling, feeling despair. Cigarette smoke also darkens every other ceiling and wall and door and trim in the house. I can’t see myself scrubbing every square inch of wall and wood. Impossible.

“Winding steps to an attic!” Cindi exclaims after opening one of the seven paneled doors radiating from a small center hall. I follow her to the attic, a long narrow hotbox. “What great storage and expansion possibilities,” she says.

We go back down, and Cindi opens another door, this one leading to the basement. Cindi loves houses with basements, and this basement has a concrete floor. “And so clean!” she says.

The water heater’s fairly new, but the furnace is over twenty years old. The central-air unit, under an overhang to the rear of the house, is also over twenty years old.

Back in the kitchen, I sniff the air. “Do you smell gas, Cindi?”

“Probably a pilot light’s out.”

We check out the sunroom, originally a back porch. “A wonderful place for wicker,” Cindi says. Looking out the storm windows enclosing the room, she scans the long back yard. “And look at the brick garage! How cute. It looks like an Alpine cottage.”

We head to the garage and open its narrow front door. A few rafters are missing. Bricks from its front wall are also missing. “A car didn’t stop in time,” she says. The garage’s alley-side door, on a rusty track, looks as if it hasn’t been opened in years. “You’ll probably have to replace it.” She gives me a cost estimate off the top of her head.

Cindi’s acting as if Joshua will buy this place.

Will he?

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.