ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part One, Chapter 42: Art and Beauty
We find a two-bedroom apartment on the third floor of a six-plex close to an Olmsted park. On one of our neighborhood walks, Ernie and I pass a gray stucco house with a blue roof. It reminds me of our stucco cottage.
“That’s where Marnie lived,” Ernie says.
I recognize the name, a girlfriend back in his high-school days.
“Once, when Marnie’s parents had grounded her, I put up a ladder to her second-floor bedroom, and she climbed down. We took off. And I mean, we really took off. I must’ve gotten a dozen speeding tickets that summer. She paid every one of them — with her daddy’s money. She’d drop by his law office whenever she needed a hand-out. I drove her there lots of times. And back at her house, we took booze from his liquor cabinet. Eventually, he caught on to that and locked the cabinet.”
We need income — our capital’s eroding fast; we keep selling stock — so Joshua takes a paper route and also finds an after-school job washing dishes at a nearby pasta shop. He comes out of the shop smelling of basil and oregano. Ernie writes turf articles under the pen-name Mike “Lucky” English; he sometimes writes three a week. I help Joshua with the paper route, and Ernie drives us around on Sundays, when the papers are heavy. We pick up a second route, then a third.
Because we sold almost all our furniture before our Mexican adventure, Ernie and Joshua attend an auction, looking to re-stock our apartment. I don’t like auctions; they make me nervous. What if Ernie raises his number to bid on something I don’t like? Or, what if his bid isn’t the winning bid on something I do like? And how high do we go? Does Ernie know when to stop? I wait out the auction at home.
Ernie and Joshua bring in the goods.
“Look, Ma, a Miro. Daddy got a big one, and I got three little ones. My three look like stained glass. I’ll make a profit on all of them.”
I look at Ernie’s Miro. It is big, a lithograph, impressively framed. In the center of heavy white paper is what looks like a child’s drawing of a stick figure, a red circle for a face.
“Ernie, that looks like a child’s drawing. It even looks as if he’s used crayon.”
“It’s a Miro, Ernestina. That’s what people care about. It’s numbered, it has his sig, and I got it for just over two thou. That’s a deal. That’s a steal. We’ll make money on it.”
“Who would want to look at it?”
“Don’t be negative, Ernestina.”
Ernie and Joshua go to another auction.
“Look, Ma, a chandelier. Solid brass. With frosted etched globes. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“It is, but we live in a rental now. Where are we going to put it?”
“We won’t always live in a rental, Ernestina.”
They go to another auction.
“Look, Ma, a Chagall etching.”
It’s from Chagall’s Bible series. Abraham’s climbing down a ladder from heaven. Maybe Abraham and the ladder remind Ernie of Marnie and the ladder. He hangs the Chagall in the living room, across from the Miro.
“Ernie, are we going to run out of money?”
“We’ll run out of wall space before we run out of money, honey.”
Ernie’s on a high. He has money in his pocket, and he’s spending it freely on what he loves — art and beauty.