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

Book One, Part Two, Chapter 174: The Ghost

Joshua thinks he needs carbohydrates to help him sleep, so in Rich’s kitchen I put water on to boil for the spaghetti, then slice onion and garlic for the sauce.

I haven’t sliced an onion or minced garlic in months and months, and the slippery slices hit the floor. I’m so clumsy with the knife, and I feel so out of place in this kitchen, which is in my childhood home, which is where my brother Rich has always lived, which is where Josh is staying temporarily, which is where I’ve agreed to stay while Joshua is in such a fragile state of mind.

Joshua and I eat the pasta, and an hour or so later we head to our second-floor quarters. Soon, Joshua says: “My stomach is churning. I think it’s the pasta sauce.”

Earlier today, leaving the Charles Street house, I used the word churn. Is this power of suggestion? I must watch what I say to Joshua. I must think before I speak. He’s so suggestible. We all are. Or has the pasta sauce truly made him feel sick?

Looking pale, he’s perched on the edge of the futon. I hurry to find a plastic bucket. He makes himself gag. Up comes the vomit so forcefully that a bit of it lands on his gray knit cap that’s lying on the floor next to the futon.

I take the bucket and knit cap and hurry to the downstairs bathroom, empty the bucket, rinse it, and rinse the knit cap. It’s the cap he wore on his flight in. It’s so thin and worn and pale — like him — it tears at my heart.

Joshua settles on the futon, and I get into a sleeping bag at its foot. In the middle of the night, I awaken and unwrap myself from the bedding. He hears me — his hearing is so keen — and opens his eyes just as I’m rising in my white slip to check on him.

“Good God!” he says. “Get back. Go away. Give me space.”

I realize what’s happened. He thinks I’m a ghost. I pick up the sleeping bag and move it to the middle of the room.

“Back more,” he says. “I need my space. I have to know I’m protected. Don’t come near me. Don’t stare at me.”

I move the sleeping bag to the far end of the long room, with a window overlooking Rich’s back yard. Now Joshua’s to the front, and I’m to the rear.

I fall asleep. Does Joshua?

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.