ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part One, Chapter 61: The Flirt
For the trip to Europe, Ernie buys new trousers. He has to. He’s lost so much weight from the quintuple by-pass and the four bladder operations that his waist is now a thirty-four.
We carry two pieces of luggage aboard ship and find our stateroom. Ernie’s starving. The minute we throw our luggage atop our twin beds, he calls room service. “Bring me a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. Also, potato chips. And a Coke.”
The order comes. He finishes all of it. “Delicious. The best BLT I ever had.” He stretches out on his twin bed, next to the porthole. “Pray for sun, Ernestina. I want sun. I want to sit in a deck chair in the sun and get brown and watch the water.”
The weather turns cool. We wear sweaters under our jackets and still we’re cold. Ernie puts on a raincoat. While he sits in a deck chair I walk the deck, making friends with a round-faced man from Canada also circling the deck — with bare feet.
“My wife forgot to pack my running shoes,” he says.
I bring James back to show Ernie. I want Ernie and James to be friends, and they sit in deck chairs next to each other and talk. I want James and his wife to dine at our table. She’s a dark-haired French woman and doesn’t smile when we’re introduced. She doesn’t want to dine with us. I think she thinks I’m flirting with her husband.
Thin, bundled in sweater and jacket and raincoat, Ernie looks like a convalescent. He looks like a character from his favorite novel, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Am I trying to find a replacement for him?
Before the boat docks, James and I walk the deck together a few more times, even in misty rain. In England, he and his wife will meet up with friends, and the foursome plan to stay a few days in a country estate in Hertfordshire.
“Ernie and I are renting a car,” I tell James. “We’re driving to Oxford. Ernie wants to see Oxford.”
“Watch out for the roundabouts,” James says.
“What are roundabouts?”
“An intersection of five or six roads. It’s very confusing for a first-timer.”
“We’ll avoid them.”
“You can’t. They’re everywhere.”
Ernie doesn’t say anything about me and my shipboard friend, but he misses nothing.