ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part One, Chapter 17: The Domestic Scene
I wash dishes, do laundry, grocery-shop. I buy a whole chicken and cut up the hairless little thing and put its body parts in a skillet and watch its pink flesh turn white.
Ernie walks into the kitchen.
“I don’t like to cook chicken, Ernie. Look at him — his little arms and legs. He looks like a baby. I cut up a baby.”
“I don’t eat chicken,” Ernie says. “I haven’t since I was a boy and saw my aunt wring a chicken’s neck on her farm. I watched the chicken run around the yard without a head.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I wouldn’t have bought this chicken.”
Ernie likes steak and green beans and mashed potatoes with gravy. I sizzle steak and peel potatoes and snap green beans.
“My grandmother served the fluffiest mashed potatoes,” Ernie says after he finds a lump in the mound of potatoes I serve him. “She also made the best lemon meringue pie.”
I find a recipe for lemon meringue pie and boil lemon juice and egg yolks and sugar, then cook the pie. I beat egg whites and show him the finished product.
“Grandmother’s meringue was two feet high,” Ernie says. “The preacher from DeHaven Baptist treasured invites to her Sunday dinners because she was such a good cook. She served biscuits and two kinds of meat and two kinds of pie. She did all her cooking on a kerosene stove and with a dry sink. She collected water in a rain barrel that sat outside her kitchen door.”
She did, huh? And while she was at DeHaven Baptist’s Sunday service, her husband banged away on the piano and sang loud enough for all the neighbors to hear. Maybe he only had fun when his wife was at church.
For my fun, I walk to the library and take out books on Impressionism and Expressionism and Chagall and Munch. I read a Hemingway novel; it seems sappy. I read Fitzgerald. Ernie wanted to go to Princeton because Fitzgerald did. And, of course, Ernie identifies with Hemingway, who drank and gambled and hunted big game and wrote novels that made him famous.
For his fun, Ernie makes love to me and talks to me. Sometimes I fall asleep while he’s still talking.
“You fall asleep so easily,” he says. “I wish I did.”
He earns the mortgage money and grocery money and car-payment money by writing speeches for CEOs, writing press releases, and writing and editing a quarterly newspaper for the city’s public school system. He hasn’t started on his real writing yet. He doesn’t talk about that. But I know it’s on his mind. It’s coming. It has to. That’s why we’re together, isn’t it?