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

Book One, Part Two, Chapter 101: Choked and Stressed

Cindi and I are in the first-floor apartment of the duplex.

Out a west window, I see an empty bird’s nest perched on the exterior sill. Bits of the nest — tiny twigs and dried grass — have blown in through the window’s loose framing, littering the pine floor.

I spin about. Sunshine coming through a south window fights the gloom of dropped ceilings, a boarded-up fireplace, and an empty kitchen except for a sink and a few cabinets. Didn’t the listing agent mention an updated kitchen? Where is it?

I don’t know how to react to this place, Cindi. It’s a sturdy house from the outside. A high brick foundation. Aluminum siding. But it’s not eighteen hundred square feet. It’s more like seven hundred on the first floor and three-fifty in the basement. And the mold will stop most people.”

Cindi’s upbeat and optimistic. “Say Joshua gets it for thirty thousand . . . ”

She takes photos — interior and exterior — to send him. Then she phones the listing agent. “In the basement apartment there’s a suspicious growth on the walls, even on the edge of a bathroom door. It could be black mold, and you’re not disclosing this.”

“What, are you a mold expert?” he asks in so sharp a voice that, standing next to Cindi, I hear him.

Cindi remains calm. She possesses much poise and self-control. Even with the confusion and indecisiveness and second-guessing Joshua and I have shown with the Charles Street house, she hasn’t lost patience with us. At least, not visibly.

We get in her car, where she phones Joshua, giving him a quick wrap-up of the place. He asks a few questions. In the end, it will be his decision.

After saying good-by to Joshua, she turns to me. “I don’t want Joshua to feel choked or stressed, as he does now. If he wants out of the Charles Street contract, I’ll work on a way to do that legally; I don’t want him to lose his thousand-dollar deposit. If he wants to pursue this duplex, I’ll get estimates on mold eradication. If he wants to go forward with Charles Street, we’ll do that.”

“What do you think, Cindi?”

“Put in the mechanicals at Charles Street, make it look cute, and he can sell it himself for a twenty-thousand dollar profit. That’ll give him that much more money for his next house. How else is he going to make twenty thousand?”

Maybe as an actor and film-maker? I want to say. But I don’t. Acting and film-making haven’t brought big money to Joshua yet, any more than writing did for Ernie. It’s a good thing Joshua has a mind for business, just as Ernie did. All art and no business can make anyone an extremely dependent person.

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.