ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part Two, Chapter 113: Dressed in Armor
At Nearly New — my favorite thrift shop — I find a black velvet headband with golden braiding that’s perfect for Bella. I present it to her and she smiles in glee, immediately putting it on.
“How do I look?” she asks.
“Like a bumble bee,” I say.
“Lots of people tell me I look like Bette Midler. No one’s ever said I look like a bumble bee.” She hurries to the mirror in her bathroom. “Oh, I love it,” she calls out. “You know why? Because it looks like my hair only with a black velvet ribbon braided through it. What an embellishment. It will look lovely with a black dress and gold necklace.”
She comes back to her living room. “I feel like a ballerina.” Extending her arms in a ballerina’s gesture, she floats toward me on tiptoe. Dressed in a black top over mustardy, deep-pocketed pantaloons and wearing the headband, she looks like a little girl ready for a birthday party.
“About last night,” she says in a completely different tone of voice. “Nothing happened. I mean, zero.”
Last night she and Abe, her friend from fourteen years ago who responded to her Match.com posting, re-met in Bella’s living room. She served coffee and cookies, wine and fruit and cheese.
“He came dressed in a suit and tie, the jacket completely buttoned. It made me feel uncomfortable just looking at him. I said: ‘Let me take your jacket,’ and I hung it up. I asked him: ‘Don’t you want to loosen your tie?’ ”
“He came dressed in armor.”
“Oh, yes. Such a difference from the tone of his e-mails, when he talked about seizing the moment. It’s as if he erected a screen that nothing could penetrate. We talked of politics, this and that. Nothing of the past. Nothing too personal.”
Bella had told me Abe is a two-star colonel who taught at West Point and captained a battalion in Vietnam. He’s been a corporate executive, a college vice president, and a state commissioner of justice.
“Great career bio,” she says, “but I didn’t get a feel for the man. He didn’t want me to. He didn’t even thank me for the chocolate-chip cookies I baked . . . you want a chocolate-chip cookie?”
I laugh. “Do you think he was embarrassed at responding to a woman on Match.com who knew him?”
“Maybe. My friend Joyce says we were a bad match, anyway. He’s a military man, and I’m a flower child. Whatever, it’s another adventure on life’s journey. He did hug me and kiss me on my neck — I think — when he left. But I’m sure I won’t see him again. And I wouldn’t want to. Who wants to work at making conversation? Not me. Not at my age.”