ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part One, Chapter 33: Bruised, Into the Night
As we three wait in the intensive-care unit for Saturday visiting hours to begin, a CODE BLUE call blares down the hall. Hospital personnel rush past us. A few minutes later the same personnel pass us again, this time going in the opposite direction and this time slowly, with heads bowed.
It’s finally eleven o’clock. I go up to the nurse’s station to tell the nurse that Mary Lee’s grandson is with us. “He wants to see his grandmother. Is that all right?”
“Hasn’t anyone told you?” she asks.
“Told us what?”
“Wait a few minutes,” she says. “We’ll need a little time to make her presentable.”
The operation was a complete success . . . except that Mary Lee just died. We don’t go into her hospital room. Instead, we visit a funeral home to order a wooden casket. Ernie stays dry-eyed as he talks to the funeral director, seated behind a desk, and I sit in a chair in the corner as tears slip down my cheeks. I know Mary Lee wanted to be buried in metal, not wood; she had a horror of water’s getting to her body, rotting it. But why would she care? Now? She’s way beyond feel.
Joshua is quiet at the memorial service. He doesn’t follow me to the pine coffin. Mary Lee wears a navy blue suit her older sister, a skilled seamstress, made for her years before. Atop her folded hands is a single white rose. It’s beautiful, unblemished, barely beyond the bud stage. Who sent it?
I look at the message on its card and recognize my mother’s handwriting. To my grandmother. Love, Joshua. I’m stunned. I can’t believe my mother would think to do this.
I look for Joshua. He’s standing next to Ernie, who’s talking with his father’s brother and sister. I look back at Mary Lee. The sleeve of her navy blue jacket stops short of her wrist. Ugly purple blotches climb up her thin arm, the marks of hospital needles.
Mary Lee went, bruised, into the night.