ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part One, Chapter 67: The Cousins
Ernie doesn’t have his old energy, and it depresses him.
“You don’t get winded when you go up hills, do you?” he asks me during one of our walks. “You don’t even feel the hill. I wonder how you’ll feel when you’re my age.”
I don’t want to think about how I’ll feel when I’m Ernie’s age because by that time, he won’t be with me. He’s eighteen and a half years older than I am, and I’m sixty.
I begin to sleep later and later. Ernie doesn’t like this.
“By the time we’re ready to head to the City Cafe for lunch, it’s three o’clock, Ernestina. The day’s almost done. We have to start getting up earlier. Life’s passing us by. . . . I don’t have that much time left, maybe two years at the most. I don’t want to spend it doing what I don’t want to do.”
One morning, I awaken with an idea. “Why don’t you write about the cousins, Ernie? I’ve always wanted to know more about the cousins.”
The cousins are mythical creatures Ernie introduced to Joshua and me a long time ago. Ernie says they’re my cousins, and I say they’re his cousins. They all have nicknames.
Finnick’s the cousin Ernie has talked about the most. “You better have a good Sunday dinner in mind, Ernestina, because Finnick’s coming to town, and he expects steak — well-done, of course. And steamed asparagus. And mashed potatoes — with plenty of brown gravy. And hot buttered biscuits. Don’t forget the lemon meringue pie, either.”
But now, Ernie says: “I don’t have the stamina for that kind of work, Ernestina. I don’t even feel like putting pencil to paper.”
“Dictate it to me, Ernie.”
So, propped up on pillows against the caned headboard of our French bed, he begins.
“Finnick first,” he says.
Out comes word upon word of character development.
“Slow down, Ernie. I can’t keep up with you.”
And he talks of Fragile, who shies from people and bright sunlight and loud noises, who communes with the moon, who falls in love with Cousin Furtive.
“Cousin Furtive, Ernie? I didn’t know there was a Cousin Furtive.”
“I didn’t, either. Not until now.”
Nine cousins fly out of Ernie almost fully formed. I can’t write fast enough. Soon, he picks up a pencil and takes down his own words.