Ernestine

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Published January 23, 2023
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The Montclarion
I have an ugly name but a pretty face.

Trigger Warning: The following story contains content pertaining to suicide. This story may be sensitive for some readers.

I have an ugly name but a pretty face.

I was named after a woman on my dad’s side of my family. She wasn’t very smart or very cheerful. She sat around in her colonial mansion in upstate New York, probably wishing she had tuberculosis. I think they called it consumption back then.

In the one picture I have of Ernestine, lace collaborated with her olive skin and twisted into a high collar at her neck. Her neck supported her Gibson Girl hair. You can’t tell from the picture I have of her, but it was a crazy mixture of red and brown and blonde according to a journal entry I found in a box in my late teens.

You know the painting of that girl that everyone loves? I think it’s called The Girl with the Pearl Earring. The earrings Ernestine wears look just like the ones in that painting. Maybe a little duller.

Ernestine was a good Catholic. She probably never did drugs. If she had any access to drugs, it would be the kind of cough syrup that was filled with heroin, or whatever they put in that stuff. Ernestine wears a two carat diamond in the picture. She is seated on a couch. One hand holds her chin and the other hand seems placed strategically palm down against her thigh. Her ring, if the photo was in color, would be silver. Her eyes communicate misery and disdain. That makes sense because Ernestine made love to a bottle of arsenic shortly after her 13th birthday. I can’t say I blame her.

Her opulence is obvious. I imagine her seated in rooms full of presents on her birthday and Christmas. I have a hard time receiving gifts. I wonder if she did, too. My boyfriend tries to get me nice things. The most recent time this happened, he pressed a hand to the small of my back and kissed my cheek. “It’s a gift, Ernie. Don’t think about it too hard.”

He is the only person in the entire world who is allowed to call me Ernie.

Sometimes I boil myself in the tub. My arms cross over my chest. They cover what I don’t want to see in the mirror. I look out the window, trying to entertain myself. I watch a woman in Prada push a stroller that holds a little girl adorned in pink. She doesn’t check on the kid even when I can hear the infant crying from the apartment window.

I lay my neck on the edge of the tub. I stare at the ceiling. Then, I begin to slip.

My calves rub against the other side of the lip, chucking my feet into the air. My chin goes into the soapy water. I keep going. My lips are now submerged. My nose goes under.

My lungs struggle as my heart knocks against my ribcage. The feeling reminds me of when I couldn’t quit cigarettes even after joining the track team. Back then I was sucking on air and coughing my brains out. I only quit cold turkey after I met my boyfriend.

I launch myself out of the water fast. I scream for air. The sound of my screams fills the cold, uncaring room. It bounces off of the tiles and land right back into my own ears.

I huff and puff for air. Eventually, I am calmed. The water is not as hot. I unplug the drain. I watch the water leave the tub and circle the drain.

Down and down and down and down.

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