The Importance of Being Ernesto

Elaine laughed as she finished putting on make up at the bathroom mirror. “Oh my, I’d go broke buying all the cosmetics I’d need to repair this old face. There was a time, Corazon, when I was a pearl and the world was my oyster, but alas. Now it’s just ‘oy’!”

Elaine turned from the mirror and walked to a lounge chair in her bedroom. She was wearing an elegant dressing gown and had her gray hair swept up behind her head. The manicured fingers of her veined and splotched hands now gracefully laced themselves on a knee.

Corazon was changing the linens as Elaine watched. “I had another idea last night for a story Corazon. I really must tell it. Are you familiar with Che Guevara?”

“Revolutionary wasn’t he?” replied Corazon as she pulled off a pillow case.

“Yes, and a handsome one, very dashing and dangerous.” said Elaine. “My second husband and I met him one day shortly after he and Fidel and Camilo and the others threw out Bautista. We’d met Bautista too once, but he lacked the charm of those crazy revolutionaries. Once upon a time, Havana was the Las Vegas of the Caribbean, wild and fun, and we used to vacation there in the winters. That husband was sort of wild and fun too, although when it came to business, he was quite serious. Anyway, he loved to go fishing down there, and that’s when we met Papa too. You’ve read Hemingway haven’t you Corazon?”

“No ma’am, but didn’t he kill himself?”

“Yes, and that’s part of the story. It’s going to be called ‘The Importance of Being Ernesto.’ Have you read Oscar Wilde?”

“No ma’am, but wasn’t he a homosexual?”

“Yes, but that’s not part of the story. In Wilde’s play neither man is actually earnest or named Ernest, but in mine they both are and both are famous. The story takes place on the day of the big sport fishing contest that Hemingway used to put on down there. He was like my husband you know, he wasn’t afraid of the revolution, in fact, we were kind of swept up in the romance of it all. Anyway, in the play each of the fake Earnests gets a girl, but in my story, it’s a love triangle, there’s only one girl and neither Ernesto gets her. Perhaps because they are not earnest, but they were you know, both very serious. Wait, that’s it, you’ve got it. Maybe they were like Oscar Wilde – gay!” Elaine exclaimed. She paused thoughtfully, putting a finger on her lips.

“Well, maybe, we’ll make it ambiguous, you know, to add that aura of mystery. In any case, they were distracted, and of course they both had wives and children and all. Anyway, the young woman, a revolutionary herself, tough, but gorgeous in a dangerous way – sort of like Che – she is drawn to them both. They both had swagger, charisma, machismo. I’ve got to figure out how to get Che to speak Spanish the way Hemingway wrote English. Anyway, they’re all at the marina in Havana on the morning of the fishing contest and she can’t decide whose yacht to get on. At the last minute, instead of considering the importance of being earnest, she’s drawn to the importance of loyalty, and she stays on the dock with Fidel, fidelity, get it?”

“I’m not sure I do Miss Elaine, but I’m sure it will be a wonderful story,” Corazon replied as she tucked in the sheet and threw on a blanket.

“Actually, it’s a tragedy, but it’s calm and there’s a young man and an old man and the sea. Che hops over onto Papa’s boat when they are way out on the water. It could have happened, nobody knows it didn’t, who’s the wiser? So they have a conversation about fishing and politics, about writing and adventure. They argue about socialism and capitalism, was Jesus a communist, and who is the hero – the bull or the bullfighter? We hear about Hemingway’s driving through Europe and Che’s driving through South America. We hear about lying and truth, life and death, dirty motorcycles and clean, well-lighted places. Terse dialogue, cucumber sandwiches, the real and the imaginary. They would discuss Bumby and Bunburying; Hadley and Haydee, or was it Hilda?, their respective exploits in Africa, and how to be cruel. They would compare notes on the time Guevara invited Hemingway to see executions of Cubans who allegedly did not support the revolution, a kind of Cuban version of Death in the Afternoon. It would be a hypothetical meeting of minds – that might have actually happened – and who’s to say it didn’t?

So they’re out there on the water, they’re having this conversation, and then one Ernest asks the other Ernesto for a diagnosis. You know Che was a medical doctor, and Papa had lot of health problems. He’d been punctured and burned, battered and bruised, had crashed in cars and airplanes, and was probably getting way too much sun that day. So they compare their scars, Che advises Papa on his myriad ailments, and then they talk about how to die and how to die a good death. Papa talks about killing animals, Che talks about killing people. They talk about friends and enemies they know who have died, who died well, and who did not.

Neither of them catches a marlin, then Papa goes back to Idaho to shoot himself, and Che eventually goes to Bolivia to get shot by someone else, and Fidel remains loyal only to his men – so maybe he is the homosexual? And our heroine, let’s call her Consuelo, I love that name. She, she marries several men in not-so-rapid succession and winds up in an old folks home regaling the help with tales of her adventures. What do you think mi Corazon, my heart?”

“Another masterpiece ma’am. I need to go change another bed. Is there anything else I can get for you?”

“Yes, a facelift, or maybe a gun. Is it too early for cocktails my dear?”

“Perhaps you should have lunch first.” Corazon smiled, and walked out of the room.

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