Bert and Ernie at the End

This is a short short story (750 words or less) that I wrote for my Advanced Fiction Workshop. It started out more uplifting and then I just kept writing… I’m sorry. Enjoy? Also be aware there’s some cursings in here!


A short short story

by Laura Freymiller

Late at night we go out walking, not touching, not talking, barely looking at each other, simply together until Ernie says, “Hey, Bert, when are we ever going to get married?”

At which point I reply, “Ernie, you know we can’t, honey. The ratings.”

Then he says, “They’ve tested it with enough audiences to know there’s only the slight possibility anything will happen. And hey, Bert, I’m not getting any younger.”

And I look into those dull black eyes of his, dim mirrors of my own and it smells of lavender in the street garden tonight, so I say, “Ah, what the hell, marry me?”

So we have our wedding in the old church with the Electric Mayhem playing, because Ernie wouldn’t have it any other way, and they agreed to do it for free. And everyone’s laughing and Miss Piggy is only a little drunk and going on about someday this will be her wedding. And even the Grouch put on his best suit and tie to come out and heckle and hit on bridesmaids. That’s probably the last time we were all together and really happy.

It’s not the studio’s fault. I mean, nothing stays popular forever. Changing demographics. Changing audiences, you know. Things start to go. First just the older, poorly-timed shows. Then the more popular ones, too.

It gets harder and harder to get up in the mornings. Ernie and I hardly ever make love; I mean we’re just too damn tired to make the move from one bed to the other. Friends stop coming over; there’s nothing to talk about anymore. Nothing to be said. I hear Snuffleupagus goes back to huffing glue. I mean to say it gets dark.

We don’t know what will happen to us from one day to the next. I start to feel an angry pinch all the time on the back of my neck, like someone’s grabbing me. I try to ask Ernie about it.

“Hey, you think we’ll be okay?”

He looks at me. “Sure, Bert, we’ll be okay.”

“How do you know?”

“Cause I have you.”

“And if you didn’t?”

“But I do.”

“If you didn’t.”

“This isn’t like you, Bert. What has gotten into you. This is very not like you at all.”

Sometimes I wish I could slap Ernie.

One night I walk out down the street past the spiking fences, the sliding lampposts descending into the distance. I walk far and then even farther than that, because I’m tired of not wandering.

I find a street corner on which to stand. I look into bakery windows and dodge traffic. It starts to spit rain and I know I’ll smell musty all of tomorrow. There’s a pair of teenagers sitting on a park bench and looking at a handheld device. Its light plays on their faces washing them pale, pale blue. I try to hear what they are watching, but they have in ear buds.

The teenager on the right is attractive in a bookish sort of way. He has dark thick hair that reminds me of Ernie’s. His nose is too long for his face and gives him a delightfully wan feeling. His friend is wide set with little ripples of fat on his elbows.

I walk past them without saying anything. When I look back they haven’t stopped staring at the screen.

On my way home, a homeless man stops me.

“Scuse me, sir. You got a quarter?” His nose is lopsided, pulled by the wrinkles of skin off and down to the left. His teeth are stained dark brown.

“Sorry,” I say.

“C’mon,” the man says smiling. “You got a quarter. Just a quarter, sir. Really gonna help me out. C’mon.”

“No,” I say and try to push my way past him.

“Aw, man, that ain’t cool,” he says in a hurt tone. “You got a quarter. You gotta have a quarter.” He moves to stand in front of me again.

I look into his dull black eyes, dim mirrors of my own. I knock him to the ground with a vicious shove. He hits his head against the sidewalk with a hollow clunk. He doesn’t stand up. I look around but there is no one else out.

When I get home, Ernie is asleep in the bed next to mine. I stand in the doorway watching him until he wakes up.

“Bert?” he asks. “You okay?”

“Yeah, Ernie,” I say, “we’re okay.”

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