The importance of being ernest but not Oscar Wilde.
It was one of those cold, grey evenings in Maastricht. The trees were bare, but I spied a “Last Leaf” just waiting for a particularly strong gust. I sighed, thinking of the incomparable O’Henry and how he’d inspired me to write.
Just a couple days before Christmas, no doubt about it there was snow in the air, and I was sitting at a café on the plein outside Onze Lieve Vrouw, probably one of the most beautiful churches in the world. I was looking for inspiration for a Christmas present for my better half and not finding it in my coffee cup. On impulse, I stood and strode off in the direction of a brightly lit trinket shop across the street.
Waiting for a moment, look right, look left, look right again, this is Holland not South Africa, and I was about to cross the street when the guy next to me grabbed my sleeve. “You taken tonight?” he demanded hoarsely. Bewildered, I turned and stared: About my age, heavy overcoat with a huge silver cross dangling on his chest. The penny dropped, I was being propositioned; for the first time by another male. “Oh yes,” I exclaimed. “By my wife!” and hurriedly crossed the street.
Wandering aimlessly around the shop, I found my gift: She who must be obeyed was emblazoned across the pillar box red mug, suddenly conscious of couple women giggling behind the stand. Ignoring them, I strode off to the till.
The importance of being ernest asks if you've ever been propositioned by a man and a woman on the same day?
Waiting in line, I stared, fascinated, out the window, wondering if the man was still on the street corner. He was. Gesturing to the shop assistant, I asked, “Is he often there?”
“Oh, yes,” she replied. “Every night. What’s the matter, were you invited for a night out?”
I nodded sheepishly.
“Well dressed in that heavy overcoat and that cute little cap, I’m not surprised.”
“What’s the matter with my
cap? It was knitted for me by a special friend,” lifting it from off my ears. Rabbit and angora, warm and gentle.
She giggled. “A male friend?”
“No, of course not. A lady friend.”
“Well, it’s the kind these gays wear.” She inclined her head to the street where our friend was climbing into the backseat of a handsome, sleek Mercedes Benz. “Got his date,” she said, grinning and wrapping the mug. Gesturing to the other side of the shop, she said: “Someone should write about them.”
Hearing another giggle, I turned discreetly and peered. The two chic young women, in the calf-high boots and fishnet stockings, were kissing surreptitiously behind the mug stand. “Somebody has,” I whispered reaching into my wallet for one of my cards.
“You mean like Oscar Wilde?”
“Jup, like Oscar.” I said, “And…”
She arched her eyebrows. “And?”
“And Bernard Preston.”
“Bernard Preston?” she said. “Who’s that?”
“Me,” I said, passing her the card. On it was emblazoned a photograph of my book covers with the words, Another Bernard Preston novel. “It’s called A Family Affair.”
Taking the card, staring at it, and simultaneously passing me the mug, she surreptitiously took my hand. “You? You’re straight as Barbie and Ken, I can feel it. What would you know?”
"Please, please, it's important not to be flippant in such matters!"
"Mm, ernest you mean?" We laughed, she still holding onto my hand. Was I being propositioned for the second time in one night?
“Just not a pretty as Ken," I sighed. "Try me, A Family Affair is only 99c on Amazon.” Retrieving my hand, I grinned at her and strode out onto the street, glancing at the girls behind the mug stand. They were still at it…
You read The Last Leaf? Less famous than The Importance of being Ernest but it’s probably the most superb, very best short story I’ve ever read, written by a master. Just happens to be about a lesbian couple. Google it, it’s free on the internet.
Then download A Family Affair ... The Bostonians onto your smartphone, the first of a trilogy. Preston's not in the same league as O'Henry and Wilde, I confess, but you'll love it just the same. When you go to the beach this summer, will you be taking O'Henry and Wilde with you? I doubt it. Bernard Preston? Now that's an option!
This short story, the importance of being ernest, from Just for Laughs, asks if we don't actually take ourselves too seriously? Our sexuality, our race and even our religion has become so burdensome, that we buckle under the weight of them. Then we are just inviting others to lampoon us.