The brunette stood in the doorway and announced to her husband: “I’m planning to hire an au pair girl.”
A few seconds passed.
“What prompted that?” he asked.
“She offered, and I decided that it was a good idea, since I’ve just started this new project.”
“She offered? So what prompted that?”
“Some things I’ve said and written.”
“I once said in an interview that I was washing dishes and then I heard some music that inspired me to run out into the living room. So she figured that I might better concentrate my energy on my creativity instead of washing dishes. Also, I once wondered aloud why it’s so easy to overdo it on cold pizza, and she took that as implying that I wasn’t eating well. So with her here, I also won’t have to worry about having healthy-for-me food to eat. Also, I once mentioned in an interview something to the effect of getting through the day. She took that as implying that it’s not always easy for me, and she figured that I sometimes need help, especially now with this new project, so … she offered.”
“She seems attentive. Someone you know?”
“Long-distance only. I’ve never met her. She’s …” the brunette refused to say the word “just” though she paused slightly, then continued: “ … someone who follows me on social media. She does seem to pay attention more, and she does have a commendable amount of imitative.”
“She certainly does. I’m just concerned that we’ll have a wild-eyed eighteen-year-old in the house, obsessed with your music …”
“She’s not eighteen. She’s about the same age I am … a few years younger.”
“Oh. Well, by definition, au pair girls are typically younger than 30 … “
“It’s just a number. She’s young at heart.”
Her husband let that issue go, thought for a few seconds and then said:
“Let’s talk about what might go wrong, so that you’re not in a situation you regret. For example, I don’t want to smell cigarette smoke, or now that pot is legalized …”
“She doesn’t smoke. Or do drugs. Never has.”
“Wait, as in never, ever? Not even pot?”
“Is the liquor cabinet at risk then?”
“She doesn’t drink, either.”
“Wow, miss Mormon, then.”
The brunette smiled and said: “She’s not religious.”
“Will I have ICE showing up to arrest and deport her?”
“She’s a US citizen.”
“So by au pair, you mean, a live-in maid? Like in the spare bedroom?”
“More of a personal live-in assistant.”
“I see.” He thought some more, then said, gingerly: “Not everyone is healthy, so it’s probably prudent to be concerned about contagious…”
“She’s just had a health checkup. She’s supremely healthy, with paperwork to prove it.”
“Well, some, um, communicable diseases are … transmitted via toilet seats, and a general checkup doesn’t….”
“She has a clean bill of health as so socially transmitted issues too.”
“I see.” He thought some more. Then: “Sometimes people have baggage, like suddenly a family member desperately needs financial help, and then she might try to make her problems someone else’s problems …”
“Her stepdaughter doesn’t live with her, is all grown up and is independent and thriving. She doesn’t have brothers or sisters in the US. Her mom has her own house and finances, and is independent and thriving.”
“Jealous or crazy husband? Boyfriend?
“None. And, she’s not married.”
“Wow. I think you’ve just described the world’s most boring person.”
The brunette decided not to respond to that, and waited for the next concern to be mentioned. It was: “Well, for how long is this?”
“A few days at a time. Then she’ll go back home, attend to matters there, and then come back again the subsequent week, assuming it all keeps working out to mutual benefit.”
“So, you would pick her up from the bus station or train station, I assume?”
“No, she drives and has her own car.”
“Oh. Will she pass a background check?”
“Yes. She has a clearance, so she jokingly said that if the government trusts her, then…”
“That’s a line from Top Gun, the movie,” he replied. He was quiet, now puzzled. He frowned, and then he said:
“I have a huge mental vacuum as to envisioning this girl. So far almost every question I’ve asked and every answer you’ve given … it has described her by negation. She doesn’t smoke, doesn’t do drugs, doesn’t drink, doesn’t have a needy family, doesn’t have pets, doesn’t have a criminal record, doesn’t have a husband or boyfriend, doesn’t have family living with her, isn’t religious … having a car and being able to drive, and being healthy and having a clearance … those are positive attributes but she’s still a nebulous image. Not that I plan to interact with her at all; she’s 100% your problem. But she seems like the most nondescript person on earth.”
The brunette smiled, not replying verbally. Her husband continued looking puzzled. “I’m trying to envision her. What character in which movie would best describe her, do you think?” he asked, still puzzled.
“She’s a tall, blonde trans girl version of Jack in Titanic,” thought the brunette, but she decided not to say that. She shrugged, not knowing what to say instead.
“What about paperwork? Taxes, government forms?”
“Only if she charges money. She’s not charging money.”
“Wait, she’s offering to do this at no charge?”
“To enable me to better concentrate on my creativity and not have to worry about dishes or food preparation — motivated by lots of benevolence toward me. ”
“Wow, that’s a lot of benevolence.”
The brunette nodded, and added: “Yes, and I’d like to accept the offer.”
“So is she independently wealthy? Like, is there going to be a Bentley in the driveway?”
“No, but probably an Audi A8 Quattro.”
“That’s a $100,000 car.”
“It’s 20 years old.”
“Still … that’s a very unusual au pair girl.”
The brunette nodded and smiled, happily. Her husband was still puzzled, and asked: “So, how does she eat?”
“She has a very regimented eating routine, so it’s not like she’s going to eat us out of house and home. As in, she’ll bring her own groceries.”
“No, I mean, if she’s not charging then how does she make money or survive financially?”
“She’ll work on her laptop computer while I’m working.”
“What does she do?”
“She makes software, professionally. As in, custom database software, for large companies. She can work remotely wherever she is, though it helps her to have Internet access.”
“Oh, I see. Now she’s less nebulous of an image. What else does she do?”
“She’s also a writer,” the brunette added, and immediately regretted it.
“What does she write about?”
“Me, mostly,” the brunette thought in reply but just said: “Mostly fiction.”
“A bit of both. Mostly amateur but she got paid to write an advice column of sorts, and some related work.”
“So am I going to read about my home life in a tabloid newspaper?”
“Not her style, at all. Not even remotely.”
“Still … get something in writing, as to confidentiality — notarized.”
“She thought of that too, and she has already created such a document.”
Her husband was surprised. He thought about it some more. Then, he said, slowly: ”Still, suddenly there’s a stranger in the house.”
“Yes, but we did something similar about five years ago. Not an au pair girl, but even so … it added a lot of value, and it worked out fine.”
“Yes … but how do we know our lives and property are safe? She might do something and then vanish…”
“We have no reason to believe she would do anything hurtful but in case I’m uneasy, she thought about that too, so she offered her US passport, to be put in the safe, handed to my attorney, or whatever. That implied a lot, right there.”
Her husband nodded pensively. then asked: “References?”
“Yes, as a software engineer, but not as an au pair girl since she doesn’t normally do this.”
He processed that, then thought some more. Something was bothering him. He said, slowly: “Normally I’d be concerned that this is someone about whom we know very little, but in this case you seem to know so much about her that the pendulum has swung to where now I’m beyond reassured; I’m actually puzzled.”
“She has years and years of social media history that I could go browse, and that told me a lot.”
“I suppose so.”
There was a long pause. Then, he said: “I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t do this. This is what you want?”
The brunette felt her eyes sparkling so she quickly looked down, and nodded.
He added: “One more thing: I don’t want to have to interact with her, at all. She’s totally your concern. I don’t even want to exchange pleasantries with her. I certainly don’t want to make small talk about my work or what I’ve done professionally. She can smile at me but I literally don’t want her talking to me unless the house is on fire and she’s yelling ‘Fire!’ ”
“I’ll convey that,” the brunette replied.
“Also, I expect to be away on location, so I’d prefer that you coordinate the schedule such that she’s here when I’m not, and vice versa.”
The brunette nodded agreeably. Then, she asked: “Any other questions, comments or concerns?”
He thought about it, then shook his head, but he observed: “That’s an interesting way of phrasing it.”
“I learned it from her.”
Her husband nodded some more, then looked at her quizzically and said: “You seem really energized. This new work project must be very good for you.”
The brunette nodded vigorously. She smiled one more time, and was about to leave, when she stopped. Sometimes, it’s possible to mislead by omission, and this development was the start of something so important that it deserved to be acknowledged. Even so, normally, she would just walk out. But this time … this time was different, in every way.
She stood still, her mind — and her heart — racing. Fragments of lyrics flashed through her mind: “we dance around the truth, somber and aloof, and we skip over the facts, just like actors” and “why must we play this game?” She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and pushed her shoulders back until they ached. She realized that this moment was a fork in the road — a chance to take a totally new direction, which included more candor. She felt the fear of the risk and the unknown as an almost palpable entity, but then envisioned two calm, brown eyes soothingly and silently bathing her, comforting her. That was the encouragement she needed.
She opened her eyes, then turned and faced him silently. They looked at each other for a few seconds. Somehow, he knew that this was an important moment. Still looking at him calmly, she slowly said:
“Yes, but that’s not all there is to it.”
He inclined his head, as if to say: “Go on.”
She continued: “I get lonely.” She paused for a very long time, to let that sink in, then added: “I can feel lonely even while someone is socially interacting with me — as in, I am acutely aware of the absence of the intense type of emotional connection that I crave.” She paused for a long time, to allow the ripple effect of that statement to circle ever wider in his consciousness. Then, she added: “Nobody’s fault … but having her here intends to change that.”
They looked at each other for many seconds more. She was about to say more, but then realized that her earnest eye contact was underscoring all the implications of what she’d just said. They kept looking at each other, in mutual acknowledgement of what had been said, and more: what had been implied. They each knew that this span of silent eye contact was primal and crucially important. Then, he looked down, his mind now racing too, and drawing several more conclusions. Here was the perfect opportunity to object, he realized. He also knew that he wouldn’t object. He finally looked up at her again, as if to say “okay” — to everything.
She nodded slowly, in full acknowledgement, then turned and left. She went to her bedroom and closed the door. She lay on her bed for a long time, experiencing the intense rush of multiple strong emotions, while telling herself: “Feel it, experience it, live it … this is the visceral life you crave. Here it is. Savor it.” She focused on how she was feeling, and on how she was feeling about her feelings. For once, she didn’t also feel guilt, nor did she feel ridiculous. She noticed these absences with surprise and delight. She also noticed her delight, and felt joyous about that. “You can’t help how you feel,” the blonde had taught her. Evidently, accepting that premise — it was paying dividends already.
It took the brunette perhaps half an hour to feel in control again. No amusement-park roller-coaster could compete with what she’d just experienced, she thought. Then, she thought further back in time, and thought about her adult life … about forty years ago, it had seemed doomed to go in a less-than-ideal direction but then one crucial decision had changed the course of her life. Then, approximately eleven years later, two more crucial decisions in the same year, each of which had also dramatically changed the course of her life yet again. Three years after that, another important decision, resulting in another dramatic change in direction … toward a course that had continued for two-and-a-half decades. She thought about all that, and about the events of the last few months.
Then, she picked up her phone and typed: “Green light. When can you be here?” … and smiled happily when she saw the reply.