I quickly took off my shoes, not wanting to disturb the austerity of the area, and walked quietly after him. It felt like a house you couldn’t be loud in, a heavy feeling of tension sat in the air above our heads.
“Were there any other applicants?” I asked.
“A few. Come, let’s sit in the living room.”
He went through an opening to his left and I came after. As I neared, I snuck a look into the kitchen across the way. It was an utter disaster with pots and pans piled high in the sink, army trucks and dinosaurs scattered about the floor and dripping stains coming off the high-gloss counters.
Curtis caught me looking and I averted my eyes quickly. It was obviously something I wasn’t supposed to see, but then I suppose it would be my job to deal with messes like that.
“I’m not a very good caretaker,” he explained as I came in the room and he indicated I sit in on the sofa across from him. “You can see why we need a nanny.”
I nodded, sitting down on the slick leather and folded my hands in my lap. I could see he was embarrassed. “Are you a single parent?”
He gave me a quick smile, still handsome and still strained. “No. I am not. I have a wife, Régine. But…” He trailed off and did a quick sweep around the room with his eyes. “I’m an investment banker. I work very long hours and I’m not home often. Your job would be to take care of the children, cook their meals, clean the house…essentially do the job that Régine currently cannot.”
I didn’t want to pry, but I had to know. “Is there something wrong with your wife?”
He let out a sharp puff of air and tugged a bit at his hair. I opened my mouth to apologize for my bold question but he spoke, “She’s ill. Mentally. We don’t know what’s wrong with her. And she drinks too much. She’s…she’s been steadily going downhill and it’s coming to the point that I can’t even deal with my own family. I need someone else to deal with it for me.”
“Someone like me?” I asked. I was starting to wonder if I had applied for something that was well beyond my abilities. Certainly I was no spring chicken and had a hard enough time chasing after Ingrid all those years ago. Would I be able to handle two young boys and their alcoholic, mentally ill mother? It seemed like it was a bit too much for me.
Curtis caught the look on my face and as he twirled his wedding band around his finger, said, “I know I am not painting the best picture here but I want to be honest up front. My dignity means a lot to me and I need someone who will keep the image I have built up for myself. I am a good provider to my family and give them everything they wish to have. The boys, well the oldest anyway, are well-cultured and well-groomed. I work very hard to give them this life but I cannot be their mother. I don’t expect you to be their mother either, but the help would be more than appreciated. It would be better than what we currently have: A deadbeat.”
I flinched at hearing him speak about his wife like that but he didn’t seem to notice. “I must say, I don’t know if I am the right candidate. I am in my fifties and have seen better days. Are you sure you wouldn’t want someone fresh and new?”
He shook his head. “No. No, I saw quite a few fresh and new women this morning and I’m afraid they aren’t cut out for the job. It is not about the energy here. I doubt my boys will run you ragged, as I said they are, for the most part, very well-behaved. I need someone with the mental maturity to handle the situation with grace and class. For first impressions, you seem to have that.”
Curtis tugged at his hair again, a gesture that I realized was a nervous tick. I wondered how he still had such nice hair with such a habit. He looked up at me, his face very serious. “I’ll pay you handsomely you know.”
I didn’t want to assume as much, so I just smiled at him and ran things over in my mind, not really sure what to do. I didn’t know if such a household would be the right place for me, considering all I had gone through with my life. I certainly did not want to live it all over again. The fact that he would pay me well didn’t even factor into it.
“Jesus Christ,” he suddenly swore and I jumped in my seat. He got up and marched over to area between an armchair and the fireplace. He bent over and when he emerged he was holding a broken glass trophy in his hands. His eyes were wild with anger and I could feel it flowing off of him like it was steam. He looked to the mantel above the fireplace where I assumed the trophy once stood.
“That son of a bitch,” he said, his voice lowered, the full brogue coming out. As if I didn’t exist, he stormed past me and stuck his head out into the hallway.
“Declan Pierre O’Shea!” he bellowed, his voice echoing throughout the house. “You get your arse right down here this instant!”
I turned in my seat and watched Curtis. He was clutching the trophy so hard, I was surprised he wasn’t drawing blood.
“Is everything alright?” I asked him.
He shook his head, the anger never leaving his eyes, and waited by the doorway. I heard a shuffling and a small boy reluctantly appeared in front of his father.
He was the youngest, the six-year old, skinny as anything, with a tuft of messy black hair that matched his father’s. His eyes were downcast, staring at the floor, but I would have bet they would be the same mahogany brown too.
“Did you break Michael’s lacrosse trophy!?” Curtis yelled at him.
The child, Declan, didn’t move or say anything. I could see he was frigid with fear. I felt the same fear myself and my heart was catching in my chest.
“Look at me when I’m speaking to you,” Curtis growled. He grabbed Declan’s small arm and pulled him roughly toward him. “Answer me! Did you?”
He was right in the boys face now, the power of his words causing his hair to fly. Slowly Declan raised his eyes to his father’s. They were surprisingly hard. I had expected him to be crying but that was not the case.
“Yes,” the boy said in a flat voice. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it,” Curtis said venomously. Declan tried to move out of his father’s grasp but Curtis tightened his grip to the point where it looked as if he’d break his own child’s bones and he pulled Declan in front of me. I gasped at the act, I couldn’t help it.
“This is Declan. He’s the only one who might give you trouble.”
Curtis shoved him toward me. The boy kept his eyes to the ground.
“Declan, promise me you won’t be a bother to this nice woman as you are to me and your mother.”
“Oh, he’s just a young boy,” I began to say, but Curtis cut me off.
“It doesn’t matter. He knows how to behave and breaking his brother’s trophy is out of the question. Just because he’s jealous it doesn’t give him the right. You hear me Declan?”
“It was an accident!” Declan wailed, finally showing some emotion. I felt extraordinarily bad for the child. “I was throwing the ball and-”
“You know not to throw anything in this house!” Curtis’s face was now turning an ugly shade of crimson. “We have rules.”
Declan looked back at the ground and mumbled, “Mikey wouldn’t play with me and mum said I was giving her a headache. She told me to go away, to play inside.”
“Enough with the excuses.” He tugged at his hair again and sighed. Then he quickly patted Declan on the head, his face contorted slightly, as if he was petting a lizard instead of his own son. “You go get your brother. I’ll deal with you later.”
Declan nodded. Before he left, he looked up at me and in his big, dark eyes I saw a plea for help. That’s all it could have been. It was almost as if he shouted “Help me” inside my own head.
I nodded back, dumbstruck and frightened, and Declan left the room, shoulders slumped and head down. Defeated.
Moments later Michael, the nine-year old, came into the room. He was tall for his age and had similar good looks to his father, perhaps with less of an olive complexion than Declan had. His hair was lighter and cut short and he was wearing a neat shirt and khakis. There was no question that Michael was the favorite son. I could almost see him wearing that fact like a badge of honor.
After the meeting, Curtis quickly showed me around the rest of the house, except for the master bedroom where Régine was apparently sleeping. I got a glimpse, however, of the tastefully appointed room that would be my own.
“This will be your room, if you’re to take the job. Pippa, I really hope you do. We need you here,” Curtis had said. He had calmed down and though he wasn’t quite jovial, he was more pleasant to be around and was back to trying to win me over.
I wasn’t sold on the idea, so told him I would need a day to think about it, especially since he wanted me to start right away.
I got in the cab and gave him a short wave. Just as the cab was pulling away I caught a hint of movement on the second floor. My eyes traveled up to the window to see small, little Declan standing there. Not waving, but watching me leave. He was too far away to see clearly, but I felt a wealth of desperation and sadness in his eyes.
I didn’t know the full dynamic of the O’Sheas. I knew that my job would be a difficult one. But if I couldn’t be a mother to Ingrid, perhaps I could be to a little boy who desperately needed one.
Two hours later I called Curtis from the roach motel’s crackly phone line and told him I would take the job.
A day later, I was moved into the O’Sheas as Pippa Lindstrom, their new nanny.
I never regretted my decision to become Declan and Michael’s nanny. I hope you realize this Declan, no matter how hard it is to hear me rehash those troubled times. I never ever regretted a thing.
That said, as far as jobs go, I doubt you could find one more difficult. Especially at first as there was a large learning curve.
Curtis, as he had said, was rarely ever home. It wasn’t my business to ask where he was, even when I wondered how he could be doing business when he left at dawn and came home at 11 o’clock at night. I also didn’t ask where he went when he wouldn’t come home at all and for several days at that. He was either a workaholic or he was having an affair. Perhaps several affairs. Sometimes I would catch perfume on him and I could tell it wasn’t from Régine. The two of them never spoke, except in yells and slurs.
Oh, Régine. It’s difficult for me to summarize the way I felt about your mother Declan. I certainly know how you feel about her. I can understand your shame and anger at having such a woman for a mother. But though Régine frightened me, disgusted me and angered me, I could see she was a victim of her own mind and uncontrollable circumstances. There must have been a normal, good-hearted person somewhere in her soul, it was just a pity that by the time I came to the family, she wasn’t there anymore. In her place was an absolute monster.
Régine had two problems, the very ones that Curtis had warned me about, and they were so intertwined it was hard to see what problem came first. Was she mentally ill because she drank all the time or did she drink all the time because she was mentally ill? I suppose the same question could be said about us, too. Are we mentally different because we see ghosts or do we see ghosts because we are mentally different?
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