Mary pulled up to the curb and leaned across the passenger seat to wave at me from the open window. Her loose, grey sweatshirt sleeve wobbled to and fro.
“Hi, Lucy. Nice to meet you!” The SUV suddenly made a jerk and the front wheel slammed into the curb. “Oh dear,” she laughed. “I’m always forgetting to put on the breaks.”
I tried to suppress my cringe. She climbed out of the car and pressed my face into her enormous breasts. I stiffened against her. I just met this lady and she was already on hugging terms? I forced a chuckle and said hi, hoping my face wasn’t too red from suffocation and embarrassment.
“Come in!” she said. “I want you to meet Charlie.” She opened the sliding backseat door and gestured at the car seat. “Charlie, meet Lucy!”
I stared at the empty car seat. “Umm…,” I said. Was I babysitting for a nutjob?
“Oh dear,” Mary finally noticed her son’s absence. “CHARLIE!” she yelled, making me jump. “Get out of the trunk! Come here and meet your new babysitter!”
A small, blonde head peeked out from behind the back seats. Charlie’s eyes squinted behind his glasses, studying me.
“Charlie, get into your car seat NOW!” Mary yelled.
He reluctantly jumped over the seats and crawled into his car seat, holding a small, stuffed monkey with its right arm ripped off.
“Hi, Charlie.” I smiled warily down at him. He only pulled away from me and brought the white fluff from the monkey’s arm to his mouth.
“Well now, that’s nice,” Mary said. “Get in,” she said to me, gesturing to the backseat. “We’ve got to get home. I left some muffins in the oven.”
I climbed into the seat next to Charlie and watched as Mary shut me in. There was something that looked like gum on the side of the leather seat and I crossed my legs to avoid it. My foot stepped on something that squealed and I noticed that the floor was covered with toys: little race cars, actions figures and what looked to be a decapitated Barbie doll. There were also McDonald’s wrappers strewn amongst the toys and under my seat. I turned to put on my seatbelt, but finding it stuck behind the seat, I just awkwardly placed my hands on my knees and prayed that Mary remembered the breaks while she was on the road. We lurched onto the street. The car smelled of candy, baby powder and old car freshener.
I couldn’t believe my mom arranged this. I needed a job this summer but I didn’t know if I needed it this bad.
“Oh, it’s so nice to have a baby sitter again,” Mary said. “The last one had her visa expire and she had to go back to Guatemala. Or maybe it was Peru? Anyway, though Mark and I don’t go out that much it’s nice to have you on call. That man can just sit in front of the TV all day, I swear. I tell him, you see, I tell him that it’s bad for you to watch so much TV. Messes up something with your eyes. But he won’t listen. That’s why I don’t let Charlie watch too much TV. He already has Amblyopia. At the age of five, mind! Got his glasses last year. Can’t have it getting any worse.”
I looked over at Charlie and found him staring at me. His brown eyes, magnified behind the lenses, were opened wide, unblinking. He looked like an owl. I smiled at the thought, but as the seconds went by, his right eye moved and looked off into the distance behind my head. My smile faded. His left gaze locked onto mine. He proceeded to rip out the stuffing from the monkey’s arm with his mouth, chew it and swallow.
“Oh but yes, like I was saying,” Mary continued, “Mark and I don’t go out that often, but he works so late sometimes, staying at the office longer than he should really, but anyway. I like to go out and have someone look after Charlie. You know, go do things with friends. Well, whenever Bessy is available. Which isn’t very often now that she’s got a new boyfriend. It’s strange thinking of someone her age having a boyfriend but you know, she was always a wild one, I suppose. Speaking of which…”
I closed my eyes and let Mary’s words drown out. Christ, the woman could talk! Suddenly, I felt something slimy rub against my leg and I gave a squeal of surprise. Charlie’s hand was outstretched, offering up an opened jolly rancher.
Mary noticed and stopped her monologue to comment, “Oh honey, look! I knew he’d like you. Isn’t that nice?”
“Ye-yeah,” I said. “Thank you, Charlie,”
“Well go on. Take it.”
I looked from Mary to Charlie’s unblinking face, and delicately took it. The red candy rested in my hand, a piece of hair stuck in its hard surface. It had begun to melt and sticky juice slipped between my fingers like saliva. I looked back at Charlie, horrified, and was greeted by his right eye’s stare.
I couldn’t take it. It was too loud. Too smelly. Too sticky. That eye…
We reached a red light and stopped. I didn’t think. I just unlocked the car door and pulled the handle with all my strength.
“Lucy! What are you doing?!”
I jumped out of the car and made a run for it. I swerved around cars and people until I was on the sidewalk and ran for home. All I could hear was Mary’s frantic voice coming from the open sliding door and a high pitched, child-like scream calling my name. “Luuuucccyyyyy!”
– Paola Crespo ©2013