The babysitter gave us watches so we'd think she was a good person. Like, look I have watches, they are colorful and wrap around my wrist in one move, I am giving them to you as a gift. How could I possibly harm your children?
We passed them around the table nodding. Thank god for these, I kept saying to my husband, they are proof.
But he wasn’t fooled.
“What about the time she stabbed our daughter’s teddy bear?” he asked.
“Yes but she stitched it back up later.”
“And the time she stole from us?”
“It was only a few bills,” I insisted.
He reminded me how much extra money the babysitter charged us to give the kids a bath. “Imagine if we’d ever asked her to cook them dinner.”
I tried to defend her. Children were filthy, the water became brown when they bathed and sometimes they disappeared inside. Soaps got lost, hands and limbs were impossible to find. There were dangers in tubs, rubber things that floated. The kids liked to stick the dirty wash cloths in their mouths, they could choke on mud bits. Sometimes they placed the cloths on their nose, inhaled hard and said they wanted to eat the smell of dirt and soap. They could suffocate. They could slip and die. Bathing them required quick reflexes. What did he know, he had only done it a few times. But she had a certificate just to get the bathing part of her job done safely. The fee was expensive, but she was reliable. It was full of dangers when you dipped children in dirty water.
The babysitter was never nice. I tried to defend her even when I knew it was a stretch. The house always smelled like garlic that she boiled in an aqueous stew through the day. She drank it to boost her immune system, she said. It was the only thing she cooked. When I told her she might think about making food for the children instead of soaking garlic in hot water, she snapped. She looked at me with her big calf eyes and said she was the normal one, not me. She had raised many brothers and sisters, she watered and pruned plants as a child, she knew what caretaking was about. I reconsidered my misgivings, even my concerns about the teddy bear incident. A few months earlier she had pinned the stuffed animal to the wall and gutted him with a kitchen knife. She forced my daughter to stick her nose into the ruffled clods of fur that made up his intestines, then offered her the knife.
“Your turn now. Something for grown-ups only,” she told her with exotic flair. My daughter didn’t want to stab her bear and started crying. The babysitter apologized and stitched it back up, offended. “Your loss,” she said with a quivering lip.
There was also the time when I caught her breastfeeding my son. It was just to calm him down, she told me. It was normal, women should hand their nipples over to children whenever they asked for it. Even if they didn’t have milk.
Not long before we broke things off for good, she locked everyone up in the house and asked us for money. She was stressed out, she needed to go to the thermal baths and unwind. She was sick maybe. She might lose all her hair. We better give her money.
And we did. The little we had left we poured onto the table. She racked it and shook her head. It wasn't much at all, she complained. She asked us to give her the kind of money like she'd watched over countless muddy baths. “Bath fee times a thousand,” she commanded. But that would amount to so much, it was incalculable. I rummaged through my pockets as the kids started crying. Take our house, I said. She accepted and teetered toward our bedroom. “Book the spa,” she shot back and shut the door behind her.
I called and reserved an appointment. She must have been listening because when I hung up the phone, the door to our bedroom opened again. She came out with a yawn. She would rest now, she explained. It was her turn finally. And that’s when she gave us the watches, one for each of us. They were easy to use and came in beautiful colors, like mountain skies and warm pastures. With those I could convince my husband that she was right.
The Sildelines of Glory
Leonard is a big man who suffers bursts of amnesia and forgets about the times he hits her. He says he does it because she is tall and her ponytail is high and easy to grab, she has strong calves, and looks like she can fend for herself. That’s all he remembers about his girlfriend after he hits her, that she’s big–– a big girl who can decide things on her own. But nobody is as big as Leonard. He drags his giant feet across the puddles of the Eternal City. Everyone else in Rome prefers the marble-paved roads, heels clicking on the calcite. Some people tell him he should side-step the dirt and walk on the shiny white slabs like the rest of us, but I don’t care to remind him. I like that it’s my feet on rocks instead of his.
Ancient Romans were so smart. Unlike Leonard they refused to trudge in muck. Unlike Leonard they remembered the things they did: the sunsets in Cyprus, the way the desert sand blew in from the Sahara at night on the triumphal arch of Timgad, how the prairies beneath Hadrian’s wall changed colors with every season, those quiet nights on the Dead Sea, the “asphalt lake”, they called it, with black pebbles spitting up from the abyss. Romans remembered floating on water and salt crystals, looking at blood red moons, bracing for dawn. They used all the right hills to build their city and chose to pave their way out of the sludge. Not like Leonard. Big, boisterous Leonard who can’t even remember what he did to his girl.
The last time he hit her he made her disappear. No more girlfriend, just a pulp. When he was done, he made his way to the alabaster in town. I asked him where she was and he said he couldn’t remember. I dragged him back to the slush piles that flanked the roads. I took him there, on the sidelines of glory, and told him to never return.
Chiara Barzini is an Italian author and screenwriter. Her writing has appeared in Noon, Bomb Magazine, Freeman’s, Harper’s Magazine, Vogue, Vice, and T Magazine amongst others. She is the author of the story collection Sister Stop Breathing (Calamari Press, 2012) and the novel Things That Happened Before The Earthquake (Doubleday, 2017.)