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the caretaker

"You capricious little bitch!"

He looked around the room, wary that he'd been heard. But, of course, he hadn't been heard. No one was around. The house was empty. Empty except for him. Unless, of course it was the family that was counting. They certainly would never count him. They'd never counted him before, wouldn't count him now, wouldn't count him in the future. He was nobody to them. He was just another one of the help. No better than one of their maids back at their big house-- wasn't that what the daughter always called it, the big house?--no better than the gardener or even the handyman who came from time to time to fix broken lamps and appliances, things that only didn't work because no one bothered to use them nine months out of each year. No one at all. Even in the weeks he spent getting the house ready for them each May and the weeks he spent cleaning up after them each September, he wasn't supposed to use any of those things. "Turn on only what's absolutely necessary," the wife had said. "Only what's absolutely necessary." She'd repeated it for effect, like he was some ignorant or retarded child that didn't get her meaning. As far as she was concerned, he could do all he had to do in the dark. She wanted him touching as little as possible, while still getting all the dust and cobwebs off of every damn surface so she and her family wouldn't be bothered by it when they arrived. No, they couldn't be bothered with mere household dust, the decay left over after nine months of lying dormant. To be bothered by that sort of thing was the place for the lowly ones, the help, him. "We pay you well," the husband had said once. "We pay you well," the husband repeated--did everyone have to repeat things, like he was a damn child?--"to prepare things for us. That's all. This is not your place to live, not your place to invite friends over. If I see one tiny clue that you've had your dirty friends over here, you're out of a job faster than . . . well, faster than . . . " The husband had come up with some metaphor finally, of course, but the effect was lost. This particular member of the help didn't care to hear it, and didn't hear it. He'd just closed off that part of his brain, thought of the work he'd be doing for these people, and thought of the money he'd be getting, and tried to imagine that it was worth it. Then, when he'd let his mind come back to focus on the here and now, the husband had gone off to do something else, maybe yell at the cook, or maybe, like on those oh so gloriously rare occasions, to yell at one of his kids, or maybe his wife--weren't those moments just the most precious ever?--or maybe just to make a phone call back to the office, which every summer inevitably he'd say he never should have left at all, to yell at some lowly coworker. Didn't matter where the husband had gone, as long as he'd gone, even if he did think he'd accomplished something with his usual tirade about the help inviting over friends. Like a party amidst the mold of this place after nine months of sitting here unused is what I want to invite my friends to? He HAD invited his friends once. Three years ago. And, the party had been a spectacular one. And, no one ever knew better. When the family came in June, the house was as clean as every other year. The mold of nine months was washed away, and so was any evidence that any party had occurred. Still, he hadn't done it again. Not yet anyway. He was beginning to think he should. They were trying to pay him less these days, claiming some sort of financial hardship. Of course, the daughter still spoke reverentially about the big house, and she still had practically enough clothes brought with her each summer to wear a different outfit each day, sometimes two or three different outfits each day, depending on how many boys she cared to impress out on the beach or down on the pier or the boardwalk. They weren't financially strapped. They were just greedy. And, they were getting hateful. And, he was getting sick of it.

"Capricious little bitch," he said again, this time a little louder.

He was sitting in the daughter's room. It was empty, save for the furniture, the bedding--this, he would be expected to clean and put away, though by the next summer, it would be unusable, and the family would of course complain as if he could help it, when they only paid him before and after the summer not all year round like was obviously necessary for real upkeep of the place--and a packet of photos she'd forgotten that he'd found under the bed. Her clothes, her jewelry, all her uselessly beautiful little things and all her impossibly gaudy things, were gone along with her. The posters she'd had spread on all the walls were rolled up and taken back to the big house or rolled up and in the hall closet left to rot before next summer--not that the fickle girl would at all care to put up this year's posters next year--or thrown out completely when she had had the presence of mind to realize that they were posters of things that didn't matter in the long run, things that meant nothing just a month or two after she'd made her parents buy them, saying they were what she absolutely had to have, couldn't live without (just like everything else she ever got). The room was essentially empty. He sat on the bed, shuffling through the packet of photos. One thing about this family he could relate to, they took a lot of pictures. These were from this summer, of course, one of many many rolls of film they'd exposed to their antics in their three months here. They were, appropriately enough, having been found in the daughter's room, mostly of the daughter and her friends--friends in this case meaning those fellow teens she bothered to spend time with this summer and who she'd probably forgotten before even reaching the big house. And, it was a few of these photos that had grabbed him, forced him to cry out, "you capricious little bitch."

He'd imagined once, when he first started his work for the family, what it was that had attracted the husband to the wife. Not that the husband, aside from his money, was much of a catch. And, after quickly ruling out her looks--her features, in his opinion were just too pinched, everything squeezed together a bit too closely--and quickly ruling out her body--a horrible mishmash of awkwardly long limbs, strangely bulging hips, sagging breasts (even as young as she still claimed to be), and a bit too much extra flesh around the middle for his taste and, he thought, most men's taste--he guessed maybe she was intelligent, or witty, or had something else going on in her head that just grabbed the husband and held him tight. But, just listening to her talk once, he knew that wasn't it. He'd settled on the next thing that came to him. Both the husband and the wife claimed they were younger than he guessed them to be. He decided to believe them, and he decided they had still been teens when they got together, and the husband, not much of a catch himself, had been desperate, and the wife, knowing there was but one way to find herself a man, put out as fast as possible, and truer love there'd never be. Two people desperate for love, settling for sex, then committing for life before they knew what hit them.

He'd decided, after watching the daughter once she was old enough to bother dealing with boys, that despite her not getting her looks from her mother--the daughter was beautiful, though her snobbishness and her overall brattiness should have turned off any serious comers--she would be just as desperate and easy as her mother before her. And, he'd seen the daughter out there on the beach with the boys. He'd witnessed her desperation, witnessed her trying for boy after boy. And, now, here in these photos he saw clear evidence that she was not just trying anymore. Here was a photo of her kissing a tall blond boy, his hair as long as hers. Here was a photo of her holding hands with a black haired boy. Here was a photo of her with a red haired boy shorter than she was. Here was a photo of her and another girl, a rather plain bordering on dumpy brunette, both hanging over the same rather self centered and stuck up looking brown haired boy. Here was a photo of her and a different girl, a cute as a button redhead, with two blond boys who seemed like twins, or at least like two guys who were dumb enough they shared the same brain if not the same genes. Here was her kissing on some other blond boy. And, here was her hugging yet another blond boy. And, here she was with a guy who looked twice her age. And, here she was with a lifeguard. And, here was she and that dumpy brunette with two dark haired boys, one with glasses, one with a nose laughably large for his face. And, here she was with . . . no, it couldn't be. Is this that boy from the next house down? Is this the kid who nearly killed me with that damn convertible of his? Is this the kid who after nearly running me over, had the gall to yell at me to get out of his way?

And, what was I doing out there in the street?

Rescuing the son's toys from the road--that's what. The wife had come to him, asking him if he'd please go get her son's toys out of the road. He'd wanted so much to tell her where to stick it, but then he'd be without this job faster than a, well, as soon as possible. He was just leaving, going back to his place, not to return until the summer was over and the family was headed back to the big house. And, how had the kid already gotten his toys out in the street? They'd only been there like an hour. The wife had asked again, had used the word please again, like that was some password that would get special treatment from the help on his way home, like that would make him want to just put down everything else he had to do that day for her and her damn son's toys. Of course, he'd had nothing else planned that day. The husband had been right, he was paid very well. He'd have the summer off just like they would. So, he'd put the last of his cleaning supplies, brooms, mops, cleansers, washcloths, everything he needed that of course was never in the house--if they actually thought to supply those things one summer, he thought he'd die from the shock of it--into his truck, and he'd gone out into the street, and he'd rescued some useless toys for the son.

And then, that boy, this boy in the photo with the daughter, had nearly killed him then yelled at him like it was his fault. Now, without thinking, he tore the photo in half. Then, just as he was trying to think of a way to put it back together, to somehow make it so he had never ripped it, he felt something very warm inside. Ripping that picture had been fun. He held up the two halves, put one on the other, then tore through both. Two pieces became four, and he felt something quite satisfying inside him. Four became eight. Eight became sixteen, then they got a little small to continue. So, he grabbed the next picture in the packet. it was the daughter, all alone, wearing that red bikini she'd been wearing just yesterday, when she'd called for him to come carry her bags out to their car. And, in the next picture, he noticed, she was wearing the black onepiece she'd been wearing that day half way through the summer when he'd seen her on the boardwalk and she'd smiled sweetly at him like she didn't even recognize he was just the help (and, how likely was it, he wondered, that she had any chance of recognizing him at all from one day to the next? Wouldn't that require that she'd actually look at him for more than a damn second?). He grabbed both pictures together, her in the red, her in the black, and he tore them in half. And, oh how glorious did that feel?

He fell back onto the bed, and laid there for a second, looking up at the ceiling. "Oh, that felt good," he said to the empty room. "That felt really good." He sat up, intending to see what picture was next, ready to tear another one, and another one, and another one, and to get back to those first few he'd already seen, to tear them too. But, his eyes focused on the bedpost as he sat upright. That bedpost.

Halfway through the previous summer, he'd been called to fill in some initials the daughter's boyfriend at the time, a guy the husband and wife did not approve of, had carved there. He'd done a damn good job, he thought. But, looking at it just right, if you knew where to look, it was still pretty obvious that someone had carved into the wood. The heart was the most obvious part. He saw it clearly now, and he wondered how many boys around here would have done this very thing if that one hadn't beaten them to the punch. This girl could have any boy she wanted. This girl could have any thing she wanted. Anything, anything at all. And, why? Because her father had made some lucky moves with his company? Because her mother had been desperate enough to go for such an ugly guy, maybe seeing all that money in his future even then? Because her damn luck in the lottery of life put her on top, rich and beautiful?

Like the photos, he wanted to tear apart that bedpost. But, he couldn't tear it. It was too . . . he could break it, though, he realized. He could break it. The sea air, nine months of every year being left completely alone, three months of use each summer, an old bed that should have been replaced by now, it would break easily.

He got up from the bed, tucked the packet of photos into his pocket, then looked at the bedpost, looked it up and down, trying to gauge the weak spots. Then, his eyes focused on the remnants of that carving, not quite visible from this angle--good thing the husband and wife never saw it from that other angle, saw what a bad job he'd done at covering up the shame of their daughter liking a boy beneath her station--he kicked the middle of the post, half way between the floor and the inanely decorated knob at the top. The sound of it cracking on the first try filled him with a joy he didn't expect. And, he quickly kicked again, and kicked a third time. And, with the fourth kick, the bedpost broke clean through, and the corner of the bed dropped to the floor.

He took out the photo packet again, glanced through them, pausing at the pictures of her with the boys, her kissing the boys, her hugging the boys, her hanging on the boys. Did she have sex with any of these boys? Did she have sex with them in this bed? How old was she now, anyway? Sixteen? Seventeen? Eighteen? She could have had sex here. With that thought, he kicked the other bedpost at the foot of the bed, kicked it until it too broke, and that corner of the bed dropped to the floor.

And, that satisfaction he felt made him look around for something else to break. And, without hesitation, he knew what had to go. Something she loved. Something she needed. The mirror. It sat there on the dresser. A tired man who'd had enough peered back at him from within it. He tucked the photo packet into his pocket again, went straight over to the dresser, picked up the mirror from atop it, and threw it across the room, jumped for joy at the sound of the glass breaking.

Then, he went out into the hall, not thinking too clearly anymore, just looking for something else worth destroying. And, he saw the table where the husband put his pay. The husband wouldn't actually ever hand it to him directly. He'd just leave it there on the table in the hall.

He ran at that table, lifted it, threw it onto it's side, the vase and plant on it sent flying down the hall, the vase shattering against the open door to the master bedroom. Taking that as a sign, he headed into the master bedroom. He looked first to the bed, but the bedposts looked sturdy. He remembered this bed being delivered the summer before. He thought of how the husband had demanded he help the delivery men, when it was their damn job to deliver the thing. And, he wanted so badly to destroy this bed like he had the daughter's. But, kicking it just wouldn't do. This one was new, this one would just hurt his foot.

So, he left the master bedroom, headed for the den, for the fireplace. And, he grabbed the axe. The purposeless axe. Of course, no one in the family would ever actually chop would if they were to have a fire. They would buy some at that place down the road. Or, they'd call him up to come chop some, and he'd have to bring his own axe, 'cause it wasn't like they'd let him in to get this one, and they certainly wouldn't be helpful enough to bring it out to him. As he turned to head back to the master bedroom, he spotted the bar. There, he'd imagined, the husband and wife had fixed drinks before heading off to their room, so they would be drunk enough not to think about what they were doing, what they'd done getting together in the first place. And, it was at that bar that he'd once watched the wife flirting with the guy who delivered their summer supply of alcohol. The sight of that had made him sick. You're married, he'd thought. What the hell do you think you're doing, flirting with the guy who delivers the alcohol? now, he walked over to the bar, lifted the axe above his head, and brought it down into the center of the counter. The first swing hardly made a dent, but he tried again. And, he tried again. Then, he went around behind the bar, brought the axe down into the storage shelves, the left behind bottles and glasses bursting and breaking, the sound something close to the best thing he'd ever heard.

Then, he took another couple swings at the countertop. Whatever it was made of, it wasn't too willing to be destroyed, so he left it, headed for the master bedroom. And, he took to the bed with the axe, swinging into each and every spot he could, splintering off pieces of the bed every which way, then finally making some substantial enough hits that this bed collapsed to the floor like the daughter's bed had.

Then, he attacked the big dresser the wife used. Then, the smaller dresser the husband used. Then, he went into the walk in closet, cut down the poles where so much of the wife's extensive wardrobe had been hanging just the day before.

Then, he left the master bedroom, headed for the son's room (he found a blanket he knew they wouldn't have wanted to leave behind to be ruined, and he tore it as best he could). Then, he went to the kitchen (the table in the breakfast nook brought the greatest of joys as it splintered into pieces). Then, he went to the dining room, to the foyer, the bathroom (another mirror, where the daughter no doubt admired herself and told herself just how beautiful she was, and couldn't she just get any guy she wanted, and she'd be happy forever, with her father's money and the cutest, dumbest guy she could find, a guy who'd act on her every whim, worship the ground she walked on, and live just for her), the guest room (where that cruel grey haired grandmother, who'd mistaken him for a butler, had stayed the summer before), the garage. He left destruction everywhere, fragmented furniture and shattered glass in his wake. And, he felt nothing but satisfaction.

Then, when he was done, his energy spent, enough of the house in ruins, he returned the axe to it's spot by the fireplace. And, he looked over all he had done, and he loved it. He wouldn't have expected that he'd love it as much as he did. Now, there was just one more thing to be done, he thought.

He sat down on the couch in the den, and he took out the packet of photos and tore photo after photo after photo into pieces. As he did this, he thought of all the money he'd been paid, and he tried to think just how long it would take him to repair all this broken stuff. The place would have to look like new when he had his party.

September 5, 1999
Pasadena, CA