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Sean Ennis

The Au Pair


One Saturday night, Clip came home and said he met a girl from New Zealand.

None of us believed him. New Zealand was far off.

He said she was an “au pair.” We didn’t know what it meant, but he told us it meant she was a babysitter from another country.

We said, “Sure she is.”

During that first week, the phone rang, but we couldn’t understand what the voice on the line was saying. “Excuse me?” we said, or “Huh?” if we were drunk.

Eventually, we figured out the voice wanted to talk to Clip. We could make out his name, at least. We gave him the phone and he went up to his room in the attic and shut the door.

That was Michelle.

The next weekend, she showed up at the house. She had long, blonde braids, green eyes. She was the most beautiful girl who had ever been to our house. She had this accent like the people who usually get attacked by sharks.

All four of us in the house went to college: some for rich kids, some for poor kids. Milk went to one for stupid kids. We dated American college girls, brainless psychology majors, mainly. We never cleaned up or anything if any of the girls were coming over. Someone would be in their underwear at all times. If a girl left a toothbrush in our bathroom, we’d throw it out the window.

But Michelle was different. We folded the afghan on the back of the couch when we knew she was coming. The vacuum howled. When she showed up, we all followed her around. She was an event. She wore these thin, gypsy dresses and you could see the outline of her underwear through them. And she didn’t wear that much underwear.

Michelle said, “I only drink gin.”

So we bought twenty dollar gin. We hated gin.

She said, “College is for bourgeois money-fuckers.”

We agreed and shut our books.

She sat Indian-style in our chairs, bouncing her knees. Her nipples were like two eyes that I was in a staring contest with.

Then Clip took her to his room in the attic. The roof up there was pointed like a church’s, and people would always bang their heads. There were no vents in the attic either, so it was always either freezing or sweltering. We liked both scenarios, thinking about her and her body sweating or pulled tight in the cold. When they went upstairs, the rest of us just huddled in the living room, not saying much, sipping our awful gin. The phone rang. Our American girlfriends were leaving messages we didn’t feel like returning right then.

In the morning, Michelle cooked breakfast: awful pancakes made only of flour and water and salt. She wore one of Clip’s t-shirts like some kind of teddy bear while she stood over the stove. There was the leftover smell of her perfume or shampoo from the night before, but also something else. Her morning breath, the sweat between her legs, a cigarette she had already had that morning. It made me hungry.

We ate the rancid pancakes and asked her question after question, just to hear her talk.

She said, “The kids I take care of are so spoiled. I want to tie them up and torture them.”

Warren asked, “Do you have to give them baths?”

I thought that was a good question. I liked thinking about that.

She said, “They can’t even decide which room to watch television in.”

Milk asked, “Does the toilet flush the other way down there?”

That one wasn’t as good. She had nothing to do with toilets in my mind.

Clip just sat in a chair drinking coffee, shoveling pancakes. He always looked worn out in the mornings.

“These are terrible,” he said and then laughed.

One night, Michelle wanted to play ouija. It took us a while to understand what she was suggesting with her accent and everything, but then we agreed. We were drinking gin again. We were starting to like it. I liked mine with Sprite.

Michelle wrote out the alphabet on a piece of paper, along with the words “yes” and “no.” She told us someone should take a cup from the cabinet, go outside, and ask a spirit to come into the cup. It was 1 a.m.

I took the cup outside and held it up. It was cold out there. I sincerely asked the spirit to come into the glass and then went back inside. I wanted to impress Michelle. We held the cup above the letters for a long time, everyone trying to get their fingers to touch hers. We asked, “Are you there? Are you there?”

Nothing happened. The cup wouldn’t even move to the word “no.”

Michelle said, “We’re too drunk. The spirits don’t like when we’re this drunk.”

We quit the game and drank more. Clip tugged on Michelle’s braids. She put one in her mouth and bit down on it.

I went to my room. My heart hurt. But when I was brushing my teeth some books fell off of my bookshelf. The spirit had moved them, I thought.

When I went downstairs to tell everyone, Michelle was in the bathroom, getting sick.

She said, “I hate gin. I hate gin.”

Clip could not get her off of the floor. He said, “She said she could out-drink us Americans.” He chuckled.

Michelle started to cry. “You’re just schoolboys!” she said.

It took Clip a long time to get her up the steps to the attic. The rest of us stood around and watched. When he shut the door, we went to bed.

The next morning there was no breakfast. I got up around eleven and made coffee. None of us usually ate breakfast anyway. The ouija board was still on the table and I remembered I never got to tell anyone about the spirit that had moved the books in my room. There was something at work there. Michelle showered for a half an hour and I milled around in my room hoping to get a glimpse of her. Finally, she came out, wrapped in a towel that was too small. Her breasts were packed and bursting. She left hot, little footprints as she walked up to the steps to the attic. She smiled at me. It was obvious what I was doing.

Clip stood at the top of the steps in the doorway to the attic. He looked at me and smacked Michelle on the butt as she walked past. There was no hot water left when I got in the shower.

We didn’t see Michelle during the week because of her job taking care of those kids. Clip told us she was going to be sent back to New Zealand soon if she didn’t improve. Her au pair family wasn’t happy with her.

He said, “She tells the parents their kids are fat. One of the kids started a fire in the backyard. They’re gonna trade her in, I think.”

“Do you have to marry her?” Milk asked.

“I don’t want to,” Clip said. “She wants to live here. I told her no way. You guys wouldn’t have it.”

Milk and I grimaced at Clip. I’m not sure why Milk made that face, but I know why I made it. Clip was wrong.

“Where would she sleep?” Milk asked. We all had our own ideas.

Michelle came over the next weekend. She didn’t seem very happy. She and Clip had had many long conversations on the phone that week, but she was dressed in an evening gown when she rang the doorbell. A small diamond lay in the divot between her clavicles and her blonde braids had been twisted onto the top of her head in a fancy way.

She saw my surprise and said, “We have to go to the orchestra tonight.”

I remembered that Clip’s parents had given him two tickets. Clip had always been a music lover. Or rather, a lover of the rooms music was played in. He studied the physics of it. It was part of the reason why he chose to live in our misshapen attic.

Clip came downstairs in a suit. I had never seen this. He looked good.

“The orchestra,” I said and he nodded. Warren had just gone to buy forties. But it made sense to take a girl from New Zealand someplace strange.

They left and the rest of our girlfriends came over. We drank malt liquor and played with the gin-stained ouija board. It told me that me that I would have three kids, and then told my girlfriend that she was infertile, actually spelled the word out.

In front of our girls, we started to make fun of Michelle.

Warren said, “Her pancakes! God, they’re made of puke.”

We tried her accent but couldn’t get it right.

Milk said, “Why doesn’t she make some koala bacon? That, I’d eat.”

We kept drinking until the girls passed out. We were waiting for Clip and Michelle to get back. We talked differently once the girls were snoring.

Warren said, “Clip’s gonna dump her, the dumb bastard. I can tell. He’s got that look.”

I said, “You should have seen her dressed up.”

Milk said, “And she could drink.” He pointed to our girls, “Better than these.”

It got to be one a.m. again. We started to worry. The orchestra did not go all night.

Finally, before two, the front door slammed, and the three of us rushed into the front room. Michelle looked like she had been crying before, but was definitely mad now. Clip was smiling. He walked into the kitchen and opened a beer.

“Mind if I have one? Who bought these?”

We heard Michelle stomp up all the steps to the attic. Our girlfriends woke up. They went upstairs to check on Michelle.

“How was it?” I asked.

“Michelle cursed at the woman next to us because she was wearing a chinchilla coat. Called her a ‘bourgeois animal-fucker.’ The acoustics in there were amazing though. You could hear every fuck-up.”

The auditorium was new. I wondered if it was like those old amphitheaters where you could hear a pin drop on stage from way up in the nosebleeds.

“So, did everyone hear?” I asked. I was a little drunk.

“No. The woman couldn’t even understand her. Her stupid accent.”

Clip finished his beer and opened another. He didn’t seem in a hurry to get back to Michelle. Upstairs, the bathroom door slammed.

Our girlfriends came back down. They were half-awake and half-drunk. They were ugly. Milk’s girl looked fatter than usual. Warren’s had a big crease mark on her face from sleeping on the couch.

“What did you guys do tonight?” Clip asked, but it seemed pretty obvious.

Then my girlfriend said, “Can we go to sleep now?” I ignored her and she went back to the sofa with the other girls. “You should go up there, Clip. She’s upset.”

“I’ll go,” I said. My girl glared at me.

“It’s ok,” Clip said. “I’ll go in a minute.”

He started describing a woman in the orchestra. “She had a big violin. A cello. And her big fat legs were wrapped tight around that thing. I couldn’t stop starring at her.”

He saw we didn’t understand. Milk swayed into the fridge with a thump.

“She had this look on her face, and the bow was going, and it was so deep and loud. You could feel it in like your—I don’t know.” We thought he was going to say something dirty, but instead, he said, “The look on her face was like she was skydiving or something. Like someone dropped her out of her airplane.”

“She was good?” I asked.

“She was pretty good,” Clip said.

“You’re gonna dump her, aren’t you?” Warren asked.

Clip wiped his mouth. “Probably. Fucking babysitter.”

A few minutes passed. It was quiet upstairs. The girls were snoring again on the couch.

“Watch this,” Clip said, and put his beer on the oven.

He walked into the living room and started tying the girls’ shoelaces together. When we saw what he had in mind, we helped.

Clip didn’t like girls so much as he liked the ruckus they could make. He didn’t dump Michelle in any official way. He knew she was going to have to go home soon and he looked forward to it. Not to her being gone, but to the time just before she left. He could be cruel.

We didn’t see Michelle again. Clip talked about her as if she were a million miles away. Sometimes, the phone would ring and we’d look at him and he’d say, “Nah. It’s like three am in New Zealand.” There was something about him, like he sent her there.

He brought a new girl back to the house after a few weeks. Her face was already raw from making out with Clip in the car. He had a bit of a beard coming in. He told her he liked gin and made her a drink.

Clip’s new girl told us she wanted to be a stripper. We weren’t impressed. She was a freshman with bobbed brown hair. She looked like the rest of our girlfriends.

Clip said, “There’s a strip club up the street if you want a job,” and the girl got quiet. It was true. We’d been there. She took off her sweater and her t-shirt said, “Eat me.”

“Put your sweater back on,” Clip said. “Don’t be stupid.” He’d already told us she was an ice-cube in bed.

We played the ouija game again. Clip’s girl giggled from the gin. She would puke soon, we could tell. Clip was making her drinks too strong. He did this on purpose. There would be no breakfast.

When I took the cup outside to ask for the spirit, I thought of Michelle. I sincerely asked her to come into the cup. We all wanted her to.

Inside, Clip had already taken his new girl upstairs. The rest of us hovered above the board and asked, “Are you there? Are you there?”

The cup rattled and then slid to “no.”

Sean Ennis has published work in and StorySouth, and has work forthcoming in The Greensboro Review, River City, and The Best New American Voices 2006 anthology.

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