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Vallies
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192 193 Desmond Chapin opened his door to a spare, plainly dressed ​ wo­ man of about forty, nose tilted, reddish hair in a strict bun. “Miss . . .” “Valerie Gordon,” she said. “The new nanny.” “Well . . . If we all suit each other.” She had a faint Canadian accent. “You remind me of somebody,” Desmond said, escorting her into the living room. When Val did not respond, he plunged on anyway. “Mary Poppins?” She shook her head. “I’m not like Mary Poppins. I’m sometimes fanciful, but I don’t work magic. I like courtesy, but I don’t care about manners.” This was Val’s first interview in the nanny line and she considered it a rehearsal. She had no references other than clerical. After shaking hands with Deborah Chapin, she said hello to the four-year-old twin boys. They grinned and giggled. “I have a special rapport with twins,” she dared to say to the boys. “You see, I am . . .” But they were already running out to play in the fenced-in backyard. Desmond asked why she was leaving office work. Too repetitive, after twenty-odd years, she told him—too penitential. Yes, she could manage simple housekeeping; yes, prepare simple dinners on occasion; yes, mending. “Simple mending,” she clarified. Deborah wrote down the names of Val’s references, office manag­ ers all. Desmond said: “I am puzzling the difference between courtesy and manners.” Vallies Edith Pearlman fiction 194 ecotone “Oh . . . one is innate, the other learned.” Val left the rehearsal. She guessed that Deborah had been writing with invisible ink. But the next day a telephone offer came—“though we would be even happier,” Deborah said, “if you’d live with us, and the salary would be the same. Would you reconsider?” “I won’t live in, sorry.” Sigh. “We want you anyway.” Val’s new career began. The Chapins gave her a car with two child boosters and told her she should consider it hers. She used it sometimes, though most of her outings with the boys were by bus, trolley, or subway, or on foot. And since her flat didn’t have a parking space she kept the car at the Chapins’ and walked back and forth to work. If the Chapins asked her to babysit at night, she left without escort at the end of the evening, ignoring Desmond’s doomsaying. “I know this is safe old Godolphin, the most dangerous things here are the oak-leaf skeletonizers, still, Val . . . it would take just a minute to drive you.” But each time she said no, strode down the path, turned her head at the gate, and gave him an impish smile perfected long ago. He probably couldn’t see it. She tramped home without mishap. She stayed with the Chapins for five years, until they went bank­ rupt. She would have stayed longer—the twins loved her, she always knew which was which, she had a nest egg and could go without pay for a while—but no, it would add to his humiliation, Desmond said; and anyway they were going to move out of town. The Chapins introduced Val to the Greens and their three little girls. The Greens hired her instantly, although they were disappointed that she wouldn’t occupy their attic retreat. But Val still wouldn’t leave her basement flat. In winter she appreciated the warmth of the nearby furnace, in summer the cool of the half-submerged rooms. Meager sun­ light slipped like an envelope into one after another of her high win­ dows and then lay on the floor as if waiting to be picked up. Solitude, silence . . . living in would subject her to constant voices and move­ ments, bothersome even in a courteous family, worse still among the irrepressible kin she’d grown up with. She spent several contented years as the Greens’ nanny. But then their work took them to Washington. 195 edith pearlman Sitting with Val at the kitchen table, Bunny Green said: “Think about coming with us. The capital . . .” “No, but thank you.” Bunny sighed. “You are a gem. I wish you had a twin.” Val looked at her lap. “One of my friends is...