Every time we argue, Arnell and I eat bad. It’s been that way for years. We’re mixed up trying to straighten out. We’re on a new program. It doesn’t really matter what kind of program, does it? I mean, it could be dietary or medication, or it could be therapeutic or slimnastics. We just want things to work.
Arnell has been my next door neighbor for twelve years, and she talks too much. She likes to talk up a storm when she’s nervous. I keep quiet.
Some might call us baby-sitters. But we’re not. We’re Professional Care Givers.
Arnell is too old to be doing this kind of thing for a living. She’s close to turning sixty. I’m forty-three, the shier side of middle age. We live for the money it brings, both sponging off the last remains of our husbands. Not as in dead remains. But the last of our divorce remains. We get checks to help us scrape by. All of the other women on our block are so desperate they have to use our service as daycare. It’s a little extra cash for Arnell and me to buy the luxuries. I collect playing cards. I’ve got two hundred packs. Arnell replaces her bathroom holders: toothbrush, soap dish, hand cream dispenser. Sometimes they are shiny black with gold threading woven into the sheen before it’s fired. Sometimes she gets sickening peach or powder blue. We’re buying our way into heaven just one baby at a time.
The good thing about living on this block is that people can’t pass judgments. They’ve all got bad jobs. In our mind, what we’ve chosen to do is important. We’re professionals. You have to look at it this way: we’re good to the kids. We feed them, play with them, put them on the pot, but we’re careful not to coddle. It only hurts them in the end.
I use candy as my bribe. Arnell uses sheer voice. She can talk longer and louder than anyone I know. It’s training, she says, for the female babies since they’ve got a lousy chance ahead of them.
The few available men on the block are cruisers, bed hoppers – – coming in with long cars and needing a home cooked meal. Arnell says she doesn’t care who they go visit at night. She says it’s good for business.
But I disagree, although the words don’t always make it out of my mouth. So we argue, each in our different way, and I lay out the face cards: Joker, Jack, King, King.