L.L. has just gotten up to eat a piece of gelatin—approximately five grams worth—off the floor. It’s not something she gives much thought to and, as she runs her tongue over her gums to remove the crusty crumbs that hitched a ride to her mouth with that refreshing strawberry flavor, she reflects that, honestly, in the course of her life she’s done much more unladylike things than this, sometimes even for money, which is nothing at all to be ashamed of.
L.L. scrapes her spoon on the bottom of the cup of premium Mexican gelatin and looks over at the TV screen in the living room of the suite, which is showing an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians on low volume. On the screen the decrepit sisters are in a heated debate about the importance of waxing for men. L.L. purses her lips, trying to remember something she can’t quite recall, sighs at her dessert, and glances at the balcony where her husband, J.L., is on the phone, laughing with abandon while drinking what L.L. quickly estimates to be his fourth whisky of the evening.
Behind the door leading to the bedrooms she can hear the raucous laughter of her children, and L.L. imagines that her offspring are jumping on the bed again, the restless troupe’s favorite pastime. L.L. considers asking the nanny to put them to bed once and for all, but then she recalls that, apart from being unkind, making the kids go to sleep at seven PM has always backfired, because the double-crossing little lambs awaken before six AM in revenge.
L.L. looks over what’s left of dinner. Salad with vegan cheese for her husband, turkey burgers for the kids, four eggs scrambled in coconut oil for her. Before arriving at this exclusive resort in Baja California, her husband’s assistant sent the staff a detailed list of what they like to eat; and so far the staff have proven eager to attend to the family’s every need and desire on numerous occasions. For starters, the nanny, a chubby seventeen-year-old with generous curves, met them at check-in with a bag of toys and she hasn’t left the children ever since, sitting on a narrow camp-bed in the children’s wing of the suite, proving time and again that she can skillfully manage the three hyperactive, slightly spoiled little ones with aplomb.
Actually, if it weren’t for the bad weather, L.L. would be thrilled with the place. The small bay that the resort is built around is even more charming than it looked in photos online, the beach is wide and covered in large shells, the property is well-equipped and decorated in the finest taste. Various wings of the resort house gyms and semi-private pools, making it easy for guests to keep a low profile in utmost comfort. Although she hasn’t had a chance to try it, L.L. appreciates the hot tub on the balcony of their bedroom, and every afternoon she notes with satisfaction that the bottles of cream and other toiletries—only the very best brands—are generously replenished.Lying back on one of the white sofas in the living room, L.L. flirts long-distance with the copy of People magazine lying on the floor a few feet away, and sighs again impatiently when she hears the laughter coming from her children’s room. She turns to look reproachfully towards the balcony, framed by French doors and spotless, diaphanous curtains. Behind her husband, who plays distractedly with a full glass of whisky on an overstuffed lounge chair, seven palm trees sway gently in the Pacific breeze.
L.L. passes her hand over her chest, brushing the fine gold chain around her neck, down to her stomach, which feels inordinately full from the gelatin she just ingested. L.L. realizes that she’s beating herself up emotionally again and is disappointed in her own weakness.
However, her gastronomic inclinations are only one of the many things L.L. feels disappointed by this evening. It’s clear that, for some reason, perhaps a lack of anything else to think about or to do, L.L. has staked too many hopes on this short vacation. L.L. had begun her preparations two months earlier, with a two-week detox, swallowing questionable concoctions in a variety of colors before embarking on another, equally radical (but perhaps less demanding) diet—her usual one.
The fact is that L.L. has spent entire afternoons lying face-up on her bed, imagining her shrinking hips, feeling like she’s dying of hunger. She bought self-tanning lotion and new bathing suits for the kids; she spent hours on Google Street View trying to figure out the best bars and the best excursions in the bay. She asked all her friends to recommend the most exclusive boutiques and she even packed her finest lingerie at the bottom of her suitcase, next to some massage oil and two scented candles—avocado and mint. Most importantly, L.L. has imagined lots of happy scenes with her husband, looking arm in arm at the sea together, a soft breeze—like the one that’s blowing on the balcony now—mussing their hair, their feet buried in the fine, light sand. Something similar to their honeymoon, or the time that they went to the Seychelles and J.L., who used to be her best friend, proposed.
L.L. hears her husband guffaw and light one of his revolting cigarettes. L.L. can’t decide whether or not to let herself get carried away in indignation or boredom, and for a few minutes she’s distracted by the Kardashian sisters choosing their outfits for a charity event they’re organizing in Los Angeles. L.L. pays close attention to their discussion and then she makes up her mind, imagining irrefutable arguments. The black dress and the red dress—there’s no doubt, they’re the only choices.
At that moment the door to her children’s bedroom opens and Alba—her five-year-old, the eldest—bursts into the living room. Alba’s hair is braided and pinned to her head and she’s wearing the turquoise dress of a Disney princess, accessorized by a yellow cardboard crown covered in stickers of sparkling jewels. L.L. smiles at the girl, so pleased by her nanny’s labors. She glances into the room where it seems her other two children are jumping on the bed playing a game with the teenager who’s looking after them. The nanny, who has a flashlight in her hand, also seems caught up in the game, flashing the light on and off so that each of the boy-planes can land safely on a landing strip made of a mattress, surrounded by pillows.
Alba snuggles into the arms of her mother, who remains stiff, deciding whether or not to make room for her daughter, absently stroking her orange hair and her bare shoulders in a show of indecisiveness. Alba looks at the dirty plates on the table and asks her mother for dessert. The little doll wants chocolate cake but L.L. reminds her that’s out of the question, even on vacations it’s a weekend treat, so instead she agrees to let her open the golden box of Belgian chocolates lying on the salmon-pink countertop in the kitchen.
L.L. watches her daughter get up with the lethargy that precedes sleep and move toward the box of candy when the nanny, ever attentive, appears in the doorway and offers to help. L.L. smiles and says sure, soon it will be time for bed, and she looks over at the copy of People magazine lying on the floor. Her gaze rests there just long enough for the young nanny to notice, and, obedient and hard-working as she is, the girl responds.
That’s how the industrious, helpful babysitter, who hurries over to pick the magazine up off the floor, trips in her tiny tennis shoes, slipping in a bright red puddle, and wipes out on the slippery floor, taking a lamp down with her, which—L.L. quickly confirms—miraculously does not break.
L.L. and the nanny, as well as the little girl, remain frozen, looking at each other in silence for a few seconds. In their bedroom the two little boys have stopped jumping, no doubt alerted by the sound of the falling lamp.
J.L. soon appears in the doorway: perhaps too quickly, he’s the kind of person who—according to L.L.—keeps cool in any crisis or emergency and who you might suspect of waiting for these things to happen, even wanting them to happen, so he can show off and claim all the glory for himself.
In fact, before L.L. and the nanny have even had time to react, J.L. has taken the chubby teen babysitter in his arms and laid her gently on the sofa like a knight in shining armor. After examining her, J.L. gives an empty glass to little Alba and tells her to fill it with ice from the automatic dispenser in the fridge, before disappearing into the master bedroom to look for something.
During this time, L.L. and the nanny don’t say a word, and they haven’t stopped staring at each other. When her husband goes into the other room L.L. finally gets up off the sofa and approaches the nanny carefully, like a lioness on the prowl; the girl smiles and blinks nervously. L.L. pauses in the middle of the room, smiling back, and calmly—indifferently—asks the nanny if she’s okay. After examining her quickly, L.L. discreetly wiggles her right foot into a white, feathered mule with a low heel, and furtively wipes up the red puddle of gelatin the unfortunate servant girl stepped in a few seconds earlier.
When her husband reappears in the doorway, he has a small towel in his hand and an old, yellowed bandage, which L.L. recognizes as a resident of the athletic bag her husband inevitably brings with him everywhere he goes.
J.L. takes the ice Alba hands him with a prim smile, waiting for the absent caress her father does not forget to give her.
L.L. looks at her husband and forces herself to smile her trademark smile, although she only half-succeeds; she takes her young daughter by the hand, and leaves J.L. in charge of the treating the nanny’s wounds, certain that the last thing he needs is spectators, and, at any rate, what she really needs right now, at this moment, is someone to finally put the children to bed.
Translated by Samantha Schnee