It was like watching the Cavendish home awake from a long slumber. A flurry of arms and legs prepared for the arrival of an unusual visitor. Upstairs, Ruth and Mathilda joked and japed as they labored to clean out the dust and cobwebs from one of the seldom-used guest rooms. In the doorway, a young girl, all elbows and scraped knees, appeared; She stood and watched silently while Ruth and Mathilda gossipped about the visitor.
“…some sorta life coach? Somethin’ ‘bout meetin’ her in Egypt, or Israel? Somethin’ like that? I dun heard Mrs. Cavendish braggin’ ‘bout it on the phone. Somethin’ ’bout a white aura or⸺.”
“Well,” interrupted Mathilda, “James told ME something COMPLETELY different. He drove Mr. and Mrs. Cavendish home from the airport when they first came back from their trip, and HE said it was like they were brainwashed. HE thinks it’s some sort of cult thing this woman’s trying to get them mixed up in.”
“Whoever she is, she ain’t payin’ MY paycheck, so FUUUUCK her!” Ruth belly-laughed as she snapped the dirty sheets off the bed. She rolled them into a tight bundle and handed them over to the girl, never having raised her eyes off her work, “Here, Evie, take these down to your momma.”
Evie quietly took the bundle and made her way downstairs and into the kitchen. There, house cook Olga was deep in thought as she kneaded the dough for her famous Beef Wellington that would be served that night. Evie, thinking she could sneak a cookie past Olga’s watchful eyes, got her hand slapped as she reached for the cookie jar on the counter. “You know your mother has forbidden me from giving you cookies without her permission. Get out of my kitchen!”
Evie nursed her hand as she made her way to the washroom at the back of the house. There she found her mother, Ofelia, in the same position she’d seen her in for the past 5 years: alone, in the shadows, battling with the Cavendish’s laundry. Ofelia leaned over the wash basin and aggressively grated the laundry over the washboard. Evie didn’t understand why Mrs. Cavendish didn’t just buy a washing machine and dryer. Obviously, she could afford it. What Evie didn’t know was that Ofelia had tried (broken English and all) to recommend this to Mrs. Cavendish when she first started working for her back in 1985. Mrs. Cavendish knew that, in addition to being an illegal alien, Ofelia was an uneducated, single mother, so she forgave her the indiscretion. Besides, Ofelia was cheap labor, and perhaps she’d inherit her daughter as well. That day, Olga would explain to Ofelia that she was never to speak directly to Mrs. Cavendish again. And so it was.
After that, Ofelia did her best to isolate herself from everyone. She made no effort to forge friendships with the rest of the staff, and she refused to assimilate to American culture. Overall, she came off as a foul-tempered, foreign, bitter woman. Her treatment of Evie didn’t help matters either; She was short, strict, venomous and restrictive. Initially, the others had tried to intervene⸺an ice cream cone here, a toy there⸺but Ofelia had always objected, would get mad and chide them for interfering with her daughter’s life. After a while, the others stopped trying to make an effort, and they accepted that it was what it was. Now, Evie was the only one left to contend with Ofelia.
“Amá, here’s the stuff from upstairs,” said Evie as she dumped the linens on the floor.
Ofelia nodded, “OHKAY, vete, haz tu tarea!” Ofelia was always telling Evie to do her homework. Not because she thought it would amount to anything (after all, they were illegals, there was no future for them here), but because it kept her out of her way, and kept her locked in her room, where she couldn’t get into trouble, or get any grand ideas.
What Ofelia didn’t know was that Evie slipped away from her room all the time. The staff quarters were part of a separate wing of the estate. Evie had it down to a science; She would escape undetected and return before her mother took notice. Occasionally she would get caught, and she would happily suffer the consequences: on a good day, a hard scolding, and on a bad day, the buckle-end of her father’s leather belt (the ONLY thing he’d left behind). On these occasions, Ofelia always stressed that it was for Evie’s own good; the less people they talked to, the less questions were asked, the safer they were. It always came down to their immigration status, Evie lamented. She could ask for some McDonald’s, and she’d get ten reasons why that would lead them to get deported. Every decision was SUCH a decision for them.
Evie tiptoed through the kitchen and out the back way, but instead of returning to her room, she went around the front house and escaped to the street. As she walked down the street, she couldn’t help but wonder if the other brown faces in the neighborhood were hiding too. The woman with the stroller; The man trimming the hedges; The old lady walking those white poodles; were they all doing their best to remain invisible? Were there more of them? Evie didn’t know, she wasn’t even allowed to talk to them either.
The screech came from across the street. It was Carter Wright, one of the white boys that lived in the neighborhood. Ofelia had forbidden Evie from making friends with the neighbors as well, and she’d gone to great lengths to place her in a school that was in a neighboring community so that she wouldn’t mix with them. She liked Carter because he was funny and always nice. He shared his toys and never asked her why she didn’t have any. He was standing on the porch as his parents loaded up their SUV.
Evie came up to the gate and waved. Mrs. Wright had invited her into their home on several occasions, but Evie knew better. At most she would play with Carter in the front yard, but she didn’t dare accept their invitations to dinner. Carter whispered something in his mother’s ear as she walked by. Mrs. Wright smiled, waved at Evie, and nodded at him. Carter waved her over. She cautiously opened the gate and walked up to the porch steps.
“Evie, what are you doing right now?
“Nothing, what are you doing?”
“WE’RE GOING TO DISNEYLAND!”
“OH,” Evie did her best to hide her jealousy. She had never been to Disneyland and her mother didn’t believe in such frivolties, nor could they afford them.
“You’re coming too.”
“What? I can’t, my mom doesn’t have the money for it.”
“My mom will pay. I just asked her. It’s not a big deal. Come on, let’s go! All you need to do is get permission from your mom. And she said to bring a hat and a jacket…”
She’d heard what he’d said, she just couldn’t comprehend it. Could life be this simple? Was it possible to just get into a car and go to a place that you’d dreamed about all of your life? The answer was yes, apparently, when you had money.
“Well, what are you waiting for? GOOOO!!!!”
Evie bolted back to the house. She found her mother hanging the freshly laundered linens on the line in the backyard. Out of breath, Evie would confess the whole thing: leaving her room, Carter, Disneyland. She knew her mother would be angry, but she was willing to take the belt, help her with the laundry, and do ANYTHING for Disneyland. Surely her mother would understand.
“NO,” Ofelia replied, calmly pinning the sheets with wooden clothespins clipped to her apron.
“QUEEEEE?” Evie was in shock, she had never expected her mother to say no. She explained, again, that all the expenses were paid.
“Evelia, NO! Esto no es para ti.”
This wasn’t the first time she’d heard the phrase, but it was the first time it struck her in the face like it did. There was no escape for her, this was her life, she would never have anything other than this. She walked back to Carter’s house, eyes filled with tears. She got to the fence and waved Carter over.
“My mom says this isn’t for me,” she said somberly and walked away. Carter knew better than to argue or say anything else to Evie. He watched her disappear back behind the Cavendish hedges.
Evie’s love for her mother had already curdled, but in that moment, it went absolutely sour.
[This story was written for the Iowa MOOC: Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction. Originally, I was going to add to the story (I had this whole alien ending for it) but I realized I wasn’t feeling it. Part of me was forcing myself to make this longer than it needed to be, I was satisfied with what I’d written, unanswered questions and all, because I was ready to move on and write other things. No regrets.]