I take Williamo to the post office, seal the envelope, and send my money home. Four hundred fifty this week. A ticker tape of dollars runs now all the time in my head. Last year I totaled more than 20,000—in pesos, three times what Bong Bong earns, and he is executive Hallmark. This year it will be more because my weekend job. Besides what I send, I give myself allowance of $5 for daily spending. Twenty-five go to my private savings, so when I return home, there will be some they did not know. Also, I need my account here for shoes or treats for Williamo, or if one of the baby-sitters gets married. When you are working seven days, you need some your own money. And, I tell Williamo, Every day Lola requires her coffee. Is $25,090 enough to support a coffee habit on Montana Avenue? Lola is not a yuppie. I am here to pay tuitions and medicine; in the Philippines, that goes ten years.
When we enter the house, the mother of Claire and her friend Tom are there. Tom says, “Two years ago no one paid more than 50 cents for a cup of coffee! Now they’re all spending $5 a day! That’s a 500 percent increase.” The mother of Claire goes every day to the coffee shop. But Tom, he will not attend.
“But-ah, I get the plain. Only $1.50. Plus they give the sugar we use to make the cinnamon toast.” I lift a handful of natural-sugar packs from my pocket.
“Coffee costs them cents, Lola! Cents!”
Does he think I am spending the money of Claire and Paul? Compared with other parents here, my employers they are not rich, but they are still rich to me. You have to pay what it costs where you live to join the club of life. Anyway, my weekend employer makes my coffee for me.
I leave on the counter the receipt for tapioca and the change.
Walking to my weekend house, I hear my heart. Tops of planted grains tick my hands. Sprinklers spray a chain on my wrist. From a long time ago I remember the strangeness that comes with hope. Love, the way I have known it—it is also dread. I move slower when I see the house. My happiest moments were before. When I first married Bong Bong, I felt afraid he would die. Then, after my children, I worried they would die. I still had long hair, like my daughters now. And every night Bong Bong worked on my neck. “Time to work on your neck,” he said. He made it a project, not a favor from him to me. He likes to turn his gifts invisible. Credit, the way children want, it would embarrass him. I lay down on the hard bed. He held my head on his knees. All those years, he never missed one night. He would start by extracting the sticks that kept up my hair. I felt the tug and loosening.
What my weekend employers want that they do not have is me. I try to keep this light in the air. When I sit on the floor playing with Bing, Helen brings me a pale green mug, steaming, the taste of something sweet and burnt.
“Drink it now, Lola. Tonight, when Jeff gets home, we’re taking you out.”
The restaurant, it is all couples. Small candles on the tables and no children; I am not comfortable wearing my secondhand T-shirt that says HARD ROCK CAFÉ. Here, I never attend restaurants in the night. It is all going very slow.
I am looking around that no one will see us.
“Her sea bass is very good,” Helen says. “And people say she does a great steak.”
Employers and employees do not sit together at restaurants. I never once took my helper out to eat. She would have been embarrassed in a Manila restaurant. With the other baby-sitters I am the one to talk. But here, it moves too slow.
“How are your children?” Helen asks while Jeff finally orders his food.
I say all I want is soup. I am sounding like Vicky, but he tells me he is going to order me a steak because I never get meat at their house.
“Fine,” I say. “My kids, they are good.”
They tell me stories about Vicky. It is true, Vicky is not a good baby-sitter. I would never hire her for my kids. Maybe at this one thing, I am best.
“She still doesn’t talk to us,” Helen says. “I don’t think she ever really liked us.”
“At the play club Vicky is dal-dal.” Actually, she is tomboy, what they call lesbian. She likes the mother of Bing. It is the dad she complains. “No, Vicky likes you,” I say.
At last our food arrives, and I keep my hands on my lap. The steak is many pounds. This is enough for the whole family of Lola.
Then we eat, quiet. The guy, he is serious, deboning his fish. He finally puts down his knife. “Lola,” he says. “We’re going to fire Vicky.”
This is so fast, skidding, too soon something will be over. “But-ah, Vicky is nice” is all I can think to say. I have heard about proposals like this: Professional parents go to the park to find a nanny and offer her double her salary. Maybe it is true for love also, what you see in the movies. I never believed those things before because they did not happen to me.
I tell my daughters, Do not trust roses; they will stink one week in the jar. Maybe I have been wrong!
But Vicky was good for me, I never minded Vicky. They like me better, and that will never change. With someone new, who knows?
“Helen tells me they’re paying you $55 a day.” He pauses, napkining his mouth.
They do not know my raise. I am now $62.50.
“I just signed contracts for two projects. We could start you at $100.”
One hundred dollars a day! Like Lita. Maybe the things I heard before—even the man in the Castle marrying the baby nurse—maybe they all come true. It feels like The End. Darkness eats in from the edges. I think of the caramelly coffee, fine silt at the bottom.
“But I will have to think,” I say.
They look at each other. It seems they were expecting me to jump.
“Tell us, Lola, if there’s anything we can do. Because we really want to have you.”
He leans over. “Would $110 make a difference?”
I say no to dessert. Outside the restaurant the sky is dark blue. They tell me I can take the night off.
“You could catch a movie.” He looks at his watch. “It’s only eight-thirty.”
Helen touches my wrist. “Either way, still friends?”
I am carrying a small heavy bag—my steak. “More than friends. You are my weekend employers.”
They laugh. For them that is a joke. For me, it is not funny. If I say no, what if the person they get wants seven days? One hundred ten dollars a day! The last few minutes in the restaurant, they upped me $50 a week! More than my year raise from Claire and him. After six months, Claire raised me $5 a day and again when he turned two, $7.50. I walk around the dark neighborhood, past houses where I know children, entering a room of jasmine and a smell of pepper. After one more year, Williamo, he will start in the school.
I always work for free the day of his birthday and the one before. For their wedding anniversary, I give a weekend. I throw in the Friday night. And they celebrate the anniversary of my coming by raising me. So when Williamo turned two, that is when I became $62.50. Some of my friends get more, but their employers, they are rich. Also, if Claire asks me to work late, she will pay extra. Many here pay one price for live-in. No matter what you have to do. I always say to them, “As long as I am needed.”
But $110 every day! Five days or seven. Up to me. That is $770 a week instead of $482.50. Per year, an extra $14,950. My God. I think I have to take that. Plus in that house, I will have my coffee made every day. That is $416 saved. Helen is young. They will want more kids. Maybe two more. This is a good job for a long time.
I walk all the way to the ocean to say good morning to the Philippines.
Excerpted from My Hollywood by Mona Simpson. Copyright 2010 by Mona Simpson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House. All rights reserved.