Well, let me tell you the story about Martha’s Vineyard, Harry. As I recall you were in Nepal on a Yak and missed the whole thing.
It started when I answered an ad in the campus newspaper. It said:
Come to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer. Stay in our family’s mansion for free. Drink our chocolate liqueur while we’re not there, and drive our jeep around the island with abandon. Collect $300 a week and schnook the pool boy. In return, fold some towels and help us make tuna sandwiches. (Celery, no crusts.)
Well okay! I said. That is a king’s ransom. Sign me right up. I was nursing a mild heartbreak anyway—Max, remember him from freshman year? “I want to see other people,” he had said. “I feel too young to be officially entangled,” (after pursuing me relentlessly all fall semester.)
This was a big house, the biggest in town. A white Greek Revival situation with a huge sloping mahogany staircase that led you to bedrooms you referred to by color. “And you will staying in the blue room this week, Mrs. Fancie.” The family entertained a lot of guests when they were in town, which was sporadically.
When the family was there the sheets were turned down each night, a chocolate mint placed on the pillow. The toilet paper was folded to a point and rolled over, not under.
There were five of us crowded into the maid area of four rooms clustered in a dormer over the kitchen. No AC, just fans in every room that whirred loudly all day and all night and put the warm air smell of expensive dinner into our clothes.
We answered the phone not with our names, but with a number: “5510, can I help you?” We had on khaki shorts and white knit polo shirts from Lands End that had been bought for us to wear and we looked like squares, the shape. The blonde-haired, ruddy, formerly handsome chef drank 12 Bud Lights in cans every afternoon in quick succession and you could tell from the color of his eyes that Bud Light in bulk is not good for you. He was not fond of me at all.
The two girls we were working with had deep tans they slathered on from a pink bottle and really long, fake fingernails. They snuck boys into the dormer and rarely included me in their conversations. But if they had liked me I would have liked them.
One other girl in particular was more charming than I was and also prettier of course and the family found out she was at art school. The father would take her around the house at cocktail hour --we’d put out crudité (yeah, I didn’t know what it was either) – and a cheese plate and Scotch, and he’d show her his painting collection, ask about her drawings. He had a Transatlantic accent although he was born in Ohio and he sometimes wore an ascot. I’d hover around them and pick up the used blue cocktail napkins with wet rings on them from the low-ball tumblers and watch.
My favorite family member was the youngest daughter who was glamorous and untouchable when I picked her up from the airport.
She would come back to the serving area in between courses and we’d smoke menthols and drink malt liquor together. Her name was Martina and she had dramatic yelling fights with her father that echoed through the house at night. She made “dad” into five syllables. “Da a a a a d!” High-pitched. She always had a fresh manicure, with black glossy polish ten or so years before black was all the edgy rage. I opened her diet sodas by the pool and handed them to her. She didn’t want to pop the cans herself.
Max came to visit on the fourth of July weekend. His eyes looked especially blue and he was talking about other girls. Older girls, girls with accents. I think he thought I was over him. He was of course un-indoctrinated in the ways of being the help so he kept making the mistake of wandering into the main house and nearly fraternizing with the family.
“Do you think I have a chance with Martina?” he kept asking me.
And then he’d finish the Champagne that had been left out and gone flat.
I went to sleep early one night after my run, tired and keyed up from the asthma medication I’d been popping to look less rhomboid in my maid outfit. When I stepped into the blinding morning sun the next day to skim the leaves from the surface of the water I saw two bathing suits mingling together, Max’s and Martina’s, four feet down on the dappled, watery pool bottom and I sat down and cried.
At the end of the summer the girls with the fake tans had a blowout fight because it turned out they were secret bisexual lovers and were having a jealousy thing.
Which proved I didn’t know anything about anything.
I missed you, Harry. You should have come to see me.
I remember you after that summer. Skinny and cold in 80 degrees. Hair standing up on your arm like a mole-type creature.
I never liked that Max. What happened to him?
He married a mayonnaise heiress. So now, presumably, he has all the champagne he needs. And more tuna salad sandwiches than he can ever eat.