I took a job as a babysitter. I know nothing about children, but I figured that probably about 42% of people who breed them know nothing about them either. Maria Marinska from down the street got me the job. My straits were dire at the time, to say the least, and Maria Marinska came walking into the bar one night in her sixty eleven layers of clothing and her purple, pink and green hair and went into one of her airy talks about how she saw a dog poop and isn’t the world just phenomenal, and honestly I had no idea what she was talking about because I was too busy wondering how many people she’d slept with in the last month and how willing she’d be to add me to that list. Maria Marinska has that effect on people; she manages to distract you from her own conversation. She’s one of those people who’s not really human at all, just a very severe kind of androidic creation. She wears a minimum of fifty colors per outfit, not including the hair, with plain black combat boots. Always combat boots. Yet she still manages to float around from person to person, from bar to bar, from house to house, from job to job, from park to park, from planet to planet, from language to language, from kaleidoscope to kaleidoscope. I’ve never floated in my life, not even during my brilliant and embarrassing one-night stand with Ecstasy. When I wear combat boots, I feel like some kind of large tree, only not as important: a shrub maybe. But then, I have the name my parents gave me. The name Maria Marinska is not chosen by accident. This is something she did on purpose so that the name would have no choice but to hurtle through the air and latch onto that part of the brain where words refuse to escape. I don’t mean this pretentiously, it’s just fact. Certain words stay with me for months, years even. For a long time, I couldn’t get the phrase “red hair” out of my brain. Then it was “spaghettinni”, then “upper delicious”. These words follow me forever; they pop up when I’m making dinner, when I’m talking on the phone, as my combat-booted shrub feet thud on the pavement. Thump, thump, upper, delicious. After upper delicious dissipated, my brain latched onto the word “Kruschev” for a long time. And Maria Marinska, I suppose, knew that my brain was predisposed to become obsessed with Slavic-sounding names, and in she floated to the bar. That was the end of it for my head. Maria. Marinska. Maria Marinska. Maria Marinska. It’s impossible to stop saying it to yourself. Some people just make damn good and sure they’ll be remembered no matter what ridiculous shit comes out of their mouths. Maria Marinska.
Anyway, while it may be truly shocking that I have difficulty maintaining regular employment, the fact is that word-repeating has little practical use in the world. So when Maria Marinska brought up this babysitting job, I sprang. I don’t really know how it came up, actually, because Maria Marinska has a tendency to speak with hands rather than words. She probably did some kind of superwave sign language disco incense flapjack thing which I was eventually able to translate as “I have fulfilled my duties as the caretaker of a single small child and have moved on to better things; would you be interested in taking over?” I motioned yes. Over a couple of beers I was able to glean that this was a family that lived just down the street from the bar, that the little girl was eleven months old, that the parents didn’t go out often but needed a sitter on Saturday night while they went to an event. They were looking for someone older because left arm over the head dismissive wave right hand swishing beer. Sure, I said. They wouldn’t mind that I was a guy because elongated arms straight ahead snake eel fashion big eyes shrug. Of course, makes sense, I said. The words always make it out for the facts but the whys and wherefores are left to the body. Although we look like we crashed into each other from opposite ends of the dictionary, I understand Maria Marinska.
“These people, the parents, they’re a little…” arms over the head and hands clasped, two blinks.
I blinked back. “A little what, sorry?’
“A little, you know…” hands clasped in front this time.
“A little . . .” I leaned forward. She was wearing armfuls of bracelets made of various precious metals. “Do they make jewelry?”
“No!” Where most people get frustrated, Maria Marinska just tones down the motions and widens the eyes for effect. “Think of…” hand grabs the pint glass and marches it three times slowly across the table before looking at me dead still. “You know.”
Our faces were almost touching by this point. “Alcoholics?” I whispered.
She moved in for the kill, hands utterly unmoving. “Religious.”
I let out a deep breath and sat way back in my chair, one arm across my chest, the other hand on my glass. She imitated me almost precisely. “Mmmmm,” I said. “Religious.”
I met the parents on Wednesday afternoon. They were about my age and I had zero in common with them. But they were very nice and we got along fine. I can’t say that I’m lacking for charm when there’s the possibility of quick cash involved. After we talked vaguely about my current life, my availability for Saturday night, and the house’s smoking policies, they liked me enough to bring out the baby. She was wearing a stupid outfit, stupid socks and an incredibly stupid hat. She hit her father in the chin with a miniscule fist and let out piercing, irrelevant screams at her leisure. When her mother introduced us using some language that I didn’t speak, the baby wrinkled her pale eyebrows at me and buried her face in her mother’s chest. The parents squealed in delight at how much the baby liked me. Actually, that was their language: squeals. Maria Marinska spoke with her hands; these people spoke with squeals. I could learn to speak in squeals. The parents must have sensed that, so they hired me. I can’t think of why else they would hire me, as I don’t think there was any real rainbow connection between this child and me, but I guess parents aren’t necessarily looking for a babysitter who has a rainbow connection to their child. I imagine they just want somebody who’s not going to hurt their kid, who’s not going to touch her any more than necessary or forget where she is at any given time, and certainly I fit that bill, so I guess they sensed that too.
I showed up at 6 pm on Saturday. That is by turns lunchtime, breakfast-time, or shit did I sleep the whole day time in my world, but the parents were going to a dinner. (The “event,” as it turned out, was a church function, which Maria Marinska had explained very poorly using only four fingers.) They were running around the house frantically when I arrived, looking for pearls, bottles, doctors’ phone numbers, books, toys, aliens, suitcases, sofas, I don’t know what the fuck they were looking for. They were nervous and chatty and it got to the point where I couldn’t tell them apart from each other. In the eight and a half minutes between my arrival and their departure, I went from a semi-normal semi-happy guy who likes a good porn film from time to time to a neurotic bug-eyed freak who wanted nothing more than to be left alone to hang out with an eleven-month-old and was absolutely, positively, unquestionably going to hell if the thought of porn ever once came near me again. I have no idea how this happened and I don’t want to think about it long enough to find out why. No wonder these people are religious, Maria Marinska.
The front door slammed amidst a flurry of freaks and I found myself standing in the middle of the tiny living room, looking at the baby in her playpen. She stared back at me. I broke the gaze to look at the clock and found that there remained one hour and 22 minutes until her bedtime. I looked back. She was still staring at me. “Shit, baby,” I told her. “You won the contest. Now we have nothing left to do.” She blinked.
I didn’t want to scare her, and it occurred to me that if what just left the house is what she’s used to, then quiet was going to freak her out. But having exhausted conversation with her by verbally wrapping up the staring contest, I wasn’t sure what kind of noise to make. So I just started to walk around the room. She didn’t take her eyes off me. After a couple of laps I realized that the swish of my jeans made more noise than anything had ever made in the history of the world. This struck me as funny, and I smiled, which I guess means I was smiling at the baby as our eyes were still totally locked into each other. She lowered her eyes, still looking at me, but a little coquettish, and the bottom of her face was now obscured by the side of the playpen. It was kind of interesting. Suddenly we were communicating. I approached her and stopped in front of the playpen, which cut out the jean swishing and left us once again in silence. She looked up, stuck her hands up. When babies do that, it means they want to be held. Well, look at that. Now we were best friends, and I don’t even know if I believe in God.
We hung out for an hour an a half. First we had to take care of the name issue, because her parents had told me that her name was Paige, but that was a dumb-ass name, so I decided on Carrie. “Carrie Correa,” I told her. “You need a name that flows.” She didn’t react, but she didn’t scream, so I stuck with it. We didn’t do anything remotely worth reporting, really. We just walked around the house a lot, me holding her so our eyes were almost at equal level. We looked at the pictures of Mary on the wall, of Mary and Jesus on the wall, pictures of sunlight and children and cows. Photographs of other children. Videotapes with home-made labels. Magnets on the refrigerator, from South Carolina and Georgia and Florida. A white tea kettle with blue flowers on it. The baby seemed to like the tea kettle. At least she pointed and grunted at it, which was more reaction than anything else elicited from her. She was not very gregarious. No smiles, no laughs, not in the entire hour and a half we spent together. But no crying either. Just this blank face with these enormous blue eyes. She was a fucking gorgeous child, I have to say. I had noticed that on Wednesday, actually, when she punched her father in the face, but I didn’t want to admit it then because I wasn’t sure if I liked her yet. I still wasn’t sure if I liked the kid. I mean, I wasn’t ready to invite her to the park to play stickball yet or anything like that, but we got along. We had a calm understanding of the whole history of each other’s lives and we were okay with it, with all the shitty crap we had pulled in our respective lifetimes. No need to talk about it much.
At 7:20, as instructed, I changed her diaper (which was tricky, but not brain surgery), and gave her her bottle. That was the evening I learned that eleven-month-olds are capable of holding bottles by themselves. Some people probably already know that, maybe people like Maria Marinska. Now I do too. She lay in her crib with her bottle, and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to read a story or sing or do some cricket dance for her, so I just kind of left her door half-open and went downstairs to sit on the couch. I didn’t watch TV, just sat. After about a quarter of an hour I went upstairs to see if she was ready for the cricket dance, but when I walked in the dark room I found that she was already asleep, half-empty bottle at her side. If you stare at a sleeping baby long enough, it starts to be a little weird. Even in the dark her breathing was so apparent, so huge. I guess it’s odd that such a little person probably inhales about the same amount of air that we do. It just seems disproportionate somehow. I’ve watched women breathe in my bed, but they always seem to be flying through space in their sleep, swerving to avoid hitting meteors or something like that. This baby was asleep entirely in this room, not going anywhere. After a little while she sighed, and I picked up the bottle and went back downstairs. Again I sat down on the couch and just turned some words over in my head, a bunch of two-word phrases that were battling it out in my brain. Cricket dance. Carrie Correa. Blue eyes. Tea kettle. All the Jesus pictures and sheep cherub figurines stared at me from all over the room, but they didn’t intrude, they just watched. Palm Sunday. Picture frames. Maria Marinska.
The parents came home zonked and paid me generously for taking such excellent care of their daughter, and on my way out the door they offered me a “God bless you,” which I though was very considerate and a little bit strange. A couple of days later I ran into Maria Marinska at the bar, and it’s a good thing she floats so distinctively because her hair was now all one color, entirely red, and I’m not sure I would have recognized her. She did a little Victorian ice skating dance with her forearms and I answered, yeah, it had gone alright. She bit her lip wisely.
“Funny people, aren’t they?” she asked me.
“Yeah, they are.”
“A little . . .” thumbs up then sideways, bang bang with fists on the bar.
I nodded. I tried to speak but somehow I couldn’t. I did manage a little grin.
Maria Marinska bought me a beer.
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