by Michaela Jenkins
When the Wellington’s went out to dinner, Aisha vacuumed and washed dishes. She put the little Wellington boy to bed. His name was Theodore. His ears were too big for his head. She liked him.
While he slept, she put on Mrs. Wellington’s jewelry. She put on her perfume and nightgown. She imagined that she would have a cat like that in a house like the Wellington’s. It was an ugly house, but she liked the things in it. The clothes in Mrs. Wellington’s closet. Theodore’s toys. She’d stolen some of them for her siblings and they had liked them too.
If this was her home, she would let her whole family move in so there wouldn’t be any of the silence that happened at the Wellington dinner table. They would jump in the pool instead of taking the quiet laps Mr. Wellington swam. They’d have parties.
Aisha lay beneath the sheets and ran her thumb over the cat’s ears. The Wellington’s cat was purebred something or another. It had a coat that barely shed when Aisha pet it. It was an indoor cat and an outdoor cat. It was friendly. The cat’s name was Abraham, but it was a girl.
Aisha lay in their bed until the cat got up and went out the little flap in the door. It liked to lie in the sun. While it was gone, Aisha washed the sheets and remade the bed. She put the jewelry back in the box.
When the Wellington’s told Aisha her services weren’t necessary anymore, Abraham had just had a litter. Aisha got to name one. She named it Sunday.
Aisha washed her hair at the Wellington’s shower sometimes. She could run the water for a long time. She’d pee in their shower. She would pour out some of Mrs. Wellington’s perfumes and oils. She’d rinse out her hair. It was so quiet that she’d think she was in a horror movie.
She preferred washing her hair at home, when her mother was at church and her siblings were at the boys and girls club. She liked the sounds of basketball and rusty grocery carts outside.
When she got out of the shower, she tried on the dresses she’d stolen from Mrs. Wellington. Her favorite was white with a gold belt on it. It stopped just above Aisha’s knees. She wore it on a date once, and the boy ran his hand up her thigh. It smelled like his cologne now, and Mrs. Wellington never wore it, so Aisha kept it.
She wondered if Mrs. Wellington smelled her perfume on Aisha’s body when she said they wouldn’t need her.
Aisha liked to sing “Tomorrow” while she worked. The Wellington’s watched musicals every Friday afternoon and Annie was Aisha’s favorite. Aisha would watch from the kitchen. Theodore would say that he wanted to marry Annie one day.
The adult Wellington’s would just nod. The only song they liked was “Little Girls,” but Aisha didn’t like that one as much. Neither did the little boy.
She stole the movie from the Wellington’s to play for her siblings. They liked “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”
When Aisha biked past the elementary school, she tried not to look. Theodore went there. His school was closer to her house than his, but her siblings didn’t go there. It was a small school. It was private. It had a garden with real life bunnies in the front.
After the Wellington’s told her that her services weren’t necessary, Aisha thought of the school. Once, Aisha went and picked Theodore up from school. The Wellington’s asked her to. It was a Wednesday. She remembered ‘cause her hair was pretty that day.
At the front gate there was a woman who would stop anyone who wanted to come in. She’d ask them, “How can I help you?” When the woman asked if she could help her, Aisha said she couldn’t. She had it. The woman laughed. She had a gold tooth in the back of her mouth. She said that Aisha was mistaken.
When Aisha had to pick up Theodore and bring him home, she took the long way to the Wellington house that Wednesday. It was dark outside. Theodore’s parents were selling the kittens, and Aisha didn’t want him to see that. She passed by the Boys and Girls Club. She passed by her house. “That’s my house,” she said when she rode by. She pointed. And later, she pointed at the Boys and Girls Club. “My siblings go there afterschool,” she’d said then. Theodore hadn’t said anything.
When they got home, all the kittens had been sold.
It was the next day when the Wellington’s told Aisha she wouldn’t be needed. It was after they came back from a dinner in midtown. That’s what Mr. Wellington said, “Dinner in midtown.” Aisha wondered if they’d talked about it then, or if they knew when she’d come in that day. If Mrs. Wellington had been looking for a dress Aisha had stolen and realized.
“May I ask why I’m no longer needed?” Aisha asked.
“We were uncomfortable with your behavior at Edmund’s school.”
“My behavior at his school?” Aisha said.
“You embarrassed him,” they said.
She and Theodore sat on the couch. Abraham lay on her side at their feet. She purred.
She asked Theodore what he did at school, and he said he learned that his name meant that he was a gift. Theodore didn’t know that names had meanings. Theodore asked if Aisha went to school. She told him she did. She was graduating next year.
“What does your name mean?” Theodore asked her. She didn’t know. “Why did your mama name you that,” Theodore asked her.
“‘Cause she knew all the letters in that one,” Aisha said.
Michaela Jenkins is a first year at Kenyon College, where she dreams about her mother’s pound cake and her home in South Carolina. She has won the Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize and the Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest. She was previously published in Litmus and received recognition at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.