“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive … those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” –C.S. Lewis
“I think we start with these.” Alexandra tapped the nearest stack of resumes with a long finger. “Those others aren’t worth looking at.”
“Wait a second, Alexandra. We haven’t even discussed what we’re looking for.” Gary raised his mug to his lips, watching her over the rim. “I focused on their sales and customer service experience, for example.” Turning to his wife he asked, “Laura, what do you think is important?”
“Empathy,” Laura replied. Rebecca, seated to her left, nodded.
“Gratitude.” The word, a heavy brick, fell from Alexandra’s lips. It reminded Laura of the night before, Alexandra’s cool hand on her arm. “Thank you,” she’d said, “I mean it.” Laura had walked to the car, her smile frozen in place. Gary hadn’t noticed her mood. “What a night!” he’d said, smiling back at her. They drove home. He had tapped the steering wheel in time with the music on the radio. She had sat, hunkered within herself, wondering why Alexandra’s words had tripped her. A sleepless night followed, and she was no closer to understanding.
The table fell silent. Gary thought about these two words carefully. “Hmm. Empathy I get. But I’m not sure I understand what you mean by ‘gratitude’?”
“I mean,” Alexandra began, turning her body slowly to face him, “the counselors need to feel gratitude both for what Vitaslim offers and for the opportunity to work for a company putting people, not product or profit, first. They need to be able to inspire gratitude in future clients through their actions.”
“Wait,” Laura said, intending to at least put a placeholder in the air to organize her thoughts and gather her energy to argue her point; gratitude didn’t fit. How could they require an employee to be grateful? But a loud bump followed by a giggle came from upstairs. Her tired brain lost the filament of thought.
Gary brought them back to the conversation. “I was thinking, hungry. I want them to be hungry for the opportunity,” he said.
Rebecca, Alexandra, and Laura all nodded. Rebecca wrote “Empathy,” “Gratitude,” and “Hungry” on a piece of paper.
“I feel like I’m grading term papers,” Laura reached for the two piles Alexandra had made.
“If you don’t mind . . . ,” Alexandra anticipated Laura’s movements and took the “reject” stack into her lap quickly. “I’d like to just do a little test.” She replaced the stack on the table and mixed up the pages of interview notes herself, pulling the two together into one.
Maggie, pony-tail bouncing, bounded down the stairs and into the kitchen. “Grabbing a snack for the kiddos!”
Seconds later, the adults gathered around the table heard a wail come from upstairs. It was Moira.
Laura jumped up and headed up the stairs at a jog.
Chastity sat, surrounded by a growing wet stain on the carpet, her lip quivering as she looked up at Laura’s face.
“Moira, hush.” Laura quickly picked Chastity up.
“What’s wrong?” Gary called up from the foot of the stairs.
“Nothing . . . one of the dolls’ heads came off. Nothing to worry about, except for the doll of course!” She half-shouted down cheerfully. She made the decision to lie in an instant.
Evelyn was touching her little sister’s legs. “Shhhhh, shhhh. Mommy will hear. Mommy will hear . . . shhhh, it’s okay . . .”
Laura took Chastity into the bathroom, stood her up in the tub, and stripped her of her underwear and pants. Luckily, the little girl wore plain pink underwear and blue cotton leggings. Laura thought Moira had similar ones in her drawer. They would be too big, but she hoped Alexandra wouldn’t notice.
Once Chastity was all cleaned up, Laura deposited her into the waiting arms of her big sister, who patted her sister’s head and said, “Next time, just tell me. I’ll help you. I promise.”
Laura’s heart filled to overflowing to see this care from such a little person.
When she went downstairs again, all three heads were closely guarding their “scoring” of each candidate on a piece of paper.
Laura sat down heavily, her mind still on the little girls upstairs. She wasn’t sure why she had lied. She worried Chastity’s accident wouldn’t seem so “accidental” to her mother. Laura added fresh guilt to the pile from last night.
They worked for two hours. When they were done, Gary held up each applicant and they consolidated the scores. The top twelve candidates were selected.
Triumphantly, Alexandra pointed to the bent corners of the majority of the “no” pile. She had quickly made the mark before reshuffling the stacks. None of them had noticed the subtle wrinkle as they reviewed the candidates. “I just thought I would test myself. It’s nice to see I got it mostly right!” She looked expectantly at the others. Rebecca cleared her throat. When no one said anything, Alexandra glanced down at her watch and declared it was time to go. Laura called upstairs to ask Maggie to bring the children down. Alexandra immediately noticed Chastity’s pants.
“Take those off,” she ordered. “Those don’t belong to you. Did you go to the bathroom in your pants again, like I told you not to? You take those off right now.” Alexandra shrugged into her coat; her voice a swift razor.
Evelyn moved in front of her sister, pushing her smaller form behind her. “Mommy, she can wear my pants until we get home. I’m not cold.” Evelyn earned a stern look from her mother, but Alexandra didn’t say a word.
Chastity’s lip quivered. Laura couldn’t watch. She went into the kitchen and clutched the counter by the kitchen sink, as if to hold her up, or hold herself back. Gary busily tidied up the dining room table, but turned around when his own daughter took refuge next to him. Rebecca and Maggie had already slipped out the back door.
“Take them off now,” Alexandra ordered through tight lips. Chastity sat her little bottom down on the hardwood floor and peeled the blue leggings off.
“Mommy gave them to her,” Moira said, though Alexandra didn’t seem to hear. Gary took her hand, silently understanding.
“The underwear, too.”
Chastity pushed the cotton pants down. Her toddler legs, like skinny roots, poked out beneath her green wool jumper.
“Get your boots on and put on your coat. You’re going home bare-bottomed. Maybe next time you’ll remember not to pee in your pants.” Alexandra gripped Chastity’s shoulder and propelled her forward. “Evelyn, get in the car right now.” Alexandra barely glanced at Gary, but looked for a long time into the kitchen doorway. Laura was still standing at the sink, out of sight, waiting for the door to close behind them.
Evelyn took her sister’s hand and waved silently to Moira. They walked out of the house together, following their mother down the steps, and climbing into the back seat of the Camry. Evelyn helped strap Chastity into her car seat, then buckled her own seat belt in her booster seat.
Gary closed the door behind them, waving weakly as they drove away.