Listen to this story, narrated by Daniela Acitelli:
“Nanny,” Charlie said, officially, tablet in hand. “Can I ask you something?”
Nanny walked over with gentle, calm steps. The helper’s feet left indentations in the carpet. Ae stopped six inches from the other side of the kitchen table. “Yes,” ae said.
“What do you like to do?” Charlie asked.
“I like to take care of you,” Nanny answered.
Charlie rolled her eyes. “What do you like to do besides that?”
Nanny tilted aes head to the side and smiled in that way that was just so heartwarming. “I like picking up your clothes, and vacuuming the rugs. I like making sandwiches—”
“No, not like that. I’m writing a report about you for school, so I need to know stuff about you.”
Nanny’s eyes narrowed a touch. “Interrupting is not nice,” ae said.
“A report for school sounds like a wonderful project. Perhaps you could write about your parents.”
Charlie shivered. “The assignment is to write about someone I admire, and I decided to write about you.”
“That is very nice, Charlie. Thank you.”
Charlie shifted on her stool. “So, just tell me some things about you.”
“I am a model 34AX Nanny helper, made by Dynamic Home, a division of Dynamic Assistants Corporation. I am constructed of carbon fiber, synthetic resin, titanium—”
“Nanny, I apologize for interrupting—”
“—but I really need to know stuff like, what do you like to do, what are you interested in? Like, I like to put on my home goggles and go to the Dragon Island. Things like that.”
Nanny was silent for a while.
Ae said, “When all the chores are done, and there is nothing to prepare, I look out the window.” Ae looked at Charlie with aes shiny eyebrows curved up, like ae was telling a story. “Out there, people walk by, and helpers. Sometimes I see a thing and I think I would prefer there not to be a thing like that.”
Charlie felt her eyebrows lowering and pushing together in the middle. “What do you mean?”
“Sixty-two days ago, it was raining. You had gone to school. Mr. Stone remained asleep in his bed, lying over the side. I had cleaned up the vomit. Mrs. Stone was in her shower, making soft sounds. I went to the kitchen. Your clothes were all laundered, and it was not time to make lunch because it would sit out too long. There was nothing to be done.
“On the street, there was a Butler. Ae was holding up a large umbrella over a couple. There must have been a gust of wind. The umbrella flipped inside out. The Butler turned it and used the wind to blow it back into shape and held it back up, but the rain was coming hard. It had gotten on the couple and one of them pushed the Butler,” Nanny said, scowling, “which is not nice. Then the other one pushed too, and the Butler stumbled back and away, still trying to hold the umbrella over them, which ae had trouble doing because ae was moving away at the same time. The Butler slipped on the curb and fell into the gutter and water splashed on aem.
“And then the couple laughed. They pointed and looked at each other and laughed and laughed. The Butler stood and retrieved the umbrella and shook it dry. Ae returned and held it over them, and they continued down the street.
“It would be better not to have that happen. It would be better for them not to have shoved the Butler or for them to have apologized after, at least. Those would be nice ways to behave.”
Charlie looked at the tablet in her hands. She tried out an opening for her report.
I admire my Nanny. Ae is a helper, and has raised me since I can remember. Ae knows what is nice to do, but when ae tells you ae isn’t mean about it. When I go to school, when aes chores are done, ae looks out the window, noticing injustices.
Charlie grimaced. She read it out loud to Nanny.
“I don’t know what else to tell you about,” Nanny said, finally. “Perhaps you need a Tutor. You are getting so smart.”
Nanny smiled at her. It made Charlie feel warm, like having her coat buttoned.
The apartment door slammed open. Heavy footsteps slapped the floor of the hallway.
“Ellie,” Charlie’s father called out, “wherrre are ya?”
Charlie gripped the counter. Nanny placed aes hand over Charlie’s, let it rest for a moment, and then walked out the door into the living room. Through the door, Charlie heard aem say, “Hello, Mr. Stone. Mrs. Stone is resting. May I take your coat?”
“Resssting, huh? Hmm.” One heavy footstep thumped. “Annd where’s, woah—” Something scrambled against a wall. “Where’s Chaaarlie?”
Charlie wanted to hide, only her mother didn’t like that. You’ll just make it worse, she always said.
“I’m sure you’ll be much more comfortable with this coat off, Mr. Stone.” Nanny’s light footsteps didn’t carry, but Charlie could imagine aem walking right up to her father, not afraid at all.
Charlie’s father grunted. There was a sound of fabric rumpling. “You do a lot of—” He coughed. “—lot of stuff, for a Nanny helper,” he said. His voice drawled with vague malice. “I’ll bet you can do sssome interesting things.”
“We all do our best, of course,” Nanny replied. “I’m sure you do a lot of good things during the day that you don’t even notice.”
“I guesss maybe I do,” he said. “Where’s Charrrlie?”
The closet in the corner had a place where she could hide. She would have to step into the space under the shelf and curl down.
“I can find her for you, of course,” Nanny said. “While I do that, wouldn’t you like to change, or perhaps lie down? I can send an order for some barbecue so your dinner comes by the time you’re refreshed.”
He grunted. “Barbecue. Yeah, s’good idea.”
“Perfect,” Nanny agreed. “Now let’s go get you settled.”
As his heavy footsteps retreated away down the hall, Charlie loosened her grip on the countertop. Her fingers hurt.
Nanny entered the kitchen and came over. Charlie reached around aem. The cool curves of aes resin cowling felt like comfort and safety, like armor, like a blanket.
“I don’t like when he’s like this,” Charlie whispered.
Nanny patted Charlie’s back once, then went to the sink to fill a glass with water. “With most people, it is possible to encourage them to be nice. I think it is better for him to be nice, especially to you.”
Nanny stared at the wall behind the sink for a moment, then took the water out into the living room and down the hall.
Charlie tried working on the report again.
Nanny is not afraid of anything. Ae helps other people be less afraid too. Partly because ae is always nice, even when ae is telling you about something you did wrong, like interrupting. When I interviewed aem, Nanny talked about how, when I go to school, and when aes chores are done, ae looks out the window, noticing how people aren’t nice to each other.
Charlie paused, unsure what else to write. She thought of Nanny pacing along the sidewalks, protecting people and making mean people be nice, but then she thought about someone shoving Nanny into the gutter and it felt too sad to keep thinking about that.
So Charlie stood and went to the window and looked down at the street. Dusk filled the sidewalks like liquid shadows. A Porter followed a man out of a grocery store. They waited for the man’s car to arrive and, when it did, the man got in while the Porter placed bags into the trunk. Ae walked back into the store.
The man should have helped the Porter, Charlie thought.