The idea sets the detail. An idea, like a man, is alive; its integrity is to serve its own truth, its own single purpose. An idea cannot borrow hunks of its soul piecemeal any more than a man can borrow pieces of his body from another. The idea, and the Club, was mine. To say the four of us worked on it together is a form of truth, in the same way it is true to say that Homer and his pen-sharpener composed the Iliad.
“Us” is Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi, Stacey McGill, and me – Kristy Thomas. There cannot be an “us” without four “I”s, do you hear me? I have, let’s say, another sixty years to live, seventy if I husband my health carefully. Most of that time will be spent working. I have chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to a handful of decades of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards, and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. There have been no Baby-Sitters Clubs before like this one. There may never be another like it again.
I will be remembered as either a great man or a criminal. I shall leave it to others to do the remembering. Myself, I am content to act.
When I say that I am the BSC and the BSC is me, I mean that the others are merely instruments for carrying out my decisions. I am the will, they the body. You might call them useful tools.
Some will consider that an insult, but no craftsman has ever insulted his own tools, as long as they serve him.
That morning I had been expelled from Stoneybrook Middle School. My face, as they handed down my sentence, looked like a law of nature. It cannot be questioned, altered, or implored. It has high cheekbones over hollow cheeks, gray eyes cold and steady, a contemptuous mouth, shut tight against the world. It is the mouth of an executioner or a saint, and I thanked the gentlemen of the board for their decision with a deep bow from the waist, without a trace of irony.
I was born to be expelled from middle school. Granite exists to be cut and made into walls. Trees exist to be split and made into rafters. Iron ore waits under the ground to be melted and emerge as girders against the sky. Children exist to profit the Club.
Mrs. Newton was out on the porch that afternoon, making only the vaguest and most transparent of feints toward feeding her birds. As I walked slowly and purposefully up the street, I saw her attempt to arrange her vacuous face into a simper of concern the way a mediocre architect attempts to construct a building of originality and significance.
“Kristy!” she called.
“Kristy, I’m so sorry about…” she hesitated politely, “over what happened this morning.”
“Your being expelled. From Stoneybrook. I can’t tell you how sorry I am for you. I only wanted to let you know, how sorry I am.”
I looked at her, because she did not exist. I would have looked at her until she knew she did not exist either, except she continued. “The Dean is waiting for you upstairs,” she said.
“I expect he is,” I told her, and continued on my walk. The Dean was no longer a part of my plan.
David Michael is my six-year-old brother. My big brothers, Charlie and Sam, and I are each responsible for him one afternoon a week until Mom gets home from work. Kathy, the fifteen-year-old girl who lives a few blocks from us, watches him the other two afternoons. Kathy gets paid to watch him. Charlie and Sam and I don’t.
Is Kathy providing a more valuable service?
It is a question that Mother will have to answer for herself.
Mary Anne was waiting for me at my locker. “You’re late,” she said, biting her nails.
“True friendship,” I said to her while staring resolutely ahead, “rests on fundamental indifference. I have no consciousness of you in the deepest reality of my existence, no need for you, no appeal, no demand. I ask nothing of you, and grant you nothing. When you bring me work I can find satisfaction in, when I enable you to perform to the best of your abilities there is a pleasure that is neither bribe nor charity.”
“And you’ll never wear nail polish if you keep biting your nails like that,” I reminded her. “Honor your values.”
My idea was that Mary Anne and Claudia and I would form a club to do baby-sitting. We would tell people (our clients) that at certain times during the week we could all be reached at one phone number. We would hold our meetings during those times. That way, when someone needed a sitter, he or she could make one phone call and reach three different people. One of us would be available for sure. Of course, people could call us individually at other times, but the beauty of the meetings would be the opportunity to reach several baby-sitters at once. Our clients wouldn’t have to go through what Mom had just gone through at dinner.
“Don’t be astonished,” I said to the girls, “if I tell you that you shall have to live up to that club.”
The phone rang. I knew it would.
We were the guardians of a great human function. But before there had ever been a we, there was the great and solitary I.
I for Idea. I for I.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.