The Servants’ Quarters

1.


If every family chooses someone to punish, I was the one chosen by mine. Mr. Harding, for instance. When he came to lunch, Ma always put him next to me. Why me? I wanted to know, Why not Miranda, she’s a freak herself? Every night Miranda woke up screaming that the Germans were coming for her over a wall. War! I kept telling her, It’s war, not wall!

But Ma just told me to keep my oar out of it, Miranda had a fixation, she said, and anyway, what would I know about the War, I hadn’t even been born until it was over? So it was hopeless. Every Sunday I was stuck next to Mr. Harding, and every night Miranda was allowed to go on screaming until Ma came down the passage with the DDT.

Nightmares and mosquitoes were the only reasons we were allowed to wake Ma up. If it was a nightmare, she’d just switch on all the lights and tell us to go back to sleep. But if it was a mosquito, we had to try to catch it and put it into a matchbox so that the man from the mosquito department could know just which sort it was, and where to find its breeding ground—stupid, if you ask me, because the mosquito man himself said they can breed overnight in a wheelbarrow or an upturned avocado pear leaf.

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