When Neni first goes to the Edwardses’ Hamptons house, she tries not to show Anna how “awed” she is by their large “two-story warm gray stone-and-wood-shingled house,” which they only occupy for a few months a year. The afternoon when she arrives, Vince gives her a big hug and tells her to make herself comfortable. She spends all evening on that first day in the kitchen with Mighty, whom she knows will be “her only true source of joy there.” The boy reminds her of Liomi, particularly in regard to his cheerful nature and love of laughter.
It’s remarkable to Neni that people could be so rich that they have two lavish homes. Vince’s expression of warmth, as well as Mighty’s friendliness, help to put her at ease. Though she is a servant in this home, their behavior toward her causes her to feel that she belongs. Her recognition of similarities between Mighty and Liomi will aid in her developing maternal affection for him.
Babysitting Mighty is the best part of Neni’s job, and Cindy approves of how happy she makes Mighty. Neni observes how Cindy’s concern for her children’s happiness is “followed closely” by her need for a sense of belonging. Neni doesn’t understand this, particularly given Cindy’s air of superiority, which was evident during Neni’s first meeting with her. She behaved like a woman who had the right “to take as much of a listener’s time as she wished.” She gave instructions like an empress and told Neni what she couldn’t stand in a housekeeper: dishonesty, poor communication, and a lack of poise around company.
Cindy believes that money gives her importance and uses this in lieu of developing self-esteem. Neni doesn’t yet know it but her empress-like air is her armor against feeling the effects of her low self-worth. Cindy wants to feel that she has a family that loves her and will never leave her. She also wants to feel that she belongs in the wealthy world of the Hamptons because she was born into poverty.
Neni sees that Cindy is obsessed with being where everyone else in her social circle is and doing what they’re doing. Neni doesn’t understand why people care about “stupid things like the approval of others.” Five days after she arrives at the house, she calls Jende to tell him that Mrs. Edwards seems “very sick.” She says that Cindy went into her bedroom for a nap, while Neni stayed in the basement, doing laundry. When she opened the door to the second-floor guest bedroom, she saw Mrs. Edwards inside, which was a surprise because Neni thought that she’d be in the master bedroom. The normally composed woman is splayed against the headboard of the bed with hair strands stuck to her sweaty face, her hands limp at her sides, and her mouth half open with saliva running down her chin.
Neni thinks it’s “stupid” to require the approval of others because she has a clearer sense of who she is and what she comes from than Cindy does. Cindy is trying to create the feelings of rootedness and belonging that Neni already has. Though Cindy is rich, she’s impoverished emotionally, which explains her presumable drug and alcohol abuse.
Jende asks Neni if she looks dead. Neni says that Cindy was still breathing. She asks him what to do and he tells her not to touch her or go back into the room. Instead, he wants her husband or sons to find her and decide on what to do. He admonishes her when she insists on doing something. Neni hangs up on their call and phones her friend, Betty, who tells her that Cindy’s probably on drugs. Neni doesn’t believe it, but Betty insists that people like Mrs. Edwards do drugs all the time. She says that Neni should go wake her up and, if Mrs. Edwards is dead, Neni should call her husband, not the police. Also, if Neni calls the police, Betty begs that Neni not mention her name, due to her fear of the police.
Jende worries that Neni could be blamed for Cindy’s condition. Betty agrees and believes that Neni should call Clark. Both Jende and Betty are afraid of the police. Jende is worried because of his immigration status and Betty has probably had similar experiences of being targeted as a possible illegal. There’s also the prevalent trouble of being racially profiled by the police. Neni doesn’t believe that Cindy could be on drugs because she doesn’t associate drug use, which she assumes is always illegal, with someone of Cindy’s class.
Neni goes back upstairs to the guest bedroom and sees Cindy sleeping in the same position. She leans forward and whispers Cindy’s name, while nudging her in the arm. Cindy doesn’t respond. Neni leans closer and says Cindy’s name, directly in her ear. Suddenly, Cindy closes her mouth and begins smacking her lips. She asks Neni what she wants and Neni assures her that she just wanted to make sure that “madam” was all right. Cindy asks Neni for the time: it’s five o’clock. Cindy swings her legs around to get out of bed and staggers a bit but assures Neni that she’s fine. Neni offers to run a bath and Cindy nods in agreement. She then tells Neni that Clark won’t be coming home that night, and that Vince is leaving after he and Mighty return. Around seven o’clock Cindy starts the engine to her Jaguar and leaves for her social engagements.
Cindy’s behavior suggests that she’s often in this condition. What strikes Neni as cause for concern seems routine in this scene. The fact that no one is in the house, except for her and Neni, suggests that Cindy’s destructive behavior is due to loneliness. When she tells Neni that Clark and Vince won’t be around for the rest of the day, it gives the sense that there’s something cold and empty about the spacious and sumptuous house that Neni admired. It’s so cold, it seems, that Cindy can’t stand to be in it when she isn’t high and must leave to feel with others the connection that she lacks with her family.