Caring for Mr. Bernard: An Instruction Manual

Dear Incoming House Manager, 

The position you are about to assume is one of great esteem. The actions you choose from the moment you awake in the morning to the moment you lay your head down at night will affect the welfare of Mr. Bernard and his entire estate. Given that his legacy is the backbone of our community, in acting as the steward of his health and safety, you now hold a great deal of responsibility.

As I was the only other person to have held this position to date, I determined it prudent to compile a list of the best practices I’ve acquired over my years of proud service. I encourage you to read through this list multiple times before officially undertaking your duties. Though the estate does not have a formal training period budgeted into your rate, there is an expectation that you perform this role from a place of sincere passion and will not mind, from time to time, going the extra mile for the greater good. It is in this spirit that I have taken it upon myself, during my transition into retirement, to equip you as best I can with all requisite information. 

Please remember to:   

  1. Keep the tea selection well-stocked. Mr. Bernard takes his tea four times a day—with mealtime 3x daily, and again at 9pm when he is winding down. As his caffeine and taste needs vary over the course of the day, a well-rounded pantry that accommodates these different contexts is an absolute must. Mr. Bernard always sticks to the same brand of tea kettle, but he often forgets how to operate it, so it’s best to anticipate his needs and get the water boiling before he even knows he wants it. 
  1. Launder Mr. Bernard’s clothes 2x per week. Do not use fabric softener. Always use tap cold. If you switch out his detergent or otherwise alter the laundering process, he will notice and ask you to donate, then promptly replace, the clothes that were ruined in the process. As many of Mr. Bernard’s garments are bespoke, you will soon see why this should at all costs be avoided. When the washing machine is running, set a timer for 40 minutes and carry it with you so you can retrieve the clean clothes when they are fresh. Ascending and descending the stairs multiple times is necessary, but fortunately you are young and spry, unlike me. In any case, extra walking is preferable to the adverse effects that prolonged exposure to the basement can create. 
  1. Launder his bedding once weekly. All the same provisions apply. 
  1. Refrain from asking Mr. Bernard questions that may be construed as intrusive, entitled, or otherwise inappropriate. Likewise, he has a particular aversion to idle small talk or dull observations. You will learn to calibrate your standards for this in no time at all. 
  1. Ensure that Mr. Bernard never has to perform any math, no matter how simple you deem it. Around 15 or so years ago, his faculties in this area started to decline, which, given his breadth of professional scientific experience, frustrates him a great deal. Keep a calculator on hand at all times. 
  1. Keep Mr. Bernard’s environment, belongings, and person free of allergens and toxins including pollen, dust, dust mites, peanuts, tree nuts, animal dander, and stinging insects. He has a high sensitivity to these. 
  1. Limit his direct sunlight exposure to three 15-minute sessions daily. When he is outside, please ensure his face and neck are covered with a wide-brim hat and sunscreen SPF 50 or higher. 
  1. Receive a copy of Mr. Bernard’s weekly food and drink menu from the in-house chef the Sunday before it goes into effect. Mr. Bernard’s least favorite thing in the world is when people ask what’s on his plate. Familiarizing yourself with his menu ahead of time provides an extra set of eyes to ensure that his meals meet all dietary requirements and precludes all temptation on your part to ask. It goes without saying, but in the event that you ask for a bite of food off of Mr. Bernard’s plate, you will be terminated effective immediately. 
  1. Prior to each film night, set an appointment with Mr. Bernard’s son, Hibiscus, to receive an extra print of the week’s film so that Mr. Bernard may enjoy it in his private screening room. In his condition, large-scale events are simply not appropriate. Though Hibiscus cannot be regularly relied on for questions regarding his father, he can generally be expected to respond to most inquiries within 1 week. Plan accordingly. Once you have coordinated the retrieval of the extra film print, bring the dolly provided to transport it, as each reel (a feature-length typically uses two) weighs around 40 pounds. Once you have threaded the first reel through the projector, escort Mr. Bernard to the screening room and buckle him into his seat. (The first few times you do this he may protest, but hours of sitting are taxing on his back, so please be persistent.) The screening room is soundproof, which helps Mr. Bernard remain undisturbed, but it also means that whenever he occupies it you must make regular visits at half-hour intervals. After Mr. Bernard has enjoyed a film, return the reels to Hibiscus. This will also need to be coordinated ahead of time. 
  1. Beware of intruders. Break-in attempts are not uncommon, and each should be properly dealt with and reported so that the authorities may respond with the appropriate amount of urgency. If you find yourself in a pinch, your quarters have been furnished with pepper spray, a baseball bat, and a pistol with four rounds of blanks. It does not work, but it does look convincing. In addition to criminal activity, please also stay alert to all unwelcome presences. For instance, while Hibiscus finances his father’s convalescence, bear in mind that he is under no circumstances allowed in the house.
  1. When in doubt, refer to this manual. Do not ask Mr. Bernard to clarify instructions, as this causes him a great deal of undue stress. He is a man of great renown who has worked hard over many decades. It is your job to ensure that now is his time to enjoy the fruits of his labor. 

The above standards are nonnegotiable. In the event that you have other questions about household operations—whether they be financial, aesthetic, or interpersonal in nature—rest assured that you were awarded this role for your exceptional instincts, and should follow them accordingly. 

Mr. Bernard is an agreeable person. Should you lead with good judgment, I’m sure you’ll find yourself blessed with a rewarding professional relationship. 

Best wishes, 

Rosemary Bean

Outgoing House Manager, Bernard Estate

Featured image by Klayton Harmon.

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Mary Gulino

Mary Gulino is a TV writer who has worked on shows for Disney, Amazon, Showtime, and the CBC. She has also been published in various humor and literary magazines, including Reductress and The American Bystander.