Some houses on Harwood Avenue were louder than others. Some houses housed families with twelve to twenty raucous kids who were kicked out until dinner. Offspring were stumbling obstacles wrestling around Edgewood Park. Same damn clouds bristled and puffed all summer. Faces blustery and overfed. Tangled teeth, twisted jaws, and panic hooded themselves under manic curses between beer and cigarettes.
Our house was a mausoleum. No one in the neighborhood had just five kids. I pretended there was another sibling besides the four I had.
“Her name is Gertrude. We call her Gertie. She writes me every week.”
“Where is she?” asked a kid I babysat, Madeline, who was nine and had eight brothers.
“In Kazakhstan for pregnant girls. Gertie’s having twins. They need more kids in Kazakhstan, so she’s giving them up for charity.”
“Where’s Kaziktown?” asked Madeline.
“In Arkansas. She’ll be back sometime.”
“Show me the letters.”
“They’re in cursive. You couldn’t read them anyway.”
Madeline believed anything I said. One of her brothers was almost sixteen, had three rolls on the back of his neck. One night he waited until I was on the way to the bathroom, snapped my head against the wall and lathered his tongue around the back of my throat, while groping my non-breast with his greasy, fat hand. I got why most of these parents had separate bedrooms.
The mom paid ten bucks an hour to lock me and Madeline in the kid’s room with pizza and movies until they got home. I worked other babysitting jobs, but those parents were cheap. They only paid five bucks an hour and never offered food, so forced me to steal from them. I gorged on Pop-Tarts, ice cream, Fritos, potato chips, and drank through liquor cabinets. And searched over time for the treasure chest of items I found: a blue floppy dildo the size of a unicorn’s horn, a concertina, and three satin negligees in drawers and backs of closets. Found a porno DVD under one dad’s mattress. I watched it a few times before I took it to another babysitting job and tucked it under some other dad’s mattress. I liked to move stuff around. Replaced the porno with a Bible under the first dad’s mattress. He belted the shit out of seven jumpy kids. Wore loafers that looked like the hooves of a horse. I shared chips and ice cream with those sad kids. Booze was rampant in each house, so I barely made a dent.
Sometimes I mixed up keys in hallways that paraded little brass hooks, took a few from one keychain, popped them onto another. A pair of one mom’s stilettos, all dust and stink like sweaty pantyhose in a hamper, were placed in the back of another dad’s closet. No sense in giving any of these cheapskates a fair shake until they opened their wallets and spilled out more cash.