Every Kid Knows The Price

by | Feb 3, 2023

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 rooms.

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 all those parents were cheap. They only paid five bucks an hour and never offered food, so they 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.


  1. Dominique Christina

    Meg this is so great. I belly laughed and smiled my way through the reading. Gertie being in Kazakhstan to have twins because more kids are needed in Kazakhstan which, as it turns out, is in Arkansas was perfection. The narration is so groovy. Language sharp. Images clear. You have such a gift with voicing. The narrator makes us want to know her while also making us feel like we already know her. That’s a winking combination, always. Thank you so much for writing this. I wanted to live on that block and experience that community, replete with the subtle acts of trickery engaged by the narrator against the “cheapskates.” So much good stuff here.

  2. Karen Keefe

    Beautifully captures the complexity, invisibility, intimacy, boredom, and irresistible necessity to wreak havoc at the core of being a babysitter. I loved the moving stuff around as payback, that switchero of porn for a bible. To the barricades!

  3. Len Kuntz


    This is dripping with all kinds of goodness. So many wonderful lines–Our house was a mausoleum.
    The name “Gertie.”
    The way young people use imagination as a balm, or medicine to solve the things they can’t.
    The raw sense of voyeurism.
    All of your wonderful details and the specificity of place, especially in the first couple of sentences, which anchor a feeling of reality.
    Dad’s porno DVD under the bed.
    And then, of course, that last wonderful paragraph that lands like the perfect mic drop.

  4. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Meg, wow, the layers and levels you’ve achieved here are incredible. What is real, and make-believe. How as kids, we ‘fuck’ with other kids, and how by re-arranging the items in one house to another, there is a powerful totemic way of this babysitter taking hold of sterile, and benign (POV “cheap!”) households. It’s that defiance, that ‘I’ll show you” attitude that makes me think this person would have been my best childhood pal.

  5. jennifer vanderheyden

    Oh my, Meg! Layers indeed…like a stack cake with different icing under each piece. I don’t know if it’s passé to say meta-text, but you have so many stories springing up that will wreak havoc in households that sound so chaotic that the “transferred” items may never be found! And that dialogue…it’s like improv! “Sweaty pantyhose in a hamper”…been there! Such a vibrant, hilarious piece with dark undertones.

  6. Sheree Shatsky

    I’ve had my fingers crossed for someone to write a story about babysitter revenge and here it is, full glory with specific details on pay back. The stilettos in the back of another dad’s closet, that outcome is superbly left to the reader’s imagination!

  7. Koss (No Last Name)

    Meg, you’re my favorite babysitter. I’m on my way to Kazakhstan to pick up Gertie, then I’m going to kick Madeline’s brother’s ass across the continent right after I put out my cigarette in his face. Will you be my neighbor?

  8. Ryan Griffith

    Meg, I love this! The voice, the layers, the humor, especially Kazakhstan for pregnant girls. Really loved it!

  9. Julia Bouwsma

    This is just so completely all around badass, Meg! I love the power switch that comes, building in layers. The way the speaker gives herself a power otherwise denied to her, takes control through the story to Madeline (which reminds me a little bit of the Tobias Wolff story “The Liar”) and through the taking and moving of objects. And how she gives power to the objects themselves by doing this, objects that are otherwise secreted away or neglected or taken for granted. The parallels between speaker and object. The voice that is constructed through this strata of rearranging. It’s just all so incredibly cool!

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