top of page

An Overactive Imagination

Updated: Mar 29

by Lou-Ellen Barkan

“Guess what?” Mom smiled. “We’re moving to Paris?” I was in bed reading Gone with The Wind. “Very funny,” she said. “Actually, Mrs. Simon called to ask if you could babysit Saturday night.”

“You’re kidding.”

“$2.00 an hour."

I thought about it for a minute. $2.00 an hour would make a dent in my Broadway ticket fund. Mom had promised to take me to see West Side Story as soon as I had saved enough for my ticket.

On other hand, I had never had a babysitting job. “Don’t I need training?” "You’re almost thirteen,” Mom said. “The Simon kids are eight and ten. You should be fine, and if you need us, we’re a few blocks away.”

“Okay. Tell her I’ll do it.” I waited for mom to leave before I called my best friend, Susie, the neighborhood’s babysitting guru. Susie had been babysitting since she was twelve.

“You feed them. You read a few stories, give them cookies and put them to bed,” said the thirteen-year-old voice of experience. “Smile at the parents. Not too many cookies,” she warned. “If they get too much sugar, they won’t sleep.”

Susie and I were hovering delicately between childhood and adolescence. We had put away our treasured Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew collections and filled our bookshelves with romance and adolescent angst. She was madly in love with Holden Caulfield. I had fallen hard for Rhett Butler. When I dreamt of being swept away by the man of my dreams, he looked suspiciously like Clark Gable.

Over the next few days, I worried. Babysitting sounded like easy money. Read a couple of stories and tuck the kids in. But what if something did happen? Houses in our

Image of a sidewalk in the suburbs, lined with trees and hedges separating the houses.
Image credit: Canva

neighborhood were set far apart, each with an acre or more of carefully tended property. Many had pools and gardening sheds. Houses were bordered by tall hedges to protect owners from prying eyes. Recently, the cops caught a gang of local kids breaking into a neighbor’s house. What if they showed up while I was babysitting?

“You have an overactive imagination,” Susie said. “Babysitting is the most boring job on the planet.”

“But what if…” “There is no ‘what if,” Susie said. “If something happens, you call your parents. Or call me.” As Saturday approached, I considered what I knew about the Simons. They were my parents' friends, part of a group that met monthly for dinner and cards. The women arrived trailing Chanel No. 5 crossed with a heavy dose of cigarette smoke. They played bridge in the dining room and gossiped. The men, all of whom had served in the military, came armed with bottles of amber colored whiskey and smelly Cuban cigars. They played poker and told dirty jokes in the smoke-filled den.

Mr. Simon was an Air Force veteran who had started a successful women’s dress company. Mrs. Simon stayed home to take care of the kids, ten-year-old Skip and eight- year-old Callie. My mother said that Mr. Simon fooled around with models in his showroom because Mrs. Simon was fat and losing her hair. I was thirteen, so I knew about fooling around, but models, I assumed, had their pick of anyone, so why would they fool around with dumpy, old Mr. Simon?

On Saturday night, my father drove me to the Simon’s house. The outside lights were on. I saw Skip and Callie looking out the downstairs window. My stomach lurched.

“You okay with this? “My father turned off the car.

“I’m fine,” I said. “You call us if anything happens.”

“I will.”

“You want me to come in?” “No,” I opened the car door. "I’m fine.” I stepped out of the car slowly, walked to the front door and rang the bell. I heard my father turn on the motor and drive off.

Skip opened the door and I walked into the front hall. “She’s here,” Skip announced to Bessie, the small black poodle sitting at his side.

Callie came down the stairs and twirled on the toes of shiny black Mary-Janes. She was wearing a pink cotton dress covered with pink and yellow daisies. “I got dressed up,” she picked up the hem to show me her lace slip. “I have to be careful when I eat the pizza.”

“I’m in the kitchen,” Mrs. Simon called out. “Everyone in here, please.” I followed Callie and Skip down the hall into the kitchen where Mrs. Simon was standing at the counter in front of an open box of pizza. She was wiping her mouth with a large paper napkin. Two slices of pizza were missing from the box.