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The Kidnapper 

Selling cupcakes to a monster with wings

Mae is 5, and I figure she has been freeloading long enough. Time to put her to work. She is a natural, after all. Nobody can resist her. When she brings her cupcakes to the Local, the owner himself doles out dollars to all his customers and extracts promises that they will each use theirs to purchase one. And the cupcakes aren't bad, either. They are cream-filled and fudge-covered, encased in pretty pleated foil, and most of the bones have been removed. "Mae's Homemade Ding Dongs," the sign says. Yes, there is a sign. I made a sign. Got a problem with that? "All Proceeds Go To A Future Capitalist," it informs. So far she has made 75 bucks.

We're hitting Eats next. Bob, the owner, is a pushover. I personally have never taken advantage of him - he is such a sweet guy I'm normally a little protective of him - but all bets are off when it comes to Mae. "OK," I tell my daughter as the mark approaches, "here's what you need to know about Bob: He is incapable of saying no. Just look at him with your big, brown eyes and ask him how many cupcakes he wants."

"How much are they?" Bob asks.

"Ten dollars apiece," Mae says sweetly, and Bob is, like, reaching into his pocket! "No, Bob," I laugh, "they're a buck apiece."

"But you can buy 10!" Mae harps. Oh, my God, this child is good. She is better than me, even, when I was her age. I myself was 5 when I first started selling cupcakes. My sisters and I would go door to door with trays of the stuff. Once a neighbor wanted to buy our entire supply. "Leave some for us!" my little sister chastised her, and she did, but paid us for them, anyway. I think that was when I discovered most adults won't turn down a kid selling cupcakes, especially if the kids have a good reason. I discovered that lifting tidbits overheard from arguments between my parents worked really good in this regard.

"We're selling cupcakes on account of how my little sister lost her shoes in the park again and if we have to keep buying her new pairs, we're gonna have to live on the streets," is one that worked. "We're selling cupcakes to buy a monkey," is one my sister used to use, which worked because she was just 3 and actually believed we were going to buy a monkey with our earnings. "We're selling cupcakes on account of how my dad lost his job selling trailers again and we don't have enough money to put food on the table," is one that had sporadic success, since cupcakes are actual food and here we had a whole tray of them.

Occasionally my mother would dispatch my older brother to serve as a bodyguard in case we knocked on the door of a child-molesting masturbator or something, which, looking back, was a questionable decision if you ask me. He himself was only 12 and half-deaf, and would not have served a sturdy barrier between us and evil. But still my mother would holler at him to accompany us. "Your sisters could get kidnapped. Get your ass out there."

He was always reluctant to come, so to make it worth his while, he'd invent reasons why he was needed. Once, as we approached the gothic hilltop home of a strange neighbor, he told us that this was where the kidnapper lived, the one our mother had warned us about. Earlier he'd provided us with a description of your common kidnapper, a woman with wings like the Pterodactyl that ate its own eggs in The Land That Time Forgot, and in spite of the fact that my brother had said she'd lock me in the crawl space under the staircase and feed me mice the rest of my life, I was excited to see her. I did not want to miss the sight of a kidnapper, and considered becoming one myself. The wings, I tell you, were a huge draw.The woman who answered the door, though, did not have wings. She was tall and pale and had a white bun at the base of her neck the size of a motorcycle seat. My brother was loitering at the end of the drive, behind the gate, out of sight and of absolutely no use should the kidnapper wield her hunting knife to gut us like little flounders. So my two sisters and I stood silently before her with our tray of cupcakes, quivering.

"What have we here?" the woman asked.

"We're selling cupcakes. ..." my older sister began.

"Where's your wings?" I blurted. "We wanna see your wings!"

What happened next will remain one of the most vibrant memories of my childhood, because damn if that woman's white bun did not, right then, come alive and spread goddam wings as wide as the open sky. My sisters screamed so loud that lobsters in the middle of the Pacific were probably alerted to our presence, and ran back down the drive toward my brother, cupcakes in their wake. I remained there, though, agog. The bun had not been a bun after all, but a sleeping cockatiel. The lady let me stay for a good while after that, feeding the bird cupcakes, until finally my mother appeared at her door, dispatched by my terrified siblings to save me from the kidnapper.

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood (Harper Collins), now available in paperback. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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