All high schools are pathetic, as are all high school students, high school existences, high school achievements. That your team beat anyone else’s, ever, you should forget two days after graduation. We’ve fabricated childhood – damn you, Locke, damn you, Rousseau – then built traps to keep young people in it – that comfortable space of “for your age” and “improving” and “participation.” Ah, the formative, the forming – high school students are oil-based paint drying in a humid climate. High school students are crockpot roasts, slow setting pudding, the healing of a prominent zit on a Saturday night.
It doesn’t seem as if it should require a decade to form – shit, dogs get trained faster, much faster, to do a variety of useful things – more useful than your average adolescent.
We expect so little of them, give them so many chances to be, in some small way, human.
Magun was no exception to this rule. It had all been predicated on dependence – daddy dependence, boyfriend dependence, baby-daddy dependence, state dependence – such that now, at 25, she had three children by three different, absent lotharios, welfare, WIC, Section 8 housing, her divorced mother in the same small, rural New York town, and drama; drama to spare, drama to keep TV network sit-coms humming, mechanical audiences laughing into the wee hours of the century.
Magun was so named when her parents (mother really – father was on his way out the door at the child’s birth) tried for the phonetic. She failed miserably, as does 36% of the population who misspell, in just this way, the ridiculously popular girl’s name.
Nonetheless, the attempt was for “May-gun,” which, through dint of repetition, generally at the top of her lungs, Magun’s mother made stick. All of this leads us to believe that making up names at whim, for sound, or appearance, or blind stupidity, or disregard for how hard it will be for the child to live with, is not the sole province of African-Americans in this country, but also of poor white trash. Obviously, or perhaps not, there was no Irish or Polish sap in Magun’s family tree.
She attended the local community college off and on, primarily because it was like high school, except at Northern Counties Community College she received grants and loans for attending, along with the requisite admiration of peers and faculty for being a single parent – not unwed mother, not round-heeled slut, tramp, whore, like her bitch mother sometimes called her, but single parent – struggling to make a better life for her young children.
For some, adulthood gradually becomes a habit that age solidifies. Habit, because for many of those people there is little thought, little rhyme or reason behind it; they just habituate themselves to some, if not all, of those requisite responsibilities. Let’s face it, if one continues to neglect the maintenance of, say, an automobile, necessities of seeing to license renewal, registration, inspection, and such, and the vicissitudes of insurance, then one will not be driving for long, for one reason or another. A car is an apt American, very much American, metaphor, for life. Thus, many are forced into a habit of relative responsibility that resembles adulthood.
For others, adulthood comes as a shock, perhaps an idea, a sobering idea, a glimpse into a future where the individual is not 22 or 27, but the age of her mother, say – puttering around a cold kitchen in a housedress that shows a variety of faded tattoos sagging off of sagging arms. For these, perhaps it’s waking up midmorning with a headache and no knowledge of where you might have lost your panties, of why you’re on a strange living room couch and have to pull your jeans up over your exposed backside, of why the guy you just met seems to be fucking you with your back against a dumpster in the alley behind the bar. Did he even buy you a beer?
For Magun, the notion of adulthood came to her in the latter manner, brought on by some cloudy notions from classes at the college.
She had a redneck’s fear of drugs and addiction — legal and illegal, homemade and street bought, but her affinity for beer and whiskey with beer chasers more than made up for that. She had little problem, as well, with Internet porn. Baby-daddy number two had been convinced that they could make some money on the side (without affecting her state handouts) by entering naked pictures of her in various alluring poses to various Internet porn sites. He assured her that he knew how to blur her features so that no one would recognize her, but then after the first few, where she could see that it was clearly herself in those photos, he claimed it just wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, then of course that he really didn’t know how to do it. His favorite website told him how to upload the pictures from his cellphone but had no instruction on how to blur a young lady’s features. Magun started lowering her head and averting her gaze while she spread her vagina with both hands and fingered herself for the camera.
Magun’s second baby-daddy did make some money with the naked images of her and promptly moved on, taking his cellphone with him. About a month later, her bitch mother somehow found the site and yelled at her for a solid hour in her kitchen – the middle child watching cartoons and the eldest at school. Always a federal case for her mother.
None of this was enough, of course, to tip Magun out of adolescence – not by itself. No problem so large it couldn’t be solved with a shot and a beer, two shots and two beers. Young women might sometimes have the money for the purchase of said shots, but youngish, decent looking, appropriately dressed in jeans and a skimpy top that showcased breasts and erect nipples, such women very seldom had to buy their own drinks in upstate New York.
Hard to say exactly what it was that pushed the young woman around the corner, but a couple of months after baby-daddy number three left her, five months pregnant, as she was lugging her growing stomach from class to class, from student desk to student desk, Magun began taking stock.
She was in classes with a few younger, pregnant girls — just out of high school, some — and they were getting the attention – and do we dare call it respect at this juncture? – that she had been getting. Perhaps the third illegitimate child is the charm, and she stopped telling people that the three children had different fathers, none of whom kept in touch.
Maybe it was because she stopped drinking entirely for the first time since her 16th birthday. The same charms that had gotten her free drinks at a legal age, had kept her in those, the six years prior. Ostensibly she’d stopped for the baby, the most recent baby, which leaves one to wonder what the first two might have thought about this late surge of motherly concern. Maybe it was something one of the professors said or something that he or she tried to get her to read. She was failing higher level, more advanced courses now. Let us say she would have been failing had not everyone involved been invested in retention, lowering attrition numbers, and the need to enable even the least involved to get a foot into the door of the upstate job market.
So it came to pass, about six months after the third baby was born, that Magun came home to the apartment late one afternoon, stone sober, to find the seven-year-old at the kitchen table eating all the cookies left in the house, the five-year-old plugged into television cartoons, and the baby perched on her mother’s hip while the old woman chain smoked and sipped vodka out of a jelly jar. Dressed in her ubiquitous housedress, tattooed arms flapping in time to a toothless haranguing, “Why you back so late? I’ve got cats to feed.” Magun stepped inside the apartment door and let the books fall from her arms as she had the realization that she was looking at her future.
I’d like to say Magun finally got her associate’s degree when she hit 40, in merchandising no less, which at Northern Counties Community College meant she could refold a shirt for display and reposition a plastic package on a hook.
Her mother left her the mobile home she owned outright, although the smell of cat piss, even without the cats, never abated in the time she and her family lived there.
The oldest boy cut firewood for a living and lived in a room in town above a bar which he thought both convenient and romantic. He had one illegitimate child and was working hard on the next.
The second son worked at Wal-Mart with Magun, and when he wasn’t pilfering pocket change from the coats and bags of fellow employees or eating people’s lunches out of the refrigerator in the break room, he rifled through parked cars in the parking lot. Magun knew it was just a matter of time before he was found out, but the boy was big and mean, and if anyone caught on, that person wasn’t about to bring it up to management.
The youngest, the girl, pregnant with her second, was thinking seriously about attending the community college, Magun’s alma mater – maybe nursing, or if that were too hard, a CNA certificate.
Enigmatic. Magun had always wanted to be enigmatic, unpredictable, not the girl known for fucking in three or four drinks. Now they would become important, the town would mourn, people who knew her would talk on the news, happy for the notoriety, try to figure it out. Her children – little angels.
This story goes in one of several possible directions. It takes the path of bootstraps (of which Magun will never learn anything), the paths of dream, of hope, of impossible optimism that has little to do with the reality of this nation or time. Perhaps it goes the way of story – conflict, crisis, decision, dénouement (read death) (another Magun will never master).
In one scenario, Magun marries a kind gentleman who doesn’t drink and works hard. He provides for her and adopts her children. They move to a nice home. He provides comfort for her mother in her waning years and funds the removal of Magun’s tramp stamp that she got in high school. He likes anal a lot, but she has two more children with him and as unbelievable as it may sound, all the children get along alright.
Not vastly bright, not at all handsome, Ray feels fortunate to have nailed and then nailed down a hottie like Magun, who is a few years younger – child luggage or not. The baby-daddies continue not to show up in their new lives, and it arouses Ray to find naked Magun here and there, every so often, on the internet, like the universe has a mind of its own and a keen sense of irony.
The children, new and old, as they come of age, wander off into the armed forces or social services or the Department of Motor Vehicles or human resources or retail or – worst case scenario – teaching, or some other thankless shit employment. Eventually, Ray dies of a sudden heart attack complicated by type 2 diabetes. Magun’s mother dies of age, and Magun adopts a few cats, votes Republican, and receives crayon drawings from grandchildren along with yearly school photos until she dies of stage four lung cancer complicated by type 2 diabetes and the breathing of cat piss.
In another, she simply borrows a girlfriend’s SUV, packs in all the children for a trip, a treat, perhaps to the Great Escape/Six Flags water park in Queensbury or the Addison Field Days across the lake in Addison county. She may belt them all in – car seats, booster seats, safety belts, good and tight, trussed up like frozen turkeys. She perhaps then drives the SUV into the lake, right there at the Fort Hudson boat launch, right near Fort Ann. We can hope it’s in early spring or late fall – ice just out and the water temperature so low as to put a chill on the inevitable and useless thrashing about. Warmer weather, there might be someone about, some good Samaritan who wouldn’t drown in a rescue attempt, who calls it in and saves her for the simple reason that, although liquored up, she would drown last – a case of superior fine motor skills.
Shit, if she survives the drowning car, she’ll get the headlines anyway – she’ll get to read them. In this country, of course, depression and poverty are crimes, so she might be able to hang herself in her cell, but sober and not before paying for her sins in mandatory attendance at counseling.
Best case scenario? We don’t know. Maybe she drives her children to Nebraska, leaves them at a church, synagogue, police station, fire house (perhaps not a fire house, given that she had been in the habit of threatening them with firemen if they misbehaved ever since any of them could remember) and then drives back to upstate New York. Perhaps she read about the Nebraska Child-Abandonment law – the decriminalization of dropping your kids off to the state, the safe-haven shirking of parental responsibility – although Magun would never really get the meanings of “decriminalization,” “safe-haven,” or “shirking,” she could understand the possibility of getting out from under motherhood.
Magun then, with the aid of a plastic surgeon and a not-bad stage presence becomes an internet porn star, sport fucking her way into money and a certain notoriety, stardom if you will, although she never really meets Charlie Sheen.
Maybe it would be better if she just takes the vacuum cleaner hose – too short – that old sump pump hose in the crawl space/basement of the apartment, fills the tank of her mother’s old Ford, backs it up to the kitchen door/window, and tapes the hose to the exhaust, the other end through the window above the sink. The kids would be asleep (or watching TV), wouldn’t notice much before nodding off. Magun could be drinking – vodka/jelly glass. Someone could notice the idling Ford, muffler being a little loud, that’s the only thing.
So many possibilities – perhaps her daughter’s third child drowns in the bath while Magun is caring for her. Neglect – on the phone, watching TV, drinking vodka/jelly glass. Involuntary manslaughter – two years, three months really in grandma prison where she learns to crochet. Maybe worse, maybe a guest appearance on the Steve Harvey show.
Maybe her youngest son kills her 14 cats one day in a hissy-fit – putting him in the hands of DCF and the animal cruelty folks.
Maybe she somehow miraculously finishes school enough to be a kindergarten teacher’s aide. Unlikely. Probably she becomes the “kinnygaren” teacher through a combination of community nepotism and the inability of Northern Counties to fail virtually anyone, thus contributing to community stupidity for a great many years and Magun loses whatever capacity she ever had for adult conversation.
Magun might bring the charcoal grill into the kitchen for a cookout some winter afternoon, perhaps a Sunday. She starts it up to cook the children some hotdogs, marshmallows. Maybe the gas company/electric company cut the gas/power and it’s cold or the stove/microwave/toaster isn’t functioning.
This would work – kill them all – but through error more than intent. Magun can’t possibly be aware of the science involved in this scenario.
Certainly, her death, and that of her progeny, much like her life, can be the result of a mistake, a tragedy, that extends, lengthens into a rural headline. She shakes the baby; a boyfriend shakes the baby; the guy she brought home and fucked last night shakes the baby. The baby dies on her watch. She knows what this means – public examination and ridicule. DCF takes the kids – maybe, then, they should all just check out. She takes four aspirin, chases them with whatever booze is left, closes the windows, turns on cartoons, opens cookies, blows out the pilot light on the stove/hot water heater, goes back to bed.
Hell, maybe she wins $80,000 on a scratch ticket. She’s on the news. Her take, after the state, is about $45,000. She decides that she deserves something, buys the kids new clothes/toys. Goes on a cruise to the Bahamas. The baby-daddies reappear to get a cut. She does not pay bills. She does not buy a car. She does not acquire a house. In a year, she’s 20 pounds heavier and broke and somehow, as if it were an accident, pregnant again.
Of course, Magun is a right-to-lifer, an “All Life is Precious” bumper sticker. She sometimes has a bumper on which to stick stickers. All her children are little long-stemmed roses – snotty-nosed, foul-mouthed, smelly, long-stemmed roses, ambiently idiotic, ADHD, pet-baiting, public-masturbating, long-stemmed roses.
Oprah’s over, but maybe Ellen. She writes a letter, signs her daughter’s name, about how hard Magun works — school, single parent, rural poverty, snow, old car, etc.
Producers call, but she has neglected to tell them that her daughter is a five-year-old, that she’s not even a good parent, not a reasonable facsimile of a human being really. She has not mentioned that the now four children have four different dead-beat fathers. She has not mentioned all the state handout stuff that keeps them alive. She may have mentioned credit card debt. To top all that, the nominee for baby-daddy number five answers the telephone and thinks it’s one of Magun’s previous boyfriends. It just didn’t work out.
The weight gain, the vodka/jelly jar, smoking cessation … none of it’s possible for free. She knows that if she could just get on Jenny Craig, maybe “The Biggest Loser” … She keeps writing letters; damned kids make it difficult.
I can’t help out and I can’t decide. I am just the narrator. It’s not my job. I’m not the judgmental sort.
Two things of which I can assure you: she never gets out of upstate New York for any appreciable length of time and it’s not because she loves the scenery or the seasons or the outdoor activities, and she dies – not without cluttering and complicating the lives of many people. But no matter – that, of course, is what we’re all put on earth to do.
About The Author
Douglas K Currier lives in Carlisle, PA with his wife. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh MFA program and has published poetry and fiction in Spanish and English in North and South America.
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