03 – Maggie

This is a raw draft, as produced for NaNoWriMo.

This is a young!Magnolia story – this starts when she’s eight years old, so about seventeen years before the start of Mirrorfall.


 

16th May

Don paced the length of the hall, his eyes falling on the phone at the end of each circuit.

He held his notebook clutched in his left hand – the figures were all down. The cost for bond, the cost for breaking his current lease – with, as the unit was rented directly from the owner, he’d been able to negotiate down to just two week’s rent, rather than paying for the place until a new tenant came along. The cost for a removal truck. New uniforms. A little margin on the top – something he hated himself for, but it was necessary – considering he’d have to take one day of leave without pay.

His parents could afford it.

His mother had made a killing in the stock market – and still brought in large sums of money every year – high five figures, and sometimes even dipping into low six, when certain things went the right way.

His parents, however, had insisted that both he and his brother make their own way, and their own fortunes. There had been no trusts set up, to be splurged and wasted when they hit twenty-one. Their parents would never let them fail, but money had to be asked for, not expected.

They had, however, set up a small savings account for Magnolia – something they’d done when they’d apparently realised that he was never going to make the kind of money they did.

His parents didn’t seem to care about being involved with her life, but this was a generosity they could easily afford. They loved Magnolia – as much as they could love a grandchild they saw three times a year, if that.

Don finally stopped his circuit of the hall – and listened for a moment, glad that he could still hear Maggie playing in the tiny square of garden outside, and lifted the phone.

Stiff fingers dialled the number from memory, and he waited for four rings until his father answered. ‘Jason Hammond.’

‘Hi dad,’ he said, and tried not to wince.

He called his parents at least once a month – to catch them up on everything, to keep in touch, and to not have a relationship where the only times he called them was for money.

They exchanged the usual pleasantries for a few moments – his father telling him about their planned trip to Spain, and the promise that they’d send postcards and souvenirs.

‘You’re quiet,’ his father said. ‘Is there something wrong?’

Don leaned against the wall, and slid to the floor. Thirty-two years old, and his dad could still make him feel like he was five. ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘something’s wrong.’

‘Well, then, come on,’ his father said gently. ‘What’s wrong, Donald?’

‘Maggie’s school isn’t working out. I have to move so that she can switch. And I need to do it fairly quickly- Fairly- Immediately,’ he said, the word dripping with finality. ‘She’s getting bullied, and-’

‘It’s understandable,’ his father said. ‘But have you spoken with the school? Is this really the path you want to take?’

He sighed deeply. ‘I don’t really have any other options. This is what I need to do. It’s what’s going to be best for her.’

‘How much do you need, Don?’

He lifted his shoulder to hold the phone in place, and stared down at the figures. He ran his finger along the pencilled calculations, then read out the total.

It took his father a moment to answer, and in that time, the seconds seem to steal his breath away.

‘That seems very reasonable,’ his father finally said. ‘I’ll organise for the transfer, it’ll be in your account tomorrow.’

‘Thanks,’ he said, trying to press every bit of gratitude into his voice. ‘I mean it, dad, thanks.’

‘Just give us your new address when you move, we’ll come visit when we come back from our holiday.’

‘Sure,’ he said, ‘sure thing.’

‘Can I speak with Maggie? And your mother wants to wish her a happy birthday. We should have called yesterday, sorry.’

‘Let me go get her.’ He placed the phone down, and walked through the unit, and found Maggie in the garden – swinging a bubble wand – the toy she’d gotten with her gift certificate – encompassing herself in a column of tiny bubbles.

He knocked on the door to get her attention, and she stopped spinning. ‘Your grandparents are on the phone, go say hello,’ he said with a smile.

She pressed the bubble wand at him as she ran past, nearly bouncing down the hall.

He sat on the single step down to the garden, and dipped the wand back into the bubble solution, letting the light breeze tease bubbles from the holes.

Ten minutes later, Maggie returned, and sat on the step beside him, her hands twisting the bottom of her shirt. ‘Am I expelled? I’m not at school, so…’

He stood, and patted his pockets, checking for his keys and wallet. ‘I’ve got to go buy the paper, let’s go for a walk down the newsagent. You can get some lollies from the shop.’ He leaned back, and pulled the door closed.

She looked nervous, but put the lid back on the bubble solution, and hid everything way in the outdoor toy box under the front window.

She jumped up onto the wall as they walked out of the apartment complex – jumping four feet up onto the wall, a jump that should have at least required a running start – and easily balance on the one-brick-wide wall.

‘Do you like your primary school?’ he asked – the question was neutral enough, and whatever she felt, would likely come out.

‘It’s okay,’ she said glumly, her hands twisting her shirt again. ‘But- No. It’s okay.’

‘I’ve been thinking about pulling you out,’ he said, ‘we could move, and go somewhere else. Maybe somewhere with…less poophead classmates?’ he asked, giving her a smile. It seemed to give her immense pleasure whenever he said “poop” – he was, apparently, too grown up to use such a word. “Poop” was supposed to remain the domain of children.

She stopped walking, and crouched to perch on the wall – there was no other way to describe the motion – her knees were bent, and she was balanced forward on the balls of her feet – it was a position that looked precarious, that should have been dangerous – but for her, it wasn’t.

Excitement was washing over her face. ‘Could we do that?’ she asked. Her lip wobbled. ‘I kind of hate it there. I didn’t mean to, but I do-’ she rocked forward, and he raised a hand to unnecessarily steady her. ‘I’m sorry, but I hate it. Everyone is awful, and horrible, and even the teachers aren’t nice like they’re supposed to be.’

He held up his hand, extending his finger for a pinkie promise. ‘Then let’s move far away,’ he said. ‘And promise that the next place will be better.’

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