The Thrill of Falling: Stories

The Thrill of Falling


Witi Ihimaera


Maggie Dawn


It was Saturday, 8 a.m.

Maggie Dawn was awake before the alarm went off on her cellphone. She lay quietly in bed for a little while, looking at the patterns on the ceiling caused by the curtains drifting in the morning sun. Then she leant over and reached under the bed for her diary and pen.

Brushing her hair back from her eyes, she wrote: LISTEN UP, WORLD, TODAY IS GOING TO BE A GOOD DAY

‘You got that?’ Maggie Dawn called out the window.

With that out of the way, she got up and smoothed the duvet. She slipped into the dressing gown with the dragon on the back and went down the hallway to the bathroom. Although she was only fifteen, Maggie Dawn was a big girl. Skinny people walked, but calorifically challenged individuals sashayed, a kind of sideways-frontways ambulation of her most prominent feature, as Maggie Dawn liked to call her butt, switching the weight from one cheek to the other.

The word ‘sashayed’ appealed to Maggie Dawn: it brought to mind sway, sidle and sass, which were good adjectives to describe the way she moved through the world.

From the front she knew that with the right amount of sass people looked past her weight to how light she was on her toes. And, as long as she didn’t dress in jeans that moved into the crack of her butt — yew, gross — she knew they wouldn’t make any smart comments about the rest of her.

The bathroom was last down the hall on the right. There was one other bedroom in the tiny council flat, Gran’s, which Maggie Dawn liked to air as often as possible to get rid of the smell of the old lady who sometimes, well, leaked.

Maggie Dawn crept in. Gran was still asleep after returning late from the casino. Her false teeth were fizzing in a glass of water beside the bed, and her wig was on the floor. Gran was in lala-land if she thought the wig made her look attractive; whenever she wore it, it looked like a very sick cat was sitting on her head. Maggie Dawn picked the wig up and put it on top of the wardrobe where it belonged. She also sneaked a look in Gran’s purse. It was always good to know where matters stood.

Whaddya know? Gran had restrained herself! There was still a $50 and a $20 note plus some change, so she hadn’t lost all her benefit money for the week on the pokies. Good girl, Gran.

Maggie Dawn sashayed into the bathroom. She took off the dressing gown, careful not to look at the person who had now appeared naked in the full-length mirror opposite her, and sidled into the shower.

Among Gran’s cheap soaps and toiletries from the $2 Shop, with old use-by dates, she found her own personal bar of quality soap that she’d scored in the girls’ changing room at college last week. She began to soap every roll and flap, every hollow, nook and cranny, singing her favourite rap song:

Tol’ you once, tol’ you twice

Keep outta ma face uh huh uh huh …

Humming and bopping and feeling much better, Maggie Dawn stepped out of the shower, wrapped a towel around her body and, now that she was fully composed, was able to look at herself in the mirror, posing this way and that.

‘Oh-kay, bad girl,’ she said, finally. Nothing had changed. Same old same old: a kinda pretty face on a kinda nice body which was — Maggie Dawn would never have used the ‘f’ word (f-a-t) or the horrendous ‘o’ word (o-b-e-s-e) — not thin.

Maggie Dawn knew that her weight made her unattractive, but there were compensations: she had lovely brown eyes, ger-reat skin, she would never go bald with all that frizzy hair and, although she had big juicy pillow lips (so did Angelina Jolie), her teeth were white and even. Not for her false teeth in a glass at forty.

As for the rest of her, well, there was No Hope of getting all that w-e-i-g-h-t off, but if she saved up hard enough, by the time she was in her twenties she could have a tummy tuck and breast reduction — which would mean that she wouldn’t have to wait for reincarnation.

Maggie Dawn put on her XXXL bra and panties, and slipped into her XXXL jeans and pretty op-shop top. She shuffled her feet into the slip-on men-sized trainers bought from The Warehouse, snapped on her watch, rings and a couple of bangles, put some hoops into her ears and then sashayed to the kitchen.

Steeling herself against the inevitable, she opened the refrigerator door. The usual array greeted her: half a carton of milk, butter, bread, eggs, stringy piece of bacon (yay!). Not half empty: half full. It was enough to get by on.

Five or so minutes later, Maggie Dawn had Gran’s breakfast tray ready. ‘Gran,’ she said as she went into the room, ‘time for kai.’ She put the tray on the bed and tried to shake Gran awake. ‘Gran, knock, knock. Anybody home?’ Gran suffered from sleep apnoea and sometimes didn’t take a breath for ages. Her mouth was open and she looked like death.

Gingerly, Maggie Dawn poked her and Gran gave a deep gasp and her eyelids fluttered.

‘Good,’ Maggie Dawn said. ‘So you’re alive then.’

She had come to stay with Gran six years ago so that the old lady could look after her — it tended to work the other way round — and Mum could make a better job of looking after Chantelle and Roxanne Adorata.

‘Here are your teeth, and I got you a Woman’s Weekly when I was at the shop yesterday.’

Gran focused her rheumy eyes and smiled. ‘Thank you, darling.’ Her breath was stale as.

‘I have to go to Mum’s now,’ Maggie Dawn continued. ‘I’ll do the supermarket shopping on my way back tonight.’

Gran reached for her purse and gave Maggie Dawn the $20 note. ‘Can you buy me a scratch ticket?’

Maggie Dawn sighed. Scratch ticket, $3. That left $17 for the groceries. Ah well, so what else was new? She would, as usual, have to rely on the pocket money she got from Mr Singh at the local book and stationery store. He wasn’t very good at English so paid her for two hours a week to mark the new stock.

‘I’ll see you later, Gran.’ She kissed the old lady on the forehead. ‘Be a good girl.’


Maggie Dawn made a shortcut through the park.

Every Saturday she took the kids off Mum’s hands for the day — Chantelle and Roxanne Adorata had been joined by a brother, now five, named Zoltan. They were all, including Maggie Dawn, from different fathers. Oh, why was Evelyn so indiscriminate? As for the names, well, Mum chose those to represent fantasy worlds she’d never live in herself. At least nobody could say that she didn’t have any imagination. When you thought about it, not bad for a woman who didn’t finish college.

But imagination can only get you so far. When it came to raising kids, Mum was worse than hopeless.

‘Watch out,’ called a voice.

Maggie Dawn was just passing the clothing bins where some nicely dressed Pakeha ladies were piling their discarded last-year fashions. It was one of the women who had given her the warning. Before Maggie Dawn could even think, three bikes whizzed past, in a flurry of shouts and screams. One of the cyclists gave her a kick as she passed by. Maggie Dawn stumbled and fell.

Her arch enemy from college, Candace Reynolds, with her mates Teresa Crosby and Rachel Williams. ‘Whoops,’ jeered Candace, ‘did we just hit a cow?’ Laughing, they rode on towards the mall.

Embarrassed, Maggie Dawn picked herself up and slunk past the Pakeha at the bin. ‘Hey!’ she yelled at the retreating girls. ‘Can’t you read the sign? “No dogs allowed!”’ She felt anger building up inside her. Nothing could stop the thoughts that streamed through her mind:

Yeah think you’re better than me Candace and you may be top of the class but I’m right behind you and I will mow you down you bitch so you may be queen of the heap right now with your legally blonde act but I got brains and you honey will always be a bimbo yeah you heard me you bitch so don’t mess with me and think I don’t know how you got that job at the mall that I shoulda got your daddy phoned up head office while I was standing there I had the job in my pocket but when Ron Simpson put the phone down he said the job was already taken I needed that job bitch …’

‘No, no, no,’ Maggie Dawn said to herself. ‘Be kind, think good thoughts. Don’t let Candace Reynolds ruin your day. It’s going to be a good day.’

But you’re still pissed that you didn’t get that job at the mall eh go on admit that you wanted to smash Candace Reynolds’ head in.’

‘Shut the fuck up,’ Maggie Dawn muttered to the voice in her head. Quickly, she plugged herself into her iPod. Into her ears went her earphones and, hey presto, zombieland. Blissed out, she joined the other living dead spasming and jerking around the park.

Mum’s place was a state house on Pleasant Drive. Call living here pleasant? Ha ha funny ha ha. The street mainly comprised women like Evelyn on some benefit or another, saddled with kids and no dads. If there was somebody around who fitted that kind of description, well, he wasn’t exactly getting ahead in his life.

As Maggie Dawn went around the back something lunged at her from the house next door: Granite, a big brown pitbull cross. ...

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