Full Dumpster Moon (Excerpt)

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By MJ Bujold

“I can do this,” Makenzie’s words slide out on a whispery vapor as she hides her face in the  shadows of the doorway she has tucked herself into. Her shoulders vibrate against cold air as she  shoves her tightly curled fingers deeper in the pockets of her buffalo check flannel jacket. Even  with the black hoodie she pulled from the bottom of the laundry basket the cold has seeped  through the fabric on this late December evening. Her heart is pounding so fast and so loud she  can feel a line of cold sweat gathering at the base of her neck. She pulls the hood close around  her face, stuffing her unruly curls up inside. Midnight Rosetta, the hair color box said, lasts for  30 washes. Layered over her own red hair it came out bright tangerine, more joke shop Halloween than whatever Rosetta. She’s stuck with it until it washes out.  

 She walked out of the apartment an hour ago, passed her mom on the bed in the hallway  alcove saying she had something to do, and she’d be back soon. Maybe she should call her, tell  her she’s with Ben so she won’t worry. She knows her voice goes thin and reedy every time  she’s nervous, though. Her mom will suspect that something has happened to upset her. She  decides against it and stuffs the phone in the back pocket of her jeans. She buries her hands in the  pockets of her hoodie, the knuckles of her right hand warm against the hard metal. 

One July afternoon three years ago, her dad backed his pick-up out of the driveway of their three-bedroom suburban home, without explanation, never to return. Mackenzie had turned eleven the month before. Her mom, Sharon, worked forty hours and ran an online shop desperately trying to keep a familiar roof over Makenzie’s head till she was out of grade school. Despite her  Herculean efforts, the threat of foreclosure became a reality, like an answer to a terrifying prayer, and the ground beneath their lives shifted once again. With only the most necessary and beloved  of their belongings stuffed into the back of a rented U-Haul truck, they moved into the apartment in a renovated Victorian house on South Street. The ad read, professional singles only, no smoking, no pets. Sharon lied, convinced him that she had a daughter that lived in the Midwest with her father and would only visit on school holidays. Would that be acceptable? The landlord acquiesced and gave her the key. 

There was only one bedroom. Rents in the city were so high that it was the only apartment  that her mom had looked at in weeks that she could afford. It was tight quarters. Sharon had to sell her jewelry supplies and close her Etsy shop for lack of room to stay in production. But she was an optimist. She was pleased that Mackenzie’s new high school was only two blocks away,  there was a café and a Quick Stop at the corner and a bus stop right across the street. Sharon could walk out the front door and get to work without trekking across the city to the transit center every morning.  

Sharon had the movers place the queen size bed in the large sun filled bedroom with the bay  window and directed them to put all of Mackenzie’s boxes in there, as well. Mackenzie’s twin bed was set in an alcove just off the front hallway. In the confusion Mackenzie sat on the edge of  the mattress wondering how she would ever live in such a tiny space with no privacy and so near the front door. Where would she put her geode collection and all her geology books? How was she going to do her homework with no room for a desk? When the movers were gone, she started to take the boxes marked with her name back into the hallway. “I can do this,” she said to herself. The changes forced upon her in the last few years had caused her to develop the courage to bear them. The most important thing was that she and her mom were together. Nothing else really mattered.

“Mackenzie, leave those in the bedroom.” Her mother moved towards her, reaching for the box in  her hands. Sharon was visibly exhausted, dark crescents lay under her eyes; she bit her thumb  knuckle all during moving day as she always did when she was overly stressed. 

“You sit down, mom. Rest a little while. I got this.” Mackenzie reassured her with an upbeat tone  but, truly, she was worried about her mom. Sharon had been anxious and forgetful lately. In the  past few weeks, Mackenzie had found her sitting with packing tape and scissors in hand, and  staring off into space, mentally absent from her surroundings. A look of foreboding had taken up  residence in her clear blue eyes.

She’d been aware of her mother’s seizure disorder since she was quite young, but it had been  controlled with medicine that she took daily. She’d only seen her mother seize a handful of times. Each time was a frightful experience watching her mother’s body arch and stiffen, shaking  so violently that she and her father had to rush to secure her safety until it was over. Then she would sleep deeply for hours. She would awaken, compose herself as if nothing had happened, and carry on. 

Since the divorce, money was tight.. Makenzie’s father would too often  default on child support payments leaving Sharon short on resources to run the house. One  January, during a severe cold snap, her check for an oil delivery had bounced. Financially depleted and to keep the pipes from freezing she had to pawn her grandmother’s antique jewelry. Sharon pleaded with her doctor to give her stronger medication that would allow her to return to  the workforce. He prescribed something new, more potent, but also more expensive. The  medication was still in trials and not covered by her insurance. Sharon sold her father’s coin  collection and began the treatment. Within weeks, confident and empowered, she secured an assistant position in recreational therapy at a nearby special education collaborative.  

“I want you to have that room. You see I’ve switched beds. I’ll get you a desk and an armoire  for your clothes.”  

“No, mom…” Mackenzie had protested. “You can’t…I don’t want you to…” 

“Of course, I can.” Sharon smiled. “Wait till you see how I glam up that alcove. Plants, pictures,  fairy lights, I might put wallpaper up. It will be adorable. You’ll see.” Sharon winked. 

Compared to the bright, sunny bedroom with built- in bookcase and ornate fireplace mantle, the  alcove was no bigger than the square footage of the bathroom and just as dimly lit. Noise from  the common hallway drifted into the space. People talking, laughing and the downstairs  neighbor’s secret chihuahua barking at all hours. Sharon appeared outwardly to be unfazed by  the noise. She settled into the cubby, covering her bed with thrift store quilts and colorful  pillows, fairy lights around the window and a curtain suspended for privacy. Unpacked boxes of  the family photos, that she couldn’t bring herself to look at, served as a stand for her spider plant  and night table. 

Mackenzie set her geodes, crystals and books in a neat row on the mantle. The sun poured in  and warmed her every morning. Before she opened her eyes, she could imagine that she was in  her old bedroom in the big house. It was almost like nothing had changed for her while she was in her room. But she felt uneasy knowing that her mom was curled up with a pillow over her ears  in the hallway, trying to sleep. In the weeks after moving in, Sharon had first rolled up a blanket  at the base of the door to muffle the noise. When she heard voices outside her door, she installed  two additional locks. At 3 a.m. one weekend night a man banged at the door, shook the handle and slurred, “let me the fuck in, you bitch.” That same afternoon Mackenzie quietly watched  from her room as her mother returned from what she told her was a trip to the market. Sharon  removed a small gun from her bag, placed it in a wooden cigar box and placed that in a metal  box that she kept important papers in and locked it. She placed the metal box in the back of the  cabinet under the kitchen sink. Mackenzie startled her in the doorway as she was struggling to force the tiny key onto her key ring 

“Oh!” Sharon’s shoulders jerked. ” I thought you were going to see Ben.”  “Change of plans. He’s coming here. What was that all about?” 

“Nothing you need to be concerned with. I’ll make some sandwiches for you and Ben, ok?  Sharon busied herself at the kitchen counter avoiding Mackenzie’s curious eyes. 

Getting used to her new life in the city was tough for Mackenzie. Riding the subway was kind of fun and she was never bored, but she was not used to interacting with so many people.  Sometimes she was scared just walking to the Quick Stop. An older girl blocked her path on her  walk to school one day and asked her where the hell she thought she was going. Mackenzie had  no clue how to deal with the situation. No one had ever treated her like that. She knew she’d  have to toughen up. She was careful to keep these concerns from her mother. Sharon had enough  of her own worries. Mackenzie had found her wrapped in her quilts on the twin bed a couple of  times in the afternoon when she got home from school. Sharon would brush her hair from her  face and explain that she just had a headache and would be fine. The third time she found her  sleeping in the afternoon, Mackenzie looked for her purse hanging from the kitchen chair. She  carefully looked around inside the bag to find the seizure medication bottle buried deep in the  bottom among letters that had the words final notice stamped in red letters across the top. The  bottle was empty. The refill date was three weeks previous. It all made sense in an instant, the  days missed from work, the unpaid bills, the sense that her mother was losing her grip on the  reins that she had been holding onto so tightly for three years.  

 In Mackenzie’s estimation her mom was a warrior. She had watched her fight every battle  with courage and make light of every fear. And through everything she put her daughter first.  She knew her mom was suffering from her sacrifices, now. Her mom needed her to stand up,  stand up and make things right, no matter what it takes. 

Tonight, snowflakes punctuate the shafts of golden streetlight as Mackenzie’s body edges deeper  into the corner of the doorway in the half dark. She waits and watches the clerk across the street  in the harshly-lit kiosk. There sits a balding middle-aged man, his belly protruding just below his  shoulders and asking too much of the buttons on his plaid shirt whose colorful squares mimic the wall of cigarette packs behind him. His stubby fingers stuff cash into the drawer that pops out from under the counter each time a sale is made. Cars drive up, gas up, and pull away in a  rhythm that she has been studying for over an hour from the damp urine-stained doorway of the  abandoned storefront directly across the street. The night is growing colder, the air sharper. Mackenzie tucks an orange curl behind her ear inside her hood. Her finger slides into the crevice  of the gun, resting against the trigger. With the concentration of a hawk searching for prey she  watches and waits for a lull in activity. The site is finally clear, and the clerk picks up his phone. His  thumbs move over the surface as he squints at the screen. “ I can do this,” she whispers,” I am  my mother’s daughter and I’m not afraid of anything.” Her breath quickening, her hammering  heartbeat launches her out of the doorway, her steps advancing straight towards her target. 

Full Dumpster Moon

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