CHAPTER ONE: MAGGIE DEAN
I hated going to the mailbox. Nothing good ever came in the mail addressed to me. Some days the box was just crammed full of junk mail that I could toss in the trash without ever opening. I loved those days. I longed for them.
Then there are days like today; the first few days after the first of the month. The days when most of our bills came and I was reminded how close to the poverty line we really lived.
Today was November 3rd, so I knew even before I opened the mailbox flap what would be waiting for me on the inside. I wished I could have just ignored the mail altogether. I mean, would it be so bad for me to miss a payment or two? Really? Give a girl a break, will you Citibank and Capitol One and Wells Fargo? You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip and you can’t squeeze money out of Maggie Dean.
Then I remembered that I was already ninety days behind on the things that I could let skate a month or two or three. The credit card people loved it when you let the balance float ninety days past due. I was paying more in late fees and interest that in principal.
Hard to believe that five dollar McDonald’s lunch that I charged to my credit card will cost me a hundred bucks or more before I get it paid off.
That’s how economics work in Maggie’s world.
Oh well. There was no need to prolong the pain any further. “Rip that Band-Aid off”, as my mom would say. I took a deep breath and opened the mailbox.
Stacked neatly inside the box was the gas bill, the phone bill, the electric bill, three credit card statements, and three threatening letters from the same credit card companies letting me know that I was ninety days behind.
No shit, Sherlock.
The hole I kept digging every month just kept getting deeper.
Gee, thanks for the reminders, guys. I mean, I had no idea I hadn’t made a payment in three months. Tell you what, let’s trade places for a week and see how you do in my shoes because I’m doing the best I can, but obviously, it isn’t good enough.
I’m one straw away from breaking the camel’s back.
And when that happens… shit, I don’t know what I’ll do.
The one bright spot of this morning’s trip to the mailbox was the thick pack of coupons at the bottom of the stack.
I tucked the bills under my arm and tore into the coupons as I walked back up the gravel drive to the house I shared with my best friend and cousin, Jackie, and my two younger brothers. Coupons were a necessity of life in Maggie’s world.
When you’re a college dropout, a chef-in-training, and a full-time replacement mom to two brothers, you need to save every penny you can.
If Jackie didn’t live with us to help cover the bills, this ship would have sunk months ago. That’s what my life felt like most days; like I was standing on the deck of the Titanic, watching the last of the lifeboats drift away, knowing there was nothing I could do but hold my breath until I finally went under.
Damn you, Rose, there was room on that door for Jack, too, you selfish bitch.
I made a grocery list in my head as I looked over the buy-one-get-one-free offers from the FoodMart.
We were almost out of milk (we were ALWAYS almost out of milk).
We needed bread, eggs, cereal, apple juice, fruit, frozen pizzas, laundry detergent; the list went on and on. How do four people consume so much? I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked, given that two of those people are fifteen and seventeen-year-old boys.
We were constantly almost out of everything at the Dean house.
Jackie often said our last name should have been Hubbard because our cupboards were always bare. That would make me Old Mother Hubbard I suppose.
No thanks. That’s a title I do not want or need.
Although my current title wasn’t much better.
Hi America, I’m Maggie Dean, Queen of the tough breaks. I’m 24-years-old and I work as a chef-in-training at a small family restaurant in Mountain View, Colorado.
I love to cook, but had to drop out of culinary school when my mom died of cancer last year to take care of my younger brothers: Jimmy, fifteen, and Robbie, seventeen. They spend most of their time pushing my buttons and screaming things like “I hate you!” and “You’re not my mom!”
Okay, they aren’t total monsters all the time. Jimmy is a smart kid who works hard to keep his grades up and Robbie has a gig delivering pizzas at night and on the weekends. He puts most of his pay into the family kitty to help cover the bills. They’re good boys, they’re just in a lousy situation.
Oh, sorry, back to me…
My likes are quiet moments alone, having enough money in the bank account to cover the rent, and long walks on mountain trails where nobody is screaming my name or telling me how much they hate my guts.
My dislikes are pretty much everything else in my life.
Oh, and I’m a virgin… so, yeah, there’s that.
Thank you, America. Good night.
* * *
The tip of my nose was nearly frozen by the time I walked across the rickety front porch attached to our rickety house and made it inside. Even with the front door closed, I could feel the icy winter wind blowing through the cracks around the doorframe.
I picked up the heavy blanket that I tacked over the door to keep the wind out. I had to stand on my tiptoes to hold the blanket up and secure it to the doorframe with push pins. I built callouses on my thumbs every winter from pressing push pins into the walls trying to keep Old Man Winter out.
Jackie was sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands. There was a cigarette burning in the ashtray in front of her and a cup of coffee sitting under her nose. She was breathing in the strong aroma and letting the steam warm her face.
It was cold as fuck in the house because our heat only worked when it felt like it. I kept saying that we needed to get it fixed, but the money was never there. One more time, welcome to Maggie’s world.
“Long night?” I asked, dropping the mail on the table and refilling my coffee cup. It was a little past eight in the morning. I’d been up since six, prying my brothers out of bed and getting them off to school.
I didn’t really have to ask the question. I could tell by looking at her that she’d had a long night. Jackie worked as a waitress at The Classic Cat, a strip joint on the edge of town that was open 24/7. She worked third shift, so she’d just gotten home about the time the boys were leaving for school.
“Three bachelor parties last night,” she said, staring at me from under her hands. “I’ve never been groped so much in my life.” She nodded at the wad of crumpled one dollar bills she had dropped on the table. “Tips were good though. Maybe now we can get some heat up in this place.”