Turning into a Goon

by Kim Magowan

That summer, Gigi was in a series of day camps. Carolyn worked, and even though Mike, a high school science teacher, had his summers off, he hadn’t volunteered to alter their arrangement by taking on extra hours with Gigi. He still had ‘work’ to do—that’s how Carolyn imagined his work, in scare quotes. Over the seven years she had lived with Mike, before he moved out last winter, she’d had first-hand knowledge of how he spent his summer days: binge-watching series they had begun together, so when she came home ready to drink a glass of wine and start Breaking Bad, it was always, ‘Oh, sorry, I’m on Season Three.’ Or fiddling around with an essay about molecular combinations of something-or-other that he’d been fiddling with for the duration of their relationship, without it ever materializing into a for-real article. In other words, Mike could have easily looked after Gigi, and spared them not only the money but also the pain-in-the-ass-ness of finding day camps that took five-year-olds—cooking camp, arts and crafts camp, musical theater camp—a task that fell, of course, on Carolyn.

So when Gigi came home from YMCA Camp freaking out about the Little Bunny Foo Foo song, Carolyn blamed Mike. If he had stepped up for once, Gigi wouldn’t be spinning around on the barstool weeping like some human lawn sprinkler, or having nightmares about the blue fairy turning her into a goon.

‘So she’s completely terrified of this blue fairy,’ Carolyn told Mike when he came to pick Gigi up—it was his weekend. Carolyn crossed her arms and glared.

Mike laughed. ‘Seriously? Well, add it to the list.’

Gigi was not really a fearful child, but the things she was scared of were eccentric: the young woman at the muffin shop who had plugs in her earlobes—Gigi was obsessed with her, had drawn page after page of earlobes with giant holes, had made Carolyn do Google searches for images of plugs and gauges, pored over the images, then drawn more pages of stretchy, be-plugged earlobes, and woken up screaming. Also, Gigi was afraid of nail clippers, though Carolyn found that phobia less easy to laugh about. She knew its origin: when Gigi was three, Carolyn had drawn blood once trying to trim Gigi’s papery nails. It was hard for Carolyn not to flinch herself when Gigi flinched in Walgreens, encountering a display of nail clippers. The nail clippers might as well have been battle axes dripping blood.

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‘The fact is, it’s a creepy song,’ Carolyn said, defensively (thinking about the nail clippers made her so). She handed Mike the lyrics she had printed.

He studied them. ‘Well, look. The blue fairy does give him chances, right? Two different warnings. And Bunny Foo Foo nonetheless keeps up this bad behavior, bopping the field mice on the head. Someone has to stick up for the field mice, right? Maybe that’s what Gigi is upset about, all those dead field mice?’

‘It doesn’t say they’re dead,’ said Carolyn. ‘Where does it say that? He just bops them on the head.’

‘You don’t think bopped means dead?’

Carolyn let that go. ‘What Gigi’s afraid of is the transformation. The fairy turns Little Bunny Foo Foo into a goon. What’s a goon? It’s the mystery, the fact that a goon could be anything—a gargoyle, a cloud of smoke.’

‘A colander, a gemstone,’ Mike repeated, nodding. ‘Yeah, I get that—the menace of obscurity.’

Oh, how Carolyn still wanted to throw her arms around Mike! To kiss that smile-shaped scar on the bottom of his chin, procured from flying over the handlebars of his bike the summer after first grade: one flap of skin going one way, one flap the other. Like her and Mike now, unsewed.

Carolyn shook her head to clear it. ‘So, I wanted you to know, in case she has another nightmare, or anything about ‘goons’ comes up.’

‘Appreciated,’ Mike said, then called, ‘Gigi! Time to go, grab your bag.’


The weekends Gigi was with Mike were stretchy and gray, over-chewed gum. Carolyn stayed busy, busy, busy—yoga, grocery shopping, going to the cobbler to get her boots resoled. The cobbler, who looked like he was one hundred and eight, shook his head over the way the heels were ground down. ‘I hope I can fix this. No promises,’ he said, dubiously. Carolyn had dinner with her friend, though that was depressing too—Janice was always trying to get Carolyn to use the terrible dating app where men in the vicinity, like available Uber drivers, appeared as slow-moving dots on the screen. At least I get to sleep in, Carolyn told herself, stumbling home—Janice had ordered two pitchers of margaritas. Then she woke up Sunday at 6 AM, as alive to the world as if someone had clanged cymbals in her ears. There were circles under her eyes when she arrived at 4:00 PM at Mike’s flat in the Tenderloin to pick up Gigi.

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‘Any Foo Foo issues?’ Carolyn asked. Oh, the effort it took to talk ‘normally’ around Mike, ‘normally’ having become as contaminated by scare-quotes as his ‘work.’ She was constantly oscillating between sounding too icy and too needy.

‘I’ve been thinking more about that blue fairy,’ Mike said. ‘On the one hand, as you and I discussed, she does give warnings.’ Mike was big on warnings; he did not believe in the first offense smack-down. Teaching freshmen and sophomores, he had long ago explained to Carolyn, was not all that different from being a probation officer. ‘On the other hand, she’s officious and meddlesome.’

‘Right! Who asked her to swoop down and advocate for the field mice?’

‘Exactly. So, we streamed this movie last night—Ella Enchanted, with Anne Hathaway, ever seen it? There’s another interfering fairy in it, who gives the main character when she’s a baby this ‘blessing’ of obedience that turns out to be a horrible curse. Ella is compelled to obey whatever people say to her. So, we saw it, and then we had a good talk about abuses of power. Donald Trump might have come up. I think the Foo Foo issue is resolved.’

‘Is that movie appropriate for a five-year-old?’

‘Absolutely! I heard about it, thought it seemed like a good way to address Gigi’s fairy anxiety. Plus, it has a feminist message.’

Carolyn grimaced. ‘Did Monica tell you that?’ Monica was Mike’s twenty-seven-year-old girlfriend. She was politically evolved and beautiful. In fact, she bore an uncanny resemblance to the character Monica in Friends, including her elegant eyebrows and monochromatic, sleek clothes, which seemed worn expressly to show off how lean and aerodynamic she was. Monica was the reason Mike had left and moved into this depressing flat, Monica was the metaphoric bike whose handles he had flown over, Monica the blue fairy, Carolyn considered, who had turned her husband into a goon.

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It was Mike’s turn to grimace. ‘Actually… Monica and I broke up.’

‘For real?’ She had to attend to her voice, the way it wagged its tail, like an eager beagle.

‘For real,’ said Mike. He smiled, a for real smile, not his politely strained one, or his anxious, guilty one, assessing her for how much damage he’d caused. Well, perhaps it was a little anxious, and a little assessing, though Carolyn was flutteringly unsure about what he was attempting to assess.

‘Listen,’ Mike proceeded, ‘Gigi really wants to see the movie again, and it’s not a bad movie at all, seriously better than most of the crap we watch with her… will you stay over for dinner and we can all watch it together?’

Why not? Carolyn thought, and quickly bopped aside—they manifested and ranged around like the men-dots on the dating app screen, or like field mice in a forest—the dozen reasons why not.

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing (2018) won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her novel The Light Source (2019) was published by 7.13 Books. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her story “Madlib” was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019 (Sonder Press). Her story “Surfaces” was selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 2019. She is the Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel.

Learn more at http://www.kimmagowan.com.