Author's Note: Written for pielettes for NYR 2012, who wanted an exploration of Maggie or Colette's pasts, or something where they interacted. Couldn't quite manage fitting Colette in here, but here's a little exploration of Maggie, pre-series.
Her birth certificate did not bear the name Maggie.
Of course it didn't.
Instead, it read: Margaret Anne Ryan, born December 21, 1937. Six pounds, four-point-five ounces, twenty inches long. Born to James and Helen Ryan, of Tacoma. Her birth could be reduced down to the simple facts, although, to hear her father tell the story every year of how she was the first Ryan born neither in the sterility of a hospital nor in the creature comforts of home - but in the back of a station wagon during a freak snowstorm - there was a lot more to the story than what the documents said.
There always was.
She was Margaret before she was Maggie. One of seven children. Margaret.
She wore saddle shoes and plaid skirts and braided her hair in even plaits and attended Mass faithfully with her family; she attended Catholic school, all because that was what Ryans did - they stayed within the lines of conformity and never strayed. She spelled out her name in pristine cursive script and crossed every T with vigor. She read of girls - and boys - who had great and fantastical adventures, but never thought she would go on one of her own.
She was boring. She was Margaret.
Inside, a rebel lay dormant, poised to attack at any given moment. She'd been a rebel from birth, without realizing it, so much.
She did not consciously know this about herself, of course, for rebellions ought to take people by surprise. A planned rebellion is exciting for no one, after all.
She laid in darkness, in her bed, the blanket pulled up around her, confining her; she could hear her father snoring in the next room over. She let one of her braids fall idly into the palm of her hand, and she ran her fingers over the finely twisted strands, done with devotion by her mother to a power higher than her own.
And she couldn't take it. Not anymore.
The rebellion had begun. Not with a whimper, nor with a bang, but with four quick snips of a rusty pair of scissors absconded from her mother's sewing kit. She fluffed the ends of her newly-shorn hair self-consciously in the bathroom mirror, tentatively preening at her new reflection, as the two braids sat as reminders in the sink below.
She didn't look like herself. She didn't look like a Margaret. Not anymore.
She did, however look like someone new - "Call me Maggie." She spoke loud enough for only her to hear, although she was the only one awake; she was the only witness to her own rebellion. One was enough. One was always enough.
In the morning, her mother would have a heart attack, and her father would probably raise his voice and scream to the heavens, but what was done was done.
No going back now, and she could see clearly now that she was free.
As she laid in bed for the second time that evening, without the weighted feeling of her long hair to act as an anchor for her, she hid a smile into her pillow.
"I think I like this feeling."
She wasn't going to back down from this. She would stay the course, but rewrite it along the way to suit her own purposes.
And so, she did.
It was never enough to be just Maggie, though. She was never the prettiest girl in school, nor the smartest, nor the most talented in any quantifiable measure. She was just there. And she wasn't content to let that stay the status quo.
She wanted to be noticed. Which was hard when you were one of seven children, someone else would always take the attention and turn it onto them.
As it turned out, she had a fair degree of the flair for the dramatic in her. She should have known.
It'd be easy enough to pretend to be someone that you're really not. After all, that had been her entire life up until the night Maggie was born. She roamed the aisles of the stores, looking for hair dye; she experimented with looking blonde, like Marilyn or Jayne - except she couldn't be like them, even if she tried, no matter how many times she puckered her lips together and tried to make it work.
The thrill of looking in the mirror and seeing an altered face, an altered consciousness, however, never abated.
It was time to put her not-so-talented, not-so-pretty, not-so-smart self to work and exploit what she had. There had to be something more to her than living the life of a lonely Catholic girl from Tacoma.
And so, she did.
When she had been very young, hardly old enough to remember, her mother had encouraged her to take dancing lessons from an older lady in town named Miss Hannah. She was never particularly good, but she was flexible, energetic, nimble, and perhaps most importantly, determined - and that was enough for her purposes.
The posters hung around town called them the Dancing Dozen - a traveling dance troupe based out of Denver. And they needed alternates and background dancers - if people could make it to the studio in Seattle where they were holding their auditions. The Dancing Dozen from Denver would be her way out.
There were countless other people sitting in the waiting room. Some tapped their feet to the rhythm of an invisible song, and others leaned over the sides of their chairs and exchanged tall tales of dancing exploits. One girl claimed that she had gone to an elite dance conservatory out east; another said that she had been a background dancer in Guys and Dolls. It was a game of intimidation and shaking each other's confidence.
She wanted it more than any of them. She knew it in her heart to be true.
She walked into the audition room with her head held as high as it could go.
"What dance experience do you have?" the director asked, clipboard in hand.
She smiled as wide as her smile could go, and flared her arms out to the sides. "Well, I was accepted into an elite private dance conservatory out east, and I was a background dancer in Damn Yankees." Parroting the other girls' accomplishments as her own - with slight modifications, of course, it wouldn't do to be exposed because she hewed too close to the line - was as easy on her lips as butter.
"Show us what you have, then."
And so, she did.
Being an alternate background dancer on the road was strenuous and tiring; she ached in muscles she barely knew she had, ached in new and unfamiliar ways. But it was freeing, at the same time, to look out on an audience of people she had never seen before and would never see again, to perform the choreography that had made the Dancing Dozen a draw for people from Camden to Camarillo and all the other small-to-medium sized towns along the way.
She imagined this was what it must feel like to run away from home and join the circus.
She did always wonder what it would be like to be up on that trapeze, suspended above the audience instead of dancing in front of them. Or maybe she could be the lion tamer, or whatever circus skill they wanted her to pick up on - she could learn to breathe fire, or at least pretend to. It had worked for her so far. After all, no one asked many questions; everyone there was running away from something - or running toward something else.
Maybe she would pack up and join an artistic colony off the coast of Florida instead. Or pass herself off as a journalist and break into the press corps that covered Eisenhower's administration. Or something else - after all, tomorrow they'd be in Joplin, and the day after, they'd be in Tulsa, and she was prone to coming up with new ideas on a whim. These were the kinds of things people in the books she read as a child did.
There was a whole world out there for her to explore.
And with her skills and charm, she could fade in and out of the background and explore it to her liking.
And so, she did.
She adjusted her Pan Am stewardess cap, admiring how it fit on her head just so. This cap was representative of all she had ever worked for. Every scheme, every calculation, every fibbed word of Portuguese all came together to affix the symbol of luxury and pride on her head.
Margaret Anne Ryan, Catholic schoolgirl, was now Maggie Ryan, high-flying stewardess.
And she wasn't ever going to look back.
Onward and upward.