Fiction from Kim Magowan

Photo: Jong Marshes

Cancel Culture

It’s widely known that I never said “Let them eat cake.” What I said was brioche, and everyone knows this means bread. But because I was foreign, because I was young and rich and pretty, because my husband didn’t love me, because my husband was a fool, this story caught and spread: proof of how out of touch I was, how arrogant and clueless, playing shepherdess in my gathered dresses and curved crook. You have to villainize people to justify killing them; I didn’t take it personally. In my green kidskin gloves, I understood.


Sure, it was me, hissing in Macbeth’s ear, exhorting him to kill Duncan, “Screw your courage to the sticking place,” then me gone soft-headed and remorseful, hallucinating blood on my palms, pitching myself out of windows. What no one gets is we were a great couple. I was his partner in everything—after twenty years we still did it three nights a week. I wasn’t afraid to teach him how to touch me. Every Friday we played chess. It was the withdrawal of his confidence that made me—not myself. Cringing, wretched. He wanted me to push him; that was our thing.


Women are only popular when our ambitions are checked. Back in 2016, you loved me. I was your quip and your excuse. “I’d vote for a woman, just not her. I’d vote for Liz.” Well then! When I finally run, out slither the snake emoji, the accusations of being disloyal, conniving, a liar, a schoolmarm. Do you realize how predictable you are? How hackneyed your insults? Men who shout are avuncular, women who do are scolds, “unlikeable.” None of it surprises me, yet… how disheartening, to get ensnared in such sticky, boring stories. “You asked for it”: nope, you did.


She’s an idiot, she’s a fool, she’s a terrible role model: I hear it all. Terrible in the Hans Christian Andersen version where I trade my fishtail for legs and every step is like “walking on sharp knives”; terrible in the Disney version, where I comb my hair with a fork like a moron. I’m a meme, a stand-in for pliant, pathetic girls who give up their voices and transform their bodies to win some dude. My trade for legs is some metaphor for eating disorders or plastic surgery, my legs make me fuckable. Why is this narrative easier to believe than that I wanted to breathe air, gill-free? It wasn’t the prince compelling me, it was the sun, slashed but visible through the water’s surface.


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 stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf‘s Top 50. She is the Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel.

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