Magnolia Kanaranzi wasn’t her real name.
A black-robed judge with a sharp voice and a gavel as an exclamation point had told her it was her last chance. “I can put you back in jail again, for a long time,” he said, “or you can get out of town, out of Minnesota, and never come back. Your choice.” She chose get-out-of-town. She threw everything she owned in a duffel bag and, with three dollars in her pocket, begged a ride at a local biker bar with a bedraggled cowboy headed for Sturgis, South Dakota, who said he’d be happy to “give her a ride” anytime, anywhere. She really didn’t care who he was, or where he was going, or that she might have to fuck him to get there. She’d had worse.
She wasn’t going back to prison.
She had been stoned or drunk for most of a decade, burning through a dozen jobs in the early years. Sometimes she was fired. Sometimes she just wandered off and never returned. By the last year or two she was selling dope and her body and living on the streets or with anyone who’d have her. Along the way she got pregnant, had an abortion, got pregnant again. She tried being a mother, but learned she had neither the instinct nor the interest. She dumped the kid with her mother and never went back.
Inevitably she got caught up in the legal system: prostitution, possession, public drunkenness, petty theft. She went through treatment several times. It didn’t take. She didn’t care.
In the rare moments when she was straight she hated herself, hated what she’d done, hated what she’d become. Then she’d revert to drugs and alcohol to forget. The cycle between moments of sobriety became longer and longer.
She straddled the throbbing Harley as it rumbled west in the summer of 1958, one of a hundred bikers with a single destination, the Sturgis Road Rally. It was a fitting parable of her life–roaring ninety miles an hour down a dead-end life with people she didn’t know to a place she didn’t care about, stoned.
A road sign appeared at an exit: left to Magnolia, turn right and go to Kanaranzi. The motorcycle herd roared past the sign, headed relentlessly west down I-90 toward Sturgis. With a drug-induced fog in her brain and the wind in her face she repeated the message on the sign. She liked the sound of it. Mag-no-li-a Kana-ran-zi. To her it sounded like Italian royalty.
By the time the sign was five miles behind her she had changed her name. She spent the next several hours on the back of a Harley, glued to the back side of a man she didn’t know making up stories about a woman she wasn’t. When the herd paused on its westward trek she went into the first available bathroom and peered at herself in the mirror. She splashed water on her wind-burned face, pulled back her wind-ratted hair and decided that she looked Italian.
She forgot most of the stories by the time they hit Sturgis, but the name stuck.
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