As someone new to the babysitting “game,” Hayley (who often wondered if she should legally change the spelling of her name to Haley) wasn’t exactly versed in every protocol when it came to her “charges.” The foremost of which had been an eleven-year-old girl named Mackenzie. A name that naturally presaged what a little fucking cunt she would be. But Hayley told herself (or rather, her empty bank account told her) to go into the job with an open mind. That maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad. It could even be something tantamount to “fun.”
These were the types of mantras she recited to herself while going on outings she otherwise would have done everything in her power to evade. Chief among such outings included going to the mall despite the present era being well past such an entity’s prime. Maybe, for Mackenzie, it was like some kind of “old-timey” novelty she had gotten hooked on after seeing the practice in so many “ancient” movies. You know, Mean Girls, Superbad, that sort of thing. In any case, none of her own peers seemed interested in going, so that left Hayley as the only viable lifeline. Because her parents, Bob and Jill Gunnerson, wouldn’t dare step foot in such a place either, both being left-wing politicians who prided themselves on not being materialistic while living in one of the most expensive and sequestered neighborhoods in Los Angeles. And yes, maybe L.A. was the one place in the world that still truly offered such glittering and enticing mall “experiences.” The unfortunate thing about a child who grows up in L.A., however, is that they’re doomed to become faux jaded much sooner. Sure, there is a genuine amount of jadedness, but so much of it is posturing to appear more jaded a.k.a. worldly than one actually is.
Part of Mackenzie’s “put-on” for coming across as such, Hayley was forced to notice quite quickly, was calling out age at every turn. More specifically, age chasms. More specifically still, the one that existed between her and Hayley. At thirty-one years old, Hayley realized that she probably looked a lot different to Mackenzie than she did to herself. Or anyone in her own age bracket. From Mackenzie’s perspective, Hayley could see her appearance getting warped and mangled in the eyes of someone who seemed to view youth as something to be wielded like a superpower. A phenomenon that was never quite such a thing when Hayley was an eleven-year-old and the concept of “respecting those older” (not those who are old, if one will note the distinction) than you reigned far more supreme. For Mackenzie and her ilk, however, such a notion had gone the way of the dodo… as TikTok would ultimately have to. Thusly, it would end up hopelessly “dating” those who once thought they might always possess the currency of youth simply by being (read: dancing like douchebags) on it. But, as many have seen with the likes of Facebook, when a once-youthful demography “ages,” the app or entity in question suddenly loses all cachet in the eyes of the next “hot, young” generation.
This was something Hayley didn’t bother trying to explain to Mackenzie, for she hadn’t entirely forgotten what it was like to be that young and assume she might never age, never feel or least of all look “old.” Whatever that meant anymore. For it was impossible to stay young enough in the climate of a society that prized increasingly youthful ages as the definitive mark of “relevancy.” From what Hayley could tell, Mackenzie herself would be irrelevant by the age of thirteen, the last year when one could be deemed a “tastemaker” anymore. And with the world therefore being run by thirteen-year-olds, what hope did anyone really have of not suffering from some form of age discrimination in their day-to-day dealings? Hayley certainly wasn’t immune, conditioned after five months of babysitting (or “nannying,” as it’s dubbed when you’re in your thirties) Mackenzie to gird herself for some kind of ageist comment apropos of nothing. For one’s age suddenly enters into everything when they start hanging out regularly with an eleven-year-old. Even the most seemingly innocuous moments or sightings become potential fodder to make an ageist comment. Like when Hayley casually suggested, as the prime of Christmas season approached, that they watch The Holiday. A 2006 masterpiece. But no, apparently it being released in 2006 made it an “old person’s” movie. Rebuffed in a way so impolite by Mackenzie that Hayley wanted to run out of the house sobbing and hide in her apartment while watching it the same way Cameron Diaz in The Holiday would watch something.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t just leave—or inform Mackenzie of what a bitch she was—without risking the loss of this shitty but theoretically “easy” job that she needed. So she steeled her will, swallowed her pride and proceeded to let Mackenzie choose the movie. Something more “modern,” “au courant.” Namely, the atrocious Falling For Christmas. Starring none other than “old” Lindsay Lohan. A movie that was already excruciating enough for Hayley to endure before being given the smackdown of Jill’s arrival at 7:30 p.m., only to stop Hayley from leaving in peace. For, when Jill came home that evening, after what felt the longest day of Hayley’s life, she “casually” asked, “So… you are planning to get Mackenzie a Christmas present, right?”
The question totally blindsided Hayley. A Christmas gift? For that little asshole? Wasn’t it already gift enough that she could be bothered to look after the brat almost every day? Sure, she was given compensation to do it, but not nearly enough. The Gunnersons were rich fucks who could have paid way more for Hayley to be an “enthusiastic” custodian. As opposed to one working under capitalism’s duress. Fumbling for the words to tell her that she really didn’t have enough extra dough to accommodate a gift for a child who would already be getting plenty, Jill filled in the blank for her by asserting, “Great. Because we’re having a little Christmas get-together next week for all of Mackenzie’s various handlers, and we’d love for you to attend.”
Handlers. What was Mackenzie? A horse, for fuck’s sake? For all intents and purposes, one supposed the answer was yes. Bred to succeed in the rigged race of life. No sooner had Jill confirmed for Hayley that she had no choice but to buy a present using her pittance of a “salary” than she was being ushered out the door as Mackenzie called out, “Bye Old!”
The nerve. Honestly. What was it with youths, particularly youths of the moment, seeming so cocksure that they themselves would never age? Granted, in the decades since, say, the 1970s, something shifted in the aging process for adults. It appeared as though, with the improvement of the overall “quality of life,” the average person stopped looking as old as their forebears when they were the same age. Plus, with all the advancements in skin care and “non-invasive” plastic surgery, it had never been easier to appear youthful. In short, the generations before the 80s had missed the boat on not being grotesquely overworked, as well as access to advanced maintenance of the epidermis. A.k.a.: the immediate source of being revealed as “long in the tooth.”
Stewing the entire drive back home as she listened to “Brackish” by Kittie, Hayley made a sharp right when she, all at once, espied a mall out of the corner of her eye. Surprisingly, one that she hadn’t ever gone to with Mackenzie. Fine, she thought. I’ll get the ageist bitch a fucking present. And it will be one that she’ll absolutely hate. She’ll see it as some kind of ancient relic. This is how Hayley came to find herself scouring the aisles of a well-known electronics store for something she knew Mackenzie would never have a use for. Nay, never deign to use. If Mackenzie wanted to write everyone who was older than her off, then Hayley would underscore the obsolescence with which Mackenzie viewed all pre-Gen Zers. With that, she snagged one of the few “portable CD players” (more commonly known as: a Discman) off the rack and got the fuck out of there.
In the car, Mackenzie replayed “Brackish” from the beginning and, just as the lyrics, “She is not scared to die” were uttered at the same moment she was turning back into the intersection—crash! A horrific metallic screeching was the last sound Hayley ever heard. On the bright side, after fishing the corpse out of the vehicle, the “extractor” noticed the undamaged contents of a Best Buy bag. Moved by the glimpse of an item that had brought him great joy in the 90s, when he was just a teen, he grabbed it before anyone could notice him do so. Eric (Eric the Extractor, if you prefer) then tucked the plastic bag into his “tool kit” and let the coroner take over.
The next morning, as those close to Hayley were being made aware of her death, Eric popped a favorite CD of his—ABBA Gold—into the Discman and proceeded to go for a run. Somewhere from beyond the grave, Hayley could see her Discman “gag gift” genuinely going to good use, actually being appreciated. And it made her smile. So did the idea that, now that she was dead, Mackenzie would end up being far older than Hayley ever was. So perhaps karmic justice works in mysterious ways, but it does work, Hayley decided.