Write a story about Max Earnest and
Win the Drawing of Max
Contest Ends Monday December 19th
The story you write should be a "Flash Fiction" which is a complete story in one thousand or fewer words. Please post the story in the comment section, you will have to provide your name and an email address in order to be qualified to win or you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your info. There is a problem with how many characters can post (only about 4,000) so if you cannot post it.
E-mail it to me at email@example.com
This is the second version of this show!
Stories will be published in a vintage style newspaper catalog and the gallery will be converted into a 1930 or 40's cabaret set and students will be acting the stories out as monologues at some of the events at the college in the art gallery.
More competitions posted on my website at:
These came in by email:
Max Earnest…The Turnaround! By CJ Jones
“My neck’s on the line, literally. I owed Lex some money so I
borrowed from Glenn to pay off Lex. But if I mess up with Glenn I’m not
as worried because his apes will give me less of a work over because I
dated his sister (the one with the lazy eye, not
the one with the harelip.) Here’s how I’m gonna pay off Glenn and turn
things around after I win big at the horse track.
You see, there’s this guy I know, lives down the hall, he’s like a
mathemagician. He literally has a track record of success, he’s in
demand. He knows how to take the bittiest piece of information I get
from my ex-brother-in-law, Hap, (who has the inside
scoop at the stables) and turn it into pure gold. Now Hap is as dumb as
what he shovels, but he’s a good guy and he lets me invest his money.
But the Mathemagician is smart, and he isn’t like other eggheads, he
doesn’t talk to me like I’m an idiot, and he
doesn’t burden me with the scientific details behind his method to
gambling success (but I’ll get his secrets eventually.) Sure, he puts
junk in his veins (not my sort of thing) but I heard that even Einstein
has some off days when he can’t even tie his own
Sometimes when I find the Mathemagician he’s slumped over by our
building’s garbage chute, or unconscious and leaning against the
elevator gate, or passed out on the fire escape. I trained the
neighborhood kids to keep him propped up to keep him from becoming
rat food. It’s like trying to stand up a hot water bottle, he’s got
spaghetti legs after he shoots up. If the kids can’t stand him up, they
draw eyes on his eyelids so the rats think he’s awake. He’s not always
presentable, but so what? That won’t stop me.
Even if I have to put him in a wheelbarrow and push him to the
racetrack, we’re bettin’ on the ponies!
Now after I win big and pay off the loan from Glenn, I need to get in
good with the missus so I can see my kids again. It turns out our
daughter is fifteen now (I think) and I hear that she has the chops to
be an excellent lounge act, she just needs the
right management and that’s where I come in. I haven’t actually heard
her sing yet, but Hap says she gave a glass shattering performance at
his daughter’s sweet sixteen.
I’m even gonna have an amigo of mine paint a classy sign for my
daughter, something with high quality gold leaf and it will say
something like ‘Performing live in our lounge, the haunting sounds of
Pixie Earnest.’ Then I’ll take the sign to classy joints
like Lady Jane’s or The Golden Tiger and they’ll say ‘this guy’s got
something special.’ Then they’ll put her on the payroll, (well, more
like pay me under the table.) When my kid’s taking cigarette breaks from
singing or wanders off to the bar, I’ll keep
the troops entertained with my juggling skills (I specialize in
juggling apples, oranges, even baseballs) or I might just repeat some
jokes I’ve heard (I know my fair share of chuckle busters.) I might even
get my son’s flugelhorn out of hock and have him
play some tunes, he’s twelve. Heck, we might even take the show on the
road as a family, sky’s the limit. You might want to invest in me,
because this is a sure bet.
Speaking of betting, when it comes to betting in general, people
think that there’s too many variables, and that’s what the people at the
track want you to think. But I’m smart enough to learn from Hap and the
Mathemagician’s combined knowledge. I’ll coax
out the Mathemagician’s betting secrets (I’ll pay him for the goods
every time he needs some quick money, you know, for his golden arm) and
I’m gonna put these nuggets together in a book after he croaks and title
it ‘Horse Track Science: The Max Earnest Method,
written by Anonymous’ (I heard that if you publish a book anonymously
you don’t have to pay taxes on whatever proceeds you get from the book.)
And it’s not all about the tracks, I think people want to hear my
philosophies on life in general, I’m good at going
off on tangents so I end up giving my insights on everything.
I can see it all come together- the 85% I get from managing my
daughter and the profit I make from the book sales, I see a bright
future for me. It’s like how the ladies at Linda’s Parlor Amour all call
me ‘Mr. Creepy Peepers’ because it’s creepy how well
I see into the future. I keep saying ‘Maximilian, makin’ a million,’
that’s my motto. I’m like Leonardo Maxvinci and I’m working on my
It’s scary how things are finally gonna turn around for me after all
the bad luck I’ve always had my entire life, like that one time the
crate slipped and fell on my toes or how I tripped on the jack and hit
my head on the anvil. So I’ve never been the most
physical fella but I can pull this off. What else am I gonna do? Movin’
hot merch hurts my back but I can move mountains with my mouth.
I see my chariot has arrived. Well it was nice talking to you, but I’ve gotta catch this bus and go sell some blood. Cheers!”
Story of Max Earnest
by Peter Vu
was a gloomy day in Detroit,
in the fall of 1936. Max Earnest sat with his
wicked hands clasped around his head,
he had now understood the severity of what he had done...
was charming, intelligent and the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Betty Mae was everything Max had ever
dreamt of. They had just finished purchasing a small
apartment just 2 blocks away from the
small coffee shop where they had met 6 years earlier. The apartment was stained
with blood as Max sat there rocking back and forth in his chair.
had been on edge now for the past couple weeks.
He had recently lost his job and was
having difficulty finding a new one. Coming home day after day without a job
was getting to him. Betty Mae nagging at him saying there is no money to pay to
feed their infant twins was also getting on his nerves. He knew that something
must be done. His bills were not going to paid if he didn't act fast. He was
also going to get evicted from his apartment.
Desperate, he went looking for an
old friend across town. There, he walked into the Mafia run bar. The moment he
walked in, all eyes were on him. Being the only one in a T-shirt and shorts,
and everyone else in tuxedos, he stuck out like a sore thumb. His friend,
Michael, spotted him and quickly went over to Max. "What're you doing
here." "I need money", Max replied. With a devilish smile,
Michael walked Max to the back of the bar.
It was very dark and cold in the
office. Michael pulled the light cord and the room lit up. The office was very
big. The walls were covered with strong thick cabinets. As soon as Michael
opened them, Max realized he was not in the right place. Seeing that Max was
backing out and terrified, Michael walked over, poured a glass of Tequila, and
gave it to Max.
be afraid", Michael said in a calming voice. The cabinets were filled with
guns, all sorts of sizes. He handed Max a gun and said "Whenever I need
you, you come. I don't care if you're fucking your wife, eating dinner, or
taking a shit. I call. You come." Max reluctantly grabbed the pistol and
As the weeks went on, Max was doing
Michael's dirty work, taking out all of his enemies for him. Since Max was so
busy trying to make money for his family, he devoted all of his time to his new
job, leaving his wife and kids. He usually left early in the morning and came
back in the middle of the night.
Soon, he and his wife were complete
strangers now. It was as if the person Betty Mae married was gone. She felt
lonely and didn't know what to do. She began talking to a man who worked at the
local food market. She went there daily to buy groceries and was always excited
to see John.
As Betty Mae was in the baby's
aisle, John approached her and asked her how her day was. She was feeling
dreadful that day. Her back was killing her, but she had to clean the house and
feed the kids. John offered to take work off early and help Betty Mae clean
while she feeds her baby. So that exactly what he did. He cleaned the house,
leaving not a single spec of dirt. After Betty Mae put the kids to bed, John
was getting ready to leave. He said bye and stepped out the door. Betty Mae
grabbed him and kissed him on the lips. He then put her on the couch and the
too proceeded to kiss. They ripped each others clothes off and made love until
3 in the morning.
Betty Mae had forgotten all about
Max. She heard him get out of his car and head towards the doors. She leaped
off of John and pushed him into the closet along with his clothes as soon as
Max opened the door.
Max walked in as she was standing
the naked holding John's pants. Furious, he ran over to the closet and found
John, standing there scared to death without any clothes on. He hit John in the
head several times and he fell unconscious. Betty Mae was screaming for him to
stop, but Max was still pounding on John's face. When he was finished, he
looked up at Betty Mae. She was sitting there clotheless and crying, not
knowing what would happen next. Heart broken he walked out of his apartment and
Betty Mae followed crying for him to come back. Max walked back in his
apartment and yelled, "Shut up you whore". He pulled out his pistol
and shot his beloved wife several times in the chest.
She fell to the ground. Realizing
what he just did. He dropped his pistol and ran to Betty Mae's side. He held
her in his arms as she was bleeding to death. She grabbed Max's face with her
bloody hands and said "Sorry Max, forgive me. I love you". She died
seconds later. Max sat there crying. With his face covered in tears, he looked
up and saw his pistol on the ground. He reached over and without any hesitation;
he shot himself in the head while he was still holding his wife.
This came in by e-mail:
Max Earnest-Matt O'Malley
Max Earnest was thinning the herd,
culling from his drawer of underwear, the weak in elasticity, the old,
the hole filled, the stained, and tossing them onto the trash heap of
his floor. When he was through there remained just one sad pair that he
devised would last four days of wearing at a time; front wise,
backwards, then inside out and front wise and backwards again before he
had to wash them.
To wash his underwear, Max would use the sink
in his room and a bar of soap. Once washed, he would then turn on the
hot plate he normally used to cook his daily meal and place a designated
frying pan on his makeshift stove. He would then pan dry his underwear;
swirling and sautéing them in the dry pan until all the water had
evaporated out and they were left toasty and warm. Electricity was
expensive and Max had very little cash to spare and opted to use the
little he had to pay his day to day rent.
Max Earnest had been
unemployed now for four years. He had lost his job to a company that had
outsourced it overseas and then lost his house to a bank that refused
to refinance it. Max’s wife had subsequently left him to live with her
mother and then the rent for the apartment Max had been renting
skyrocketed beyond his means as foreclosed upon homeowners became
renters, squeezing the market of all available places. Max then fell to
the streets for a time, living off the kindness of strangers until he
found a cheap single room occupancy hotel in San Francisco’s tenderloin
district on the corner of Eddy and Jones, just above the Yet Wah Chinese
From this hotel, Max would daily leave to pound the
streets, his clothing and skin infused with exotic spices, as he looked
for work; trudging first over to the EDD offices off of Gough Street to
check job postings, then over to the library at the Civic Center where
he used the internet to check Craigslist and the various local papers
for postings. In both places, Max would fill out forms and endless job
applications, boiling his life and experiences down into brief and
succinct single sentences or a brief paragraph.
At times the
repetitiveness and drudgery of applying for jobs was discouraging, but
Max kept his spirits up knowing that someday his life would change for
the better and finally it did, on a rainy day as he walked from the EDD
offices over to the library.
Outside of the State building on
Van Ness Street, Max encountered a group of protestors. The protestors
were from Occupy Wall Street and they were protesting cuts, tax
loopholes, corruption, and various other causes individuals needed to
protest. Max made his way through the crowd, actually pushing his way
through until he found himself on the other side of the protest and
facing a news reporter.
The well dressed reporter was under a
large umbrella and she stopped Max by placing a microphone up to his
lips after asking “What are you protesting? It seems so confused. What
are you upset about?”
Max paused for a moment dumbstruck, and
then watched as the reporter wrinkled her nose; she had caught a scent
of Max’s exotic cologne. Max looked into her eyes, squinted back, and
then gathered everything he had just seen in the signs and put all of
the protestor’s concerns and his experiences on the hotplate in his mind
as the cameraman zeroed in on Max’s face.
In that moment, Max
explained in a succinct paragraph and to the worldwide television
audience, what he and the protestors were “upset about”. That day, Max
became the voice of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and this is what he
Mary C. Charest
Max Earnest stalled in the shadows of the
smoke filled room. Maudie Lane was in the middle of a cutting contest;
two thundering pianos were making love right there on the stage to her harmonic
levitations. Maudie was notorious for performing at these back street battles,
where piano wars rumbled and sent contenders into the spotlight or straight in
the gutter. Venus Frey put a hand on her hip, as Maudie sung out with the
heart of Harlem itself. Venus beamed, “You
sure are a Hipster honey, but what’s a white girl doin’ with a voice like
The new eighty-eight fingers was young and cocky; Maudie liked Ol’ Creole best
– he was a pro with the keys. She gave him a kiss as he walked out the
back door. “Here’s your giggle water Maudie,” said the strong arm as she
approached the bar. “Thanks Guy,” she said with a low sexy voice, squeezing
the bartender’s hand. His great burly mug turned redder then her dress.
The rest of the big swing wanna-bes at the end of the bar burst out laughing. He
lowered the bottle of whiskey and snarled, “Scram, will ya!” They just
Max Earnest noticed how her satin dress followed every move, just as smooth as
the tail he had on her all week. He pushed his hat back. She
was ritzy-elegant – the kid didn’t belong in this joint. Len Dressler
walked past with a bulge in his jacket and a look of resolve. Max Earnest
didn’t flinch, just stood there gaping at Maudie like every other lug. He
had a job to do tonight; to keep Maudie Lane alive long enough to see uptown.
Max owed one to the dame. She pulled him out of half the gin mills up and
down this strip. He was just a gumshoe on hooch using her as a poker
chip, but she was in love. “I don’t know what she ever saw in me,” he said
taking his hat off and scratching a few new grays. Plunking the fedora
back on, he put his mind to business. Dresser’s a loan shark -- what’s
Maudie doing linking up with him?” Max thought resentfully. “Word on the
street is Dresser’s popping off some palooka from Chicago
tonight. Think Earnest…” he said turning his back. Maudie was
making her way towards the front door.
“Let’s go for drinks canary,” Dresser purred, “I have a surprise – you’re gonna
meet Sarah Vaughan’s agent straight from Chicago.” He smoothed the brim
of his grey fedora and his pin stripe suit flowed without a wrinkle.
“Sure, I’ll dip the bill with ya baby,” Maudie answered eagerly.
Len Dresser opened the door and snapped for his car. Grabbing her fur he
draped it around her shoulders, nuzzling her pastel neck. Max bowed his
head, and moved leisurely toward the back exit.
He pulled his trench coat close and
wrapped his mind around the fix. “If Maudie’s found with Dressler, she’s
as deep in it as he is. And the dame don’t even know it – He’s just a
ticket uptown for her, and she’s a pretty pigeon for him.” Max thought rounding
the corner of Dressler’s brownstone. He jimmied one of the dark windows
in the back. “She’s gonna take the heat for tonight’s hit, if I don’t…”
Max whispered. He felt two tons of pressure come down on his head and a
deep voice answered, “Mr. Earnest – ya’ll talk too much.” Max felt two
paws grab him, and heard the shuffling of a big man’s feet, then all faded to
Max came to with his head pounding like someone else’s hangover, as Maudie ran
her fingers gently through his hair. “Max baby,” she forced a smile
through her tears, “what are you doing here?” Putting his hat back on he
said, “I should throw you over my knee and spank you.” His blue eyes got
misty, and she wouldn’t let him go. Some pin stripe was tied up tight as
a coffin in the chair behind them. “A woman scorned? The agent promises bright lights and an
uptown stage, and then falls short? The
heat’ll buy it,” Dresser said, “Start with the gumshoe, and then knock off the
pin stripe,” he wrenched Maudie away from Max. “I love a wild woman – the
bedroom’s over there baby,” he said, grabbing at the door knob.
Much to his surprise, and Max’s, the door swung in. A big black hand
grabbed Dresser by his neck and growled out, “Let the gumshoe go, or he’s a
dead man.” Creole Jones gave Maudie a wink. “Now, put those pea
shooters on the ground. The heat’s outside.” He thumped on the
ground five times with his great boot. Max heaved the pin stripe over;
causing a ruckus that gave the copper’s the advantage they needed.
Max Earnest tipped his hat up and Creole rubbed his bristle. “I heard
Dresser’s thugs talking in the alley that night I was cut. I wasn’t gonna
let Miss Maudie take the rap,” Creole said bashfully. “Did I ever tell ya
how much I love those fingers of yours?” Maudie said, giving him a great hug,
while Max wiped the sweat from his forehead, “Yup, we could a been a real three
for one special – thanks,” Max said to the former piano champ. Maudie
stuck her arms in the crook of Max and Creole’s and said, “Well boys, let me
take you out for a cup of Joe.” Max Earnest saw her lip quiver. He gave
Maudie’s arm a little squeeze and she relaxed her head on his shoulder. A
smile emerged from under that beat up black fedora that he just couldn’t hide;
yea, he was dizzy with the dame.
By Michael West
into the mirror.
to show time.
36 dates in
clubs on a tour spider-webbed across Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, South Dakota,
and one long-ass haul to where he is tonight: a one-nighter in Liberal, Kansas.
Liberal pays well, but the journey took its toll on the shrapnel lodged in his
back. He saw an image of it swimming through his flesh: twisted koi.
before the first note, staring into the mirror, remains the same because Max
believes change is bad. Retain the basics, maintain the structure, everyday
retrain the brain. Something of a mantra with him. He doesn’t know what a
“mantra” is exactly, not in the sense of “I’ll take mantras for $1000.00,
Alex”, but it’s a word used by his tenor sax, a junkie hooked on words instead
of heroin. Lemm has been clean for 6 years, 4 months, 18 days, and can tell you
the minutes if you ask him, so it must be a useful thing to have, this mantra.
is difficult to carry from town to town, but no more vexing than lugging a
When he was
asked to identify his grandfather’s body, the only thing in the condo that
didn’t look rented or borrowed, aside from the exquisitely maintained stand-up
bass clutched in the old man’s hand (yes, the one currently reclining next to
Max), were the mirror and the faded clippings. Max has no idea what the
clippings mean or why they are in the order they are. He also has no idea who
this man called his “grandfather” is. He knows he was in the music business but
in what capacity……?
only spoke of him in short sentences and the conversation always ended with “Oh
hell, fuck him, let’s go get some ice cream.”
Lemm has his
mantras, but Max has his beliefs.
Max is not a
religious or spiritual man, but he does believe there is a design to the
universe based on what it is doing at any given moment.
began and where it ends is not his business. He is a musician. He plays the
notes he’s given.
truly believes that the human mind can figure out some parts of this design if
it stops getting in its own way.
the partial sentences, the picture of the well-maintained woman, and the mirror
itself will reveal its meaning if he lets it.It also frees up the part of his
brain that stores all the musical notes he needs to make his music.
when one is distracted. Another of Max’s beliefs.
You chase it
and it runs. And it’s always faster. And it will give you the finger if you try
A knock on
the door says it’s time to warm up his fingers.
He picks up
the bass and plucks a single note.
plucks another note and begins the avalanche of music that will carry him onto
the stage, through the set, through the encore, through the large tumbler of
Makers Mark, upstairs to his room, tumbler and mirror in hand and under arm,
onto the bed into that sitting position Lemm says is “Lotus” or something,
something good for staring, and he will stare at the mirror and the clippings
until sleep or enlightenment bury him.
By Patrick Nelson
"Ruthless." That's what the
parole board said when I sat in front of them...again. Only this time the old
gallows gang added, "brutal, unrepentant (whatever that means), and a
total lack of social and moral conscience (whatever that means, too.)"
Why do they do this to me and
themselves every few years? I wonder that every time the warden calls me into
his office to tell me another parole hearing is scheduled. I don't want to
leave. I just want to be left alone. What I did I have to pay for and this seems
just as good a place as any. Can't they just leave it alone?
The first coupla times the dog and
monkey show took place, I wondered if it was maybe the warden what set it
up--after all, he did say he owed me one.
I don't see it that way. Those two mooks
that stabbed that screw that day was just askin for it. Right outside my cell
they tried to start a riot or somethin, I don't know what, and when they took
that guard hostage and started screamin and yellin, I could only think one
thing: today was meatloaf day in the cafeteria. I love meatloaf. If they just
woulda waited till after lunch, I woulda let them take over all of Frisco.
Wasn't none of my business, but no,
meatloaf made me go right up to 'em and put their heads together like a
coupla bad melons. Sometimes when I get mad like that, I forget how strong I am
and, well... I guess I smooshed their heads a little too hard. By the end of
the day, those two were in a coma that they never woke up from, the guard that
got shivved was dead and I didn't get no meatloaf.
I did get a visit from the warden
hisself. He came to thank me and asked if there was anything he could do for
me. I told him nothin, except maybe letting me have my hat back--they took it
from me when I was processed after the trial. I liked that hat--no, I loved
that hat. My baby girl Charlie gave it to me on my birthday in another life.
Hell, I was pretty sure they didn't even have it no more...after all, that was
somewhere around twenty years ago and it was a nice hat.
The other thing I asked him for was
meatloaf. He gave me back my hat instead, so I figured we were even.
For weeks after I got my hat back, all
kinds of guys were giving me crap about it, but nobody tried nothin. Even the
young kids here had heard about what I done outside to get here. They all
either heard about my first weeks here all those years ago or they remember
seeing it for themselves. I just wanted to be left alone to serve my time, but
when a new guy, especially a big guy like me gets here, every dumb sumbitch
thinks it's his ticket to respect and the easy life behind the walls. Take out
the big guy and you get big. Big mistake, you ask me.
Anyways, I ain't one to go lookin for
trouble, but if it comes my way, I put it down like a rabid dog. I ain't proud
of what I done to all them guys, but like I said, I just wanted to be left
alone. After a few of them guys ended up in the Infirmary or worse, they left
me alone. Not just cause I was put in solitary, either. Yeah, solitary was just
the ticket for me. I wished I coulda
just stayed there for the whole stretch, really. Nobody but me and my books and
the memory of what I done. They said it was punishment, but it was like heaven
you ask me.
Now's probably a good time to tell you
about what I done to get into all this trouble. It's nothin to be crowing
about, for sure, but it's done and over and there ain't no takin it back and
I'm pretty sure if it happened all over again, I'd have done the exact same
thing except for one little detail. You may be thinkin that detail woulda been
not getting caught, but you'd be dead wrong. I done it and I should be
I could start way back with how I
worked on the docks, how I met Gladys, the speakeasys and the whole thing, but
I'm not going into that. First off, it ain't none of your business and second,
it's mine. It's some of the only good I still got left and I'm keepin it to
myself. Under my hat like they say.
I will tell you she wasn't really no
good--even with her looks and her airs, she was just a bad woman. Why she
picked a guy like me even for just the one toss in the hay, is beyond me.
Bottom line is she had a baby and it was mine. I did what I could to help:
money, calling in a few favors for a nice place for the two of them, I even
became the one thing a workin bum like me hated, I became a scab. I crossed a
picket line when we was on strike at the docks just so I could keep the money
comin in for the baby. My baby. By then I had given up any dumb ideas about me
and Gladys, but I had to do it for that baby girl of mine. At first Gladys
would let me see her and hold her. I figure she thought she owed it to me
seeing as how I was givin her all my money. When Charlie, her name was
Charlene, when Charlie got old enough to start askin questions about things,
her mother told her I was her Uncle Max. I ain't gonna lie and tell you that
didn't hurt to the bone, but I wasn't gonna go upsettin the apple cart. I had
to keep seein my baby and if all that took was workin my fingers raw and keepin
my yap tight, so be it.
Soon enough, too soon if you ask me,
Gladys started seein another guy. I didn't give a spit about that, no, what
burned me hot as water was her and Charlie movin in with this bum. He seemed
okay on the surface, but even if Charlie thought I was only her uncle, just the
thought of her callin another man "daddy" was makin me lose my my
mind. Gladys told me she didn't need my money no more and that if I kept comin
around to see Charlie, she was gonna have me locked up. I still got to see her though.
I would walk her to school every morning on my break. I told her not to tell
her mother cause she wouldn't like it. That wasn't a lie, either, so I didn't
feel bad. I would even come see her mother's new boyfriend come pick her up
every day after school-- it was by break between shifts. Even though my money
wasn't goin right to Gladys no more, I had nothin else to do so I kept the
The day I crossed the line was just
like all the rest: the boyfriend pulled up in his fancy white car and got out
to wait for Charlie. He was leaning against the shiny fender smoking a
cigarette when she came down the steps. They say stuff like this happens in
slow motion, but it was all blur to me. He and Charlie started arguing about
somethin and he smacked her--right there on the sidewalk out front of the
school. Before I knew what was really happenin, I had what was left of his head
squeezed in my hands. My thumbs were in the holes where his pretty-boy eyes
used to be and there was blood everywhere. I told you already about how I get
when I lose myself. Nothin else I remember except that bad, scared look in
Charlie's eyes. That look would be more punishment than any prison could ever
deliver no matter how many years I was locked up. That was the end of me.
Charlie ran away screamin and I just stood there waitin for the cops to come
get me. I never saw her again since.
Funny thing is ever since I been in
here, I felt like I had a cancer growin inside me even before they told me I
really did have the cancer. I was payin and paying but it would never be enough
to bring back that little girl's love--or whatever it was.
Yeah, that doc in the infirmary...I
coulda swore he couldn't find a pimple on his own ass, seein as how he couldn't
have been more than twelve, but he found the cancer growin in my spine. I
didn't feel no different, except for being a little more tired than usual, but
I just figured I was gettin old. Either way, it didn't matter none to me. the
important parts all died on that sidewalk out front of the school. What twenty
years? Is that what I said?
When you think about it, it would make
more sense for them to just let me out and let the cancer do it's thing. If I
was outside, I wouldn't be able to afford no "treatments" or
operations, so I'd probably be dead within a few years, but here they just keep me alive so I can fulfil my debt to
society. Keepin me alive when I'm already dead. That makes me laugh and nothing
really makes me laugh...
Thursday was meatloaf day. The one
guard I talk to, Kenney, he came and told me I had a visitor. In all the years
I been here I ain't never had no visitor. --Wait, there was that one time, but
that was just Gladys come by to grind her high heels into me and tell me how
the only way I would get what I deserved was to get the gas chamber. Real
peach, she was. I just told her that apparently the jury and a certified judge
and all decided what I done wasn't so bad and that somewhere along the way they
figured the bum she played house with wasn't worth killin me for. She didn't
like that, but I sure did. It's the little things in life. Funny. I forgot all
about her visit back then. Time slips away don't it?
Not havin no visitors for so long and
all meant Kenney had to go over all the rules and regulations but I could tell
his heart wasn't really in it. He knew I wasn't gonna pull nothin funny. He
knew I didn't really want to see nobody anyway. I asked him if I was gonna miss
the meatloaf and he laughed at that and told me he'd save me a couple a plates.
I don't get around the prison much.
Never have, so the trip to the other side of the world was a long and strange one. It took me
a long time to get there and Kenney even asked if I wanted a wheelchair. I told
him to go jump off a cliff. He laughed. I was a comedian.
When we got there, I was put in a big
room with one big row of desks facing each other. There was a six foot high
sheet of some kind of clear plastic with wires inside it runnin down the
center. I was sittin there mindin my own business, when another guard brings in
this woman. She had long brown hair and was real pretty. I wondered if maybe
they were tryin to send me another case worker or lawyer or somethin again.
When I first came here they was always
sendin up some poor slob tryin to plead their case about pleadin mine, but I
always told the guards I didn't want to bother with em. This time Kenney told
me the warden had strict orders that I see this here visitor. Real strange
cause the warden usually minded his own business and so did I.
She sits across the plastic window and
that's when I notice her mother's lips. They have that rosy,
turned-up-on-the-corners look. Poor girl got my fat, flat nose, but on her it
She just sat there with her hands flat
on the table for a while and neither of us said nothin. Finally she lifted her
hand to the glass and placed her palm on it. I ain't shed a tear for nothin and
it took all the walls I put up since that day I saw her for the last time to
not break down and start balling like an infant. Here I had gone and thought
all my feelins were gone.
I didn't return the gesture. Instead I
said: "Whaddya want, Charlie?" It sounded meaner than I meant it too.
I really did want to know what this strange daughter from outer space wanted,
but I didn't want to hope for her to actually want to come see me. That would ruin my government
sanctioned and self-imposed sentence.
She shook off my harsh words and
painted a faint smile on her face as she said, "I see you kept the
Like an idiot, I looked up at the brim
above my brow and flinched a little in embarrassment. I felt a little crack
growing. I took it off and inspected it, turning it in my hands. "Yeah, it's a nice hat. Well made and
lasted forever..." I said as I laid it on the table between us. I hoped it
would add to the barrier between us. Didn't seem like the plastic wall was
"Forever." she said with a
chuckle. "Look, Uncle--I mean, Max. Mom told me. She told me you were my
I was surprised, but tried hard not to
show it. A strange burning rose up in my throat, but I pushed it back down,
"Took her long enough." Again, too mean, but I had to keep it going
"Max--Dad, she died five years
ago. She told me everything. Finally." She leaned forward a little and I
swear if she would've put that hand up again, I would've come crumbling down
like that wall in Jericho. She went on, "If only I would have known, I
"Would've what? Come down here
once a month to see the man who murdered a man with his bare hand right before
your baby eyes?" Damn, I was losing it. I had to keep it even and get out
of here, but I didn't want to. I wanted to stay and talk to her. I wanted to
find out what kind of woman she had become, if she was in love and happy, if I
had any grandchildren... I saw the gold ring on her finger and felt a wave of
hope. Hope for her, not for me.
"I've hired a lawyer and we've
been in contact with the parole board..." she said as she looked into my
I tried to keep the feelings off my
face, "So you're the one what keeps stirring it up. Save yer money,
Charlie. It's too late." I was burning from inside with shame and anger at
myself, but I was used to that. It was just the fresh wounds I was opening up
in her that were almost too much.
"Please, Max! It took a lot for
me to come here and talk to you about this." Charlie was tearing up. Damn.
It was so long ago, but even with all the pleading and gut wrenching
heartbreak, it would all come to nothing but more pain.
"Charlie, I know you think you're
doing what you have to do to make up for the lies your mother told you. I know
you think you're going to feel better trying to save the old man from crumbling
to dust here in this deathbox, but it's too late. I already did the damage
between us. I smashed it between my hands that day and now I'm still paying for
I saw that look again from her. It was
the faraway look, only this time it came from those angel eyes with a few more
wrinkles around them.
She was shaking her head, but I kept
on it, "There's nothing here for you. I'm not her for you. Go on and live
your life with that husband and be happy." We both looked down at her
wedding band. "Trust me, there's no happiness here anymore. Just that
crazy old man who...never mind. Just go."
"But Max, I know you were just
protecting me! I know--" she sputtered.
"Charlie, you don't know nothin.
I would do it again if I had to, but if I did, I would make sure you were a
million miles away when it happened. No kid should have to see that and that's
why I'm here and you're out there. You're out there so you don't have to see me
do that again every time you look at me."
She didn't say nothin for a while. She didn't
even look at me, which was good. It's how it had to be.
Still without looking up she mumbled,
"I never even had a father and when I finally find him, he's..."
"Yeah, he is." I said as I
motioned for Kenney to get rid of her. As he came over and rested his hand
lightly on her shoulder, I put my hat back on and rested the crown over my face
to cover the tears that had sprung out from the cracks in my wall. Soon it
would be more than even the dutch boy could stop, but before that happened I
just leaned back all lazy-looking in the steel chair and said from under the
brim, "I gotta go, Charlie. It's meatloaf day."
Kenney led her out first which was a
breach in the rules, but he knew I didn't want her to see me hobbling away on
my cancer-riddled bones.
The meatloaf was dry, but I liked it.
I had to like it: it was all I had.
|Renovated Reputations: A Collaborative Installation
of Paintings, Fiction, Music and Vintage Furniture
by Kenney Mencher, Patrick Nelson and others at:
The Art Museum of Los Gatos, California
4 Tait Ave Los Gatos, CA 95030
December 1 - January 6
Reception: Saturday December 3, 2011 5PM-8PM
Show up in costume and get into the photobooth!
You may end up being my next painting!
Phone: (408) 395-7386
The Art Museum of Los Gatos presents Renovated Reputations, an immersive
exhibition experience featuring works conceived as a collaboration in painting,
creative fiction, and design. At once noir, bohemian and pulp in style,
the works invite the viewer to step inside and sit awhile, discover their
stories and spark engagement.
More info at: