Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 15 • Fall 2005 • Fiction

Max and Me

Suzanne Nielsen

Jealousy can be a terrible sword dance. When it falls on you, it's easy to lose your smile and to use the sword to hurt, to defy, to retaliate. From the minute I met Max, I knew I had to shield him from others. The day he kissed me, I knew he felt the same. Our relationship was like alcohol and water; my jealousy served as a swizzle stick in constant motion to keep us blended.

Max and I met at the Shrine Circus back in '64. I was eight and he was eleven, but short for his age. I took him to be younger than me until he opened his mouth and I saw a full set of permanent teeth. Sometimes his teeth got in the way of his smile and his lips folded over and stuck on the sharp little corners of his eye teeth. He looked canine-like and growled like a dog about to sic a prowler. I noticed early on after we met that his teeth, oddly huge, had tiny holes in the surface, and they darkened his otherwise fluorescent glow, even from a distance.

I remember the day I asked Max about the scars on his teeth. I tried to phrase it sycophantically. "Max," I said, "your teeth will bring you to great destinies, future livelihoods that could expand your horizons. If only you didn't have the etched in holes on the upper set." Max grabbed me by the eyebrows, stood on this tiptoes and gave me an open mouth kiss right then and there, in the alley between his house and Ted's Bar. "Contagious," he said. "These little dots on my teeth are a contagious disease. Look out!" Then he growled and ran home. I on the other hand ran into Ted's Bar, in search of my Dad, flushed and flustered. I had never been kissed before nor infected with a contagious disease of any kind. I grabbed my dad's short glass of whiskey, threw it into my mouth and swigged it around, like I'd seen people do with mouthwash, hoping to kill off any remaining germs. Then I swallowed the bitter tasting liquid and passed out.

It was years later, having beers one night and trying desperately to impress two young women with thin hair and braces that I found out the true meaning of the holes in Max's teeth. One of the girls was a daughter of a dental hygienist; she smugly believed Max had a case of polka dot fever, hence the imperfection. She said that the dots were due to Max having had pneumonia as a baby, and it permanently damaged his adult teeth. Out of the blue this information blossomed, like a magician's bouquet appearing from inside the sleeve of sweat-stained tuxedo jacket. I looked closely at Max's incisors, canines, bicuspids, the obviously needed crowns, and felt a strong sense of relief that Max was still with me. I could have lost him to pneumonia before I'd even met him. Because I was so swirly from the beers and impelled to jealousy, I discounted the young woman's remark and called her a mutt. How dare she upstage me! She up and left our tense table of four when I told her I noticed little dots in between the braces of her own crowns. Max and I were left alone at the table with the stubborn girl's geeky friend. I noticed him studying a long scar down the left side of her face, starting right below the eye and ending just above the upper lip. As the night went on, the scar became more of a blur and Max decided to make her into his little darling, if only for the night.

I followed them out back, behind Ted's, and watched the two of them make out. When Max stopped, she said she wanted more. I felt knee-deep in repulsion. I rested my head against the cold cement building of Ted's while Max swayed down the alley with his arm around the girl. The sight of Max's arm around the girl's cinched waist made me vomit. "Go back inside, you faggot," he said over his shoulder. I wondered if she could feel the little circles of indents with her tongue as they kissed like I could, or wasn't she in love? "Quit following me, fuckin' queer," he added. Then I heard the two of them laugh. I held on to my stomach, following their shadows. I thought of magicians and swordthrowers. I thought of throwing knives at her, at Max. I thought of performing hara-kiri and Harlequin novels in the windows of Woolworth's. I thought of harlots and hardworking brick layers, of harems, hard-ons and witchcraft. Then I thought about alcohol and water and ran after my Max.

I read the obits this morning. Max was listed with no information. "Details to be announced," is all it said. Reels of my past filtered through my watering pupils. I think of the time I ran after Max all those years ago. I think of the times that I held Max's hand as he threw up the poisoning amounts of alcohol from previous nights. I think of our last trip together to Santorini and the sweater he bought me from the woman on the corner, still knitting the left arm. He never did see me as being whole. "All my limbs are intact," I say now to his obit. "Can you hear me, Max? All my limbs are intact. The swordthrowers have not cut off my heart supply, for my heart still beats, you silly fool." The pain of my first kiss still haunts me to this day, even as I lay here with Jarod, my most recent one-night stand. I don't blame Max for my pain, although at 42, you would think I could throw that Santorini sweater away. If not, you would think I could throw a sword and cut Max's toothful smile out of my life. Instead, I cut out the obit and tape it to my mirror.

Suzanne Nielsen, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, teaches writing at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have been published in various literary journals nationally and internationally. Most recently her work has appeared in The Comstock Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, The Pedestal, and 580 Split. Upcoming work is expected to appear in Banyan Review, R-KV-R-Y, and Gin Bender Poetry Review. So'ham Books is expected to publish her collection of poetry East of the River in October 2005. Nielsen received a BA in writing from Metropolitan State University, and a MALS degree with an emphasis in writing from Hamline University where she is completing her doctorate work in education.

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