Max- a short story
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
Curled up like a cocoon, Max pulled the old blanket hard around his neck trying to keep out the bitter cold. His box rattled as gusts of wind swept through the alley and found their way into all the cracks and openings. Max’s face was almost completely numb but he was in a deep sleep, reliving dark thoughts.
His body shook from cold and twitched; his mind awash with his mother’s words, her drunken slurs and callous demeaning. Max’s eyes were shut but his lids fluttered frantically like a butterfly trying to escape.
‘You pathetic little shit! Just leave me alone!’ she snapped, her head falling to the side. She was sprawled out in a lounge chair, the needle still in her arm, the rubber tubing draped over it. Her forearm was a mass of bluish raised punctures, filthy and diseased. Max didn’t know whether she was alive of dead and didn’t care. He ran to his room and slammed the door shut, leaping onto the bed and covering his ears as if to block out the world, erase what was happening.
With a jolt, Max opened his eyes. It was still dark and he sighed, hoping it was morning with the possibility of a warm sun. He rubbed his face briskly, trying to restore some feeling, and then pulled the blanket over his head, breathing quickly to fill the space with warmth.
He was only thirteen, thin and pale-skinned. He hadn’t washed in weeks; it was just too cold, but thankfully he had eaten enough to keep going. There was a Chinese restaurant that backed onto the alley and every night their trash was filled with left over food, and scraps. As long as he ate from the days refuse it was fine, but anything older would make him puke for hours, as he found out. When the sun touched the alley that metal bin became an oven, and it stunk like nothing he’d ever smelt. All in all, the alley was secluded and relatively safe; not like the park or under the overpass. There, people got drunk and fought incessantly, stealing from one another and worse. It was dangerous.
He drew his legs up a little further trying to produce a little extra warmth and closed his eyes again, praying for sleep without dreams. Exhausted, it didn’t take long, but memories were hard to abate.
He was about five, sitting on his bed playing with a small band of plastic soldiers. In the background his father was bellowing, the sounds of his voice like a tornado. Max tried not to listen, to pretend it wasn’t happening, but as the screaming match rose to a crescendo he close his eyes tightly and covered his ears. The turmoil within him was like a knife in his stomach. It hurt like nothing else.
There was silence, and Max opened his eyes and saw through the window his father’s car reversing out the drive, its tyres screeching. The car turned and sped down the road; a cloud of white smoke trailing. That was the last time Max ever saw his Dad.
After half the night of reliving the darkness in his life, Max finally slept, deeply and with a welcomed oblivion; he was lost, yet found.
About 10am, the first shards of light entered the alley and the warmth of the sun touched the old packing box in which Max slept. The warmth was welcomed and Max stirred, feeling its comfort imbue his tiny frame. He rolled onto his back and eased the blanket from over his head. With eyes squinted, trying to deal with morning light, Max sat up and yawned.
Between the flaps of the box, he noticed there was someone standing outside. He flinched and drew back. The upper flap slowly opened and a woman peered into the box.
‘Good morning young man,’ she said.
Max looked into her eyes but said nothing. She wore some kind of uniform, like a soldier or something.
‘Are you hungry?’ she asked, with a kind voice.
Max felt a little bit more at ease and nodded. The woman extended her hand into the box. It was very clean and her nails were perfectly cut and pink. Hesitantly Max extended his hand, fragile and filthy as it was, his nails black with dirt.
When her hand took his, it was the warmest hand he’d ever felt. That hand alone could have kept him warm all night. He slowly climbed from the box and stood up, looking at her kind brown eyes. She continued to hold his hand, and Max could feel she wasn’t going to let go. And for the first time, he didn’t want to let go.