Maxwell Goes to the Matinee (excerpted from "Space Dust")
Maxwell Drakko ordered his coffee without making eye contact with the girl behind the counter. To her, the contours of his face, the tremble of his palm, even the coffee he ordered, were just unnecessary bits of memory, junk, the stuff dreams are made of. Maxwell often finds his way into people’s dreams. He makes a great “person you’ve never seen before,” you know, the kind that brings a sense of realism. Maxwell Drakko, one of the nameless figures from the flicker of the mind’s eye. You know him; he’s always cast as the pitiful victim or the man with the axe. He’s the one with the hair that swishes from the back of his neck to the front of his face; the one with the long thin frame that makes sharp angles skittering past.
Coffee in hand, Maxwell started cutting into the three blocks that stood in between him and the movie theater, skittering past yuppies and homemakers, his long slender frame forming sharp angles as he went. His hair swished from the back of his neck to the front of his face.
At the theater he once again avoided eye contact as he ordered a single ticket.
136 minutes later, Maxwell Drakko walked out of the theater and glared at everyone he saw—straight into their eyes. Just 136 minutes into the past, people took a wide berth of Mr. Drakko to avoid having to forget him and he avoided everyone’s eyes, dodging disappointment as Adie Murphy confounded bullets years ago. But all that was over now. Now people took their wide berth because he had no fear in him, because he had lost those anxieties, doubts that keep a man in check and they could see it, feel it.
The movie he saw was a little film called After the Monsters Subside. Maxwell didn’t make it until the third day, so the only other people in the theater were a pimply-faced couple that mashed their faces together during the first 40 minutes of the film, then shifted awkwardly in their respective chairs for 15 minutes or so, and then went back to their pimple-face mashup. The couple’s erratic behavior in the middle of the film had less to do with their hormones and their alien newness to the social conditions of sex, and more to do with the film itself. It starts out as your run-of-the-mill thriller: A Homeland Security agent discovers a terrorist plot to blow up the world and teams up with a crazed general stationed out of Afghanistan who wields a billion dollar sword that can cut through walls. Nothing special, really. Most of us see this movie three times a week at least. No, nothing too unusual until 40 minutes in, when our team of heroes fail and the world is blown up. Not scorched or damaged, but blown to space dust. This was something to stop making out for, at least for a while. The last 96 minutes of the movie were filled with nothing but the silence of space. Afterwards, when the pimply couple were asked if they felt cheated by the now infamous “non-movie,” they would reply that “The silent parts were good to make out to.” Maxwell despised them. That is, until he forgot they were there.
Forgetting the lustful brats was easy after the world went away, riveting him with nothingness. When he saw the world go to dust, all he could see was his troubles vanishing. The nothingness that made the teens squirm enveloped Maxwell till the teens began to squirm out of existence. Oh, Max had done his squirming during the first 40 minutes; the jock nonsense bored him immensely and the couple filled him with jealous disgust. But all that was forgiven soon enough.
He left the movie drunk with power. Maxwell the meek, he was now Maxwell the destroyer, Maxwell the only autonomous man in the universe. He had gone from a whipping boy trapped in a flawed world to a free man in an irrelevant world. Nothing in the great big universe stopped when the world was destroyed except the world. Even the world didn’t stop—it just changed from a silly rock with busy importance-making molecules to a cloud of dust dancing through space. The world’s triviality had set him free from the ultra-trivial thoughts, feeling, and judgments of people. None of it mattered. He held his head high and made his way home to his fourth-floor apartment.
When you live on the fourth floor, a good day is when the stairs just happen. You start. You’re at the top. Your mind has been elsewhere. This was a very good day for Maxwell.
His apartment had roof access through one of its windows. Max wriggled through the small window. The sun inflamed in its retreat to warm the Far East. To the right of him towards the best view on the roof was Maxwell’s neighbor Jake. Jake also had roof access from his apartment.
“Well well, look who it is. Don’t see much of you up here. I thought you said the heights freaked you out,” Jake said, dangling a foot over the ledge. Jake, a construction worker firmly in his mid-twenties, had a cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other. As he spoke, he ashed his cigarette into the alley below, nothing more than the private space of busboys.
“Beer?” He pointed to the twelve pack at his side.
“Thank you, I haven’t had one of these in a while,” Maxwell said, reaching for the beer.
“Oh yeah, they were on sale, not my brand either.”
“I meant a beer.”
“Oh, hah—well then it’s good you have one.”
“Can I bother you for one of those smokes?”
“Oh shit, big day for you, huh?”
“Yeah, big day.”
“Here.” Jake shifted to one cheek, dug the pack out of his jeans and extended it to Maxwell.
“Thanks.” Maxwell waited for the light. He sucked hard, like he was trying to taste the filter on the first breath.
“You got to mellow out on that. Take it slow like you’re trying to enjoy it. There’s no such thing as a free cigarette—they all end up costing you quite a bit. You should at least enjoy it. I pay for them twice a day at least with those stairs.” Jake had a particularly rough day at work; the aches in his muscles flooded his brain with endorphins.
“I told you I have a fear of heights, but really what I’ve had is a fear of will. Here at the edge I can’t believe—can’t accept—how voluntary it all is. There is ultimately nothing that sustains us but will. That’s it; that’s all the manna we receive in our solitary confinement.
“Romantic fools get swept away thinking about the fact that everything is. The ‘beauty’ that consciousness has engendered, instead of looking at the real heart of the matter. You see, the question isn’t how the cosmos created molecules that are too complex for their own good. The question that matters is, ‘Why do these molecules continually choose to be too complex for their own good?’ That’s a question that itches, that festers, a question that can’t be put away.
“I mean look at it, look at this city with all its shuffling and schedules. Look at all those sleepy little lives that choose to remain dimly on. Just look and think of all that happens in these buildings and ask yourself why a building’s anything but a precipice for relief. Why man has made anything other than guillotines and maggots. This is a phantom city, as are all cities.”
“I don’t know, man.” Jake sips his beer. “That’s a tough sell right now.” He pulls from his cigarette long and mellow (just as Maxwell had been instructed to do earlier). It is pleasant to drink a beer on a roof.
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