Max’s Folly Page 107
~Minor Incident Blown out of Proportion~
Note: Max has been jolted back from his time-travelling (in 1983 in this case) to “now” , where he finds himself escaping from an assisted living home.
Max wanted to put distance between himself and the Beacon Arms as fast as his gout would let him, but he couldn’t resist looking back for just a second. The street was placid. There was no sign of a search party or vicious tracking dogs angered by having one of Max’s used socks rubbed in their noses. But it was early. Or was it? There was no way of knowing how long the time-jump had lasted in so called “real” time.
Ahead, at the top of a gentle hill, was a large grocery store. A great place to get lost in a crowd. Max focused on the huge Canadian flag above the building and pressed on. By the time he made it inside, he wasn’t sure why he was there. Whatever: it beat sitting in his dungeon.
There was a “Hot Snacks” area in front of him and to the right, hallelujah, a government liquor store. It was under the same roof as the groceries, but enjoyed its own entrance. Time for a beer, he thought. There never seemed to be any where he lived. Max plunged a hand into his right pocket, feeling the tight balls of paper within. One stood out for its size and texture. He retrieved it and found it to be a twenty-dollar bill.
“Did you find everything you needed today, sir?” the clerk asked as he slid a giant can of Foster’s over the scanner.
“Yes, I’m very pleased,” Max said as he handed over the bill. “This is quite the innovation, isn’t it, having a government liquor store and food under the same roof?”
“I guess so.”
“And yet, it seems calm. There are no rapes taking place in the aisles? No looters? There are no fires burning downtown?”
Max warmed to his topic. He had written many sardonic editorials about government liquor stores.
“So, you’re telling me that it’s possible to sell food and booze in the same building and yet maintain order.”
“That’s $4.39,” said the clerk, evidently a practising somnambulist.
“And suppose you were able to pay for food and booze both at the same cash-out. Would that mark the beginning of the Apocalypse?”
“I don’t think so. But the union wouldn’t like it.”
“Ah, the Collective. Of course. What was I thinking?”
The clerk peered at the twenty as he prepared to make change.
“Hey! Is this legal? It’s got writing on it.”
Across the middle, written in ink, were the words “Max is free! Har-har!”
“First time I’ve seen it,” said Max.
Next stop: the feedlot. Max bought a hot dog fresh from a greasy roller-grid, and a large bag of potato chips. He claimed a table and prepared for his first meal as a free man. Prioritizing, he cracked open the Foster’s, which welcomed him with an enthusiastic gasp of recognition. Max had barely savoured the first sip when there appeared a security guard packing a Magnum Force walkie-talkie.
“Sir,” he said. “You can’t drink that here.”
“That,” said the guard, pointing to the beer.
“You’re referring to my can of Foster’s?”
“Yes, sir. You can’t drink that here.”
“It’s not allowed.”
“Ah. I can tell you’ve explored the issue in depth. Can I eat my hot dog and chips?”
“But not my beer.”
The guard’s jaw tensed. “That’s right, you crazy old bastard. Everyone knows that. It’s just the way it is.”
The guard nervously clicked the transmit button on his radio, which responded with a belching noise, which in turn prompted him to put the mike to his mouth and say “Clear”. Max could tell the guy loved saying “clear” into his walkie-talkie. They stared at each other silently, sizing up the enemy. The guard grimaced, as if he’d stepped on something soft and foul, but he pressed on.
“I’m saying you can’t do it under this roof. I’m saying they don’t pay me enough to listen to your fucking sarcasm,” said the guard, who then seized the Foster’s, walked across the feedlot and poured it into the garbage from a great height, all the while staring at Max.
“Get it?” he asked.
Max wondered whether the guard had simply given up hope of salvaging the situation or was trying to intimidate him. In any case, he was surprised by the power of the epithet “crazy old bastard”. Although often angry, Max rarely experienced it. But even as he felt the details of the incident slipping away, he kept the anger tightly in his grasp, like a lifeline.
“Got it,” said Max, who understood that he was in the guard’s territory, not the reverse. Max turned his attention to his hot dog. It was salty, greasy and warm. The bun fell apart in his mouth of its own accord. No chewing required, which could not be said of the hot dog. Perfect. It occurred to Max that it might be nice if his potato chips were warm, too. He recognized a microwave sitting on a shelf in the corral. What could go wrong?
Max sauntered over to the microwave, glossy chip bag in hand. He studied the control pad with various settings written on it. Helpfully, one of them said “Potatoes.” Max tossed in the bag and hit the button. Initially, the process seemed to be going well, despite the popping sound the chip bag made as it exploded.
In for a penny, in for a pound, Max thought, and did nothing. Very quickly, the air inside the microwave turned black. He pressed the open button on the machine and the door swung all the way out. Being a former science student, Max realized, belatedly, that fresh oxygen was now rushing in to fill the vacuum created by the burning potato chips. After pausing for dramatic effect, the microwave erupted into a single deep yellow flame resembling a broad maple leaf in autumn. It gave birth to a column of tarry smoke that extended all the way to the ceiling. Not to be outdone by the smoke, the flame raced up the black column, achieving the impressive height of a dozen feet before the guard rushed in and killed the whole thing with a blast from a fire extinguisher. This was just marginally less impressive than the fire itself.
A shopper beheld the scene and screamed. Her husband pointed at the blackened microwave and yelled “Fire!” Thus alerted to the danger, the curious gathered around for a closer look.
“You piece of shit,” said the guard. “I should have kicked your ass out when I had the chance.” He jabbed his index finger at the ceiling: “I swear, if those sprinklers go off, I’ll charge you with arson.”
Max thought the security guard looked familiar and not especially likeable.
“There’s no danger of a building fire,” he said quietly. “You dickhead.”
Max could hear sirens outside the store, growing in volume. He knew the sirens belonged to fire trucks, not police cars or ambulances, although the cops could not be far behind: someone had called 911.
Max left the building just in time to see a ladder truck screaming up the street toward the store. It had to brake hard at the entrance of the parking lot to allow a burgundy 1975 Lincoln Town Car to enter first. The vehicle, roughly the size of a compact British aircraft carrier, moved with majesty and serenity. It skirted a clump of confused drivers near the entrance, turned left and came to a stop in an area marked “fire lane”. The front licence plate said “Antique”.
Max gratefully seized the latch and pulled the massive passenger door open. Inside, seated comfortably in the velour driver’s seat, was the Copy Editor.
“Jesus,” said Max, “I thought I recognized your car. Don’t ask questions. Let’s just get the fuck out of here before they arrest me.”
“You bet, Max,” said the driver as he turned the wheel. The Town Car sprinted ahead just in time to make room for the much slower fire truck.
They slowed at the parking lot entrance and Max looked at the table-sized side mirror to see what was going on behind them. The guard was waving his hands at the firefighters, but it wasn’t clear whether he was telling them to hurry up or slow down. It didn’t matter, because people just entering the building were realizing that something was wrong and turning around to leave, crashing into firefighters bearing extinguishers.
“Not good,” said Max.
“Which way?” the driver asked.
Max looked left and saw a patrol car cresting a hill. If they went right they’d look like they were fleeing the scene. In contrast, no bad guys ever drive toward the cops.
“Turn toward the cops, but not too fast.”
Rocking gently on its springs, the metal behemoth eased confidently into the intersection and started up the hill as the cop car screamed by them going the opposite way.
“Good job,” said Max as they came to the crest. “How did you spot me?”
“You’re six-three with bright white hair,” he said. “I was on my way to visit you when I saw all the ruckus at the store. You were right in the middle of it, standing out like a lighthouse.”
He looked at the Copy Editor, who normally at this juncture would be reloading his pipe from a pouch in his left jacket pocket, and then fishing a wooden match from the same pocket and igniting it with his thumbnail. The guy looked and acted like the Copy Editor and the car was the same, but Max was sure he had died long ago.
A time jump would explain the contradiction, and the presence of the Copy Editor would mean the Wife should be around somewhere. He felt his chest flutter at that prospect, but the situation didn’t feel like a jump. For one thing, the rest of the cars on the road looked like go-carts compared to the stately Town Car.
“So,” Max asked. “You seen the Wife around?”
“No, Max, I’m afraid she’s not around.”
“You still working at the Sunday Tabloid?”
“I didn’t have the honour of working there,” he said.
The driver twisted toward Max and suddenly he wasn’t the Copy Editor. His pipe was gone. His hair, which had always been slicked back on all sides, as if permanently styled by a fierce wind, was instead dark and unruly. He was a small man, maybe in his late fifties. He wore a blue blazer with elbow patches that clearly were not original equipment, and eyeglasses with thick dark frames.
Max realized the enormity of his mistake and flushed with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry,” he said to the driver. “I thought you were someone else, and now you’re aiding the escape of a grocery store arsonist.”
“You set the place on fire?”
“Well, I have a vague memory of something like that. In any case, they’re rude bastards and deserved it; for another, they might have put it out. I can’t remember.”
“It didn’t look too bad to me,” said the driver. “I’m sure it’ll work out.”
They went downtown and drove around until their pulses returned to normal.
“I’m very sorry to have put you through this,” Max said. “I’m a time traveller and sometimes the transitions in time can be confusing. You’ve been very kind.”
“I hope that doesn’t mean you’re leaving,” the driver said. “We are friends in this time period.”
Max asked what year they were in and was told 2015.
“That doesn’t mean much to me, but I think it’s home base,” Max said. “When I’m jumping, I have very little control. Here, it’s somewhat different, and you do look familiar. I’m awfully sorry, but I just can’t seem to remember names. Relationships, but not names. It’s a side effect, I think.”
“I understand completely.”
The giant balloon that seemed ever-present in Max’s chest these days began to deflate. Being safe and in the company of someone who understood time-jumping allowed him to relax.
“You understand? That’s a first. Help me remember who you are.”
“Here’s a clue: I was your first public relations client.”
“The Guru!” Max said. “I remember you. But your name is still a mystery.”
“That’s okay. The Guru works just fine because – thanks to you – I am a guru.”
“Well, fuck me gently!”
The Guru laughed. Max asked why he was driving a 40-year-old car.
“Antique cars are my hobby,” the Guru replied. “Gurus are allowed to have hobbies. It’s right in the handbook. You told me that yourself.”
Max recognized that as something he might say: “But there isn’t really a handbook, is there? It was my way of telling you not to worry about rules that don’t exist.”
“Exactly,” said the Guru.
“Good for me. Is it a coincidence that this is just like the Copy Editor’s car?”
“Nope. You told me about him and his car. That’s why I own one like it.”
The Guru went silent while he navigated a turn designed for a horse and buggy.
“What’s it like, time-jumping?” he asked.
“It’s never exactly the same. But in general, it’s like driving through fog. Ever driven across the bridge when there’s a fog bank sitting exactly halfway across?” Max asked, although scarcely a soul in the city hadn’t had the experience. “At first the fog looks like a solid wall. Then, once you’re a little inside, you can still see and you wonder if there was ever any fog at all. Then it thickens. But then, by the time you get to the end of the bridge, it’s as if the fog bank had never existed.”
The Guru drove on, apparently content with silence for a while.
“The thing is,” Max said, “it’s getting harder to tell what’s ‘now’ and what’s time travel. Even clear spots like this eventually become foggy.” Max paused. “But just to confirm, the Wife has died, right? She’s not just away?”
“Yes, Max. She has. I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. I could feel that. I’ll find her.”