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The Fall and Rise of Max Maynard

 

The Day Max Fell (continued)

I have had one paranormal moment in my life. This was it. I managed to drag the conversation away from his daughter and back to our shared love of literature. I confessed to Max that I too wanted to write. Max assured me that I would, adding that the two of us were, in some way, deeply connected. What we were was deeply drunk.

"You are me," Max said and his eyes were liquid and his lip hung down. "We are one."

It was a weird thing to say, which is probably why I remember it so vividly. I had an awful feeling when Max left the kitchen and wobbled toward the stairway that led up to the bathroom. I offered to steady him, but he would not have it. The statue was turning back to clay, and just as he reached the landing halfway up, I heard what I had fully expected to hear. I knew he would fall. There was a stumble, a small sound somewhere between a curse and a yelp. There was the sickening sound of a man striking the floor, then a soft moan.

The details are largely gone from here as happens when a person slips into shock. When I think of Max at the bottom of the stairs I see Bobby Kennedy in a dark pool of blood. I see a stunned red statue staring at me, then at the ceiling, his eyelids fluttering. I had then no idea a man contains so much blood and that it was so warm. I remember lifting Max’s head. I remember swearing at him.

"If you die, you bastard," I screamed. "I’ll kill you!"

This line seemed to amuse Max, who opened his eyes a little and smiled weakly. He mumbled something, perhaps some poetic last words, but I missed them. Then his head lolled.

I ran out into the front yard yelling for help. Running back indoors, I picked up the telephone and when the operator asked where I was I cried – "I don’t know! Some town in England!"

I fumbled in my pockets, now sticky with blood, searching for a slip of paper with the address. The operator told me to stay calm and leave the phone off the hook and they would find me. They did.

Max gripped my hand in the ambulance all the way to the hospital. That was, the medic said, a good sign. He refused to let me loose as the doctor stitched the gash in his white-haired skull. He held on until someone pried us apart. Someone else, the police I think, returned me to what looked like a murder scene. My clothes were covered in blood.

I had known without question that Max was going to fall. Now he was going to die. A truth beyond explanation had zapped between us. I was him for that millisecond. He was me. That left one too many of us. At least that is what I thought Max was thinking as he hurled himself down the landing in a desperate farewell act. If I had not appeared in England that day, I told myself, he would never have fallen.

Or maybe, had I not appeared that day, Max might have fallen alone. Perhaps I was his savior, or perhaps, irrelevant. These thoughts swirled around my brain as I washed an acre of blood from the hallway floor. They are swirling there still, set off this time by Mr. Salinger’s recent demise. It’s six degrees of separation, I guess – two stories intertwined by a woman I never quite met.

Three days later, his head still bandaged like a wounded warrior, Max Maynard stole someone's bicycle and rode from the hospital to the rented house where I was tending to the chickens and living off garden vegetables. He made himself a drink and settled back to painting. We never spoke about the accident. I came home.

For decades Joyce Maynard never wrote about her affair with Salinger and I never wrote about my visit with her father. Now both stories are out, two tales of fallen heroes. You can guess which one made it into the New York Times. Poor Max, poor me.

I never knew him as a bad parent, only as a great English teacher who longed to paint. Max died years later in a home for the elderly in Victoria, Canada. Before then, he rose once more. He returned at the end to western California where he had first learned to paint with Emily Carr, to love beauty and to drink without reservation.

Max Maynard painted again among his favorite landscapes. He finally exhibited in galleries and saw some recognition in his native land. He tried to get sober. Stiffened by arthritis, he must have looked more and more like a stern white statue. But inside that frozen shape, I can attest, even as he fell, his heart soared.

 

 

 

Copyright ©1978 - present by J.Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved. Robinson is editor and owner of SeacoastNH.com, the history web site. He is the author of numerous history books for adults and children including Striking Back: The Fight to End Child Labor Exploitation

 

 

 

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