Sunday, 20 November 2011

Boss of this house and of all the world, known and unknown.

This short story by Dave Eggers, featuring none other than the beloved Max from Where The Wild Things Are, recently got me thinking about the idea of home and comfort. 

Max At Sea
Dave Eggers

Max knew that a bunk bed was the perfect structure to use when building an indoor fort. First of all, bunk beds have a roof, and a roof is essential if you’re going to have an observation tower. And you need an observation tower if you’re going to spot invading armies before they breach your walls and overtake your kingdom. Anyone without a bunk bed would have a much harder time maintaining a security perimeter, and if you can’t do that you don’t stand a chance.

Max had just done a quick survey of the area surrounding his bunk kingdom and was now down on the lower bunk, where he could be unseen and unknown. For a while, he thought about what his science teacher had been talking about earlier that day—that someday the sun would die. Mr. Malhotra had sensed that the mood in the class was darkening, that he’d scared his third graders, and had tried to brighten things: “What am I talking about? I’m being such a downer. Don’t worry about the sun dying! You and everyone you know will be long gone by then!”

It was a very strange time in Max’s life. The day before, his sister had tried, by proxy, to kill him. Her tobacco-chewing friends had chased him into his snow fort, and at the moment when he felt safest, in the cool white hollow, they had jumped on the roof, burying him. His sister had done nothing to help, and then had driven off with them, and to punish her, because she was no longer his sister, he’d doused her room with water. Buckets and buckets he’d emptied everywhere, in a furious, joyous process. It had been great, and felt so right, until his mother came home and found what he’d done. She was mad, Claire was mad, and so, tonight, the only person in the house who seemed to like him was his mom’s chinless boyfriend, Gary, and even thinking that sent a shudder through him.

Max, tired of thinking in his brain, decided to think on paper, and so retrieved his journal from under the bed. His father had given him the journal shortly after he left—how long ago now? Three years?—and had, in white-out, written the words “WANT JOURNAL” on the cover. In this book his father had written as inscription and directive, “Write what you want. Every day, or as often as you can, write what you want. That way, whenever you’re confused or rudderless, you can look to this book, and be reminded where you want to go and what you’re looking for.” His father had printed, by hand, three beginnings on every page.

Max found a pen and began:

I WANT Gary to fall into some kind of bottomless hole. I WANT Claire to get her foot caught in a bear trap. I WANT Claire’s friends to die by flesh-eating tapeworms.

    Then he stopped. His father had explained that the journal was for positive wants, not negative wants. When you wanted something negative, it didn’t count, he said. A want should improve your life while improving the world, even if just a little bit.

    So Max began again:

    I WANT to get out of here. I WANT to go to the moon or some other planet. I WANT to find some unicorn DNA and then grow a bunch of them and teach them to impale Claire’s friends with their horns. 

    Oh, well. He could erase it later. Just writing it felt good. But now he was sick of writing. He wanted to do something. But what did he want to do? This was the central question of this day and most days.

    Max caught sight of his wolf suit hanging on the back of the closet door. He hadn’t worn it in weeks. He’d gotten it for Christmas three years before, the last one with both his parents, and he’d immediately put it on, and kept it on for the rest of school break. It had been too big then, but his mom had pinned it and taped it to make it work until he grew into it.

    Now he and it were the perfect size, and he wore it when he knew he was alone in the house and could wrestle the dog or jump and growl without anyone watching. Although the house was now full—his mother in the kitchen making dinner, Claire in the TV room pretending to do her homework, Gary on the couch in the living room—as Max stared at the wolf suit it seemed to be calling to him. It’s time, it was saying to Max. He wasn’t sure this was actually the right time to put it on, but then again he usually felt better wearing it. He felt faster, sleeker, more powerful.

    On the other hand, he could stay in bed. He could stay in the fort, the red blanket casting a red light on everything inside. He could miss dinner and stay there all night. All weekend. He had some thinking to do, about this news about the sun expiring and the resulting void inhaling the earth, and he wanted to steer clear of Claire, who might yet want retribution, and he was angry at his mom, who seemed to forget for hours at a time that he existed. And any time he spent in his room was time he didn’t have to spend with Gary.

    So he had a choice. Would he stay behind the curtain and think about things, marinate in his own confusion, or would he put on his white fur suit and howl and scratch and make it known who was boss of this house and of all the world known and unknown?

    To read the rest of the short story head to: 


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