Linking up to Kendra’s Character Encounters for the month of July!
It’s kinda funny, writing about watching the fireworks, since this was actually the first year we didn’t go see them! We were in Nevada City, CA, eating hot dogs and playing Apples-to-Apples with the Grandparents and Uncle Dave all evening! But since you can do anything in fiction….
* * *
Our down-the-street neighbors’ annual Independence Day potluck promised to be less crowded than in previous years. Usually there were a dozen or more kids between the ages of three and seventeen running around, making more noise than a pack of wild Indians. But this year, it appeared that we and a few other families (with nice quiet and well-trained children) were the only ones who weren’t out of town.
While setting the Big Yellow Bowl—which I’d filled to the brim with the tastiest pasta salad EVAR—carefully on the table with the other eatables, I saw a young boy of maybe eleven or twelve with the brightest red hair I’d ever seen, sitting Indian-style on the grass and taking ferocious bites out of a slice of watermelon half his size. The tips of his brown snow boots stuck out from under his denim-clad knees, and he wore an oversized sweater of carroty orange with a brown leather belt at his waist….all of which seemed rather hot for July weather. At first I was of the mind to walk quickly past him—after admiring his gorgeous hair—not being especially fond of or comfortable around children. However, the boy must have seen or heard me coming, because he suddenly looked up and smiled at me. I smiled timidly back, still a little awkward…and yet, there was something oddly familiar about him, especially his eyes. One was as blue as the Summer sky, while the other took its color from the green fields in Springtime.
“Hi there,” he greeted me cheerfully. “I wasn’t sure when you’d be here, so I helped myself to some food. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Uh—no—no, I don’t mind,” I replied stupidly, still trying to figure out where I’d seen this curiously un-freckled carrot-top before. Then what he’d said registered in my brain. “Wait—were you expecting me?”
The boy stood and threw away his melon rind before turning to face me again. “Yup, sure was. You are”—here he pronounced my full Real World name—“aren’t you?”
“That’s me,” I answered, astounded.
“Pleased to meet you, Author,” he beamed, extending a green-mittened hand. “I’d say it in Araratian, ma’am, but you wouldn’t be able to understand me,” he added, an impish twinkle in his eye.
I blinked. According to my Grandma, I’d said something similar to her regarding one of the first books I’d ever written. They were set in a fictitious village at the foot of Mount Ararat in Turkey (never mind that most of the characters were decidedly American in appearance). Suddenly I knew why this boy in the funny clothes seemed so familiar. “Max?!” I gasped.
“Oh, good! You do remember me,” he crowed. “I wasn’t sure, ’cause it’s been so long since you wrote my books.”
“Almost twenty years,” I mused, more to myself that to Max. Remembering my manners, I addressed him again as a thought occurred to me: “Did Ciaran send you?”
Max nodded. “Uh-huh. That girl Pádma wanted to come, but Mister McSpadden said there’d be enough fireworks without a Banshee with a bullwhip showing up. What did he mean by that? Isn’t a Banshee some kind of bad Fairy in Ireland? She looked more like a Nomad or somebody from the Arabian Nights to me.”
I laughed. “Ciaran just meant she’s loud and has a bad temper,” I explained. “He was wise to send you instead. Was there anything specific you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Well, I don’t have a lot of time here,” said Max, “so I s’pose I’ll just hafta keep it short.”
“I’m listening,” I replied, “but let’s go sit in those chairs over there. We’ll be more comfortable while we talk.”
Max followed me to a ring of sundry lawn chairs, arranged around the now-dormant fire pit in our neighbors’ yard. I turned my chair to face the one in which Max had plumped himself, bouncing a little in its soft cushions.
“This is cool,” he remarked, motioning to the fire-pit. “It’s like a barbecue, only you don’t hafta drag it under cover in the Winter. I wonder what made them think of having a fire in their backyard.”
“Guess they just felt like it,” I put in, a little annoyed at his wandering from the subject. But then I reminded myself that one can’t expect a twelve-year-old boy to act like a grown-up. So I swallowed the stern remark I had intended to deliver and instead asked gently, “You wanted to ask me something?”
Max looked a little sheepish. “Oh yeah. Sorry, guess I forgot. It’s just that this is my first time in the Real World, y’know, and it’s so interesting.” He lifted one corner of his mouth. “Boy, I wish Maxine and the girls could be here, too. Especially for the fireworks. But Mister McSpadden said only one of us could go at a time, so they had to stay behind.”
“Max,” I sighed.
“Oh golly! I keep forgetting. Well, all I really wanted to ask you is if you’re really gonna—um—rewrite? No, that’s not the word—”
“Revise?” I offered.
“Yeah, revise. Are you gonna revise my books, or will you just keep them the way they are? And are you going to try and publish them all?”
All the Max Books? Well, that wouldn’t be possible, I thought a little cynically. A pang went through me at the thought of my very first book, A Friend for Max… which seemed to have disappeared into thin air a long time ago. Not exactly stellar, mind you, even considering I was all of eight years old when I wrote it. And obviously I’d watched too many cartoons prior to discovering my God-given literary talents, since one of the villains had an anvil dropped on his head at the end of the book. Perhaps it was just as well the thing was lost….
The two that followed A Friend for Max in the two years afterward were a little better (i.e. no anvils), but probably a long way from being publishable. I’d tried to revise the Max Books a few years ago, but it eventually fell flat. Meeting Max in person, however, made me wonder if I shouldn’t try again.
“I don’t know, Max,” I admitted. “I’d like to, especially if God made a way for them to be published. I think you’d be a good hero for young boys these days. But if I do,” I continued, “I think it’d be better to have you and your friends and family live in the States, wot?”
Max laughed. “Yeah, we don’t look very Turkish, do we? ’Specially my family—who ever heard of Turks with red hair?”
“And I’ll definitely design a better wardrobe for you,” I went on. “How would you like a stocking cap instead of that rabbit-eared thing I originally drew?”
“Ooh, yeah!” Max beamed. “Or one of those cool earflap caps with the tassels and stuff.”
“Well, I could very easily make you a North Idahoan; then earflap caps would be easily available to you. They’re very popular up here.”
Max’s eyes widened. “You mean—live here—where you do?”
I shrugged. “Why not? There are lots of mountains here, and plenty of snow for you-all to clomp around in, in your boots.”
“What about Joney?” Max asked. “She’s supposed to be from England—why would they move all the way to Idaho from England? Wouldn’t they just settle in New York or somewhere?”
I pondered this for a moment. “Why don’t we say Joney’s father was an American?” I suggested. “A North Idaho farmboy who grew up to be a hotshot lawyer—”
“—who traveled a lot,” Max interjected, bouncing in his seat with excitement, “and met Joney’s mom and married her, and they lived in England until he died.” He frowned. “But why would they move to her dad’s hometown? Usually people want to get away from all the memories of their loved ones who’ve died.”
“Maybe it’s Joney’s mother who was the American lawyer.”
“Or maybe her dad was an English lawyer who married an Idaho farmgirl during his travels in the States.”
“Say, am I writing this story, or are you?” I teased.
I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye, and turning my head to see more clearly, I discovered it was Mom coming towards me. I smiled. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hi, Sweetie,” she returned. “Are you hungry? We’re getting ready to say grace, I think.”
I looked over to where Max was sitting. His chair was empty. “Y-yeah,” I murmured. “I could eat.”
I tried to hide the sense of loss Max’s absence gave me and pasted on a smile.
“Yeah—I’m fine. In fact, some new inspiration just hit. But let’s get some grub before the kids eat it all, wot?”
Until next time, Gentle Readers,