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My Friend Max

Presents the short story 'My Friend Max: Half-Inch Alien Heals
Troubled Family.'

Lenore says I don't know how Mama died, but I do. It was cancer. know plentyLenore don't. Like how she's gonna get in big trouble drinking and kissing those boys. And that Mama's in heaven. And how Max saved our family.

After the funeral, home wasn't much of a place to be. Papa quit working. He just drank beer and slept and watched TV.. Didn't hardly say a word. He could get real cross when he drank, but he didn't whup us much long as we steered clear. And Lenore, she went party crazy. Treated me like measles.

No more of the "Lenore Fashion Show" or whispering about some cute boy. And, of course, my Mama was gone. So I hung out a lot in the woods. But that was good `cause that's where I found Max's spaceship. It happened after this freaky lightning storm around the end of summer. I put on my Bulls hat and backpack and went out exploring. The air was cool and leaves and branches were down all over. After a spell I got hungry and went to the big flat rock I liked and had my PB and J sandwich and some water. Then, while I was putting away my stuff, I saw this shiny thing, like a silver plate or something, under some leaves.

So I hopped down and brushed this silver thing clean. It looked kinda like a Frisbee only solid metal with no scratches or writing--real pretty and smooth. And it had a little glass ball on top, like a diamond.

So I went to pick it up, but, no lie, that shiny thingamajig was about heavy as a boulder! I made like the Hulk but all I could do was lift it a bit, and then crash! How such a bitty thing could be so heavy I had no clue. I sat back on my rock and didn't know what to do. Then Einstein (that's me) got an idea: Get my old wagon and haul it out.

Sure enough, that's what I did. I fetched my red wagon and heaved that pretty thing up and in. Then I pulled and pulled like those slaves building pyramids and hauled that thing all the way to the garage,

I couldn't make heads or tails of it. No buttons or keyholes or switches or nothing. Since Papa's workbench was right there I got a hammer and banged the hee-bie-jeebies out of the thing but I couldn't dent or scratch it even a bit. So I threw a rag over whatever-the-heck-it-was and went for a snack. Papa was asleep on the couch with the tube on. Lenore wasn't home, of course.

So there I was looking for cookies or something when, I swear to God, the kitchen radio went on all by itself! This voice said, "Hello, young Mend," and I got a creepy-crawly feeling. Then it said, "Thank you for pulling me out of the woods." Honest! So I jumped up and tried to turn the radio off but it was off. Then I unplugged the thing and figured, well, that's that. But it talked anyway and said, real friendly like, "Your radio is fine, little friend. I am talking to you from my ship. You pulled it out of the woods in your wagon."

Now I was sure scared and said real quiet, "Papa? Papa, wake up." But he just kept snoring. Then real nice the radio said, "We need your help, little one." It was spooky but kinda interesting. "You talking to me," I asked, "like on a telephone?" "Yes, little one. I am talking to you." "How about you don't call me `little one'?" I said. "I'm 9 years old you know. Call me Truman."

"Of course, Truman. You may call me Max."

Now I was still trying to make sense of this so I said, "Where are you?" "In my ship, in your garage."

Then I said, "I don't like being teased so cut it out!" But the voice, Max I mean, said, "Truman, I mean you no harm. I live in the ship you brought from the woods. It is a spaceship, Truman. By your standards I am quite tiny. About the size of the nail on your little finger." I looked at my nail. "That little? .... Yes."

So I was thinking about an itty-bitty guy living in that thing, that spaceship, in my wagon and I kinda wanted to believe it but I was scared some smart aleck was trying to make me look stupid again. So I asked if that thing's a spaceship how come he ain't flying around?

"I'm afraid, Truman," the radio said, "That lightning has depolarized my ship." Now I don't know de-whatever-ized from grampa's knees but it sounded like trouble. And this didn't seem like no trick I ever heard of. But I figured I better check some more.

"So how come you speak English so good?" Now I had him, I thought.

"Actually," Max said, "I'm not speaking English. I'm talking in my own language. The Brain, however, is translating."

"The Brain?!" I said. "You got a live brain on that ship?"

"Inked. It solves many problems for me."

Sounds gross," I said. I still thought I night be getting tricked though. Then Max said, "Would you care to see what I look like?" And I said, yeah, I guess so, and he said, look at your television. I said, now don't wake Papa 'cause he gets real cross.

So I went into the living room where it stunk from beer and B.O.; Papa was snoring away. I looked at the TV and first there was some fancy lady sitting on a car and then, poof, there was this bald, pointy-eared kinda elf. He was smiling and waving at me with a long, skinny hand. Like he was at a parade. His head was shaped like an egg, with big dark eyes, like a bug.

I shouted, "Jumpin' Catfish!" and Papa woke up and yelled, Truman, what the hell! I froze and sneaked a look at the tube but there was just some talk show. I said, sorry Papa, and he hollered, scram if our know what's good for you, and I skat fast.

So I headed for the garage thinking maybe this thing was a spaceship! Then I jumped 'cause I heard, "Hello, Truman," real clear from a busted speaker on Papa's workbench. I said, oh hi, Max, and he said, hello again, and then, "Truman, will you help me?" I said, sure if I can, what can I do? And Max said, "Truman, my ship needs energy. If you could place it in your microwave oven I could repolarize. Can you help?"

And I started thinking this little elf fella kinda needed a jump-start and I'm gonna help no matter what 'cause I'm the hero of this story. But

I figured no way can I haul the ship to the microwave, and I said so.

Max said, "You are right, Truman. I thought you could bring the microwave here. Perhaps late tonight, after your family is asleep."

And that was our plan. At three in the morning I would be James Bond superspy and save the world.

We had some time to kill so I asked Max all kinds of questions. He told me he liked to visit earth to watch television, especially I Love Lucy and ice hockey. He said he collected insect wings, which were a big deal where he's from. He told me lots of super-cool stuff like that. I was liking having someone to talk to. Mama and Lenore used to talk to me, but not anymore.

"You know, Max," I said, "My Mama died a few months ago. I sure miss her. Do you where she is now?"

"Ah, friend, Truman," Max said. "She is in heaven, of course."

"Yeah, that's what I think too. But how do you know for sure?"

"Can't you feel it, Truman? Can't you feel your mother all around you?"

And then I sort of cried 'cause I did feel it and I missed my Mama so. Max was a great guy.

By then it was dark and I was dog-tired so I told Max I'd get to bed and see him at three. Next thing you know my alarm was beep beeping and I slammed it off quick and listened. Except for the TV the house was quiet. So 007 put on his sneaks and began his mission.

First I peeked in Lenore's room--forbidden territory now. I heard her breathing in her bed. Home at last. Her room stunk like cigarettes and perfume. She'd be conked forever.

Next I tiptoed down the stairs. In the living room Papa was dead asleep on the couch. On the tube somebody was hollering about God.

I went to the kitchen, unplugged the microwave and slid it off the counter. It was a little heavy but not too bad. I nudged the screen door open with my foot, let it close slow, and I was in the dear!

In the garage I heard good ol' Max on that speaker. "Truman. Well done! You are a good and true friend!"

"No problem, Max," I said. "I didn't make a sound!"

"I am so grateful," he said, as I put the microwave down, plugged it in and popped the door. Ready to go!

"Now place the ship inside."

Boy I forgot how heavy that little ship was! A lot worse than the microwave! But Hercules did it again! I grunted that thing off the wagon and into the microwave and shut the door.

"Truman, I won't be able to talk for a while. Wait until I ask you to open the door."

Then somehow Max turned the microwave on and inside beautiful colors started swimming all around the ship, like tropical fish. The microwave sped up and all the fish colors started heading for the big diamond at the top, like it was a hole they were all swimming through. The fish started swimming faster and faster till I couldn't see 'em anymore and they just became one rainbow pouting like water into Max's ship. And that's the way it stayed for a while.

All of a sudden the microwave went dark and quiet. Then I heard Max's voice over the speaker. "Truman! Wonderful! Splendid! I have some power! Open the door!"

But as I reached in to drag the ship out...I stopped right in my tracks. That little silver spaceship was floating all peaceful and pretty right in the middle of the microwave. Like a hummingbird. And the diamond at the top was burning orange and yellow and black, like it was on fire. Then out it came, real slow and steady, like it was sliding across an invisible table. I backed away and when I rose up the ship did too, hanging fight in front of my eyes.

Max said, "Truman, I shall be eternally grateful to you. I must go to a more significant power facility to fully replenish my drive, then I will return. You need rest. Go sleep. I will meet you here when you wake. Agreed?" Matter of fact I was sleepy and I said sure. Then the little ship floated real nice and silent out of the garage and shot like a bullet out into the night.

So I lugged the microwave back, snuck like a ninja to my room and hit the hay. Mission accomplished!

That morning I went back to the garage first thing. I thought maybe Max and his spaceship were a dream, but sure enough that pretty ship floated down out of the shadows, quiet as a balloon. It stopped fight before my eyes, real still, with that diamond on top on fire. Max's voice came over the old speaker again.

"Truman. The mission has been a complete success! My ship is fully restored! All thanks to you, good and able friend!"

"I'm glad, Max." But I guess I didn't sound too chipper. I figured someone else was about to up and leave me.

"What troubles you, good friend?"

So I told Max everything. About Mama dying. About Papa drinking and sleeping and hitting. About Lenore pretty-girling around and ignoring me. About how nobody believed in heaven. Maybe I cried a little.

I wiped my face dry. I felt kinda better for all the talking. Then Max spoke. "Truman, I will help you."

"Aww, that's OK, Max. Ain't nothing you can do. Can't stick Papa in no microwave." I make good jokes sometimes.

"Truman," Max said, "I wish to help. The Brain has suggested a plan."

He had that Brain working on my problems! "Really, Max?"

"Yes, the analysis suggests a solution."

So Max told me to go to the living room, and I said I don't want no licking, but he said Papa was asleep. So quiet as a cat I went back into the house but this time Max's silver ship floated fight on in with me! Maybe Max was just a teeny guy but I felt like I was with Rambo!

So I went into the living room, still scared of waking Papa, while Max's ship floated over to the bookshelves by our Disney World videotape. Then it floated up to a dark corner where you could hardly make it out.

Next thing you know, I about lost my marbles because the whole house went nuts! I mean the TV got super loud and all the channels were changing and he phone started ringing and the radio was streaming and the microwave was beeping and very dang light in the house was flashing on and off!

Well, I near wet my pants! Papa jumped up and said, "What the hell!" I figured this time he was gonna whack me for sure but instead he tried to shut off the TV and flick off the lights and he was unplugging things but everything stayed crazy! Ya can't mess with Max!

Now Lenore woke up out of her dumb forever-sleep and ran into the room with her nightie on and her hair looking like she just came out of some tornado.

She was freaked too and yelled, "Papa!"

Then, with the three of us standing there all wild-eyed, the ruckus stopped. Just like that. Quiet as church.

That's when we saw Mama. Right there in the middle of the room. She was wearing the pink Minnie Mouse shirt she got in Disney World and looking peaceful and nice. You could kinda see through her a bit but it was Mama, sure as shootin'.

Now I knew Max was doing some kinda magic but I started to bawl just the same. You can understand. Papa didn't do nothing. He just stared with his face white and his mouth open.

Lenore, though, she started yakking. "It's Mama!" she whispered. "Sweet Jesus, it's Mama! Papal Truman! Do you see her?! It's Mama come back from the dead! It's her ghost!" Then Lenore just stared with the rest of us waiting for something to happen but Mama just stood there smiling. So Lenore talked some more, only louder. "Mama? Can you hear me? Are you OK? Are you in heaven like Truman says?" But Mama didn't answer. "Mama? Mama? I'm sorry. I been bad Mama. I been awful mean to Truman and I know you hate that. And I been going out and maybe not being so...good, ya know? I haven't cooked Papa hardly any meals or made my bed or anything, Mama." Then Lenore started to cry. "And worst of all, Mama? Worst of all? I been hating you?

Now she really started blubbering. "I hate you for leaving us! I don't want to take care of Papa and Truman! I WON'T! I CAN'T'! YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE DIED! YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE!"

Then Lenore just dropped like an ol' rag onto the floor and cried herself a river. Poor kid. I knelt down and put my arm around her.

Then I heard some kinda hissing and couldn't believe my eyes. Papa was down on the floor too! His body hunched up and shaking. He lifted his fist and slammed the floor and said Mama's name. "Grace!" He did that over and over. "Grace! Grace! Grace!" Then he just started bawling like a kid. I put my other arm around him and we all cried some more.

After a spell I looked up and Mama's ghost was gone. Max's silver ship drifted down out of the shadows. Papa and Lenore didn't see nothing. They were still whimpering. The ship floated into the kitchen so I went too.

Max spoke over the radio. "The

Brain is pleased. Things should be better for you now."

"Gee, Max. I hope so. You sure are a pal."

"As are you, good friend Truman. As are you." It was quiet for a minute and then Max said, "It is time for me to go."

"I know, Max. I'll miss you."

"And I you But we will always remember. Farewell, Truman."

So I opened the screen door to let Max out. And that little shiny ship floated up above the house and the trees and then it shot away. I've never seen Max since.

Back in the kitchen Lenore came in and asked who I was talking to, and I said nobody. She wiped her face dry, gave me a kiss and started to do some dishes. Then Papa came in with a bunch of empty beer bottles and trashed 'em.

Max's Brain was right. Things did go better. Lenore stayed around more and helped out. Papa slowed down the boozing and got back to work and hardly ever hit us. He never mentions that day but now and then Lenore gets excited and whispers about how a miracle saved our family. She thinks I don't understand, but I do.


Adapted by Ph.D.

Steven Prasinos is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Woodbury, Connecticut.